Christianity has an image problem, and Christians ought to pay earnest attention to it, rather than dismissing it as the product of media bias. That's the message of a new book that should be of interest to Jews, because it shows the kind of questions that Christians have started asking themselves -- questions that we Jews don't seem to be asking ourselves. Yet we, too, have an image problem.
Isn't that a pretty good indication that the Bible favors using the power of the government to coerce the citizenry to be charitable over relying on private generosity? Actually, not at all.
For Prager is one of a handful of America's most valuable Jews. Why? Because of the role he has taken as a foremost Jewish spokesman for the Bible. I don't mean he's some sort of radio preacher. But when appropriate, in his daily discussions with callers on political and cultural subjects, he often brings in a scriptural perspective -- without apology, always with a light touch, as if it were the most normal thing in the world.
The fast-emerging religious left contrasts sharply on many issues -- from homosexual marriage to socialized medicine -- with its longer-established competitor, the religious right. Yet these two Bible-citing political movements equally have woken up to the realization that there is something intrinsically American about using the Bible as a guide to practical politics. That's good news and a blow to secularist orthodoxy.
The film version of author Dan Brown's bestseller, "The Da Vinci Code," premiered this week amid a cacophony of unhappy historians and theologians who hoped to reach the horde of curious moviegoers seeking a good diversion -- which is also what prompted many readers to pick up the book in the first place.
You know Jews for Jesus, the lovable San Francisco-based organization that uses the appeal of Jewish kinship to introduce Jews to "Y'shua ha Mashiach" (Jesus Christ). Its executive director is a pleasant fellow named David Brickner. After he critiqued my book, "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus," in a Jews for Jesus publication and later graciously retracted a prominent factual error he made, we started e-mailing.
By now thousands of published articles, ranging from critical to hateful, have appeared about the famous Jack Abramoff -- Orthodox Jew, former Washington super-lobbyist, product of an affluent Beverly Hills upbringing and future inmate of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. He has pleaded guilty to mail fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy.
Devoted to fighting anti-Jewish bigotry, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is America's most influential Jewish group. So what are we to make of the weird air of unreality in the ADL's public statements about Christians?
In "The Myth of Hitler's Pope," Rabbi David G. Dalin has written an important, frank and lucid defense of an unfairly maligned figure of recent history. Dalin's book clears up often-heard libels about the World War II papacy of Pius XII. It also provides an opportunity to reflect on the role those libels play in the wider cultural context.
Passover, now upon us, apart from being an occasion for family reunions and indigestion is the right time for a more serious activity:
I mean, reflecting on the claim that our religion is highly rational and even the claim that Judaism is "true."
Far from being ethnic chest thumping, this assertion of truth can be defended with a straight face.
Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ" was the most important American religious event of the past year. For Christians, its effects were quite positive, as viewers already committed to belief in Jesus were roused to renew their faith through the heartrending story of the Crucifixion. For America's Jewish community, the effects of the film can also be positive, if we draw the right retrospective lessons not from the movie itself but from the controversy that still surrounds it.
I don't know how many times I've been in a conversation with a Christian who suddenly out of nowhere asked, "What do you think of Neusner?" They don't even feel a need to mention the man's first name, which is Jacob, assuming that as a Jew I would obviously be familiar with the rabbi and scholar who, for non-Jews interested in Judaism, is the No. 1 go-to guy.
When a Christian wants to know something about Judaism, which lately more and more do, a typical first course of action is a visit to Barnes & Noble, to the Jacob Neusner section of the Judaica shelves. His singularity is worth pondering.
The fact that "The Passion" isn't anti-Semitic doesn't make it an effective piece of filmmaking. The bad news is that Gibson's motion picture manages to be sadistically violent and somewhat boring at the same time.
Marcus Weston is a thin, good-looking Londoner who in his casual attire and unobtrusive kippah could pass for typical Pico-Robertson Modern Orthodox guy. On this cool Tuesday night in December, he offers his audience a reassuring smile.
After you've spent a couple hours puzzling over Daniel Matt's Zohar or trying to sort truth from hype in the teachings of the Kabbalah Centre, it's a welcome relief to turn to a lucid academic rendering of kabbalah. Arthur Green, a professor of Jewish thought at Brandeis University, wrote the introduction to Matt's translation and is also the author of a useful new book titled "A Guide to the Zohar." Published by Stanford University Press as a companion to Matt's work, this diminutive, accessible volume tells you everything you need to know about the Zohar -- its history and influence plus honest but easy-to-read crystallizations of some of the main Zoharic themes -- albeit from an entirely secular perspective.
Jewish leaders continue to decry Mel Gibson's forthcoming Jesus movie for supposedly threatening to whip up anti-Semitism. Due out next April, "The Passion" identifies Jewish priests as instigators of the crucifixion.
Passover celebrates the Israelites' liberation from bondage, but how did the Jews become slaves in the first place? The Talmud traces a thread of causation backward from the events of the Exodus to the patriarch Abraham.
My family and I are eager to move to Los Angeles from Seattle, but I've got a problem: We are Orthodox and we like trees.
In some religious Jewish circles, Thanksgiving is controversial. The holiday troubles certain Orthodox Jews not because they are unpatriotic -- considering how faithful a friend America has been to Israel lately, they are probably more patriotic than ever -- but because some believe that the Torah forbids participating in any non-Jewish observance.
Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths" by Bruce Feiler (William Morrow & Co, $23.95).
Like the stock market, belief in the Bible as a record of past events goes up and down. Such belief is now skidding toward a low point. While the sobriety and detachment of professional scholarship may numb us into forgetting that anything crucial is at stake in Scripture's historical accuracy, let's not forget.