Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

By Sima Kadmon, columnist at Yedioth Ahronoth

If anyone feels shame, affront, sadness, frustration and despair today—there is no way to ease these feelings. These are our ministers and MKs. This is our prime minister and his bureau staff, who despite how it looks [to the public], pushed and pushed the disgraceful bill that passed last night, with one goal in mind: To preserve Netanyahu’s hold on power.

It was not done secretly, not in the dark; we, the Israeli public, were mugged in broad daylight and in full view. We were robbed of our elementary right to know what public figures are accused of. We have been denied the privilege that every citizen in a democratic country has, to know for whom they are voting.
Despite the cumulative experience that the Israeli public has, we were hard put to believe that this would happen. That our legislature would indeed reach the bottom of the cesspit into which it has fallen, and that such a foul, despicable and anti-democratic bill would be passed into law. [Read more →]

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a beautiful ray of hope

Published under Europe, Global, Loss, Religion Aug 22, 2016

In the wake of a heinous murder of an octogenarian priest in France by radical Muslims, Muslims across Europe attended Catholic Mass and spoke out assertively against extremism within.  I hadn’t seen this courageous act of solidarity in the news till my friend Martin Varsavsky pointed it out. What a powerful and strategically effective response to terrorists – achieving precisely the opposite of what extremists would like the reaction and impact to be.

Every time those that want to divide us act, the overwhelming majority should take an active stance to denounce and condemn them. If we all stand up together, the oxygen that turns gross murder into terror would be removed and their goals extinguished. Of course firm force must also be used against all violent extremists and terrorists, but it is not enough. To defeat the ideology of hatred, you need a movement of inclusion and empathy to counteract it.

Full article below:

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Purim 5776: The Haman Within

Published under Life, Religion Mar 28, 2016

Purim is a holiday in which we are not afraid to be ridiculous. We don funny costumes; we drink ourselves into oblivion; we are boisterous and noisy. Purim is all about ridicule.
And, above all, Purim ridicules intolerance. The misogynist King Ahasuerus, who objectifies his wife Vashti, ends up being outwitted by a woman; the pompous bigot Haman ends up being humiliated and killed by the people he despises. And yet, while Haman is humiliated and dead, Hamanism isn’t. Moreover, it enjoys a dangerous revival and a new legitimacy both outside and inside the Jewish community.

To understand what Hamanism is, we need to go back to the argument that the evil vizier uses when he demands that the King agree to the extermination of the Jews: “There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your realm. Their laws are different from those of every other people’s, and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.”

The Jews’ sin is that they are different, and in Haman’s bigoted and twisted mind, difference must be suppressed. Haman dreams of a dystopia of uniformity, in which everybody thinks the same and everybody abides by one set of rules: his.

Hamanism is the irrational fear of difference, and it lies at the core of every authoritarian regime. It’s no coincidence that the Jews have been the target of almost every totalitarianism in history. We are, after all, the eternal different ones; even our name “Hebrews” can be translated as “those on the other side”. But, more importantly, we have always embraced difference and diversity. The Talmud is a raucous collection of arguments and debates, insisting that God alone holds the absolute truth and we, poor mortals, must be content with a patchwork of partial, imperfect truths. Our sages were so afraid of uniformity that they even decreed that if a trial verdict is unanimous, it’s invalid. We model for the world a culture that sees difference as a source of richness. When our rabbis proclaimed that “There are 70 faces to the Torah,” they advanced two thousand years ago the very modern idea that our differences need not divide us.

Our embrace of diversity is not merely an added feature to Judaism; it’s essential to our understanding of the world and of Jewish theology. The greatness of God, says the Mishnah, can be seen from the fact that while “a human strikes many coins from the same die, all the coins are alike,” whereas God “strikes every man from the die of the First Man, and yet no man is quite like his fellow.” (Sanhedrin 4:5). It is in one who is different that we behold the greatness of God. Can I recognize God’s image in someone who is not in my own image? If I cannot, then I have made an idol of my image instead of recognizing God’s own. Failing to respect difference is an insult to God.

That’s why it is nothing less than a betrayal of our very essence that we are creating, within the Jewish people, a climate in which dissent is penalized and diversity of opinions discouraged. We have traded a vibrant culture of debate for one of demonization and name-calling, and we are slipping into a situation in which everyone from Jewish leaders to Jewish college students are afraid to speak their minds. We have begun to let ourselves be ruled by a thought police that submits anybody who thinks differently to an Inquisition.

Sadly, in this we are following the spirit of the times. But as Jews we should be able to be different.

If the Talmudic rabbis sought to expand the debating house, we seek to build echo-chambers. As Rabbi Lord Sacks put it, “Broadcasting is being replaced by narrowcasting.” The result is that we don’t quite have one Jewish community anymore, but rather a crowd of warring sects. We are replacing reason with anger and argument with vilification. We are witnessing the death of civility—in America, in Israel and in our communities—and when civility dies, civilization follows.

When it comes to Hamanism, funders can be part of the problem or part of the solution. We can penalize dissent, ostracize difference, and push Judaism further, step by step, toward its demise. Or we can emulate Esther and turn a dire situation on its head. We can model civility, influence communal discourse to move toward open-mindedness, and help to create a culture of respectful debate. It starts, as the song goes, with the “person in the mirror”. If we demand acquiescence from our grantees instead of encouraging them to push back and challenge us—if we use the power of the purse to demand uniformity instead of cultivating diversity—we are deviating even further from the wise path that our ancestors charted.

Purim teaches us that one antidote to Hamanism is generosity. We are commanded to send presents to one another, and gifts to the needy. A well-known paradox of giving is that, more than feeling connected to someone leads us to give, giving to others leads us to feel more connected to them. Maybe that’s why we must give on Purim—to kill the Haman within us every year. Our acts of generosity lead the way for our hearts, until we learn to see others who are different as full human beings, created in God’s image.

Let’s bring that message of tolerance, diversity, and generosity to our broader communities during this era of ugly small-mindednesses. Let’s make our communities into spaces where dissent and respect are, once again, sacred.

Let’s banish Hamanism to the gutter of history, where it belongs.

By Andrés Spokoiny, President & CEO, JFN

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Jews and France

Published under Middle East, Religion Feb 10, 2016

The New York Times opens its story of anti-Semitism in France last week with a terrifying paragraph:

“It was the heavy leather-bound volume of the Torah he was carrying that shielded Benjamin Amsellem from the machete blows.”

The barbarism and brutality of the attack by an ISIS inspired youth on a Jew brings a feeling of insecurity that public kippa wearing campaigns cannot erase. This is the latest incident of local Jewish communities being a prime target of terrorists attacking nations.

Whether organized attacks like Mumbai, Istanbul and Paris or seemingly the lone wolf attacks in Toulouse and now Marseille, Jews and their community institutions are always on the list for terrorists trying to make a point.

For your average citizen, terrorism has sadly become like any other impersonal disaster. The victim of a mass terrorist incident is not targeted for anything other then the misfortune at the wrong place at the wrong time. Yet this obsession of attacking Jews, and there definitely is a trend, makes these incidents against the community far more personal.

I have criticized Tariq Ramadan and others for air-brushing anti-Semitism out of some of these attacks. Ramadan and others have claimed that Jews have just become the symbols of the state, and are not attacked because they are Jews, but a good target of a critic of the state and its policies.

The dehumanizing nature of this analysis shows a remarkable turn around in the genesis of anti-Semitism. Where as in the 20th century Jews were mainly victims of the State, now they are victims because of it. An expression of aggression towards liberal democracy is apparently the cause for running towards the nearest Jewish school or kippa wearing teacher to express a murderous rage against the West. The Jews have moved from being the outsiders in society to being the ultimate protected insider, thus a great target for attack.

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For years I’ve advocated and explained that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda or ISIS do not represent true Islam, and that they try to hijack a religion of peace in the name of their deformed inhumane extremist ideology. I explain that it would play into their strategy to deem Islam itself as the problem, and to foment a division among religions. I’ve always explained our task is to empower moderates in all societies, including Muslim leaders, that can be role models to their people.  I still believe that the key is to empower moderates everywhere so they seize back the agenda from forces of violent absolutism that are otherwise going to drag civilization into the dark ages.  That said, listening to the attached video also makes me confront a troubling reality that we cannot escape.  It is important for all of us, including heads of state and religious leaders, particularly Islamic leaders, to acknowledge the source of this fundamentalism and confront it head on.  So long as we turn a blind eye to those who teach hatred and fund extremist education, we will never really be able to turn the page of terror.  We cannot beat terror purely with force.  Force is necessary to defeat those who threaten us. But education that highlights our shared values and shared human fate is even more important as the only long term solution to overcome fatalistic ideologies such as that of ISIS.  Every religious leader and head of state and civic leader – whether Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Atheist, or other – needs to actively work to discourage their religion and their national pride from being misused to dehumanize the other.  Educating children to recognize what we all have in common – what brings us all together, what binds our fate as the human race, and the empathy that we need to find towards one another – is the only true long term antidote to terrorism.

 

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The Pope is an inspiring figure and such a ray of light, welcoming, inclusive, and progressive. What he represents and stands for is so necessary as an antidote to a lot of what is wrong with society today – extremism, intolerance, absolutism, rejection-ism, etc.  It is also wonderful that the admirable Rabbi Cosgrove  of Park Avenue Synagogue will be representing the Jewish people here.

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