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Non-Jews or Pre-Jews

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (...

Jews praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur. (1878 painting by Maurycy Gottlieb) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

For more than 2,000 years, the Jewish People have been a small and often persecuted minority. So it is not surprising that less than ten thousand non-Jews convert to Judaism every year.

But very surprising is when an Israeli newspaper (HaAretz) reports that British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, and a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference in early November. claimed that the number of non-Jews who believe they are descendants of Jews or ancient Israelites, about equals the total number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses.

Twenty five hundred years ago the prophet Zachariah declared: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)

In many cases, Parfitt said, this voluntary identification with the Jewish people is a relatively new phenomenon, which only began in the five decades following the recreation of a Jewish state in the Land of Israel.

Members of these newly identified Jewish communities could be found in places as diverse as northeastern India, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, the jungles of South America and southern and central Africa, he said.

In many cases, the global spread of Evangelical Protestant Churches, with their emphases on eschatological thinking, in the decades after the resurrection of a Jewish State in the Land of Israel, has stimulated a self selecting group of the ‘locals’ to relate so strongly with ancient Israelites, that they have found vestiges of Jewish identity within their own souls.

For example, Matthew Fishbane reports in Tablet Magazine (July 8, 2010) that he traveled to Medellín, Colombia to see how a part of an evangelical megachurch called the Centro de Terapia Integral Para la Familia, or the Center for Integral Family Therapy, has morphed into a Hebrew-speaking, Sephardic, Orthodox Jewish community complete with daycare, a Hebrew school, a self-managed kosher market, and claims to an ancestry that makes them more returnees than converts.

But other Judaizing communities in Africa have an even more amazing connection with Jewishness. Parfitt, an emeritus professor of modern Jewish studies at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, says, “I think one of the interesting, paradoxical things is the effect of the Holocaust on the way that people want to identify as Jews. You’d think that it would be the opposite, but in the case of both the Igbo and the Tutsi tribes in Africa, for example, they both had their own genocides, and they increasingly perceive themselves as Jews as a result of that.”

Among these millions of Judaizing non-Jews are small communities in Asia and Africa that see themselves as descendants of the 10 lost tribes (the part of the original 12 Hebrew tribes deported from the Kingdom of Israel after it was conquered by the Neo-Assyrian empire in about 720 BCE).

Shalva Weil of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on the lost Israelite tribes, said the growing worldwide Judeophile phenomenon was motivated partly by a desire for economic improvement. since many of those claiming this status were members of impoverished and marginalized communities.

But, Weil said that this was not the primary motivation and that globalization in general was a more important factor. In particular, she noted the tendency of young Israelis to explore remote corners of their world, including places where locals may not otherwise have had much interaction with Jews.

Thousands of backpackers go forth from Israel each year on post-army trips, “where they come into contact with exotic and wonderful people and begin to see similarities with their own religion,” Weil noted.

Another factor explaining the proJewish identity she said, was the worldwide rise of evangelical fundamentalism, with it’s messianic fervor. “Eschatological visions have always been associated with the 10 lost tribes,” she said.

While some of these communities, like the Bnai Menashe of Israel, have undergone official conversion processes so they could emigrate to Israel, most of them have not been driven to move to Israel as part of the realization of their Jewish identity.

In Africa, among groups I work with, there doesn’t seem to be a large number that want to come to Israel,” noted Parfitt. “They love Israel, they support Israel, they want to study, but they’re not dying to come.”

I myself think they would be happy to just be welcomed into the worldwide Jewish community without the traditional Orthodox suspicion of potential converts, in fulfillment of the Biblical prophecy of prophet Zachariah: ‘This is what the LORD Almighty says: “In those days (to come) ten people from every language and nation will take firm hold of each Jew by the edge of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.'” (8:23)

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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Are Non-Jews With Jewish Identities Welcome?

English: Map of the distribution of Jews in th...

Map of the distribution of Jews in the world (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

The number of people who believe they are descendants of Jews is almost equal to the number of Jews who are counted in official international censuses, according to British historian Tudor Parfitt, an expert on Judaizing movements, who was a keynote speaker at a Jerusalem conference held at the Van Leer Institute according to HaAretz newspaper.

In many cases, Parfitt said, this voluntary affiliation with the Jewish people is a relatively new phenomenon. Members of these newly identified Jewish communities could be found in places as diverse as northeastern India, Papua New Guinea, Nicaragua, the jungles of South America and southern and central Africa.

The new identifiers also include millions of people, mainly in Latin America (primarily Brazil, Peru, Colombia and Nicaragua), who see themselves as descendants of Jews forced to convert – also known as Conversos or Bnai Anusim – during the Spanish Inquisition more than 500 years ago.

Several experts addressing the conference noted that the rise of evangelical Christianity in Latin America in recent years, at the expense of Catholicism, has made it easier for these people to identify as Jews and to practice Judaism, because the Jewish People and Judaism play a big role within the messianic ideology they have heard about.

As they learn about Jewish practices they sometimes remember things their great grandparents did when they were children. “Once I started looking, there was never any question,” said Medina-Sandoval, a poet and writer living in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Jewish community, small synagogue and kosher k...

Jewish community, small synagogue and kosher kitchen in Wrocław (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She finally understood why she had an uncle who raised pigs but didn’t eat them; why her aunts put aside some dough as with the Sabbath challah bread; why she never really felt like she belonged in the Christian faith. Then she discovered she was Jewish.

Or at least her family had been Jewish, back in Spain, more than 500 years ago. Through her great grandfather’s journals and other genealogical research, she discovered her Jewish roots and eventually decided to return to the faith of her ancestors.

Then there are people like Blanca Carrasco, who grew up Catholic in Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas. But by the time she reached her 20s, Catholic doctrines seemed lacking and she became an evangelical Protestant. It wasn’t until she was invited to a Passover Seder at a Messianic Center in El Paso that she really felt connected to God.

“We felt it was familiar—it felt like home,” she said about herself a

nd her husband, Cesar. “Right in that instance, our life changed. I needed to know more.” That led her to a decade at the El Paso Messianic Center, where the couple learned about Jewish history, holidays and Crypto-Jews.

“The `Anusim’ feel maybe there’s something Jewish in their family,” she said, using the Hebrew word for forced converts and their descendants.

Carrasco, 43, researched her family and found names like Espinoza, Israel, Salinas, and a great aunt who said her grandmother spoke Ladino, the hybrid Spanish-Hebrew dialect. Three years ago, Carrasco and her husband decided to leave the Messianic congregation; last year, they formally converted to Judaism in what they called a “return ceremony.”

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema ...

Interior of the Amsterdam Synagogue: the bema (or tebáh) is in the foreground, and the Hekhál (Ark) in the background. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“People would tell us, `You don’t have to do it,’ but we just love it and want to learn and want to do it,”she said. “It doesn’t matter if you call it a conversion or a return. What matters is once you convert to Judaism, you’re going to come out a different person.”

Others, like Rabbi Stephen Leon of (Conservative) Congregation B’nai Zion in El Paso, see helping people like the Carrascos return to Judaism as a kind of divine mission.

“God said to me, `I cannot bring back the 6 million who were killed in the Holocaust. But there was another group before that who are alive in much larger numbers than Holocaust survivors because it’s been 500 years, generation after generation after generation. Their souls are still alive,” he said. “God told me, `You have to do something about it.’”

The big question is: will some people people in the established Jewish community reach out and encourage these Jewish identifiers to formally become Jewish; or will the Jewish community continue to avoid out reach to non-Jews?

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: rabbimaller.com


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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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