Judaism

The New York Times asks: Is that historic Bernie Sanders win 'good for the Jews?'

The New York Times asks: Is that historic Bernie Sanders win 'good for the Jews?'

I guess this really is the year of the outsider -- even the Jewish outsider.

Take a look, if you will, at the following New York Times piece about the historic New Hampshire Primary win by Sen. Bernie Sanders. We're talking about the sidebar that ran under this headline: "As Bernie Sanders Makes History, Jews Wonder What It Means."

I realize that this piece is little more than a round-up of clips from Jewish newspapers and commentary publications. The goal, apparently, was to raise topics, one paragraph after another, that Jewish thinkers are talking about (with little new reporting).

If that was the goal, it is amazing what is NOT in this piece. Here is a sample, including the question-mark lede:

But is it good for the Jews?
Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont ... became the first Jewish candidate in history to win a presidential primary election, setting off a familiar mixture of celebration and anxiety among Jews in the United States and abroad, who pondered what his milestone victory meant for the broader Jewish community.
“Did Bernie Sanders Just Grab Jewish Crown In New Hampshire?” asked a headline in the The Forward, which questioned why Mr. Sanders’ victory received less attention as an emblem of acceptance and accomplishment than the selection of Joseph I. Lieberman as the Democrats’ vice-presidential nominee in 2000.
The likely reason: While Mr. Sanders was raised Jewish and even spent time on an Israeli kibbutz in the 1960s, he has been muted in his own embrace of the faith.

His own embrace of the "faith"? Or are we talking about a matter of heritage and culture?

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Washington Post describes Bernie Sanders as a normal, cultural Jew (with a few mysteries)

Washington Post describes Bernie Sanders as a normal, cultural Jew (with a few mysteries)

Long, long ago -- during my graduate-school time at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign -- I took a readings course in what the faculty called post-Holocaust Jewish sociology and ethics. It was, needless to say, an interesting experience for a guy who grew up in Texas as the son of a Southern Baptist pastor.

During that course I learned, as one scribe put it, that the most "controversial issue in modern Judaism is God." Years later, in Denver, I learned that you can put "marriage" near the top of that list of hot-button issues -- "intermarriage" to be precise.

I also remember thinking that, in many ways, being Jewish in New York City was -- in a strange way -- rather like being a Baptist in Texas.

Say what? Well, there are so many Baptists in Texas that it's impossible to stick any one label on them. There are Baptists in Texas who are to the right of the Rev. Jerry Falwell (junior or senior) and there are Texas Baptists who are theologically to the left of the local Episcopalians.

This brings me to that very interesting Washington Post story that ran under the headline, "Why Bernie Sanders doesn’t participate in organized religion."

Growing up, Bernie Sanders followed the path of many young American Jews. He went to Hebrew school, was bar mitzvahed and traveled to Israel to work on a kibbutz.
But as an adult, Sanders drifted away from Jewish customs. And as his bid for the White House gains momentum, he has the chance to make history. Not just as the first Jewish president -- but as one of the few modern presidents to present himself as not religious.

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Perennial press perplexity: How many Muslims are there in the United States?

Perennial press perplexity: How many Muslims are there in the United States?

Let's hold the above question for a moment and start with statistics about Christians in the United States.

Religion writers should be uttering hallelujahs for an organization many may not know about, the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. This  association has just agreed to replace the National Council of Churches and rescue the invaluable “Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches.” This statistical compilation, issued since 1916, had been moribund since 2012 due to NCC financial woes. (Future contacts: yearbook.asarb@gmail.com and www.asarb.org.)

The U.S. Census hasn’t asked about religious affiliations for decades, yet a writer often needs to report a denomination’s total adherents. Though the Yearbook’s data are self-reported without auditing and sometimes out of date, it’s the best resource journalists and religious leaders have had for comparisons and as a source in which to quickly find numbers, contacts, and basics.

The American Jewish Committee in 2009 likewise cut loose the 115-year-old “American Jewish Year Book,” taken over by the Springer book house. Jewish headcounts are complicated, but the 2014 annual  estimated a population of 6.6 million to 6.7 million. The 2015 edition (list price $299!) has yet to appear. Meanwhile, the ubiquitous Pew Research Center figures the U.S. currently has 5.7 million “Jews by religion” as distinct from ethnic identity.

Moving to Islam’s U.S. followers, a number reporters would like to cite regularly, the following may not help much.

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WWJD: Here's a high-profile spokesman for that government effort to reduce America's food waste

WWJD: Here's a high-profile spokesman for that government effort to reduce America's food waste

"That shalt not toss food."

That was the headline on an NPR report this week on the government enlisting religious groups to help fight America's food waste:

Separation of church and state? When it comes to fighting food waste, the U.S. government is looking to partner up with the faithful.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday launched the Food Steward's Pledge, an initiative to engage religious groups of all faiths to help redirect the food that ends up in landfills to hungry mouths. It's one piece of the agency's larger plan to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2030.
"We can make leaps and bounds in this process if we tackle this problem more systemically and bring a broader number of stakeholders to the table," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy tells us. By engaging religious communities, she says, "we are tapping into incredibly motivated and dedicated people."
Food waste connects to the core values of many faith communities, particularly helping the poor and feeding the hungry, McCarthy notes.
As we've reported, more than 1,200 calories per American per day are wasted, according to U.S. government figures. Loss occurs on the farm, at the retail level and in homes. We consumers often toss out foods because they've passed their sell-by date — but are still just fine to eat — or because we buy more than we can eat before it goes bad.

The Atlantic's Emma Green, who writes on religion and other topics, quipped:

Only at NPR would a piece on govt/faith partnerships to stop food waste start w/: "Separation of church and state?"

I wanted to make sure I understood Green's point, so I asked her about it. She explained:

Oh! It just struck me as funnily skeptical -- it's the lede, implying that church/state separation is the most important issue.

Gotcha!

Overall, I found the story fascinating and was impressed by the breadth of sources — from Pope Francis to evangelical and mainline Christian groups to Jewish and Muslim organizations. NPR even cites action on food waste by a program "founded by the leader of Sufism Reoriented, an American spiritual order."

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What are the ins and outs -- mostly ins -- of the giant, online Bible Gateway?

What are the ins and outs -- mostly ins -- of the giant, online Bible Gateway?

HEATHER’S QUESTION:

I don’t see the New Revised Standard Version in my biblegateway.com app. Do you have any idea why it’s excluded?

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This specific topic is quick and easy, so the Guy will use the space and occasion to provide broader information about the quite remarkable www.biblegateway.com (hereafter BG), billed as “the most-visited Christian Website in the world” with “more than 18 million unique visitors per month” -- and a must reference stop for journalists and Religion Q&A readers. The heart of things is a free and fully searchable online archive of complete Bible texts in 70 languages. The offerings in English are 53 texts and 14 audio versions (three of these read by the euphonious Max McLean of C.S. Lewis On Stage fame) plus many related features.

On Heather’s point, the main Website posts the New Revised Standard Version, known for its gender-inclusive language. But, yes, the NRSV is not among the text and audio versions accessible for free via the Bible Gateway App for mobile iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android and KindleFire. This is not BG’s doing. Older Bible versions in “public domain” can be used free by anyone but BG negotiates with 27 publishers for licenses that allow posting of newer versions under copyright. The National Council of Churches, which controls NRSV rights, granted BG the Web rights in 2012 but decided not to include a license for the app.

Still, the app’s offerings are extensive, and the ins and outs of the parent Website are almost totally “in.”

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Jew attacked because of his kippah -- why do few media want to know what that is?

Jew attacked because of his kippah -- why do few media want to know what that is?

Why wear a kippah? What does the Jewish skullcap mean?

In France, one meaning is "walking target," as an attack on a Jewish teacher in Marseilles shows.  

The brutal machete attack has prompted a public debate among Jewish leaders over whether to stop wearing the traditional headgear in public. Beyond that, however, media accounts seem to lose interest.

Here are some of the horrendous details, as reported in the International Business Times:

A teenager who attacked a Jewish teacher with a machete in France claimed he acted in the name of the Islamic State (Isis/Daesh) group, authorities said. Marseille prosecutor Brice Robin confirmed the stabbing was anti-Semitic and involved some degree of premeditation.
The victim, a 35-year-old teacher at the Franco-Hebraic Institute in the southern city, was on his way to work on 11 January when the boy of Turkish Kurd origins charged him from behind.
The youth, who will turn 16 next week, first slashed the man's shoulder and then went after him as he fled. The teacher eventually fell on to the ground and fought off a second attack using his arms, legs and a holy book, Robin said.
The assailant dropped the weapon and ran away before being caught by police some 10 minutes later. Upon arrest he invoked Allah and IS also telling officers that "the Muslims of France dishonour Islam and the French army protects Jews".

You could hardly ask for stronger religious angles in a news story: jihadism, anti-Semitism, marking an enemy by his religious garb, use of a holy book as a shield. Even the machete recalls the half-dozen hacking attacks on secular bloggers in Bangladesh.

But like IBTimes, most media ignored or downplayed the religious facets. They didn’t even ask about the "holy book" used as a shield by the teacher. Among the very few that did was Yahoo News; it says the book was a Torah, a collection of the first five books of the Bible -- the basis of Jewish law and theology.

More typical is the account by the BBC:

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Stephen Prothero wades into Wheaton wars: 'Are Allah and Jesus the same God?'

Stephen Prothero wades into Wheaton wars: 'Are Allah and Jesus the same God?'

The drama at Wheaton College rolls on. I have held off talking about it, in part because -- after decades in Christian higher education -- I know that it will be hard for reporters to get behind the scenes and find out what is actually going on.

Why? Because money and donors are involved? Of course. Name a controversy in higher education -- left or right, secular or religious -- that doesn't involve donors.

Because believers don't like bad public relations? Yes, that's true. But privacy laws are also important at private schools. What can Wheaton leaders say about this case without legally violating the privacy of the professor at the heart of all this?

Are there First Amendment issues linked to freedom of religion and freedom of association? Yes, and what about that 9-0 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in 2012 backing the right of doctrinally defined educational institutions to hire and fire their own leaders, based on doctrinal criteria?

Because politics are involved? Yes. But it's crucial for reporters to realize that the political battles here are built on issues of doctrine. Lots of Christians -- including evangelicals -- do not agree on how to answer this question: Is the God of the Hebrews, the God Jesus intimately called "Father," the same as Allah, the radically transcendent God of Islam? What do Muslims say?

There is another factor in this timeline. The New Testament reports that Jesus said, "I am the Father are one." Jews, of course, reject the Christian Trinity, but in doing so they are arguing with Jesus and the founders of the early church -- all Jews. Islam, of course, comes after the earthly ministry of Jesus and explicitly (check out the inscriptions in the Dome of the Rock) rejects that God has a Son.

One other factor that journalists must grasp: There is no one definition of "evangelical" and there is no one prevailing authority that gets to call the doctrinal shots. Remember what the Rev. Billy Graham -- the most famous Wheaton graduate, ever -- told me long ago, when I asked him how he defined "evangelical"?

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Flashback 2015: Jewish news, an all-pope Top 10 list and trends on evangelical left

Flashback 2015: Jewish news, an all-pope Top 10 list and trends on evangelical left

OK, here is one final set of some Top 10 religion stories lists for the now distant 2015. If you have missed the previous installments, click here and then here to back up a post or two and catch up. There was also an end of the year "Crossroads" podcast.

One of the reasons that journalists dig into these kinds of lists, especially those prepared by leaders in specific religious flocks, is to learn about stories that may not have made headlines at mainstream news sites -- yet.

So here are three lists of this kind. Once again, please put any 2015 Top 10 lists that I missed in our comments pages.

We will start with A. James Rudin, a name familiar to all journalists who cover events and trends among Jews in North America and elsewhere. This Top 10 Jewish news events list was prepared for Religion News Service, but the link is to The Washington Post. You have Bernie Sanders, Nostra Aetate and a rabbi scandal or two. However, his top story is one that has been growing in importance for more than a decade, one sure to grow in importance with the rise of the Islamic State.

1. Anti-Semitic attacks escalate across Europe.
In January an Islamic terrorist killed four Jews inside a Paris kosher market, and in February a terrorist killed a synagogue guard in Copenhagen. The number of French Jews moving to Israel grew during the year.

Then there was this story, which our own Ira Rifkin flagged early on:

3. The BDS campaign gathers force.

In June, the General Synod of the United Church of Christ approved a resolution calling for the denomination to divest and boycott certain companies doing business with Israel.

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Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Spiritual leaders we lost in 2015: Comparing the coverage at RNS and NPR

Want a sense of time passing?

Read some of the many lists of "famous dead" cranked out this week. The Religion News Service does its part with a brisk list of 23 spiritual leaders who departed in 2015. Let's see how well they did.

RNS opens with a nice, measured lede:

They preached and inspired. They wrote and taught. Some lobbied in the halls of government. Others toiled to protect the environment and educate the young. Several died at the hands of persecutors.
Here is a list of notable faith leaders — and a champion of secularism — who left us in 2015.

From there, the list goes by date of death, rather than alphabetical order. First is Andrae Crouch, who merged several musical genres -- gospel, rock, country, even Hawaiian -- to electrify crowds and get even secular people to listen. As RNS reports, Crouch's songs not only found a home in hymnals, but won Grammys.

RNS seems to have taken care for broad religious representation. I count four Catholics, two Muslims and two United Methodists. I also see one each of several others -- Jewish, Baptist, Buddhist, Hindu, Episcopalian, Church of Christ, African Methodist Episcopal.

The list includes a brief rundown on each person, which is a service even for readers like myself, who are more than casually interested in religion. Some of the names make you go "Oh, yeah, I remember him!" People like:

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