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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Jerry Falwell’

Jews, Evangelicals In Unusual Meeting Of Minds

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009


WASHINGTON – They talked about Israel and about proselytizing – but perhaps the most important thing about the recent meeting between nearly 40 Jewish and evangelical Christian leaders was that they were talking at all.


Organizers believe the two-day meeting last month in Washington was the first time, at least in recent memory, that rabbis, pastors and other on-the-ground leaders of the two faith groups had sat down to have a conversation about their respective faiths and concerns about various issues.


“There were relatively few people who knew who to call when there was tension between the communities,” said David Neff, editor of Christianity Today.


Neff came up with the idea for the conference with a close friend and fellow Chicagoan – Rabbi Yehiel Poupko, Judaic scholar at the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.


The event, held June 15-16, attracted leaders representing large swaths of the more than 50 million evangelical Christian adults in the United States – and, in the process, underscored the changing face of the movement.


Many American Jews tend to associate evangelicals with heavily pro-Republican political preachers such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, and outspoken backers of Israel such as John Hagee. Neff noted, however, that while evangelical Christians do tend to lean conservative politically, most evangelical churches shy away from participation in electoral politics.


Neff also said that while evangelical Christians tend to be supporters of the Jewish state, only about 10 percent adhere to Hagee’s eschatology of premillennial dispensationalism in which Israel plays a central role in the second coming of Jesus. Hagee says that his support of Israel is based in Genesis and not connected to any eschatology.


Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, which co-convened the conference, added that many evangelical leaders and their followers not only are concerned with traditional conservative political causes like fighting abortion, but also placing a greater focus on combating poverty and protecting the environment.


Similarly, while previous efforts by Jewish organizations focused almost exclusively on boosting and harnessing evangelical support for Israel, JCPA – an umbrella organization bringing together the major synagogue movements, several nonsectarian national Jewish organizations and more than 100 local Jewish communities – boasts an agenda that encompasses Middle East issues as well as many domestic concerns.


Among the top agenda items at the June conference were Israel and proselytizing. 


“We want to be able to understand how many of the Jewish people hear certain issues,” said Joel Hunter, senior pastor at the 12,000-person Northland, A Church Distributed in Orlando, Fla., and a co-convenor of the conference. “We don’t want to unintentionally offend or miscommunicate” because of a lack of knowledge of an issue.


For instance, Hunter noted how U.S. Jewish leaders emphasized that Israel should not be depicted as only a product of the Holocaust, but also a millennial-old connection to the Jewish people.


Hunter, who gave the benediction after Barack Obama’s Democratic convention speech last summer, said that such information is important for building relationships with Jewish friends, but also in the context of Christians beginning to have more dialogues with Muslim leaders.


“We want to keep in mind how a Jewish person would interpret and perceive what is happening in that conversation” with Muslims, he said.


The conference participants also spent time discussing Jewish concerns about proselytizing or evangelicals sharing their faith with others.


“I don’t think that we are worried about conversion,” Gutow said, “but I think that when one religious group says we have the only avenue, it makes us feel condescended towards.”


Hunter said such Jewish concerns are something that evangelicals needed to hear because “part of our spiritual maturity comes with the appreciation of other people’s faith experiences.”


No Jewish leader said evangelicals shouldn’t share their faith, but offered thoughts on “what is a helpful way” to do it, and what comes across as “artificial and pushy and offensive,” Hunter said.


Gutow said he thought the evangelicals in the room “really understood” that while sharing their faith was an essential component of their spiritual lives, it could be problematic for Jews. He was one of several participants who noted how open and intense both the formal and informal discussions were throughout the conference.


In addition to exchanging thoughts on issues, others said they learned that the two faith traditions have some important similarities.


Neff and Poupko said it wasn’t clear why clergy leaders of the two faiths hadn’t sat down for such discussions previously – there were some efforts involving mostly academics in the 1980s – but speculated that part of the reason was that the two groups don’t cross paths frequently in everyday life.


Poupko noted that Jews and evangelicals simply live in different places, with Jews traditionally concentrated more in urban settings and evangelicals frequently located outside of cities and in areas of the country where Jews are not as populous.


That won’t be an obstacle anymore. Hunter said that if he has any question about how a certain issue involving Israel should be approached, he won’t hesitate to call one of the rabbis he met and ask, “How does this sound to you?”


Similarly, Gutow said he had met Hunter a few times in the past, but now “picking up the phone and calling him is a no-brainer.”


“My Rolodex is tremendously expanded,” said Neff, “not just in the sense of having more names and phone numbers,” but “with people I know.”


In addition to all those informal contacts, organizers said they hope to schedule another formal meeting next year.

(JTA)

Literally Orthodox: A Look At AJ Jacobs’s Spiritual Journey

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008


         An agnostic may be compared to one who sits on the sideline of “The Big Game” without rooting for any particular team. After a while some spectators might get a little bored of watching the game, not having any sort of preference as to the outcome. Heck, why even show up? But in A.J. Jacobs’s whimsical second book, The Year of Living Biblically, the (once?) agnostic author decides not only to root for one team, he jumps right onto the field.

 

         The concept of Jacobs’s social experiment may seem simple enough: he will live one whole year by the rules of the Bible as literally as possible. Jacobs stops eating pork, doesn’t wear clothes containing wool and linen, doesn’t work on Saturday, and, doesn’t touch his wife while she is in nidah, among other various laws.

 

         But translating the written Torah literally can be quit bizarre to those not looking at the Oral Tradition; it can even be counter-productive. Without the deep metaphysical meaning behind tzitzit, the mitzvah of “wearing fringes” can be lost to the literal translator.

 

         Jacobs, who is Jewish by birth, grew up without religion. For him, being Jewish was putting a Star of David atop the family Christmas tree. The idea of experiencing religion intrigues him, but he does bluntly state that part of the intrigue is to sell books. While this might tarnish the sincerity of his quest, Jacobs seems to truly become taken in by his spiritual journey.

 

         For example, when he finally decides to actually wear tefillin, instead of binding handwritten passages of the Bible to his head and arm using rubber bands (?!), he is overcome with a sense of serenity. Jacobs doesn’t shave his beard, but comes to love his facial hair. He begins to appreciate Shabbos with a sense of zeal and peacefulness. Praying becomes a multi-daily part of his life, and he enjoys it, much to his surprise. In fact it is still a part of his life.

 

         The Year of Living Biblically is really about a secular man trying to get a better understanding of religion. While Jacobs’s tone is light and humorous, he does avoid, as often as possible, making a mockery of the Torah (it should be noted that Jacobs decides to follow dictates found in the Christian Bible as well). He points out that while he could fulfill the commandment of “being fruitful and multiply” by growing some apple trees and helping his niece with her algebra homework, it probably wasn’t what G-d had in mind behind the first mitzvah in the Torah.

 

         So he and his most patient wife Julie set out to have another child – no matter what it takes. The Bible commands that one should stone adulterers. Heaving rocks at people could wind Jacobs up in prison, so he wisely decides to toss minuscule pebbles at any known adulterer he may encounter; after all, the Bible never says how big the stones should be.

 

         During the course of his biblical year Jacobs sets out to meet and experience many different sects of Jews and Christians in America. This gives him a broader sense of religion in the USA, but also gives the book a multi-faith marketability. He attends a service given by Jerry Falwell (months before he passed away), and spends an enlightening weekend with the Amish.

 

      He also celebrates Simchat Torah with Lubavitch Jews in Crown Heights. It was this lebedig experience that Jacobs has called the “spiritual high” of his year of living biblically. “It totally changed my paradigm,” Jacobs says in an interview with The Jewish Press. “I had always thought of Orthodox and Chassidic Jews as being very serious. But at [770] I got to see the joy religion can provide.”

 

         Jacobs even flies to Israel in order to fulfill certain biblical laws that only apply to the Holy Land (e.g. tithing his produce). While he’s in Israel Jacobs decides to meet the few remaining Samaritans and Karaites, and to meet his Hindu Guru – turned Orthodox – rabbi ex-uncle Gil.

 

         All of these encounters add to the narrative appeal of the novel; at times Jacobs becomes something of an oddly religious Gulliver during his travels.

 

         Rabbi Shmuly Boteach, an acquaintance of Jacobs, recently quipped that Jacobs’s book is basically ripping off his life, and those of all Orthodox Jews. Indeed, many Torah observant readers might find Jacobs’s project somewhat offensive. Some may feel that Jacobs should never have embarked on such a journey without the sincere intent of pursuing a religious life; something that it would seem was never in the game plan at the onset.

 

         But to Jacobs’s credit he treats religion as respectfully as possible, and even goes out of his way to fulfill some of the Torah’s lesser observed mitzvot (e.g. Jacobs actually manages to perform Shiluach HaKan, the sending away of the mother bird when taking her eggs, a mitzvah that few Jews have ever had the opportunity to practice).

 

         In person Jacobs has a humble and unassuming likeability. Talking to him for more than two minutes, one can plainly see that Jacobs in no way wished to attack or mock organized religion, that he in fact has a yearning for greater theological knowledge, to this day.

 

         While The Year of Living Biblically is another gimmicky attempt by Jacobs to disconnect himself from the social norm for the sake of humor and prestige (in his last book, The Know-It-All, he read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica in a year), the book still manages to display an earnest solemnity.

 

         Jacobs’s experience ultimately becomes about the author trying to be a better husband, better father, and a better man – all through the enabling influence of religion. Salvation may not lie within for the spiritual seeker, but the memoir, at the very least, does warm the soul.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/literally-orthodox-a-look-at-aj-jacobss-spiritual-journey/2008/01/09/

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