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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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VW’s, Jews, and Making History

English: German engineer Josef Ganz in his Mai...

German engineer Josef Ganz in his Maikäfer prototype, built at Adler, 1931 via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The Volkswagen ‘bug’ was the most produced single design of a car ever made. More than 21 million of the original Beetles were built before production ended in Mexico in 2003.

Lillian Swanson, managing editor of the Forward newspaper, in a review of Paul Schilperoord’s new book, “The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz, The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen” (RVP Publishers, 2011) tells an amazing story.

Schilperoord, a Dutch journalist and technology writer, researched private archives and public records for five years. He makes a convincing argument that Ganz, a German Jew, and not Ferdinand Porsche, should be considered “the spiritual father” of the VW, because Ganz first developed and promoted the key design concepts that led to the “People’s Car.”

Schilperoord says there were three very accomplished, independent engineers available at the time: Ferdinand Porsche, Edmund Rumpler and Josef Ganz. The last two were Jews, so in a speech in 1935, Hitler named Porsche as the designer of a small car that would become the Volkswagen ‘bug’, which used many of Ganz’s pioneering designs.

English: Standard Superior, built by the Stand...

Standard Superior, built by the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik according to the patents of German engineer Josef Ganz, 1933 - Josef Ganz Archives via Wikipedia

Ganz would not give up on his idea, even after an arrest by the Gestapo in 1933, a narrow escape from an assassination attempt and having his bank account confiscated. Ganz fought in the courts against those who stole his patents and designs, and then fled to Switzerland. In 1951 Ganz moved to Melbourne, Australia, where he worked in engineering for Holden, the Australian branch of General Motors Corp. When he died there, in 1967, his extensive archive, filled with evidence of his work, was lost.

For many years after the German genocide against European Jews, most American and Canadian Jews did not buy German cars. Then German support for Israel in the 1960′s and 70′s plus German support for the ‘free Soviet Jews campaign’ in the 1970′s and 80′s changed the Jewish aversion for German cars.

For more about this excellent book go to: http://www.forward.com/articles/150963/#ixzz1lzBsuiEM

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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Angels Bridge The Gap

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in...

An angel comforting Jesus before his arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane via Wikipedia

by: Bob and Penny Lord

In the history of the world, there have always been great gaps, separators which isolate one land mass from another. As a result of these natural boundary lines, countries have been formed; ethnic cultures have developed; physical and social separation were created. Whether mountains or rivers, or lava from a volcano spewing out a separating line of black rock, or a crack in the earth deep into its core, from an ancient earthquake too violent to be measured on the Richter scale, the bottom line results have always been the same, complete and utter division.

The religions of the world have not been spared from this inundation of factions. The earthquake that occurred on that first Good Friday, after Jesus had uttered His last cry, “Father, into Thy Hands I commend My Spirit”, tore apart the curtain in the temple, and fractured the temple area. The rumble from that outrageous act of murder against the Body of the Son of God could be felt around the world. It caused a split high up on a mountain in Italy, called Alverna, at the moment of Jesus’ death. This same mountain is where St. Francis of Assisi received the wounds of the Stigmata, some twelve hundred years later.

Perhaps a worse crack formed when the Christians split from the Jews. Granted, it was a spiritual or emotional fissure, but a devastating break nevertheless. Originally, it was clean; deep, but clean. The Jews would not accept Our Lord Jesus as their Messiah. That was it, pure and simple, the only line of separation. Other than that, everything about the new way of Jesus was on a parallel with Judaism. Christians even went to the temple to worship; then they would gather together at someone’s home to break bread, and share about the Messiah. This is the ancient beginnings of our Mass.

But when the Jews refused to accept Jesus as their Messiah, the Gentiles were evangelized and converted. Changes began to work their way into the Christian religion, and away from the Mosaic laws, (i.e. circumcision and some Kosher dietary laws) causing the gap to widen and deepen, until eventually, it became too wide and too deep, too impossible for humans to cross without help. As time went on, it took more than accepting Jesus as the Messiah for a Jew to join the Christian movement. There were Jewish laws which had nothing to do with the teachings of Jesus, and so they were not observed. This was something Jews who had joined the church, could not obey; at first they fought and then they left.

And so separation came about! This separation was obviously a plan of the evil one to form a deep and permanent gap between Jews and Christians, which was never meant to be. Jesus had come for His chosen people the Jews, dying for them as well as those who would come later, the Gentiles. Lucifer’s plot was designed for Jews and Christians to kill one another, eventually destroying the Church.

But it does seem strange that the perpetrators of the plot, the fallen angels, should have failed to consider the one entity, God had made strong enough to foil that plot, to bridge that gap, to cross that great chasm separating the old and the new, without fear of falling deep into the ravine, was their brothers, the good Angels. This bridge would stand for all time, as Jesus stood on the other side of the water, waiting for His beloved people to cross over to Him and His Church.

Angels have been a major factor in the Judao-Christian tradition, from the very beginning. While Bible Scholars of different Christian denominational persuasions disagree on just about everything in Scripture, as do our brothers and sisters of the Hebrew belief, there has always been one area where there has never been a dis-agreement, and that is the Biblical recognition of the authenticity and role of the Angels.

That Angels bridge the gap between the Old Testament and the New Testament is a well-known fact. Their existence and activities can be traced as far back as Genesis, and continue up through the Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, where they play a major part in the prophecy of the end times. Through Scripture, we see their roles as varied, as are their powers and gifts. Because of these special qualities of leadership, we believe the Angels have distinct personalities, to perform individual tasks. But no matter how we view the Angels personally, they are always there in Scripture, at crucial times, and they play important roles. They are right up there standing in attendance with God.

Expulsion of Adam and Eve, circa 1880, Clevela...

Expulsion of Adam and Eve, circa 1880, Cleveland Museum of Art via Wikipedia

The Angels themselves are mentioned no less than 320 times in the Old and New Testaments, as well as, in every main event in the Life of Jesus. The Angels are mentioned in the Garden of Eden. After the expulsion of Adam and Eve, God put Cherubim as guards of the gates of Eden. “He drove out the man; and at the east of Eden He placed the Cherubim, and the flaming sword, which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

By the time Adam and Eve were thrown out of the Garden of Eden, the battle between the good Angels and the followers of Lucifer, had already been fought and decided. Lucifer was given the form of the serpent. So even then, before what we humans consider the dawn of creation, battle lines had been drawn. Sides had been taken; roles had been allocated; the good Angels trying to help man; the fallen angels trying to destroy man. But even that early in the game, it was very obvious that man was just a tool, a scorecard in the hands of Satan, to show God how powerful he was, and what a waste of God’s time mankind was.

The Angels were appointed right from the beginning, by God Himself, to watch over us, to guide and protect us.

“For to His Angels He has given command about you, that they guard you in all your ways. “Upon their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.

“You shall tread upon the asp and the viper; you shall trample down the lion and the dragon.”

Although these words from the Psalms, are prophecy of the Angels’ protection first and foremost to our Lord Jesus, they are no less meant for us, His children.

Our Faithful God promised His chosen people protection for their long journey from Egypt to the Promised Land:

“See, I am sending My Angel before you, to guard you on the way and bring you to the place I have prepared.”

But Loving and All-Wise Father, He also warned them:

“Be attentive to him and heed his voice. Do not rebel against him, for he will not forgive your sin. My authority resides in him. If you heed his voice and carry out all I tell you, I will be an enemy to all your enemies and a foe to all your foes.”

“My authority resides in him.” The Lord’s authority resides in His Angels! When we know that our Angel is guiding us to go one way and we choose the other path, we are not only defying him, but God Himself! Defy God Himself? When I believed with the mind of a child, I used to think the God of the Old Testament was an angry, punishing God who wasn’t very loving. As I began to grow up spiritually, I began to recognize how involved He has always been in His people’s lives, always faithful even in their unfaithfulness. He was always with them, never leaving them alone, even when they rejected Him and tried to block Him out of their lives. Always loving, He was ready to take them back, like the father of the prodigal son. That’s when I realized the God of the Old and the New Testament were of One Heart and one Mind. Father and Son and Holy Spirit in One God, One Love.

God, our Father, the One Who created us, knows us perfectly; He knows what makes us happy, what is best for us. He does not punish us here on earth; we punish ourselves. We suffer because we go against His Will; His Plan for us is peace and joy. Throughout Salvation History, God sent His Messengers to help us live in this world.

In the Old Testament, Angels appeared to humans seventeen times. Although the Old Testament does not re-fer specifically to Guardian Angels, there is no doubt who accompanied Jacob on his journey: “While Jacob was going on his way, Angels of God encountered him, and on seeing them he said, ‘This is God’s Camp…’”

Copyright (c) 2010 Bob and Penny Lord’s Site

About The Author

Bob and Penny Lord are renowned Catholic authors and television hosts on EWTN, Global Catholic television. They are prolific writers about the Catholic faith, especially the Saints for which they have been dubbed “experts on the Saints.” Their website is http://www.bobandpennylord.com

The author invites you to visit: http://www.bobandpennylord.com


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Muslims and Jews Unite

Brit Milah

Brit Milah via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Muslims and Jews in Holland and in California united in 2011 in opposing two political attacks on their joint religious traditions of circumcision, and their religious ways of killing of animals for food.

In San Francisco anti circumcision forces were seeking to made it illegal to “circumcise, excise, cut or mutilate the whole or any part of the foreskin, testicles or penis of another person who has not attained the age of 18 years.” Under that law, any person who performed circumcisions would face a misdemeanor charge and have to pay a fine of up to $1,000, or serve a maximum of one year in prison.

The ban on circumcisions was opposed by a coalition of Jewish and Muslim organizations as well as many Christian groups that support religious rights and toleration. They were victorious when a Superior Court Judge ruled in July that the measure to criminalize circumcision must be withdrawn from the November ballot because it would violate a California law that makes regulating medical procedures a state — not a city — matter. The judge then ordered San Francisco’s election director to remove the measure from city ballots.
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In Holland, a bill that would effectively ban the traditional religious way both Muslims and Jews slaughter animals, sponsored by the Party for Animals, was approved in the Dutch lower house, where it was backed by the anti-Islamic Freedom Party, and opposed only by Christian parties that took a stand in defense of religious freedom. In January, 2012 it goes to the upper house of the Dutch parliament, where most observers expect it to become law.

Positions on religious slaughter vary around the world – in the US, for instance, it is specifically defined as a humane method in the Humane Slaughter Act (1958) – but elsewhere several countries have already restricted or banned slaughtering unstunned animals.

Stunning of livestock:

Introduced in England in 1929 with mechanically operated humane stunner device
Mandatory in EU since 1979, but member states can grant exemptions for religious slaughter
Method enables abattoirs to process animals more quickly at lower cost
Mis-stuns involving captive bolt occur “relatively frequently”, according to 2004 European Food Safety Authority (Efsa) report – which leaves the animal conscious and in pain
Animals can also regain consciousness after being stunned

Animal rights groups see the Dutch bill as a stepping stone towards further bans on religious slaughter. “The Netherlands is a very important example, but for us it’s just a battle, not the war,” says Dr Michel Courat of Eurogroup for Animals, a federation of animal protection groups. “We need to win lots of other battles after this one to make sure more countries stop this practice.”

If the Dutch bill becomes law, Jewish and Muslim leaders say they will fight it in the European Court of Human Rights, arguing that it is a violation of the right to freedom of religion. “If the Party for Animals proposed a law which said there shouldn’t be any slaughtering of animals any more, and everyone should be vegetarian, I could understand it better,” says Rabbi Jacobs. “But it’s a vote against religion.”

English: Livestock

Livestock via Wikipedia

A Dutch Muslim umbrella group, the Contact Body for Muslims and the Government (CMO), accused the Party for Animals of leading an “emotional” campaign based on misleading information which “wrongly created the impression that Muslim and Jewish methods of slaughter are barbaric and outdated”. “We’re afraid that other countries in Western Europe will follow the Dutch example,” says Mr Altuntas from CMO. Jewish and Muslim leaders see a worrying global trend, with the Netherlands a critical test case. They are fighting a battle on two fronts – to dispel the idea there is anything inhumane about their traditional methods of slaughter, and to defend their right to live according to their religious beliefs.

Both faiths put great emphasis on animal welfare, and adhere to a one-cut method of slaughter, intended to ensure the animal’s rapid death. Under Jewish and Islamic law, animals for slaughter must be healthy and uninjured at the time of death, which rules out driving a bolt into the brain – though some Muslim authorities accept forms of stunning that can be guaranteed not to kill the animal. Under Orthodox Jewish law, or shechita, the animal’s neck is cut with a surgically sharp knife, severing its major arteries, causing a massive drop in blood pressure followed by death from loss of blood. Supporters say unconsciousness comes instantaneously – the cut itself stunning the animal. A similar procedure is used in Islamic slaughter, or dhabiha. Both Islam and Judaism stress that diet should not just be about calories. A religious diet is an exercise in spiritual discipline and in God consciousness. We do not eat only to fuel up. Nor should we eat only to enjoy ourselves.

From the Jewish point of view, God has a diet that is good for us physically and spiritually. That diet is found in the Bible, and in the later Jewish writings, as interpreted by Reform Rabbis for our generation. Non-Jews can also gain many benefits from following most or all of this diet. Like all diets, a Kosher Holy Diet must be followed daily, to be effective. Like all diets, you should not become a fanatic in following this diet. Moral issues are more important than any one particular part of the diet. Thus, honoring a parent while visiting at home, is more important than strict observance of a Kosher Holy Diet. Nevertheless, like all diets, and all forms of exercise and meditation, the more frequently you fail to keep your Kosher Holy Diet, the less you will benefit from it.

Food is the most important single element of animal life. But unlike all other animals humans do not live by bread alone. The act of eating is invested with psychological and spiritual meanings. The Torah asserts that we should  “EAT! BECOME SATIATED/SATISFIED! AND BLESS THE LORD!” (Deut. 8:10) This is how I, as a Reform Rabbi interpret these words.

EAT! Humans, like all animals need to eat in order to live, but unlike all other animals some humans will not eat certain foods that other humans will gladly eat. This universal human trait proves that “humans do not live by bread alone, but humans may live on anything that God decrees.” (Deut. 8:3) Thus by periodically not eating at all (fasting) Jews, Muslims and Christians live by God’s words. But some people reject the enjoyment of eating and add extra days of fasting to their diet. Other people carry vegetarianism to far and stop eating all egg and milk products. The Torah commands a moderate path between on one hand simply killing and eating any thing you want, and excessive fasting and/or rejecting broad categorizes of food such as vegetarians and vegans do.

BECOME SATIATED/SATISFIED! If we only eat foods that we enjoy, we end up with a physically unhealthy diet. Obesity accounted for almost 26,000 deaths in the year 2,000 and it gets worse each year. Our natural tastes do not lead us to good health. Maximizing enjoyment in the short run leads to disaster in the long run. Self-discipline leads to longer life. Religious self-discipline leads to a higher spiritual life. If you eat your fill you will become satiated. If you eat according to God’s decrees you will become satisfied.

BLESS: The Sages rule that we should say a blessing even if we eat only a small piece of bread the size of an olive. If that is all you have, be grateful you have that. One person can be satiated and not be satisfied, while another can be satisfied yet not satiated. “Who is wealthy? Those who are satisfied with what they have.” (Avot)  The blessing after the meal is a Mitsvah from the Torah. The Sages also ruled that we should say a blessing-the Motzi, before we eat. The Motzi ends “who brings forth bread from the earth.” This phrase from Psalm 104:14 is preceded by “who makes the grass spring up for cattle” to reminded us every time we eat that we are part of the animal world and need to be considerate of their needs too. Thus it is a Mitsvah not to eat until one’s animals have been fed. (Deut. 11:15) The Motzi phrase from Psalm 104 is followed by “who makes wine to rejoice the human heart” to remind us that unlike Buddhism and Islam, Judaism doesn’t prohibit wine even though it can be abused. Yet we should always drink and eat in moderation.

THE LORD: We should also thank the cook, the baker, the miller, the farmer and everyone else involved in producing our food. But the four fundamental elements for producing food are sun, rain, earth and seed-none of which we create. Usually we are so caught up in using the end products that we forget our dependence on the fundamentals. That is why we so blithely harm our environment. The Motzi helps us remember what life is really  based on, and why we should be both grateful and reverent to God. Those who live by all these Mitsvot are regarded as if they dine with the Lord as it says, “This is the table, which is before God.”  (Ezekiel 41:22)

Kosher gumballs

Kosher Gumballs via Wikipedia

The Torah also tells us,“DO NOT COOK A KID (A YOUNG GOAT) IN IT’S MOTHERS MILK”
(Exodus 23:19, Exodus 34:26, and Deuteronomy 14:21) Orthodox Rabbis ask why this verse is repeated three times in the Torah? The Sages of the Talmud say: Once to teach us that we should not cook meat and milk together. A second time to teach us that we should not eat meat and milk products together. A third time to teach us we should not derive any benefit from this mixture even if it was done inadvertently. Few, if any, Reform Rabbis would agree with the third interpretation.

We mustn’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk because that is cruel and insensitive. We could universalize this sensitivity by cooking all mammals, which must be killed, separately from all milk products, which give life to their young.  We could go even further and not eat the products of slaughter and the products of nurture at the same meal. We might even go further yet and use different plates, and eating utensils and dishwashers. This  would be extreme. The prohibition against mixing meat and milk products together has expanded further and is applied in a stricter way than any other dietary law in the Torah. There are some individuals who even abstain from food that the Torah permits. Rashi says that when we are with these people we should follow their practice, for by abstaining from that which is actually permitted, we can attain a higher level of holiness.

But doesn’t this line of thinking violate the Mitsvah (repeated twice in Deuteronomy) that you should not add to the Mitsvot? (4:2 and 13:1) Yes it does! By continually expanding the strictness of mixing meat and milk products you end up with separate dishwashers for meat and dairy dishes. The Orthodox say the prohibition against adding to the Mitsvot applies to literal adding (2 days of Yom Kippur or 9 days of Hanukkah) and not to extending the application. Yet they add another hour to Shabbat making it last 25 hours, and celebrate Rosh HaShanah for 2 days even in the Land of Israel. The orthodox also added poultry to the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy although poultry do not produce milk. Fortunately the Orthodox did not add fish to the forbidden meat/dairy mixture because of an idea in the Talmud that eating fish and meat together is unhealthy.

But if you can’t add to the Mitsvot how can you adapt the rules to new conditions and situations? By following the whole Mitsvah, which is not to add or subtract i.e. do not add unless you subtract elsewhere. Do not subtract unless you add elsewhere. Thus the Torah will not become ridged but will always be balanced and flexible. We should not teach future generations to be, either to the far right (constantly strict) or to the far left (constantly permissive).

The Mitsvah to avoid the far right and the far left is repeated four times in the book of Deuteronomy. Once to teach us not to direct others towards undue strictness or leniency (5:32). A second and third time to specifically teach judges (17:11) and rulers (17:20) the same lesson; and a fourth time to teach all of us to be very careful because both blessings and curses can result from a consistently one sided emphasis for Mitsvot (28:14).

A good way to understand the correct philosophy of the Kosher Holy Diet can be found in the following words from Rabbi Bradley Artson, Dean of the American Jewish University. He writes: “Without attempting to explain the elaborate Jewish dietary laws, the Torah provides a lengthy list of kosher and non-kosher animals. Animals with cloven hooves that chew their cud are kosher. Fish with fins and scales are kosher. Birds which eat grain and vegetables, and which can fly, are kosher. Insects, shellfish and reptiles are not.

Since the earliest stages of our history, Jews have understood the patterns of ‘kashrut’ to be a center of our heritage. From biblical days to the rabbinical period, new guidelines and restrictions developed resulting from the yearning of Jews to be even more kosher, yet the core of ‘kashrut’ has remained unchanged over the millennia. Some of our most stirring stories of Jewish martyrdom center on the laws of ‘kashrut.’

Yet, the Torah gives no explanation for ‘kashrut.’ Consequently, Jews throughout history have struggled to understand the reasons underlying kosher eating. One explanation, popularized by the Rambam (12th Century Spain and Egypt), is that God is a cosmic doctor, providing a prescription to ensure the health of the Jewish People. This view understands ‘kashrut’ as a medical plan to ensure the health of individual Jews. The problem with such a viewpoint (that pigs cause trichinosis, and were prohibited for that reason, for example) is that it implies that God doesn’t care about the health of the rest of humanity. After all, ‘kashrut’ applies only to the Jews.

Another view of ‘kashrut,’ advanced by persons interested in abandoning the dietary laws, is that ‘kashrut’ was an early compensation for unsanitary conditions. Now, with modern technology, we don’t need these outmoded precautions. Such a viewpoint has no basis in science since it requires advanced medical knowledge unavailable 3,000 years ago.

A better view is that kashrut was a way of differentiating the Jewish minority, to keep them separate from the Gentiles, thus promoting Jewish survival. This is partly correct, especially in a Christian society, but this view ignores the fact that most of the world’s majority religions observe some form of dietary laws (Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism).

Why, then, is ‘kashrut’ significant? If its not health or social separateness, what is the goal of the dietary laws? The answer is found in the Torah itself. “You shall sanctify yourselves and be holy, for I [the Lord] am holy.” (Leviticus 19:1) ‘kashrut’ is a way of welcoming the holiness of Judaism into our daily lives. At each meal, we discipline our natural desire for self-gratification and rededicate ourselves to the high standards of Jewish living and behavior. The network of Jewish values — loving our neighbor, caring for the widow and orphan, affirming a connection to the Jewish people, and embodying God’s rule on earth — gain strength and depth through the regular practice of ‘kashrut.’ Every form of effective pedagogy involves regular repetition and frequent exposure. Since we eat three times each day (at least!), ‘kashrut’ is a daily school recalling and reinforcing a sense of living in ‘brit’ (covenant) with God, making the values of Judaism visible through deeds.”

As a Reform Rabbi I would add that dozens of kosher rules are spiritual exercises to strengthen a Jewish soul. Even if you do not do them all, doing many of them will make you a more spiritual person, and if done with the intention of fulfilling your part of Israel’s covenant with God, a better Jew.

Rabbi Allen Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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WHY ALL CALENDER EPOCH YEAR DATES ARE RELIGIOUS

Mosaic pavement of a 6th century synagogue at ...

Mosaic pavement of a 6th century synagogue at Beit Alpha, Jezreel Valley, northern Israel. It was discovered in 1928. Signs of the zodiac surround the central chariot of the Sun (a Greek motif), while the corners depict the 4 "turning points" ("tekufot") of the year, solstices and equinoxes, each named for the month in which it occurs--tequfah of Tishrei, (tequfah of Tevet), tequfah of Ni(san), tequfah of Tamuz - via Wikipedia

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

For more than 1.000 years all the world’s major calendars have included a date for the year as well as the month and day. This seems  normal to us but for most of recorded  history calendars only recorded  the month and day. The year was counted from the start of the rule of a king or a dynasty. When the next king or dynasty came along, a new count was started again. Only major religions that last for many centuries can produce a calendar that will outlast individual political states and empires. Thus, all the world’s major calendars today are religious.

January the first will begin the Christian epoch year 2012. The Jewish epoch year, 5772, began on the evening of September 28, 2011. Christians know their calendar starts from the birth of Jesus. Muslims know the Muslim calendar begins with the escape of Muhammad from rejection and persecution in Makka to the opportunity of Medina. Buddhists know that their calendar starts with the enlightenment of Siddhartha under a Bodhi tree.  But most Jews would be hard pressed  to explain what happened  5,772 years ago to start 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 (the first Jew), 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 epoch calendar Jews currently use, chose to begin with Adam and Eve i.e. the beginning of human civilization.

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 Bible, which begins not with Judaism, but with the origin of farming, village civilization and recorded history.

All historical dates that are derived from written records will 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 the first stone pyramid in the 10th century. The famous king Sargon of Akkad (2371-2316 BCE) lived in the 14th century of the Jewish calendar. Abraham was not born till the 21th century of the Jewish calendar. It is only in the generations after Abraham that Biblical history begins 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. History begins with Adam and Eve.

Author’s Website: http://rabbimaller.com

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