Judaism

How should we understand the three 'Abrahamic' religions?

How should we understand the three 'Abrahamic' religions?

NIHAL ASKS:

Why aren’t the three Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism) one main religion?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

Nihal posted his query while preparing a 9th grade school report, and unfortunately this response comes too late to help. On the specific question of”why” these three faiths exist the way they are the best a mere journalist can say is “God only knows.” However the interrelationships, overlaps, and differences among these great religions are certainly worth pondering, and not just in schoolrooms.

Christianity and Islam are No. 1 and No. 2 in size among world faiths and together encompass a majority of the people on earth. They are major competitors today and their past political confrontations, raised recently by President Barack Obama, were often violent.

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OK, I'll ask The New York Times: Any faith issues lurking in firestorm about Netanyahu speech?

OK, I'll ask The New York Times: Any faith issues lurking in firestorm about Netanyahu speech?

Hang in there with me, because I am going to ask what I freely admit could be a very silly question.

As you may have noticed, people here in the land of the Beltways, and in New York City, of course, are melting down as they argue about Speaker John Boehner’s decision to invite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to address Congress. How big an issue is this across the nation? I don't know, but it's a big deal here.

My question is about religion (#DUH) I am aware that doctrinally liberal, oh, Episcopalians are highly likely to be liberal politically, especially when compared with doctrinally conservative Anglicans. The same thing is true with, let's say, doctrinally liberal Lutherans and doctrinally orthodox Lutherans. Or Baptists. Or Methodists. You can see this perfectly obvious point.

Now, I know how to connect the doctrinal dots in these cases, how, for example, doctrines on sexual morality lead to political views that point left or right. What I'm struggling with is understanding the patterns in this case -- the Netanyahu wars. Consider this passage from a report in The Forward, on the Jewish left:

As the Israel lobby kicked off its meeting, Netanyahu jetted into town after proclaiming that he speaks “for the Jewish people” on Iran -- a claim that drew an unusually harsh critique from pro-Israel stalwart Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat.
“(Netanyahu) doesn’t speak for me on this,” Feinstein told CNN. “I think it’s a rather arrogant statement. I think the Jewish community is like any other community, there are different points of view. I think that arrogance does not befit Israel, candidly.”

Understood.

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Islam, media self-censorship, The New York Times and beyond

Islam, media self-censorship, The New York Times and beyond

Cowardice, political correctness, or social constraints? What lays behind the phenomena of self-censorship in the media these days?

Writing in The Weekly Standard, Tom Gross argues that the refusal by The New York Times to come clean on the targets of militant Islam is a congenital defect. Inconvenient facts simply do not appear in reports in The Times if they conflict with its worldview.

Commenting on the Gray Lady’s coverage of the terrorist attack in Copenhagen, Gross writes:

At the present time, over a dozen hours after other media (such as The Guardian) reported prominently on the specifically anti-Semitic nature of [the Feb. 14] attack in Copenhagen and on the fact there was a Bat Mitzvah going on in the synagogue while it was being attacked (with over 80 people including many children inside), the lengthy report on the New York Times website on the Copenhagen shootings doesn’t mention the word “anti-Semitism” once. Instead New York Times correspondent Steven Erlanger writes in his piece “anti-Muslim sentiment is rising in Europe.”

Nor does The New York Times mention the bat mitzvah.

There are not so many Jews in Denmark and not many bat mitzvahs -- it seems the terrorist had done his research carefully. Yet the New York Times website home page says, at the time of writing, that the shooting was “near a synagogue.” No, it wasn’t near a synagogue. It was at a synagogue. The synagogue was the target. Which is why a Jew guarding the synagogue was shot dead.

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Washington Post delves deeper into whether Jews will flee France in wake of kosher market attack

Washington Post delves deeper into whether Jews will flee France in wake of kosher market attack

This is a rather huge story.

In a 1,300-word report, The Washington Post delves deeper into whether Jews will flee France in the wake of last month's kosher market attack:

SAINT-MANDÉ, France — For all her 30 years, Jennifer Sebag has lived in a community that embodies everything modern Europe is supposed to be.
Inclusive, integrated, peaceful and prosperous, the elegant city of Saint-Mandé — hard against Paris’s eastern fringe — has been a haven for Jews like Sebag whose parents and grandparents were driven from their native North Africa decades ago by anti-Semitism.
“I’ve always told everyone that here, we are very protected. It’s like a small village,” Sebag said.
But in an instant on the afternoon of Jan. 9, Sebag’s refuge became a target. A gunman who would later say he was acting on behalf of the Islamic State walked into her neighborhood’s kosher market and opened fire, launching a siege that would leave four hostages dead — all of them Jewish.
A month later, the Jews of Saint-Mandé are planning for a possible exodus from what had once appeared to be the promised land.

This piece provides additional insight in an ongoing story.

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Yo, Baltimore Sun: Are modern 'green funerals' completely different than ancient 'traditional' religious rites?

Yo, Baltimore Sun: Are modern 'green funerals' completely different than ancient 'traditional' religious rites?

It is really, really, really hard to write a story about death, dying, funerals and burial rites without discussing, even for a few lines, the centuries of religious life and doctrine linked to those topics. However, the editorial team at The Baltimore Sun -- the newspaper that lands in my front yard -- has managed to pull off this difficult task.

The hipper than hip topic, of course, was "green funerals." This is a subject that has been covered here before at GetReligion, in this age in which rising numbers of idealistic, post-Woodstock Baby Boomers are planning their funerals or, well, taking part in them.

Are there secular or non-traditionally religious people -- seekers or even "nones" -- who are interested in "green" rites and burials? Of course there are.

But what about traditional religious believers? As I wrote, concerning an earlier almost religion-free story in The New York Times:

... Is this simple funeral trend found only in alternative forms of faith and non-faith? The story makes this trend sound like a march away from traditional forms of religious faith, as opposed to a rejection of American business as usual. That simply isn't the case.
I'm Eastern Orthodox and the simple funeral is becoming the norm, among many in my church. Then there are the various orders of Catholic monks who are making simple, beautiful, natural and very traditional caskets.
Business is, well, booming as you know what generation moves into its final decades. In other words, where is the rest of the story? Or, in the context of New York City, are simple funerals not as hip as green funerals? Maybe it was time to dig a bit deeper.

Well, this Sun report -- "Seeking a natural end in rural Baltimore County" -- is way, way, way more faith-free than that Times effort. It is so religion-free that, to my eyes, this must have been a conscious editorial decision.

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Your weekend think piece: Do you know, when you see yarmulkes, how to read between the lines?

Your weekend think piece: Do you know, when you see yarmulkes, how to read between the lines?

OK, it's flashback time.

Remember when you were in high school, on in college, and you could walk the halls of your school, or gaze around the cafeteria, and pretty much know who was who just by one or two items of their clothing? You know, to cite one obvious example from my generation of Texas guys, little golden alligators and boat shoes vs. leather vests and boots?

I love reading pieces that take this kind of inside-baseball knowledge of people and symbolism and tell me something new about life on the religion beat. Thus, I want to point readers toward a fascinating little think piece at The Forward that ran under the headline: "Show Me Your Yarmulke: Everything You Wanted To Know About Jewish Headgear."

The thesis and some crucial background information:

... You can tell a lot about a Jewish male by the type of yarmulke (also referred to as a kippah, or in Hasidic Yiddish, kapl) that he wears. ...

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Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Theodicy and the Auschwitz anniversary: If you cite the Kaddish, why not quote the Kaddish?

Readers may recall that, on the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp, I put up a quick post lamenting that I wasn't seeing much mainstream-media coverage of this haunting event. I also noted that hoped we would see more coverage -- logically -- on the day after, with news stories focusing on the content of the anniversary events.

I hoped that would happen and that was, at quite a few publications, precisely what happened.

As you would expect, The Washington Post -- in the same city as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum published a local-angle story, hooked on the events in the Hall of Remembrance.

The newspaper's foreign desk also contributed a stunning story -- "A Nightmare Revisited" -- reported from Auschwitz, where 300 survivors returned to what it called the "bloodiest site of the Holocaust." And there was a sidebar listening to the voices of Auschwitz survivors.

I recommend these stories highly. Yet, I do so even as I note that the news stories failed to dig into the impact of this singular event, this singular vision of evil, on the lives of post-Holocaust Jews as religious believers and on the Jewish faith in general.

The timeless theodicy question, of course: Where was God?

OK, I will ask: Where were the God issues in these otherwise fine news reports?

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Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

Circumcision: When, how, who, what, why? And what about secular laws?

JOHN ASKS:

When did circumcision start and how was God involved? How did its use evolve to today’s practice?

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

In the Jewish faith, ritual circumcision of males (bris) to remove the foreskin of the penis has been a requirement ever since God designated it as a “sign of the covenant” with Abraham (Genesis 17:10-14). So God has been “involved” for some 4,000 years now.

Anthropologists tell us that circumcision was practiced long before Abraham, across the globe from pharaonic Egypt to aboriginal Australia. It was often a tribal “rite of passage” at puberty, and not the Bible’s sign of commitment to God performed on eight-day-old newborns. The “why” of circumcision prior to biblical times is uncertain. Macmillan’s “Encyclopedia of Religion” says contemporary experts dismiss the theories that it originated to mark captives, attract women, enhance sexual pleasure, aid hygiene, test bravery, or symbolize submission to elders or the cutting of bonds with mothers.

Jewish surgery and ceremonial are commonly the work of a specialist known as a mohel. The operation is traditionally required for adult converts as well as infants born in the faith. Though liberal Reform Judaism dropped that mandate in 1893, some of its rabbis continue the tradition. Note that any male born of a Jewish mother is deemed a Jew, even if he is not circumcised.

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How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

How to deal with different views on sex? If you're the New York Times, just pick one

Granted, ultra-Orthodox Jews are restrictive sexually. Granted, they often don't talk to outsiders, especially on sensitive topics. But is that reason enough to devote over 3,150 words to a single viewpoint?

The answer, unfortunately, is "Yes" at the New York Times, which ran a long, rambling feature on a woman who has carved out a niche in counseling other Orthodox women on sexuality.

"The Orthodox Sex Guru," the headline calls Bat Sheva Marcus, a term that neither she nor anyone else uses in the article itself. Thesis of the story is Marcus' efforts to help Hasidic or Haredi wives, said to be deeply troubled and frustrated, unable to enjoy sexual pleasures because of the rigid teachings of their rabbis. So tightly wound are their communities, the women don’t even recognize an orgasm, she says.

The "villains" of the story are the Haredim -- especially calling out the Satmar and Pupa sects -- who live in insular communities in Brooklyn and elsewhere. Well, not exactly villains. Just hidebound, strict on Jewish law, ignorant of modern findings on sexuality.

It's a mushy premise, and the story admits it high up:

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