Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
After a brief interlude, we now return to our regularly scheduled program of Pat Robertson saying crazy things. The televangelist thinks that the the Broncos would be due for an injury to Peyton Manning—that’s the cost of giving up on Tim Tebow.
“And you just ask yourself, OK, so Peyton Manning was a tremendous MVP quarterback, but he’s been injured. If that injury comes back, Denver will find itself without a quarterback. And in my opinion, it would serve them right,” he said.
Now, that isn’t the “bounty” on Manning that some are claiming. But it does sound like Robertson, who probably doesn’t believe in karma, thinks that the Broncos have angered God by trading Tebow.
As often is the case after Robertson speaks about things that he isn’t really qualified to talk about, CBN issued a statement clarifying what the “700 Club” host meant. Via USA Today:
Dr. Robertson is in no way advocating an injury to Peyton Manning, who he regards as a “tremendous MVP quarterback.” Dr. Robertson was making a point that discarding Tim Tebow and bringing in a quarterback who was out almost an entire season with a serious injury, and considering the unknown long-term effects of this injury, could be a huge mistake for the Broncos should Manning become injured again.
That’s actually a believable explanation. But I still don’t know that anyone cares about Pat Robertson’s GM wisdom.
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March 23, 2012 | 12:35 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
I doubt Rick Santorum ever had much Jewish support for his GOP presidential bid. (Despite what you may have heard, Republican Jews do exist.) Santorum is just way too much of a social conservative for even Republican Jews. But whatever Jewish support Santorum had, he’s sure to lose some of it over this report from Politico:
In 2010, Rick Santorum was paid to speak to a controversial religious group unpopular with some Jewish leaders because it seeks to convince Jews to accept Jesus.
The Messianic Jewish Alliance of America paid Santorum $6,000 to speak at its 2010 annual conference, according to a filing released Wednesday showing a total of nearly $95,000 in speaking fees that Santorum previously failed to disclose.
Joel Chernoff, CEO of the Messianic Jewish Alliance, said “Israel could not have a better friend than” Santorum, an observant Catholic whose speech to the group dealt with the threat of Islamic extremism. Chernoff said he personally supports Santorum, “and I think most Messianic Jews would probably say that,” though he conceded Santorum’s passing affiliation with his group “could be a factor” with traditional Jewish voters.
While Republican Jews certainly like to hear that Santorum is a good friend of Israel, that detail is heavily discounted by the speaker’s affiliation. I came across few things in my time as a full-time reporter at The Jewish Journal that members from across the spectrum of Jewish identity are as uniformly opposed to as Messianic Judaism. And I was always very clear that I was a Christian of Jewish roots—not a Messianic Jew.
Messianic Jews are Christians who observe Jewish customs. Some have Jewish ancestors, but many are just drawn to the Old Testament tradition. Church is a synagogue and their pastors go by “rabbi.” Around Christmas, you can find them eating latkes and other Chanukah treats. The most notable of the bunch is Jews for Jesus, which, quite comically reached out to me after I joined The Jewish Journal. I think they thought that they had a mole inside the tower walls.
The problem for Santorum is that many, if not most, Jews think that Messianic Judaism is a fraud—it’s a trap for converting Jews to Christianity by convincing them that they can still be Jewish as long as they believe Christian. Look no further than the controversy that Sarah Palin stepped into in 2008.
At the same time, I wonder how discriminating politicians really are when it comes to accepting speaking gigs. Does’t this just come with the turf? It seems to say more about what the hosting organization thinks of the politicians politics than it does about whether the politician supports the organization’s mission.
March 23, 2012 | 12:10 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Monroe L. Beachy pleaded guilty last week to defrauding more than 2,700 individuals and organizations to the tune of almost $17 million. He’s looking at up to 20 years in prison.
Beachy was a prominent member of the Plain Community in Ohio’s Amish country. While his investment fraud was a Ponzi scheme, like Madoff’s, The New York Times reported that it looked nothing like the house of cards that was Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities:
While victims of Mr. Madoff’s fraud, like most Ponzi victims, condemned their accused betrayer in court as a monster, many of Mr. Beachy’s investors have said in court that it is more important to forgive him than to recover their money.
While the Madoff case and others like it have inevitably created conflict between longtime investors fighting to keep their fictional profits and more recent investors trying to recover lost principal, some Beachy investors urged that their own share of his estate should be given to those in greater need.
And while Mr. Madoff’s wife and sons instantly became social pariahs in Manhattan, Mr. Beachy’s wife and children remain at his farmstead here, living peacefully with their neighbors.
Why the different treatment? The distinction can’t be only that Beachy was a leader in his community—Madoff was too. There seems to be a religious motivation behind the Amish reaction, but the NYT doesn’t explore it.
As a religion reporter in Southern California, I didn’t have much opportunity to report on the Amish. Los Angeles has the bright lights; the Amish eschew electricity. So I lack significant knowledge on the topic, but my sense is that forgiveness is central to Amish religious practice, maybe even more so than it is in Christian theology.
Think back to the 2006 Amish school shooting. The community response was not condemnation and retributive justice but forgiveness—and fast. As recounted in “Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy”:
What we learn from the Amish, both at Nickel Mines and more generally, is that how we choose to move on from tragic injustice is culturally formed. For the Amish, who bring their own religious resources to bear on injustice, the preferred way to live on with meaning and hope is to offer forgiveness — and offer it quickly. That offer, including the willingness to forgo vengeance, does not undo the tragedy or pardon the wrong. It does, however, constitute a first step toward a future that is more hopeful, and potentially less violent, than it would otherwise be.
Forgiveness doesn’t mean that Beachy’s swindle didn’t cripple his community just like Madoff’s did. But, it seems, the Amish believe that the damage would be even greater if they didn’t quickly forgive Beachy and try to move on.
March 22, 2012 | 9:48 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
It’s the news that many Jews were fearing since they heard that a gunmen had murdered four people at a Jewish school in France: The gunman targeted them because they were Jewish.
The deaths were tragic and immediately shook Jews across the Diaspora, not just those in France, when they seemed random. For LA Jews, the scene evoked painful memories of the North Valley JCC shooting in 1999. But the fact that the gunman wasn’t just some sadist who got off on murdering humans but was in it for the Jewish targets, that touched a deep nerve for a historically persecuted people.
Mohammed Merah, the self-proclaimed killer, jumped to his death today after a long standoff with police. JTA reports on the motives of the al Qaeda wannabe:
According to Gueant, Merah told French police he killed the Jewish students at the Ozar Hatorah school in revenge for Palestinian children killed in Gaza, and had killed three French soldiers for serving in Afghanistan. Police found videos he took of the killings with a camera hung around his neck, according to reports.
A top Homeland Security official briefed American Jewish school leaders Wednesday on ways to improve school security and assured them:
“There is no imminent or specific threat regarding the American Jewish community,” he said. “We will remain concerned about the lone wolf and those that are acting independent of organized groups.”
But many Jews are still unsettled, as is understandably often the case after a prominent anti-Semitic attack. And with Merah being categorized as part of a new cadre of terrorists—the “al Qaeda-inspired lone wolves”—I’m not sure that everyone is comforted by the knowledge that Homeland Security knows of no “imminent or specific threat.” I think that the chief concern is the unpredictability of the attacks.
The inability to be on guard that follows from such indefiniteness is probably particularly difficult for Jews, who, after all, are no strangers to feelings of an ever-present threat to their existence.
March 22, 2012 | 3:21 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Everyone is familiar with an insurance company refusing to pay a claim. But what do you do when your post-Rapture pet insurance falls through?
There was a story going around last year about Bart Centre’s Eternal Earth-Bound Pets rescue. In a story that was just too easy for many media outlets to re-report, Centre claimed to have made at least $35,000 by taking on about 260 clients. After, the Mayan apocalypse was approaching, and that was if we survived beyond Harold Camping’s predicted end of the world.
No word on After the Rapture Pet Care’s BBB rating. But it turns out that Centre’s Eternal Earth-Bound Pets was nothing but a fabrication. A big hoax that fooled a lot of reputable media outlets (see, for example, here and here and here and here).
Religion News Service has the story:
Bart Centre, who lives in New Hampshire, came clean after the state Insurance Department delivered a subpoena because he appeared to be engaged in “unauthorized business of insurance” through his Eternal Earth-Bound Pets business.
“Eternal Earth-Bound Pets employs no paid rescuers,” Bart Centre wrote in a blog post on March 16. “It has no clients. It has never issued a service certificate. It has accepted no service contract applications nor received any payments—not a single dollar—in the almost three years of its existence.”
Centre’s business was reported widely by Religion News Service, NPR, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, CBS News, the BBC, Bloomberg Businessweek, The Huffington Post and other media outlets in the past year.
I can’t believe anyone was surprised that Centre’s business was not real. The truly shocking thing is that no one really did the diligence to smoke out this phony in the first place. How, without actually talking with a single client, did NPR originally report this “story”?
Right now Eternal Earth-Bound Pets has contracts with 259 clients — that means roughly $35,000 in contracts — and is set to rescue dogs, cats, a cockatoo and even a horse in Montana in the event of the Rapture.
Centre assures potential clients that his staff will still be on Earth after doomsday by testing employees to confirm that they are Atheists. How does he do that? Well, he just asks them to commit blasphemy.
“They are all very willing to do that. And that confirms that even in the absurdly remote chance that we are wrong and the believers are right, our rescuers are going nowhere.”
It seems like someone cut a few corners on this story. Even worse is how this story was re-reported by numerous media outlets without anyone raising the authenticity question. How was it that no one had their BS radar working well enough to detect this hoax?
(Hat tip: Sarah Pulliam Bailey)
March 21, 2012 | 10:10 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Well, I was wrong. I don’t mind admitting when I am, but I don’t particularly like feeling this bad about it.
Like many, I didn’t believe that Invisible Children co-founder Jason Russell was just suffering from “exhaustion, dehydration and malnutrition” last week when he was hospitalized after some really bizarre behavior in Pacific Beach. Moreover, I was surprised to see Invisible Children and many of my friends, several of whom have worked for Invisible Children or are close with the early staff, stand by Russell. In a different context, I thought, this guy would be looking for a new job.
But then news came out today that Russell had suffered from a “reactive psychosis”—and acute reaction to all the sleep he had lost and stress he had endured after “KONY 2012” went viral and every cable news and network morning show wanted him on air. This gibes with what Ford Vox wrote at The Atlantic over the weekend. Vox, a brain injury physician and journalist, wrote:
Based on my read of the reporting out Friday and after viewing TMZ’s video—and this is only one brain injury physician’s reading—it is highly unlikely that Jason Russell’s behaviors in the streets of San Diego on Thursday March 15th were intentional. It is much more likely that he was experiencing a psychotic episode—a manic state—an event as recognizable to some clinicians as a heart attack. There are many possible endogenous or exogenous causes for such behaviors beyond a “purely” mental illness such as Bipolar Disorder (antibodies to certain regions of the brain, for example, or LSD), and these will have to be ruled out by Russell’s doctors. Depending on his medical and psychological history and any other symptoms he may be exhibiting, numerous lab tests and studies could be necessary to determine his diagnosis and treatment.
Now Russell’s family has said the same. The AP reports:
Russell’s family said that the filmmaker’s behavior was not due to drugs or alcohol. He was given a preliminary diagnosis of brief reactive psychosis, in which a person displays sudden psychotic behavior.
“Doctors say this is a common experience given the great mental, emotional and physical shock his body has gone through in these last two weeks. Even for us, it’s hard to understand the sudden transition from relative anonymity to worldwide attention — both raves and ridicules, in a matter of days,” Danica Russell said in a statement.
Researchers don’t know how many people suffer from the condition, mainly because symptoms are fleeting, but those with personality disorders are at greater risk for having an episode. Brief reactive psychosis is triggered by trauma or major stress such as an accident or death of a loved one. Other stressors can include sleep deprivation or dehydration.
I mention this now because Russell’s sickness, for which he will spend several weeks in the hospital, raises very interesting questions about how organizations should respond to leaders who appear troubled.
The world saw Russell as nuts. In what has been a sadly polarized treatment of the Invisible Children cause, many seemed to cheerlead Russell’s personal and very public breakdown. And Twitter ran wild with wholly offensive mockeries of Russell and the cause that Invisible Children has been fighting for. Inside the walls, though, I saw friends and longtime supporters of Invisible Children standing by Russell and simply asking people to pray for him and for the future of Invisible Children and its efforts in Africa.
I was somewhere between. I had the sense that news reports had a lot of gaps and were overplaying the sensational allegations. (For example, Slate originally ran the headline “KONY 2012 Filmmaker Arrested for Public Masturbation”—which they later corrected because Russell wasn’t arrested; the masturbation detail, which never seemed believable, has disappeared from more recent news stories, and I suspect that it’s because it didn’t happen.
I had my own theories, and they revolved around too much alcohol interacting with too little sleep and hydration, and maybe a weak stomach.
All the while I wondered how so many could stand by Russell even if his behavior had hurt the organization they support. Vox’s article was the first to make me think about an alternative understanding of the situation.
I strongly suspect that the supportive reaction to Russell had something to do with the religious perspective shared by many Invisible Children supporters. As I’ve mentioned before, Invisible Children comes from a very Christian place. They’ve gone out of their way to not be perceived as a Christian ministry, but the people involved, and particularly the leadership, are largely from an evangelical Christian background. And I wonder how much that affected the reaction to Russell’s hospitalization.
Maybe it isn’t something limited to Invisible Children’s Christian roots—maybe it’s the religious roots and the culture of compassion that run through the group. Maybe the same would be seen at any number of non-sectarian nonprofits trying to heal the world from a religious place.
I certainly can’t imagine the same reaction if Russell’s employer was a school board or notable local business. Or a celebrity? No way. But, in hindsight, it seems like the loving reaction, the supportive, embrace, was the correct one.
I’m hopeful for Russell’s speedy and complete recovery—and interested to see how he uses his very public breakdown, on the heels of the biggest week since organization had seen, to tell a different story and maybe address another cause.
March 21, 2012 | 12:08 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Moshe Zigelman, the Spinka rabbi sentenced to 24 months in 2009 for his role in a tax fraud, has been ordered back to the clink. This time it’s for contempt of court: Zigelman has refused to testify against fellow Jews before a grand jury further investigating the tax fraud scheme.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
Citing an ancient Jewish principle, Zigelman refused to testify, telling a federal judge forcefully during a contempt hearing through a Yiddish interpreter: “Because the transgression of mesira is so dire, my mind won’t change until I die.”
In December, in an order that was sealed because grand jury matters are confidential, U.S. District Court Judge Margaret M. Morrow held the rabbi in civil contempt.
Zigelman’s attorneys, who have maintained that no amount of earthly sanctions will compel the rabbi to change his steadfast beliefs and that his 1st Amendment right to religious freedom was being violated, appealed unsuccessfully to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Now, not all Jews—not even all Orthodox Jews—agree that Jews should not testify against other Jews. As JTA explained:
The concept of mesira, which literally means “delivery,” dates back to periods when governments often were hostile to Jews and delivering a Jew to the authorities could lead to an injustice and even death.
The rules of mesira still carry force within the Orthodox world, owing both to the inviolability of the concept’s Talmudic origins and the insular nature of many Orthodox communities. But they are also the subject of debate over whether the prohibition applies in a modern democracy that prides itself on due process and civil rights.
“The question of the parameters of the prohibition of mesira remains a dispute about how to apply it in a just democracy,” said Rabbi Michael Broyde, a law professor at Emory University.
That legally does not work against Zigelman. As long as his belief is sincere, the courts are prohibited constitutionally from evaluating whether Zigelman’s view is universally shared, in the majority or an anomaly; the courts cannot inspect the religious teachings of a denomination or try to determine the “correct” interpretation of denominational doctrine. (This is what made Mansour v. Islamic Education Center, in which the judge said he would apply “Islamic ecclesiastical law,” so unusual.)
However, what does hurt Zigelman is that the duty to testify is a religion-neutral law of general applicability. That’s how the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of unemployment benefits to an individual fired for violating a state law prohibiting use of peyote in Employment Division v. Smith. And it’s why Craig X. Rubin and Lafley couldn’t get a religious-use exemptions from cannabis prohibitions. Background on both of those cases here and Temple 420 here and here.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act grants religious folks broader rights than the First Amendment, and requires that any substantial government burden pass strict scrutiny—meaning that the law is the least restrictive means of achieving a compelling government interest. That’s a fairly moving target, but the state’s police power interests are certainly high when the functioning of the legal system is at play. And it is difficult to imagine a less restrictive means to get needed testimony. Right now, only clergyman are presumed to be exempted from testifying when the information sought is from confidential communications, which to me seems similar to attorney-client privilege.
In discussing Zigelman’s predicament, my First Amendment professor Eugene Volokh notes that there is a little bit of case law:
Some Jews and at least one Mormon have argued that they are religiously obligated not to testify against their family members. One district court has held in favor of such a religious exemption claim, but two circuit courts have rejected them. Compare In re The Grand Jury Empaneling of the Special Grand Jury (3d Cir. 1999) (holding that the Free Exercise Clause didn’t allow a religiously motivated refusal to testify against a family member, at least in this case), and In re Doe (10th Cir. 1988) (same), with In re Greenberg, 11 Fed. R. Evid. Serv. 579 (D. Conn. 1982) (holding the opposite), and In re The Grand Jury Empaneling (McKee, J., dissenting) (same). Cf. Grossberg’s Parents Ask to Keep Talks Confidential, Newark Star-Ledger, Nov. 26, 1997, at 43 (“The parents of Amy Grossberg, the college student accused of killing her newborn in Delaware … argued in court papers that talks with their daughter should be kept secret and that it is a violation of their right to the free exercise of religion [for prosecutors] to force them to divulge information. Rabbi Joel Roth, a legal expert at the Jewish Theological Seminary [UPDATE: a prominent Conservative, not Orthodox, institution] in New York City, confirmed yesterday he wrote an affidavit for the Grossbergs, stating that ‘under Jewish law, a mother and/or a father are not allowed to give testimony against their child in any legal proceeding.’”).
That isn’t particularly favorable for Zigelman, in particular because those parties claimed narrower exemptions from the duty to testify—and two of them still lost, including both that were at the appellate level. Professor Volokh thinks that courts would find Zigelman’s broader claim “even less palatable.”
March 20, 2012 | 6:47 pm
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Like Frank Bruni last month, Maureen Dowd spills New York Times news ink talking about how Mitt Romney can’t shake the feeling that he is a bottled up, out of touch presidential candidate, and in large part because he won’t talk about his Mormon faith, which is so central to his life.
But unlike Bruni, Dowd seems to poo-poo Mormon beliefs and devotes much of her op-ed to Mormon proxy baptisms, which are an easy, but unrepresentative, target.
As for why Romney won’t talk about his faith, it’s for the reasons we know to be true: too many of Romney’s would-be voters, conservative-leaning Christians, think that the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints is a cult. (Supporters of some of the other GOP candidates have said as much.) Even though the president of Fuller Theological Seminary has said that evangelicals can and should feel comfortable voting for a Mormon, that’s just not likely to happen—yet.
So Dowd writes:
Mitt works overtime pretending he’s a Nascar, cheesy-grits guy and masking his pride in his bank account and faith.
When he talked about his beliefs in his last presidential run, it sometimes provoked confusion, like this explanation to an Iowa radio host about the second coming of Christ: that Jesus would first appear in Jerusalem and then, “over the thousand years that follow, the millennium, he will reign from two places, the law will come from Missouri, and the other will be from Jerusalem.”
Just as Romney did not step up immediately after Rush Limbaugh called Sandra Fluke “a slut,” he has yet to step up as the cases have mounted of Jews posthumously and coercively baptized by Mormons, including hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims; the parents of the death camp survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal; and Daniel Pearl, the Jewish Wall Street Journal reporter murdered by Al Qaeda in Pakistan. (His widow, Mariane, told CNN she was “shocked.”)
I’m not sure why Romney should “step up” to discuss the proxy baptisms. He’s running for president of the United States, not of the LDS. Did we used to ask our Episcopalian U.S. presidents to defend the Archbishop of Canterbury or JFK to opine on the pope?