JBuzz Musings October 26, 2014: Women of the Wall’s historic Torah scroll smuggling reading at Kotel bat mitzvah

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By Bonnie K. Goodman

They finally did it, feminist Jewish prayer group Women of the Wall (WoW) smuggled in a tiny Torah scroll on Rosh Hodesh Chesvan Friday, Oct. 24, 2014 for a bat mitzvah torah reading to the women’s section….READ MORE

JBuzz Musings October 12, 2014: Bible Lands Museum oldest siddur on display despite mystery surrounding the book

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Bible Lands Museum oldest siddur on display despite mystery surrounding the book

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Until Oct. 18, 2014, the public can have the opportunity to view what is being touted as the oldest known surviving siddur, Jewish prayer book. This 9th century medieval manuscript is currently on display at the Bible…READ MORE

JBuzz Features October 8, 2014: Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) Guide for the Perplexed, 2014

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Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) Guide for the Perplexed, 2014

Source: Algemeiner, 10-8-14

Sukkot starts on the 15th day of the Jewish month of Tishrei, commemorating the Exodus from Egypt, the construction of the Holy Tabernacle, and the 40 year wandering in the Sinai Desert. Sukkot (סכות), and the Sukkah (סכה), which is a Jewish ritual hut, are named after the first stop of The Exodus – Sukkota  (סכותה)….READ MORE

JBuzz Features October 3, 2014: Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2014‏

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Yom Kippur Guide for the Perplexed, 2014‏

Source: Jewish Press, 10-3-14

Yom Kippur commemorates God’s forgiveness for the sin of the Golden Calf and God’s covenant with the Jewish people….READ MORE

JBuzz Musings October 23, 2013: High Intermarriage numbers reveals troubling future for Judaism in the US

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High Intermarriage numbers reveals troubling future for Judaism in the US

By Bonnie K. Goodman

Earlier this month, on Oct. 1, 2013 the Pew Research Center released their new poll entitled “A Portrait of Jewish Americans” showing a growing a trend of American Jews identifying only culturally as Jews, but not religiously. What…READ MORE

JBuzz Features September 18, 2013: 10 things you probably don’t know about Sukkot

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10 things you probably don’t know about Sukkot

Source: Haaretz, 9-18-13

Some of the traditions and customs of this holiday, such as sleeping under the stars for a whole week, may seem strange enough to the onlooker, but these 10 things you probably don’t know will make it seem even stranger….READ MORE

JBuzz News August 30, 2013: A Prayer of Atonement

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A Prayer of Atonement

Source: Huffington Post, 8-30-13

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, Jewish congregations around the world confess their communal transgressions….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 14, 2013: Observing Tisha B’Av to rebuild Jerusalem – morally and spiritually

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Observing Tisha BAv to rebuild Jerusalem – morally and spiritually

Source: Haaretz, 7-14-13

Eicha? How? How could this have happened? This is the question that pervades the liturgy of Tisha B’Av – the annual fast commemorating the destruction of the Temples – which we mark this coming Tuesday….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 12, 2013: Tisha B’Av: An unloved Jewish holiday gets a makeover

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Tisha BAv: An unloved Jewish holiday gets a makeover

Source: Religion News Service, 7-12-13

(RNS) Most people have heard of Hanukkah and Passover and maybe Yom Kippur – the Jewish Day of Atonement. But Tisha B’Av? Translated as the ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, it counts as one of the most important days on the Jewish calendar….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 11, 2013: The Hero of Tisha B’Av?

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The Hero of Tisha BAv?

Source: The Jewish Press, 7-11-13

In this season of the Three Weeks, as we approach Tisha B’Av, perhaps it is worth re-examining the story told in the Gemara and the version found in the Midrash, and particularly the role of Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulos….READ MORE

JBuzz Features July 9, 2013: How Tisha b’Av Turns Into A Holiday

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How Tisha bAv Turns Into A Holiday

Source: The Jewish Week, 7-9-13

We give credence and added strength to Zechariah’s prophecy by changing and lightening the foreboding character of Tisha b’Av (the ninth day of the 10th month), rising from our shiva stools (we must sit on the ground on Tisha b’Av) at mid-day….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 13, 2013: Shavuot, Jewish holiday celebrating the Torah starts on Tuesday evening

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Jewish holiday celebrating the Torah starts on Tuesday evening

Source: Syracuse.com, 5-13-13

Shavuot, a Jewish holiday that celebrates the giving of the Torah to the Jews, starts on Tuesday evening and ends on Thursday evening….READ MORE

JBuzz News May 10, 2013: Geza Vermes: Dead Sea Scrolls professor dies

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Dead Sea Scrolls professor dies

Source: Jewish Chronicle, 5-10-13

Dead Sea Scrolls professor Geza Vermes has died aged 88 of cancer.

Prof Vermes was the Professor Emeritus of Jewish Studies at Oxford, best known for his work on the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Jewishness of Jesus….READ MORE

JBuzz News December 12, 2012: Bar-Ilan University student kicked out of class for not wearing kippa

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Bar-Ilan student kicked out of class for not wearing yarmulke

Source: JTA, 12-12-12

A Bar-Ilan University Talmud professor kicked a male student out of his class for not wearing a yarmulke.

The incident reportedly occurred last week and later came to light on the Bar-Ilan Facebook page. A complaint posted on the page over the weekend by a classmate and the stream of comments following it were removed on Tuesday but then circulated by screenshot….READ MORE

JBuzz News July 15, 2012: Nancy Petrey: Former Columbian Explores Church’s Jewish Roots

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Former Columbian explores church’s Jewish roots

Source: The Commercial Dispatch, 7-15-12

“Jewish Roots Journey: Memoirs of a Mizpah” is a chronicle of Nancy Petrey’s exploration of the Jewish roots of the church, and the deeper understanding she came to of scripture, church history and the history of modern Israel through intensive study….READ MORE

JBuzz News April 3, 2012: Elon University: New Jewish studies minor unites courses into comprehensive study of culture

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Elon University: New Jewish studies minor unites courses into comprehensive study of culture

Source: Elon Pendulum, 4-3-12

It was during his first semester on campus that sophomore Mason Sklut discovered his interest in Jewish history and culture. Now, with the addition of a new program in Jewish studies, Sklut will graduate with a minor in the topic he loves.

Professor Geoffrey Claussen has been instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Studies Program. File photo by Julia Sayers.

“My first semester, I took Jewish Traditions with Michael Pregill, where I learned about how Judaism has become what it is today,” Sklut said. “Going back thousands of years in this class and discovering the ancient roots of my religion was an incredible experience for me.”

Sklut has taken multiple additional courses about Judaism and said he is fascinated with the diversity of the religion. The new program offers students an interdisciplinary minor tracing the culture and history of the religion.

“In many courses, it’s seeing how the community, generally throughout history, functioning as a minority group, related to other surrounding communities,” said Geoffrey Claussen, assistant professor of religious studies. “Being able to trace the very diverse experiences of the community through very different times and places is what the minor seeks to encourage.”

Claussen, who arrived at the university in the fall and has been instrumental in the formation of the program, said it seeks to unite a range of courses — including religious studies, foreign language, philosophy and sociology, among others — to illustrate the complexity and diversity of the Jewish communities.

Students interested in obtaining the minor must complete 20 credit hours, four in Jewish Traditions and the others from a selection of more than 35 course offerings.

Claussen said he has already spoken to some students who have fulfilled some of the requirements for the minor.

It is important for all students at Elon to have the opportunity to be exposed to religious diversity, and to explore further into traditions that they may be unfamiliar with.
– Junior Diana Abrahams

“Some students have had in mind over the last year that this was probably coming up, and they have planned ahead to some degree,” he said. “Or, just because of their own academic interests, some students have ended up taking many of the required courses.”

Junior Diana Abrahams will have completed all 20 credits by the end of the spring based on courses she was already enrolled in. Abrahams, who is Jewish, said she enjoys engaging in conversation about her religion.

“It is important for all students at Elon to have the opportunity to be exposed to religious diversity, and to explore further into traditions that they may be unfamiliar with,” she said.

Academic interest in Jewish studies has increased in North America in recent years, Claussen said, and the creation of such a program at Elon is beneficial to the university.

“Jewish families considering Elon have asked in recent years about whether there will be a Jewish studies program, and this program helps to make Elon attractive to that whole group of students,” Claussen said. “And this includes students who may not necessarily choose to minor in Jewish studies, but who want to know that the college supports taking the Jewish experience seriously as part of the liberal arts education.”

JBuzz Review February 10, 2012: Joshua Golding: ‘The Conversation’ professor’s novel focuses on Judaism & Philosophy

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Book Review | ‘The Conversation’ by Joshua Golding

This ‘Conversation’ is worth listening to

Source: Courier-Journal, 2-10-12

Reviewed by Frederick Smock

The Conversation
By Joshua Golding
Urim Publications
527 pp.; $28.95

David Goldstein, the central character in Bellarmine University philosophy professor Joshua Golding’s new novel, is a fairly typical American Jewish college student, in that he is expected to marry a Jewish girl, and he knows that the state of Israel is important and, beyond that, he does not know very much about his heritage.

As a college freshman, David begins to encounter the big questions: Is there a God? If so, why does He permit evil and suffering in the world? And what does it mean to be Jewish?

“The Conversation” is neatly divided into four sections — freshman, sophomore, junior and senior years — and follows David as he learns about Judaism and philosophy.

The reader, of course, learns along with him.

The novel is, by and large, conversational, hence the title. We see David in dialogue with rabbis, professors, fellow students and friends, as he seeks a personal understanding of deep questions that are only now beginning to make themselves real to him.

The story is likewise multi-textual, told in conversations, letters, journal entries, emails, lectures and essays for class (complete with the professor’s markings and marginalia in red ink!). Differing typefaces are used for each genre.

Published in Israel by Urim Publications, the book has been beautifully produced.

The book is an interesting hybrid — a novel that is also intended to instruct.

The philosophical content is quite accessible for the lay reader. In some quarters, this book might find itself compared to Jostein Gaarder’s 1991 novel “Sophie’s World,” but it should not be….READ MORE

Shmuley Boteach: Rabbi’s ‘Kosher Jesus’ book is denounced as heresy

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Rabbi’s ‘Kosher Jesus’ book is denounced as heresy

Shmuley Boteach’s book focuses on Jesus’ Jewishness, portraying him as a hero who was not resurrected or divine. But some other rabbis express contempt for the book and forbid followers to read it.

Source: LAT, 2-6-12

Controversy surrounds "Kosher Jesus" by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach.

Barak Boteach, 15, sells copies of “Kosher Jesus” by his uncle, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, at Nessah Synagogue in Beverly Hills. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles Times / January 26, 2012)

For an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Shmuley Boteach has a deeply unorthodox streak.

The bestselling author and TV host has written books on “Kosher Sex,” “Dating Secrets of the 10 Commandments” and his relationship with the late pop star Michael Jackson.

But nothing he has done in a career as one of America’s best-known rabbis has caused quite the stir of his latest book. Even before its publication this month, Boteach came under withering attack in his own Orthodox community, with critics accusing him of exploiting controversy to boost sales and some going so far as to accuse him of heresy.

The title of Boteach’s book? “Kosher Jesus.”

The book focuses on the Christian savior’s Jewishness, portraying him as a hero who stood up to Roman rule of Palestine and paid with his life. In keeping with Jewish theology, it does not accept his resurrection or his divinity. And it emphasizes Boteach’s belief that the New Testament intentionally deflected blame for the crucifixion from the ruling Romans and redirected it — unfairly, Boteach believes — on the shoulders of the Jews.

Given all that, one might expect Christians to take exception. But Boteach’s Jewish critics were way ahead of the curve.

“Boteach’s latest book is apikorsus and must be treated as such,” Rabbi Yitzchok Wolf of Chicago said on an Orthodox news site Jan. 10, using a Hebrew word that roughly translates as heresy. Wolf said he had “utter contempt” for the book — or, at least, for the title.

That, as it turns out, was the only part he had read.

“I am not the consumer that seeks to consume such writings,” he said.

Rabbi Jacob Immanuel Schochet, a prominent Canadian cleric, wrote that the book “poses a tremendous risk to the Jewish community” and proclaimed that it was “forbidden for anyone to buy or read this book, or give its author a platform in any way, shape or form to discuss this topic.”

Both Wolf and Schochet, along with most of the other early critics, are affiliated with Chabad, a large organization of Hasidic Jews known for their strict religious observance. Boteach has a long and tempestuous relationship with the organization….READ MORE

Joshua S. Parens: Scholar explores Talmudic law, Jewish tradition

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Joshua S. Parens: Scholar explores Talmudic law, Jewish tradition

Joshua S. ParensDr. Joshua S. Parens, professor at the University of Dallas presented “ and Philosophy: ’ Revolution” on Wednesday in the Memorial Drawing Room.
Ambika Kashi Singh | Lariat Photographer

The brought a Jewish scholar to campus Wednesday to give a lecture on how the 12th-century philosopher Maimonides helped incorporate philosophy into the Jewish theological tradition.

The speaker, Dr. , professor of philosophy at the University of Dallas, highlighted how Maimonides codified an enormous body of Talmudic law and introduced 13 principles of Jewish faith that were controversial at the time but have become foundational for the Jewish tradition in the centuries since.

Among the most significant of these principles, Maimonides wrote that God was a spiritual being, rather than one with a body, a belief that was not universally accepted before his time.

“This, in the end, is the moment where we start to see what is truly revolutionary about Maimonides: that he affirmed the Jews must believe that God is incorporeal,” Parens said. “Now, this will strike most of you, as Christians, as a little bit strange. After all, you have been raised with the notion that there is another life, and that other life is wholly incorporeal and spiritual.”

Before Maimonides, Parens said, the Jewish community had little interest in engaging in religious philosophy.

Maimonides, however, changed that by introducing the 13 principles and stressing the incorporeality of God and his existence as an eternal being, which Parens argued opened the door for philosophy in the Jewish life.

“In short, then, in Maimonides’ time, theology was nothing but defense of the faith against philosophy,” Parens said. “Consequently, what Maimonides then does by making a kind of home for philosophy within Judaism is incredibly radical and shocking.”

Parens also contrasted Maimonides’ contribution to Jewish theology with that of the 17th century Dutch philosopher , whose religious philosophy was far less particular to the Jewish scriptures than that of Maimonides and the orthodox Jewish community.

Dr. , professor of philosophy and faculty master of the Honors Residential College, said he thought the event was well-attended and the subject discussed was relevant for Christians, as well as the Jewish community.

“The importance that a talk like this has for Christianity,” Buras said, “is to be able to compare the way [the Jewish community] put it all together — philosophy and the Bible — with the way other traditions have.”

Several Jewish Baylor faculty members and other members of the Waco Jewish community were in attendance for the lecture including Stanley Hersh, president of the of Waco, and Rabbi of the in Waco.

They said they were pleased that Baylor, as a Christian institution, offered this forum and were also pleased at the turnout, which was standing-room-only by the time the lecture began in Memorial Hall Drawing Room and consisted mostly of students.

Shuly Rabin Schwartz: More City Bar Mitzvahs Hold the Religion

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Source: WSJ, 7-23-11

MITZVAH

 

A small but growing number of families are opting for secular bar mitzvahs, taking the occasion to celebrate personal growth and Jewish culture instead of Jewish faith. Although such celebrations are derided by some religious leaders as little more than birthday parties, participants say they are a thoughtful alternative for those who do not subscribe to religious beliefs.

While secular bar mitzvahs veer away from traditional religious elements, they also tend to forgo the over-the-top celebrations that have become a subject of criticism by Jewish leaders.

“I think a bar mitzvah party that has a six-course meal and a large band, and doesn’t have a spiritual piece except that the food is kosher, is not as holy as one that is trimmed down and includes community service,” said Rabbi Kenneth Brander, dean of the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University in New York.

The City Congregation for Humanistic Judaism in Manhattan is leading a nationwide movement to create meaningful secular services for Jewish teenagers. Marge Greenberg, whose daughter Rachel Gerber recently completed City Congregation’s 18-month bat mitzvah program, says it’s no accident that parties for participants tend to be small.

“The part that comes beforehand is the important part. The celebration is just the culmination of the study,” Ms. Greenberg said. “The party is incidental. It’s like a social occasion. It’s just not the point.”

The idea is slowly gaining acceptance, though some rabbis have different views.

“The concept of a ‘secular bar mitzvah’ is of course a bit of an oxymoron since ‘bar mitzvah’ means ‘one who is commanded by God,'” said Daniel Nevins of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. “Without the religious part it is just a birthday party.”

Secular bar mitzvahs continue centuries-old traditions: The emotions and themes common at bar mitzvahs—family history, maturity and hard-won pride—are all present, proponents say.

“This is part of the contemporary world,” said Shuly Rabin Schwartz, a professor of American Jewish History at the Jewish Theological Seminary. “In an odd sort of way the nontraditional ceremonies are affirming the value of the tradition. They’re saying something should happen at this stage. They’re trying to figure out something meaningful for individuals in that community.”

At City Congregation, bar mitzvah candidates spend up to two years preparing for their big day. Students in the program write essays on topics such as family history, community service and role models, and complete a project on a topic in Jewish culture. (One recent project’s title was “Holy Carp: Gefilte Fish, Judaism and Me.”)

“It’s not Judaism lite,” says Rabbi Peter Schweitzer of the City Congregation. He has conducted the bar mitzvah training for more than 50 students… READ MORE

Zvi Stampfer: Visiting Fulbright Scholar will teach, conduct research at Bucknell University

Source: Bucknell University News, 6-9-11

A professor and top researcher from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem will join Bucknell University for the upcoming academic year as a Fulbright Scholar in Sephardic studies.

Zvi Stampfer, who also is an ordained rabbi and has a law degree, currently teaches at the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem. Proficient in English, German, Arabic and various ancient languages, Stampfer has edited and translated books about the laws of divorce and Jewish law.

While at Bucknell, Stampfer will research medieval Iraq and Spain as “interfaith breeding grounds for jurisprudential cross-fertilization,” examining and comparing Jewish law as it was shaped in medieval Iraq and Andalusia. He also will teach two courses — Sephardic Jews: Muslim-Jewish Cultural Interaction in the Middle Ages and Topics in Sephardic Judaism: Sexuality in Jewish and Islamic Law.

Rivka Ulmer, professor of Jewish studies at Bucknell and chair of the Department of Religion, said Stampfer’s research and expertise as a top scholar in his field is of “utmost importance” to the understanding of Judaism and Jewish-Muslim relations. His visit to Bucknell will allow students the opportunity to learn about the origins of today’s conflicts in the Middle East, many of which stem from events in medieval times.

“This is a unique opportunity for our students to learn about Judaism beyond the recent crises,” Ulmer said. “I hope that students will learn, through their interactions with Professor Stampfer, that Israel is a normal country with top scientists in many fields and a culture that promotes creative learning. Almost everything in modern Judaism is an outcome of rabbinic Judaism of late antiquity and the Middle Ages or a reaction to it.”

Adam Goodheart: Rabbi Morris J. Raphall and the Rebellion

Source: NYT, 3-7-11

New York, March 1861

The great national debate over slavery brought fame very suddenly to a certain owlish, bespectacled clergyman. Not long before, he had been almost unknown beyond the walls of his own synagogue, B’nai Jeshurun on Green Street in lower Manhattan. Now his name was in newspapers, and his sermon in bookshops from Boston to New Orleans. Like so many men of God – both then and now – he stepped out of obscurity when he stepped into politics, quoting ancient texts to answer modern questions.

“The Bible View of Slavery”: this was the title of the pamphlet that had brought Rabbi Morris J. Raphall such notoriety. He had first delivered the address on Jan. 4, 1861, on the occasion of the national “day of Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer throughout the Union” proclaimed by President James Buchanan in response to the secession crisis. The learned sage delved deep into the Hebrew Bible – citing the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Job and even Exodus – before concluding that “slaveholding is not only recognized and sanctioned as an integral part of the social structure … [but] the property in slaves is placed under the same protection as any other species of lawful property.”

Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, 1860.Library of Congress Rabbi Morris J. Raphall, 1860.

An ardent Unionist, Rabbi Raphall proclaimed from the pulpit that he was “no friend to slavery in the abstract, and still less friendly to the practical working of slavery. But I stand here as a teacher in Israel; not to place before you my own feelings and opinions, but to propound to you the word of G-d, the Bible view of slavery.” The descendants of Noah’s son Ham – that is, Africans – had been cursed by God, he said, so that “in his own native home, and generally throughout the world, the unfortunate negro is indeed the meanest of slaves.”

To be sure, Raphall also found reason to chastise American slaveholders. According to the Bible, he said, “the slave is a person in whom the dignity of human nature is to be respected; he has rights. Whereas, the heathen view of slavery which prevailed at Rome, and which, I am sorry to say, is adopted in the South, reduces the slave to a thing, and a thing can have no rights.” Still, in the end, abolitionists who tried to meddle with slavery were opposing the Lord’s will…. READ MORE

Interfaith marriages are rising fast, but they’re failing fast too

Source: Washington Post, 6-4-10

…According to the General Social Survey, 15 percent of U.S. households were mixed-faith in 1988. That number rose to 25 percent by 2006, and the increase shows no signs of slowing. The American Religious Identification Survey of 2001 reported that 27 percent of Jews, 23 percent of Catholics, 39 percent of Buddhists, 18 percent of Baptists, 21 percent of Muslims and 12 percent of Mormons were then married to a spouse with a different religious identification. If you want to see what the future holds, note this: Less than a quarter of the 18- to 23-year-old respondents in the National Study of Youth and Religion think it’s important to marry someone of the same faith.

In some ways, more interfaith marriage is good for civic life. Such unions bring extended families from diverse backgrounds into close contact. There is nothing like marriage between different groups to make society more integrated and more tolerant. As recent research by Harvard professor Robert Putnam has shown, the more Americans get to know people of other faiths, the more they seem to like them.

But the effects on the marriages themselves can be tragic — it is an open secret among academics that tsk-tsking grandmothers may be right. According to calculations based on the American Religious Identification Survey of 2001, people who had been in mixed-religion marriages were three times more likely to be divorced or separated than those who were in same-religion marriages.

In a paper published in 1993, Evelyn Lehrer, a professor of economics at the University of Illinois at Chicago, found that if members of two mainline Christian denominations marry, they have a one in five chance of being divorced in five years. A Catholic and a member of an evangelical denomination have a one in three chance. And a Jew and a Christian who marry have a greater than 40 percent chance of being divorced in five years.

More recent research concludes that even differing degrees of religious belief and observance can cause trouble. For instance, in a 2009 paper, scholars Margaret Vaaler, Christopher Ellison and Daniel Powers of the University of Texas at Austin found higher rates of divorce when a husband attends religious services more frequently than his wife, as well as when a wife is more theologically conservative than her husband…. READ MORE

Jeffrey Shandler: How media have molded modern Jewish religion

Jews, God, and Videotape

Religion and Media in America By Jeffrey Shandler, New York University Press. 340 pp. $23

Source: Philadelphia Inquirer, 6-21-09

Reviewed by Glenn C. Altschuler

Videotaping bar and bat mitzvahs, many observant Jews maintain, violates Talmudic prohibitions against work on the Sabbath, distracts the worshiper from worship, and transforms tranquil and dignified ceremonies into spectacles.

And yet, as Jeffrey Shandler reminds us, more and more parents – and teenagers – insist on documenting their families’ coming-of-age rituals.

In Jews, God, and Videotape, Shandler, a professor of Jewish Studies at Rutgers University, provides a fresh and fascinating account of the impact of technology on the religious life of American Jews during the last one hundred years.

The “new media,” he argues, have helped shape a popular Jewish religion, more concerned with consumerism, celebrity, and community than with theology or rabbinical authority. Reorganizing emotion and experience, this “religion in the making” is struggling to identify strategies through which “the People of the Book” can accommodate and/or confront how Jews can (or should) fit in and stand out.

In a richly detailed chapter on The Eternal Light, a long-running radio broadcast, created in the 1940s by the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, Shandler shows how the medium can affect the message.

Aimed primarily at a non-Jewish audience, the overarching goal of the show, which reached about five million Americans by the end of the decade, was to combat anti-Semitism by demonstrating (through historical dramas and literary adaptations) that Jewish “particularism” was incidental to its “fundamental universalism” and that Jews were anything but anti-American radicals or communist sympathizers.

Populated by actors whose voices were ethnically “unmarked,” The Eternal Light, Shandler speculates, allowed Jews, sight unseen, to invite themselves into the homes of their non-Jewish neighbors, confident that they were subjects of “respectful attention.”

More often than not, Shandler implies, modern media have marked – but have not made – changes in Jewish attitudes and behavior. The themes of The Eternal Light, for example, reflected the “powerful integrationist impact” of the post-World War II suburban migration of American Jewish culture. When, in the 1960s, concern about anti-Semitism gave way to fears of the “erosion” of a distinctly Jewish culture, the ecumenical, assimilationist Eternal Light dimmed.

Frequently, according to Shandler, modern media provide an arena for contests over appropriate conduct. E-cards, he points out, reflect a range of responses to the “December dilemma” of Jews. Some postulate parity between Christmas and Hanukkah, pairing Santa Claus with Tevye. Others, however, are more hostile to “interfaith” sentiments.

In 1989, Shandler writes, the American Jewish Committee, in conjunction with the National Conference of Christians and Jews, denounced greeting cards that combined the religious and cultural symbols of the two holidays as “an affront to the integrity of distinct faiths.”

With respect to religion, Shandler writes, provocatively and persuasively, the notion of “separate but equal” lives on.

Recently, Shandler reveals, ultra-orthodox Jews have overcome an aversion to technology as a corrupting distraction – and begun to use television, video, and the Internet to spread their messianic vision. Under the leadership of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who almost never left his neighborhood in Crown Heights in Brooklyn, the Lubavitcher hasidim have raised millions of dollars through telethons, even as they make sure that the arms, legs, and breasts of the female celebrities who appear on the small screen are covered.

DVDs and Chabad.org allow Schneerson to communicate with his disciples long after his death.

Technology, Shandler concludes, hasn’t changed everything. It can – and does – facilitate traditional communal rites, including synagogue worship, as well as more secular practices.

For many, it may be less helpful in forging new links than in renewing, in the virtual world, a sense of belonging to links already established in the “real” one.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University.