Archives for September 2005

Southern Baptists Offensive & I Mean Offensive

CNN is just one of a number of news outlets that is carrying a story about yet another problem that the Southern Baptists are creating with Jews. The root of the problem lies in the arrogant and misguided belief that they have the sole line to G-d and that they are tasked with spreading the word.

In the latest outbreak they have decided that the best way to attack us is by trying to use Jews who have converted as their tools.

“Anti-Defamation League director Abraham Foxman said the effort is offensive because the Southern Baptists are using Jews who have converted to Christianity “to go after other Jews.””If people convert, that’s their individual business,” Foxman said. “But don’t use them as a tool to convert other people.”

At the heart of the ADL’s complaint is a decision by the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee to ask its missionary boards to study the idea of recognizing the Southern Baptist Messianic Fellowship as “an evangelistic mission to Jewish people.”

The fellowship is made up of about a dozen congregations in the United States. Its Web site says its mission is “to encourage Jewish believers that their ethnic and historical heritage need NOT be lost upon their commitment to Yeshua [Jesus].”

The idea to use the fellowship was proposed at the national convention in Nashville in June. The SBC executive committee recommended last week that its International Mission Board and North American Mission Board study the possibility.

Jim Sibley, coordinator of Jewish Ministries for the SBC’s North American Mission Board, said the ADL was overreacting. The committee was simply forwarding the proposal, he said.

“Personally, I don’t really see this (recommendation) going anywhere,” Sibley said Thursday.”

Overreacting. I wonder how he would feel if we decided to make an effort to target Southern Baptists, if we used Xtians who had converted to try and convince other Xtians to become Jewish. What would they do if we went and spoke to their children and told them how sad we were that they they were missing out on so much fun. And considering the history well…

“The Southern Baptist Convention passed a resolution in 1996 calling on its members to “direct our energies and resources toward the proclamation of the gospel to the Jewish people.”A 1999 prayer guide by the International Mission Board recommended conversion of Jews to Christianity during their High Holy Days, an effort labeled “offensive and disrespectful” by Jewish leaders.

As recently as 2003 Jewish leaders criticized a Southern Baptist seminary president for saying Christians have a mandate to evangelize Jews just as a surgeon has a responsibility to tell a patient about the presence of a “deadly tumor.”

I really don’t care what you believe as long as you don’t try to force it down my throat. These guys have crossed the line and I am not willing to stand for it nor do I have to or anyone else.

Fire In The Sky- Ash is Raining Down

There is Fire In The Sky- Ash is Raining Down upon me andI have been thinking about my friends over at Toner Mishap. If I am not mistaken they are close to the fire. So boys here are my best wishes that you and yours are kept safe. Be well.

Blogrolling The Day Away

Life here at the shack has been anything but dull, if anything it has been far too busy. I don’t like feeling this busy because I don’t feel like I am being productive. I get a lot of things done, but too many of them feel like they are just getting done and not getting done well.

Lately I have been trying to find some new blogs to read. It is not that the old ones have gotten dull, ok a few have. Some of you are not holding my attention the way that you used to but I expect that the same could be said about me.

Anyway I find blogrolls to be interesting. It is somewhat similar to going to a person’s home and inspecting their bookcase, movies and CDs. I am always curious to see what they have found because every now and then I find some real gems.

The mehitza- A Deterrent to Assimilation

I just finished reading an article in The Jerusalem Post that had me shaking my head. It is called The mehitza that made waves in New Orleans and it suggests that the presence of a mehitza is a strong deterrent to assimilation.

I strongly disagree with much of what was written in it. Let me share a couple sections. The opening of this opinion piece relates the story of a lawsuit in New Orleans that was brought when a shul removed the mehitza and implemented mixed seating.

“The New Orleans decision inspired many Orthodox Jews to go to court to stem the floodtide of assimilation, which often began with the elimination of the mehitza. Baruch Litvin, who galvanized American Jews to fight to maintain the mehitza, recorded his success in his 550-page tome Sanctity of the Synagogue. When his Orthodox shul instituted mixed seating, he obtained a 1959 ruling from the Michigan Supreme Court that returned the mehitza to the synagogue.

THE MEHITZA brouhaha had wider significance. Judaism is distinguished by its adherence to Jewish law, Halacha, and Litvin argued that such adherence is compromised by the radical change of mingling in synagogue. The issue of separation of the sexes for prayer was a test of the entire halachic system. Abandoning this principle, Jews would succumb to the centripetal forces of American modernity, jettison the rest of Halacha, and the dikes would burst.

The mehitza proponents have proved correct – the floodtide of assimilation by intermarriage for those Jews affiliated with mixed-seating congregations varies from 50 to 80 percent. Among the Orthodox it is barely 5 percent.”

It is far too simplistic to sugges that separating men and women in the synagogue will prevent them from assimilation. For that matter one could just as easily argue that you are more likely to prevent assimilation by using mixed seating because it enhances the opportunity for nice Jewish boys and girls to meet each other.

The question of what causes more non-Orthodox Jews to assimilate ( I am trusting the authors figures here which have been provided without support) should have a broader framework and we should better define what we mean by assimilation. For the purpose of this discussion we’ll say that assimilation refers to Jews who not only stop practicing Judaism but marry outside of the faith and allow the spouse’s faith to become dominant within the household.

If we were truly to explore this I would want to know about belief in G-d and the belief in Torah. That is, do people believe in G-d and what is their opinion of Torah. Was it handed to us as the precise word of G-d or is it divinely inspired and perhaps subject to interpretation.

I would also wonder about how many Orthodox Jews would like to stop living as Orthodox Jews but refrain for fear of the problems it would create within their families.

These are just a few questions to be asked and I haven’t even bothered to think hard about them which is part of why this gives me real pause as to the validity of this allegation. I have serious doubts that it really holds up. It really makes me shake my head because it is just narishkeit.

Here is another selection from the piece that irritates me.

“Prayer requires deep concentration, kavana. Women realize that men can be in a state of inner distraction by virtue of the presence of women at a time when it is essential for people to be as fully engaged as possible in their concentrated awareness of their conversation with God. The situation of men and women is not symmetrical; men are more easily stimulated by viewing women, as the advertising industry well knows.”

I find this part to be offensive. Men are not animals and what this does is suggest is that we are unable to control ourselves. An attractive woman is not the reason why men sometimes have trouble davening.

A pretty face or nice legs are not going to interfere with saying the shemoneh esreh, or be the reason for a lack of focus. My davening has been interrupted by the whispered stories of what happened during last nights ballgame or conversation about what little Sammy is doing now.

And then the final part of this piece that made me shake my head is this:

“RABBI JOSEPH Soloveitchik, who established a Jewish day school with mixed classes and promoted teaching girls Talmud, surprised many with the stringency of his ruling on mehitza.

“A young man moved into a suburb of Boston where the only existing synagogue had men and women sitting together. He asked me what he should do on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I answered him that it were better for him to pray at home and not cross the threshold of that synagogue. The young man practically implored me that I grant him permission to enter the edifice, at least that he might hear the shofar blasts. I hesitated not for a moment, but directed him to remain at home. It would be better not to hear the shofar than to enter a synagogue whose sanctity has been profaned.”

This story is nothing more than a divisive device that pushes us away from each other. It does nothing to encourage inclusion, only exclusion and it will be seen by many as snobbery.

I was there at Har Sinai and I don’t remember Hashem instructing us in this manner.

Letter to Palestinians

Robert Avrech deserves credit for tipping me off to Letter to Palestinians which was written by Yossi Klein Halevi. He is the author of a number of books. One of my favorites is called “At the Entrance to the Garden of Eden: A Jew’s Search for Hope With Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land”

In some ways I found his Letter to Palestinians to be quite sad because the hope and optimism I found in some of his earlier writings appears to be gone. I don’t fault him or blame him for that and I suppose that the sadness I feel stems from my own evolution regarding hope for peace.

It is a long letter so I am going to quote just a few sections but highly recommend that you read it in its entirety.

“Once, before the Terror War, a time that seems now to belong not just technically but substantively to another millennium, I undertook a one-man pilgrimage into your mosques and churches, seeking to know you in your intimate spiritual moments.

I went as a believing Jew, praying and meditating with you wherever you allowed me to enter into your devotional life. My intention was to transcend, however briefly, the political abyss between us by experiencing together something of presence of God.

And I wanted to learn how to feel comfortable in the Middle East’s religious cultures, because I believed that the Jewish homecoming would be complete only when the Jewish state were no longer in exile from the Middle East.

During my journey, which took me from Galilee to Gaza, I was privileged to be admitted into the Muslim prayer line. I learned to venerate its choreography of surrender, in which one becomes a particle in a great wave of devotion, a wave that preceded our arrival on this earth and that will continue long after we are gone.

I learned to appreciate the fearless heart of Islam, which knows how to impart in its believers a frank acceptance of their own mortality – something which Western culture too often tries to conceal, with diversions like black humor about death.

The dark side of the Muslim reconciliation with death, of course, are the suicide bombers. But I learned, too, that acceptance of mortality can be the basis for a religious language of reconciliation. Repeatedly, Palestinians would say to me, “Why are you and I arguing over who owns the land when in the end the land will own us both?” That wise ability to place our earthly claims and struggles in the context of our shared condition of mortality gave me hope that peace between us may some day be possible.

But I learned too, during numerous candid conversations with Palestinians at all levels of society, that, in practice, few within your nation are willing to concede that I have a legitimate claim to any part of this land. I will cite one telling example.

During my journey into Islam in Gaza, I met General Nasser Youssef (who at the time of our meeting was head of one of the Palestinian security forces and is now the PA Interior Minister). At one point during our conversation, I asked the general to describe his vision of the relations between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state after we signed a peace agreement.

Let’s assume, I said, that Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, uproots the settlements and redivides Jerusalem: What then? He replied that, once the refugees begin returning to the area, so many would gravitate to those areas in Israel where their families once lived, that eventually we would realize there was no need for an artificial border between Israel and Palestine.

The next step, continued the general, was that the two states would merge. “And then we’ll invite Jordan to join our federation. And Iraq and Syria. Why not? We’ll show the whole world what a beautiful country Jews and Arabs can create together.”

But, I asked the general, aren’t we negotiating today over a two-state solution? Yes, he replied, as an interim step. And then he added, “You aren’t separate from us; you are part of us. Just as there are Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs, you are Jewish Arabs.”

This story is particularly relevant because General Youssef is widely known as a moderate, deeply opposed to terror as counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. And so what I learned in my journeys into your society is that moderation means one thing on the Israeli side and quite another on the Palestinian side.”

Sometimes the difference in pereceptions is so large that you cannot bridge the gap or even if you could the solutions just are not feasible.

“IN YOUR society’s official embrace, through media and schools and mosques, of the culture of denial, you have tried to reinvent us, to redefine us out of our national existence.

We too once tried to define you out of national existence, insisting that you weren’t a real people but an appendage to the Arab world. Today, though, only the Israeli hard Right repeats Golda Meir’s insistence that there are no Palestinians.

Yet your political and spiritual leadership routinely insists that there is no Jewish people – only a Jewish faith, or an invented identity like General Yusuf’s “Arab Jews,” or an ersatz people descended from the Khazars. In so doing, you ignore how Jews have always defined themselves: as a people with a faith.

True, it’s easier for the powerful than it is for the powerless to develop more nuanced attitudes toward the conflict. When you have an army and a thriving economy, you can afford to rethink your own history and even accommodate a competing narrative. Yet in truth you have never understood us, never understood that we aren’t a modern version of the Crusaders but an indigenous people returning home.

Your inability to understand who we are has been a disaster not only for us but also for you, because it has repeatedly led you to underestimate our vitality and ability to persevere. And now, it seems, you are once again about to disastrously misread the Israeli public.

According to polls, a majority of Palestinians believe that the decision to withdraw from Gaza was prompted by terror. And that conclusion may well lead you to the next round of terror.”

There is much more that I could include because this letter is solid, but due to space issues I am going to try and limit this to one or two more selections.

“The key to understanding the meaning of unilateral withdrawal – a point missed not only by your people but by the Israeli Right as well – is that “unilateral” is no less important than “withdrawal.” Most Israelis have concluded that our Left was correct in its warnings against the moral and demographic dangers of occupation, and our Right was correct in its warnings that the Palestinian national movement had no intention of living in peace with a Jewish state in any borders. And so, if we cannot occupy you and we cannot make peace with you, the only option left to us is unilateral withdrawal and the fence – that is, determining our own borders in the absence of a negotiated peace.

The new Israeli determination to stop waiting for a nonexistent Palestinian partner and take our fate in our own hands is an Israeli, not a Palestinian, victory.

The Terror War has given Israeli society another crucial victory: a restored faith in the justness of our position. Aside from a vocal but fringe Left, most Israelis know that, at every crucial historic juncture in the last 70 years, when an offer to end the conflict was placed on the table, our side said yes and your side said no. That has given us the strength to withstand the current jihadist assault.”

and a grain of hope.

“The tragedy of our conflict is that history gave each of us no choice. The logic of our history demanded our return here – and not just because we were persecuted in exile, but because exile from this land was always seen by Jews as an unnatural condition, a spiritual offense against Judaism’s deepest sense of itself. Yet just as the logic of our history impelled us to return, so the logic of your history impelled you to resist our return.
The conflict between us is over intangibles and mutual perceptions, not over a precise point on the map.

When we look at each other, we see the embodiment of our worst historical traumas. When you look at us, you see an expansionist power that recalls your defeat and humiliation in recent centuries – a perception that was reinforced by our military victories against the Arab world and the subsequent expansion of our borders. When we look at you, we see the incarnation of the latest in a long line of genocidal enemies who have tried to destroy us – a perception reinforced by the suicide bombings, which are mini-preenactments of the genocidal impulse.

Just as you see in us colonialists and crusaders, we increasingly see in you Nazis.

Having been privileged to spend time among you, I know that most of you are not Nazis, just as I know that most of us are not colonialists. We are two traumatized peoples who, tragically, have projected their most demonic images onto the other.

In withdrawing from Gaza, we have begun our territorial contraction. Yet can your side stop actively dreaming of destroying us – through terror, demographics, the Muslim bomb? Can you accept the moral legitimacy – not just temporary political necessity – of a two-state solution?
I wrote above that your people has made “virtually no effort” to understand who we Jews are.

One remarkable exception was a pilgrimage of Palestinian Israelis to Auschwitz, two years ago. For Palestinian citizens of Israel to reach out to Jews at the height of the intifada was the deepest expression of the generosity of Arab culture. I was privileged to be among the Jewish participants in that Arab initiative. We stood at the crematorium, Arabs and Jews holding each other in silence, facing the abyss together. At that moment, anything seemed possible between us.”