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The Battle Against Israel’s Orthodox Patriarchy

Wednesday, October 1st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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I didn’t fully appreciate how spiritually free I am as an American woman until I set foot on an El Al plane.

“Do you speak Hebrew?” the fretting woman in front of me asked.

“No, not really.”

“It’s okay, I speak English,” she hurriedly replied, obviously looking for a friendly face. “These Orthodox,” she motioned to the people sitting next to her, “they don’t like sitting next to women.”

“Well, that’s their problem.” My response was pointed, matter-of-fact, American.

She smiled as if a light bulb went off in her head. “You’re right!” Her expression grew cloudy. “But what if I take off my sweater? They won’t like that I expose my shoulders with my tank top.”

Again, I simply replied, “That’s their problem.”

She smiled, empowered. Removing her sweater, she took her seat and stood her ground.

And at that moment I thanked God I was raised in pluralistic America, and realized, oddly enough, that the Holy Land was giving me my first chance to practice the Biblical feminism I’ve preached.

Israel is a Western nation in that women have equal rights by law. Israel is also a confluence of religious and ethnic cultural attitudes, not all of which are friendly to women. Two days into our trip to Jerusalem, a family member who also happens to be a retired journalist explained the latest story to hit the nightly news. A man accused of spousal abuse was released to return home. Later that evening, police found his wife had been shot dead. The husband confessed to the murder. Apparently, domestic violence and death is a relatively small but significant problem in Israel. When I asked my former journalist why, he pointed to the influence of Middle Eastern (both Arabic and radical Islamic) patriarchal culture as the primary source.

Yet, even religious Jews in Israel (and around the world), despite their insular nature, are far from immune to sexual abuse. Sex scandals among the Haredim (ultra-Orthodox) show up frequently on the evening news. In this case it’s not the Arab/Muslim influence, but perverted behaviors that arise from Rabbinic abuse of Biblical teachings. How do you expect a man to relate to a woman sexually when he’s not even allowed to look her in the eye?

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10 More Movies Projecting the Jewish Experience on Film

Sunday, September 28th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

10. Daniel Deronda

A multi-part BBC series based on the powerful English classic penned by Zionist George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans), Daniel Deronda tells the story of a young gentleman who discovers, through a series of almost mystical events, that his mother is Jewish. A fantastic examination of Jewish identity in Victorian high society, the novel was cited by the likes of Henrietta Szold and Emma Lazarus as influential on their decision to become Zionists. Wonderfully cast, the BBC version is grossly engaging and well worth a marathon viewing.

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10 Reasons I’m Proud to Be A Jew

Wednesday, September 17th, 2014 - by Bethany Mandel

It’s not an easy time to be Jewish, though there have been few moments in world history where it has been. A recent unscientific poll conducted in Europe found that 40 percent of European Jews hide their religion. The only thing surprising about that statistic is that it isn’t closer to 100%. The sour news out of Europe is never-ending: an arson of a synagogue in Belgium, a Swedish woman savagely beaten for wearing a Star of David, a deadly shooting outside of a Jewish school in France. The list, sadly, goes on, and on, and on.

Unfortunately for antisemites everywhere, Jews have a great deal to be proud of, and always have.

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1. We’re wicked smart

Despite being just .2 percent of the world population, Jews have won 22 percent of the Nobel prizes awarded. From the 1920s until the late 1960s, Jewish students were either totally excluded or subject to quotas in Ivy League universities in the United States. Why? The schools had been admitting the best and brightest, and there were just too many Jews in attendance. Bloomberg reports on the Jewish quotas found in the United States,

Harvard, Yale and Princeton, up until the very early 1920s, had an exam-based system of admission. If you passed you were admitted. If you failed you were turned away. If you were in the gray zone, then they might admit you on conditions but basically, if you passed, regardless of your social background, you would be admitted. That was precisely why the system was judged to be no longer viable because too many of the wrong students, the “undesirable” students — that is, predominantly, Jewish students of East European background — started to pass the exams.

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The 5 Ways Orthodox Judaism Builds Strong Families

Friday, September 12th, 2014 - by Bethany Mandel

When I tell people I’m an Orthodox Jew I often get two types of responses. From  conservatives: “Wow, that’s so cool, I really admire that commitment and sacrifice. Tell me more about it!” And from liberals: “Wow I can’t believe you’re a Jewish conservative. What’s it like being Jewish with all of those redneck antisemites?” I tell group B how wrong they are by explaining the reactions I get from conservatives 99 times out of 100. But I don’t set the record straight with conservatives often enough about my faith. It’s not a sacrifice. It’s a choice I made (I didn’t grow up religious or necessarily even Jewish). I didn’t make this choice because I’m a martyr. I made it because it is an intensely logical religion, and one that sets the stage for a strong marriage and family life. Before I get into how and why, these are the three basic tenets of Orthodox Judaism:

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1. Kosher

No, this doesn’t mean the food I eat has been blessed by a rabbi. Judaism is a collection of laws, and the laws on what Jews can eat are plentiful. If something is kosher, it simply means that it has been made in accordance with these laws, with a Jewish supervisor ensuring all the rules were followed. Orthodox Jews don’t eat meat and milk mixed together, animals for consumption are killed according to Jewish law, and many categories of food (pork and shellfish being the most famous) are not allowed. The image above is a popular selection of the hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of kosher symbols in circulation. Check your packaged food for some of them; you’ll be surprised how much of what you eat is actually certified kosher!

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10 Reasons Why I Will Forever Love Joan Rivers

Thursday, September 4th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

I pushed off the idea of writing this article when I first heard that Joan Rivers, one of my comic icons, was rushed to the hospital after a botched outpatient procedure last week. I didn’t want to think about having to say goodbye to Joan, to bid farewell to yet another icon of an age gone by, a powerhouse who managed to be a cultural force until her last breath. The only solace we can muster is in knowing that, for these ten reasons at least, Joan’s memory will be a blessing.

10. Joan never grew old or gave up.

At 81, she was as attuned to pop culture, politics, and current events as a 20 year old. A self-made fashionista, the comedian never retired, sat in a chair, or gave in to technology. Joan will forever be a role model to women who refuse to trade style for a shapeless moo-moo and an office chair for a rocking chair. In her later years she paired up with Melissa, illustrating that mothers and daughters really can work together and get along. She was a modern Bubbe, surrounded by her children and grandchildren as she took the world by storm.

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5 Idols that God’s Followers Allow to Get in the Way of Their Relationship with Him

Sunday, August 24th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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These days we don’t really talk much about idols, at least not in the literal sense. We talk about American Idol and teen idols and that sort of thing, but the idols that represent serious sin go unmentioned.

Throughout the Bible, we see the evidence of the damage that idol worship does. After the Exodus, when Moses was on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments from God, the impatient Israelites made a golden calf to worship. For the people of Israel, it was just downhill from there, as idol worship and the unfaithfulness toward God that such worship represented led to a world of trouble for them, including the exile to Babylon.

In the New Testament book of Acts, Jesus’ apostles encountered idol worshipers when they went about spreading the Good News of the Messiah. These worshipers of other gods — and even some of the craftsmen who made the physical idols — stirred up all sorts of strife for the followers of the one true God.

So what relevance does idol worship have for us today? These days, the idols that Jews and Christians follow aren’t graven images per se, but followers of God do allow certain ideas, preferences, and opinions to become idols that get in the way of their relationship with Him. Many of these idols come with the best of intentions, yet they impede the ability to truly follow God.

In the following pages, through an inter-faith dialogue with one of my favorite colleagues here at PJ Lifestyle, Susan L.M. Goldberg, we’re going to look at five idols that God’s followers allow to get in the way of their relationship with Him. Hopefully naming these idols will get some Christians and Jews to think about how they may affect their own relationship with God.

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11 Lessons About Religion I’ve Learned from Pop Culture Polytheism

Sunday, August 17th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

11. A conscious awareness of God is intrinsic to human nature.

Tara Brach recently told the story of a four year old who was excited to have alone time with his new baby sister. When he finally got to the side of her crib, he asked her, “Tell me what heaven is like. I’m starting to forget.” If we didn’t have a conscious awareness of God, we wouldn’t be striving so hard to find Him in everything from houses of worship to fictional characters on the big screen. Don’t let atheists fool you; they might not believe in a God in the sky, but they’re worshiping something, nevertheless, whether its money, power, or simply themselves.

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13 Jewish Women Who Changed the World

Sunday, June 29th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

13. Bess Myerson

Recognizing a woman who appears to have parlayed her Miss America recognition into a minor-league acting gig may not seem logical, until you realize that Bess Myerson, the first Jewish Miss America, paved an uphill path for diversity in the pageant circuit. She was told by one Miss America exec that she ought to change her name to something “more gentile” and refused. Pageant sponsors refused to hire her as a spokeswoman and certain sites with racial restrictions refused to have her visit as Miss America. This was of no consequence to Miss Myerson, who was the first Miss America to win an academic scholarship. The racism she confronted was motivation for a lifetime’s work with organizations like the ADL, NAACP, and Urban League. She would go on to co-found The Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York and make boundless contributions to the city’s art community. Along with becoming a television personality, Myerson received several presidential appointments in the 1960s and ’70s and would receive two honorary doctorates.

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Why Was Jesus Born Jewish?

Sunday, June 1st, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Jesus was Jewish and that is a fact – NOT my opinion.

About a decade ago at a friend’s party I began chatting with another guest who, in the course of our conversation, informed me that he was an Orthodox Jew.

This information gave me an opening to ask my favorite question, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”

His answer was memorable, “Jesus wasn’t Jewish,” he replied.

My jaw dropped and I was almost speechless. Initially I thought he was kidding until realizing he was not.

Then, after a short conversation volley he said, “Well, that’s your opinion.”

Years later I have never forgotten that incident because the fact (not opinion) that Jesus was born, lived and died a Jew is one of the few universally accepted Biblical “facts.”

As one who was born and raised a Jew — but since 1975 has believed that Jesus was and is the Messiah — I have made a hobby out of asking traditional Jews, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?” The reason I continue asking this question is because the answers or I should say non-answers are always so intriguing.

Here are three examples (but you will have to read to the end for the most recent and intriguing example of all.)

A fews months ago, I posed “the question” to an old friend who is a secular Jew, not religious, but very proud of his heritage. His replied, “I don’t know. I guess Jesus had to be born of some religion so it just happened to be Judaism.”

My husband loves to tell this true story he calls, “How Myra Accosted a Rabbi at a Bar Mitzvah.”  A few years back we attended a Bar Mitzvah of a friend’s son. Afterwards at the reception, using my sweet, inquisitive voice I asked the Rabbi, “Why was Jesus born Jewish?”  My husband describes the Rabbi’s face as looking like he had just encountered Satan. After gaining his composure the Rabbi answered, “No one has ever asked me that question,” as he quickly excused himself and dashed to the opposite side of the room.

Then there was the time I was having a heated argument with my non-religious Jewish father (now deceased) about Jesus and my conversion to Christianity. My father had great disdain for ALL religion because he strongly believed that religion was the root cause of every war in human history. During the course of our discussion I asked him, “What was the religion of Jesus?” He replied confidently,  “Jesus was Catholic.”

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What Does ‘Judaism’ Mean?

Sunday, May 18th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

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Chicago University Professor David Nirenberg’s 2013 book Anti-Judaism received rapturous reviews from most Jewish media, including by Michael Walzer at New York Review of Books (via Mosaic) and Adam Kirsch at Tablet. My review at First Things was less enthusiastic: Nirenberg, in my view, got lost in the labyrinth of error that arises when secular Jews try to judge religious matters by their own standards. Below is a draft of my review, which is due to come out from behind the paywall at First Things momentarily.

Anti-Judaism: The Western Tradition

by David Nirenberg

W.W.Norton, 624 pages, $35

David P. Goldman, a former senior editor of First Things, writes the “Spengler” column for Asia Times

World history is the history of Israel, averred Franz Rosenzweig, meaning that the nations of the West so hearkened to the Jewish promise of eternal life that their subsequent history was a response to Israel, whether they emulated or abhorred it. By contrast, David Nirenberg contends that the West has defined itself for two thousand years by its rejection of Israel. Both cases can be argued. The difference is that Rosenzweig propounded a clear and mainly traditional concept of Judaism, whereas Nirenberg means by “Judaism” whatever he wants it to mean at different points in time. In its better moments Nirenberg’s account of Western anti-Judaism is conventional; in its worse moments it is arbitrary. His aversion to thinking of Judaism in traditional terms gets him into repeated trouble.

Until the nineteenth century, “Judaism” meant the normative tradition embodied in Hebrew Scripture, Talmud, rabbinic responsae, and observances that had remained consistent throughout the two millennia-long Jewish diaspora. The past two hundred years have produced any number of deviant interpretations, none of which has had much staying power. Nirenberg, a professor of history and social thought at the University of Chicago, tells us that he is searching for yet another non-traditional reading: Judaism is not only the religion of specific people with specific beliefs, but also a category, a set of ideas,” he declares. The trouble is that we never are told what this, except ad hoc as the opinion of particular Jews at particular times. Nor is anti-Judaism “simply an attitude toward Jews and their religion, but a way of critically engaging the world.” Neither the Jews nor the anti-Semites have a clear idea of what they are about in his account. Nirenberg’s recourse to the postmodern idea of self-definition via the “Other” does not help, for his protean depictions of Judaism and anti-Judaism chase each other into infinite regress. It recalls Heinrich Heine’s “fog-figures that rise up out of the ground/and dance a misty reel in weird chorus.”

That is a shame, because the tendentiousness of the book’s central thesis obscures some fine research ensconced in the inner chapters, including a highly readable summary of Nirenberg’s scholarly publications on the treatment of Judaism in the Koran and Hadith. There are many good things in the book, or rather, things that would have been good had they appeared in a different book.

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Debunking the Jewish Mother Stereotype

Sunday, May 11th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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What is wrong with my children? Why won’t they let me completely immerse myself in their lives?!

Beverly Goldberg, The Goldbergs

Last week, my husband and I fell over laughing at the best line in the entire first season of ABC’s The GoldbergsJust renewed for a second season, the autobiographical series created by Adam F. Goldberg (no relation) features, in his own words, “the orginial sMother” Beverly Goldberg, archetype of Jewish moms the world over. In his comic genius (complemented by Wendi McLendon-Covey’s masterful performance) Goldberg has managed to take a figure much-maligned over the past few decades and craft her into a clan leader who is as lovable as she is obnoxious.  With her ballsy, brash bravado, Beverly is the living, breathing Jewishness in a show otherwise lacking in Jewish culture. For The Goldbergs, Jewish is not about kashrut, holidays or simchas; it is about a mother who smothers her children with equal parts love, confidence, and overprotection.

Thanks to Freud and Friedan, Jewish moms have taken a beating over the past few decades. Friedan used her own mother’s discontent with being a housewife as the impetus for her brutal criticisms of motherhood and housewifery, going so far as to describe the latter using Holocaust imagery. What Friedan failed to note early on was the antisemitic influence on her mother’s behavior. Not only was her educated mother forced to become a housewife the minute she married, she was also the victim of lifelong antisemitic prejudice. This attitude, something internalized by both mother and daughter, would later come out in brute force through Friedan’s feminist critiques of the Jewish mother. It was a position that Friedan would eventually come to regret. According to historian Joyce Antler:

…in later life [Friedan] has joined the modern aspirations of feminism with the popular emblems of her Jewish heritage, understanding that the myth of a controlling, aggressive Jewish mother has been as dangerous to the self-esteem of Jewish women (including her own) as the earlier “feminine mystique” was to all women.

The real-life Beverly Goldberg views her son’s television show as a “validation of everything she’s ever done.” I’d take her observation a step further; I believe Adam F. Goldberg’s seemingly simple, humorous portrayal of “the original sMother”  is a much-needed cultural validation of the Jewish mother figure at large. Beverly Goldberg may not have the zaftig figure of her televisual predecessor Molly, but she has a zaftig heart, one that infuses the kind of family love into a sitcom setting that hasn’t existed since the Huxtables went off the air. In the midst of intense cultural debates on the value and future of motherhood, Beverly Goldberg’s intense devotion, undivided attention, and proclivity for jaws-of-life hugs are refreshing.

Happy sMother’s Day to Jewish moms around the globe. Just please remember to let your kids come up for air once in a while.

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Pacepa’s Seeds of Knowledge, Part 2: Getting to the Heart of Social Justice

Friday, April 25th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Editor’s Note: See the introduction here and Part I here to this ongoing series explaining the insights of Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa, the highest ranking defector from the Soviet bloc

Most East European governments concealed their road to Communism by posting innocuous nameplates at the door, such as People’s Republic or Popular Republic.

Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa

“People’s Republic” is such a chummy term. In fact, Marxism in general, with all it’s “redistribution of wealth” sounds so compassionate, at least to a Western, Judeo-Christianized mind. A Chinese mind familiar with Mao’s Great Leap Forward, for instance, may have a different take on the benevolent-sounding idea of a “People’s Republic” given the facts:

“State retribution for tiny thefts, such as stealing a potato, even by a child, would include being tied up and thrown into a pond; parents were forced to bury their children alive or were doused in excrement and urine, others were set alight, or had a nose or ear cut off. One record shows how a man was branded with hot metal. People were forced to work naked in the middle of winter; 80 per cent of all the villagers in one region of a quarter of a million Chinese were banned from the official canteen because they were too old or ill to be effective workers, so were deliberately starved to death.”

Mao couldn’t lie his way past a free press in the West. Nor could Khruschev, as Pacepa explains,

The 1963 missile crisis generated by socialist Cuba gave the socialist mask of Marxism a dirty name in the West, and few Marxists wanted to be openly associated with socialism anymore.

But, socialism is still hot. China is still The People’s Republic and “we’re all socialists now,” right? The last installment ended with the question: How have intellectual Wizards manipulated Marxism to acculturate the American mind leftward? Pacepa answers:

[Marxists] therefore began hiding their Marxism under a new cover called “economic determinism,” …a theory of survival rooted in Marx’s Manifesto (another theory of survival), but it pretends that the economic organization of a society, not the socialist class war and the socialist redistribution of wealth, determines the nature of all other aspects of its life.

The goal remained the same; the players simply put on a new mask. China has managed to be a People’s Republic that justifies murdering millions of its own people. Likewise, Marxist movements in the West masquerade under the guise of political generosity, often changing their names to suit the cultural climate:

When economic determinism lost credibility because of the devastating economic crisis in Greece, our Democratic Party began replacing it with “progressivism,” which has become the latest cover name for Marxism. …Today’s Progressive Movement was born in New York’s Zuccotti Park. It was first known as the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which advocated the abolition of “capitalist America.”

Marxists in the West successfully propagate progressivism under the guise of “social justice“ that demands the redistribution of wealth to the less fortunate. Ironically, most people of the Judeo-Christian West accept this Marxist notion out of the goodness of their hearts. However, putting faith in the Marxist lie that human beings don’t have a heart (and therefore are incapable of compassionate decision making) requires handing over all financial power to the Marxist Wizards who proceed to dole out your funds as they see fit.

This speaks to the heart of the question, but how have the Marxist Wizards rendered us so seemingly brainless? 

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The Silliest Moment in Simon Schama’s ‘Story of the Jews’

Thursday, April 24th, 2014 - by David P. Goldman

Simon Schama made his reputation as a cultural historian, and one would expect his new “Story of the Jews” to have something to say on the subject of Jewish culture. His incompetence strains the capacity of the Yiddish language for derogation. He is a yutz. Of the many silly things in his PBS series, the silliest perhaps was the claim that Harold Arlen’s and E.Y. Harburg’s song “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” expressed characteristically Jewish longing for a better world–as if longing for a better world were a distinctively Jewish activity. As far as music and poetry are concerned, Schama hasn’t a clue; the text and voice-leading of the song following long-established, overused conventions for the evocation of nostalgia. These are taught to undergraduates in musical analysis. Schubert and Wagner among many others employed them. (In the context of a review of Wagner’s Siegfried for Tablet magazine, I recorded a brief discussion of the musical examples, embedded below. The review itself analyzes the musical trick in “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”).

I didn’t like anything else about Schama’s presentation, but I can claim professional credentials in this particular matter.

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Cross-posted from Spengler

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The Difference Between Happiness and Joy

Sunday, April 20th, 2014 - by Chris Queen

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Last week here at PJ Lifestyle, we saw a lively debate over the difference between altruism and giving out of love — particularly in a Judeo-Christian context. My colleagues Walter Hudson and Susan L. M. Goldberg eloquently shared their thoughts on the nature of altruism in a series of compelling posts:

April 6: Altruism Has No Place In Christianity

April 8: Altruism In Religion’s Free Market

April 9: Love And Altruism Prove Opposite

Walter, Susan, our editor David Swindle, and I continued the discussion on Facebook, which morphed into a bigger exploration of faith and religion. At one point, Susan brought up the notion we often hear from secularists that “God doesn’t want us to be happy.” I replied:

I don’t think God wants us to be happy, either. He wants us to be filled with joy. Happiness is temporal and circumstantial, while joy is sustained.

There’s a clear difference between happiness and joy. Circumstances and relationships determine our happiness. An ice cream cone can make you happy. A great comedy can make you happy. An upbeat song (even that ubiquitous Pharrell Williams tune) can make you happy. But happiness is transitory and momentary — and ultimately external. Psychologist Sandra A. Brown writes (particularly in the context of relationships):

Happiness is external. It’s based on situations, events, people, places, things, and thoughts. Happiness is connected to your hope for a relationship or your hope for a future with someone….

Happiness is future oriented and it puts all its eggs in someone else’s basket. It is dependent on outside situations, people, or events to align with your expectations so that the end result is your happiness.

And happiness can disappear as quickly as it comes. The same people who make us happy one moment can hurt us or let us down the next. That great meal you ate can give you unbearable heartburn. You can grow tired of the songs, films, and shows you once loved. A storm can ruin that perfect trip to the beach. The happiness we seek can often disappear without warning.

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4 Things to Get Liberated From This Passover

Monday, April 14th, 2014 - by P. David Hornik

Still-life with wine and matzoh (jewish passover bread)

Passover, which began Monday at sundown and lasts for seven days in Israel and eight days in the Diaspora, is one of the major, constitutive holidays of the Jewish people. It commemorates the Jews’ exodus from slavery in Egypt 3300 years ago, which led to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and an arduous 40-year trek to the Promised Land.

The basic instructions for Passover are laid down by God in Exodus 12:

And this day shall be unto you for a memorial; and ye shall keep it a feast to the LORD throughout your generations; ye shall keep it a feast by an ordinance for ever….

And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever.

The “feast” is the Passover seder practiced by Jews all over the world to this day; the “unleavened bread” is the matza eaten at the seder and all throughout Passover by observant Jews. Passover is a joyous holiday, and in our era it has the added spice of the return to the Promised Land and the rise of a free and independent Jewish state.

Passover coincides this year with a dramatic political event—the crisis and possible demise of yet another Israeli-Palestinian “peace process,” this one shepherded earnestly, passionately, and futilely by U.S. secretary of state John Kerry. We are now at a juncture that offers two options: to remain enslaved to the same flawed assumptions that lead again and again to failure; or to finally get liberated from them and reach a Promised Land of understanding and rational policy.

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Religion, Politics & Screaming at the Internet

Sunday, April 13th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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David Swindle has entered the ongoing  discussion on altruism, religion and politics here at PJLifestyle. In doing so, he’s issued a number of great questions I’ve been wrestling with over the past few weeks. Jumping back in, I’d like to address them one by one, beginning with:

Walter, Susan, Lisa, and anyone else who’d like to join the discussion: am I going too far when I say that for a good number of people “Conservatism” is a form of idolatry?

No. I’ve had a hard, sad reminder of that through some of the commentary I’ve received on a number of articles in the past few weeks. There are some wonderful, insightful people out there who I’d love to have dinner with some day. And then there’s the passionate base who has time to issue verbose rants: Contradict popular line and you can “F-off”. You know this segment of the population; they are the reason stereotypes exist. But, they also prove the point that there are people out there who worship Conservatism above all else. Ironically, they’re as abusively passionate as those “liberals” they are taught to hate.

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Altruism in Religion’s Free Market

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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My colleague Walter Hudson recently concluded that altruism has no place in Christian life:

Christian giving promotes life and health. Altruism promotes starvation and death. Altruism redistributes. Christian giving transacts. Christ’s own words assure us of greater blessing in giving than receiving. Christian giving leaves us better off, not worse. Altruism therefore proves atheistic, as Piper declares. We will never give more to others than God will give to us.

Walter’s basic conclusion is capitalist in nature: A Christian should be rewarded in kind (or over and above) for giving of their money, their time, or their talent. On the face of it, his argument makes sense, especially in light of congregational membership. My Christian friends often complain about the concept of “tithing,” a Torah teaching that is grossly abused by the religious establishment. Far too often, “tithing” translates into religious leadership putting pressure on church members to “donate” up to 10% of their annual income to their church. Synagogue membership, on the other hand, is rather simple: The same flat fee is charged to everyone on a yearly basis. No weekly passing of plates, no feeling ashamed; most synagogues have provision to assist members who may not be able to meet the annual sum. Programming fees are charged for additional events, like holiday services and Hebrew school. This model best fits Walter’s description of being rewarded in kind for monies given.

In the era where religious establishments have become places to fulfill business networking and social needs, it makes sense that you’d pay a fee for the religious service as you would any other mode through which these things would be accomplished. You pay for drinks at bars, JDate and Christian Mingle memberships, and head hunters; someone’s got to pay the electric bill so the lights are on when you’re shaking hands. The only question is, where is God in all of this? If the Bible is right, and we were put on earth to walk with Him in a personal relationship, what is He getting for His services rendered? That is, besides a corrupt priesthood on both sides of the aisle, pressuring congregants for cash and willing to let God take the back seat to a business deal?

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Noah: A Good Jewish Boy’s Cinematic Drash

Monday, March 31st, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Darren Aronofsky’s take on the classic tale of Noah is the Jewish guy’s Bible movie. The narrative, which does remain true to the textual account of Genesis, is crafted in the style akin to a scholarly drash. In another lifetime you might imagine this story to have been generated by a minyan of Talmud scholars poring over the story in their classes. Perhaps that is why the Christian audience has reacted so poorly to the film; it is not, in the words of Walter Hudson, told “from a Christian theological standpoint.” The audience is treated to a wrestling, not recounting, of the text for two very good reasons: A four-chapter story would make for a very short film and Aronofsky, for however religious he may or may not be at the moment, is most definitely 100% a Jew.

Aronofsky’s Noah remains, first and foremost, a story of redemption as it was interpreted thousands of years ago when paired with Haftarah portions in Isaiah (42-43 and 54-55) for the weekly Torah reading. Like the patriarch Jacob, Noah wrestles with God: the battle is a question of original sin and free will. Redemption, Aronofsky illustrates, is a choice entered into by covenant with God. It is not simply a no-strings-attached gift granted to perfectly bad people by a perfectly good looking guy who tests well with focus groups.

Contrary to most Bible epics, a faceless, voiceless God communicates His redemptive plan to Noah through the Biblically prophetic device of a metaphoric dream. “You must trust that He speaks to you in a way you understand,” Noah’s grandfather Methuselah advises. Reminiscent of the Tanakh prophecy “your old men will see visions, your young men will dream dreams,” Aronofsky engages Noah with his aged, wise grandfather, who advises him of Enoch’s prophecy that God would, one day, annihilate the world by fire.

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A Jew’s Take on Jesus Movies

Sunday, March 30th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

BiblememeAcculturated‘s R.J. Moeller has penned an excellent commentary on faith-based films in light of the Christian controversy surrounding Noah:

…no one who doesn’t already believe in God will go see Son of God. And many who do believe in God and who do go see it are, like me, plopping down $14 or $15 purely from a sense of solidarity with the well-intentioned creators of such projects. There are other, better “Jesus movies.” A dramatic reading of some of the more risqué and exciting parts of the Bible by the likes of Morgan Freeman would interest me more than sitting through Son of God again.

And while neither option likely interests your secular, non-religious co-worker, neighbor, or relative, all of them will go see something like Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. This is why I, as a Christian, am infinitely more excited about Noah than any other “faith-based” film in a long time – regardless of the theology or worldview found in it. I can actually talk to my non-Christian friends about it because they will actually pay U.S. currency (or BitCoin) to go see it.

…what I am suggesting is that while we work to inspire and equip new generations of artists who share our values to boldly venture into the pop-culture fray, we must not miss opportunities to introduce our worldview into the cultural conversation. … Art has the power to transcend and speak to the soul. But it must be able to meet people on their level before pointing them upward.

Upon first read I knew Moeller went out on a limb with his commentary, precisely because what he says is the truth. And truth doesn’t always gel with religious dogma; I’m a Jew, I should know. One advantage I do have over my Christian brothers when it comes to faith is that my Jewish culture encourages — and is built on — wrestling with God’s word. These matches stray far from the polite scenarios common to gentile Christian faith. However, they have resulted in a similarity between us, in that they have developed and sustained a religious culture that reveres commentary as much as the actual Word of God.

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Glenn Beck, The Church & the Real Secret to Disney’s Success

Monday, March 24th, 2014 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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Last week, alternative media mogul Glenn Beck announced that he was going to focus on “taking back” American culture through the power of nostalgia:

In the future, Glenn Beck’s focus is going to be more on influencing culture and less on politics and news. After all, news is only “what the culture allows,” he said in a recent interview with National Review’s Eliana Johnson.

…“Beck is nostalgic for an America of decades past, and his cultural projects will aim to resurrect and revive it,” Johnson writes. “It’s an America where duty trumped desire and Americans were bound together by a sort of civic religion created by that sense of duty. ‘I want to impact the culture in the way that people see good again,’ [Glenn] says.”

Beck’s goal is admirable, to a fault. The period he seeks to resurrect was one in which concepts like “good” and “duty” were defined by a Biblical religion, not a civic one. Any history student will tell you that Marx had his own take on the American Revolution; you can show someone Frank Capra movies until you’re blue in the face and they’re still going to see Mr. Smith as the ultimate community organizer if that’s their moral outlook.

As Amy Kenyon notes, there are pitfalls to what passes for nostalgia these days:

…the historical meanings and usages associated with nostalgia were finally mangled beyond recognition until its chief purpose became the performance of sentimentalism, the parceling out of discount memory via television, advertising, heritage theme parks, and souvenir markets, all aspects of what we might call the “nostalgia industry.” As such, nostalgia became kitsch, trivial and reactionary: hardly the stuff of a meaningful engagement with the past or the workings of memory.

Simply put: Glenn Beck needs to do more than embrace the facade of America, circa 1940. Beck needs to dig deeper, to America’s Biblical heritage, to understand what re-taking the culture truly means.

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The Latest Outbreak of Golden Calf Syndrome

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

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There’s this great story in the Torah that goes a little something like this. The leaders of Israel went up on a mountain for a private conference with God, per His request. With the bosses away, the Israelites decided to throw a party. Grateful to their God for freeing them from slavery, they shaped a golden calf to symbolize Him, worshipped the calf as God, and partied on. When the leaders came back down from the mountain, they were less than pleased. Tablets were smashed, God rained justice, there were a lot of irreversible layoffs. The common understanding of the tale says that God destroyed the Israelites because they worshipped the calf as a god. In reality, their sin was creating an image of God that suited their own liking, then worshipping Him as they wished.

Hollywood, and American culture in general, suffers from Golden Calf Syndrome. Whether you blame it on the instant gratification of social media or simple human impatience, God doesn’t communicate every 5 seconds in 140 characters or less. That’s not enough for us as a culture, so we’ve made a nasty habit out of satiating our need for the Almighty by forcing Him into a box of our own liking. Habit has become trend to the point that we don’t even realize when we’re trying to force God into our mold.

Take, for instance, the conservative Christian idol-worship of Matthew McConaughey for “daring” to use the name “God” in a sentence at the Oscars. Upon remarking on the huge stretch of the imagination performed by Christians (and some Jews, I’m sure) in thinking that McConaughey’s use of the G-word somehow referenced the God of scripture, the common, rather lackluster response I received was best phrased as, “Take it where you can get it.”

One comment, however, caught my eye.

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Latest Shroud of Turin News with an Exclusive Message from A Renowned Scientist

Sunday, March 23rd, 2014 - by Myra Adams

Professor Giulio Fanti, famous Shroud of Turin scientist and research author

In the next few weeks leading up to Easter Sunday you can expect to hear more news about the Shroud of Turin — a mysterious piece of linen that millions of Catholics and other Christians believe is the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ.

It was during Holy Week last year when the Shroud of Turin generated headlines around the globe. That was a result of Italian scientist and renowned Shroud researcher Giulio Fanti releasing his book, The Mystery of the Shroud.

Fanti is an Associate Professor in the Department of Industrial Engineering at the University of Padua in Italy. His 2013 research book scientifically debunked the infamous and controversial 1988 carbon-14 dating that supposedly “proved” the cloth only dated back to the Middle Ages — more specifically between the years 1260 and 1390.

Headlines such as: “Shroud of Turin is not a medieval forgery” were typical of what appeared across all media platforms especially on Good Friday, 2013.

Now in 2014, Professor Fanti has a new book (only in Italian at this moment) and the title translates into English as, Turin Shroud: First Century A.D.

According to the book’s press release, “The new dating methods are published in prestigious international journals and no one has yet pointed out methodological errors.”

This Shroud dating research project costing $75,000 (54,000 Euro) was funded by Padua University. The funding made it possible to “develop alternative methods of dating the Shroud based on mechanical and opto-chemical analyses after obvious calibration.”

Here is a more simple explanation of the dating methods if you are not a scientist.

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Purim: The Cure for Vashti Feminists

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

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There are a lot of great lines in the megillah of Esther. The one most often quoted comes from Mordecai: “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position for such a time as this.” It smacks of drama and makes for an excellent movie poster catchphrase. But, it wouldn’t hold half its meaning without the point-blank observation of evil Haman’s wife, Zeresh.

Upon listening to his frustration over Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him, Zeresh tells her husband to hang Mordecai. But, when she finds out Mordecai is a Jew, she does a complete 180 and admits:

If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is a Jew, you will not get the better of him; on the contrary, your downfall before him is certain.

And this is before Esther convinced the King not to massacre the Jews. It’s refreshing to know our reputation precedes us. But it isn’t a reputation we Jews are always glad to have; we aren’t exactly in it for the fame. In fact, like Esther, our first instinct is to keep our heads down and fit in with the rest of the crowd.

Speaking of “the crowd”, modern feminists have managed to twist the humble Jewess into the villain of the tale, instead opting to celebrate the Persian Queen Vashti for her refusal to appear before the King at his whim. Think: Her body, her self, Persian style. Docile, compliant Esther, meanwhile, is a mere pawn whose beauty comes in handy to persuade the patriarchy to let her live another day. This simplistic interpretation, totally ignorant of the promise and perspective of God, relies on the feminist myth that a woman’s worth is in her ability to manipulate her body to her advantage. Esther could never be considered a hero to these women, because she was inspired by a sense of purpose that outweighed the importance of her own skin.

“Don’t suppose that merely because you happen to be in the royal palace you will escape any more than the other Jews. For if you fail to speak up now, relief and deliverance will come to the Jews from a different direction; but you and your father’s family will perish,” Mordecai warns before adding, “Who knows whether you didn’t come into your royal position precisely for such a time as this.”

Vashti Feminists like to think the story is about Esther using her body to pursue the King’s favor. In reality, Esther pursues God’s purpose for her life and the life of her nation, Israel. She didn’t choose to sacrifice her body to the Persian King’s whims. On the contrary, Esther chose to devote herself, body, mind and spirit, to the living promises of God. The King, the death decree, even evil Haman, all of them were nothing more than plot devices in the ongoing love story between God and Israel. Esther, Queen of the Shadchans (Matchmakers) arrived on the scene as a reminder that “relief and deliverance will come”.

Esther was just a regular Jewish girl, redirecting her focus away from herself and onto the bigger picture of God’s plan for humanity. Crowned with the desire and humility to walk in faith, she is remembered as a Queen among her people. Vashti-feminists are oblivious to this plan and the honor it bestows, because their focus remains on the image in the mirror, not the person within, let alone the others who may be around.

Thank God, Esther decided that fitting in with the crowd was a bad idea. Had Esther followed feminist mantra, she would have dismissed Mordecai’s warning and followed the example of Queen Vashti, only to wind up exiled or dead. Instead, she trusted that God’s plan involved every part of her, including her beauty, and used all of her gifts to that end. Typical feminists favor Vashti because they worship tragic beauty; Biblical feminists admire Esther because she plays to win.

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Noah Set to Flip the Biblical Script

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 - by Walter Hudson

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As a Christian and a fan of Hollywood’s past biblical epics, I got excited upon viewing the first trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. The story of Noah and his ark has resonated through every culture of man, yet has never been the subject of a major Hollywood motion picture.

Alongside my enthusiasm, skepticism lurked. Modern Hollywood producing a biblical epic adhering to the written narrative and theological themes seemed unlikely given a culture increasingly opposed to the source material. That doubt grew with last month’s report that a disclaimer would be attached to the film’s marketing explaining that “artistic license has been taken.”

Any adaptation requires artistic license. Certainly, narratives were added to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments which fleshed out the characters and layered the world in which Moses lived. Adding Anne Baxter’s Nefretiri to spice things up between Moses and Rameses is one thing. But you don’t add or subtract commandments from the ten. In the case of Noah, the disclaimer added by Paramount addressed criticism from Christian groups who claim that the film deviates substantively from the biblical narrative.

A clue to Aronofsky’s approach emerged alongside reports that actress Emma Watson had become sick during production after the director banned bottled water from their location. Watson told Wonderland magazine that the ban comported with the “pro-environmental message” of the film. The Telegraph recalled that Aronofsky called Noah “the first environmentalist” in a 2011 interview.

Now we have begun to see clips from the film. The one above revealed Aronofsky’s revised reason for Noah to build an ark. “Our family has been chosen for a great task, to save the innocent… the animals,” Noah tells his family.

When one of his sons asks what makes the animals innocent, Noah’s daughter beats him to the punch: “Because they still live as they did in the Garden [of Eden].”

From this we may infer that God regards animals as morally superior to human beings. In the clip, Noah adds, “I guess we get to start over too,” as if the involvement of his family were an afterthought secondary to God’s purpose.

The Bible tells a different story. All creation shares the curse of sin, including animals. The flood surged as judgment against that sin, and Noah’s family was preserved in fulfillment of God’s covenant to provide salvation for mankind.

By turning the story of Noah into an environmental tale, Aronofsky has missed the point. Beyond artistic license, he seems to have defiled the story’s essence. Imagine a film about the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which portrayed the hijackers as Hindu, and you understand the difference between artistic license and fraud. If Aronofsky’s Noah ends up as divergent as the above clip, it will trivialize something sacred, the treasured relationship between God and mankind.

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