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Why Jewish Women Scare Lena Dunham (and the Rest of Hollywood)

Monday, March 30th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Jewish women are fierce. We carry many arrows in our quiver including love for life, command of the situation, determined opinions, and freedom of expression. We are not lithe and unfettered. We do not “go with the flow.” We don’t wait until we are on our deathbeds to express our emotions, resolve hurt feelings, or pursue our passions.

Ultra-Orthodox men pray thanks to God that they were not created a woman. This is only because they don’t have ovaries enough to take on our mantle.We are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, prophetesses, administrators, investors, and the greatest security blanket men will ever know. But perhaps what shocks these religious men the most is that we regret none of it. This is why they need to hide behind sheets to protect themselves from their own animal lust for us, that is precisely how powerful we are. 

Thank God we are women; someone has to be in charge of this mess. And that is precisely why we are the objects of fear and scorn. Because what you cannot control, you try to contain and what you cannot contain you either love or hate with reckless abandon.

Hence, Jewish women are constantly the brunt of jokes in the entertainment world. Whether it’s yet another good Jewish boy succumbing to shiksappeal or Lena Dunham berating her Jewish boyfriend’s mother, Hebrew women just can’t win.  Our intellect becomes neurosis, our love becomes smothering, our agility becomes goofiness, our sexiness our comedy. In Freudian terms we are the mother from which no man can escape. In pop culture terms we’re the JAP, Jewish American Princess, to whom guilty Jewish men are obligated to commit in misery forever. When God commanded circumcision we’re the ones who didn’t stand in the way and now we’re doomed to forever pay the price for our holy allegiance.

But, don’t be fooled for one second into thinking we’re slaves. Dunham blames her boyfriend’s failings on his mother’s supposed cultural weaknesses:

…he comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring and don’t acknowledge their own need for independence as women. They are sucked dry by their children, who ultimately leave them as soon as they find suitable mates. …As a result of this dynamic, he expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life, and anything less than that makes him whiny and distant.

She offers the asinine complaint of feminism, the pagan belief that a woman cannot ever be truly independent because she is umbilically tethered to fostering life. It is a bizarre notion, one that makes no sense if we’re talking power and authority. A child cannot survive without its mother. Said mother not only nurtures and carries life within her body, she is the primary influence on that child from the moment they are born until the day they die. For better or worse, a mother’s relationship with her child has the greatest impact on their social, emotional and character development. Dunham acknowledges this concept in the negative only because she rejects her own womb as a burden instead of the greatest source of a woman’s power on earth.

Statistically Jewish women enjoy having children. Stereotypically, we have lovingly been dubbed “smothers.” Weaklings like Dunham who reject their womb power find humor in these stereotypes because their own egos are a poor substitute for the authority intrinsic to motherhood. They must constantly jab under the guise of humor in order to recharge their power source. Real women thrive on building up the ones they love. Lost women who have surrendered their biological power to political leadership are left seeking to offend. In the end, it is their only reward.

So if you ever wonder why feminists are stereotyped as bitter hags, look no further than the angst-ridden humor of Lena Dunham, feminism’s pop goddess who has sacrificed her wedding on the altar of gay marriage, her womb on the altar of Planned Parenthood. She has not chosen life, therefore death becomes her.

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Are We Enslaved by Politics This Passover?

Sunday, March 29th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

Recently I engaged in an interesting Twitter conversation on the ability to confirm a religion’s biblical veracity. My editor, David Swindle, had been approached by Mormons a few days prior and was seeking out further explanation to understand how the Book of Mormon confirmed or contradicted the Word of God. The gentleman he engaged could not answer his question, so I stepped in with Deuteronomy 18:17-22: The Spirit of God does not contradict the Word of God. That is the test of any faith, religion, or spiritual leader claiming to represent the God of the Bible. God is One, He cannot contradict Himself. If a person claims to speak for God, their words better match His, plain and simple.

This concept has been tailored over time in Judaism due to the horrors of diasporas, invasions, and Temple destructions. The scholarly culture that began codifying the oral law that would become the Talmud eventually proclaimed themselves the inheritors of the gift of prophetic interpretation. In a bureaucratic coup, these ancestors of today’s rabbis took command of the prophetic role from God’s hands. Hence, today’s Judaism is informed by the concepts that the biblical manifestation of the prophet died with the second Temple, and the Talmud (Rabbinic oral law) is the equivalent of the Torah, leaving religious authority within the realm of the rabbis.

Yet, Torah teaches us that all human beings fail and that spiritual leaders schooled in this truth are held to a higher standard of behavior, because of their willful acknowledgement of and commitment to this truth. Knowing this, we are to be even more vigilant when it comes to scrutinizing our teachers and their teachings. That doesn’t mean, however, that we are free to judge each other in the process. Being human, we are far too susceptible to getting caught up in the cult of leader-worship, leaving us vulnerable to criticism when our leader fails.

Take, for example, the Forward’s Jay Michaelson questioning why adherents of disgraced Rabbi Barry Freundel didn’t come forward with their suspicions sooner:

How can some of our community’s leading (if self-appointed) cultural sages lionize and valorize someone who, in fact, they didn’t really know that well? …I also wonder what criteria we use to evaluate our spiritual leaders when a serial sex offender can sneak past them. …There are questions that should have been asked, suspicions that should have been raised. But the self-reinforcing loops of elite power — X likes him, X is powerful, therefore I should like him — blinded those entrusted to keep watch.

One of Freundel’s converts, Bethany Mandel, treats Michaelson’s observation as a criticism of her own ability to judge Freundel’s character, while illustrating that as a convert she was the one being judged in turn:

To be clear, Freundel had a great deal of power over us, but while he could sometimes be controlling and manipulative, he could also be our greatest defender. I will never forget the evening when my then-boyfriend and I agreed to host another couple for a meal…. Upon learning of my status as a convert-in-process, the couple refused to eat my food without hearing directly from the rabbi that it was safe according to the laws of kashrut. My then-boyfriend, a friend and the husband literally ran from Dupont Circle to Georgetown to knock on Freundel’s door to ask about the status of my food.

This dangerous cycle of judgment and blame makes us all victims of one another instead of family, friends, or event compatriots. We become so caught up in the opinions of others, whether they be rabbis or fellow Jews, that we lose sight of who God is and our true purpose in being a part of the Jewish world.

In the wake of Israel’s elections we are being baited once again by this cycle of judgment and blame. Rabbis now feel compelled to preach politics from the bench to congregants pressured to question their allegiance to the concluding line of the Passover Seder: “Next year in Jerusalem!” Instead of finding unity in our eternal freedom as Jews, we’re squabbling over political leaders who will come and go. Instead of taking joy in one another, we’re seeking authoritative approval of our political opinions. Instead of rejoicing in our freedom, we are being bound by the threat of destruction. And when we succumb to the fear we transition from freedom to slavery. This victimhood propels our judgment of and separation from one another.

The rabbinic claim to prophecy should motivate us as a community to engage with the Word of God firsthand, not with the goal of disproving one another, but with the aim of being the people God has chosen us to be. When it comes to religious leadership, it is our prerogative to “trust, but verify.” We cannot be blamed for the failings of others. But we are answerable to God for our own actions, and judging one another is not in His playbook.

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Why Israel Is Ground Zero In the War Between Good and Evil

Sunday, March 22nd, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

We Jews squabble enough when it comes to religion, but when it comes to Israel the gloves are off. Nothing is a greater testament to this than the vehement rhetoric coming from the Jewish Left in the wake of Netanyahu and the Right’s landslide victory in this past week’s elections in Israel. Whether it was Peter Beinart calling on the Obama Administration to “punish – yes, punish – the Israeli government” the virulent musings of Max Blumenthal, the anti-Israel Jewish Left came out in full condemnation, not just of Netanyahu, but of Israel at large.

The Forward jumped on the “Bibi is racist” bandwagon, reprinting Jeffrey Goldberg’s Tweet-condemnation of the slanderous tale embraced by Obama and his minions. If you are Jewish and have friends on the Left, I guarantee it didn’t take you longer than 10 minutes after Bibi claimed victory to get at least one Facebook post or Tweet claiming “he stole the election like Bush.” My PJ colleague Ron Radosh wisely diagnosed both the Obama Administration and the mainstream media as having Bibi Derangement Syndrome (BDS). And unfortunately, we Jews are not immune.

This BDS, with all its sound and fury, has not brought the diaspora one ounce closer to understanding or relating to their Israeli counterparts. In fact, with the Obama Administration trumpeting the effort to turn Israel into another Ferguson, the dual loyalty accusations will be held over Jewish American heads, both Left and Right, now more than ever. But we Jews don’t see that. All we see is Obama versus Bibi, Left versus Right, “hope and change” versus “despair” and whatever other hot air blown into an otherwise lifeless, meaningless campaign. From the comforts of a “two legs good, four legs better” America we don’t have to force ourselves to look behind V15′s green curtain, let alone consider that Israeli Jews may have very good reasons for having opinions that differ from our own.

When I had the wonderful opportunity to march in New York City’s Israel Day Parade a few years back, I did so under the banner of an openly progressive Labor Zionist summer camp. My husband, a third generation member, had worked his way up from camper, to counselor, to business manager. Now as an alum he was excited to show me, his then-girlfriend, what he loved about his summers and give me the chance to revel in my Zionist pride. He’d worked the camp too long not to see past the politics, but had too many fond memories to be jaded by a lack of logic. In the end we were there to celebrate Israel, celebrate our freedom, and have fun with friends.

Or so I thought, until more than one angry parade-goer spat at me. “You are evil! You anti-Zionist pig! You’re killing us! You Leftists are killing Israel!” How were a group of teens and twenty-somethings, most of whom had been to Israel, many of whom were either pursuing or had obtained citizenship, and some of whom had or were serving in the IDF possibly killing Israel? These kids weren’t doing anything more than holding a contrary political opinion, yet that was enough to accuse them of being murderers. “Wait a minute,” I thought, “isn’t that what the Left is always accusing us of doing?”

I smiled at the crowd and wished them love through their gritted teeth and rage. Only two days earlier I’d been called a “conservative pig” by another camp alum who would later growl at me repeatedly, “You need to change your politics.” I came wanting to celebrate Israel. I wound up embroiled in a hot, angry mess.

Israel awakens our passions as Jews because Israel is a reminder of our responsibilities to God and to one another. If Israel fails, Holocaust awaits. No one but a Jew could understand the weight of that burden. Yet, instead of recognizing that we, Left and Right, are motivated by these same concerns and fears we allow the real haters of Israel to craft our opinions about one another. Suddenly everyone is an Obama, a Beinart, a Blumenthal. Anger morphs into rage and crafts summer camp teens into the next generation of hardened, bigoted, miserable adults, some of whom will then be motivated to become the next Beinart or Blumenthal in our midst.

King David writes in the Psalms, “be angry, but do not sin. Meditate in your heart upon your bed and be still.”

We’ve never lost Israel to an outside force before first disparaging each other to the point of destruction. I walked away from that parade choosing to shed my ideas of Left and Right and see the political battle for what it truly is: A fight between good and evil. My job, then, is to focus on what God commands me to do: act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him without fear. I’m here to help sustain a great nation, not destroy it. It is time my fellow Zionists, Left and Right, see past the propaganda and agree to do the same.

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Why I Am Jewish

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

The essay is the second in a series of inter-faith dialogues, see the first from Jon Bishop on March 8, “Why I Am Catholic.”

Despite the multiple accusations I have received from my own brothers and sisters any time I’ve dared to make a critical observation about our people, I very proudly declare myself to be a Jew. This is not because I feel an obligation to my ancestors, my community, or my tradition although I respect them and their roles in the formation of my identity.

Rather, I choose to be a Jew just as Abraham did, because I choose to be free.

I missed out on the social conformity gene. Never have I managed to fit into any particular social group. At times I was hated for it, but contrary to popular opinion of what being a Jew means, it was thanks to being Jewish that I learned to love being a stand-out in the crowd. At 15 I told my teachers I was legally changing my name to Shoshana, and because of that brash declaration I became one of the coolest kids in school. Why Shoshana? Because that’s what Susans in Israel are called and Israel is the culmination and fulfillment of being a Jew. We don’t just get our own houses of worship, we get an entire nation to call our own. Land is freedom.

And when you are so different and so unique, that spatial freedom is essential to your survival. Whether prophets, cowboys, American patriots, or Zionists, the experiences that speak to me echo the Word of God:

Trust the Lord with all your heart, do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will level your path.

It felt good to stand apart from the crowd precisely because human thinking never made very much sense to me. God makes sense. And what I still do not understand remains the most intriguing mystery in all the universe to comprehend. “I want to know God’s thoughts,” Einstein said, “the rest are just details.” Ben Carson told me to “think big.” You can’t get any bigger than God. “I have broken the bars of your yoke so that you can walk upright,” God reveals to the wandering Jews. God is freedom.

God’s freedom is eternal.

Torah is a guidebook, a covenant that when undertaken agrees that we “choose life so that we may live.” Ezekiel’s dry bones rose from their graves and breathed new life in 1948. While the rest of the world amuses itself with the walking dead, we trust in the words of Isaiah:

Your dead will live, my corpses will rise: awake and sing, you who dwell in the dust; for your dew like the morning dew, and the earth will bring the ghosts to life.

I do not need to wage war or rage in desperation, wear black spikes or combat gear, raise my fist in defiance, align myself with a cause, or fence myself into the opinions of others in order to be free. I simply need to live as God intended in covenant with Him. God spoke creation into being and the word of the Lord breathed life into the dead. Tanakh is freedom.

“How did you find it in you to survive?” I asked my cantor who lived through the Warsaw Ghetto and the Auschwitz death march.

He replied, “I saw the skull and crossbones on the Nazi soldier’s belt along with the words ‘soldier of God’. They were lying. ‘This is not God,’ I thought. And that gave me the will to survive.”

I am a Jew, and I choose to be a Jew, because despite what the world may lead you to believe, being a Jew means dwelling in eternal freedom.

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Does Being Jewish Mean Going to Temple, or Going to Israel?

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

Last week I expounded upon why my husband and I have chosen not to join a synagogue. The backlash I received, oddly enough primarily from Christian readers, essentially boiled down to accusations of selfishness on my part and an unwillingness to contribute to a community. My question in response is simple: What exactly defines “community” in terms of being Jewish? A reader by the name of Larry in Tel Aviv wrote:

I agree wholeheartedly with every one of your points and you could add a few more! Such as one wouldn’t know the first thing about anti-Semitism in the world today, the nature of the threats Israel faces and related, from the rabbis and synagogue politicos. In fact you wouldn’t know anything important about anything that matters, not from synagogue, not much from Hebrew School neither (even Hebrew is largely poorly taught, with exceptions).

Which prompted me to ask myself: Do Jews in America know how to be Jewish without institutional backing?

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Based on some of the comments I received from Christian readers, it would seem that religion in America requires some kind of institutional affiliation in order to be legitimized. Whether it’s a church, temple, or yoga studio religious folks of all stripes need a facility through which to connect to one another in order to establish and reinforce their religious identity. Historically speaking, Mordecai Kaplan emulated this concept when he reconstructed the idea of synagogue as community, the physical center of Jewish life in Diaspora America. Why don’t Jews necessarily need this institutional bond today? The answer is simple: We have Israel.

As I mentioned in my last article, one of the reasons why my husband and I have elected not to join a synagogue is that we’d rather spend the money going to Israel. Some of those reasons include the reality expounded on by Larry in Tel Aviv. If you want a solid geographical, cultural, historical connection to being Jewish, you find it in Israel. If you want to understand that being Jewish is both secular and religious at the same time, you learn that in Israel. If you want to know how to establish a lasting Jewish identity, you figure it out in Israel. We were not a group of popes and monks called upon to cordon ourselves off behind incensed walls in medieval monasteries. We were and are a nation and a national identity requires more than just a religious makeup in order to thrive.

Everything is more honest in Israel. The rabbinate openly functions as a political entity and the population treats it as such. As many Jewish Israelis that don’t attend synagogue do profess faith in God. When they talk about religious freedom it has nothing to do with the Almighty and everything to do with the almighty rabbinical overlords who abusively claim heavenly authority to determine who is and isn’t Jewish, who can and can’t marry and divorce, and who should and shouldn’t serve in the military.

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Is This the Most Bizarre Bar Mitzvah Video of the Year?

Thursday, March 5th, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

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There’s a subset of Jewish culture that has so much money to blow on their kids that celebrations like Bar Mitzvahs turn into outrageous, television-worthy affairs. If you want the full story in the form of a cute, thoughtful comedy, check out Keeping Up with the Steins. If you want to skip straight to the awkward horror of the real-life version, watch the video above, posted by the UK Jewish News with the one line comment:

Usually, we’d write something here, but we are a little speechless.

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The Case Against Synagogue: 4 Reasons My Jewish Family Doesn’t Go

Sunday, March 1st, 2015 - by Susan L.M. Goldberg

A few years ago my husband learned that the cantor who had supervised his Bar Mitzvah was forced into retirement. More than one member was floored that the now elderly man who survived the comings and goings of countless rabbis would be sent out to pasture because he didn’t fit the board’s “youthful” marketing strategy. Over five years later that same “out with the old” synagogue is struggling for membership. Every once in a while we’ll see signs in yards throughout our area offering an inclusive experience for Jews (“especially intermarrieds!”, often code for desperation) who want to find a “synagogue home.”

For us, the irony of the cantor’s story is one of the many elements that arise during the yearly “should we join a synagogue” discussion. Inevitably, we reach a series of conclusions common among Gen-X/millennial crossovers like ourselves. However, contrary to the popular opinion that money is the bottom line, our reality is that we don’t need to affiliate with a synagogue in order to live Jewish lives. And apparently we aren’t alone.

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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.

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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

A photo posted by Shosh (@slmgpix) on

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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