Judaism

Looking for spiritual ghosts, as the Ben Bradlee story moves to National Cathedral

Looking for spiritual ghosts, as the Ben Bradlee story moves to National Cathedral

Of course Ben Bradlee was raised as an Episcopalian.

This is Washington, D.C., and he was one of the giants of the city, a titan from his days consulting with (and covering) John F. Kennedy, Jr., to his final years working hard to encourage a new generation of journalists in The Washington Post newsroom as it struggled, like all major media institutions, to enter the uncharted waters of the digital age. He was larger than life and that kind of Beltway story can only end with a funeral in the interfaith, ecumenical, civil-religion holy place called National Cathedral.

The Post team, as it should, has pulled out all the stops in its eulogies for Bradlee, with untold inches of type -- analog and digital -- and numerous multi-media features. And the role of religion? Let's just say that the liturgical elements of this drama didn't go very high in the story. Here is the top of the massive Style section feature on the funeral:

Following a small choir’s soft alto affirmation of America’s beauty, the organ swelled, and the people joined in, and the national hymn that Benjamin Crowninshield Bradlee chose for his own funeral filled the cathedral, its pews lined with the powerful and the ordinary.
Then a prayer, and two sailors delivering a taut flag to the editor’s widow, and a bugler sounding taps from high in the Gothic rafters, and then, because this was Mr. Bradlee who was being celebrated, a sharp break from the stately and solemn: The band struck up Sousa’s jaunty “The Washington Post” march and Ben Bradlee left the building as he had departed his newspaper on so many nights through the 26 years he led it: electrifying the room just by sweeping through it.

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WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

WPost nails the crucial details in icky Orthodox mikvah cam scandal

When you hear or read the words "Orthodox rabbi," what is the image that immediately pops into your mind's eye?

Right. That would be this one (mandatory click).

The problem is that, in this day and age, there are many different brands of "Orthodox rabbis," running from progressive Orthodox rabbis to, well, orthodox and ultra-orthodox Orthodox rabbis. The public may or may not know all of that, however.

Thus, when covering a story about a rather sleazy sex scandal linked to an Orthodox rabbi, it is very important -- especially in Washington, D.C., for reasons we will discuss -- for journalists to provide enough factual information to erase the Woody Allen movie stereotypes and let readers know what brand of Orthodox Judaism is involved, this time around.

This is precisely what Godbeat veteran Michelle Boorstein did in her first Washington Post story about what could be called mikvah-gate.

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Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

Pod people: 'Green funerals,' Baby Boomers and the American way of death

For some reason, I got a bit fired up during the recording of this week's "Crossroads" podcast, with host Todd Wilken (click here to tune that in). The subject wasn't all that controversial, but it really got under my skin. We were talking about my recent post on the topic of the spiritual wanderers called the Baby Boomers (talkin' 'bout my generation) and the trend toward "green funerals." 

Now, that is a topic that has interested me for several decades -- dating back to when I taught as "Communicator on Culture" at Denver Theological Seminary (right after my exit from full-time religion-beat reporting at The Rocky "RIP" Mountain News).

At that time, 1991-93, America was still in the (a) New Age religion era, while also (b) experiencing a wave of death-and-dying movies at the local multiplex (biggest hit, of course, was "Ghost"). Thus, I led a seminar on "The Good Death" and how traditional Christian views on the subject were not what was being sold at the local shopping mall (or most funeral homes).

The main takeaway from the seminar was that the spiritual adventures of the 1960s era were leading Americans in all kinds of different directions, from Eastern religions to traditional forms of Christianity and Judaism, from Oprah spirituality to damned-if-I-don't secularism. There was, in other words, no one trend dominating the death-and-dying landscape.

That was true then and I would argue it's still true today, which is why the recent Washington Post report on "green funerals" bugged me so much.

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Rabbi comes out! Washington Post is first with the shocking non-news!

Rabbi comes out! Washington Post is first with the shocking non-news!

How newsy is something if everyone knows about it and agrees with it?

That's the unasked, unanswered question in a breaking story in the Washington Post, in which a leading D.C.-area rabbi announces -- drum roll -- that he's gay.

These days, coming-out stories are about as unusual as entering-rehab stories. But here goes the Post:

The leader of one of the Washington region’s most prominent synagogues on Monday came out as gay, telling his thousands of congregants in a brutally personal e-mail that a lifelong effort to deny his sexuality was over and that he and his wife of 20 years would be divorcing.
“With much pain and tears, together with my beloved wife, I have come to understand that I could walk my path with the greatest strength, with the greatest peace in my heart, with the greatest healing and wholeness, when I finally acknowledged that I am a gay man,” Rabbi Gil Steinlauf wrote to members of Adas Israel Congregation, in Northwest Washington.

The announcement follows activities by Steinlauf including the first gay wedding in that synagogue and an article in a Jewish newspaper called "The queerness of love: A Jewish case for same-sex marriage." The 800+ -word Post story reports also that Steinlauf has been nudging his movement, Conservative Judaism, to embrace same-sex couples. And the rabbi's coming-out gets a nod from two top officials of the synagogue.

So, um, where is the news? Apparently it's the e-mail that the rabbi sent to all 1,420 households in his congregation. The  e-mail tells of a struggle with homosexuality going back to childhood.

He married his wife, Batya, "out of a belief that this was the right thing for me," Steinlauf says in the email.  He doesn't say how long she's known, or whether they discussed the effect of his double life on their three teenage children. He just calls her a "wonderful woman" who has "supported me through this very personal inner struggle that she knew to be the source of great pain and confusion in my life over decades."

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Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

Does the Old Testament actually speak about Jesus?

ROBERT ASKS:

Can we read Christ into the Old Testament?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

According to Jewish tradition, no, and understandably so. According to Christian tradition, yes, since the New Testament interprets various passages in the Hebrew Bible (= Old Testament)  as prophecies that foreshadow the future life and message of Jesus. Christians commonly view other Old Testament texts this same way, following Jesus’ own example: “Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).

A classic expression of such linkage is Handel’s beloved oratorio “Messiah,” whose songs hailing Jesus Christ use not only the New Testament but a couple dozen Old Testament texts taken from Isaiah, Job, Lamentations, Malachi, Psalms, and Zechariah.

Many modern-day liberal scholars from Christian backgrounds side with Judaism and doubt that Old Testament writers could have been referring to Jesus. Now, surprisingly, an esoteric dispute on this theme at Pennsylvania’s Westminster Theological Seminary is dividing certain conservative Protestants.

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Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

Go West, young rabbis: NPR produces interesting-but-incomplete feature on isolated Jews

A decade ago, while working for The Associated Press in Dallas, I wrote a feature on frequent-flier rabbis.

I was reminded of that story when I came across an NPR report this week on "roving rabbis."

NPR's descriptive lede: 

Mountains and forests surround the little town of Show Low, Ariz. It's home to only 10,000 people, but the heavily Mormon community is still the biggest place for more than hour in every direction.
It's not the kind of setting that typically fosters a thriving Jewish community — which is exactly why Hasidic rabbinical students Zalman Refson and Yaakov Kaplan are here.
Residents of the rural West have historically relied on the talents of people passing through — traveling doctors, traveling circus performers and traveling preachers. So-called roving rabbis like Refson and Kaplan are carrying on that tradition, meeting rural Jews who otherwise might rarely interact with others of their faith.
They're two of the hundreds of rabbinical students who travel to rural places all across the globe each year. These roving rabbis make these journeys in the name of Chabad, a movement within Orthodox Judaism.
Young, bearded and dressed in black pants and long-sleeved white shirts, even in the Arizona heat, the two men stick out in Show Low. Kaplan says being a roving rabbi is all about helping Jews reconnect to their faith.

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What kind of religious stuff provoked interest the past 22 months?

What kind of religious stuff provoked interest the past 22 months?

This is the 100th “Religion Q and A” posting. So instead of answering the usual weekly question The Guy pauses to scan what sort of religious stuff provoked interest since December, 2012. That’s when this blog began posting non-sectarian answers to anonymously posted questions on “any old thing about any and all faith options,” after a strategic boost from Terry Mattingly of the estimable www.getreligion.org.

The Guy, as a journalist, naturally wants current topics in the mix, and thus recently dealt with: new movies, the career of Chick-fil-A’s pious founder Truett Cathy, the Supreme Court ruling on birth control under “Obamacare,” suicide and the Robin Williams tragedy, religious conflict in Ukraine, and the disputes about tax exemption, civic prayers, legalized marijuana, and same-sex marriage.

Yet check the handy archives on the blog’s home page and you’ll see less timely topics predominate. A prime principle in education is that there’s no such thing as a stupid question, and The Guy welcomes queries about basic information. Many others will have asked themselves the same thing. So The Guy examined Catholic intermarriage policy, whether military service is sinful, a deceptively simple query on “what is faith?” and this golden oldie: “When does life begin?” (the blog’s very first question).

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Guess who's making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!?

Guess who's making headlines in Detroit: Could it be SATAN!?

This is the headline atop the latest Satanist feature in the Detroit Free Press:

It's Satanist vs. Satanist in Detroit's newest political tug-of-war

I don't know about you, but I'm clicking that link.

But after doing so, here's my question for the Free Press headline writer: Is this really a political story? As much we might like to condemn all politicians to hell (kidding, mostly), isn't this actually a religion story — or given the subject of the debate, a non-religion story?

Let's start at the top:

A new Satanic religious group that debuted in Detroit this month already has encountered outspoken opposition: other Satanists.
The Rev. Tom Erik Raspotnik, 49, of Oxford decries the Satanic Temple’s atheism and progressive ideals. He said his Temples of Satan honors the deity of Satan, and he and others with him are pro-life and believe in animal sacrifices.
“I would be like a tea party Satanist,” Raspotnik said, adding that he has participated in tea party events, but that people at the events might not have known he worships Satan.

Later, a Norwegian expert on Satanism quoted by the Free Press suggests that the Satanic Temple folks underplay the Satan aspect and focus on atheism and free speech/religion issues.

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God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

Some might argue that the war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge ( צוּק אֵיתָן), was the major news story out of Israel this summer.  The seven week military operation launched by the IDF against Hamas certainly was the focus of the majority of news stories. The quantity of stories on a topic, however, is not a reliable gauge as to the importance of an issue. 

In 2008 I was part of the Jerusalem Post’s team covering the Second Lebanon War (albeit in my case as their London correspondent reporting on the European and British responses). That war between Israel and Hezbollah generated a great deal of ink, but that conflict has quickly disappeared from current memories. It was another in an unending series of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and their surrogates. The sharp rise in public displays of anti-Semitism in Europe in the wake of Operation Protective Edge may give this latest war “legs”, but the issues, actors and outcomes have not changed all that much.
 
Were I to add, only partially tongue in cheek, another candidate for the “big” story out of Israel this summer, I would nominate this item in Newsweek

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