Jerusalem

Those experts in Israel were on to something: Why secular-religious divide in Jewish state matters

Those experts in Israel were on to something: Why secular-religious divide in Jewish state matters

Earlier this year, I traveled to Israel with a group of U.S. religion journalists.

Through the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange, a dozen of us spent a week exploring political, social and religious issues in the Middle East.

As I wrote in a column for The Christian Chronicle, our hosts said they hoped the experience gave us an enhanced understanding of issues in that part of the world and made us think about tough questions. It certainly did that.

Another thing it did: It piqued my interest in news from Israel. For example, one topic that we spent quite a bit of time exploring was the secular-religious divide in the Jewish state. In a front-page Christian Chronicle story, I noted:

Ironically, many religious Jews took issue with Zionism, the political movement that emerged in the late 19th century and advocated reestablishing a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

“Many Orthodox Jews were opposed to Zionism because (they believed) it hastened what should have been God’s work,” said Rabbi Noam Marans, the American Jewish Committee’s director of interreligious and intergroup relations. “The return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel usurped God’s domain and empowered human beings to achieve that.”

Today, deep religious divisions characterize Israel — a nation of 8.7 million people that occupies a geographic area the size of New Jersey. The overall population is about 81 percent Jewish, 14 percent Muslim, 2 percent Christian, 2 percent Druze and 1 percent other.

But often, the conflict is between Jews themselves, as secular and Orthodox Jews clash over what should happen when democratic values collide with Jewish law (halakha), according to a Pew Research Center study.

It turns out that the experts who kept referencing that conflict during our group’s visit were on to something.

I’m not sure that even they realized, though, how big an issue that it would become so soon in the battle over Israel’s future.

How big?

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Middle East images: Week in Israel gives correspondent a different perspective on news (updated)

Middle East images: Week in Israel gives correspondent a different perspective on news (updated)

The New York Times had a front-page story this week on the strong partnership between Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and U.S. President Donald Trump.

The Times described Trump as Netanyahu’s secret weapon in his “increasingly uphill re-election battle.”

The Associated Press, meanwhile, reported that Trump sees advantages in the current American debate over Israel and anti-Semitism.

I read both stories with a different perspective — and a heightened interest — after spending the past several days in Israel, my first visit ever to the Middle East.

I’m typing this post from my hotel room in Jerusalem. I’m here with a group of about a dozen U.S. religion journalists as part of the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange. The project aims to give participants an enhanced understanding of issues in this part of the world and make them think about tough questions. For me, it certainly has done that!

Rather than do a normal post while I am traveling, Terry Mattingly invited me to share a bit about the trip. Honestly, I’m still processing much of what I have seen. But I’ve learned so much as we’ve traveled via helicopter and bus to visit key sites all over Israel and heard from speakers representing a variety of perspectives.

We’re still in the middle of our itinerary — with a trip to Ramallah on today’s agenda — but here, via Twitter, are a few virtual postcards:

Please respect our Commenting Policy

A really old debate is back: Does the Old Testament belong in Christian Bibles?

A really old debate is back: Does the Old Testament belong in Christian Bibles?

NORMAN’S QUESTION:

Do the Old and New Testaments belong together?

(Commenting from a stance critical toward Christians, Norman adds that ignorance of history underlies their “comfortable view that the Bible is one and that there is no problem between the Old and New Testaments.”)

THE RELIGION GUY’S ANSWER:

This classic and complex theme is erupting anew thanks to a U.S. Protestant megachurch pastor cited below. Also, churches have long faced strife over the authority and interpretation of the Old Testament due to the now-disputed teaching (that was carried over into the New Testament) against homosexual relations.

In this “Religion Q & A” item (your new postings via the Website always welcome!!), Norman accurately calls attention to some history. The status of the Old Testament became a pressing issue the church needed to decide in the 2nd Century A.D. Marcion of Pontus, among others, drew a radical distinction between what he saw as the problematic Yahweh of the Old Testament versus the loving God and Father of Jesus Christ in writings that were to form the New Testament.

The church declared Marcion a heretic and consolidated for all time that the Old Testament is part of its Bible alongside the New Testament books, authoritative Scripture for Christians as well as Jews.

Norman further observes that influential 20th Century liberal Protestant thinkers in Germany such as Adolf von Harnack and Rudolf Bultmann echoed Marcion by downplaying the spiritual worth of the Old Testament. He says they “unknowingly contributed to the rise” of the so-called German Christians with their “non- and anti-Jewish” version of the faith. This movement pretty much gained control over Protestantism and accommodated the blatantly anti-Semitic Nazi rulers. Theologians like “neo-orthodox” titan Karl Barth courageously defied this unbiblical heresy in the great Theological Declaration of Barmen (1934).

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Dear Condé Nast Traveler: Religious details should matter in your stories

Dear Condé Nast Traveler: Religious details should matter in your stories

Condé Nast Traveler is what it purports to be: a publication for the rich, discerning and leisure class traveler for whom the word “budget” is not an option. So one would think it would have the money to pay for knowledgeable copy editors

Or maybe not. According to glassdoor.com, a fair share of employees report low pay, long work hours, no work/life balance, that sort of thing. So maybe their copy desk isn’t top of the line.

Whatever the case, the magazine needs some folks who know the basics of world religions, including the central Christian doctrine resurrection of Jesus. My case in point is a piece written by Brooklyn, N.Y., writer Bliss Broyard out this month that is called “I took my kids out of school for three months of travel.”

The stops included sojourns in Jerusalem, Athens, Istanbul, Rome and Oslo and being Jewish, they wanted to their kids to experience Israel, so that’s where they headed first. All went well until:

The next day, while my husband and E. wait in line to enter the Muslim holy site, Haram Al-Sharif (called the Temple Mount by non-Muslims), R. and I run over to the Church of Holy Sepulchre, where we’re carried on a tide of people through the entrance and up some worn stone stairs, polished and slippery from centuries of the faithful’s footsteps.

We wait our turn to lie on the floor and reach down into a hole to touch the tomb that is said to hold Jesus’s bodily remains. I can see that R.’s curiosity is piqued: whether by the chance to lay his fingers on a tangible relic of history, or a kid’s conditioned desire to join any long queue because it must lead to something cool, I have no idea.

Then we overhear a tour guide saying in a well-practiced phrase that the wait can be over an hour, and it’s not even certain that Jesus is buried there. So we hustle back to the Temple Mount for a chance to see the spot where the Prophet Mohammed allegedly rode his mythical stallion to that final mosque in heaven.

The tomb “that is said to hold Jesus’s bodily remains?” Seriously?

Actually, no one has ever found Jesus’s body that we know of. The whole paragraph would have been improved if it had all been put into the past tense. Or was the author sending the message she doesn’t give a rip about what Christians believe and that as far as she’s concerned, Jesus’s body is still somewhere around? Hard to tell if it’s just sloppy phrasing or something more.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The politics -- ancient and modern -- that surround the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

The other day, I pointed readers toward a piece of student journalism from the famed Columbia University School of Journalism -- a kind of a "Religion Beat: The Next Generation" nod. Click here to see that post: "Meet the Muslim Man Who Rents Crosses in Jerusalem."

Several readers asked if this was new territory for GetReligion, since we are not critiquing these pieces. In a way, it is new ground. However, readers should consider this part of our years of work trying to show newsroom managers that there are young journalists in the pipeline who want to cover this important beat.

The faculty member behind this project is the great religion-beat pro Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, who serves as director of the Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life. With his cooperation, The Media Project website is running some student stories reported and written in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars -- with hands-on reporting work overseas.

This story by reporter/photographer Augusta Anthony is about one of the most famous and sacred sites in global Christianity. The headline: "Unity in the Divided Church of the Holy Sepulchre." The symbolic-detail lede:

JERUSALEM -- There’s a ladder in the Old City of Jerusalem. It perches on a stone ledge beneath the second floor window at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where many Christians believe Jesus was crucified and resurrected. According to local lore, the ladder has been there since at least 1852 and it is not to be moved.

The “immovable ladder,” as its known, symbolizes the complications that arise when six different Christian denominations occupy one of the holiest sites in their theology. Someone -- no one knows who -- left it there in the mid-19th century and to this day none of the churches has agreed who the ladder belongs to. So it sits there, on a ledge above the sturdy wooden doors, a reminder of the contested ground beneath it.

“They are always asking about the ladder,” said Archbishop Hierapolis Isidoros with a sigh.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

From Columbia Journalism School: Meet the Muslim man who rents crosses in Jerusalem

From Columbia Journalism School: Meet the Muslim man who rents crosses in Jerusalem

Long, long ago, back when I started writing my "On Religion" column, I worked at The Rocky Mountain News (RIP) in Denver. That meant getting to know quite a few editors and leaders in the whole Scripps Howard News operation. After I left the newsroom, it was natural that some of those ties and friendships remained.

Then, when I began teaching journalism -- especially in Washington, D.C. -- it was natural for me to talk to some of the movers and shakers in the Scripps Howard Foundation, especially those linked to the news bureau that existed for many years just off K Street.

To make a long story short, I was very happy when the foundation asked for input on starting an seminar on religion reporting at the Columbia University School of Journalism in New York City. They said the faculty member they wanted to lead this project was Ari L. Goldman, formerly of The New York Times, and I said: Oh. My. God. Yes. (or words to that effect). Goldman is now the veteran director of the school’s Scripps Howard Program in Religion, Journalism and the Spiritual Life.

All of that leads to this: Our colleagues at The Media Project website are going to start running, on occasion, pieces written by students in Goldman's "Covering Religion" seminars, which include hands-on reporting work overseas -- with past visits to India, Russia, Ukraine, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Jordan and the West Bank.

So check out this feature, with reporting and photography by students Isobel van Hagen and Vildana Hajric. The headline: "A Muslim Man's Sacred Job Renting Crosses in Jerusalem."

Here's the overture:

JERUSALEM -- Tall, built and gangly, Mazen Kenan, a 46-year-old Palestinian, towers above everyone in just about any setting. But his height is particularly commanding in the tightly packed streets of Jerusalem’s Old City, where he maneuvers easily despite the five foot-long, 50-pound wooden cross he bears on his shoulder. His dexterity is not surprising because he’s been shuttling crosses through the city for nearly two decades.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Here we go again: Has anyone at Newsweek (or Yahoo) heard of that whole 'Easter' thing?

Here we go again: Has anyone at Newsweek (or Yahoo) heard of that whole 'Easter' thing?

OK, this is going to be a rather short post. Here is the big news, in the words of a faithful GetReligion reader: "Oh no. They did it again."

Who is "they" in that sentence? Basically, "they" are one or more Internet journalists somewhere who wrote and approved a headline without stopping and thinking about it.

What is the "it" in that sentence? Pay attention as I dig into this a bit. Then we'll get to the use of the word "again."

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem is a one-of-a-kind holy site, with various ancient Christian churches in control of this large and complex sanctuary. At the moment, there is a big story unfolding there. Here is the top of a Newsweek report, as run at a Yahoo news site:

Christian leaders have closed the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, said to be built on the site of Jesus’s crucifixion and burial, in a protest at Israeli tax policy which they say unfairly targets Christians.
In a rare move, leaders from the Greek, Armenian and Catholic denominations said they were indefinitely closing the church because of a “systematic campaign” by Israeli authorities.

Well, yes, that's one way to say it. The church does contain a shrine built over the tomb of Jesus. However, if you know  anything about Christianity -- anything AT ALL -- you probably remember something very important about that tomb. It's the whole Easter thing.

Thus, the reader sent me this headline -- which is the "it" n this sad tale. Here we go:

Jerusalem Church Where Jesus Is Said to be Buried Closed After Tax Dispute With Israeli Government

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Struggling to keep olive-wood traditions alive in Bethlehem (But why the big crisis?)

Struggling to keep olive-wood traditions alive in Bethlehem (But why the big crisis?)

At two very different points in my life, I had a chance to talk with Christians in Bethlehem, while looking over some of the wood-carvings and other gifts in their shops.

That first visit was at Christmas in 1972, when I was a Baylor University freshman in a touring choir. The second was in 2000, when I was in Israel and Jordan at a conference on religion-news trends -- linked to Pope John Paul II and his pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

There were major changes between those visits. There have been more changes since then. But the olive trees remain and artists still turn the wood into crosses, Nativity sets, rosaries and other gifts that pilgrims and tourists take home as symbols of their visits. There's an olive-wood cross (simple and Protestant) from 1972 hanging next to my computer as I write this. My other olive-wood Jerusalem cross? It's in my family's Orthodox altar corner. Turn, turn, turn.

All of this is to say that I appreciated the Religion News Service feature focusing on the many current issues and challenges that swirl around the Christians of the West Bank. The headline: "In Christ’s birthplace, olive wood artisans carry on a Holy Land tradition."

Yes, the Christians (and some Muslim artists) carry on. But trends in the Middle East keep making the lives of Christians more difficult and even dangerous. What is causing so much pain and stress? Hold that thought. There is much to praise in this RNS piece, but there is one crucial passage that I found rather stunning.

Let's start with the overture and the family at the heart of the story:

BETHLEHEM, West Bank (RNS) -- Thirty years ago Bassem Giacaman, whose large extended family has lived in this town for generations, immigrated to New Zealand with his parents and siblings in search of a life far away from the turmoil of the Middle East.
They left behind a small shop and olive wood factory, one of a few dozen olive wood enterprises in and around Bethlehem, which Christians around the world revere as the birthplace of Jesus.
Most of these businesses are owned by Christian families that have been carving religious items such as crosses, rosaries and Nativity scenes for nearly two millennia.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

The absolute, very last word on Trump and Jerusalem -- for the moment, at least

The absolute, very last word on Trump and Jerusalem -- for the moment, at least

The copy keeps coming, the pundits keep pontificating and the repercussions -- both serious and superficial, real and imaginary -- continue to pile up since President Donald Trump’s pronouncement that the United States was shifting course and recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s political capital.

None of that is surprising, of course. That’s how media and politics work.

Here’s something I do find surprising, however.

Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson -- is that still his job? -- said it would be at least three years before the American embassy in Israel actually moves from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Get that? At least three years. Thats’s an eternity, given the whirlwind pace of political change these days both in the United States and the Middle East. And yet Tillerson’s statement, delivered during a speech to State Department employees and reported in The New York Times and elsewhere, went decidedly under appreciated.

(To be fair, Tillerson and others in the Trump White House, plus some outside political defenders, noted previously that an embassy move would take some time. But I believe  this was Tillerson’s, and the administration’s, clearest statement to date concerning the time frame.)

Here’s the top of the Times story.

WASHINGTON -- Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said Tuesday that it is unlikely that the American Embassy will be moved to Jerusalem before 2020.
“It’s not going to be anything that happens right away,” Mr. Tillerson said, adding, “Probably no earlier than three years out, and that’s pretty ambitious.”
President Trump formally recognized Jerusalem last week as the Israeli capital, but he nevertheless signed a national security waiver, which will allow him to delay the movement of the embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv for an additional six months. Administration officials have said there are functional and logistical reasons the United States cannot open a new embassy any time in the near future.

Please respect our Commenting Policy