Posted by Mark Paredes
In my ward (congregation) there is a man who has come to church every Sunday for years with his wife and adult children. He and his family regularly invite missionaries and church members to his home to enjoy food from his native country, he attends church social events, and he is a wonderful father and grandfather to his children and grandchildren, all of whom are active Mormons.
However, until a few months ago, he was not a member of the church.
No matter how much he attended church, no matter how many members and missionaries he invited over for dinner, no matter how many children he and his wife raised to believe in the teachings of the LDS Church, and no matter how much he internalized the teachings of the church by being a good parent and grandparent, he was not a Mormon until he was baptized and confirmed by a church elder. He was as much of a “dry Mormon” (i.e., an unbaptized person who by all appearances is a member of the church) as you could get before this year, but he realized that if he really wanted to be a Mormon, he had to publicly accept the LDS faith.
I had my friend in mind as I read Dr. Steven Cohen and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky’s highly original proposal to establish “Jewish Cultural Affirmation,” a “cultural pathway” to joining the Jewish people that would represent a non-religious alternative to tradition religious conversions performed by rabbis. Basically, non-Jews would enroll in an online, self-guided course of “study and experiences” that would focus not only on reading, but also on experiences of “lived Jewishness.” With the help of mentors, the students would sample many areas of Jewish history and culture. At the end of this intellectual journey, if they so desire, the students would be presented with a “certificate of membership in the Jewish people” in a public, non-religious ceremony.
I’ve heard a lot of proposals in my years of observing and participating in the Jewish community, but can’t remember one made by serious Jews whose aim is to devalue Judaism as a religion. Although the authors were smart enough to put in a disclaimer about not wanting to “obviate” traditional conversions, that is exactly what their proposed program would do. After all, why would most prospective non-Orthodox converts spend months immersing themselves in the study of Jewish law, tradition and religious practices with a rabbi and then immersing themselves in a mikveh, when they could read about Judaism online, meet a few times with a mentor, and get a membership certificate at the end?
I know from personal experience that simply liking Jews, speaking on behalf of Jews and Israel, and working in the Jewish community don’t qualify you for membership in the tribe: You have to really want to be Jewish and to assume their accompanying burdens and responsibilities. While I have always considered myself a Philo-Semite, I have never considered myself to be Jewish. Moreover, I have too much respect for Judaism to believe that secular induction ceremonies can ever take the place of traditional religious conversions. If it's important for a potential convert to be Jewish, then it's also important for him to accept Judaism as his faith. After all, without Judaism, there would be no Jews today. Watering down Judaism -- or worse, declaring that it is irrelevant to one's Jewish identity -- helps no one.
While I’m sure that Jewish Cultural Affirmation is a serious proposal, it should definitely not be adopted.
12.3.13 at 12:19 am | It's a bad idea because Judaism is important
11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . .
11.4.13 at 10:43 pm | Greater expectations need to be placed on Jews,. . .
10.18.13 at 11:26 pm | My friend Brian offers an eloquent explanation of. . .
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 (821)
6.5.12 at 11:26 pm | Marlena Tanya Muchnick, a Jewish convert to. . . (51)
11.21.13 at 11:23 pm | While everyone knows that Jews can say who's a. . . (42)
November 21, 2013 | 11:23 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
I read with interest Dennis Prager’s article expressing his sorrow over President Bush’s recent speech at a Jews for Jesus gathering in Texas. While he strongly defended Evangelical Christians in general, Mr. Prager joined virtually every other Jewish writer in denouncing the Messianic Jewish group. I was particularly interested in his observation that to Jews, the claim of Jews for Jesus that they remain Jewish in spite of their Christian beliefs is analogous to Evangelicals’ reaction to Mormons’ claim to be Christians. While the disdain expressed by Jews and some Evangelicals is similar, there is an important difference in the dynamics of those relationships that needs to be clarified in this space.
Whether or not one agrees with Jews in their rejection of Jews for Jesus and other Messianic groups that target Jews for conversion, it’s hard to argue that Jews don’t have the right to determine who is a Jew, at least in the religious sense. If Jewish leaders choose to accept atheists as Jews while rejecting those who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior, it is their right and privilege to do so.
A somewhat different dynamic prevails in Christendom. However passionately Evangelicals may promote their form of Christianity, no one has given them the right to be the arbiters of who is and is not a Christian. It’s not like Evangelicals were the original Christians and remained a distinct Christian people for thousands of years until Mormon upstarts got it in their heads to call themselves Christians and then start converting Evangelicals to another faith while claiming to remain Christians. In truth, if we take the conversion of John Wesley in 1738 as the beginning of the Evangelical movement, then Evangelicals have only a 100-year head start on the LDS Church, which of course claims to have been the original Christian Church restored to earth in the last days.
Another difference between the dynamics at play here is that Messianic groups do care in general about what Jews think of their religion; Mormons tend not to be overly concerned about litmus tests that might be applied to their beliefs by other Christians. By way of example, I learned a new Romanian expression this evening when my lovely wife had this to say after I pointed out to her some recent Evangelical statements about LDS theology: “Mă doare în cot (‘It hurts my elbow’).”
While I don’t believe that anyone should be targeting Jews for conversion, in the end it is the responsibility of rabbis and other Jewish leaders to make Judaism so meaningful and relevant to fellow Jews that Messianic Jewish groups will be unable to succeed in their conversion efforts. When the Southern Baptist Convention held its annual conference in Salt Lake City 15 years ago and announced its intention to convert as many Mormons as possible during that week, the LDS Church encouraged its members to open their doors to their Baptist friends and greet them with open arms. I’m not worried at all that Baptists, Evangelicals or other Christians will try to target Mormons for conversion. The fact that Jewish leaders are worried about Jews for Jesus shows that they still have a lot of work to do in the Jewish retention department.
November 4, 2013 | 10:43 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
As someone who believes that Jews should actively proselytize to non-Jews and become as involved as possible in Jewish life, I was dismayed (though not surprised) at the results of a recent Pew Research Center survey of U.S. Jews that showed an increasing detachment of non-Orthodox Jews -- especially young Jews -- from Judaism. This does not bode well for the future of the American Jewish community, and countless commentaries on the survey’s findings have appeared recently in the Jewish press nationwide.
When Jewish life is viewed through Mormon spectacles, it is hard to see how the survey could have turned out otherwise, given the relative lack of religious responsibility placed on young Jews’ shoulders. An excellent example is Birthright Israel, a popular organized program that has sent 300,000 young Jews on 10-day trips to Israel. Birthright’s website says that its goal is to “generate a profound transformation in contemporary Jewish culture and a connection between Israelis and their peers in the Diaspora.” I think that Birthright is one of the greatest programs sponsored by the organized Jewish community, and know several Mormons of Jewish descent who are Birthright alumni.
However, as wonderful as the program is, there appear to be no religious expectations of Birthright participants. I visited the “After the Trip” tab on the Birthright website, and found this to be the most detailed opportunity that their alumni had to stay involved in Jewish life after college: “Learn Hebrew, get back to Israel, volunteer in the community, network in our Wall Street series, meet great Jewish authors, go to Prague and Poland or get your Bar / Bat Mitzvah. Celebrate summer with outdoor cocktail parties and meet hundreds of alumni.” All of these opportunities can be yours if you join the New York region’s Birthright alumni community. However, there are no expectations that Birthright alumni living in New York will actually do any of these things after returning to the U.S. Since this is a blog that compares and contrasts the LDS and Jewish communities, I thought that it might be instructive for my Jewish readers to learn what the religious expectations are of the Mormon counterparts of the New York-based Birthright alumni.
To begin with, most active twentysomething Mormon men have served two-year missions for their church. This is increasingly the case for women as well, who serve 18 months. As I have stated repeatedly, if young Jews were expected to dedicate many months of their lives to promote and preach the virtues of Judaism to non-Jews, there would be no need to worry about their dedication to their faith and culture.
Young Mormons are also expected to tithe 10% of their income to their church. Having given money to my church and to other worthy nonprofits, I can testify that you cherish what you sacrifice for. This is especially true for financial sacrifices. It is never easy for me to write a tithing check, but it does strengthen my bond with my church.
Young Mormons in New York are also expected to fast for 24 hours once a month, to make a contribution to the poor in connection with the fast, to visit other members of the congregation who are assigned to them on a monthly basis, to serve in at least one other calling in the church, to attend weekly three-hour worship services, and to go to an LDS temple on a regular basis to perform sacred ordinances.
Given the disparity in religious expectations of non-Orthodox Jews and Mormons, is it any wonder that Mormons have a higher activity rate than Jews do? I am often told that Judaism is not just a religion, and that there are many different ways to be Jewish. Indeed, atheists are fully accepted as Jews (a concept that I will never understand), and a whole Jewish movement – Humanistic Judaism – offers up Judaism without God. I have no opinion on how many authentic ways there are to be Jewish, but I am glad that the Pew survey gives the lie to the idea that other well-trod paths to Judaism – being a kind person, being politically progressive, manning soup kitchens – ultimately have the conversion power of sacrificing one’s time and talents for religious purposes. Unsurprisingly, the one group in the Pew survey that remained solidly committed to Judaism is the Orthodox movement, which places the most expectations on its members and does not seek substitutes for traditional expressions of Judaism. May their tribe increase.
A point that I have made on this blog several times bears repeating: A religion that truly believes it has something to offer to its members will actively seek converts. I’ve had countless discussions with committed Jews about why Jews no longer proselytize (centuries ago Jews were the most active missionaries on the planet), and no explanation that I’ve heard can counter the perception that many twentysomething Jews likely share of their faith: If Judaism really is so special, then Jews would be actively trying to get others to become Jews. The biggest inroads on this front that I’ve seen involve rabbis who ask their congregants to invite unaffiliated folks to consider Judaism. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough. Why not ask baptized, church-going Catholics to consider a visit to the mikvah? If Jews don’t ask active Catholics to convert, then one could be forgiven the assumption that Jews feel that their faith has nothing more to offer people than Catholicism does. If that’s true, then why be Jewish? Moreover, why not marry a Catholic? As long as Jews assert that theirs is a non-proselytizing faith, they will lose in the religious marketplace of ideas.
I would like nothing more than to see the nation’s Jewish population increase in both numbers and commitment, but right now the only expectations I see being placed on the rising generation of Jews are to marry a Jew, remember the Holocaust, and resist conversion to Christianity. Unless additional responsibilities are placed on them, and unless Judaism asserts that it has a great deal to offer by actively seeking converts from other faiths, I don’t see how the non-Orthodox Jewish movements will ever thrive and prosper. I hope that my words are not prophetic, but I fear that they may be.
October 18, 2013 | 11:26 pm
Posted by Mark Paredes
In my last post, I mentioned that LDS friends of ours who had just had a boy were planning to hold a bris for him that would be conducted by a Jewish mohel. In response, I received a few inquiries from Jews who were curious as to why Mormons would want to hold a Jewish circumcision ceremony for their son. Brian was kind enough to respond to my written request for an explanation, and I have printed his (slighty edited) comments below. Brian and his lovely wife Christina are both attorneys, and his father is a Jewish convert to the LDS Church.
The one comment that I have added to Brian’s response is indicated by brackets [ ].
Thank you for these questions, Bishop Paredes. I gave a summary of my reasoning during the Brit Milah, which most who attended appreciated. I apologize for the length of the following discourse, but I feel it appropriate to fully explicate the subject in response to your inquiry.
Before I begin, I recognize that there may be some who feel that I am improperly appropriating the traditions and rituals of a different faith, and I recognize the validity of some of their arguments. Nevertheless, the mohel and those who attended my services, including quite a few Jewish and non-Jewish relatives and friends, felt that the ceremony was respectful, appropriate, and justified.
As we know from Torah, God made a covenant with Abraham:
And when Abram was ninety years old and nine, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said unto him, I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect. And I will give unto thee, and to thy seed after thee, the land wherein thou art a stranger, all the land of Canaan , for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God. And God said unto Abraham, Thou shalt keep my covenant therefore, thou, and thy seed after thee in their generations.
And I will make thee exceedingly fruitful, and I will make nations come out of thee, and kings shall come of thee, and of thy seed.
And this shall be my covenant which ye shall keep between me and thee and thy seed after thee; every man child among you shall be circumcised. And ye shall circumcise the flesh of
your foreskin; and it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt me and you. And he that is eight days old shall be circumcised among you, every man child in your generations; He that is born in the house, or bought with the money of any stranger, which is not of thy seed.
(Excerpts from what we refer to as Genesis chapter 17, inspired version).
We refer to this as the Abrahamic covenant. The covenant is that we (meaning Abraham and all of his generations) will take the Lord to be our one and only god, that we will keep the covenant, and he give us eternal increase and seal us to our generations forever (more on this later). The important characteristics of this covenant include that it is (1) between Abraham and his descendants and (2) everlasting. Note that circumcision itself is not the Abrahamic covenant; circumcision is the token or sign of the covenant. Accordingly, the covenant could exist without the token or with a different token or sign. Note, too, that those entering into the covenant undertake to circumcise not just their own seed but all male children within their household.
Jesus the Christ came in the meridian of time, and he declared the Gospel to the Jews because, as the chosen people, they had the right to hear the Gospel of salvation first. But Christ then sent his disciples among all nations. After his ascension, God revealed to Peter in a dramatic revelation (recorded in Acts 10) that the Gospel should be preached to all, and all could receive it and be accepted, whether circumcised Jew or uncircumcised gentile. Accordingly, the doctrine of the LDS Church (and most Christian faiths ) is that it is not necessary to be circumcised to receive the Gospel and salvation.
But allow me to make a lawyerly point. Even though the revelation that God gave to Peter made clear that it was not necessary for non-Jews to adhere to the law of Moses or other Jewish ordinances in order to receive the benefits of the Gospel, it did not erase the separateness of the Jewish nation. In fact, it is a point of doctrine in the LDS Church that Israel is and should remain a separate and peculiar people unto the Lord. See Article of Faith 10. Therefore, those who are Jews remain Jews, and those who are gentiles remain gentiles. Even Jews who accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ remain Jews. [Note from blogger to Jewish readers: While Brian and many other Mormons of Jewish descent believe this, most Mormons do not make this distinction among members of their church, believing instead that Galatians 3:28 – there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ -- is the controlling doctrinal principle.]
I acknowledge that this statement may draw some fire, but consider the following. One cannot change lineage, and the orthodox definition among Jews themselves is that matriarchal lineage is determinative. I find it odd (but consistent) that a number of my friends who are agnostics or even avowed atheists are accepted as Jews.
When faced with the question of whether to circumcise my son I had to ask myself whether I was accepting the Gospel as an uncircumcised Gentile or as a circumcised Jew. Although I identify as Jewish culturally, I recognize that I am not Jewish according to the orthodox definition. My father is Jewish (both of his parents were Jewish), but my mother is not as far as I know.
My patriarchal blessing, however, identifies me as a member of the tribe of Judah. For those who are not familiar with patriarchal blessings, suffice to say that they are personal revelation given to each church member that identifies, among other things, lineage and responsibilities in the Kingdom of God. I was told that I was a member of the tribe of Judah, a lineage rarely declared in a patriarchal blessing. Although I recognize that Jews would not accept this as indicative of my being Jewish, I feel that I am Jewish and have special responsibilities and blessings in the Kingdom of God.
But even setting my own feelings on the matter aside, suppose that I am a gentile (albeit a circumcised one) and I accept the Gospel as such. The inquiry does not end there.
Did I or my son still have need to be circumcised for another reason? Quite clearly the answer is yes. We are part of my father's household (In fact, we are literally moving back into my father's house in a few weeks). My father, who is Jewish, is required by covenant to circumcise all males in his household, whether of his seed or not; that injunction certainly includes his arguably non-Jewish son and grandson. Therefore, to honor my father's obligation and bring to remembrance his grandfather's heritage and the covenants he is bound by, I had my son circumcised. It was my father's obligation to do so, and I honored him in doing it.
I will send my son to Hebrew school when he is a young man to learn the traditions of his grandfather. I want him to have an understanding of that part of the legacy he was born with. He will be bar mitzvah if he so chooses and if we find a synagogue who understands and accepts that we value learning, family, heritage, remembrance, tolerance, peace, Torah, and mitzvoh. His middle name is Brandeis, after Justice Luis Brandeis, the first Jewish justice on the United States Supreme Court and a tremendous servant of the people who accomplished so much good with his learning.
Other questions: Why would I use a mohel? If ever there was a situation that required the steady hands of an experienced specialist, this is it. I got a mohel who was not only a mohel, he is a practicing urologist. The royal of family of Great Britain use a Jewish mohel to circumcise their sons, so why shouldn't I? Why have a brit milah rather than just have it done at the hospital? To honor my father, to gather and celebrate the goodness of God with family and friends, and to continue a pattern and tradition in my family.
One last observation: Brothers and sisters (and I mean that quite literally), the Abrahamic covenant is still in effect. God said, after all, that this was an everlasting covenant for all of our generations. Circumcision is the token of that covenant among the Jews and many others, including Muslims. You cannot deny that there are many, many peoples and nations descended from Abraham who are non-Jews. The Abrahamic covenant today is found in the Holy Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The token or signs may be different, but the covenant is the same. We, like the Jews in the time of Solomon, have a Holy Temple . Today, we go to the Temple where we enter into the Abrahamic covenant and are sealed forever with our generations, both those that came before and those that come after. In fact, we refer to children born into a household with parents sealed in the temple as “children born under the covenant.” They are sealed together with their parents forever.
I hope that this clarifies my reasoning for having my son circumcised and why I felt it justified, rational, and appropriate. Although I seek not to offend, I know that some people would take the position that I am improperly appropriating a Jewish tradition. I have to do what I know is right in my heart and as reasoned above. I believe very strongly that we worship the same God, and that while God is rightfully a jealous God, it is inappropriate for us to be jealous of others who also choose to worship the one true God. I hope that any who take offense will reconsider in light of that which is set forth above, particularly the need for my son to be circumcised as part of my father's household. God is wonderful and good to those who love Him. He has blessed me and my family with a son, and I will return my love for God by ensuring that my son is well loved and educated in the traditions of his fathers.
October 13, 2013 | 11:28 pm
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.
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.