Judaism

Abe Foxman and dependence on 'quote machines' in the journalistic process

Abe Foxman and dependence on 'quote machines' in the journalistic process

Is there a working religion journalist in America who's ever done a story concerning anti-Semitism who did not seek a quick quote from Abraham H. Foxman, the newly retired national director of the Anti-Defamation League?

If so, please contact me. You're unique.

After almost three decades as the ADL's main man and a half-century with the organization itself, Foxman -- a veritable quote machine who, for many journalists, functioned as the unofficial voice of mainstream, organized American Jewry -- has finally, at 75, handed in his badge. Characteristically, he did not go quietly.

"Today is the last day of my long tenure as national director of the Anti-Defamation League," he began an oped distributed July 20 by JTA, the international Jewish wire service. 

"So why am I choosing to write an article on my last day? It is the same imperative that has motivated me all these years: If I see something troubling to the Jewish people, I cannot be still.

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'Modest' bathing suits featured on Wall Street Journal's front page — what's religion got to do with it?

'Modest' bathing suits featured on Wall Street Journal's front page — what's religion got to do with it?

Today's Wall Street Journal features a front-page trend story on "modest" bathing suits.

I read the lede and immediately felt my GetReligion Spidey sense tingle:

WEST ORANGE, N.J. — When Deborah Nixon heads to her local pool in her swimsuit — a pair of long black leggings and a matching short-sleeved top like surfers wear — she gets compliments and admiring glances, at least from other women.
“It is the New Sexy,” says Ms. Nixon. The 58-year-old, who has abandoned her conventional one-piece bathing suit in favor of the more elaborate get-up, is convinced she looks and feels better with less of her showing.
A whole lot less.
Ms. Nixon, a former nurse and retired captain in the U.S. Public Health Service, is a fan of so-called modest swimsuits. This increasingly popular style of beachwear is a far cry — and for some women a welcome relief — from the skimpy bikinis and bare-all Brazilian bottoms that have dominated beach fashions.

A little personal background: Growing up in Churches of Christ in the South, we didn't believe in "mixed bathing," which referred to boys and girls swimming together. My family did watch "The Love Boat" on Saturday nights, which always confused me. Not that I complained.

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Gee whiz! American media shelve one of the Ten Commandments

Gee whiz!  American media shelve one of the Ten Commandments

The Bible’s celebrated Ten Commandments are back in the news yet again, as Oklahoma’s Supreme Court orders removal of a monument reproducing them from the state capitol. and legislators piously order up a referendum on whether citizens want to restore the words by removing a church-state separation clause from the state constitution.

Recall the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court head-scratcher that upheld a Ten Commandments display in Texas while outlawing another one in Kentucky? Not to mention that the justices’ own courtroom displays a frieze of Moses as the lawgiver holding the sacred tablets. (Muslims have asked the Court to sandblast away the similar frieze honoring Muhammad because their religion forbids visual representations of the Prophet.)

All very confusing.

Separationists protest that the early commandments require reverence toward God, a strictly religious matter, before the Decalogue turns to corrosive temporal deeds like adultery, murder, thievery, deceit, and envy. Perhaps Five Commandments would pass secular scrutiny.

Meanwhile, the American media are playing an interesting role in the commandments contretemps. By both carelessness and calculation, they have consistently undermined one tenet as though there are only Nine Commandments. Is the Religion Guy irredeemably old-fashioned to point out this one?

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Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Story theme borrowed from another beat: Whatever happened to science in Islam?

Religion reporters should look beyond their ghetto for story themes, and here’s a good one: Why does science lag so notably in the Muslim world, and what can be done about it?

That question was raised by assistant editor Ross Pomeroy at www.realclearscience.com. Some religionistas may recall his 2012 piece for biologos.org titled “Why Strict Atheism is Unscientific.”

The latest Pomeroy headline is equally controversial: “Can Islam Come Back to the Light of Science?” He presents data to highlight the problem, which is far broader than simply Mideast sheiks flying to London or New York for medical treatments:

In 2005, Harvard University alone produced more scientific papers than 17 Arabic-speaking nations combined. The Muslim population of 1.6 billion has produced only two Nobel Prize-winners in chemistry and physics in history, and both moved to the West to work.

Now, Jews are outnumbered 100 to one by Muslims globally yet boast 79 such Nobel laureates. The 57 nations in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation spend less than a percent of their collective gross domestic product on research and development, a third of the global average; Israel spends 4.4 percent.

What went wrong?

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Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

  Amid all the MSM thumbsuckers about gay marriage and religion, one piece stands out

“Thumbsuckers” (think pieces) about the U.S. Supreme Court’s order to nationalize same-sex marriage will be flowing forth for some time to come. In the early batch, one article from Religion News Service stands out. The writer is the invariably interesting Tobin Grant, a Southern Illinois University political scientist.

Thanks to the massive sample in the 2007 “Religious Landscape Survey” from  Pew Research, Grant could access detailed breakdowns on beliefs within  dozens of specific U.S. religious groups.

Note: Pew conducted a similar survey in 2014 and reporters should be alert for updated results on marriage attitudes that are likely to appear later this year. Also note: Perhaps Grant himself takes the liberal view on these matters since his RNS page posts a response to the conservative Gospel Coalition from Matthew Vines, whose recent book offers "the biblical case in support of same-sex relationships."

Grant’s analysis of the Pew data has two aspects.

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Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?

Which Old Testament laws actually apply to non-Jews?

VALERIE’S QUESTION:

Do God’s laws apply to Gentiles, including foods that should not be eaten, i.e. pigs, fish without scales?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Valerie raises a broad topic but focuses on the ritually prohibited foods in the Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) as listed in Leviticus 11 and  Deuteronomy 14.

For traditional Jews, kosher observance involves both obedience to God and identity with their people and heritage across thousands of years. However, Judaism does not call upon non-Jews (“Gentiles”) to do the same (more below on what behavior it does expect). In addition to the listings, biblical commandments against eating blood lead to kosher slaughtering methods and draining and salting of meats. Also, the biblical law against boiling a goat in mother’s milk was later extended to bar meals that mix meat and dairy products.

Christianity from the start did not apply these food laws to Gentiles, as shown in two key New Testament passages. It’s generally assumed that Jesus, as a faithful Jew, would have observed the common dietary practices. However, in the Gospel of Mark 7:14-19, Jesus teaches, “Do you not see that whatever goes into a man from outside cannot defile him, since it enters, not his heart but his stomach, and so passes on?” Here Jesus is making a general point about the sinfulness of the human heart, but Mark adds an editorial comment on one way the earliest Christians understood his words: “Thus he declared all foods clean.”

Jesus’ implicit message turns explicit in the Book of Acts chapter 10, which depicts the Christian conversion of the Roman soldier Cornelius.

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AP has Catholics standing alone, sort of, in debates over California right-to-die bill

AP has Catholics standing alone, sort of, in debates over California right-to-die bill

Last time I checked, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has quite a few congregations in the state of California.

The same thing is true for the Southern Baptists, the Assemblies of God and the whole world of nondenominational evangelical Protestantism. Can you say Vineyards? Surely there are quite a few mosques, Orthodox Jewish synagogues and Hindu sanctuaries, as well.

Why do I make this rather obvious point?

Check out the top of this recent Associated Press report about the latest front in the political and moral wars over the whole right to die, death with dignity, physician-assisted suicide, euthanasia question. Spot anything strange?

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Legislation that would allow California physicians to help terminally ill patients end their lives has met strong opposition from lawmakers in Catholic districts and others. ...

Aid-in-dying advocates hoped the nationally publicized case of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old California woman with brain cancer who moved to Oregon to legally end her life last fall, would prompt a wave of new state laws allowing doctors to prescribe life-ending
medications. But no state has passed right-to-die legislation this year, and efforts have been defeated or stalled in Colorado, Maine, New Jersey and elsewhere.

And there's more:

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More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

More media examine implications of Supreme Court gay marriage decision

Fallout is still, well, falling out from the Supreme Court's declaration of gay marriage as a constitutional right. Most are also lagging behind the New York Times, which set the pace on Thursday with its advance story on conservative fears of the implications of the decision.

The Times lengthened its lead over the weekend, with a story on the flurry of efforts to carve out religious exemptions.

The Times gets right to the topic in the lede:

Within hours of the Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, an array of conservatives including the governors of Texas and Louisiana and religious groups called for stronger legal protections for those who want to avoid any involvement in same-sex marriage, like catering a gay wedding or providing school housing to gay couples, based on religious beliefs.
They demanded establishing clear religious exemptions from discrimination laws, tax penalties or other government regulations for individuals, businesses and religious-affiliated institutions wishing to avoid endorsing such marriages.

The article then cites governors Greg Abbott of Texas and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana on their determination to fight gay marriage in their states. Jindal, of course, is also a candidate for president.

The Times then reviews the Supreme Court documents: first, the majority opinion, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, that religious groups may still teach their beliefs; a dissenting opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., warning that the high court will likely start getting cases where religious and gay rights clash.

But the newspaper hits the nail in quoting Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore:

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Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

Does the Bible’s ban on 'graven images' forbid icons and sacred art in church?

BRAD’S QUESTION:

Why don’t Catholics have a problem with the graven images that surround them in church?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

Brad is obviously Protestant in his cultural outlook. That is, Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches encourage religious art in church, seen as aids to devotion.

Protestants’ policies vary (as on most things!) but they broadly unite with Judaism in limiting visual images in worship settings to avoid any association with idolatry. Some Protestants prohibit all art in sanctuaries. Others allow abstractions and symbols but not human or animal forms. Some may depict Jesus Christ or saints, typically in stained glass, rarely in statues, and never as the objects of veneration. Further, some forbid flags in church to prevent idolatry toward the nation.

The discussion begins with this from the Bible’s venerable Ten Commandments: “You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:4-5, repeated in Deuteronomy 5:8 and summarized elsewhere, e.g. Leviticus 16:1). “Graven image” means a stature or carving, while “any likeness” covers any and all visual representations.

Jewish scholars say the ban applies to art only in worship contexts due to the “bow down” and “serve” phrasing along with the immediately preceding statement that “you shall have no other gods before me.”

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