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Contemporary Feminism’s War Against Women in the Name of Radical Islam

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Owen Jones opines in the UK Guardian that women are “taken less seriously than men” and, as a result, the “pandemic of violence against women will continue.” Coming on the heels of the famed Arquette faux pas at the Oscars, his essay easily reads as more of the same old “War on Women” schtick, and to a great extent it is. However, his opening argument is worth noting for what it does say and for what Jones does not. Somehow, like most contemporary feminists with a platform, he manages to acknowledge the grotesque abuses of women living in Islamic cultures while completely refusing to point out that radicalized Islam is the number one serious threat to women across the globe.

Jones begins by recounting the story of Özgecan Aslan a 20-year-old Turkish college student who was tortured, raped and murdered, her body then burned as evidence, by a bus driver.

Across Twitter, Turkish women have responded by sharing their experiences of harassment, objectification and abuse. But something else happened: men took to the streets wearing miniskirts, protesting at male violence against women and at those who excuse it or play it down. Before assessing how men can best speak out in support of women, it’s worth looking at the scale of gender oppression. The statistics reveal what looks like a campaign of terror. According to the World Health Organisation, over a third of women globally have suffered violence from a partner or sexual violence from another man. The UN estimates that about 133 million girls and women have suffered female genital mutilation, and believes that nearly all of the 4.5 million people “forced into sexual exploitation” are girls and women.

He stops there, short of pointing out that the WHO statistics cited clearly show that the greatest threat of violence against women exists in primarily Islamic countries. While he mentions female genital mutilation, he again neglects to tie in the fact that FGM is most commonly practiced in Muslim countries and among extremist Islamic cultures.

Jones bases his argument in a story of a Muslim girl tortured and murdered by a man in a Muslim country that is growing more religious by the day, only to devolve into the same demeaning politically correct tropes of contemporary gender feminism. He finds it ironic that men dare to call themselves feminists and decides “…men will only stop killing, raping, injuring and oppressing women if they change.” Change what? Their gender? For Jones, as it is for so many other feminist activists, it is easier to just throw a blanket of blame onto men than to confront the source of evil that exacts a real “campaign of terror” against women: radical Islam.

What’s worse, Jones doesn’t hesitate to make his case for women all about gay men. In yet another ironic twist, after accusing men of co-opting the feminist movement for their own egotistical needs, he uses gender feminist theory to defend a tangent on gay rights:

And while men are not oppressed by men’s oppression of women, some are certainly damaged by it. Gay men are a striking example: we are deemed to be too much like women. But some straight men suffer because of an aggressive form of masculinity too. The boundaries of how a man is supposed to behave are aggressively policed by both sexism and its cousin, homophobia. Men who do not conform to this stereotype – by talking about their feelings, failing to objectify women, not punching other men enough – risk being abused as unmanly. “Stop being such a woman,” or “Stop being such a poof.” Not only does that leave many men struggling with mental distress, unable to talk about their feelings; it also is one major reason that suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50.

If gender stereotypes are a cause of male suicide, they only have gender feminists to blame. Wait – wasn’t this supposed to be an argument in favor of feminism and the female voice?

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Jews, Whiteness & the Idiocy of Racial Identity

Sunday, February 15th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Finally, they’re Jew-ing up Downton Abbey. Rose, the troublesome teen who nearly ran away with a black American jazz singer last season, is now falling for Ephraim Atticus Aldridge whose family escaped Russian pogroms. What makes this love affair more acceptable to the Granthams, whose own matriarch comes from Jewish blood? Well, the money and the title help, but the reality is that Atticus is white. Tom the socialist chauffeur worked his way into the heart of the family sans money and title, but could a darker-skinned outcast have done the same? Not in an England where appearances were everything and eugenic theory was at an all-time high. Russian royalty ex-pats won’t accept Atticus as anything but a “Jew” and the jury is still out when it comes to the Crawley clan. Perhaps because, even in today’s England, just because Ashkenazim (European Jews) know how to play the game doesn’t mean they always win.

When I joined the Hillel as a grad student in Texas I was excited to finally not hear the one comment that had plagued me throughout many of my Jewish encounters growing up: “You don’t look Jewish.” Each time I heard the seemingly benign statement from some gorgeous, dark-haired, dark-eyed, olive-skinned individual with obvious Ashkenazi roots and a tinge of a New York accent I thought, “Weren’t you in history class when we talked about the Holocaust and the dangers of so-called racial identity?” Our problem with race extends beyond America’s borders. While Israel is the proof that being Jewish has absolutely nothing to do with how you look, Israelis still struggle with “whiteness” and race. The idol of race is a dangerous fence that has to be hacked down if we’re ever to survive as a people.

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Does American Jewish Survival Rely on the Holocaust?

Sunday, February 8th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

For a while now, my editor David Swindle has been plaguing me to start a series on Jewish identity. Like any good family we disagree with each other about practically everything, cultural and religious identification included. I can’t think of one Jewish setting in which I wasn’t directly or indirectly accused by fellow Jews of being a “bad Jew” for some mundane reason or another. One incident involved the infamous “pepperoni pizza at a Hillel event, for or against” argument. (Truly the greatest Jewish American struggle of our time.) Joseph’s brothers beat him up, threw him in a ditch, and not much has changed since, attitude-wise. Need further proof? Check out the latest argument over how Jewish Americans relate to the Holocaust.

Apparently 73% of us rank the Holocaust as our top-rated “essential” to being Jewish. This disturbs renowned academic Jacob Neusner who’s made a career out of entwining himself into the vines of the Ivy League. Neusner’s argument boils down to the concept that American Jews have no real sense of or connection to their own identity. Therefore, they need to go outside the geographical box to find themselves, either through the Holocaust or Zionism.

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Israelis—and Conservatives—Are Going Vegan

Sunday, February 1st, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

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It turns out that Israel—which is a frontrunner in many fields including hi-tech, medicine, agriculture, defense, and others—is actually leading the world in the field of veganism.

The nearly 5 percent of Israelis who are now vegans is the highest per capita total in the world. Another 8 percent are vegetarians. This is a very dramatic rise from just four years ago, when Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics found that only 2.6 percent of Israelis were either vegetarians or vegans.

And the trend is apparently growing. The Times of Israel quotes Israeli vegan activist Omri Paz:

The makeup of the community is the biggest change…. In the past, maybe they were more spiritual, or people society viewed as a little different, a little strange. A lot of the new vegans are mainstream—vegan lawyers, vegan teachers.

The Times goes on to note:

Israeli veganism took root in secular liberal circles, but religious Israelis are joining the movement, too. Many note that the biblical Adam and Eve were vegetarians in the Garden of Eden.

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And as another report notes:

Even the IDF [Israel Defense Forces], in which most Israeli young men and women have to serve, now offers soldiers leather-free boots and a small allowance to buy themselves alternatives to the food in mess halls.

To some extent Israelis’ vegan tendency could be rooted in the kosher laws, which take meat-eating seriously and set restrictions on it.

Meanwhile, an article by Mary Eberstadt last month on National Review Online reports:

Conservative circles in Washington and New York include a growing number of…animal softies, ranging from mindful carnivores to all-the-way vegans. As the respectful treatment accorded theologian Charles Camosy’s recent book For Love of Animals goes to show, Catholic/Christian hangouts harbor fellow travelers like that too.

Eberstadt goes on to note:

within American conservatism itself, a growing coalition of newly attentive carnivores, vegetarians, and vegans is steadily acquiring new momentum. In fact, it’s no exaggeration to say that the freshest thinking on animal welfare these days is emanating not from the Left but rather from writers who are Christian or conservative—or both.

As both an Israeli and a conservative, I welcome both these trends. I’ve been a vegetarian for about twenty-five years, and in more recent years, a near-vegan.

The reason is simple. You’ve had dogs, or cats, or both? So you know how sensitive and emotional they are. Why would you think the cows, pigs, chickens and so on that people slaughter and eat are any different? Why put them through ordeals and death?

I used to think this didn’t apply to dairy products, since animals aren’t killed to obtain them. But modern dairy farming—like modern factory farming in general—is actually full of appalling cruelty to the animals involved.

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But even if there were a sweeping reform of factory farming, and farm animals were allowed to live more or less decent lives before being subjected to “humane slaughter,” I would remain a near-vegan (and I may make it to full veganism). Should we be killing animals so we can eat their dead flesh? Is it civilized? And is it much more civilized to have a cow’s milk on my table?

I would agree that it was justified if people, like cats, needed animal products for their health. But that, of course, is not the case; there are many millions of perfectly healthy vegetarians and vegans in the world. My quarter-century of increasingly stringent vegetarianism finds me at the peak of health. And I will never forget the light, pleasant feeling I had as soon as I stopped eating meat; by now, of course, I take it for granted.

So if health isn’t the justification for meat, that leaves two others: it tastes good, and it’s what people have been doing for a long time.

Yes, I recall that it tasted good—and so do all sorts of delightful non-meat dishes, including ersatz meat products if you miss meat. Is a good taste really a reason to kill a living being?

And as for the fact that people have been eating meat for a long time, that, of course, is not a strong argument. Other “traditional” human practices have included cannibalism, human sacrifice, and slavery. Longevity is hardly a justification.

What I’m saying is best summed up by the image of a vegan soldier with non-leather boots. There is, lamentably, still a world of belligerent, murderous humans out there whom one has no choice but to fight. But by going vegetarian-vegan you link yourself with the world of peace, harmony, and respect for life, and you expand it.

*****

image illustrations via  jorisvo /  /  / Shutterstock.com

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The Un-Popular Face of Black Activism in America

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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“Black” has become an idol. Oddly enough we learned that lesson through the making of Selma, a film focused on the accomplishments of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who boldly declared, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”

Director Ava DuVernay defended the rewriting of history into what amounts to a black power narrative (mythical kneeling blacks before white cops and all), stating, “This is art; this is a movie; this is a film. I’m not a historian. I’m not a documentarian.” The mainstream media jumped on the bait thrown out by the film’s star David Oyelowo, who declared that ”parallels between Selma and Ferguson are indisputable.” The fact that neither the Academy nor filmgoers fell march-step in line only acted as further proof of the conspiracy against “black and brown people” in Hollywood.

The race war fomented in the rise of the Black Power movement (the nasty “alternative” to King’s civil rights movement) continues unabated. In fact, it has opened on a new front, one that ties racial strife with national security and even international relations. Playing on strong ties to the Nation of Islam, Black Power now has its eye set on the Palestinian territories and places like Ferguson, Missouri, and the like are set to become the next battleground in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, making way for the planting of hotbeds of radical Islamic terror.

But, to tell the story of Ferguson and Florida’s black activists traveling on solidarity missions to the Palestinian territories is to exact the same kind of indecent omissions as DuVernay. There are blacks out there who support Israel and who, in fact, draw inspiration from the civil rights movement in doing so. The primary difference between these black Zionists and their Black Power counterparts: They are motivated by Jesus, not Islam.

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in 2006, Cornetta Lane an African American at Wayne State University, even went as far as expressing this support by singing Hatikvah in front of an anti-Israel protester who claimed that Israel was a racist state.When Jewish students asked at the time why she sang Hatikvah, Cornetta replied that her pastor, Glen Plummer, explained that Jews significantly helped out African Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and that Jews contributed significantly to both the NAACP and the Urban League, and were advisers to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Thus, when she saw that there was going to be an anti-Israel rally, Cornetta decided to take this step.

Much like Cornetta Lane, Chloe Valdary has drawn on her uniquely Biblical Christian upbringing and study of the civil rights movement to develop her own brand of Zionist activism. Dubbed “the Lioness of Zion,” Valdary started a pro-Israel student group on her college campus that garnered national attention, turning the college student into a speaker for a variety of Zionist organizations, including CAMERA and CUFI:

The parallels’ between the black struggle during the civil rights movement and the Jewish people today insofar as the legitimacy of Zionism is concerned is staggering. Martin Luther King Jr. [was] a Zionist but more importantly he realized that we must advance our duty when advancing the cause of human rights today. If he were alive today, he would surely be pro-Israel. This is one of the reasons why I am such a staunch Zionist.

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Valdary is not alone. Dumisani Washington, a pastor and music teacher in Northern California, has formed the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, an organization “dedicated to strengthening the relationship between Israel and the Jewish people, and people of African descent through education and advocacy.” Raised a Christian, Washington had a strong interest in the Old Testament and Hebrew history at a young age. Growing up in the segregated south, he drew inspiration from the Exodus as well as Martin Luther King:

Dr. King was a staunch supporter of the State of Israel and a friend of the Jewish people. Many who know of his legacy know of his close relationship with Rabbi [Avraham] Joshua Heschel as well as the Jewish support for the Black civil rights struggle. Many are unaware, however, of the negative push back Dr. King got from some people. Particularly after the 1967 war in Israel, international criticism against the Jewish State began to rise.  Dr. King remained a loyal friend, and made his most powerful case for Israel almost 1 year after the Six Day War – and 10 days before his death.

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Both Valdary and Washington have raised the ire of pro-Palestinian organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), an organization that misappropriates black history and depicts black supporters of Israel as the Uncle Toms of the 21st century. Contrary to the Black Power impetus forging the Ferguson-Palestine relationship, Washington has outlined the differences between the Palestinian liberation and civil rights movements, and in an open letter to SJP, Valdary condemned the organization, writing:

You do not have the right to invoke my people’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.

Americans remain blind to these modern day civil rights/Zionist activists because, contrary to the preaching of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we have been made into a color-centric society by the Black Power movement and its contemporary descendants. Race has become an idol. Black Power has created the mythical “black and brown faces” to be honored through tokens of affirmative action while sacrificing living human beings on the altar of ghetto culture because of the color of their skin. To remain blind to the idolatry of race is to remain blind to the real struggle for civil rights in America, the struggle to be viewed as a human being instead of a race-based demographic or a color-based “minority.” This is the struggle that unites rather than divides us on issues of economy, quality of life, and yes, even national security and the threat of terrorism.

Now, more than ever, we must value each other on the content of our character, lest the idolatry that comes from the obsession with skin color blind us from the true threats unfolding in our midst.

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5 Ways Hebrew Is (Very) Different from English

Sunday, January 25th, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

When I started learning Hebrew at age 29, one year before moving to Israel, it seemed daunting. Until then, English was the only language I knew; now, at a relatively late age, I was setting out to learn another one that had a different alphabet, belonged to a different language family, and was overall distant and exotic from the standpoint of English.

Some of the ways in which Hebrew differs from English were indeed hard to get used to, others not so much. What was fascinating was to find how there are different modes of human speech. While the content of what gets expressed is basically the same, the mechanisms for doing so are not. It would be all the more intriguing to learn a third language; I wish I had the time.

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Newsweek Throws the First Stone

Sunday, January 18th, 2015 - by Chris Queen

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In the Gospel of John, we read a story where a group of Jewish Torah teachers and Pharisees (members of a legalistic sect of Judaism) bring to Jesus a woman whom they caught in adultery, asking Him what punishment He thinks the woman deserves. Masterfully — as He always did — Jesus answers the scholars with a simple, yet profound statement:  “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7, NIV).

Recently, Newsweek featured a cover article on the Bible in which author Kurt Eichenwald — not a Biblical scholar but a business writer with a clear agenda — lets forth on how Christians misinterpret the Bible. In his piece, Eichenwald throws the first stone, not even pretending to mask an agenda against conservative Biblical scholarship:

They wave their Bibles at passersby, screaming their condemnations of homosexuals. They fall on their knees, worshipping at the base of granite monuments to the Ten Commandments while demanding prayer in school. They appeal to God to save America from their political opponents, mostly Democrats. They gather in football stadiums by the thousands to pray for the country’s salvation.

They are God’s frauds, cafeteria Christians who pick and choose which Bible verses they heed with less care than they exercise in selecting side orders for lunch. They are joined by religious rationalizers—fundamentalists who, unable to find Scripture supporting their biases and beliefs, twist phrases and modify translations to prove they are honoring the Bible’s words.

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70 Years Later, a New Solution to the Same Old Problems

Monday, January 12th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

#shabbatshalom #Paris #JeSuisJuif

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I lit Shabbat candles this past Friday night for the first in a very long time. I made the decision somewhere between learning that the Grand Synagogue of Paris had closed its doors on Shabbat for the first time since the end of World War 2 and the starling fact that 15 Jewish patrons of the kosher supermarket in Paris huddled in a storage freezer to avoid being executed by terrorists.

Roger L. Simon wrote a compelling piece in the wake of last week’s barbaric attacks perpetrated by radical Islamists in Paris. Reading his article I observed with irony that he writes about America’s need for a Churchill. Perhaps, pray to God in His mercy we have one, as we are now surely England with a Neville Chamberlain at the helm. Europe, on the other hand, does not have a Churchill in sight. Europe’s Churchills and their children have fled and are fleeing, some at a breakneck pace. The only Churchill I see on the world horizon is Bibi Netanyahu, which is why he will no doubt be elected to another term as prime minister in Israel, regardless of the deals he may or may not cut with the ultra-religious. Internal politics have to be placed on the back burner when international enemies are this bloodthirsty.

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4 Biblical Sayings That Spice Up Today’s Hebrew

Sunday, January 11th, 2015 - by P. David Hornik

As I noted in the first article in this series, “In the Diaspora, Hebrew was retained primarily as a holy tongue, a language of prayer and sacred study.” But with the onset of Zionist settlement of the Land of Israel in the late 19th century, Hebrew gradually became the official language of the Yishuv, the prestate Jewish community, and then of the state of Israel itself.

That, however, required a good deal of modernization and adaptation of classical Hebrew. The driving force behind that project was Eliezer Ben-Yehuda (1858-1921), a Lithuanian-born Jew who moved to Palestine in 1881 and—among much other activity on Hebrew’s behalf—produced a 17-volume lexicon of ancient and modern Hebrew, sometimes working on it 18 hours a day.

If Eliezer Ben-Yehuda could see today’s Israel, he would know that his labors were crowned with great success. Hebrew now permeates all dimensions of Israeli life, from scientific studies to street slang.

And yet, with all the modern coinages—many of which originated with Ben-Yehuda himself—Hebrew’s biblical core remains vibrant. It pops up, for instance, in colorful phrases and sayings that are part of today’s Israeli Hebrew.

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The 8 Most Ridiculous Yelp Reviews of Kosher Restaurants

Monday, December 29th, 2014 - by Bethany Mandel

Being somewhat of a foodie of the kosher variety, I find the online review service Yelp indispensable when choosing where to eat. To be fair to restaurants, Jews can be somewhat discerning (read: picky and somewhat cranky); thus no restaurant I’ve ever read the reviews of totally came off smelling like roses. The best reviews on these kosher restaurants, though, are not from Jews, but from non-Jews who accidentally stumble upon kosher restaurants and all of their quirks. To keep kosher means to abide by certain rules of the Jewish faith. For the purpose of this post, it’s only necessary to lay out those which apply in restaurants:

Milk and meat are separate: In reality, this means in a kosher restaurant they only serve meat or dairy, never both. If you order a cheeseburger in a kosher restaurant, one of the items is a “fake” — either the burger is  made of vegetables or the cheese is made of soy.

No pork or shellfish: If you’re looking for a shrimp scampi or bacon, you’ve come to the wrong place if you’ve chosen to eat in a kosher restaurant.

There are a lot of Jews: You would think this goes without saying, but in a kosher restaurant, you will find yourself among a lot of religious Jews. Observant Jews are only able to eat in kosher restaurants, which are not nearly as numerous as non-kosher; thus, when choosing a place to eat, Orthodox Jews tend to come in groups as there are few options to choose from.

1. House of Dog in Boca Raton, Florida

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It’s somewhat incredible that someone can live among so many Orthodox Jews in Boca Raton and be completely ignorant of what Orthodox Judaism is, and what it entails, but this woman has managed the impossible. I recently visited House of Dog and the menu now has small notes on it to indicate that the bacon isn’t really bacon and that the cheese isn’t really cheese. I shared this review with my husband and we laughed, wondering if the menu was altered because of people like this woman. Outside of what appears to be some latent anti-Semitism on her part, I was also confused when I first saw the House of Dog menu, wondering if it was actually kosher because cheese and bacon were listed without any clarification.

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Judeo-Christian Angels And the Power of Pagan Art

Friday, December 26th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

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Joseph Bottum is my favorite among Christian writers; I read him religiously, as it were, for a decade before we met, and before he asked me to join the masthead of the monthly magazine First Things in 2009. The fact that he is a close friend, therefore, has nothing to do with my admiration for his work; I have several close friends who write badly, and admire any number of writers whom I abhor as human beings. His Christmas meditation “Angels I Have Heard on High” was a holiday delicacy to be savored. Jody has heard angel voices singing, “high in the wind, across a western meadow frozen stiff and covered with the fallen snow.” I  wish him many more such blessed encounters.

Jody is now writing Christmas carols, and we’ve been corresponding about the form, from an aesthetic vantage point, to be sure. The great poet of Spain’s Golden Age, Lope de Vega, wrote a marvelous song in which the Virgin Mary responds to the glory of angels ruffling the palm trees by asking them to hold onto the branches and quiet down; her child, she explains, is already exhausted by the world’s suffering and needs to rest. The juxtaposition of maternal ordinariness and supernatural splendor is a successful poetic conceit. Christian poets work wonders with angelic encounters, and Lope’s famous Christmas meditation is sublime. One really must read it in the original: with its Romance meter (comparable to our ballad meter) and unrhymed alliteration, the poem bestrides the divide between sublime and secular in technique as well as content.

By pure coincidence, the conversation around the Shabbat table last week at Hong Kong’s modest Israeli synagogue, Shuva Israel, centered on angels as well. Jews sing “Peace onto you, ministering angels” before Friday night dinner, on the basis of an ancient homilectic that two angels accompany a Jew home from synagogue on the eve of Shabbat:

Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,

of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,

of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

May your departure be in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High, of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.

Note that the appearance of the angels is a scheduled weekly occurrence, to be welcomed, but nothing to get excited about. The odd thing, though, is that the angels are asked to leave. One hears many explanations for this, but I like best the one proposed by the Chafetz Chaim, the leader of observant Jewry in Eastern Europe during the interwar years, and recounted last Friday by a young Israeli rabbi. When the high priest entered the Temple’s Holy of Holies on the Day of Atonement, he went in alone–not even an angel dared accompany him into this most holy place. The recreation of the Temple in the Shabbat table of a Jewish home is so holy that even the holy angels cannot abide there; after they have done their job of accompanying us home from synagogue they are politely asked to go away.

The Holy of Holies in Judaism is found in the most ordinary things of life once they have been dedicated to the Holy One, blessed be he. The Shekhinah (the Indwelling of God) resides on the Shabbat table, and in marital relations between husband and wife. Such things surpass the holiness even of angels.

The holiness of the sanctified ordinary, to be sure, doesn’t always make for compelling poetry; as a latecomer to Jewish observance I tend to sniff at the poetic merits of the classic songs sung around the Shabbat table, although some of them, drawn from the Psalms, are hauntingly beautiful.

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Why Do Jews Struggle with Chosenness?

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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I have no interest in seeing Ridley Scott’s epic IMAX 3-D meisterwerk Exodus: Gods and Kings. Why would I want to spend money on a “gloriously junky” movie that turns my history into a collection of high-tech special effects laced together by a biased, biblically-inaccurate script? Yet, for however lousy the movie itself might be, it has inspired some interesting commentary on Jewish peoplehood from Emma Green over at the Atlantic. For Green, the film inspired a polemic that highlights the seemingly eternal struggle Jews have with the idea of being called out, that is to say “chosen” by God.

I’ve always found this to be rather asinine as far as ideological burdens go. Most people struggle to find their purpose in life. Jews are born into it. We are here to bring God’s teachings into the world in order to make this earth a better place. This chosen status, this calling doesn’t make us any better than anyone else. It simply gives us a job to do, a role that manifests itself through every aspect of existence, every academic discipline, every profession we’ve ever encountered. Whether we’re religious or not, or politically Left or Right, we (for the most part) are bent on doing our part to make the world a better place. Which is probably why those who hate us the most love to rub our chosenness in our face, intimidating the Emma Greens among us into second guessing our God-given responsibility.

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Christians, Atheists, & Pagans Should Take a Sabbath Like Orthodox Jews Do

Sunday, December 21st, 2014 - by Dave Swindle

“Second, more than any other commandment, the Sabbath Day reminds people that they are meant to be free. As the second version of the Commandment — the one summarized by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy — states, “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt.” In other words, remember that slaves cannot have a Sabbath. In light of this, I might add that in the Biblical view, unless necessary for survival, people who choose to work seven days a week are essentially slaves — slaves to work or perhaps to money, but slaves nonetheless. The millionaire who works seven days a week is simply a rich slave.” — Dennis Prager, from his fantastic 10 Commandments video series.

So given the success of last week’s discussion about the myriad of ways to interpret the meaning of Genesis 9, the story of Noah cursing Ham’s son Canaan, I’ve decided to start a regular weekly series on Sunday presenting and discussing a variety of Bible-based mysteries.

This week’s subject for debate and inter-faith dialogue: what is the best way to observe the fourth commandment, to set aside one day a week that is holy? Does one particular group or theological denomination have better ideas and interpretations on this subject than others?

While for many of these Bible mystery questions I’ll just pose the question or lean in one direction or another, on this subject I do have a position that I’ve come to embrace more over the past few years that I’ll offer forward today: the seemingly radical approach that Orthodox Jews take to the Sabbath — a whole day of the week, sundown to sundown, of not even driving a car or using electricity and devoted solely to family and one’s spiritual development as a community — is the ideal that everyone should pursue for a whole host of reasons.

I don’t think the American Protestant Christian standard of just going for an hour long church service each week and then treating Sunday like any other day really cuts it.

Next: considering some insights from a book that I’ve been reading, Abraham Joshua Heschel’s The Sabbathand posing some inter-faith questions based on it. 

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5 Ways to Avoid Christma-fying Your Hanukkah

Monday, December 15th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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It’s fairly obvious that we Jews just don’t get Christmas. Don’t believe me? Check out BuzzFeed’s attempt to get Jews to decorate Christmas trees. (“Who’s Noel?” “Is that like, ‘grassy knoll’?”) Yet, every year we Jewish Americans wrestle as a people over whether or not to incorporate Christmas traditions into our own Hanukkah celebrations. It’s tacky. It’s trite. And it’s really, really lame. Here are five Hanukkah/Christmas hybrids that all Jews need to avoid this holiday season.

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Should We Care When Our Political Leaders Fail?

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See the first four parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” “Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power,” and “Should You Trust Your Gut or God?“ Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts hereWarning: some spoilers about season 3 discussed in this installment.

Woe to the city of oppressors, rebellious and defiled! She obeys no one, she accepts no correction. She does not trust in the Lord, she does not draw near to her God. Her officials within her are roaring lions; her rulers are evening wolves, who leave nothing for the morning. Her prophets are unprincipled; they are treacherous people. Her priests profane the sanctuary and do violence to the law.

Zephaniah 3:1-4

Our culture has a seemingly natural distrust of people in power, but that wasn’t always the case. Before November 1963 we put great faith in our political and spiritual leaders. Those pre-’63 figureheads like JFK, Ike and FDR, Fulton Sheen and Billy Graham are still heralded as role models of moral society. Today’s faith is different. We look for hypocrisy and mock it intensely. All spiritual leaders are televangelists skilled in chicanery. Our politicians are now supposed to be our messiahs, and when they fail we as a nation fall into despair and chaos. When did we forget God, and why does it matter that we’ve left Him out of the equation?

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Should You Trust Your Gut or God?

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See the first three parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone,” and “The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.

The idea of Olivia Pope is one of a woman who trusts her gut instinct so implicitly that she bases her every decision on it. As a result she unwittingly justifies a range of crimes, puts her life and the lives of her employees and friends at risk, and helps terrorists escape the country. Sometimes listening to your gut just isn’t good enough. Which is probably why God provides a wise alternative in Torah: the prophet.

Biblical culture believes that God speaks to human beings. Sometimes this is done in a group setting, like when the Israelites entered into a covenant with God on Mount Sinai. Other times this is done on an individual level, as when God called out Abraham, spoke to Moses through the burning bush, and when God speaks to His prophets. Given that God spoke to His priests through the long-ago destroyed Temple, Rabbinic Judaism tends to view prophets as the stuff of biblical history, despite the prophecy of Joel:

And afterward [after the restoration of Israel], I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

The Spirit of God in prophecy, known in Rabbinic Judaism as the “bat kol,” is highly regulated by Rabbinic law and culture:

In any event, the consensus in Jewish thought is that no appeal to a heavenly voice can be made to decide matters of halakhah where human reasoning on the meaning of the Torah rules is alone determinative. In non-legal matters, however, a Bat Kol is to be heeded. …In modern Jewish thought, even among the Orthodox, claims to have heard a Bat Kol would be treated with extreme suspicion and dismissed as chicanery or hallucination.

But is it really wise to always trust your gut?

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Amazing Video Series: Dennis Prager Explains All 10 Commandments

Monday, December 1st, 2014 - by Prager University

Still the Best Moral Code

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A National Call for Gratitude this Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Lately my editor, David Swindle, has been encouraging me to develop a series describing my own out-of-the-box Jewish faith. It’s this mish-mosh of biblical proverbs, Torah adages, stories and songs tightly woven together by my American colonial heritage and intense Zionist pride. There is no one perfect word to describe my Jewishness beyond biblical in nature. Orthodox, Conservative, even Reform I am not. Reconstructionist or Renewal? Forget it. But I find commentary from all denominations (“streams” we call them in Judaism) interesting and acceptable in a “with malice towards none, with charity towards all” kind of way that gives me the liberty to define my Judaism in a way most of my compatriots are simply afraid to do. Which is probably why David finds my approach so fascinating. It’s rare to find a Jew who isn’t somehow fettered by the chains of guilt.

So I begin at the beginning, with Thanksgiving, the quintessential Jewish and American holiday. Traditionally Jews celebrate the idea roughly 1-2 months earlier during Sukkot, a festive fall harvest holiday in which we humble ourselves before the God who brought us out of bondage, not because we are perfect, but because He loves us and wanted to dwell with us. (Sukkahs, as in “tabernacles,” as in “the Lord tabernacles with us.”) When you understand the story of God and Israel as a passionate love story, the struggles are contextualized as are the prophecies, into tough tales with happy endings. When you understand the metaphor of God and Israel as a greater metaphor of God’s love for humanity (we’re just the physical reminders) you open your heart to the immense, overwhelming love of God. And there is nothing more you can do as a human being than reflect on that truth with awe-filled gratitude.

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The Key to a Woman’s Sexual Power

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See the first two parts in Susan L.M. Goldberg’s series exploring ABC’s Scandal through the lens of Biblical feminism: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?,” ”Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone.” Also check out an introduction to her work and collection of 194 articles and blog posts here.

The husband/wife relationship is central to feminism. Historical, first-wave feminism studied matrimony in terms of legal rights. Contemporary, second-wave feminism approaches marriage in terms of sexual and economic power. Biblical feminism seeks to understand the spiritual relationship between a husband and wife, and how that spiritual relationship manifests into physical action. To do so, we must begin at the beginning, with Genesis 3:16:

To the woman he said, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.”

“Rule over you” is a phrase that sends chills down any feminist’s spine. But, what does it truly mean? A study of the original Hebrew text provides radical insight into one of the most abused verses of Torah:

This brings us to perhaps the most difficult verse in the Hebrew Bible for people concerned with human equality. Gen 3:16 seems to give men the right to dominate women. Feminists have grappled with this text in a variety of ways. One possibility is to recognize that the traditional translations have distorted its meaning and that it is best read against its social background of agrarian life. Instead of the familiar “I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing,” the verse should begin “I will greatly increase your work and your pregnancies.” The word for “work,” izavon, is the same word used in God’s statement to the man; the usual translation (“pangs” or “pain”) is far less accurate. In addition, the woman will experience more pregnancies; the Hebrew word is pregnancy, not childbearing, as the NRSV and other versions have it. Women, in other words, must have large families and also work hard, which is what the next clause also proclaims. The verse is a mandate for intense productive and reproductive roles for women; it sanctions what life meant for Israelite women.

In light of this, the notion of general male dominance in the second half of the verse is a distortion. More likely, the idea of male “rule” is related to the multiple pregnancies mentioned in the first half of the verse. Women might resist repeated pregnancies because of the dangers of death in childbirth, but because of their sexual passion (“desire,” 3:16) they accede to their husbands’ sexuality. Male rule in this verse is narrowly drawn, relating only to sexuality; male interpretive traditions have extended that idea by claiming that it means general male dominance.

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The South’s Church Culture and Its Dangerous Problems

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014 - by Chris Queen

southern-church

One of my favorite things about being on staff at a church is that I get to engage in discussions about faith and spiritual life with other men and women who are passionate not just about their relationship with God but also about helping others to deepen their relationship with Him.

Last week, I was brainstorming with our creative arts director and the student pastor at one of our campuses about improving one particular element of our services, when the student pastor remarked about how he knew people who thought of our church as light on doctrine and substance, largely because we don’t engage in activities like “altar calls.” Near the end of that part of the conversation, I remarked that Christianity in the South is more of a culture than a relationship with God.

In a now-famous quote, Flannery O’Connor once said, “I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.” She may have been more right that she realized, because the dominant Southern Christian culture concerns itself largely with seeing and being seen, with church attendance as an end to the spiritual journey rather than a beginning, and with safely sheltering families from an increasingly messy world.

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Women and the Scandal of Doing It All Alone

Sunday, November 16th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Editor’s Note: See Part 1 of Susan’s ongoing series analyzing the connections between ABC’s Scandal, current events, and Western values: “What’s Evil Got to Do with It?

Women are fixers. It should come as no surprise to anyone with an understanding of the sexes that the leading female figure on primetime television is none other than a fixer named Olivia Pope. Fifty years ago women primarily played the role of mother on screen and, in doing so, they fixed things and life was pretty darn perfect. But perfect doesn’t fly on network television any longer. Today it’s all about drama, and drama is conflict. So, we get Olivia Pope: beautiful, intelligent, who fantasizes about marrying an already married man, having his children and fixing a nice little life in the Vermont countryside for them, but is too embroiled in fixing her own life and the lives of those she loves to ever quite reach her American nirvana.

Like Israel’s matriarchs, Olivia Pope has a vision of justice, of order, of the way things should be. The wearer of the “white hat,” she wrestles between good and evil in her many attempts to manifest this divine sense that has been humanized as her “gut” instinct. Watch her and you’ll see the woman in white when she pursues truth, the woman in black when she has given over to evil, and the woman in gray when she questions everything she knows. Being a fixer is a woman’s inherent power and inevitable struggle. It isn’t that we want to “do it all” because doing it isn’t as hard as taking responsibility for it, for the lives under our care. Olivia Pope cares for everyone, wants to save everyone, wants to repair everyone and make everything all better. Her struggle, like that of the matriarchs, is in placing the sole burden of responsibility on her own shoulders. But, the greatest lesson of God-given responsibility is that you are not expected to carry it all alone.

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8 Reasons Why Jews & Christians Should Re-Think Celebrating Halloween

Thursday, October 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Halloween was always a point of contention in our house growing up. Naturally theatrical, I loved dressing up and relished in making my own costumes. And what kid turns down free candy? Sure, Jewish kids have Purim for these things and more, but when you’re in a mainly gentile neck of the woods, it’s a struggle not to be allowed to join in the party. As I grew into adulthood and took a deeper look at Halloween, however, I began to understand my parents’ objections quite clearly. There are definite reasons why Jews and Christians who base their faith in the Bible should re-think introducing and encouraging their child’s participation in this, the most pagan of American holidays.

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The Feminist Lesson in Mom’s Night Out

Tuesday, October 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Twenty-four percent of married couple families with children under 15 have a stay-at-home mom. Ninety-nine percent of stay-at-home moms in the movies get a really bad rap. Search “Best Movie Moms” and you’ll get lists that include Shirley MacLaine in Terms of Endearment, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, Shelly Duvall in The Shining, and more than a few mentions of Psycho. The majority of movie mothers are either widowed or divorced, careerists or working class, alcoholics or impregnated by UFOs. The closest you’ll get to a stay-at-home mom in post-1940s cinema is Kathleen Turner playing the psychotic Serial Mom or Michael Keaton taking on the role so his wife can pursue her career in Mr. Mom.

In fact, outside of Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side there hasn’t been a truly admirable middle-class, white, stay-at-home mother on the silver screen in over 50 years. Which is probably why Mom’s Night Out received such a negative critical reception when it premiered last spring. We have been acculturated out of believing in the power and purpose of stay-at-home moms. Yet, the criticisms leveled at Mom’s Night Out for its “depressingly regressive” spirit and “archaic notions of gender roles” were not applied to a similar film about a stay-at-home mom released only two years prior. This Is 40 received mixed reviews, but praise for yielding “…some of [Judd] Apatow’s most personal observations yet on the feelings for husbands, wives, parents, and children that we categorize as love.”

So, what made This Is 40 palatable in a way that Mom’s Night Out wasn’t? Is there, perhaps, a culturally acceptable way to be a stay-at-home mom?

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4 Reasons Jews Shouldn’t Fear Moving to Israel

Sunday, October 26th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

Israel is becoming a more and more popular place for Jews to live. When I made aliyah (a word that means “ascent” or “Jewish immigration to Israel”) from the U.S. in 1984, the Jewish population stood at around three million; today it has doubled to over six million and is the largest Jewish community in the world. The huge rise comes from both natural growth and immigration. Jews who are already here vote “yes” by having the Western world’s highest fertility rates; many Jews who were living elsewhere have been coming here.

And now it turns out that the rate of yerida (a word that means “descent” or “Jewish emigration from Israel”) is at an all-time low—yes, even in this era of globalization, and with some Israelis loudly complaining about high prices here. The Jerusalem Post reports:

In 2012…the number of émigrés—people who left Israel and stayed abroad for over a year—went down to 15,900, the lowest since the establishment of the state….

Nearly a quarter of them had returned to the country or reported a planned return date as of April 2014.

Most of those who left the country were not born in Israel, and 25 percent of them are not Jewish. Many had moved to Israel from the former Soviet Union since 1990.

 And the New York Times adds that

Sergio DellaPergola, a leading [Israeli] demographer, said emigration was actually lower now than at any time in Israel’s 66-year history, and also lower than in comparably developed countries. Far more people left Israel in the 1970s and 1980s, when inflation skyrocketed….

Even so, if you’re considering making aliyah, it’s natural to have fears about taking such a big plunge. I had some of them too; but by now they’re a thing of the distant past.

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