web analytics
October 23, 2014 / 29 Tishri, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘religion’

The Undivided Past

Friday, October 4th, 2013

There are several words used in the Bible to describe the Jewish people. At one stage we were simply tribal. Then we became an “Am”, a people, a “Goy”, a nation, a “Mamlacha”, a kingdom. Post-Biblically, if the gentiles called us Jews, Judeans, Israelites, Hebrews, Yids, or whatever, we used “Yisrael” as the name of choice, in the main, which meant a people, a culture, a religion, a relationship with God and a land, all of that in varying and amorphous degrees. We knew what it meant, even if others were confused or bemused. It takes one to know one.

Under pagan empires religion was not a factor, just loyalty to an overarching regime or royal family. If you were a serf it was loyalty to your lord and village. Neither the Persian, nor the Greek, nor the Roman Empires cared how you worshipped or behaved, so long as you professed loyalty to the empire. Then Christianity emerged as the religion of the Roman Empire and other religions were marginalized. Ironically the bloodiest battles were within Christianity, between one theological variation and another. The same thing happened under Islam. Ideals soon got perverted by politics and as today, Muslims of different sects killed more Muslims than all their enemies put together and doubled. Freud memorably described this internal divisiveness as “the narcissism of minor differences”.

In the West, most Jews that non-Jews encounter are not particularly committed to being Jewish. For Jews like a Soros or a Zuckerberg, it’s an accident of birth, a minor casual affiliation, like belonging to the Church of England. And this explains why most of those in the West who think about the matter reckon that the Jews are not really too concerned about having a land of their own and that it was only the accidental intervention of imperialist powers that explains the Jewish presence in the Middle East. It was a misjudged adventure. And really the Jews ought to pick up and leave and stop being nasty to the indigenous population.

It takes an objective observer to notice that for millennia Jews have shared a powerful core identity, even if in almost every situation except when they were given a choice, most Jews actually abandoned the community of Jews. But it took a determined minority within a minority to fight hard, relentlessly, and ultimately victoriously for its Jewish identity.

In his book The Undivided Past: Humanity Beyond Our Differences, David Cannadine writes:

“Egypt under the Pharaohs may have resembled a nation…but there was no accompanying sense of public culture or collective identity. As for the ancient Greeks, their limited pan Hellenic aspirations embodied in their shared language, Homeric epics and Olympic games foundered on the disputatious reality of their fiercely independent city-states. Similar objections have been made to claims that the Sumerians, the Persians, the Phoenicians, the Arameans, the Philistines, the Hittites and the Elamites were ancient nations, or that the Sinhalese, the Japanese or the Koreans might be so described during the first millennium of the common era. Only in the case of Israel does it seem plausible to discern a recognizable ancient nation with its precise though disputed territoriality, its ancient myths, its shared historical memories of the Exodus, the Conquest and wars with the Philistines, its strong sense of exceptionalism and providential destiny and its self-definition against a hostile “other” and its common laws and cultures. These were and are the essential themes in the unfinished history of the Jews this example has also furnished ever since a developed model of what it means to be a nation.” (p. 58)

Throughout exile we somehow did preserve a sense of belonging to a people, to a tradition, to a land, a sense of community, Klal Yisrael. This is why the problem of Israel in the Middle East, the Jewish problem, is so intractable. The overwhelming majority of Jews now living in Israel or the West Bank are committed to the notion of a Jewish people. It is not to be compared as ignorant opponents of Israel try, to a few British or white imperialists imposing themselves on a vast majority “other”. Some may try to delegitimize us by overturning a decision of the United Nations, but they cannot delegitimize or wish away the Jewish people.

An IMAX Film of the Jerusalem You Never Have Seen Before (Video)

Thursday, October 3rd, 2013

Five years in the making, the first IMAX film ever made about Jerusalem is as much a visual tour de force as a marvel of cultural diplomacy.

“Jerusalem,” which had its world premiere last week at Boston’s Museum of Science, uses cutting-edge cinematography to immerse the audience in the ancient city’s historic sites from rarely seen perspectives.

Over the course of 45 minutes, viewers are treated to rare aerial views of the Old City as Jews gather at the Western Wall for the priestly blessing, Christian pilgrims march down the Via Dolorosa and Muslims gather at the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan.

Distributed by National Geographic Entertainment, the film, narrated by the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch, will show on IMAX screens and in digital 3-D cinemas across the United States in the coming weeks.

Gaining access to some of the world’s most sensitive and contested locations was a test of devotion and artful negotiations that took the film’s three producers and a team of advisers years to accomplish. Preparations required dozens of meetings with Israeli and Palestinian Authority officials, the Israeli army and the many clerics who control the city’s religious sites.

Filming from a low-altitude helicopter in the Old City of Jerusalem’s strict no-fly zone required a permit that had not been granted in more than 20 years, the filmmakers said, and acquiring the permit took eight months of negotiations.

In advance of the shooting, producers took out ads in the major Hebrew- and Arabic-language newspapers to notify residents about the helicopter filming.

“There was nothing that was not complicated,” Taran Davies, one of the film’s producers, said at the premiere.

Even the terrestrial shots were difficult to carry off. For the scene filmed at the Western Wall, an IMAX camera was mounted on a crane above the crowds.

The most challenging authorization by far was for the Temple Mount, known in Islam as the Muslim Noble Sanctuary, which required permission from the Islamic custodial body, the religious affairs ministry in Jordan and Israeli security forces.

A critical figure in helping the producers navigate the logistical maze was Ido Aharoni, now Israel’s consul general in New York. Aharoni first learned about the film six years ago when he directed Brand Israel, a project to promote Israel around the world.

He recognized the potential of portraying the country’s historical and cultural gems in such a visually powerful medium. IMAX films also typically screen in museums and can run for years.

“The whole purpose of the movie is to produce a visually awesome experience for the moviegoer who happens to be a museumgoer; it can’t be judged like any other movie,” Aharoni told JTA. “Realizing that, we told [the producers], ‘Whatever you need, we’ll help you.’ ”

The film’s mesmerizing visuals are woven into a narrative propelled by the voices of three teenage Jerusalemite women — Jewish, Christian and Muslim. Fluent in English, the women offer eloquent descriptions of the deep religious, cultural and family ties that bind them and their respective religions to their home city.

Though the film was carefully planned down to the last minute and camera angle, Daniel Ferguson, the film’s producer, writer and director, told JTA the teens’ words were their own.

“My goal is to promote understanding,” Ferguson told JTA. “The film will change assumptions and give a window into another point of view.”

The voices of the women are supplemented by that of Jodi Magness, an archaeologist at the University of North Carolina, who guides viewers through an ancient tunnel and visits active excavation sites that continue to unearth the history of the land.

The filmmakers took great pains to balance the presentation of all three religions, according to George Duffield, another producer with longstanding ties to Israel. He and Ferguson say they were at times pressed to take a position on controversial or political issues, but insisted on neutrality.

“Everyone wanted the film to be about their own faith,” Duffield said. “That’s how they see the city.”

The producers hope the film can be used to promote tolerance and understanding. Profits will be donated to the Jerusalem Foundation and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem to underwrite projects that benefit all residents of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum in a still from the IMAX film “Jerusalem."

Jerusalem’s Tower of David Museum in a still from the IMAX film “Jerusalem.”

Leaked Quebec Plan would Ban Kippot on Public Workers

Sunday, August 25th, 2013

A plan by Quebec’s government to ban “religious symbols,” including the kippa, among public sector workers has elicited worry from religious minorities in the Canadian province.

The bill would seek to ban public employees from wearing large Christian crosses or religious headwear such as that worn by Sikhs, Muslims and Jews while at work.

Richard Marceau, a former politician who now advises the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs, wrote responded to the plan in a critical article in the Huffington Post, where he wrote, “How could one believe that a kippah-wearing Jewish librarian is… trying to impose his religion on society?”

The details of the proposed law were leaked to Journal de Montrèal last week, but the Parti Quebecois, which heads the provincial government, has refused to confirm them or answer questions related to the issue.

Hebrew Union Pres. Pulls Fast One in Non-Jewish Rabbi Debate

Friday, August 16th, 2013

Earlier this week, we ran a story about a reform cantor and rabbi whose father was Jewish but her mother was not, and who is serving in her two very Jewish sounding roles without the benefit of a proper—or even a Reform—conversion (It’s Official: You Can Be a Non-Jewish Rabbi). To me, it seemed like the ultimate, end-of-the-line kind of illustration of how far the Reform movement has strayed outside the rabbinical tent, although over the heated discussion that ensued by our readers it was mentioned that the lady in question is not the first non-Jewish Reform rabbi since the Reform movement enacted the doctrine of patrilineal descent to determine who is a Reform Jew.

We now received a response letter from David Ellenson, President of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, protesting our article. I was conflicted over whether we should run the article as is, and expect our readers to debate it, or add my own running commentary. The reason I decided to do the latter, which, I admit, is taking advantage of my position as editor, at the expense of the author, is that the letter is rife with misleading information.

I debated this with our editor in chief, and we decided that, in the name of fairness, we’ll run only complete paragraphs of the Ellenson letter, in sequential order, and add comments only between paragraphs, much the way some people do when they respond to a long email. So, here we go:

To the Editor:

I recognize that the editors and authors of The Jewish Press have a different stance towards Judaism than we at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and in the Reform Movement do. Indeed, I do not question your right to approach Judaism and the issue of conversion as you deem proper even as our own principled position is distinct from yours. However, no less a rabbinic personage than Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer of Posen, the famed author of Drishat Tsiyon, referred to children of Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers – even without conversion – as zera kodesh. He asserted that “gdolei yisrael” could well spring from among these children.

The citation from Rabbi Kalischer of Posen (who vehemently rejected the Reform movement of his day, see Hertzberg, Arthur, The Zionist Idea: A Historical Analysis and Reader) is misleading, and a little bit offensive.

It suggests that Rabbi Kalischer—a student of Rabbi Akiva Eger and one of the most noted Zionist Rabbis of the early 1800s (he called for the redeeming of all of Eretz Israel and for the renewal of the Temple sacrifices, both values that I would love to see adopted by the Reform movement) supported the recognition of the offspring of Jewish men and their non-Jewish wives as Jews, without a halachic conversion.

Throwing such a ludicrous claim without proper citation does not befit the president of an academic institute, mostly because it forced yours truly to spend hours online in search of the cite. But I did. Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, affiliated with the RCA beit din in Montreal, told Paul Lungen of CJN (New standards possible for Orthodox conversions) about an 1864 case when two German rabbis, Zvi Hirsch Kalischer and Azriel Hildesheimer debated the standards to be applied to child conversion:

“Responding to a query from a rabbi in New Orleans, Rabbi Kalischer argued that if the child was brought up in a home where there was potential for him to grow in observance – even where the mother was gentile – the conversion should be approved. Rabbi Hildesheimer believed conversions should not be approved unless the parents were observant.”

In other words, the honorable president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion is trying to pull off a dishonest shmear, suggesting that by his sweet comment that those children of Jewish fathers and gentile mothers are “holy seed” (zera kodesh) – he meant they could become rabbis without a proper conversion.

No, no, no. The debate was over whether a guy who marries a non-Jew can ask for a halachic conversion of their children, even though he is so outside the Jewish fold that he went and married a Jew.

In our own time, Rabbi Haim Amsalem of Israel, in his Zera Yisrael, has offered a broad survey of halakhic writing on this question and has made the same point as Rabbi Kalischer concerning the offspring of intermarried Russian families who have made aliyah to Israel. Rabbi Amsalem has written that such children, who share in the fate and destiny of our people, should be embraced.

This one is not merely a lie, but a stupid lie, because the rabbi in question is alive and well, and can speak for himself, which he did. Here, for the record, is rabbi Chaim Ansalem’s view on the conversion of children of intermarried Russian families (the text was shortened, the full version is available here):

More on the ‘Religion of Permanent Offense’

Friday, August 9th, 2013

Transcript: A word to rioting Muslims



Well, once again we see multiple violent tantrums from the religion of permanent offence. Some things never change, do they?

Once again we see Islam self-detonate (if you’ll pardon the expression) and show once again why it’s about as welcome on this planet as an asteroid. Once again we see thousands of Islamic nutcases take time out from beating up their wives to show their sensitive side. How? By smashing up the towns they live in, egged on by clerical ignoramuses whose motives are even lower than the literacy level of their followers. And once again we in the civilized world are being urged to censor ourselves out of respect for a religion that violates the human rights of half the people on the planet and that doubles as a political ideology indistinguishable from Nazism. It would be funny if it wasn’t so obscene. Or should that be the other way round?

To call these riots infantile and imbecilic is to give them a dignity they don’t deserve. They can only be described as Islamic. Let me get this straight. We’re supposed to show tolerance and respect for a religion that doesn’t know the meaning of either word and goes out of its way to prove it every day? We’re supposed to amend our values to accommodate a religion that accommodates nothing and nobody? Dream on, people. It’s not going to happen, because with Islam it’s always a one way street. We’ve learned that lesson the hard way.

We can’t afford any more tolerance and respect. We’ve been sucked dry. And we’ve become weary of manufactured Islamic grievance. It’s such a bore that now when we hear some bearded buffoon or some bag-headed bimbo telling us how offended they are we can’t even be bothered to laugh any more. Not even when the Turkish prime minister hilariously demands that “Islamophobia” now be made a crime against humanity, when, given the evidence, there’s a much stronger case for making Islam a crime against humanity. Besides, Turkey is already hypocritically guilty of one of the worst crimes against humanity in history, the Armenian genocide, a crime it doesn’t even have the balls to admit to.

When Muslims start showing the same level of outrage about things that are genuinely offensive, like the thousands of women and girls who are murdered, mutilated and raped every year in their countries then we might take them a bit more seriously. As it is, there is nothing on this planet less deserving of sympathy or respect than Muslim outrage. Indeed, there’s something deeply comical about it. It’s so contrived and so cringingly un-self aware it’s impossible to take seriously, even if we wanted to, and nobody in their right mind wants to any more.

There was a time when Islam was given the benefit of the doubt by many people in the West. Now we think it’s poison and we wish we had never heard of it, because 20 years of baseless grievance mongering and knee-jerk offence have shown us this religion for what it really is, and now we don’t like it, we don’t trust it, and we are never going to respect it. And we don’t care how Muslims feel about that. Everything is an insult to this religion. Everything causes offence. Well, nobody gives a damn any more, people. You’ve done it to death. You’ve killed the goose that laid the golden egg. So now, if you’re an offended Muslim, go stick your head in the oven for all we care. And if you think that if you keep up the violence the West will eventually cave in, it’s not going to happen. Even if the politicians want it to, the people won’t allow it. We’ll carry on speaking our minds openly and freely because it’s our birthright, and it can’t be taken away from us. It can only be given away. And we are giving Islam nothing, because Islam gives us nothing. It’s a religion permanently on the take. Gimme gimme gimme is all we ever hear. Give me respect, even though I haven’t earned it. Give me special treatment or I’ll be offended and you’ll be a racist. Well, we’re sick and tired of hearing it, we’re sick and tired of Islam, and we’re sick and tired of the needless conflict and intimidation that comes from this religion at every turn.

All week we’ve heard Muslims telling us that we in the West need to understand how important the prophet is to them. We do understand, and we don’t care. That’s the point. We don’t care now, and we are never going to care. Get used to it. We don’t give a damn about your feelings. Our feelings are more important, and our feelings tell us that we’re sick to the back teeth of hearing about your religion, so stick a sock in it. And no amount of violence is going to change a thing. The more you riot and scream and shout, the less we’re going to listen. It will simply stiffen our resolve not to be bullied and pushed around by people whose values we don’t respect because you’ve given us no reason to respect them, and, more to the point, because you are incapable of giving us such a reason.

In short, we will not be told what we can and cannot say, not by you, not by anybody, not now, not ever. No matter how many flags you burn, no matter how many embassies you attack, free speech will prevail, and you’ll suck it up and like it.

What Does It Mean to Be Jewish?

Thursday, August 8th, 2013

The question “What does it mean to be Jewish?” has often been asked. I suppose you could invoke the old joke “Ask two Jews a question and you’ll get three opinions” to better comprehend how different Jews would respond to this question, so when I weigh in here, I hope readers will forgive me if my opinions don’t always accord with theirs.

But the question is legitimate and should be asked. Jewish people share a common heritage and are affected by many of the same issues today. They face a world in which their religion is part of their identity; no matter how far apart they are on the religious and political spectrums (not to mention any others), they share a common bond that unites them in terms of how they relate to each other and to the outside world.

So what does it mean to be Jewish? To me, it means the following:

● To believe in God. Divine affirmation is the foundation of Judaism. Everything else comes after.

● To observe Shabbat and the various yom tovim. What could be more meaningful, spiritual, and fulfilling – more Jewish – than practicing the religious aspects of Judaism?

● To lead an honorable life. Shouldn’t we all aspire to become tzaddikim, righteous people?

● To keep kosher. Certain things just seem to go together, like lox and bagels, gefilte fish and horseradish – and being Jewish and keeping kosher.

● To do mitzvot. There are 613 mitzvot in the Torah, including the above. Carrying out mitzvot is part of our code.

● To carry on Jewish traditions. There’s life after davening, and it’s called Jewish culture. Chanukah gifts, hamantashen, and singing niggunim on Shabbat are just a few of the wonderful customs that have evolved from the religion and its people.

● To be proud of your Jewish heritage. Wear it on your sleeve – you’re a member of a tribe that has nearly 6,000 years of history.

● To feel an immediate bond with fellow Jews. Have you ever felt like you can be anywhere in the world and if you find a fellow Jew, you feel an immediate kinship?

● To involve yourself in a community of Jews. As birds of a feather flock together, it’s only natural for Jews to be immersed in a Jewish world – having Jewish friends, engaging in Jewish activities, living in Jewish neighborhoods.

● To feel a Jewish identity. Even if you’re not as religious as you could or should be, what could possibly make you more Jewish than feeling Judaism is an indelible part of your soul, or that being Jewish is simply who you are?

● To feel a special connection to Jewish history. Who can feel the pain of Jewish persecutions, expulsions, and genocides more than a Jew? Who can feel the catastrophe of the Holocaust more deeply than a Jew?

● To take great pride in Israel. Do you get the chills when you hear “Hatikvah”? After 2,000 years of Jews living in the Diaspora as a weak, defenseless, persecuted people, what greater modern miracle could there be than the resurrection of the Jewish homeland?

● To place an emphasis on education. Jewish parents may be the original “tiger moms and dads.” Perhaps that is why some professions are disproportionately populated by Jews.

● To feel empathy for the poor, oppressed, and downtrodden. You only have to consider how much we’ve suffered as a people to understand how this got into our DNA.

● To have a Jewish funny bone. You can relate to Jewish humor because you’re laughing at yourself and other Jewish people you know – and, nu, do you think there’s any shortage of Jewish foibles?

● To think in “Jewish ways.” How do Jews think? Oy vey iz mir. We think the number 18 brings good luck, so we sometimes give gifts in denominations of 18, like $36 or $180. We try to ward off the evil eye after hearing compliments or wonderful news by saying “kenohora” or mimicking spitting by going “pooh-pooh-pooh.” Oh, and there’s the proverbial Jewish guilt, as well as our inimitable designation of “mishagas” to explain a panoply of crazy behavior with a Jewish edge. Is there such a thing as a Yiddishe kop? Suffice it to say that when you do something stupid, you’re not using it.

Madrid Jewish Community Denies Rabbi’s Anti-Gay Statements

Wednesday, August 7th, 2013

The Jewish community of Madrid denied the authenticity of quotes attributed to its chief rabbi in which he reportedly called gays “deviants” who need “re-educating.”

The interview was “distorted,” Ziva Freidkes, a spokeswoman for the Madrid Jewish community, told JTA on Wednesday, referring to the interview of Rabbi Moshe Bendahan published last week on Religion Digital, a Spanish-language news website.

Freidkes said Bendahan never made the negative references to gays and that the interview was “inaccurate and took things out of context.”

The rabbi was quoted as saying, “Homosexuality is a deviation from nature. It’s an anti-natural tendency and a sin. Contemplating allowing, consenting to what is known as ‘gay marriages,’ would be a monstrosity.”

In a statement published Tuesday on Religion Digital, the community said, “For a very long time now, we have been supporting the gay community’s fight against discrimination.”

Religion Digital, one of the country’s major news portals on religion, released its own statement on Tuesday reaffirming the veracity of the quotes. The journalist who interviewed Bendahan, Antonio Aradillas, was described as having “undeniable prestige and decades of experience in covering religious affairs.”

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/madrid-jewish-community-denies-rabbis-anti-gay-statements/2013/08/07/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: