Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
A Roman Catholic newspaper has reported the Malaysian government has reversed its decision to ban the publication over its use of the word Allah, easing tensions that had strained racial harmony in the multiethnic country.
In a surprising turnabout, the government renewed The Herald weeklyâs 2008 permit without any conditions, said its editor Rev. Lawrence Andrew. Internal security officials declined to comment. All publications in Malaysia require a government permit, which is renewed annually.
The government had said that Allah, an Arabic word for God, can only be used by Muslims. Officials feared that using Allah in Christian literature would confuse the Malays and draw them to Christianity.
Malaysian Christians said that Allah that was used by Christians before Islam was established. Even in Malaysia, Malay-speaking Christians have used the word Allah for generations. Allah also means God in Bahasa Melayu, the language of Malays.
Though Muslims, Christians and Jews all worship the God of Abraham, there are clearly differences in how members of those faiths understand Him, which I would say actually means they believe in different representations of the same One God. Other amateur theologians argue that members of the Abrahamic faiths believe in a different Creator. Assuming the former is true, should Christians call God “Allah?”
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January 8, 2008 | 10:09 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Those who came to Oba Ernesto Pichardo’s fall semester course at Florida International University’s Biscayne Bay campus expecting chicken heads, seashells and drum circles probably left disappointed.
The controversial, charismatic and enterprising Pichardo, a Yoruba priest and the country’s leading expert on Santeria, spent hours talking about the transatlantic slave trade, paraded in cultural anthropology professors and expected both Powerpoint presentations and 12-page research papers at semester’s end.
It was a different side of a man best known for having spent the last few decades fighting lawmakers and Santeria detractors. His most notorious tussle: with the city of Hialeah over sanctioning animal sacrifices in religious ceremonies. He won, earning the U.S. Supreme Court’s blessing.
He also won over his sixteen undergraduate students this year. The class included several religious studies majors, a Peruvian-American Broward school teacher, a 61-year-old auditor and a grandfather-grandson duo. Many of them came to get in touch with their Afro-Caribbean roots.
Four months ago he concluded FIU’s first three-credit Santeria class, with a grand prediction: ``You are making history here today.’‘
‘‘This is not some fringe movement,’’ Pichardo told his students. ``If you can get a Ph.D. in Judaism or Christianity, you should at least be able to take a course in Santeria.’‘
Santeria is not a religion I suspect many Americans are familiar with. The only place most people my age have probably even heard that word was on KROQ about 10 years ago. I don’t think the above article from the Miami Herald does much to explain the belief practices associated with it either. It’s roots lie in the Yoruba people of Nigeria, and the most controversial element is that of animal sacrifice. I find more interesting the Santeria understanding of God and of good and evil.
The Yoruba believe in a creator who is called Olofi (god). There is no specific belief in a devil since the Yoruba belief system is not a dualistic philosophy â good versus evil, God versus a devil. Instead the universe is seen as containing forces of expansion and forces of contraction. These forces interact in complex ways to create the universe. All things are seen to have positive aspects, or IrÃ©, and negative aspects, or Ibi. Nothing is seen as completely good or completely evil but all things are seen as having different proportions of both. Similarly no action is seen as universally as wrong or right, but rather can only be judged with the context and circumstances in which it takes place.
I mentioned this summer that Santeria is a popular religion among Major League Baseball’s Latin American players, though few are willing to talk about it.
(Hat tip: GetReligion)
January 8, 2008 | 12:11 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
German Jews who survived in Germany, or in exile, had a deeply ambivalent relationship with their homeland. Apart from guiltâthat they had survived, and even stayed in the killers’ countryâmany felt an almost physical revulsion when they came into close contact with Germans. So they retreated to live in yet another form of ghetto.
By the time the Berlin Wall fell, Germany’s Jewish community had only 30,000 ageing members and was dwindling rapidly. Today it is the third-largest, and the fastest-growing, Jewish population in western Europe, after France and Britain. Between 1991, when the country was unified and immigration rules relaxed, and 2005, more than 200,000 Jews from the former Soviet Union emigrated to Germany. (At the same time, more than a million emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel and about 350,000 to America, leaving only about 800,000 behind.) In some parts of Germany, immigrantsâusually referred to as âthe Russiansââmake up 90% of the local Jewish population.
A few of the so-called established Jewsâthose who lived in Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wallâare enthusiastic about the new arrivals. Hermann Simon, director of the Centrum Judaicum, a museum and research centre in Berlin, was born in 1949 of German parents, and grew up in East Berlin. He says that without the immigration of Russian Jews, the future for Germany’s Jews would be dark.
Yet most established Jews disagree. The dapper Mr Schoeps, now director of the Moses-Mendelssohn Centre for European-Jewish Studies in Potsdam, near Berlin, argues that Germany’s old Jewish heritage is gone. Its so-called âmemory landscapeââmemorial sites, commemorative plaques, cultural centres and museumsâis now being guarded by gentiles who are merely interested in things Jewish; the sort of people who crowd to the Chanukkah market at Berlin’s Jewish Museum to sample latkes and sufganiot (doughnuts) and to sip kosher mulled wine.
As for the immigrants from the former Soviet Union, most neither know nor care about Jewish rituals and traditions. Few of the newcomers keep a kosher home. Many men are not circumcised. When they arrive in Germany, they focus on the practicalities of lifeâjobs, flats, social security and health insurance. They play chess rather than Skat, a popular card game in Germany. Their cultural icons are Dostoyevsky and Tchaikovsky, not Goethe and Beethoven, let alone Mendelssohn or Heine, who were German Jews.
Established Jews find the newcomers anders (different from us), suspect that they are not ârealâ Jews and think they are mainly coming in search of prosperity and material help from the state and the community. âThey take whatever they can get,â sniffs one.
It’s not so much eerie as it is reinforcing how familiar this story is. Immigrant Jews have often been at odds with their more refined second- and third-generation co-religionists. In fact, Stanley Gold, the new chair of the Jewish Federation of Greater LA, told me his father was born in El Paso because his grandfather had been forced to immigrate through a port in Texas by New York’s German Jews, those elite publishers and bankers with names like Schiff and Sulzberger (though not necessarily those men), who had succeeded in redirecting Yiddish-speaking Hebrews from Central and Eastern Europe.
Here in Los Angeles, there has certainly been a delay, if unintentional, in breaking down the barriers between the former Soviet Jews and the more-established Jewish community. Not to mention the overdue acceptance of tens of thousands of Persian Jews.
(Hat tip: Bintel Blog)
January 7, 2008 | 4:14 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I’m been receiving e-mails from Daryl Toor since last week promoting a new book, at first ambiguously, that he says will do to presidential candidate Mitt Romney what the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth did to Sen. John Kerry in his unsuccessful 2004 run for the Executive Office.
This exciting new book—Mitt, Set Our People Free!—published by Revelation Press, reveals just how Mitt Romney’s sacred oath to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, known as the Mormons or the LDS—including a vow of obedience to the “Living Prophet,” the President of the LDS Church—will impact his ability to govern as President of the United States.
Jesus said that man cannot serve two masters—but if Romney is elected President, he will have to serve two conflicting oaths. American Presidents swear an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. However, this Presidential Oath is in direct conflict with Romney’s sacred oath to his Mormon Church—a blood oath which puts Romney’s life, fortune and obedience at the unrestricted service of his Church. This obedience is defined by the Church’s Living Prophet, the President of the Mormon Church and—as they believe—the literal Voice of God on earth.
According to author Mike Moody, “One of the LDS Church’s basic tenets is a prophecy from founder and First Prophet Joseph Smith that in the latter days, the U.S. Constitution will ‘hang by a thread as fine as silk fiber’ until a Mormon leader rides in on his White Horse to save the U.S. and the Constitution—then use his control of the United States to set up a world-wide theocracy, one based on the clearly unorthodox beliefs of the Church of Latter Day Saints.”
Author Mike Moody, himself a 7th Generation Mormon from a family of Church-founding patriarchs - men who served Joseph Smith and Brigham Young as they created this remarkable “church”—uses his both insider knowledge of the LDS Church and his long-time personal ties to his one-time college fraternity brother, Mitt Romney, to point out the essential conflict between Romney’s sacred Oath to the Church and the oath he seeks to take as President.
Moody also details—chapter and verse—the many compromises and less-than-candid and frequently inconsistent positions Romney has taken to bring himself from successful venture capitalist to one of the leading contenders for the Republican nomination for Presidency.
For all the talk about dirty tricks this season, one of the more questionable (and curious) came at a news conference Monday far from the campaign trail. At a news conference at the sleepy National Press Club in Washington, a no-name college classmate of Mitt Romney hawked his “open letter” to Romney titled “Mitt, Set Our People Free!”
A lapsed Mormon, Michael Moody mocked his former religion (in very nasty terms) and declared Romney unfit for the presidency because of what he sees as the Mormon former Massachusetts governor’s biggest conflict: his “blood oath” to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
And then came the “C” word: “The great American cult,” Moody said, characterizing the religion founded by Joseph Smith, a prophet to Mormons.
“Many of you are from the East Coast and you don’t know a lot about Mormonism,” Moody said to the roomful of about a dozen reporters and four photographers who clearly had nothing better to do, what with 75 percent of their colleagues from the Fourth Estate (truly a “C” word organization) in New Hampshire to cover Tuesday’s primary.
So, even as he went on and on (and on) trampling the tenets of Mormonism, Moody omitted references (too obscure for his East Coast audience) to the angel Moroni, who led Smith, the prophet, to a set of golden plates in 1827 written in an unknown language—and then to the seer-stones Urim and Thummim, which translated the ancient language to the epic Book of Mormon.
Instead, Moody spoke in more dumbed-down terms of how Mormons are beholden to living prophets, such as Gordon Hinckley, who can tip them off to the Second Coming. “The Mormon prophet—he is the man,” Moody said, adding that “they”—the Mormons—are “waiting for Hinckley to tell ‘em: ‘Let’s go to Missouri and knock it off with an Osmond concert and build the new Jerusalem.”
The seemingly embittered former Mormon claims he and Romney were members of the Cougar Club together at Brigham Young University, where he saw Romney give the valedictorian speech at their 1971 graduation ceremony. There was “great buzz” on campus about young Mitt one day running for president, he said. Romney’s view, he claims, was “If not me, then who?”
One of his main problems with Romney becoming president is that Romney, if he follows the teachings of his faith, “believes he’s going to become a God some day.”
Don’t worry about this book making much of an impact. I can’t find it online. And who’s ever heard of Revelation Press?
January 7, 2008 | 2:52 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
In the office of Jonathan Tobin, top editor of Philadelphia’s weekly Jewish Exponent newspaper, hangs a portrait of Vladimir Jabotinsky (1880-1940), the Zionist leader who urged Jews to arm themselves against future attacks, then founded the Irgun militia.
In the office of J.J. Goldberg, editorial director of the Forward - the English-language spin-off of the Jewish Daily Forward, the Yiddish paper that taught Jewish immigrants how to be Americans - hangs a portrait of founding editor Abraham Cahan (1860-1951), a Russian Jewish socialist who evolved toward liberalism.
The opposed visuals confirm that history counts for a lot at these two vibrant, yet different, survivors of Jewish newspapering in America.
Tired of all the kvetching about crises in the newspaper biz? Here’s some good news: Jewish newspapering remains alive and well.
Indeed. But this piece from the Philly Inquirer, which in focusing on The Forward and Exponent discusses a brief history of Jewish newspapering, completely fails to mention anything west of Chicago. Last time I checked, LA Jewry claims the second largest community in the country and one of the largest weeklies. Not that I am biased or anything. But back to the Inquirer‘s report.
Robert Singerman, a University of Florida scholar whose “Jewish Press” article in Jewish-American History and Culture: An Encyclopedia surveys the field, writes that “approximately 2,500 dailies, weeklies, monthlies, quarterlies, bulletins and annual reports . . . have been published in most of the 50 states.”
The oldest continuously published Jewish paper in the United States is Cincinnati’s American Israelite, founded in 1854. Philadelphia papers have included Isaac Leeser’s Occident and American Jewish Advocate (1843-69).
Singerman also reflects on some standard criticisms of the weekly Jewish American press, referred to as “weaklies” by nonadmirers. He notes that many papers “rely almost exclusively” on copy from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (“the AP of Jewish journalism,” says Tobin) for nonlocal Jewish news.
Singerman observes that “more often than not, local ‘news’ is a bland potpourri of self-congratulatory press releases prepared by institutional public relations specialists.” Some weeklies, he warns, “become subjugated to the local Jewish federation’s fund-raising.”
That last line is a reason I was much more comfortable joining The Jewish Journal, which broke away from Federation funding a few years back. And we might not have a huge staff or fleet of foreign correspondents—though we have a few of each—but I think we get along pretty respectably. Correct me or congratulate my colleagues.
January 7, 2008 | 1:15 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Having opened her heart to all of us for the past 15 years, Loeb will be giving Forward readers a chance to open up to her. In January, she will be serving as our guest Bintel Brief advice columnist.
Are you wondering how you can achieve your artistic ambitions? Do you have a dating dilemma? Could you use a little advice? Send your questions for the Bintel Brief to email@example.com. Questions selected for publication are printed anonymously.
Maybe The God Blog could use an advice columnist. Does anyone know if Amy Winehouse is available?
January 7, 2008 | 8:14 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Taken apart, each story is an interesting look at people other than Episcopalians struggling to marry their religious identity with their sexuality. Juxtaposed, however, the stories show the differences—and similarities—between being gay in an open society and a religiously violent one. From the Gayhane club in Germany:
European Muslims, so often portrayed one-dimensionally as rioters, honor killers or terrorists, live diverse lives, most of them trying to get by and to have a good time. That is more difficult if one is both Muslim and gay.
âWhen youâre here, itâs as if youâre putting on a mask, leaving the everyday outside and just having fun,â said a 22-year-old Turkish man who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear that he would be ostracized or worse if his family found out about his sexual orientation.
Safety and secrecy come up regularly when talking to guests, who laugh and dance, but also frequently look over their shoulders. To be a gay man or lesbian with an immigrant background invites trouble here in two very different ways.
âDepending on which part of Berlin I go to, in one I get punched in the mouth because Iâm a foreigner and in the other because Iâm a queen,â said Fatma Souad, the eventâs organizer and master of ceremonies.
That photo is of Souad, who looks a lot like Andy Dick.
January 5, 2008 | 1:53 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I was on Pittsburgh WORD FM‘s John and Stephanie Show on Wednesday offering my opinion on the top 10 religion stories of 2007, which I have pasted at the bottom of this post. These stories, ranging from the swearing in of the first federally elected American Muslim elected to Mother Theresa’s lifelong struggles with God, were certainly significant. But they weren’t my favorite stories. These were:
1. Shabbat in Sderot beneath a canopy of Qassams
2. Nebraska senator sues God3. Israeli neo-Nazis
4. Michael Vick, Paris, Britney â and Jesus
5. Tommy Thompsonâs âJews and Moneyâ comment
6. Evel Knievel born again and again
7. Kevin Everett walks
Top 10 stories of 2007
1. Annapolis conference and everything surrounding it â Hamasistan, Orthodox Jews denouncing Olmert and Avraham Burgâs apostasy
2. Religion on the presidential campaign trail â Democrats find religion, Huckabee trumpets his and Romney downplays it3. Mother Theresaâs dark nights4. Popularity of atheist books5. Anglican schism6. South Korean missionary hostages and murdered Bible sellers in Turkey and Gaza
7. Passing of Christian Right leaders Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy, and of the oddball Original Jew
8. Rev. Al Mohlerâs gay comment
9. Mr. Ellison goes to Washington
10. Double lashings for Saudi gang rape victim