Category : Judaism

(WSJ) David Gregory–How to Discuss Religion Without Arguing

Jews aren’t the only ones with profound disagreements within their community. Faith in the public square has become as polarized as politics. That’s really a shame for civic life, says John DiIulio Jr. of the University of Pennsylvania, once an adviser to President George W. Bush on faith-based initiatives. “Religion can be a tremendously and uniquely powerful civic tonic—and a tremendously and uniquely destructive civic toxin,” he noted during a talk at the Brookings Institution earlier this month.

At the same event Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, blamed heightened polarization on a loss of transcendent purpose and meaning in public life. He observed that people are “finding tribal identities in political movements or cultural arguments in a way that often really isn’t about coming to a solution to those arguments, but about identifying ‘I am the sort of person who stands here as opposed to the sort of people who stands there.’ ”

Tribalism, sectarianism, polarization, mistrust. Sounds like Twitter.

How about a real conversation? Recently I took part in one in rural Maryland at the invitation of the Jewish Week of New York, which has been convening such gatherings for more than a decade. There were more than 50 of us, all Jewish, but with different backgrounds, beliefs and experiences. The idea was that we were the ones who would set the agenda. From the start, we went around and talked less about what we do than what we care about and what we hope to do.

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Posted in Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Language, Religion & Culture

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Anti-Semitism in Britain–No room for complacency

So how bad are things in Mr Blair’s homeland? On the face of things, Britain is a relatively good place to be Jewish. When anti-Semitic feelings across Europe are compared, the UK tends to do well. But a new study by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research gives an unusually nuanced picture of opinion in Britain.

It found that hard-core anti-Semites, who “express multiple anti-Semitic attitudes readily and confidently”, amounted to 2.4% of the population, while a further 3% could be described as “softer” anti-Semites, expressing somewhat fewer negative views. To probe their opinions, respondents were invited to react to propositions like “Jews think they are better than other people” or “The interests of Jews in Britain are different from….the rest” or “Jews have too much power in Britain…”

The study said that there was a “much larger number of people who believe a small number of negative ideas about Jews but…may not be consciously hostile or prejudiced towards them”. It found that 15% of Britons agreed at least in part to two or more anti-Semitic propositions, with a further 15% agreeing at least in part to one of them. The researchers’ interpretation was cautious:

“This emphatically does not mean that 30% of the population of Great Britain is anti-Semitic…Rather the 30% figure captures the current level of the diffusion of anti-Semitic ideas in British society, and offers an indication of the likelihood of British Jews encountering such ideas.”

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Posted in England / UK, Judaism, Religion & Culture

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–The Challenge of Jewish Repentance

The Jewish drama is less about character and fate than about will and choice. To the monotheistic mind, the real battles are not “out there,” against external forces of darkness, but “in here,” between the bad and better angels of our nature. As the religion writer Jack Miles once pointed out, you can see the difference in the contrast between Sophocles and Shakespeare. For Sophocles, Oedipus must battle against blind, inexorable fate. For Shakespeare, writing in a monotheistic age, the drama of “Hamlet” lies within, between “the native hue of resolution” and “the pale cast of thought.”

The trouble is, of course, that faced with choice, we often make the wrong one. Given a second chance, Adam and Eve would probably pass on the fruit. Cain might work a little harder on his anger management. And there is a straight line from these biblical episodes to the destruction left by Homo sapiens: war, murder, human devastation and environmental destruction.

That is still our world today. The key fact about us, according to the Bible, is that uniquely in an otherwise law-governed universe, we are able to break the law—a power that we too often relish exercising.

This raises an acute theological dilemma. How are we to reconcile God’s high hopes for humanity with our shabby and threadbare moral record? The short answer is forgiveness.

God wrote forgiveness into the script. He always gives us a second chance, and more.

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Posted in Judaism, Theology

(JTA) Rabbis seek Pope Francis’ cooperation in fighting Islamic extremism

Meeting at the Vatican, an international delegation of rabbis sought the pope’s cooperation in combating Islamic extremism.

At the audience Thursday with Pope Francis, the rabbis presented a document calling for the two faiths to work together on Islamic extremism and other issues. The document was drafted last year by the Conference of European Rabbis along with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and the Rabbinical Council of America in the wake of the 50th anniversary of the Vatican’s Nostra Aetate declaration of 1965, which opened formal dialogue between the Vatican and the Jewish world.

The delegation was led by Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, president of the Conference of European Rabbis, and included members of all three groups.

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Posted in Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Judaism, Pope Francis, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic, Terrorism, Violence

A BBC Sunday radio Four programme on Religion and Artificial Intelligence

The Bishop of Oxford Stephen Croft, Rabbi Moshi Freedman, anthropologist Beth Singler from the Faraday Institute and Kriti Sharma, VP of AI at Sage debate and discuss the application of AI and why its development needs to be considered within a moral and ethical framework….

Listen to it all (Bishop Stephen Croft section starts at abt 9:23).

Posted in Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Religion & Culture, Science & Technology, Theology

Chilling but Important Reading–In Charlottesville, the Local Jewish Community Presses On

On Saturday morning, I stood outside our synagogue with the armed security guard we hired after the police department refused to provide us with an officer during morning services. (Even the police department’s limited promise of an observer near our building was not kept — and note, we did not ask for protection of our property, only our people as they worshipped).

Forty congregants were inside. Here’s what I witnessed during that time.

For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple. Had they tried to enter, I don’t know what I could have done to stop them, but I couldn’t take my eyes off them, either. Perhaps the presence of our armed guard deterred them. Perhaps their presence was just a coincidence, and I’m paranoid. I don’t know.

Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, “There’s the synagogue!” followed by chants of “Seig Heil” and other anti-Semitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.

A guy in a white polo shirt walked by the synagogue a few times, arousing suspicion. Was he casing the building, or trying to build up courage to commit a crime? We didn’t know. Later, I noticed that the man accused in the automobile terror attack wore the same polo shirt as the man who kept walking by our synagogue; apparently it’s the uniform of a white supremacist group. Even now, that gives me a chill.

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Posted in America/U.S.A., Judaism, Race/Race Relations, Religion & Culture, Violence

(WSJ) Michael Ledeen–After 500 Years, an Italian Jewish Rebirth

Italian historians, archaeologists and anthropologists are hard at work to document the presence of Jews from ancient times into the early modern period. There is no lack of evidence, some of which dates back to the first century, following the Roman conquest of ancient Israel. Yet many museums are not aware of the considerable quantity of evidence they have in their archives and deposits. In recent years, Sicilian cities have begun to publish catalogs of this material, and I recently attended a public meeting in southeastern Sicily that featured professors and government officials intent on creating a tourist guide to Jewish Sicily, from Taormina to Siracusa and Noto.

It is hard to overstate the enthusiasm for the Jewish revival. Cooperative ventures between Italian and Israeli universities are under way. These efforts should produce new experts and new historical finds in the coming years. Such activities will be reinforced as other communities emulate the Catania model and new centers of Jewish life are created.

There is a lot of work to be done before the Italian Jewish revival is fully realized. Anti-Semites are particularly active in northern cities like Milan and Turin. The country is also a landing point for many Islamic immigrants, many of whom are openly anti-Semitic. Possible descendants of the old communities will want to formalize their faith by converting, and there is a shortage of rabbis qualified to do that. But in an era when European Jews are under siege, that’s not a bad problem to have.

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Posted in Italy, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(Rabbi Jonathan Sacks) Never forget how we, so small, are blessed to be part of a universe so great

I was riveted by a television program this week called The Day the Dinosaurs Died. It was about a team of scientists who’ve been drilling deep into the rock beneath the shallow waters of the Gulf of Mexico at the precise point where a 9 mile wide asteroid crashed into the Earth 66 million years ago with an impact equal to ten billion Hiroshima atomic bombs. The result was a dense cloud of sulphur that plunged the planet into a global winter, killing the dinosaurs and causing the greatest mass extinction in history. The result was space for small mammals to flourish, including eventually Homo sapiens, i.e. us.

What was fascinating was the scientists’ conclusion that what made the difference wasn’t that the asteroid struck but precisely where. Had it fallen thirty seconds earlier in deep waters, or thirty seconds later on dry land, the impact wouldn’t have been so great. The dinosaurs would have survived and we might never have emerged. Thirty seconds isn’t that long, even in a Thought for the Day, let alone when set against the four and a half billion years of the existence of planet Earth.

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Posted in Energy, Natural Resources, History, Judaism, Science & Technology, Theology

(WSJ) Allan Ripp: New York’s Eruv–A virtual enclosure lets Jews remain ‘home’ as they travel the city on Shabbos

Every Thursday and Friday, Rabbi Moshe Tauber dutifully travels to Manhattan from his home in Monsey, N.Y. The 43-year-old rabbi and father of 12 usually arrives by 5:30 a.m. He drives as far as 25 miles in the city, his eyes focused well above street level. That’s because he sees what nobody else does.

Rabbi Tauber’s job is to keep tabs on the Manhattan eruv, a precisely designated zone that zigzags from 126th Street in Harlem to the bottom of the island and from the Upper East Side to the Lower East Side. Its perimeter is marked by heavy-duty fishing line strung almost invisibly on city light poles 18 feet high, though structural portions of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive, the West Side Highway and the Brooklyn Bridge also mark the boundaries.

For many of New York’s observant Jews, their enjoyment of the Sabbath depends on Rabbi Tauber. During Shabbos, which runs from Friday sundown to Saturday night, religious Jews aren’t permitted to carry objects outside the home, as that would constitute work. No bottles of wine and casseroles when visiting friends, not even prayer books and tallit bags. The eruv becomes a lifeline for Orthodox families to be out and about on the holiest day of the week.

Under cover of the eruv, which symbolically extends one’s residence into the public domain, carrying and pushing are kosher.

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Posted in Judaism, Religion & Culture, Urban/City Life and Issues

(Guardian) Archbp Justin Welby: Christians must unite with Jews to halt rise of antisemitism

The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has called for bridges to be built between Jewish people and others to prevent antisemitism taking hold. Speaking at Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, Welby said the museum’s art revealed “the depths of human evil”.

He said: “Within European culture, the root of all racism, I think, is found in antisemitism. It goes back more than 1,000 years in Europe. Within our Christian tradition, there has been century upon century of these terrible, terrible hatreds in which one people … [are] hated more specifically, more violently, more determinedly, more systematically than any other people.”

The Jewish people had advanced science, art, music and had founded economies. “You would have thought we would rise up together in gratitude,” he said. Now, with antisemitism on the rise, he added: “We must dedicate ourselves afresh … to building and maintaining bridges and friendships, understanding, tolerance, unity and peace.”

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Posted in --Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, Inter-Faith Relations, Israel, Judaism

(WSJ) Meir Soloveichik–The Jews Who Saved Monticello

Thomas Jefferson is buried at Monticello, his estate in Charlottesville, Va. The exact spot is marked by an obelisk bearing the date of his death: July 4, 1826—50 years to the day after the Second Continental Congress declared independence. Also close to the home lies a grave belonging to Rachel Phillips Levy. According to the inscription, she died on the 7 of Iyar, 5591, following a calendar used by traditional Jews.

How did a Jewish grave end up in Monticello? The answer lies in the history of a family whose own story is every bit as American as that of Jefferson himself.

In 1776 a Jewish patriot named Jonas Phillips fled to Philadelphia from New York with the arrival of the British fleet. A decade later, he was well-regarded in his new city, and his daughter Rachel was set to marry a Jewish gentleman named Levy….

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Posted in America/U.S.A., History, Judaism, Politics in General, Religion & Culture

Facing the future without fear, together: Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks speaks at TED2017

“These are the times that try men’s souls, and they’re trying ours now,” begins Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, quoting Thomas Paine, in an electrifying talk about how we can face the future without fear if we face it together.

It’s a fateful moment in history. We’ve seen divisive elections, divided societies and a growth of extremism — all of it fueled by anxiety, uncertainty and fear. The world is changing faster than we can bear, and it’s looking like it’s going to continue changing faster still. Sacks asks: “Is there something we can do to face the future without fear?”

One way into this question is to look to what people worship. Some people worship many gods, some one, some none. In the 19th and 20th centuries, people worshiped the Aryan race, the Communist state and many other things. Future anthropologists, Sacks says, will take a look at the books we read on self-help, at how we talk about politics as a matter of individual rights, and at “our newest religious ritual: the selfie” — and conclude that we worship the self.

This worship of the self conflicts directly with our social nature, and with our need for friendship, trust, loyalty and love. As he says: “When we have too much of the ‘I’ and not enough of the ‘we,’ we find ourselves vulnerable, fearful and alone.”

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Posted in Globalization, History, Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(Economist Erasmus Blog) Muslims, Christians and Jesus: A building and a book highlight an odd symbiosis between monotheistic faiths

Over the centuries, the Abrahamic faiths have found many things to fight over, and many modes of co-existence. The Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, where a $4m conservation project was formally unveiled this week, exemplifies both points. It is, so to speak, an interface between the monotheisms. Quarrels over the tomb of Jesus sparked the crusades, but in the lore of this sacred spot there are inspiring stories of symbiosis. It is jointly used by six quarrelsome Christian confessions, but the keys are kept dutifully by Jerusalem’s oldest Muslim dynasty. This arrangement is said to date from Jerusalem’s Muslim conquest, when Caliph Omar held back from saying Islamic prayers in the Sepulchre church, thus leaving it Christian. In Ottoman times, pilgrimage to the tomb and raising money for it were huge activities for the empire’s Christians; this underpinned a cordial relationship between Greek Orthodox hierarchs who were the Sepulchre’s main stewards and the city’s Turkish overlords. The exact terms on which Christian communities share the Sepulchre were fine-tuned by the Ottoman sultan; the British took this arrangement over, then the Israelis.

It so happens that one of the most articulate of non-specialist writers in English about Islam, the Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol, has just put forward a very different sort of proposal for terms on which Abraham’s children might co-exist. His concern is not with the sharing of hallowed space, more with doctrine and sacred narratives. Boldly, he suggests that despite all the theological contrasts, Jesus of Nazareth is a figure through whom historically-aware Christians, Muslims and Jews could come to closer mutual understanding. “Whether we are Jews, Christians and Muslims, we either share a faith followed by him, a faith built on him, or a faith that venerates him,” he notes at the opening of his book, “The Islamic Jesus”.

But he is honest about the gaps. Christians believe Jesus was both the Son of God and the Messiah, the anointed prophet for whom Jews were yearning; Muslims believe he was the second but not the former; Jews generally believe he was neither.

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Posted in Books, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Judaism, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Tevi Troy–Purim is an occasion for humor—but choose your targets with some care

As Jews celebrate Purim this Saturday night, a surprising figure could be making an appearance in some synagogues: Steve Bannon. What might the controversial presidential adviser have to do with the Jewish holiday?

Purim celebrates the deliverance of the Jews of ancient Persia from death at the hands of an evil government official named Haman. The story, told in the Book of Esther, shows how the beautiful Esther, with her cousin Mordechai’s guidance, became queen and helped turn the tables on Haman. Esther opened King Ahasuerus’ eyes to Haman’s designs and thus saved the Jews. Purim is a classic Jewish holiday. As the old joke goes, “They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

But there’s more to Purim than eating. Jews are required to hear the tale read from the Book of Esther, to give gifts of food to at least two other Jews, and to participate in a festive meal that includes certain holiday-specific blessings. Many Jews also dress in costume and attend a humorous play at their synagogue.

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Posted in Humor / Trivia, Judaism, Religion & Culture

Meir Soloveichik for Eric Liddell's Feast Day–Finding God in the Olympic Footrace

While Americans rightly exult in the achievements of U.S. medalists, “Chariots of Fire” also serves as a reminder that athletics and even patriotism only mean so much. When Liddell is informed that a qualifying heat takes place on Sunday, his Sabbath, he chooses not to compete in that race. The camera cuts from athletes at the Olympics to Liddell reading a passage in Isaiah: “Behold the nations are as a drop in the bucket . . . but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings, as eagles. They shall run, and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint.” David Puttnam, a “Chariots of Fire” producer, wrote me that the verses were “specifically selected by the actor, the late Ian Charleson, who gave himself the task of reading the entire Bible whilst preparing for the film.”

The Isaiah passage is liturgically important for Jews: Parts of it are declaimed in synagogue on the Sabbath when we read God’s command to Abraham to leave the center of civilization and found a family, and a faith, in a new land. Isaiah reminds Jews that Abraham’s children have encountered much worse than what Harold Abrahams experienced. While most nations now rest on the ash heap of history, the biblical Abraham’s odyssey continues. The countries competing in today’s Olympics come and go, while those who “wait upon the Lord” endure.

“Chariots of Fire” also offers a message for people of faith who have grown troubled by the secularization of society and the realization that they are often scorned by elites. Like Liddell, we may be forced to choose religious principle over social success. Hopefully, however, we will be able to use our gifts to sanctify this world. As Liddell’s father told his son in the film: “Run in God’s name, and let the world stand back in wonder.”

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Church History, Judaism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Sports, Theology, Theology: Scripture