Think We’ve Got It Bad?

In this Middle Eastern country, a woman of the majority religion married a man from another religion. Her family had no problems with it, but the couple lives in fear of being exposed to the religious authorities as an interfaith couple. Meanwhile, the majority of this state’s young people support a couple’s right to civil marriage.

Israel, right? Try its neighbor to the north, Syria.

While Israel (justly) gets flak for its antiquated, inconsistent and prejudicial approach to interfaith marriage, the Arab countries that surround it are no better–and in many cases worse. Take Syria.

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Holy Cannoli–Jews, Burning Books? What Gives?

We’re still not over it.

We Jews are still not over our fears of being forced to convert. Holy Cannoli

Jews’ negative feelings about proselytizing are so strong that even in Israel, a country where Jews are the majority, we continue to feel threatened by the idea that someone might force us to convert. To me, this explains a lot about the ways that the Jewish community has reacted to interfaith marriage. A recent story about Jews in Israel burning books brought this into sharp relief. The deputy mayor of the small Israeli town of Ohr Yehuda, acting as a private citizen, organized a collection of missionary literature, which some of the townspeople then burnt in a bonfire.

In response to the burning of copies of the New Testament in Ohr Yehuda, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, President of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Peter Knobel, President of the Central Conference of Reform Rabbis, and Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, issued the following statement: Continue reading

No Longer Greek to Me

I always thought that Tom Hanks’ wife, Rita Wilson, was a charming woman and a good actress. She met Tom when she played an idealistic Jewish Peace Corps member in the 1985 film, Volunteers. Hanks starred as a WASP playboy who joined the Peace Corps to get out of the country just ahead of some gangsters who wanted to kill him because he could not pay some gambling debts. Of course, the playboy and the Jewish idealist fall in love.

Wilson, who is the daughter of Greek Orthodox immigrants, recently wrote a piece on the joys of Greek Orthodox Easter for the Huffington Post. This year the Greek Orthodox celebrate Easter on April 27.

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Papal Visit

The Pope is coming to the U.S. for the first time next week, making stops in Washington, D.C., and New York on his five-day trip. What does this mean for interfaith families?

Like his predecessor John Paul II (and really, like any mainstream Catholic official), Benedict XVI is pro-life, anti-death penalty, anti-birth control and anti-homosexuality. He also follows the recent trend in papal politics of decrying the excesses and abuses of capitalism and protesting American use of force. Also like his predecessor, he sees moral relativism as an insidious force that sustains evil in secular society. In terms of substance, his views are little different than that of John Paul II–why then is John Paul II viewed as the lovable uniter and Benedict XVI as the reactionary divider?

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A Catholic Controversy

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The Latin prayer that includes a call for the conversion of the Jews continues its controversial revitalization, reports the New York Times.

Since I know next to nothing about Catholic liturgy, I won’t presume to have a firm opinion on the issue. For two informed takes on the controversy, read (Catholic) James Carroll’s call to bury the prayer in the Boston Globe and (Jewish) Hillel Halkin’s call to accept it in the New York Sun.

Learning About Christianity

One thing that always strikes me about my Christian friends is how curious they are about Judaism. But the reverse doesn’t hold true for my Jewish friends. Very few are particularly curious about Christianity–indeed, ignorance of Christianity is almost a badge of honor among Jews.

I’ve always attributed this willful ignorance to anxiety. Anxiety over our minority status, and anxiety over what it means to be Jewish. We (and I include myself) have a hard time explaining how we are Jewish, but we know how we are not. We may not read the Torah, but we definitely don’t read the New Testament. We may not keep Shabbat, but we definitely don’t celebrate Easter. We may not believe in God, but we definitely don’t believe in Jesus. We modern secular Jews are often defined more by what we aren’t than what we are. And since we know so little about Judaism, it would seem almost like a betrayal to learn about Christianity.

But that doesn’t make it right.

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Of Mega-Churches and Christmas Trees

At its recent biennial convention in San Diego, the Reform movement apparently borrowed a few chapters from the modern evangelical handbook:

In a darkened room at the San Diego Convention Center last week, nearly 1,000 people clapped, sang and danced to evening prayers, with the words projected on two large screens against a bucolic backdrop of mountain vistas and rolling streams.

Featuring a five-piece band, a small vocal ensemble and a charismatic, storytelling leader, the weekday evening service could have been held at any of the growing number of mega-churches in America.

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Saving Your Date From Hell

I’m always fascinated by the approach of other religions and cultures to interfaith and intercultural marriage. A few have similar concerns to the Jewish community; Zoroastrians, for example, share the same sense of anxiety over dwindling numbers. Others, however, have radically different perspectives on interdating.

Take Evangelicals, for example. Unlike Jews, a shrinking or static population is not a concern. Also unlike Jews, culture has nothing to do with their connection to each other. Belief–in God, in Jesus, in the need to embrace Jesus to go to heaven–is everything.
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The Jewish Cardinal

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Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger died on Sunday.

Cardinal Lustiger was a key figure in the Catholic-Jewish dialogue that Pope John Paul II so valued. He was the Pope’s representative at the commemoration ceremonies for the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 2005 and served as a middle man between Jews and the Church on sensitive issues like Catholic anti-Semitism. He was uniquely fitted for these responsibilities because he was actually born a Jew–a fact that made many Jewish figures who worked with him uncomfortable.

He was born in Paris to secular Polish-Jewish emigres in 1926. Following the German invasion of France in 1940, he and his sister were sent for their own protection to live with a Catholic woman. At 13, he was baptized. Despite his conversion, he considered himself Jewish: “I was born Jewish, and so I remain, even if that is unacceptable for many,” he once said. And, in a way, he had the most unassailable Jewish credentials: his mother died as a Jew in Auschwitz.
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Critical Mass?

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A week and a half ago, the Pope issued a decree authorizing Catholic clergy to conduct the old Latin Mass without permission of the Church. This bit of liturgical news wouldn’t seem to be of much interest to anyone other than Catholics, but nothing involving the Catholic Church is ever just about Catholics. The Good Friday edition of the old Latin Mass includes a prayer for Jews to convert to Christianity. The potential revival of this prayer was not received very positively in the Jewish world; Abe Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League and self-appointed spokesman for the Jewish community, called the news “disturbing.”

I have a variety of responses to this news: as a Jew, as a secular observer of the Catholic Church and as someone interested in the cause of inclusiveness for those in interfaith relationships.

As a Jew, I find the news disappointing but not disturbing. It’s not clear that the Pope’s decree will lead to a widespread revival of the conversion prayer. Even if it does come into more common use, it doesn’t turn back the clock on years of reforms in the Church since Vatican II; this is not going to lead to a restoration of the charge of deicide against the Jews. In the U.S., it will have little to no impact on American Catholics. I highly doubt many priests will decide the way to restore their dwindling congregations is by conducting a Mass with their backs turned to their congregation and speaking in a language that none of his congregants understand. It’s certainly possible that the Latin Mass may be adopted in those parts of the world where Orthodox Catholicism has a strong hold–specifically South America–but there are latent anti-Semitic attitudes there that the introduction of a prayer once a year will not change for good or bad. And, it’s not like calling for the conversion of non-believers is an uncommon practice in Christian churches; one of the most Zionist groups in the world, evangelical churches, make it a point of both calling for the conversion of non-believers and actively missionizing to them. The only difference is that the Southern Baptist Convention never led an Inquisition.
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