Category Archives: Religion

Yes I know about religions other than Judaism

Really Tough Love

There's a great quote today courtesy of Rev. David Clippard speaking at the Missouri Baptist Convention's annual meeting in St. Louis. While his speech was littered with anti-Islamic statements, his comments afterwards were perplexing to say the least:

Clippard said Tuesday that his message was really about love.
"I don't hate Islamic people," he said. "We need to love these folks, go after them and love them, one at a time. We need to crucify them with Christ."

And here I thought the crucifixion was a *bad* thing when really it was just a little "tough love" by the Romans. My question is are 2x4's now considered acceptable gifts for a 5th or "wood" anniversary?

Posted in Religion.

Religious Responsibilities and Academic Freedom

Brandishing the slogan of "Torah U'Madda," Yeshiva University promotes some form of synthesis between Jewish religious and secular culture. While the term Torah U'Madda is generic, in the context of YU it generally refers to its dual curriculum, combining the religious and secular subject matters in one university as opposed to having them be necessarily in conflict. But beyond the distinction of Torah U'Madda in subject matters, I noticed this past week two instances of Torah U'Madda in the nature of discourse itself.

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Posted in Academia, Religion. Tagged with , .

How To Effectively Respond To Missionaries

Most New Yorkers, especially subway commuters, have had experience with random and often comical street preachers. Most are harmless. If you're on the street you can act like the New Yorker and ignore them like you do everyone else, and if you're on the subway they tend to change cars or trains after one stop.1
Recently Jews For Jesus has stepped up a missionizing campaign in New York. Unlike the typical street preachers who minister to whomever happens to listen, Jews For Jesus actively tries to proselytize individuals with direct confrontation.

These confrontations can be very uncomfortable for most Jews. Few are well versed enough to respond to the challenges,2 and even those who are competent in the sources might not have the personality or debating skills to have an effective argument.

Ideally, I would suggest that when confronted the best response would be to walk away,3 however this is not always possible. So as a public service and in the interests of "know how to respond to heretics" (Avot 2:17) I'd like to offer my suggestions as a brief guide to handling the overly aggressive missionaries.

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Posted in Religion.

Days Are Coming

Following up on the topic of conversions, it seems that 3 out of 4 religions agree that freedom to convert from or to another religion is a basic religious right.
However, when it comes to proselytizing, one should really have a good idea of the target audience or community. Fark picked up this story about Hassidim receiving missionizing DVD's in the mail. As the article says in the last paragraph, "But theology aside, technology might prove a larger hurdle for Katz's group. However appealing the packaging, most of the thousands of Kiryas Joel households that got the 'Days of Moshiach' DVD don't have televisions or computers on which to view it."
I can just see how one of the conversations went:

    "Don't watch that thing! It's kefira!"
    "Oh, and how do you know?"
    " wife's third cousin isn't so frum and he told me about it...yeah, that's the ticket."

The DVD is called Days Of Mashiach, innocuously enough, and if you're interested here are some screenshots and streaming video.1

1. YUTOPIA takes no responsibility for anyone who converts due to watching this film. Come to think of it, how desperate is a religion when it actually wants members who are of the mental stability that they would change their faith based on a DVD? Unless of course, we're talking about The Big Lebowsky in which case all bets are off.

Posted in Religion, Society.

Travel Bag

There was a big kerfuffle a few years back about kohanim flying on airplanes and passing over cemetaries and one of the wackier proposed solutions involved having the Kohein wrap himself up in a bodybag. While this didn't go over well at the time, it was probably due to lousy marketing. Had they called it an "airline sleeping bag not only would it have become trendy, but they could have even charged $99 for it.

Ok so we'd need to make a more "modest" sleeved version, but it's basically there.

Posted in News & Events, Religion.

Get Me To The Church Online

Apparently, if I'm not blogging. people think something terrible must have happened. Between numerous e-mails and random IM's I realized that either have a loyal fan base or disturbed cult following. Either way, I figure I've got to get back and somehow work out a way to turn a profit. In the meantime, I'll try to respond in due time.
As to what I've been doing for the past month or so, I leave that as an exercise to the reader, especially if you're proficient with Photoshop.
Getting back to normal here, you might have seen the stories about the Church Of Fools, the first interactive sanctuary on the net.1 As part of my ecumenical procrastination, I decided to check out this community which serves the spirituality seekers who cannot be inconvenienced to leave their computer.
Behold, my first foray into Church.2 Screenshots included.
Disclaimer: I don't have the time right now to thumbnail the images. If you are offended either by Christian imagery or slow web pages, please to not read any further.

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Posted in Religion, Science and Technology.

Religious Rights

James Hitchcock writes a wonderful article in February's First Things titled The Enemies of Religious Liberty. (Read the article)
Dr. Hitchcock cites several examples where people claiming to promote freedom and personal freedom, will deny others the right of religious observance - when their positions disagree with them.
For a quick refresher, see The First Amendment:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

The problem of course is at what point does the "freedom" to worship become a federal "establishment" of a religion? Or from the opposite perspective, when do federal laws prohibit the free exercise of religion?
One doesn't have do much research to see how issues like school prayer and gay marriages reveal the conflicting ethics and "rights" of their proponents.
Even the ACLU can't seem to make up its mind. In their statement on religious liberty, they claim, "the free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees the right to practice one's religion free of government interference," and that the "ACLU will continue working to ensure that religious liberty is protected by keeping the government out of the religion business." In practice, they repeatedly appeal to the courts to restrict prayer if held publicly.
As Dr. Hitchcock notes, for many legal scholars religious freedoms are only granted where the secular culture allows. If there is any conflict or "divisiveness," the personal freedom of religion bows to the ethics governing the secular society.
Dr. Hitchcock also writes a column for Women for Faith and Family which "issues occasional public statements on matters of concern to Catholic women, their families or religious communities." Should provide some interesting reading for the elusive spare time.

Posted in Politics, Religion.

And A Child Shall Lead Them

I'm working on a few serious posts, and I've been busy with school and life. Hopefully, we'll have some good stuff coming up, but in the meantime, more snark.
Reuven first introduced me to these guys and their attempts at creation re-education. Ben Resnick shows me they've expanded their youth programming with Jesus 4 Kidz.
Some highlights:
The mascot "Lambuel" has a girlfriend "Ruby the lioness" and apparently they want to get married someday. Personally, I think Lambuel would do much better with a wolf.
An elephant character "Habu" is asked: "Wouldn't you rather have just one God who loves you a bunch than a bunch of gods that don't love you at all?" Fortunately, "Jesus loves everybody, even the unsaved like Habu!"
Oh, but stay away from Mr. Gruff the atheist:

    If you find an Atheist in your neighborhood,
    You may be moved to try and witness to
    these poor lost souls yourself, however
    Atheists are often very grumpy and bitter and will lash out at children or they may even try to trick you into neglecting God's Word.

And if that fails, you can always call his Scottish cousin McGruff. Click on the goat's head and he'll say things like, "Coffee's the only thing that gives me solace" and "Hey Kid, wanna read some Ayn Rand?"
Also check out Hopsiah the Kanga-Jew and Professor Giraffenstein. No word yet on future marketing plans, or the release date for the animated version of The Passion.

Posted in Jewish Culture, Religion.


"It is as sport to a fool to do wickedness, and so is wisdom to a man of discernment."(Proverbs 10:23)
Inspired by Kurt Warner's recent accusations that he was benched because of his religion, ESPN's Robert Lipsyte writes about Sports, God & Religion.
Nothing really new here. Some players like to invoke the name of the Lord before they go out to who knows what. On the other hand, some owners are suspicious of players who (halilah) believe in a power greater than football. Reading this article, I'm reminded how similar this community of worshipers mimics almost every religious community.
I'm sure there are plenty of professional athletes devoted to their respective faiths. Others merely pay lip-service because it sounds good to other people and they demonstrate some degree of humility. How many people do we know of sit on either side of this mehitza?
I also find interesting is the jihad aspect of football. Whoever has more faith, has God on their side, and therefore deserves to win. Dennis Miller had a great line (not quoted by Lipsyte for some reason): "the winning team always has God on their side, but no one ever says 'Jesus made me fumble.'" It's easy to thank God when things are going well, but how often do we see the hand of God in the bad as well?
From what I've seen, the Lord is invoked in football more than other sports. This could be because of shortened season, heightened intensity, or following George Carlin - baseball is just wimpy. With fewer and more intense games, football players will understandably be more emotional than after one of the many insignificant baseball games.
Of course, all athletes get emotional at the end of the season. Players thank God for a good season or for the opportunities they had. It's a time of reflection and retrospection where players reevaluate themselves and prepare for the future season (or retirement). For intents and purposes, this is the end of their year and the off-season is a time for renewal and optimism. We shouldn't be surprised then that athletes have their own "Rosh Hashana" rituals.
It's easy to mock athletes for irrational, inconsistent, or insincere faiths. Just realize that underneath the pads and multi-million dollar contracts, they're just people like everyone else. And the flaws we see in them, might very well be the flaws we refuse to see in ourselves.

Posted in Popular Culture, Religion, Sports.

The GNU Testament

If you were following Protocols a while ago, you might be familiar with Douglass Rushkoff and his recent book Nothing Sacred. I know I'm a little late with this, but there is one point of Rushkoff's thought which I would like to address.1 Specifically, Rushkoff suggests a Judaism modeled after a popular software movement which he calls, "Open Source Judaism." (OSJ)

According to Rushkoff:

An open source religion would work the same way as open source software development: it is not kept secret or mysterious at all. Everyone contributes to the codes we use to comprehend our place in the universe. We allow our religion to evolve based on the active participation of its people. We internalize and engineer Jewish laws and ideas as adults, rather than following them by rote, as children. We come to realize that the writings and ideas of Judaism are not set in stone, but invitations to inquire, challenge, and evolve. Together, as a community, we define Judaism as the ongoing resolution of our individual sensibilities.2

Superficially, OSJ is nothing more than a restatement of Reconstructionism. However, through his analogy to open source software, (OSS) Rushkoff actually offers a different model, one which requires its own analysis.

To understand OSJ, we must first understand the culture it's supposed to emulate. As its name states, OSS programs' code is "openly" published and is freely available to the public. This allows users to modify programs to suit their specific needs, add functions to the program, and find bugs or security holes.
However, OSS is more than a just a programming model, but it is a culture unto itself. According to the GNU Foundation, OSS is about free software. By "free," GNU primarily means autonomy. Licenses may not restrict the implementations of a program - a user may run a program in any way s/he sees fit. Users are free to study and modify the code to suit their needs. Although they advocate the ability to redistribute software, GNU insists, "'Free software' is a matter of liberty, not price. To understand the concept, you should think of 'free' as in 'free speech,' not as in 'free beer.'"

With these freedoms, developers have created stable and secure operating systems, advanced web browsers, powerful graphic manipulators, and absurdly powerful text editors. Developers create projects and publish code on sites like Sourceforge where other programmers may download, test, and debug their programs. Developers therefore share their code with an entire community, the totality of which in turn promotes creativity and innovation.3

Since the strength of OSS is its dependence on the community's voluntary contributions, its anti-model would be Microsoft. All of MS's software is proprietary and available only through purchase. Normally, we would simply call this "capitalism." But companies who choose themselves to MS software also commit to MS's fickle licencing policies and costly forced upgrades.
Furthermore, MS refuses to release its code to the public and is constantly responding to several various security holes. That MS uses their ubiquity to create their own programming standards and blackmail other companies does not endear them to the public. Unlike the communal nature of OSS, MS's culture dictates that MS is the supreme software vendor, and clients must only go through them.

As Eric S. Raymond writes, the differences between MS and OSS are comparable to a cathedral and a bazaar. The cathedral is hierarchical and monolithic whereas the bazaar is democratic and diverse. This distinction echos various denominations of Judaism which promote individual autonomy over institutional authority.
"Classic" Reconstructionism tries to preserve Jewish culture through evolution, and it operates on a macro-social level. Rushkoff claims that the only constant throughout Jewish history was evolution. Generation after generation modified Jewish theology and practice to better adapt with their world. In order to know the needs of the community, the religion depends on the members to participate and contribute. Furthermore, we allow the individual the freedom to "debug" someone else's "code" or "hack" it such that it best suits himself. For example, Rushkoff created an Open Source Haggadah where people may contribute their own liturgy or rituals to the community. Individuals may use the exact submissions or further alter them as they deem necessary.

My critiques of Ruskfoff's model come two different perspectives. As a (former) programmer, I find Rushkoff's OSS analogy flawed. Although OSS is an open community, it succeeds through extensive quality control and programs are held to some objective standard. A program either works or it doesn't. Once a program is functional, it may then be optimized for superior speed or resource management, or enhanced security as the case may be. Before a program can be useful to a community, it first must meet certain requirements of functionality and efficiency, and to some extent serve as an improvement over its predecessors. Even an "average" programmer will find it difficult to have his/her project "accepted" by the community. The programs which are assimilated into mainstream usage are most often written by superior developers.
OSJ has no such quality control, nor can it. Religion is not an objective science. But if there are no standards or rules of submissions, then the community has no mechanism of policing itself. If anyone can submit anything, and all submissions are legitimate, then OSJ runs the risk of intellectual hijackings. There is neither a system nor criteria for weeding out garbage. Furthermore, if in fact everything is acceptable for OSJ, then it becomes tautological and subject to the Pluralism Equation.

As a Rabbi, I partially agree with Rushkoff's model. Torah is "open source" in that the texts are accessible to everyone; it is neither in heaven nor across the sea (Deut. 30:12-13) and there is no hidden law. Torah is democratic in the sense that kings and water gatherers are all equally bound by the same laws. However, Rushkoff confuses the technical definition of "open source" with "modification." In the computer world, OSS implies that the users have rights of modification. However, if one were to rewrite Apache web server such that it becomes a word processor, i.e. the primary function changes, s/he could no longer call it "Apache" - or if he did it would not have the same meaning.
Judaism may also change and evolve, but it must stay within certain parameters. Sages may have the authority of interpretation (Deut. 17:11), but even they are subject to its rules.(B. Horayot 2a-b). The Torah is complete (Ps. 19:8) and although we have the free will modify some rituals in Judaism, once any commandment is removed, the system is no longer Torah.(Deut. 13:1)

Orthodox Jews might be able to salvage something from Rushkoff's model by reaffirming some objective standards. Following the OSS analogy, God should be the "project owner" who opens the project to the community. People may contribute, but must follow certain rules of submission and modifications. Or to put it succinctly, the Torah's source is open, but God retains the copyrights.

1. In all honesty, I didn't finish the book, although I really tried. Rarely has any piece of literature evoked such levels of frustration. Not that I thought the ideas were heretical, but it was just riddled with fallacious assumptions, poor textual analysis, and faulty logic. The lack of footnotes didn't help. Naiomi Chana reviewed the book much better than I can. Also see his interview with the Protocols people. Neither Protocols nor Naiomi Chana dealt with the Open Source Judaism part, so this post will not be redundant.
2. On OSJ's front page, Rushkoff quotes his book. I don't have my copy with me, so I cannot cite the page number.
3. Though OSS movement is subject to its own myths.

Posted in Jewish Culture, Jewish Law / Halakha, Religion, Science and Technology, Society.