Category : Judaism

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

(WSJ) Michael Segal–King David’s life may offer lessons for how to respond to the Trump approach

As a new era begins in Washington, it is worth asking whether the similarity between President Trump and King David goes any deeper.

Both men came out of nowhere to deal with an urgent national matter. Each was initially treated as a joke by the experts. When David offered to face Goliath, King Saul told him, “You are a lad, and he is a warrior since his youth.” Yet both prevailed, and each did so by spending far less than his adversaries….
Don’t look to David’s life for a detailed road map of what to expect from the Trump administration. Members of the U.S. government take an oath to the Constitution, not to a leader. But anyone who experiences the rabbis’ mash-up of Jacob and David would have no trouble matching Mr. Trump with David, rather than with Jacob.

The sudden and surprising rise of King David and President Trump make them, in modern parlance, “disruptive innovators.” Contemporary society exhibits a remarkable amount of forgiveness for rule-breakers in high-tech industries. Now, some people are agonizing over whether Mr. Trump should be “normalized”””treated the same way that any other leader would be. It is worth remembering that the Bible didn’t fully normalize David’s actions. The king was denied the pinnacle achievement that he sought, building the Temple. The Lord told him: “You have shed much blood to the ground before Me.” Still, David remains revered.

Whether Americans classify Mr. Trump as “normal” is less important than how they respond to his administration. One wise approach was enunciated by David Petraeus. During a November interview with the BBC, the retired general was asked whether Mr. Trump had the “correct” temperament to be president. He replied: “It’s up to Americans, at this point in time, not only to hope that that is the case, but if they can, endeavor to help him.”

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I will take comments on this submitted by email only to KSHarmon[at]mindspring[dot]com.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Judaism, Office of the President, Other Faiths, Politics in General, President Donald Trump, Religion & Culture, Theology, Theology: Scripture

(NPR) Wave Of Bomb Threats Targets Jewish Centers, Again

More than two dozen Jewish community centers across the U.S. reported receiving false bomb threats on Wednesday. It’s the second wave of bomb threats in two weeks: On Jan. 9, 16 community centers received threats in a single day.

No actual bombs have been found, according to the JCC Association of North America, and many centers have already reopened and resumed regular operations.

The FBI is investigating “possible civil rights violations in connection with threats,” The Associated Press reports.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, Judaism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Theology, Violence

(AFP) Another 5,000 Jews quit France for Israel: agency

Another 5,000 French Jews emigrated to Israel last year, figures showed Monday, continuing a trend that has seen tens of thousands quit the country after a series of attacks targeting the community.

The Jewish Agency of Israel issued the update as France marked two years since attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices and on a Jewish supermarket in Paris, where four shoppers were shot dead.

Daniel Benhaim, who heads the Israeli-backed group in France, said that insecurity had been a “catalyst” for many Jews who were already thinking of leaving.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Europe, France, Israel, Judaism, Law & Legal Issues, Middle East, Other Faiths, Psychology, Religion & Culture

(WSJ) Andrew Klavan–Faith That Upholds Humanity””and Liberty

The Obama administration’s failure to beat back the rise of radical Islam reflects a greater failure of thinking elites. Steeped in an intellectual culture of secularism, Western leaders have consistently denied both the Koranic motives of America’s enemies, and the Christian underpinnings of the U.S. system of values. They look for economic and social reasons for this clash of cultures and dismiss the far more terrible possibility that humanity is actually at war over the nature of God.

This estrangement from the sacred continues a trend begun during the Enlightenment of the 18th century.
But its roots are in the 17th century’s rise of science. The scientific method transformed a world of miracles into a world of material. Its successes, in time, made atheism seem the default setting of true reason. But is it?

The physicist Stephen Hawking, who publicly confirmed his atheism in 2014, doesn’t believe that God is needed to explain creation. “The laws of gravity and quantum theory allow universes to appear spontaneously from nothing,” he explained. The philosopher Roger Scruton, writing in this newspaper, thoroughly undid this argument simply by asking, “But what created the laws of physics?” Such an obvious flaw in Mr. Hawking’s reasoning should have been clear to anyone who wasn’t being carried off on the skeptical tide of the times.

As a former secular Jew who converted to Christianity, I understand the temptation of such skepticism. My baptism in 2004 was an act of transgression. I sensed it at the time and know it all the more certainly today. I was nearly 50 then. I had lived my adulthood as a postmodern man, a worldling of the coasts and cities. For me to accept the truth of God and his incarnation in Jesus Christ was to defy the culture of the age.

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Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Anthropology, Ethics / Moral Theology, History, Judaism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture, Secularism, Theology

(WSJ) Michael Gotlieb–Why This Rabbi Loves Christmas

So while Christians ask, “What would Jesus do?” Jews ask, “What does Jewish law say?” That’s completely understandable from a traditional Jewish perspective, and it is often praiseworthy. But, I wish Jews would learn from their Christian cohorts and ask directly, “What would God say?” Just as the Prophet Micah did by asking, “What does God require of us?”

Christmas and its celebration of the birth of Jesus compels me to think about the concept of a messiah. I am grateful to my Christian neighbors and friends. Through their religious holy day, I am better able to confront and clarify my own religious convictions and theological certitudes.

Like a brightly lighted Christmas tree, Christianity dispels a lot of darkness, theological as well as moral. In its glow, it challenges Christians and non-Christians alike to consider that which is transcendent, eternal and greater than us all. Merry Christmas indeed.

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Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Religion News & Commentary, Christmas, Church Year / Liturgical Seasons, Inter-Faith Relations, Judaism, Other Faiths, Religion & Culture