Judaism

Being Jewish Means Being Funny, and That’s No Joke

Jon Stewart at the 2009 Primetime Emmy Awards on September 20, 2009. Photo via RNS/courtesy Shutterstock

Yoo-hoo! Sarah Silverman, Jon Stewart, Larry David! No matter how unreligious you comics may be, American Jews seem proud to claim you.

Well, mostly. You know the joke: Two Jews, three opinions…

But seriously: A sweeping new survey from the Pew Research Center, “Portrait of Jewish Americans,” finds humor is one of the main qualities that four in 10 of the nation’s 5.3 million religious and cultural Jews say is essential to their Jewish identity. The survey was released Tuesday.

Do Not Bear False Witness Against Your Neighbor: The Surfer Boy and the Receptionist

The ninth commandment illustration, Siarhei Tolak / Shutterstock.com

The ninth commandment illustration, Siarhei Tolak / Shutterstock.com

"And God spoke all of these words…You shall not give false witness against your neighbor." Exodus 20:1, 16

Several months back I overheard a conversation in an office waiting room. A young, 20-something guy entered the waiting room with his board shorts on and his windblown hair haphazardly tucked beneath his backwards baseball cap as though he’d just come in from surfing – not uncommon in the beach community of Jacksonville, Fla. He strolled confidently to the receptionist and asked her a question about the availability of a person he wanted to see, made an appointment, and it seemed his business was done and he’d be on his way. Instead he asked the receptionist where she was from, if she liked her job, and then talked about the weather. He then began to tell her about a Bible study he was leading and a little about his faith journey – for the longest time he felt lost, was starting to get in trouble, then he found Jesus, was born again, and began to set his life straight.

After sharing his testimony he asked the receptionist, “What religion are you?" 

The LGBT Gap, By Religion

Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com.

Freedom and peace abstract concept background. Photo courtesy Pan Xunbin/Shutterstock.com.

We all know that when it comes to the acceptance of LGBT folks, religions differ. But what the religions communicate, and how the people in the pews actually feel, are not the same.

In a word, the rank and file tend to be more accepting than the leadership. What’s striking is how much this LGBT Gap varies from religion to religion, and we can get some idea of the variance from Pew’s new survey of LGBT Americans.

As the measure of institutional messaging, we will use the percentages of LGBT people who say a given religion is unfriendly to them. These range from 84, 83, 79, and 73 percent for Islam, Mormonism, Catholicism, and Evangelicalism to 47 and 44 percent for Judaism and Mainline Protestantism. Then there is the proportion of members of each religion who believe that “homosexuality should be discouraged by society.” That’s 45, 65, 20, and 59 percent for the first four groups; 15 and 26 percent for the last two.

Jewish Federations Support Egalitarian Space at Western Wall

In May, Women of the Wall was attacked by ultra-Orthodox Jews opposed to their non-traditional style of prayer. Photo via RNS.

The Jewish Federations of North America announced Monday that its trustees had passed a resolution in favor of a nonsegregated place where men and women can pray and read from the Torah at the Western Wall, the Jewish holy site.

Worshippers at the Western Wall now have two options: separate men’s and women’s sections, both under the auspices of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, an Orthodox institution.

The egalitarian plan will allow the Western Wall to “become a spiritual center for all Jews and a symbol of unity for the entire Jewish community world-wide,” the federation statement said.

Diverse Religion Because of Diverse Creation By a Diverse Creator?

Stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

I read a lot of Trinitarian theology last semester at Duke Divinity school, most of it trying to discern how believing in a Triune God might affect the way people of different religious faiths relate to one another. The other great Monotheisms, Islam and Judaism, of course reject the Trinity as they reject Jesus as divine. But what if the Christian belief in the Triune God is the very basis on which Christians can accept Jews as Jews, Muslims as Muslims, and atheists as atheists? Different theologians have explored how the Trinity might be a good place to ground a Christian theory of religious pluralism. S. Mark Heim has gone so far as to say that God’s own inner diversity shows God’s intention for a diverse humanity, even including religious diversity. In other words: People might believe in a non-Trinitarian God because they were made by a Trinitarian God. Mind-blowing.

I wasn’t expecting to find resonance in Charles Darwin, whose name has been used in so much anti-religious fervor. But in his 1857 letter to Asa Gray, Darwin wrote about the “principle of divergence” and how “the same spot will support more life if occupied by very diverse forms.” We might not want to make a precise analogy to human society when Darwin concludes that “each new variety or species, when formed will generally take the place of and so exterminate its less well-fitted parent.” 

That line of thinking could easily lead us to euthanasia. But, taken with his observation that diversity fosters life, we might say that co-existence with others forces a species to adapt, and everyone is better for it. Consider the converse of Darwin’s statement: The same spot will support less life if occupied by a unitary form. There is something life-giving – Heim might say “divine” – about difference.

Expanding the Debate around Circumcision

A court in Cologne, Germany, recently ruled that circumcising young boys represents grievous "bodily harm." The court found that the child’s "fundamental right to bodily integrity" was more important than the parents’ rights. According to the court, religious freedom "would not be unduly impaired" because the child could later decide whether to have the circumcision.

In response to the ruling, some Jews and Muslims who practice circumcision for religious reasons have protested vehemently. Subsequently, German politicians pledged to pass a law to protect ritual circumcision of young boys. Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger even traveled to Berlin to defend Jewish circumcisions, and a complaint against a Bavarian rabbi for performing circumcisions drew the anger of the Anti-Defamation League. The legal and cultural dilemma inherent in the issue makes prompt resolution unlikely.

Most of Germany (and the world) does not circumcise. It is instinctively viewed as harmful. Here's why...

Foremost Rabbinic Authority in the World Dies at 102

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel.  Image v

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock in the old city of Jerusalem, Israel. Image via SeanPavonePhoto / Shutterstock.

JERUSALEM — Rabbi Yosef Elyashiv, considered by many the foremost rabbinic authority in the Jewish world, died in Jerusalem on Wednesday. He was 102.

Born in Lithuania, Elyashiv moved to Jerusalem with his family at the age of 14, where he was recognized as a budding Torah scholar. 

Throughout his life Elyashiv wielded a huge influence not only among his fellow ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews but with many Sephardi Jews as well.

His rulings on every matter related to Jewish life, usually seen as extremely conservative, have shaped the way hundreds of thousands of haredim (as ultra-Orthodox Jews are often called) conduct their lives and run their communities.

Leonard Cohen's Stellar New 'Old Ideas' Explores Spirituality, Mortality

It doesn’t seem seven years since Leonard Cohen’s last album because the man has spent the middle years of his 70s up to his wrinkles in a whole lot of activity including critically acclaimed concert tours that produced a plethora of CDs and DVDs and a No.1 hit single via the dubious conduit of X Factor winner Alexandra Burke!

The years between 2004's Dear Heather and his latest album Old Ideas have built Cohen’s status to a Zen guru presence. For weeks there has been anticipation about this new record not because the public is imagining some reinvention at the age of 77 but more that he is the closest thing rock music has to a spiritual sage and we are waiting for the wisdom he has to share.

Old Ideas is no disappointment for those looking for spiritual songs.

Man Spends 12 Months Practicing 12 Different Religions, Finds Peace at Year’s End

Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Religious crossroads, Ryan DeBerardinis/Shutterstock.com

Andrew Bowen sat yoga-style in his armchair, absent-mindedly fingering a set of Muslim prayer beads in his left hand as he talked about 2011 -- his year of conversion.

But he's not Muslim. In fact, the 29-year-old Lumberton resident doesn't call himself by any of the 12 faiths he practiced for a month at a time last year.

Not Hindu (January). Not Baha'i (February). Not Zoroastrian (March). Not Jewish (April). Not Buddhist (May). Not agnostic (June). Not Mormon (July). Not Muslim (August). Not Sikh (September). Not Wiccan (October). Not Jain (November). And not Catholic (December).

Finding faith in God again was not Bowen's aim. This young father of two was looking for faith in humanity.

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