Posted by Mark Paredes
My lovely wife delivered a beautiful baby girl last week, and we couldn’t be happier. It is the first child for both of us, and we feel unbelievably blessed to be parents. At this point I even view getting up during the night as a welcome opportunity to bond with my daughter.
If you’re a religious person, having a child focuses your mind on spiritual things like nothing else can. In our case, we are grateful that our child was born “in the covenant”; that is, born to parents who have been married for eternity in an LDS temple. In LDS theology, this means that we can form an eternal family that will endure beyond death as long as we live good lives. Basically, as long as we behave ourselves, our daughter is ours forever.
In accordance with Mormon custom, in a few weeks I will bless our daughter in front of the congregation. This involves asking a few men who hold the priesthood to join me in a circle as we put our hands under the baby and I pronounce a blessing on her head. Wherever possible, the father does this for his child. There is no prescribed content for the blessing, but most men announce the baby’s name and bless her to lead a righteous life (e.g., marry in an LDS temple, choose good friends, stay close to God). Baby blessings are usually performed on the first Sunday of the month. Non-Mormons are welcome to attend.
It will come as no surprise to my readers that my daughter’s name was inspired by a Jewish girl. Prior to teaching, my wife worked as a nanny in London for three Jewish families. One of them had a beautiful daughter who was my wife’s favorite. She vowed that if she ever had a child, she would give it the girl’s name. I was only too happy to make her wish come true.
Our ward (congregation) has four women, including my wife, who are scheduled to become first-time moms over a period of four months. Three have already given birth (all of them “in the covenant”), and one is scheduled to deliver next month. One of the babies will have a bris this week that will be conducted by a Jewish mohel. Needless to say, I plan to be there.
I thought that my wife was on a pedestal before I went through labor with her, but now she’s Superwoman. I am very grateful to have a wonderful wife and a healthy, adorable daughter, and can only pray to be the kind of father that our daughter will be proud of.
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important
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11.4.13 at 10:43 pm | Greater expectations need to be placed on Jews,. . .
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10.13.13 at 11:28 pm | The title says it all
9.30.13 at 11:32 pm | The Santa Monica Daily Press missed the mark in. . .
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important (819)
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11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . . (42)
September 30, 2013 | 11:32 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I work in Santa Monica several days a week, and every time I’m in the city I grab the Santa Monica Daily Press newspaper first thing in the morning to see what’s going on. I mainly read the paper for three features: the “What’s up Westside” calendar on the inside page, the “News of the Weird” column, and the comic strip “The Meaning of Lila,” which usually has a humorous take on dating and relationships.
Last week “The Meaning of Lila” had a strip that I and many others found offensive. Here’s the brief dialogue:
Girl #1: Jdate.com? But you’re not Jewish.
Girl #2: It doesn’t say anything about having to be Jewish.
Girl #1: It’s implied.
Girl#2: So I’ll stretch the truth already. Is that so wrong?
Guy: Maybe she IS Jewish.
I don’t think that a serious argument can be made that the strip is not at least moderately offensive, as it implies that Jews are inherently dishonest. Substitute “Ldssingles.com” and “Mormon” in the preceding dialogue, and I would have been just as offended.
What I found interesting was the newspaper’s apology, issued two days later, which appeared below a letter to the editor criticizing the paper for running the strip. Here it is: “The Daily Press would like to apologize to anyone who was offended by the ‘Meaning of Lila’ comic strip that ran in the Sept. 23 edition of this newspaper. We regret publishing the cartoon and do not consider racism to be a laughing matter.”
I can think of lots of adjectives to describe the strip in question. Offensive? You bet. In poor taste? Definitely. Anti-Semitic? Possibly. Racist? Not at all.
Jews are not a “race” of people, and I don’t know of a Jew or Mormon who thinks of them as one. I know that it’s tricky to state with precision whether Jews are members of a nation, tribe, and/or religion, but I’m pretty sure that defining them as a separate race is probably as offensive as the Lila comic strip was.
I know what the Daily Press was trying to say, but newspaper editors more than most people should know that words matter, and even highly-charged words like “racism” have precise definitions. I will continue to read the Daily Press and The Meaning of Lila, but I was disappointed both by the portrayal of Jews in the offending strip and by the mislabeling of the offense by the newspaper. They can both do better than that.
September 22, 2013 | 11:10 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
During the Sukkot holiday, I always take time to read the account of King Benjamin’s address in the Book of Mosiah in the Book of Mormon. Many Mormons believe that he gave this famous speech during Sukkot, and the scriptural evidence for this is pretty impressive.
Mormons believe that the Book of Mormon is a historical and spiritual account of several groups of people, including Israelites who left Jerusalem during the reign of Zedekiah (around 600 BCE) and settled in the Americas. They brought the Torah with them and kept the Law of Moses until the coming of Jesus Christ.
About 124 BCE, a righteous king named Benjamin ordered that his people should be gathered together to their temple in order to hear his farewell address, which consists of four chapters of the most sublime and inspirational writing in scripture (e.g., “[W]hen ye are in the service of your fellow beings ye are only in the service of your God”). His subjects did so, bringing the “firstlings of their flocks” in order to “offer sacrifices and burnt offerings according to the law of Moses.” The second chapter of Mosiah also records that the people gathered together “that they might give thanks to the Lord their God.”
Both ancient and modern Israelites celebrating Sukkot would recognize the manner in which the people gathered in order to hear their king:
And it came to pass that when they came up to the temple,
they pitched their tents round about, every man according
to his family…
And they pitched their tents round about the temple, every
man having his tent with the door thereof towards the temple,
that thereby they might remain in their tents and hear the words
which King Benjamin should speak unto them. [Mosiah 2:5-6]
I love exploring the many Jewish themes in the Book of Mormon, and appreciate the opportunity that Sukkot gives me every year to do so. Hag sameach to all of my Jewish readers.
September 16, 2013 | 12:48 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
It was a memorable interfaith weekend for my LDS congregation in Koreatown. On Saturday we visited St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Church, whose dean, Fr. John Bakas, is one of the city’s leading religious figures. My wife was raised in the Romanian Orthodox Church, and retains a great deal of affection and respect for the Orthodox faith. I am a lover of icons, and enjoyed viewing the church’s impressive iconostasis. Our docent, church sexton Jimmy Karatsikis, was very informative and charming. He told us that in the 20 years that he has led tours of the cathedral, we were his first LDS group. Mormons who are familiar with LDS temples and Orthodox churches find many interesting parallels between the structures, and everyone in the group came away with a positive impression of the cathedral and Greek Orthodoxy.
During our sacrament service today, the last speaker ended early. I took the opportunity to stand up and remind the members of the congregation that this weekend is the holiest one of the year for their Jewish friends and neighbors. I then invited them to conduct a heshbon nefesh (accounting of the soul), asking for forgiveness from anyone whom they may have offended in the past year, month or week. Mormons fast every month, abstaining from both food and drink, so they’re not usually too blown away by the Jews’ annual Yom Kippur fast. However, the searching of one’s soul is a healthy exercise for any religious person. Several members of the congregation promised to do this.
This weekend was a fortunate denouement to a week in which I read that my friend Rabbi Jonathan Klein, co-founder of the group Faith Action for Animals, participated in a demonstration against kaparot ceremonies in an Orthodox neighborhood in Los Angeles. As a non-Jew, I don’t have an opinion on whether Jews should be twirling chickens around their heads and then slicing their necks as part of a religious ceremony. Although it sounds a little bizarre to outsiders, temple worship in ancient Israel did involve animal sacrifices, and there are certainly practices in every religion (including my own) that raise the eyebrows of non-believers.
That said, I was greatly disturbed by signs held by the protesters that included slogans like “Genocide is wrong whether against Jews or against chickens.” I grew up with three dogs and three cats, and hate to see unnecessary suffering inflicted on animals. However, there is no comparison at all between killing chickens in a religious ceremony and the gassing of millions of human beings. I don’t believe that Rabbi Klein supports the idea that Holocaust victims had the same intrinsic worth as chickens (if he does, he is unworthy of the title “rabbi”), and I regret very much that a rabbi has allowed his name to be associated with a group of fanatical animal rights activists. If they don’t want chickens killed, that’s fine. All I ask is that they not cheapen the sacrifices of Holocaust victims by comparing them to unfortunate chickens. As far as I know, Judaism teaches that human beings, not chickens, are created in the image of God.
I wish all of my Jewish readers a hatima tova and a meaningful heshbon nefesh.
September 10, 2013 | 12:06 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Once in a while I set aside Jewish and/or Mormon themes in order to address pressing issues of the day (e.g., whether Lionel Messi plays soccer as well as Diego Maradona did). Such an opportunity now presents itself with the upcoming congressional votes on Syria. Every serious writer in this country needs to take a position on the proposed U.S. response to the latest atrocities allegedly committed by the Assad regime against its own people, and I am happy to do so here.
Unfortunately, there is no good option for the U.S. following the Sarin nerve gas attack that killed hundreds of civilians near Damascus. If Assad ordered the attack, it clearly crossed the “red line” established by President Obama a year ago as a game-changer for an administration that has been understandably reluctant to insert itself into the fratricidal civil war in Syria. As the President attempts to persuade an increasingly skeptical Congress to authorize an attack on Assad’s regime, we commoners need to consider what the best course of action would be for this country. Although this is primarily a blog about religion, theology does not inform my analysis.
There can be no doubt at this point that the U.S. is on a collision course with some awful, despicable men. Bashar Assad is definitely his father’s son when it comes to brutality, and the mullahs in Iran who are propping him up have been sponsoring terrorist groups for decades. However, lots of countries are headed by despicable men who exhibit a depraved indifference to human life, and they don’t face the threat of U.S. missiles raining down on them. In strictly humanitarian terms, is Assad’s use of chemical weapons more objectionable than North Korea’s prison labor camps, which have claimed the lives of tens of thousands of hopeless prisoners over decades? As much as we may object to the use of nerve gas by Assad to kill his enemies (and innocent civilians to boot) within his country’s borders, I don’t consider that a justifiable reason for the U.S. to go it alone in an attack on Syria.
I’m glad to hear that countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey think that we should use retaliate militarily against Syria. However, if they think that it’s such a great idea, why don’t they do it themselves? I’m sick and tired of wealthy Middle Eastern countries using the U.S. military as mercenaries (anyone remember Kuwaitis partying in Cairo and Europe while U.S. soldiers were dying in Kuwait and Iraq?). We supply the Saudis with plenty of planes and other military aid, yet every time they want a leader in the neighborhood taken out, they ask us to do it while they write checks. The only competence that Saudis have shown in organizing attacks is when 15 of them hijacked planes on 9/11. If they want our soldiers to do their dirty work again, they should be told in Quranic Arabic to put up or shut up.
I initially supported the war in Afghanistan because the Taliban were sheltering Al-Qaeda, which had just killed thousands of people in this country in horrific terrorist attacks. I did not support the war because the Taliban treated women abominably, mutilated their enemies, or blew up priceless Buddha statues. Once the Taliban fled to Pakistan, I thought that we should have left Afghanistan, with a firm warning to future rulers of the country not to harbor terrorists who would harm our country. I have no doubt that following our withdrawal of combat troops from Afghanistan next year, the Taliban will soon retake power in much of the country. I also have no doubt that they will treat their subjects horribly. However, as long as they don’t harm this country or offer material support to those who do, we should not seek a military solution to their barbarity.
Ditto for Iraq. I initially supported the toppling of Saddam Hussein because I believed that he was harboring WMD and planned to use them to harm our country and its interests. However, after he was captured, I thought that we should have withdrawn as soon as possible and let Iraqis run their own affairs. The daily body counts from sectarian strife and bombings in Iraq are disheartening to those of us who hoped for the best from the U.S. occupation, but in the end we can’t have our soldiers remain in countries because their people can’t stop killing each other.
President Obama was foolish to establish a “red line” with Syria over chemical weapons, and it would be even more foolish for Senators and Congressmen to vote to support his proposed military actions just so he can save face with the rest of the world. Attacking Syria now would simply compound Obama’s initial mistake, with unpredictable consequences for the region. I have heard many commentators state that we need to make good on the President’s threat so that Iran and other rogue states will take us more seriously. Well, anyone who believes that Iran will give up its nuclear program after missiles rain down on Damascus is dreaming. Iran’s mullahs are not as impressionable as Moammar Gadhafi, the late Libyan leader who reportedly abandoned his nuclear program after the U.S. attack on Saddam Hussein.
I have never thought of myself as an isolationist, but in the 21st century, following two long wars conducted by this country in the Middle East, the only compelling reason for me to support our involvement in the civil war in Syria is to defend America and/or Americans from attack. I was going to include Israel, but Israel can defend itself perfectly well against anything Assad sends its way. Given that an undetermined percentage of anti-Assad fighters are anti-American jihadists and even Al-Qaeda supporters, it makes no sense at all for us to help them topple Assad.
In the end, if Assad’s actions really are so objectionable that the President of the United States feels that his country should be attacked, then the only military objective here should be regime change. Limited surgical strikes would be as effective as Bill Clinton’s attacks on Al-Qaeda targets in Sudan were at discouraging the 9/11 attackers from carrying out their nefarious plots. The only reason to lob missiles at Assad is to encourage others to take him out. Given the composition of the anti-Assad coalition, I’m not sure that this is a wise course of action.
I am optimistic that Congress will follow the lead of the American people and reject the Obama Administration’s well-intentioned but imprudent plan to lead us down the well-trodden path to war in the Middle East without a clear objective. I join with my thoughtful Jewish friends in praying that the year 5774 will bring lasting peace, not unnecessary conflict, to the Middle East. Shana tova.
August 15, 2013 | 10:01 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
Lauren Sandler’s recent Time cover story on childless-by-choice couples, The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children, reminded me of my shortest date. I had been set up with a beautiful Mormon girl who was a doctoral student in French, and I took her to a nice quiet restaurant to discuss Voltaire, Gide, and Sartre. Before the entrees hit the table, she had told me that she did not want to have children. It wasn’t that she couldn’t have children; she simply didn’t want any. These were not sentiments that were regularly expressed by LDS girls, especially on a first date, and I immediately asked for the check. She responded by saying that other LDS guys had done the same thing on previous dates. Given our church’s emphasis on having children and creating families, I was not surprised.
Like Jews, especially Orthodox Jews, Mormons take very seriously the biblical commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Moreover, we believe that the family is the basic unit of society and of eternity. According to our beliefs, in the next life we will live together as families – parents, children, grandchildren, etc. – as we strive towards godhood. Righteous people who remain single in this life will have the chance to marry in the next and create their own eternal families.
However, for Mormons it goes even deeper than this. There is a correlation in our theology between having children and our eternal destiny that is absent in other faiths. We believe that God and his wife are populating this world with their spirit children, and that righteous couples will have the chance to do so someday as well. In other words, you can’t realize your full potential in the next life without having children.
So what do Mormons think about childless couples? In keeping with our belief in a God who is just and merciful, we believe that righteous people who cannot have children in this life through no fault of their own will be blessed with offspring in the eternities. As someone who was single for many years and wanted very much to be a father, I found this belief to be very comforting.
While I know plenty of LDS couples who are having trouble conceiving, I do not know any who have let it be known that they are choosing a child-free life. There is something about the childless choice that is antithetical to our beliefs about the purpose of life. Many of our spirit brothers and sisters are waiting to come to earth, and we have a responsibility to provide mortal bodies for them. If all of us chose not to have kids, we would frustrate God’s purposes.
Of course, if a Mormon decides not to have children, she won’t face any sanctions or punishment at church stronger than some raised eyebrows. In the end, the choice is hers, and it’s up to God, not us, to judge such a personal decision. On a personal level, as an excited expectant father I will continue to feel sorry for childless couples, whether by choice or chance. I will also continue to be baffled by Mormons who refuse to create families when they have an opportunity to do so.
August 5, 2013 | 11:53 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God. For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him? even so the things of God knoweth no man, but the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. - 1 Corinthians 2:10-14
All of the LDS bishops in the Los Angeles stake (= diocese) will be participating in a pulpit exchange on August 18th, and our assigned topic will be “Why I’m A Mormon.” While seeking inspiration for the talk, I came across a recent profile in The New York Times that has generated significant interest in the “bloggernacle” (Mormon blogging community). Hans Mattsson, a former high-ranking LDS leader in Sweden, was given emeritus (retirement) status following heart surgery in 2005. He then experienced a crisis of faith after coming across information on the internet that shook the foundations of his belief. After listening to a podcast of an interview in which Mr. Mattsson discusses his conflicted feelings about the LDS Church, I reflected on how Mormons and Jews become and remain converted to their faith.
I have found that the reason most often cited by Mormons for their conversion usually causes Jewish eyes to roll, and sometimes leads to Jews not taking the LDS faith very seriously. When asked, most Mormon converts will say that they joined the LDS Church after praying about its scriptures and beliefs and receiving a spiritual confirmation from God through His spirit.
While I have heard Jews like Michael Medved say they believe that God wants them to live life as a Jew, I have never met a Jew who claims to have prayed to know whether Judaism is the true faith (at least for Jews) and received an unequivocal spiritual confirmation. Although there is much spirituality in Judaism, Jews usually appeal to reason, not the spirit, when discussing religious truth. Given the history of interactions between Jews and non-Jews who were sure that God was telling them to persecute Jews, it is quite understandable that Jews would regard reason as a better guide to true belief and practice.
There is no question that reliance on God’s spirit is a bedrock principle of LDS theology. Before I fill a position in our congregation, my assistants and I pray for divine guidance as we consider various candidates. After they meet with me, they will often pray to receive confirmation of their call to serve. During their service, we encourage them to pray for guidance and inspiration to know how best to teach a lesson, organize an event, or comfort a grieving soul. All members are asked to pray several times a day and to seek divine revelation to direct their lives.
That said, there is also no question that many Mormons convert and remain converted to their faith because it is intellectually fulfilling. Mormonism is the only religion that I am aware of whose level of observance rises along with the educational level of its members: A Mormon with a doctorate is likely to be more observant than one with a high-school education. When she was studying with the missionaries, my mother enjoyed the spirit they brought into our home. In addition, as someone with a lifelong fascination with Native Americans, she was fascinated by the story of the Book of Mormon. When she became the mother of a young child with leukemia, she found her church’s explanation of the afterlife both comforting and logical. When I studied the Book of Mormon in college, I focused not only on its spiritual message but also on the presence of chiasmus (a Hebrew literary device) in its pages.
If a Jew stops believing in the tenets of Judaism, he still has cultural, ethnic, and social reasons to remain Jewish. If a Mormon surfs the net and discovers sites that cause him to question his faith, he has only his testimony – the spiritual witness of the truthfulness of LDS doctrines – to fall back on. Since most people will experience doubt at some point during their religious journey, LDS leaders actively encourage members to develop their own testimonies and to share them with others as appropriate.
I hope that Mr. Mattsson receives answers to the questions that have troubled him about his church’s history and doctrine. However, it is an axiom in the LDS world that spiritual truths can ultimately be taught only by the spirit, not by books and websites. My Jewish friends might approach Mr. Mattsson’s spiritual predicament in a different way, but if he is to become a committed Mormon again, he’ll have to rely on the spirit to guide him on what may be a long and difficult journey back to faith. I wish him well.
July 15, 2013 | 12:13 am
Posted by Mark Paredes
After responding to private inquiries sent to me over the last few weeks asking for my view on the Wolpe-Naim Affair, I’ve decided to express my thoughts in this essay. In a nutshell, Conservative Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in LA recently announced that his synagogue would begin performing gay marriages. In response, synagogue member Michael Naim circulated a letter harshly criticizing the rabbi’s decision. Mr. Naim also chose to leave the synagogue.
For the record, I happen to know and respect both men, and am sure that their parting was difficult. I recently dialogued with Rabbi Wolpe at Sinai Temple, and have had the honor of spending a Sabbath evening with Michael and his beautiful family. I agree with most of their views on Israel -- to the extent that they converge, I probably agree with all of them -- and on the issue of gay marriage and Judaism they both get points from me: Michael wins on substance, while the rabbi prevails on style.
I agree 100% with Michael that homosexual acts are condemned in Scripture, and that rabbis shouldn’t conduct same-sex marriage ceremonies. I’ve read every single Conservative responsum on this issue, and do not find the pro-gay marriage ones terribly convincing. Their basic argument is usually that a newfound respect for human dignity (one that apparently eluded biblical prophets and rabbis for centuries) allows for the sanctification of gay relationships and the setting aside of traditional Jewish teaching on sexual morality.
However, missing from the responsa and from Rabbi Wolpe’s public statements is a declaration that these progressive views represent God’s will. Media reports indicate that the rabbi has simply wanted to do this for a long time, and waited for the right moment to announce the policy change. Nowhere have I read that the good rabbi claimed to have received inspiration from God to make the change. While I appreciate his honesty, the truth is that if Rabbi Wolpe doesn’t claim to receive divine inspiration or sanction to perform gay marriages at his synagogue, then there’s no reason to back his decision.
Having said all of this, I remain baffled by Michael’s letter. His attack on Rabbi Wolpe’s support for gay marriage makes as much sense as criticizing a dog for barking. In the contemporary LA Jewish community, it is an axiom that Conservative pulpit rabbis strongly support gay marriage. I know exactly one Conservative rabbi here who opposes gay marriage, and he has not been a pulpit rabbi for years. Indeed, anyone who discussed this issue with Rabbi Wolpe prior to his announcement (as I did last fall) knew of his views on gay marriage. It cannot have come as a surprise to Michael that the rabbi wanted to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies at his synagogue.
Another reason that I find Michael’s letter puzzling is that Rabbi Wolpe went out of his way to show respect for others’ views on the subject. He did not demonize or condemn those who oppose gay marriage, and tried in recent public presentations on Judaism and homosexuality to make a clear case for his position using Jewish law and tradition. Like Michael, I think that he came to the wrong conclusion, but that doesn’t mean that the rabbi thinks that everyone who disagrees with him is a bigot. Now that I lead a congregation, I think that it might have been better for Michael not to publicize his disagreement but to speak privately with the rabbi, perhaps with a small group of like-minded people at his side.
I wish both of these men well, and I also wish Mr. Naim a swift (re)turn to Orthodox Judaism or to a traditional Sephardic synagogue (Michael is originally from Iran). After all, if he’s looking for a Torah-based shul in LA that will preserve traditional marriage, Orthodoxy is his best bet. Shavua tov.