Women Rabbis Are Forging a Path Outside Denominational Judaism

Photo via Timothy Smith / Mishkan Chicago / RNS

Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann. Photo via Timothy Smith / Mishkan Chicago / RNS

At a synagogue in Charleston, S.C., more than 20 years ago, teenager Rachel Nussbaum began wrapping tefillin — two black boxes attached to leather straps that Jewish men wear as they pray.

To the older Jewish men gathered for morning prayers, the sight of a woman decked out like a man at prayer was shocking. Many didn’t know what to make of Nussbaum’s brazen willingness to break with tradition.

Now 38, and a rabbi, Nussbaum leads The Kavana Cooperative, a growing Jewish prayer community in Seattle that has much in common with a synagogue but doesn’t call itself one.

Like the tefillin-wrapping teenage Nussbaum, Kavana prides itself on a reputation for doing Judaism its own way.

Is the U.S. a Model of Interfaith Harmony for a Violent World?

Photo: Robin Marchant / Getty Images for SiriusXM / RNS

Cardinal Timothy Dolan (right) hosts a minister, a rabbi, and an imam. Photo: Robin Marchant / Getty Images for SiriusXM / RNS

Is religion the cause of so much of the violence racking today’s world? Or is faith just one of many factors? Or collateral damage?

Those are tough questions, the kind that are usually posed to religious leaders, not by religious leaders.

But Cardinal Timothy Dolan wanted to switch things up on his weekly radio show, so he invited a minister, a rabbi, and an imam to tackle that issue. What sounds like the opening line of a joke was actually an in-depth discussion of “the rise of religious intolerance.”

“I don’t know if there would be anything more pertinent today, or more timely today, than religious harmony, or the lack thereof,” Dolan, the Roman Catholic archbishop of New York, said March 31 in opening a special edition of his program on the Catholic Channel of the SiriusXM network.

“The elephant in the room is that today, whether we like it or not, religion is often the cause of scandal,” he said.

“Religion is supposed to be an overwhelmingly positive force that brings people together, that increases love and understanding, human progress and human enlightenment.”

But many people today — believers and nonbelievers alike — see religion as the opposite, he said, and “that keeps the four of us up at night.”

Bondage, Freedom, and #TomatoRabbis

Here come the #TomatoRabbis / Photo via T'ruah

Closer to home, one of the messages that many of us often hear is that there is slavery in the supply chains of the products that we buy every day: cotton, chocolate, produce. This can be paralyzing when we go to the mall or the grocery store. None of us want to purchase something that originates in an extreme human rights violation. But the solution cannot be simply to buy a different product. When we talk about labor trafficking, we must keep the focus on the worker who is enslaved rather than the product we consume.

As a rabbi, I know that is not my tomato or banana that is created in the image of God—it is the person who picked that product. Fighting for food justice means ensuring the human rights and wages of workers, and doing so in a way that places the needs, dignity, and expertise of the workers at the head of the table. This last piece is crucial: no one can tell us how best to solve human rights abuses in supply chains, including modern slavery, more than the workers who have the most at stake...

We must raise up the leadership of those most affected by forced labor and support their efforts to create new futures for themselves. Since 2011, T’ruah has taken more than 50 rabbis to Immokalee to learn from the CIW. The stories they hear—and the transformation they see—inspire them to go home and turn their congregations into more than just educated consumers. They become activists: they write letters to corporations urging them to join the Fair Food Program, stage protests, take Hebrew school students to meet with managers, write op-eds, and deliver sermons. Our #TomatoRabbis have become part of the larger movement of Fair Food activists, urging corporations to live up to their professed values and join the new day dawning in the Florida tomato industry that is the only proven slavery-prevention program in the U.S.

French Jews at a Crossroads: ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

Photo via Donald Jenkins / Flickr / RNS

A Jewish bakery in Paris. Photo via Donald Jenkins / Flickr / RNS

Let me tell you about a married couple. They have been together for many years. Their marriage has had some good moments, but there have also been periods of verbal and physical abuse. Finally, the wife tells her husband that she is considering leaving the marriage. She knows she has options. She can go to a shelter for battered wives, and even find her own place to live in safety and security.

As she starts her car in the garage, her husband runs after her. He drops to his knees and begs: “Please don’t go. I won’t be ‘me’ without you!”

Does she put her foot on the brake, shut off the engine and go back into the house? Does she stay in what has become a very troubled marriage?

That is precisely the question that many Jews in Europe have been asking themselves. More than 7,000 French Jews have moved to Israel in the last year, and there are clear signs others will follow.

This is huge. France has the third-largest Jewish community in the world.

Israeli Institute Gets $2.2 Million to Help Christians Study Jewish Thought

President of the Herzl Institute Yoram Hazony. Photo courtesy of the Herzl Institute/RNS.

A new institute in Jerusalem has been awarded $2.2 million to help Christians and Jews study Jewish texts, launching what’s being billed as a new kind of Jewish-Christian cooperation.

The Herzl Institute was awarded what’s being called the first ever multimillion-dollar grant in Jewish theology by the U.S-based Templeton Foundation, a philanthropic organization that has focused much of its giving on science-related projects. The Herzl Institute is a research institute that focuses on the development of Jewish ideas in fields like philosophy and history.

The institute is named for Theodor Herzl, considered the father of modern political Zionism, ideas that have found much support from conservative and evangelical Christians in the U.S.

Jewish and Christian collaboration has often been relegated to the political level, said Herzl President Yoram Hazony. The partnership reflects a new kind of engagement between Christians and Jews, he said.

Ted Cruz Booed Off the Stage When He Touts Israel-Christian Solidarity

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who claimed “Christians have no greater ally than Israel." Photo courtesy of Senator Ted Cruz/RNS.

After he said “Christians have no greater ally than Israel,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was heckled off the stage at a Sept. 10 gala to raise awareness of beleaguered Mideast Christians.

Cruz, the keynote speaker at the Washington, D.C., dinner, sponsored by In Defense of Christians, a new organization spearheaded by Catholic and Orthodox Christians, prompted boos and cries of “stop it!” and “enough” and “no!” as an increasingly louder crowd told him to get off the stage.

The incident, first reported by the online news organization The Daily Caller, was captured on video by EWTN, the Catholic television network. The video shows that Cruz tried to continue speaking, but many in the audience, in a hotel ballroom, expressed anger when he included Hamas in the list of militants out to destroy religious minorities in the Middle East.

Why Evangelicals' Love for Jews Is a Case of Unrequited Love

Michael Schulson is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. RNS photo courtesy Michael Schulson.

According to a new survey, white evangelical Christians feel a lot of warmth toward Jews.

As for Jews, they feel colder toward evangelical Christians than they do about any other religious group.

Cue the Taylor Swift ballads: We have here a serious case of unrequited love.

Americans View Jews, Christians Warmly; Atheists, Muslims Get Cold Shoulder

New Pew Research Center study had Americans rate religious groups. Image courtesy Bill Webster, via Pew Research Center.

A new Pew Research survey finds U.S. adults feel most warmly about people who share their religion or those they know as family, friends or co-workers.

Americans give their highest scores to Jews, Catholics, and Evangelicals on a zero-to-100 “thermometer” featured in the survey, “How Americans Feel about Religious Groups,” released Wednesday. They’re nestled within a few degrees of each other: Jews, 63; Catholics, 62; evangelicals, 61.

In the middle of the chart: Buddhists, 53; Hindus, 50; Mormons, 48. Trending to the chilly negative zone: atheists at 41 and Muslims at 40.

Pew took the thermal reading because “understanding the question of how religious groups view each other is valuable in a country where religion plays an important role in public life,” said Greg Smith, Pew’s associate director of religion research.

Evangelical, Pro-Israel and Pro-Palestine

Todd Deatherage is the executive director and co-founder of the Telos Group. Photo courtesy of the Telos Group. Via RNS

Secretary of State John Kerry brought his argument for a two-state Israeli-Palestinian peace to the annual AIPAC conference this week, and whatever else we might know, we know this: Many evangelical Christians didn’t like it.

Or at least that’s what we’re told by some Christian leaders and their political allies. Supporting Israel’s government by opposing compromise with the Palestinians is a permanent plank in American evangelical political thought. “God told Abraham that he would bless those who bless him and the nation of Israel,” the thinking goes, “and curse those that curse Israel.”

But could it be that the truth is more complicated?

What if the loudest evangelical voices don’t represent the complexity of our community? I raise these questions as an evangelical who is fully committed to supporting the struggle for security, dignity, and freedom for Israelis and Palestinians. And I’m not alone.

'Jerusalem,' a Tribute to the Holy City, Comes to the Giant Screen

An IMAX camera films the Western Wall during Pesach. Photo: Nicolas Ruel, courtesy Jerusalem US LP/National Geographic Society

It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.

The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.

For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.

Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.

“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”