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Archive for the ‘Interfaith’ Category



Constructing God in the Public Sphere

Aug25

by: Ebele Mogo on August 25th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

god religion

The potent possibility of discerning the divine is actually not a closed process but an ongoing negotiation that changes over time Credit: Creative Commons/Aaron Escobar

I once made up a game: what if you could only use a word once in your lifetime and afterward you had to find new ways of expressing the same thought? The first time I could ask you to “come.” The next time I might have to say, “Advance.” “Draw near.” “Move forward.” “Progress in my direction.” The responsibility to find other exacting terms was exciting as it opened up possibilities in the use of language and challenged the brain.

Now imagine applying the rules of that game to the use of the word “God.” Finding other ways to express this word would probably extract what people really mean by it from the shadows. Some may say none, one, or multiple of the following: Judge. Energy. Father. Mother. Creator. Nothingness. Fighter. Defender. Being. Universe. Mystery. Love. The man upstairs. I do not know.

In the case of “God,” the glaring truth is that, within the same word and even within the same religious worldview, there are multiple understandings of what necessarily is an abstract noun, and thus beyond the complete grasp of language.


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Abe’s Babes: Interfaith Theater to Counter Prejudice at the Dinner Table

Jul30

by: Sara Weissman on July 30th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

When we encounter systemic racism, we know where our moral obligation lies. We speak out. But what happens when prejudice finds its way into the most intimate setting, the dinner table? “Well, you know how they are. They can’t be reasoned with. Could you please pass the salt?”

Abe's Babes members dine together.

Abe's Babes members dine together around their own laden table. Credit: Yvonne Perczuk.

Disparaging comments about another group are unfortunately common in many communities. When these kinds of off-hand remarks emerge in our own homes or in the homes of our friends, how are we supposed to respond? Abe’s Babes, a group of six Jewish, Muslim, and Christian women in Sydney, Australia, may have found an answer.

After experiencing this brand of “dinner table prejudice” in Sydney’s Muslim and Jewish communities, the group decided to confront the issue with a creative weapon: theater. Collectively, they wrote a play called The Laden Table, which tells of two meals – a Jewish family breaking their Yom Kippur fast and a Muslim family celebrating Eid. After seven years of hard work, the first professional production will take place in Sydney on the nights of July 30, July 31, and August 1.

After hearing prejudiced remarks about Muslims at a Jewish dinner table, Yvonne Perczuk, one of the founders of the playwriting group, felt deeply disturbed. Realizing that similar conversations were taking place in Muslim homes, she decided something had to be done about misconceptions harbored in both communities.

“The fear of the other, the fear of the unknown – all of those fears come out at the dinner table,” Perczuk said. “They come out in a spontaneous way so that’s where you hear the truths about how people feel.”


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“Jews,” “Judeans” and the Gospel of John: a response to Adele Reinhartz

Jul1

by: on July 1st, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Gospel of John. Credit: Creative Commons

We all read texts, ancient and contemporary, from where we stand. I’ve been reading the Gospel of John for the past quarter century as someone raised Jewish who loves Jesus and his Way of peace. When I first encountered the Gospel’s apparent hostility to “the Jews,” I was shaken. As someone born within a decade of the Holocaust, I am and have always been deeply aware of how Christian hostility to “the Jews” has been exclusionary and murderous. I was taught by my mother from as long as I can remember to be proud of my Jewish heritage and not to betray it by “selling out” or trying “to pass” as my father did, changing the family name from “Horowitz” to “Howard” and having a nose job (as was the fashion at the time) to “look less Jewish.” I believe that my four decades following Jesus have made me more, not less, grateful for my heritage and the gifts of the Jews to the world.

So, this encounter with “the Jews” in John’s gospel has always been at the heart of my work, as a New Testament scholar and disciple. In my 1994 book, Becoming Children of God: John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship (Orbis), I argued that the Greek Ioudaioi in John’s gospel referred not to “Jews” but to “Judeans.” This usage reflects first geography (“Judeans” are people from “Judea,” just as “Galileans” are people from “Galilee”), but more importantly, ideology. Throughout John’s gospel, the Judeans are those, both among the elite and the ordinary people, who defended Jerusalem’s relationship with the Roman Empire, including the temple and its authority. The Johannine Jesus, like Jeremiah and Ezekiel before him, condemns not his kindred in general, but those who betray Abraham, Moses and the prophets by, in the words of the Gospel’s chief priests, proclaiming “we have no king but Caesar” (John 19.15). Jesus, in the prophetic tradition that persists to this day, sharply critiques his own people for collaborating with the oppressor.

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The Presbyterian Divestment Vote: Toward a New Model of Community Relations

Jun23

by: on June 23rd, 2014 | 19 Comments »

Jews and Presbyterians pray together during deliberations at the 2014 Presbyterian General Assembly in Detroit

In the wake of the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s recent decision to divest from three companies that profit from Israel’s occupation, Jewish establishment leaders have been expressing their displeasure toward the PC(USA) in no uncertain terms.

Anti-Defamation League director Abe Foxman stated last week that church leaders have “fomented an atmosphere of open hostility to Israel.” Rabbi Noam Marans director of inter-religious relations at the American Jewish Committee, declared that “the PC(USA) decision is celebrated by those who believe they are one step closer to a Jew-free Middle East.” And Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, publicly accused the PC(USA) of having a “deep animus” against “both the Jewish people and the State of Israel.”

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Acceptance Contingent on Conversion: The Politics of Religion

Jun17

by: on June 17th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

But now we got weapons,

Of the chemical dust.

If fire them we’re forced to,

Then fire them we must.

One push of the button

And a shot the world wide,

And you never ask questions

When God’s on your side.

-Bob Dylan

I often travel around the United States and internationally present talks on numerous issues of social justice. A few years back, I gave a talk on the topic of heterosexism and cissexism at Pace University in New York City. I talked about my own experiences as the target of harassment and abuse growing up gay and differently gendered, and I discussed the thesis of my book, Homophobia: How We All Pay the Price. In the book I argue that everyone, regardless of one’s actual sexuality identity and gender identity and expression are hurt by sexuality and gender oppression, and, therefore, it is in everyone’s self-interest to work to reduce and ultimately eliminate these very real and insidious forms of oppression.

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Supreme Court Ruling on Public Prayer Re-enforces Christian Supremacy

May12

by: Warren J. Blumenfeld on May 12th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

American politicians have prayed before public gatherings since the Founding Fathers crowded into a stuffy Philadelphia room to crank out the Constitution. The inaugural and emphatically Christian prayer at the First Continental Congress was delivered by an Anglican minister, who overcame objections from the assembled Quakers, Anabaptists and Presbyterians. The prayer united the mostly Christian Founding Fathers, and the rest is history.

Indeed, as U. S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy write in the 5-4 majority opinion in The Town of Greece, NY v. Galloway , “…the rest is history.”

Church Ave and State Street intersect in Knoxville, Tennessee. Credit: Creative Commons/ Wyoming_Jackrabbit

While a strict separation of synagogue and state, mosque and state, Hindu and Buddhist temple and state, and separation of atheists and state and virtually all the other approximately 5000 religions and state has been enacted, on the other hand, church – predominantly Protestant denominations, but also Catholic – and state, have connected virtually seamlessly to the affairs and policies of what we call the United States of America, from the first invasion of Europeans in the 15th century on the Christian Julian to the Christian Gregorian Calendars up to 2014 Anno Domini (short for Anno Domini Nostri Iesu Christi – “In the year of our Lord Jesus Christ”).

In the court case, two local women from Greece, New York filed suit against city officials for approving invocations with primarily overtly Christian content at monthly public sessions held on government property. However, according to Kennedy, “The town of Greece does not violate the First Amendment by opening its meetings with prayer that comports with our tradition, and does not coerce participation by nonadherents.”

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Nonviolence and the Ransomer of Souls

Apr30

by: Alastair McIntosh on April 30th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

As Good Friday drew nigh this year, I (a Scottish Quaker) joined together with a Catholic archbishop and a Church of Scotland convenor outside a nuclear submarine base at Faslane in an act of public worship: a Witness for Peace of Scottish Christians Against Nuclear Arms.

We stood on a podium drawn from the folds of many different denominations represented there that day, the underlying undivided Christian church that prays: “Thy kingdom come.”

We prayed thy kingdom come – not Caesar’s kingdom come, but God’s; and so Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you a king, then?” To which the Prince of Peace replied: “King is your word.” And he spoke unto Pilate of nonviolence, saying: “My kingdom is not of this world. If it was, my followers would fight….” (Jn. 18:36-37).

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From Bullying to Genocides: Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Apr28

by: on April 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we observe Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, which lasts until sundown today, I reflect upon my familial history: two scenarios with somewhat varied outcomes.

When I was a young child, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Varn,” (through his distinctive Polish accent, he pronounced my name “Varn”), “you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler, who was killed by the Nazis along with my mother Bascha and most of my thirteen brothers and sisters.” When I asked why they were killed, he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

We later learned that Nazi troops forced most of my Krosno relatives into the surrounding woods, shot them, and tossed their lifeless bodies into a mass unmarked grave along with over two thousand other Jewish residents. The Nazis eventually loaded the remaining Jews of Krosno onto cattle cars and transported them to Auschwitz and Belzec death camps. The handful of Krosno Jews who survived liberation of the camps attempted to return to their homes that had been confiscated by the non-Jewish residents. No Jews reside today in Krosno.

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The Crisis in Israel’s Holocaust Education

Apr23

by: Ayana Nir on April 23rd, 2014 | 12 Comments »

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky, Chief Rabbi Meir Lau, and Israeli government ministers participate in March of the Living. Credit: Creative Commons/JAFI Israel

On the eve of Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) Israel’s streets experience a virtual shutdown. Restaurants, bars, and cafes lock their doors and the streets grow eerily quiet as inhabitants venture home to pay their respects; Israeli TV and radio channels limit their programming to Holocaust documentaries and related talk shows, while viewers, in turn, flip to international networks for comedic escape from the steady stream of grisly footage and repetitive slogans their TVs emit annually; schools hold large ceremonies to further instill in students the collective memory of a now distant trauma they have never really known, and at 10AM on the 27th of Nisan the country is frozen still for two minutes while a siren disrupts the monotony of everyday life and commuters stop in their tracks to hang their heads in a gesture of silent collective sorrow.

The memorialization of the Holocaust has been the topic of debate since Israel’s founding, and changing trends in its representation shape its significance within the context of national identity and politics. It is easy to overlook the political power presented in the production of educational texts, but the influence of educational curricula is indisputable in shaping public perspective for political gain.

That is why Israeli Minister of Education Shai Piron’s plan to introduce Holocaust education to Israeli public schools starting as early as the first grade has been so controversial. Alongside the concern voiced by many parents about traumatizing young children with gruesome details of systematic ethnic cleansing, many begin to question how the continued rehashing of communal wounds shape the development of national identity and what political interests the perpetuation of historical trauma might serve.

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Resurrection Garden, Resurrection Feast: A Post-Easter Reflection

Apr22

by: on April 22nd, 2014 | Comments Off

Crossposted from Feminism & Religion

In John’s account of the Resurrection, Mary Magdalen mistakes Jesus for the gardener.  Or perhaps it is not a mistake or not just a mistake but also a poetic truth. In any event, John’s Gospel makes clear:  the Resurrection takes place in a garden!

(For the feminist significance of horticulture, I refer you to Carol Christ’s recent post Women and Weeding, the first 10,000 years on the feminismandreligion.com blogsite.)

Many  prominent (male) theologians, historians, anthropologists, psychoanalysts among them James Frazer, Jung, and C.S. Lewis made the case for and/or against (in Lewis’ case) Jesus being another dying rising god of vegetation with Christianity borrowing imagery and ritual from earlier or even contemporary cults. The argument against insists that Jesus’s life, death and resurrection is historical, redemptive, and unique.  From a tour of Bloglandia, the debate pro and con appears to continue unabated.  I say better to pull weeds (if you are lucky enough to have a garden) than pontificate.

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