Category : Judaism

(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.”

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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