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Religious New Year Values for Christians, Muslims and Jews

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions.

Symbol of the three Abrahamic religions. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Each year millions of people make new year resolutions to improve their lives. This autumn is an especially good time to do so, because three ancient New Year festivals fall in the 99 days between Rosh HaShanah, the Jewish New Year (September 25, 2014), the Muslim New Year (October 25, 2114) and the Christian New Year (January 1, 2015).

And the simplest way to improve your future is to improve your attitude to the present by learning to down play the media’s constant emphases on all that is bad and elevate your attention to all that is good in your life.

For example, American highway fatalities rose during the 50’s and 60’s until they peaked in 1972, at 54,589. Since then they have declined by more than 40% even though the number of cars and drivers has more than doubled.

If traffic deaths occurred at the same rate in 2012 as they did in 1950; over 180,000 more people would have died in the U.S. last year. This fantastic achievement in increasing traffic safety has gone largely unheralded.

Why does the news media devote so much attention to bad news and so little attention to good news? Why do people seem more interested in the occurrence violence than the absence of violence?

The Abrahamic religions teach us that we should count our blessings.
Politicians and the news media teach us to count every single thing that is wrong; everywhere in the world.

How can people keep their optimism, sanity and balance in our media driven democracy? A religious answer for Jews, and a good way for all others, is to say a hundred blessings every day.

A person who can sincerely voice a hundred blessings a day will feel truly blessed.

The best way of influencing yourself to think positively about your live is to learn the importance of saying blessings for the many things we experience, both in our ordinary daily and weekly life, and at occasional extraordinary times.

Thus, it is a Mitsvah for a Jew, and everyone else, to say blessings at every meal over food and drink.

Every morning when we awaken it is a Mitsvah to say several blessings because various parts of our mind and body still work. There are blessings for daily prayer and the weekly celebration of the Sabbath.

Their are also many blessings to say for special occasions. The rabbis urged everyone to thank God for as many blessings as we can, since the more blessings you can say, the more blessed you are.

Indeed, Jewish tradition maintains that everyone who is able to say 100 blessings a day is truly blessed. Among the special occasion blessings there is a blessing for seeing a non-Jewish sage and another one for seeing a Jewish sage.

There is a blessing for hearing good news and another one for hearing bad news in accordance with Rabbi Huna’s view that we need both joy and suffering in order to experience the ‘very good’ of the sixth day of creation. Here are a few examples of blessings for special occasions:

On beholding fragrant trees: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, creator of fragrant trees.

On seeing trees in blossom: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, whose world lacks nothing we need, who has fashioned goodly creatures and lovely trees that enchant the heart.

On seeing an unusual looking person: Praised be Adonai our God, Ruler of space and time, who makes every person unique.

On seeing evidence of charitable efforts: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who clothes the naked.

On seeing people who overcome adversity: Praised be Adonai our God, ruler of space and time, who gives strength to the weary.

This last one is one of my favorites, because it sanctifies the human value of being non-judgmental in most areas; and the Divine value of plural opinions and human physical variety.

According to the Talmud (Berakhot 58a) when you see a large crowd of people you should say: Praised be the Sage of enigmas, for just as no one person’s opinion is the same as another, so are their faces different from one another.

The best way to preserve your sanity and balance in today’s world is to make a New Year’s resolution to count your blessings every day.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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Religious Americans view others

In this Rosh Hashana greeting card from the ea...

In this Rosh Hashana greeting card from the early 1900s, Russian Jews, packs in hand, gaze at the American relatives beckoning them to the United States. Over two million Jews fled the pogroms of the Russian Empire to the safety of the U.S. from 1881-1924. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

It is only human for most people to think more highly of themselves and the groups (academic, professional, social, religious, political and national) that they identify with, than they think of others. It is only natural to notice more of your own and your own groups virtues than the virtues of others; and it is only normal to to be less aware of your own groups vices and prejudices than those of others groups.

Thus, it is not surprising that a survey last week by Pew Research, found that Evangelical Protestants, who are confident that they are going to Heaven, score a warm rating of 79 with people who called themselves “born-again” or evangelical, but only receive a rating of 52 from others, a 27 point difference.

Catholics also give themselves a similar warm 80 score, while non-Catholics give them a six point warmer score than Evangelical Protestants rating at 58. but that still is a 22 point difference.

And Jews, who do not fear original sin and eternal damnation, rate themselves at a very warm 89, while non-Jews rate Jews as a warm 63, which is 5 points warmer than Catholics, and 11 points above Evangelical Protestants, but still a 26 point difference between self and others ratings.

On the other hand while Atheists gave themselves a 62 rating, others gave them a cool 41 rating, a 21 point difference.

White Evangelical Protestants rank Buddhists at 39, Hindus at 38, Muslims at 30, and atheists at only 25; the lowest score of any group.

Atheists give evangelicals an equally low overall rating of 28. But Atheists give much warmer ratings to Buddhists 69, Jews 61 and Hindus 58.

Americans are somewhat polarized about evangelicals. The survey found that, “roughly as many people give evangelicals a cold rating (27 percent) as give them a warm rating (30 percent).”

The most important results for Jews in this study is the very positive views Americans have of Jews and Judaism. Jewish anxieties about religious anti-semitism are greatly exaggerated.

On the other hand, many Jews need to examine their own negative attitudes toward evangelical Protestants who clearly differ with us in as many areas as we differ with them, yet still have a warmer view of us then we have of them.

White evangelicals rated Jews at a very warm 69, while Jewish respondents gave evangelical Protestants a very cool 34. Most people explain this as due to their ‘southern style’ and Evangelical Protestant Missionary efforts to convert Jews; which acts to offset their support for Israel.

Jews and Catholics have warmer views of each other than Jews and evangelical Protestants have because Catholics have no active missionary activities directed toward Jews, and Jews are more likely to know Catholics then they are likely to know evangelical Protestants.

Thus, Catholics are viewed more warmly than evangelical Protestants (58 vs 34), and this is only a little less than the Catholic view of Jews at 61.

These ratings are not a fluke. The Pew results match closely with a similar study in 2007 by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell for their 2010 book, ”American Grace.” The overall order of warm-to-cold views for religious groups is unchanged between the two studies.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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Only 22% Americans know a Hindu

English: Bhagavad Gita, a 19th century manuscr...

Bhagavad Gita, a 19th century manuscript. North India. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special to Earthpages.org

Only 22 percent Americans know someone who is Hindu, according to a Pew Research Center survey published on July 17.

This number is lowest than any other religion/denomination surveyed.  Catholics rank highest with 87 percent, followed by evangelical Christians, Jews, Atheists, Mormonscial , Muslims, Buddhists and Hindus.

Americans express warmest and more positive feelings towards Jews (average rating 63); followed by Catholics, evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., the survey adds.

Reacting to this survey findings, Rajan Zed, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, urged American Hindus to make outreach efforts towards non-Hindu communities, do charity, invite others to visit Hindu temples/ashrams, offer help to neighbors, be good role models, act for the benefit of all, volunteer, try to stay pure and exhibit warmth and love towards fellow Americans.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, pointed out that ancient Hindu scripture Bhagavad-Gita (Song of the Lord) urged us to act selflessly without any thought of personal profit.

Rajan Zed suggested to each American Hindu to take a vow of undertaking at least one charitable project during this year for less fortunate members of the community. Quoting scriptures, Zed stressed that charity was a duty, which should be undertaken with sympathy and modesty.

Headquartered in Washington DC, “Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping America and the world”. Alan Murray is President.

Hinduism, oldest and third largest religion of the world, has about one billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal. There are about three million Hindus in USA.


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Jews Lead Nation Accepting Gay Marriage

Same Sex Marriage

Same Sex Marriage (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) released (2/26/14) a new study of a decade of changes in attitudes on LGBT-related issues which revealed a 21-point jump in support for same-sex marriage from 2003, when one-third (32%) of Americans supported same-sex marriage, to 2013, when a majority (53%) of Americans did.

The PRRI study, “A Shifting Landscape: A Decade of Change in American Attitudes about Same-Sex Marriage and LGBT Issues” found that of all the identified religious groups in the poll, Jews are more supportive of same-sex marriage than any other religious group.

Thus, 83% of Jews favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally compared to 73% of those with no religious affiliation, 62% of white mainline Protestants, 57% of Catholics, 46% of Hispanic Protestants, 35% of Black Protestants and 27% of white evangelical Protestants.

Moreover, 58% of Jews strongly favor allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry (a full 22 points higher than the next highest category, the religiously unaffiliated).

Amazingly, Jews are only 3 points behind LGBT Americans in their own support of marriage equality (86%).

Even more amazingly, only a quarter of Americans believe Jews are friendly toward LGBT people, a third believe we are unfriendly and 41% do not know or refused to answer the question.

Jews are perceived by non-Jews to be only 1 point friendlier than evangelical Christian churches and 6 points less friendly than African-American churches; when in reality Jews are much more friendly than those two groups.

The size of the gap between Jewish support for gays and these two church groups is a giant 56 points when compared to evangelical Christian churches and 48 points compared to African-American churches.

The Union of Reform Jews was the first national religious organization in the U. S.to accept a LGBT congregation as a member.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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The Chinese New Year Festival and Calendar Epochs

“Year of the Horse” – Image via Tumblr

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

This week the people of China, and Chinese people everywhere in the world, will celebrate the New Year. A New Year festival urges people to look forward beyond the present into both the future and back into the past.

Two modern cultures; the Chinese and the Jewish, both have a great veneration for their history which dates back into the far distant past. Although Chinese and Jewish cultures are very similar in many ways; they are very different in some ways.

Both use a lunar month, adjusted to keep it connected to the seasonal cycle (unlike the Muslim lunar calendar). But the Jewish calendar has always had one starting point; while Chinese calendars have had many.

Although China has a very long record of written history, no Chinese dynasty ever established a calendar epoch (a point in time that marks the beginning of a new era) that started with a special event, perhaps because each dynasty valued continuity more than innovation.

Chinese New Year

Chinese New Year (Photo credit: Andrea Bedini)

When we speak about the Mayan, Aztec, Buddhist, Christian, Jewish or Muslim calendar we usually mean both the yearly cycle of months, and a long term period of years measured from a epochal date.  Chinese imperial tradition was to use the emperor’s era name and year of reign.

One alternative to this approach would have been to use the reign of the semi-historical, mostly legendary Yellow Emperor in the third millennium BCE to number all the years, but this was never done.

Agricultural societies have an annual calendar that marks the seasons of the year so farmers can prepare in advance for planting and harvesting crops. With the development of governments, land ownership, taxes and laws, there also arose a need to date things over many decades.

The most common way was to use the number of the year in the king’s reign. Kings themselves began to erect monuments to their victories and these usually mentioned the year of the king’s reign.

These records were then compiled into chronicles which were simply lists of events that occurred during the reigns of the preceding kings. These royal chronicles, over centuries, could be grouped by dynasties, as was done in  Egypt and China. The origin of the first dynasty was usually attributed to descendants of Gods or semi- Divine heroes.

Most calendars epochs today begin with an event of major importance. There are two groups of such epochs: political historical events like the beginning of  a dynasty, a war victory, or the proclamation of a new empire. These epochal calendars rarely outlast the end of the dynasty that originated them.

woman : pray for the wind, wallpaper calendar ...

woman : pray for the wind, wallpaper calendar for november 2010 (Photo credit: nevil zaveri)

The other group of epochs, which can transcend  the political world that gave birth to them, are religious calendars that begin counting from the life of a great religious leader, or from the beginning of the world.

After the death of Alexander, his giant empire split into three kingdoms. The one with the most varied populations and calendars, was ruled by one of Alexander’s generals named  Seleucus. He decided to unify his kingdom by introducing a new calendar with a new epoch starting from the date Seleucus had conquered Babylonia (October 312 BCE.).

This calendar spread widely in the middle east and was in use for many centuries. The Jewish post Biblical history book, Maccabees 1 (c.120 BCE) used Seleucid era dates (1:10) and rabbis dated Jewish legal documents with Seleucid dates well into the 9th or 10th century CE.

Syrian Christians used it for religious purposes though the 19th century. The success of this calendar prompted the Greeks, and later the Jews and the Romans to also create a epoch calendar.

Major religions that last for more than a dozen centuries produce an epochal calendar that can outlast political states and empires. Thus, all the world’s major calendars today are based on a religious epoch. The oldest of the world’s religious epochal calendars is the Jewish calendar, which is now at 5774.

Christians know their calendar starts its epoch from the birth of Jesus. Muslims know the Muslim calendar begins its epoch with the flight of Muhammad from Makka to Medina. Buddhists know that their epochal calendar starts with the enlightenment of Siddhartha under a Bodhi tree.

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and ...

Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553): Adam and Eve. Beech wood, 1533. Bode-Museum, Berlin (Erworben 1830, Königliche Schlösser, Gemäldegalerie Kat. 567) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But most Jews would be hard pressed to explain what happened 5,774 years ago to begin the Jewish calendar.

By analogy to the Christian, Muslim, or Buddhist calendars one might expect that the Jewish calendar starts with the birth of Abraham or Sarah (the first Jews), or from the Exodus from Egypt (the trans-formative experience of the Jewish people), or from the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai (the enlightenment of the Jewish people).

But the second century Rabbis who made up the calendar Jews currently use, chose to begin with Adam and Eve i.e. the beginning of written world history.

The word Adam in Hebrew means mankind/Homo Sapiens– the species. The exit of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden symbolizes the transition of humanity from a largely nomadic/neolithic stone age society of hunter-gatherers to a more advanced metal working bronze age society of farmers and village dwellers.

By starting the Jewish calendar with a historical transition that would have a universal impact on all of human society, the second century rabbis followed the lead of the Torah which begins not with Judaism but with urban civilization and recorded history.

All historical dates from the first urban societies that are derived from written records fit into the Jewish calendar. The earliest writing comes from the Mesopotamian city of Uruk (Genesis 10:10) and dates to about 5,500 years ago i.e. the third century of the Jewish calendar. The first dynasty in Egypt arose in the 7th century of the Jewish calendar and king Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316 BCE) lived in the 14th century. The first historical dynasty in China, the Shang dynasty, dates back to the 22nd century, about the time that Abraham lived.

Only in the generations after Abraham does Biblical history begin to focus on the religious development of one specific people.

The Jewish calendar is not only the oldest of the world’s calendars, it is the only one that begins with the beginning of recorded human history. Everything prior to the Jewish calendar is prehistory or natural history. History with written records begins with age of Adam and Eve.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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Crooked Mirror: A Memoir of Polish – Jewish Reconciliation by Louise Steinman a book review by Haim Dov Beliak, Jewish Journal

Poland in the 1990s by HBC

Poland in the 1990s by HBC

One of our contacts, Rabbi Allen Maller, suggested that I take a look at this book review by Haim Dov Beliak. It brought to mind some connections my own family has with both Poland and WW-II.

My father completed his officer training a short time before the war ended. Lucky for him, I guess. And I suppose lucky for me. If he had been killed like so many in that hideous conflict, I wouldn’t be here now.

Later in life, he and my mother did volunteer work with CESO in Poland. Although I didn’t go along with them, I did some editing for CESO and heard many stories about Europe from my parents, enhanced by my mom’s photos, which were featured at the old Earthpages (before we became a blog).

So in a roundabout way, Rabbi Maller’s link spoke to me » http://www.jewishjournal.com/books/article/retrieving_a_familys_thread_in_poland

—MC


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Gays don’t undermine marriage; the uneducated do

Marriage Day

Marriage Day (Photo credit: Fikra)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Fewer women. especially undereducated woman, are getting married according to a new Family Profile from the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University.

According to “Marriage: More than a Century of Change,” the U.S. marriage rate now is 31.1 marriages per 1,000 married women. the lowest it’s been in over a century, compared to 1920, when the marriage rate was a 92.3 per 1,000 married women..

Since the 1970’s, when workers wage growth slowed and then started to decline, the marriage rate has declined by almost 60 percent.

Furthermore, “the average age at first marriage for women and men is at a historic highpoint, and has been increasing at a steady pace” states Dr. Wendy Manning, co-director of the Center. This has helped reduce the rate of divorce; as teen and early twenties brides have higher divorce rates than older couples.

There has also been a dramatic increase in the proportion of women who are separated or divorced. In 1920, less than 1 percent of women were currently divorced. Today, 15 percent are currently divorced. The divorce rate  has slightly declined in the last two decades, but individuals today are less likely to remarry than they did in the past.

The marriage rate has declined for all racial and ethnic groups, but the education divide has grown.

In the last 50 years there have only been small changes in the percentage of women married among the college educated. The greatest declines in marriage rates have been among women without a high school diploma.

The Bowling Green State University report uses government gathered statistics that do not include data about religion, but from dozens of other surveys we know that women who identify themselves as religious have above average rates of marriage.

Jews and Catholics still have higher than average marriage rates and lower than average divorce rates, but they are slowly becoming more normal; alas.

Finally, 48 percent of first births now take place outside of marriage, says a report released (3/13) by the National Marriage Project, the Relate Institute and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. There are giant differences between woman who are high school drop outs, college grads, and those in-between.

Among young women with high school diplomas, 58 percent of first births are now outside marriage. For high-school dropouts it’s 83 percent. For college grads it’s only 12 percent and for Jews it’s less than 5 percent. The report notes that 54 percent of young women in the U.S. are high school graduates and 37 percent are college graduates. The majority of Jewish women are collage graduates.

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com

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