Category : Judaism

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–May we never forget the Real Power of Personal Interaction

This week, research was published showing that spending as little as ten minutes a day talking to someone with dementia can make a real difference to their quality of life, alleviating their anxiety and sense of isolation in a strange and fearful world.

Increased levels of dementia have been the price we pay for the rise in life expectancy in recent decades. And it’s tough: for the sufferers themselves, their carers, and for members of their family. It can be almost unbearable to find that your parent can’t recognise you, their child. And people can become fatalistic about it, thinking that there’s nothing you can do to make things better. But that’s beginning to change.

Three weeks ago, my wife Elaine and I visited, in his home in Philadelphia, Aaron Beck, co-founder of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, one of the most effective forms of psychotherapy practised today. 96 years old and physically frail, he was still wonderfully young in mind and spirit. He told us that he’d always believed that his methods could help many people but not those with dementia, but now – though the research is still in its early days – people were beginning to find that it could help them too.

Read it all.

Posted in Health & Medicine, Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture, Theology

(WSJ) Lou Weiss–The Jewish Arbor Day

Jewish tree huggers have their own official holiday, and this year it begins next Tuesday. Tu B’Shvat, literally the 15th day of the Jewish lunar month of Shevat, marks the day when all trees become one year older—at least for the purposes of their fruit being deemed suitable for tithing and eating. Many families and congregations celebrate by hosting a special meal with fruits from trees grown in Israel. Think of it as a Jewish and Israeli Arbor Day.

Trees are a big deal in Jewish liturgy. Jews refer to the Torah as a “Tree of Life.” In the center of the Garden of Eden, God put the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The latter provided some irresistible and fateful fruit.

The Torah describes the various species the Israelites encountered or planted. Acacia wood was the specification for the Ark of the Covenant and the poles with which it was carried. King Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem featured cedar wood. Various books of the Torah mention at least 16 different tree species—not including the burning shrub Moses chatted with.

As important as trees are to Judaism, the faith still navigates nature without elevating it above humanity. It makes the case for an environmentalism that rightly puts people first. It is a sane alternative to placing “the environment” over every human benefit. This model of stewardship has much to offer today’s environmental policy debates.

Read it all.

Posted in Energy, Natural Resources, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Religion & Culture

(Christian Today) Irene Lancaster–Bishop George Bell was a hero who saved Jewish children. It is time his reputation was restored

…may I suggest that readers of Christian Today take some time to read the very clear report written by Lord Carlile on the way the Bishop Bell case has been handled. Then please ask yourselves if, on the evidence, Bishop Bell is guilty of child abuse as charged, or simply a victim of the workings of the Church of England.

Lord Carlile was asked by the Church authorities to look into the way the investigation of this case was handled, and has concluded that the arrangements were shockingly cavalier and that as a result a man has been found guilty without any proof whatsoever.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to read the report. And on reading it myself, it is hard not to conclude that the evidence is overwhelming that Bell is a martyr not of the Church but by the Church. And if, after reading the report on the workings of the Church of England in this case, you agree with me, don’t you think that you should do something about it?

Because the biblical Moses was asked by G-d to entreat the Pharaoh of his time to let his own Jewish people go – in words that have enthused heroes such as Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela.

But what Bishop Bell did in the 1930s was if anything even more heroic: what he did was to take on the entire Church establishment of the day to ask them to take in the tiny remnant of the Jewish community in Germany and eastern Europe. And this the Church establishment found too difficult to contemplate.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, England / UK, Germany, History, Judaism, Religion & Culture

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–God Loves Those Who Argue

I have become increasingly concerned about the assault on free speech taking place throughout the West, particularly in university campuses.[1] This is being done in the name of “safe space,” that is, space in which you are protected against hearing views which might cause you distress, “trigger warnings”[2] and “micro-aggressions,” that is, any remark that someone might find offensive even if no offence is meant.

So far has this gone that at the beginning of the 2017 academic year, students at an Oxford College banned the presence of a representative of the Christian Union on the grounds that some might find their presence alienating and offensive.[3] Increasingly, speakers with controversial views are being disinvited: the number of such incidents on American college campuses rose from 6 in 2000 to 44 in 2016.[4]

Undoubtedly this entire movement was undertaken for the highest of motives, to protect the feelings of the vulnerable. That is a legitimate ethical concern. Jewish law goes to extremes in condemning lashon hara, hurtful or derogatory speech, and the sages were careful to use what they called lashon sagi nahor, euphemism, to avoid language that people might find offensive.

But a safe space is not one in which you silence dissenting views. To the contrary: it is one in which you give a respectful hearing to views opposed to your own, knowing that your views too will be listened to respectfully. That is academic freedom, and it is essential to a free society.[5] As George Orwell said, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Theology

(Guardian) Patriarch Theophilos III–Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land

[Yesterday]…7 January, is Christmas, according to the Orthodox Christian calendar. And Orthodox Christians are keeping the feast in the Holy Land, where Christmas – and Christianity – began.

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff.

Christians have lived a history in the Holy Land that spans more than two millennia. We have survived countless invasions, and have flourished under many different forms of government. We know that our survival has depended on the principle that the holy places must be shared by and be accessible to all. For it is the holy places that have given meaning to the region for both inhabitants and conquerors of all faiths. The protection and accessibility of the holy places are understood through a set of rules called the “status quo”, which has been followed by all religious and governmental authorities of the region through the ages.

Read it all.

Posted in Church History, History, Inter-Faith Relations, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Churches, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) David Rosmarin–Psychologists Shouldn’t Ignore the Soul

In my first six months as a predoctoral psychology intern at McLean Hospital, I was approached by at least 10 patients asking essentially the same question: Can I speak to you about God? They wanted to discuss their problems not in psychological terms but in spiritual ones. I guess the yarmulke on my head suggested I was an appropriate person to offer guidance.

I was not. I am a practicing Orthodox Jew and a clinical scientist, but I am no theologian. At the time, I did not even have my supervisors’ permission to speak to patients about their spiritual lives. I typically responded by suggesting the patient ask his case manager about a chaplaincy visit, though I knew the hospital did not employ an on-site chaplain.

It was hardly surprising that patients wanted to speak about God. Psychological science has consistently shown that spirituality can shape how someone thinks. “Religion and spirituality have the ability to promote or damage mental health,” a 2014 review of research into spirituality and mental health concluded. “This potential demands an increased awareness of religious matters by practitioners in the mental health field as well as ongoing attention in psychiatric research.” Why has this been neglected?

Read it all.

Posted in Judaism, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(NYT) Praise and Alarm From American Jews Over President Trump’s Jerusalem Move

If he was hoping for thunderous applause from American Jews, President Trump may be disappointed.

His announcement on Wednesday that he will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital went down well with those on the political right, who have urged the step for years. They will be telling him so at the White House Hanukkah party on Thursday, they said.

But other Jewish leaders said they were more worried than glad, fearing that the precipitous step would inflame tensions in the region, provoke more terrorism, put peace with the Palestinians even farther out of reach, and worsen the diplomatic isolation of both Israel and the United States. They say they wish he had held off, as previous presidents have done.

“Jerusalem has always been the most delicate issue in every discussion about peace,” said Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest branch of American Judaism. “So we’re very concerned that the announcement will either delay or undermine the very, very important resuming of a serious peace process.”

Read it all.

Posted in America/U.S.A., Ethics / Moral Theology, Foreign Relations, Israel, Judaism, Middle East, Other Faiths, The Palestinian/Israeli Struggle

“The love that brings new life into the world” – Rabbi Sacks on the institution of marriage

The fifth development shaped the entire structure of Jewish experience. In ancient Israel an originally secular form of agreement, called a covenant, was taken and transformed into a new way of thinking about the relationship between God and humanity, in the case of Noah, and between God and a people in the case of Abraham and later the Israelites at Mount Sinai. A covenant is like a marriage. It is a mutual pledge of loyalty and trust between two or more people, each respecting the dignity and integrity of the other, to work together to achieve together what neither can achieve alone. And there is one thing even God cannot achieve alone, which is to live within the human heart. That needs us.

So the Hebrew word emunah, wrongly translated as faith, really means faithfulness, fidelity, loyalty, steadfastness, not walking away even when the going gets tough, trusting the other and honouring the other’s trust in us. What covenant did, and we see this in almost all the prophets, was to understand the relationship between us and God in terms of the relationship between bride and groom, wife and husband. Love thus became not only the basis of morality but also of theology. In Judaism faith is a marriage. Rarely was this more beautifully stated than by Hosea when he said in the name of God:

I will betroth you to me forever;

I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, love and compassion.

I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will know the Lord.

Jewish men say those words every weekday morning as we wind the strap of our tefillin around our finger like a wedding ring. Each morning we renew our marriage with God.

 

Read it all.

Posted in Judaism, Marriage & Family, Theology: Scripture

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks–Truth emerges from disagreement and debate

Coming in to Broadcasting House this morning I saw for the first time the statue unveiled this week, of George Orwell, with its inscription on the wall behind, “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” How badly we need that truth today.

I’ve been deeply troubled by what seems to me to be the assault on free speech taking place in British universities in the name of “safe space,” “trigger warnings,” and “micro-aggressions,” meaning any remark that someone might find offensive even if no offence is meant. So far has this gone that a month ago, students at an Oxford College banned the presence of a representative of the Christian Union on the grounds that some might find their presence alienating and offensive. Luckily the protest that followed led to the ban being swiftly overturned. But still …

I’m sure this entire movement has been undertaken for the highest of motives, to protect the feelings of the vulnerable, which I applaud, but you don’t achieve that by silencing dissenting views. A safe space is the exact opposite: a place where you give a respectful hearing to views opposed to your own, knowing that your views too will be listened to respectfully. That’s academic freedom and it’s essential to a free society.

Read it all.

Posted in Anthropology, Education, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Language, Philosophy

(BBC) Rowan Williams: Anti-Semitism an ‘urgent issue’

Anti-Semitism is not a problem of past, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams has warned.
Speaking on the 500-year anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, Williams highlighted Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic views.
“Like it or not, that is part of the story that leads to Germany in the 1930s,” he told the Today programme.

Watch it all.

Posted in Church History, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Lutheran

(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.

Read it all.

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.”

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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.

Read it all.

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