Tag Archives: Judaism

Schroeder, “Deborah’s Daughters: Gender Politics and Biblical Interpretation”

Next month, Oxford will publish Deborah’s Daughters: Gender Politics9780199991044_140 and Biblical Interpretation, by Joy A. Schroeder (Capital University and Trinity Lutheran Seminary). The publisher’s description follows.

Joy A. Schroeder offers the first in-depth exploration of the biblical story of Deborah, an authoritative judge, prophet, and war leader. For centuries, Deborah’s story has challenged readers’ traditional assumptions about the place of women in society. 

Schroeder shows how Deborah’s story has fueled gender debates throughout history. An examination of the prophetess’s journey through nearly two thousand years of Jewish and Christian interpretation shows how the biblical account of Deborah was deployed against women, for women, and by women who aspired to leadership roles in church and society. Numerous women—and men who supported women’s aspirations to leadership—used Deborah’s narrative to justify female claims to political and religious authority. Opponents to women’s public leadership endeavored to define Deborah’s role as ”private” or argued that she was a divinely authorized exception, not to be emulated by future generations of women.

Deborah’s Daughters provides crucial new insight into the the history of women in Judaism and Christianity, and into women’s past and present roles in the church, synagogue, and society.

Through the Jaffa Gate: A Photo Essay

Last month, CLR Student Fellow Jessica Wright ’14 traveled to Israel, where she considered the religious, legal, and political issues that continue to divide the country and region. The following is her photo essay from Jerusalem. To see the slide show, please click on the first image.

All photos by Jessica Wright, Canon EOS 700D and Leica M3 (please do not use photos without permission).

Glick, “The Israeli Solution”

Last month, Random House published The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan forThe Israeli Solution Peace in the Middle East by Caroline Glick.  The publisher’s description follows.

The reigning consensus in elite and academic circles is that the United States must seek to resolve the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel by implementing the so-called two-state solution. Establishing a Palestinian state, so the thinking goes, would be a panacea for all the region’s ills. It would end the Arab world’s conflict with Israel, because the reason the Arab world is anti-Israel is that there is no Palestinian state. It would also nearly erase the principal cause of the violent extremism in the rest of the Middle East.

In a time when American politics are marked by partisan gridlock, the two-state solution stands out for its ability to attract supporters from both sides of the ideological divide. But the great irony is that it is one of the most irrational and failed policies the United States has ever adopted.

Between 1970 and 2013, the United States presented nine different peace plans for Israel and the Palestinians, and for the past twenty years, the two state solution has been the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy. But despite this laser focus, American efforts to implement a two-state peace deal have failed—and with each new attempt, the Middle East has become less stable, more violent, more radicalized, and more inimical to democratic values and interests.

In The Israeli Solution, Caroline Glick, senior contributing editor to the Jerusalem Post, examines the history and misconceptions behind the two-state policy, most notably:

- The huge errors made in counting the actual numbers of Jews and Arabs in the region. The 1997 Palestinian Census, upon which most two-state policy is based, wildly exaggerated the numbers of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

- Neglect of the long history of Palestinian anti-Semitism, refusal to negotiate in good faith, terrorism, and denial of Israel’s right to exist.

- Disregard for Israel’s stronger claims to territorial sovereignty under international law, as well as the long history of Jewish presence in the region.

- Indifference to polling data that shows the Palestinian people admire Israeli society and governance. Despite a half-century of domestic and international terrorism, anti-semitism, and military attacks from regional neighbors who reject its right to exist, Israel has thrived as the Middle East’s lone democracy.

After a century spent chasing a two-state policy that hasn’t brought the Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace, The Israeli Solution offers an alternative path to stability in the Middle East based on Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Wasserstein, “The Ambiguity of Virtue”

This month, Harvard University Press published The Ambiguity of Virtue: Gertrude van Tijn and the Fate of the Dutch Jews by Bernard Wasserstein the ambiguity of virtue(University of Chicago).  The publisher’s description follows.

In May 1941, Gertrude van Tijn arrived in Lisbon on a mission of mercy from German-occupied Amsterdam. She came with Nazi approval to the capital of neutral Portugal to negotiate the departure from Hitler’s Europe of thousands of German and Dutch Jews. Was this middle-aged Jewish woman, burdened with such a terrible responsibility, merely a pawn of the Nazis, or was her journey a genuine opportunity to save large numbers of Jews from the gas chambers? In such impossible circumstances, what is just action, and what is complicity?

A moving account of courage and of all-too-human failings in the face of extraordinary moral challenges, The Ambiguity of Virtue tells the story of Van Tijn’s work on behalf of her fellow Jews as the avenues that might save them were closed off. Between 1933 and 1940 Van Tijn helped organize Jewish emigration from Germany. After the Germans occupied Holland, she worked for the Nazi‐appointed Jewish Council in Amsterdam and enabled many Jews to escape. Some later called her a heroine for the choices she made; others denounced her as a collaborator.

 

Next Year in Jerusalem

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Issues of law and religion have always interested CLR Student Fellow Jessica Wright 3L, particularly as they relate to the Middle East. The following is a reflection on her recent trip to Jerusalem, during which she considered the religious, legal, and political issues that continue to divide the region.

Our taxi wound around the outskirts of Jerusalem, the city unfolding slowly before us beneath the dusty haze that had lingered since our arrival two days earlier. The Berlin-esque feel of Tel Aviv with its trendy cafes, beach-front hangouts, and laissez-faire attitude seemed a distant memory as we watched Haredim in their long black coats and black hats hurrying down the streets, weaving in and out of a stream of conservatively-dressed women pushing prams. Traffic ground to a halt somewhere between the entrance to Jerusalem and our hotel near the Old City, and our driver informed us that several streets had been closed because of a mass “ultra-Orthodox” protest against the draft.

The draft protest is indicative of larger issues having to do with community and identity in the region. Israel has been called the only liberal democracy in the Middle East, but it is a democracy with an important condition, one that Prime Minister Netanyahu made clear at the White House as I began my sojourn to the Holy Land. He said the only pathway to peace begins with Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state. Of course, as the New York Times observed earlier this year, “this issue underpins all others [and] is exactly what makes it unacceptable to Palestinians. At its heart, it is a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.” The question concerning what it means to describe Israel as a Jewish state is as relevant today and perhaps as vexed as it was in 1948.

The first night in Jerusalem, we found ourselves at the Old Bezalel Art School with Israeli friends. Our conversation eventually turned to the significance of the Israeli state and the importance of community. One friend argued that the land itself is significant because it allows one to experience Judaism as a public way of life. The traditional religious rituals become less important, she said, because identification with Judaism is about living in the state of Israel and being part of that community. But Israeli nationalism, it turns out, is not a wholly secular enterprise for most Israelis. Along with flying the flag, serving in the army, and speaking Hebrew, there is a religious narrative upon which identity is ultimately based. The particularities of the narrative vary widely. While sharing the same religious texts, the various Jewish communities within Israel have different histories and customs, and divergent outlooks. The tension between the communities is palpable. Secular Israelis want a modern, liberal state; religious Zionists believe in the coexistence of secularism and the dictates of the Torah; messianic Zionists see the state as a tool for bringing the Messiah; and the Haredim are devoted to isolated learning. And this is to say nothing of the narratives of modern Palestine, which are also focused on conflicts over belief, identity, and community.

These tensions are felt everywhere in Jerusalem – in conversation, on the streets, in the markets, and nowhere more than in the crowded and layered maze of the Old City. Standing inside the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where six ancient Christian denominations worship daily, one can hear the muezzin’s call to prayer outside. The church itself is just steps away from the Western Wall where Jews pray and celebrate, and very near the al-Aqsa mosque where Muslims gather together. Outside the walls, Israelis struggle to find commonality, to define their State, and to impress upon outsiders the importance of their identity. Inside the walls, one is able to forget those issues for a moment and revel in the diversity of belief in such close proximity.

From the Mount of Olives, one is afforded a panoramic view of the Old City with the construction of modern Jerusalem sprawling around it. Just down the road, one can look out over the West Bank, the security barrier visible in the foreground. It is nearly impossible to come away from Jerusalem without feeling its energy and passion, and without acknowledging its significance for people of many faiths. “Next year in Jerusalem,” I discovered, is about yearning for a way of life. How one defines it depends on the narratives woven by communities of believers. One may think Jerusalem should be a place where all Jews could flourish alongside Christians and Muslims. Perhaps, then, it would be more accurate to say, “Next year in utopos,” the place that can never be. Or maybe there is reason to hope that the communities of historical Palestine can live in peace. As Michael Walzer has said, “high ambition requires a long life, and Israel is a very young state.”

Mirsky, “Rav Kook”

Last month, Yale University Press published Rav Kook: Mystic in a Time of Revolution by Yehudah Mirsky (Brandeis University).  The publisher’s Rav Kookdescription follows.

Rav Abraham Isaac Kook (1865–1935) was one of the most influential—and controversial—rabbis of the twentieth century. A visionary writer and outstanding rabbinic leader, Kook was a philosopher, mystic, poet, jurist, communal leader, and veritable saint. The first chief rabbi of Jewish Palestine and the founding theologian of religious Zionism, he struggled to understand and shape his revolutionary times. His life and writings resonate with the defining tensions of Jewish life and thought.

A powerfully original thinker, Rav Kook combined strict traditionalism and an embrace of modernity, Orthodoxy and tolerance, piety and audacity, scholasticism and ecstasy, and passionate nationalism with profound universalism. Though little known in the English-speaking world, his life and teachings are essential to understanding current Israeli politics, contemporary Jewish spirituality, and modern Jewish thought. This biography, the first in English in more than half a century, offers a rich and insightful portrait of the man and his complex legacy. Yehudah Mirsky clears away widespread misunderstandings of Kook’s ideas and provides fresh insights into his personality and worldview. Mirsky demonstrates how Kook’s richly erudite, dazzlingly poetic writings convey a breathtaking vision in which “the old will become new, and the new will become holy.”

Confino, “A World Without Jews”

Next month, Yale University Press will publish A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocidby Alon Confino (University of A World Without JewsVirginia).  The publisher’s description follows.

Why exactly did the Nazis burn the Hebrew Bible everywhere in Germany on November 9, 1938? The perplexing event has not been adequately accounted for by historians in their large-scale assessments of how and why the Holocaust occurred. In this gripping new analysis, Alon Confino draws on an array of archives across three continents to propose a penetrating new assessment of one of the central moral problems of the twentieth century. To a surprising extent, Confino demonstrates, the mass murder of Jews during the war years was powerfully anticipated in the culture of the prewar years.

The author shifts his focus away from the debates over what the Germans did or did not know about the Holocaust and explores instead how Germans came to conceive of the idea of a Germany without Jews. He traces the stories the Nazis told themselves—where they came from and where they were heading—and how those stories led to the conclusion that Jews must be eradicated in order for the new Nazi civilization to arise. The creation of this new empire required that Jews and Judaism be erased from Christian history, and this was the inspiration—and justification—for Kristallnacht. As Germans imagined a future world without Jews, persecution and extermination became imaginable, and even justifiable.

Ferrari & Benzo (eds.), “Between Cultural Diversity and Common Heritage”

This April, Ashgate Publishing will publish Between Cultural Diversity and Common Heritage: Legal and Religious Perspectives on the Sacred Places of the Mediterranean edited by Silvio Ferrari (University of Milan, University of Leuven) and Andrea Benzo (Italian Embassy in Riyadh). The publisher’s description follows.

Going beyond the more usual focus on Jerusalem as a sacred place, this book presents legal perspectives on the most important sacred places of the Mediterranean. The first part of the book discusses the notion of sacred places in anthropological, sociological and legal studies and provides an overview of existing legal approaches to the protection of sacred places in order to develop and define a new legal framework. The second part introduces the meaning of sacred places in Jewish, Christian and Islamic thought and focuses on the significance and role that sacred places have in the three major monotheistic religions and how best to preserve their religious nature whilst designing a new international statute. The final part of the book is a detailed analysis of the legal status of key sacred places and holy cities in the Mediterranean area and identifies a set of legal principles to support a general framework within which specific legal measures can be implemented. The book concludes with a useful appendix for the protection of sacred places in the Mediterranean region.

Including contributions from leading law and religion scholars, this interesting book will be valuable to those in the fields of international law, as well as religion and heritage studies.

Animal Rights Trump Religious Rights

The Great Synagogue, Copenhagen

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

The World Jewish Congress reported late last week that the Danish Minister of Food and Agriculture, a 38 year old Social Democrat named Dan Jorgensen, had signed a regulation effectively banning the Jewish ritual slaughter of animals for food. Jorgensen explained the ban on Danish television by saying “animal rights come before religion” – or, according to another translation, “animal rights precede religious rights.”

Under the new regulation, all animal slaughter must be carried out after stunning, which is contrary to the Jewish practice of shechita, or ritual slaughter. Denmark’s Jewish community (which numbers a mere 6,000 persons) opposes the minister’s decision. The European Commissioner on Health, Tonio Borg, questioned the legality of the ban, saying that it “contradicts European law.” On the other hand, Jorgensen’s decision was acclaimed by the Animal Welfare Intergroup, of which he had been President.

If the Danish government and parliament let the decision stand, Denmark will join several other western European nations, including Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Poland and Switzerland in prohibiting such ritual slaughter. (Holland had attempted to ban shechita, but a Continue reading

Christians and Circumcision

My post last week about a movement in Scandinavia to ban the non-therapeutic circumcision of boys drew many comments. I’d like to respond to one of them. At Patheos, Joel Willitts criticizes Christians, like me, who oppose such bans. Willitts suggests that we are being inconsistent, perhaps even hypocritical. “The Christian tradition has little high ground on which to stand when it comes to the issue of banning Jewish practices,” he writes. After all, the “Gentile church” has prohibited circumcision for millennia as part of its “supersessionistic theology.” Who are Christians to criticize others when they, too, seek to end the practice?

I’m not a theologian, and I’m a little confused by the references to the “Gentile church” and “supersessionistic theology.” I think Willits is  alluding to debates about Messianic Judaism. But it’s not necessary to get deeply into theology to explain why his criticism of my position is misguided.

First, it’s not correct to say that Christianity bans circumcision. It’s true that Christianity rejects ritual circumcision. From the apostolic period until today, Christians have regarded baptism as the substitute for ritual circumcision–the sign of what Christians believe to be the New Covenant. Continuing to circumcise boys out of a sense of religious obligation, Christians believe, would be a category error. The Old Covenant has been fulfilled; why continue to observe its rituals? But circumcision for non-religious reasons is different. If, for example, the best medical learning is that boys should be circumcised for reasons of hygiene, Christianity does not oppose this. With respect to circumcisions carried out for non-religious reasons, Christianity is simply neutral.

Second, even if Christians reject ritual circumcision for themselves on theological grounds, they can still object in good faith to proposals that the state ban it for others. Christians do not build sukkot, either; but Christians can object to proposals that the state prohibit Jews from building them. Unlike the church, the liberal state is supposed to be neutral about such things. Christians who object to proposals to ban practices other religions hold sacred are not being inconsistent or hypocritical. They are holding liberalism to its deepest commitments, and showing respect for  traditions other than their own.