Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Eight years ago, Zablon Simintov became Kabul's last Jew when his arch rival, Ishaq Levin, died. But it's unclear how much longer he hold that title. Simintov says his kebab business has fallen on hard times:
Now the cafe, neat and shiny, faces closure because kebabs are not selling well - largely because of deteriorating security in Kabul that has made people frightened to eat out or visit the city.
Simintov used to rely on hotel catering orders but even these have dried up as foreign troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, further weakening security and investment.
"Hotels used to order food for 400 to 500 people. Four or five stoves were busy from afternoon to evening," he said. "I plan to close my restaurant next March and rent its space."
Naturally, he blames his poor sales on the United States. It seems that Simintov thought the troops would always be there, meaning more security and lots of mouths to feed; he also told Reuters that Americans are worse than dogs. The logic is a bit circular.
But Simintov said that if life in Afghanistan worsens, he may finally leave Afghanistan, which once boasted a vibrant Jewish community.
The decline of Afghani Jews is pronounced and near complete. But it's not unusual for the region. In Afghanistan and neighboring countries, non-Muslims generally have fared terribly.
No Afghani Christians remain. (Remember the South Korean missionaries?) Iraq too has seen its Jewish community dwindle to almost none and its Christian population plummet. Same too for Christians and Jews in parts of the Levant outside Israel.
Maybe its a western perspective, but this strikes me as a major loss. Pluralism fosters stronger, better reinforced, communities. And the presence of people from minority groups also says something to outsiders. Not that the presence of a lone Jew in Afghanistan is going to--nor should it--convince the rest of the world that the Taliban are pretty tolerant guys.
But what about outsiders who would visit and find in this Afghani anomaly something profound? Like Jonathan Garfinkel. He visited Simintov in Kabul three years ago, inadvertantly rediscovering the Jewish identity he'd rejected:
What was his Judaism, this congregation of one? He clung to it, life, whatever there was of it left. But what did he have? Kabul was a ruined city, bombed to shreds after four decades of war. Why wouldn’t he want to be in Israel with his family, his people?
“I won’t let Jewish history die in Afghanistan,” said Simintov.
He took me to the synagogue. It felt more like a museum than a place for sanctuary and prayer. The last Torah had been stolen by the Taliban. Books were charred and moldy. The walls were white, recently painted, and a thin blue gate encircled the bimah. Simintov took out a shofar from the ark, put it to his mouth, and posed.
He prayed alone, ate alone, lived alone. It was a life he chose. Simintov wasn’t exactly a biblical prophet in the style of Ecclesiastes or Jeremiah, alone in the desert waiting for revelation. But his stubborn independence was his Judaism. Maybe this is what it means to be Jewish, I thought. To go against the grain.
That, at the very least, is lost. And so too will be the last remnant of a once-bustling, if unfamiliar, Jewish community.
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October 7, 2013 | 8:27 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
Maybe it's because my twitter feed is filled with religion writers, law geeks and policy wonks, but it's seems like everyone this morning is talking about Justice Antonin Scalia's interview with Jennifer Senior of New York magazine. Responses have been varied and have focused on different aspects of the long and wideranging interview (from TV shows he enjoys to his judicial legacy).
Senior's intro labels Scalia "either a demigod on stilts or a menace to democracy, depending on which side of the aisle they sit." That seems like serious hyperbole, but Scalia definitely is iconic and polarizing. Indeed, even sitting down for this Q&A was quite unusual for a sitting Supreme Court justice.
His dissenting opinions have become increasingly critical of the majority in recent terms and, as Senior notes, he was probably the first justice to ever use the phrase "argle-bargle" in dissent. To be sure, though, Scalia's opinions never lack for penetrating prose. He may even be mainstreaming argle-bargle, which had never appeared in a published opinion from a federal judge (let alone justice) but has appeared in two since Scalia's used the phrase. (U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Com'n v. Reisinger (N.D. Ill. July 18, 2013); Foshan Nanhai Jiujiang Quan Li Spring Hardware Factory v. United States (U.S. Ct. Int'l Trade July 1, 2013)).
Here's an exemplary part of their conversation:
What about sex discrimination? Do you think the Fourteenth Amendment covers it?
Of course it covers it! No, you can’t treat women differently, give them higher criminal sentences. Of course not.
A couple of years ago, I think you told California Lawyer something different.
What I was referring to is: The issue is not whether it prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Of course it does. The issue is, “What is discrimination?”
If there’s a reasonable basis for not letting women do something—like going into combat or whatnot ...
Let’s put it this way: Do you think the same level of scrutiny that applies to race should apply to sex?
I am not a fan of different levels of scrutiny. Strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, blah blah blah blah. That’s just a thumb on the scales.
But there are some intelligent reasons to treat women differently. I don’t think anybody would deny that. And there really is no, virtually no, intelligent reason to treat people differently on the basis of their skin.
There is a lot of great stuff in that back and forth alone. But what I want to focus on is a theme that runs across Senior's conversation with Scalia. It's something I spent two years writing about when I contributed to GetReligion: The media has a very poor understanding of religion.
An example for the Scalia interview:
You believe in heaven and hell?
Oh, of course I do. Don’t you believe in heaven and hell?
Does that mean I’m not going?
[Laughing.] Unfortunately not!
Wait, to heaven or hell?
It doesn’t mean you’re not going to hell, just because you don’t believe in it. That’s Catholic doctrine! Everyone is going one place or the other.
But you don’t have to be a Catholic to get into heaven? Or believe in it?
Of course not!
Oh. So you don’t know where I’m going. Thank God.
I don’t know where you’re going. I don’t even know whether Judas Iscariot is in hell. I mean, that’s what the pope meant when he said, “Who am I to judge?” He may have recanted and had severe penance just before he died. Who knows?
Can we talk about your drafting process—
[Leans in, stage-whispers.] I even believe in the Devil.
Of course! Yeah, he’s a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.
Now, no reporter can be an expert on every religion. I wouldn't even expect an ace writer on the religion beat (to the extent it still exists, which is sort of myth) to know the name of every religion. But if you're going to interview one of the better-known American Catholics, and especially if you plan on asking questions about how his religious beliefs inform his jurisprudence, you should bone up on the basics.
And that's all this is. The basics. There is no tricky question of dogma in Scalia's statements on heaven and hell and the devil. We could break the misconceptions here down line by line, but I don't want to insult you, good reader.
Even Scalia's statements on Pope Francis ("He's the Vicar of Christ. I don't run down the pope.") and the pontiff's statements that the Catholic Church should focus less on homosexuality and abortion and more on evangelism is solid Catholic doctrine. What made it surprising, and what evinced the liberal leanings of this pope, was that Pope Francis said it at all. The only real unusual thing about the pope's statement was that he questioned "Who am I to judge?"--the same thing Scalia said to Senior about who's getting into heaven and hell.
Don't get me wrong. This is a fascinating interview with tons of valuable nuggets on Scalia's entertainment interests, on his judicial philosophy, on his relationship with his clerks, on his style on the bench, on his suspicion that he has some gay friends. But the nexus between religion and jurisprudence comes up terribly thing--breezy, even--because the conversation gets bogged down on the basics of Catholicism.
September 7, 2013 | 6:58 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
A precept of American law is that, absent a special relationship, an individual is under no legal duty to act to help another in need. That means that a passerby is under no obligation to help people escape from a burning car. Even if the act would be of minimal effort and no potential harm, an individual generally has no duty to act unless he or she created the other's peril.
But what about refusing to have your children vaccinated? Jed Lipinski recently argued in Slate that parents who don't vaccinate their kids should be sued for damages--or criminally charged. That's going a bit far, and there are a lot of moving parts in American jurisprudence that would make such a regime challenging, to say the least. But the consequences of refusing vaccines are real.
Just ask the folks at Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Neward, Texas. There the AP reported that a recent measles outbreak at the church of televangelist Kenneth Copeland revealed that many church members had not been vaccinated:
Although church officials were quick to act after the outbreak — including hosting clinics in August where 220 people received immunization shots — and have denied they are against medical care or vaccinations, people familiar with the ministry say there is a pervasive culture that believers should rely on God, not modern medicine, to keep them well.
"To get a vaccine would have been viewed by me and my friends and my peers as an act of fear — that you doubted God would keep you safe, you doubted God would keep you healthy. We simply didn't do it," former church member Amy Arden told The Associated Press.
Health officials say 21 people were sickened with the measles after a person who contracted the virus overseas visited the 1,500-member Eagle Mountain International Church located on the vast grounds of Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, about 20 miles north of Fort Worth.
Of the 21 people who contracted measles linked to the church, 16 were unvaccinated. The others may have had at least one vaccination, but had no documentation.
As the parent of a young child and as a Christian, I find this news horrifying. And I blame "The View." OK, I don't. But I find the anti-vaccine crowd to be among American society's more troubling social problems. Seriously. Vaccines are the classic public good--and they only work best, in particular by protecting from infection those who are too young to be vaccinated, if everyone buys in.
I also don't see how Christians can think that taking health precautions means not trusting God. Do the same people not wash their hands after using the bathroom?
This 2007 story from Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network--"Are Vaccines Safe for Your Kids?"--feeds into the anti-vaccine pathology. It's only slightly less crazy than when Robertson said this or this or this or this.
On the other hand, Rachel Marie Stone's 2012 article for Christianity Today explains how if you love your neighbor, you'll get your kids vaccinated:
Vaccinations work on the theory of "herd immunity": As long as most people in a given population are immune, the risk of susceptible people getting sick is very small. So people who can't be immunized because they are too young (newborn babies), too old, too sick (people with immune system problems), and people for whom immunizations simply didn't "take," are protected by the immunity of the "herd," namely, those of us who got our shots.
What concerns me about the anti-vaccination movement is not merely the fact that people are so easily persuaded by falsified claims about vaccine risks, nor the tragedy of people losing their lives to diseases that were (thanks to vaccines) nearly eradicated. Rather, I'm concerned that so many people seem willing to let others carry the supposed burden of vaccination so that they don't have to. To me, that's a failure of the commandment to love our neighbors: our infant neighbors, our elderly neighbors, and our immune-compromised neighbors. That's a disease of the soul for which the only treatment is love—best shown in the God who became man to bear our infirmities in his own body.
So what should Christians do? First, they should be educated about the real risks of vaccines--the really, really small risks. Second, they shouldn't pretend that God eschews good medicine. And then they should stop endangering the lives of others because, you know, that's not a very Christian thing to do.
July 29, 2013 | 7:35 am
Posted by Brad A. Greenberg
And we're wasting no time getting back to big religion news.
The National Catholic Reporter's John Allen reports that during a long fielding of questions aboard the papal plane, Pope Francis ended his trip to Brazil with a surprising statement on the Vatican's so-called gay lobby:
"Who am I to judge them if they're seeking the Lord in good faith?" he said.
The pope made several other newsworthy comments, but that one is getting the attention. And rightfully so.
Who is the pope to judge? Well, to Catholics, he is one step below God. He does not mistakenly interpret the Bible. And thus Pope Francis' remark may hint at a coming shift -- a seismic shift, really -- in Catholic doctrine.