Judaism

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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There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

There's a mess here, all right, but not a Messianic Jew

The BBC this week ran an article with the misleading headline "Israeli police bust 'messianic' prostitution ring." 

It's a misleading headline because normally when the word "Messianic" is used in relation to Jews, it refers to adherents of Messianic Judaism -- but that is not the case with the cult described in the story. Unfortunately, the rest of the story does not make this clear.

Some background: Messianic Judaism is a form of Protestant Christianity that strongly identifies with Jewish ritual, prayers, and cultural identity. In other words, Messianic Jews believe the Jewish Messiah has already come, and his name is Yeshua -- Hebrew for "Jesus." (My own faith journey included brief involvement with the Messianic Jewish community.)

The BBC's story, although not identifying the cult as Christian, reinforces the implication that Messianic Jews were behind the prostitution ring when it refers to women being forced by a "messianic sect" to have sex with "non-Jews":

Details have emerged from Israel about a prostitution ring in which Jewish women were allegedly forced into having sex with non-Jews by a messianic sect.

Two men and two women are being detained on suspicion of exploitation.

Police say the victims were brainwashed into believing that having sex with non-Jews would "save the Jewish people and bring about redemption".

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Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Secret no more: Executed journalist Steven Sotloff's Jewish faith makes headlines

Patience, boss. The mainstream press got to the story on day two.

GetReligion's editor, Terry Mattingly, questioned Wednesday why major media outlets seemed to be ignoring the Jewish faith of Steven Sotloff, the latest journalist executed by Islamic State militants.

While tmatt said he could understand withholding that incendiary detail while radical Islamists held Sotloff, he asked:

However, why — now — is the faith element of this tragedy not relevant to editors at CNN, The New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.? Why isn't this part of the basic factual material at the foundation of this tragic story?

But it didn't take long for that basic factual material to start making its way into mainstream news accounts. Washington Post religion writer Michelle Boorstein was among those who jumped on the story.

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It's time to say the obvious: Yes, the late Steven Joel Sotloff was Jewish

It's time to say the obvious: Yes, the late Steven Joel Sotloff was Jewish

Now that journalist Steven Joel Sotloff is gone, it's time to talk about one of the issues that loomed over this tragedy (which was the subject of an earlier post by Dawn).

I thought that CNN was going to finally state the obvious, when its piece on the Sotloff execution by the Islamic State included this subhead: "Who was Sotloff?"

Good question. And the answer is? 

Sotloff disappeared while reporting from Syria in August 2013, but his family kept the news secret, fearing harm to him if they went public. Out of public view, the family and government agencies had been trying to gain his release for the past year.
Last week, Sotloff's mother, Shirley Sotloff, released a video pleading with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi not to kill her son.
"Steven is a journalist who traveled to the Middle East to cover the suffering of Muslims at the hands of tyrants. Steven is a loyal and generous son, brother and grandson," she said. "He is an honorable man and has always tried to help the weak."

That, of course, is not all that she said, as Dawn noted the other day. The family had every reason to fear the worst and for multiple reasons.

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Vermont bacon wars: How much religious info does a news report need?

Vermont bacon wars: How much religious info does a news report need?

One of the most interesting questions my students ask me all the time can be stated like this: In an age of short stories and even shorter attention spans, how do I know how much information is enough when I'm dealing with a complicated topic? 

You can see the relevance to the religion beat, right? How do you know how much the average reader actually knows about a given world religion (think Islam) or even, in an American context, details about different forms of Judaism or Christianity? How do you know when you need to stop and spend a few precious words explaining something that, to some readers, may be perfectly obvious, but not perfectly obvious to others?

Well, I saw an interesting little story the other day from Burlington, Vt., that perfectly illustrated this situation and I stashed it away for later discussion. Reading it a second time I noticed that, well, it was written by a former student of mine, someone with whom I have had this precise discussion.

So, let me clearly state that connection and note that the following is not a slam job. I honestly do not know whether this little story has to have an addition fact paragraph or two. I also don't know if the reporter (hello there, April) write additional material that was removed by an editor. Things happen. This is one reason GetReligionistas rarely mention reporters by name.

So what's the subject here? Well, it's Islam and bacon.

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How does the modern Catholic Church view marriages with Jews?

How does the modern Catholic Church view marriages with Jews?

LISA ASKS:

When a Catholic marries a Jew, does the Catholic Church recognize that marriage as a sacrament, since Catholicism has roots in Judaism?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

No. In the church’s view a marriage between a Catholic and an adherent of Judaism (or any other non-Christian religion) is not a sacrament. This doesn’t mean the church doubts the couple is truly married, nor does it signify any disrespect toward Judaism with which -- yes -- Christianity has great affinity.

The Canon Law Society of America commentary on the 1983 law code notes there’ve been “extensive changes” toward leniency in marriage rules since the Second Vatican Council, partly because such mixed marriages have become “more commonplace and socially acceptable.”

Technically, marriage with a non-Christian involves “the impediment of disparity of cult.” 

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