UK street preacher jailed for saying homosexuality is a sin

From the Daily Telegraph:

Dale McAlpine was charged with causing “harassment, alarm or distress” after a homosexual police community support officer (PCSO) overheard him reciting a number of “sins” referred to in the Bible, including blasphemy, drunkenness and same sex relationships.

The 42-year-old Baptist, who has preached Christianity in Workington, Cumbria for years, said he did not mention homosexuality while delivering a sermon from the top of a stepladder, but admitted telling a passing shopper that he believed it went against the word of God.

The War Israel Keeps Losing

by Brian Schrauger

The war that Israel keeps losing is the war of world opinion, the war for individual hearts and minds. Consider recent stumbles.

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza should have been named “8,000 is enough!” This would have communicated a determination to stop the barrage of missiles from Hamas, using surgical precision to destroy its arsenal, but destroying all of it, not just a part. Enough was enough: 8,000 missiles launched on the nation’s civilian population would no longer be tolerated.

Unfortunately the operation was dubbed, “Cast Lead.” The resulting image in the English-speaking world was not helpful. Lead is a soft metal associated with poison. The implication, then, was an unprofessional plan with ambivalent determination, biased motives and toxic methods.

Which is exactly how governments and media judge “the Gaza war.” Israel and her defenders respond by arguing, “Israel has the right to defend herself.” This is true, but flawed. Why? Limiting Israel’s self-defense to a right makes it an option. Little wonder, then, that Israel’s enemies portray her as a ruthless bully. In the matter of Gaza, for example, she could have chosen to refrain.

In fact, Israel has more than a right to defend … Read More >>

Controversy at the Vatican: The Fuller Story

[The following piece contains a long consideration of beliefs of other religions. Some of our readers are uncomfortable with such material. They are hereby warned to skip to the next post. The piece is an expansion of one that I coauthored and appeared on the Washington Post and Newsweek blogs last week. All new material is solely my own.]

“Insanity is hereditary. I got it from my children.” So read an old bumper sticker. If insanity can be hereditary, then errors and blunders can perhaps be contagious. We seem to be in the midst of an epidemic of gaffes, and they started at the Vatican.

Days after the deed was done, no one seems to have come up with a plausible explanation for why the Pope decided to make himself a lightning rod for criticism. A week ago Saturday, he revoked the 1988 excommunication of four individuals who had contravened the authority of the Vatican by being consecrated as bishops by maverick French Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre. Lefebvre had acted completely outside the jurisdiction of the Church. One of the four, Richard Williamson, had distinguished himself a short while earlier by claiming that there was no Holocaust; that … Read More >>

How to reply when the doorbell rings

Many years ago, while a rabbi in Atlanta, I answered a knock on my door one Shabbat afternoon. Standing in front of me was a fine-looking couple – obviously non-Jewish.

“Shabbat Shalom, rabbi,” they said, and asked to have a word with me.

I sensed that they were missionaries and asked them what the subject was. They replied that they wanted to talk to me about the “Son of God.”

I suggested that while I respected their personal beliefs, in Judaism there is no such thing as a son or mother of God, that ours is a very strict monotheistic faith, and that our God is one, not two, and not three. I added that before attempting to convert Jews, they should consider converting Christians to Christian teachings, because throughout history, Jews had seen very little of Christian love and of turning the other cheek.

End of conversation.

WELL, AT least they were honest. Today, missionaries are much more subtle.

For one thing, they often pose as Jews themselves. And, most significantly, they do not initially ask Jews to accept Jesus as the son of God, nor mention that in Christianity, Jesus is worshipped as a divine being.

Contemporary …

From The Mouths of Ministers

“Tonight I humbly ask forgiveness of the Jewish people for every act of anti-Semitism and the deafening silence of Christianity in your greatest hour of need during the Holocaust.”

Those words were spoken before a crowd of several thousand Jews attending an AIPAC Policy Conference in March, 2007. The speaker was Pastor John Hagee, the evangelist who heads the group Christians United for Israel – the very same Pastor Hagee whom Reform Rabbi Eric Yoffie now accuses of “insult[ing] the survivors” of the Holocaust.

Rabbi Yoffie, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, was referring to a speech Pastor Hagee made about a decade ago, about Jeremiah’s prophecy that G-d would one day “bring the Jewish people again unto their land that I gave unto their fathers” (16:15). In the next verse G-d proclaims that He will send “many fishers” and then “hunters.” The latter word was interpreted by Mr. Hagee as referring to Hitler, leading the pastor to regard the Holocaust as part of a Divine strategy to move Jews to the Holy Land.

One needn’t agree with the pastor’s take on history; or accept his assumption that simple people can identify events with prophecies; or … Read More >>


From the Jewish Council for Public Affairs:

January 19th is one of the most important contests in the Democratic and Republican quests for their parties’ nomination for the presidency. It is also Shabbat.

This year, the Nevada Democratic and Republican parties have decided to hold their primary caucuses on a Saturday, with citizens required to report by 11:30 and 9:00 AM respectively, right during morning religious services. When I called the political parties in Nevada to inquire as to whether or not there were measures being taken to help accommodate those observant Jews who wished to participate in the caucuses, I received mixed results… Neither had an adequate answer as to why the caucuses had to take place on a Shabbat morning.

Nevada has one of the fastest growing Jewish populations in the country, and its 65,000-80,000 Jewish community members are expected to have a disproportionate impact on the results. I do not know how many of these Jews are observant enough to be effectively barred from participating in the caucus. I do not know how many of these Jews will be pushed into the uncomfortable position of choosing between attending synagogue and participating in a cherished American … Read More >>

Stop Jack Wertheimer – I

Stop him before he writes again.

At least that’s what they must be saying up in Morningside Heights in the inner sanctum of the Conservative movement, in the wake of his latest Commentary salvo, The Perplexities of Conservative Judaism. As in his whole series of articles in Commentary over the last several years, describing and diagnosing the progressive disintegration of secular American Jewry, Wertheimer pulls no punches.

Here are a few of the money quotes:

Of the theological brochure the movement got around to publishing in 1988, he writes: “Significantly, it was not until the late 20th century that the movement even tried to produce a statement of principles. Attempting to harmonize irreconcilable beliefs, the resulting document, Emet ve’Emunah, was virtually incomprehensible.”

He also bears out a point made not long ago on this site by Kobre (but which appeared towards the end of a characteristically long piece, which is why some may have missed it) regarding Conservatism’s selective abandonment of pluralism, at least the intra-movement kind, with this damning indictment:

When religious traditionalists dominated the movement’s key institutions, the tactic adopted by proponents of innovation was to argue for pluralism. Rather … Read More >>

Sacred or Superficial?

Encouraged by a number of my congregants, my wife and I recently visited the impressive ‘Sacred’ exhibition at London’s British Library. Billed as ‘the rarest and most exquisite sacred books and manuscripts presented and explored, side by side, in a major UK exhibition for the first time’, it didn’t disappoint. Balanced between Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy books, the 202 exhibits are absolutely magnificent (get a taste of them here) and left me wanting to return to see them again soon. As the exhibition doesn’t end until 23rd September, if you live in the UK or are planning to visit, do make it a priority. I hope to get there at least once more.

I was especially taken with the calligraphy, the accuracy and beauty of which defy description. I am not particularly skilled with my hands: I actually struggle to read my own handwriting. In comparison, the control, artistic flair and accuracy required to produce an illuminated manuscript are quite breathtaking. I am, of course, familiar with beautiful safrus (Hebrew sacred calligraphy), but I have never been exposed to exquisite scripts from other religions written in other alphabets; I found learning about their manufacture fascinating (see … Read More >>

Notes From the Evangelical Underground

Well, not exactly underground. More like street-level. To be exact, the first floor of the Beverly Hilton Hotel, where the Jerusalem Prayer Banquet took place, and where I got to listen to and interact with hundreds of Christian Zionists during a dinner that lasted as long as a New York chasuna. This was followed by a smaller, but even more intense gathering at the Israeli Consulate the next morning, where I was part of a panel on anti-Semitism, and what supportive Christians can do about it.

I will hold back the analysis and the conclusions that might be drawn, and present just the flavors and textures. The reader can come to his or her own conclusions; I suspect that there will be some healthy debate in the comments to come.

First, though, a small quiz. You will be graded. Approximately how many evangelical churches world-wide have officially signed on to the annual day (first Sunday in October) dedicated to showing support for and commitment to Israel and the Jewish people? Guess. What seems reasonable? What order of number? Are we dealing with a few score, or a few hundred?

You’ll have to wait for the end of this … Read More >>

How to Foment Anti-Semitism While Claiming to Fight It

Thanks to the alert reader who sent this in, from the Catholic World News: “Halt beatification process for Pius XII, ADL urges.” Just yesterday, Jonathan Rosenblum wrote that, in his opinion, “some of the shrill campaigns of the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman have caused more negative feelings about Jews than the contrary.” This new effort could only be described as a case in point.

No positive good can come out of the ADL’s opposition. First of all, whether or not Pius helped or harmed Jews during the Holocaust is no longer relevant. He is deceased, and the Catholic Church has taken a very conciliatory position regarding the Jewish People at least since Vatican II.

Most Catholics undoubtedly do not believe their Pope was or could have been an anti-Semite. It has even been asserted that any aspersions cast against Pius XII were part of a KGB smear campaign. These Catholics will only be offended by the ADL’s actions, and perhaps look askance at all Jews for maligning their Pope. Don’t believe me? Check the reader comments here and here.

Of course, a small minority of Catholics will be only too quick to believe the ADL’s … Read More >>

Reciprocity and Specialness

Several readers of my recent post on interfaith conversations raised the issue of reciprocity. If we find that people are ready to listen to us when we share our Torah values and perspectives, is it not inevitable that they will want to do the same, and invite us in to their religious lives? For many if not most people, such religious voyeurism would run afoul of accepted halachic norms. There would be no good choices. Accepting the invitation for reciprocity would be unacceptable; declining it would appear rude, small-minded, and arrogant.

There is a third way. We politely explain that we have halachic barriers that forbid us any amount of involvement with other religious belief systems. My experience – at least with people who take their own religions seriously – is that it works.

Isn’t this infuriatingly self-centered for a religion? What do we think we have – a monopoly on the truth?

Actually, we are in good company. They all make the same claim. Every revealed religion claims to be, in some form or another, the only real act in town. Which is why other people are not so taken aback as we think they are. … Read More >>

Synagogue 3000: The Future of Judaism to be Found in Churches

The folks at Synagogue 3000 are at it again. Last year, Pastor Rick Warren was invited to LA’s Sinai Temple following a “ground-breaking meeting with Synagogue 3000.” This year, the headline says it all…

JEWISH WORSHIP LEADER CRAIG TAUBMAN BRINGS MEGA-CHURCH STYLE PRAYER EXPERIENCES TO ATLANTA IN BID TO INVIGORATE SYNAGOGUE LIFE: Synagogue 3000’s Atlanta Initiative presents composer/recording artist Taubman and local clergy leading services in aim to pack the pews March 23rd and 24th 2007

In order to “invigorate” synagogue life, Synagogue 3000 tells us, we should turn to churches. What a revolutionary idea! Except, of course, that it isn’t new at all. Nearly 200 years ago, a new synagogue was built in Seesen Germany. The founders decided that prayer in most synagogues was “unseemly” by comparison with that in churches, and therefore they revised the service “in the direction of beautifying it and rendering it more orderly.” The new synagogue featured German-language songs and prayers, ecclesiastical robes, a mixed choir, and an organ — all of which were common to German Protestant churches and all of which were previously foreign to Jewish congregations. And thus the Reform movement was born.

When Synagogue 3000 was trading clergy …

Three Approaches to Dialogue

R’ Meir Soloveichik, always a source of food for thought, offers some gourmet nibbles in the current issue of Commentary (subscription only; not online). In what is ostensibly a book review, Soloveitchik offers some plain and compelling talk about interreligious dialogue, an expose of the non-orthodox thought of some nominally Orthodox figures, and yet another glimpse into the wisdom of his grandfather’s brother. zt”l.

The book is the work of Maria Johnson, an Oxford-trained Catholic theologian at University of Scranton, who becomes close with some of the fervently Orthodox families in her neighborhood. Strangers and Neighbors: What I Have Learned About Christianity by Living Among Orthodox Jews represents to Soloveichik a better alternative to two older views on the encounter of Judaism with other faiths.

One of these demands that Christians elide parts of their belief and Scripture that grate on the sensitivities of others. In response to the 2003 Pontifical Biblical Commission (headed by Cardinal Ratziger, since elevated to the papacy), Rabbi James Rudin of the American Jewish Committee suggested that Christians should declare that “the messiah’s identity remains unknown, and Jesus, whom Christians believe to be the messiah, is not waiting at the end of days … Read More >>

Americans and Israel

The Slonimer Rebbe (Chanuka, pg. 38) observes that the symbolism of the approaching holiday of Chanuka includes the notion that illumination breaks through specifically from darkness. Both the community and every individual Jew must learn from Chanuka that when things appear hopelessly lost and irredeemable, a kernel of life-force remains that can emerge, grow and triumph.

We could use some good news on the political front. I would be willing to forgo all gifts at the end of the month in return for Santa Claus flying James Baker to the North Pole and leaving him there. In the meantime, we can at least appreciate one small item of good news. A recent major American poll shows that popular support for Israel actually grew since March, a time period we would have predicted to show a sharp decline.

Almost everything that could have gone wrong for Israel’s image did – and then some. Americans, brought up with the myth of Israel’s might and invincibility (and banking on its availability to America, should it ever be called upon to deliver), watched a weak military effort in Lebanon botched by even weaker political leadership. The US government began high-profile actions against alleged … Read More >>

Jewish Action

A new issue of Jewish Action, – the OU’s glossy quarterly – hit the stands last week. A confluence of factors leads to this unabashed plug.

Of course I’m biased. I’m on the editorial board. So are a number of other people you will recognize as shuttling back and forth across the Agudah/OU divide. That’s the main reason I like it. It is one of the only Orthodox publications that offers real debate: two or more sides of an issue.

It is a good issue for Cross-Currents contributors. Toby Katz turns what could have been a boring magazine review into an important examination of the values communicated to girls and young women by secular and Torah publications. Yours truly wrote the cover story about friends and foes in the Christian world. Readers have commented in the past that several CC pieces seemed to go out of their way to be friendly to Christian interests. Some of these readers approved; others did not. Perhaps at least some in the latter group will understand after reading the article why it is possible today to react to Christians with something other than the animosity and hostility that we … Read More >>

The Virtue of Struggle

There is something quite shocking about the Rev. Ted Haggard scandal.

But it’s not what you might think.

The allegations leveled against Rev. Haggard are obviously salacious, but in today’s world, unfortunately, they are not shocking. This wasn’t the first nor is it likely the last such scandal involving a religious leader.

Actually, what was really unprecedented was the tone and tenor of the reverend’s written apology. In an age when personal responsibility is usually eschewed for blaming others and claiming the mantle of victimhood (often to be followed by entry into some sort of rehab), a statement actually acknowledging mistakes and accepting culpability is nothing short of shocking.

In his letter – read to thousands and now heard by millions – Haggard declared matter-of-factly that, “I am a deceiver and a liar.” Furthermore, he stated that, “The fact is that I am guilty . . . and I take full responsibility for the entire problem.”

While there is probably nothing that can completely undo the great pain felt by Rev. Haggard’s multitudes of followers, this statement – especially if followed by meaningful repentance – has the potential to serve as a profoundly positive lesson in … Read More >>

Winning Friends in High Places

Just how hard should Jews work to build relationships for a rainy day? A little-known work of the Ralbag may hold a clue to the answer.

Many of us have heard the stories about the ethical response of a Jewish leader to a non-Jew and the dividends it brought years later. We know about the Nodah Bi-Yehudah and the baker’s son, and how it saved Prague’s Jews from a plot to destroy them; we’ve read about R’ Yaakov Kamenetsky and his instructions to return the extra postage to the postmaster, and how he became mayor years later and saved Jews under Nazi rule. We have digested many similar stories. Part of their charm is that the response was spontaneous and uncalculated. The Torah figure acted as he did because he was suffused with integrity, not because he anticipated some future gain.

In more recent times, Jewish leaders have sometimes deliberately pursued warm relationships with non-Jews in high places specifically for the purpose of investing in the future. There is nothing ignoble or unethical about this, as the parties on the other side of the relationship are also looking out for their own future benefit. The expectation is symbiotic gain. … Read More >>

Do We All Believe in the Same G-d? Do Muslims?

Back in the old days, America’s religious checkerboard came in only two colors – Jewish and Christian. This was never true, of course, but we liked to think it was. The perception left room for an effective throw-away line that made inter-group cooperation possible: “We all worship the same G-d, after all.” I’m not sure if this was ever true, but by now it is not even a useful fiction. Ironically, the presidential aspirations of Mitt Romney are creating doubts about whether there is room for all of us to stand under the same theological umbrella. As far as I am concerned, the first ones to get pushed out into the rain are the Islamofascists.

Terry Mattingly is one of America’s most influential religion writers. He recently wrote about Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s Mormonism coming up as an issue in his possible bid for the Republican presidential nod in 2008. Commenting on Mormon beliefs about gay marriage, Romney had a memorable response. “Mormons believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and a woman and a woman.”

But the real issue, says Mattingly is not polygamy, but polytheism. He links to a longer analysis … Read More >>

Also Sprach Zarathustra

You learn something every day.

Yesterday I learned that Laurie Goodstein of the New York Times doesn’t daven shacharis (the morning prayer). How else could you explain what she wrote about the disappearing Zoroastrians?

Those of us who do daven remember that the first blessing before the Shma praises G-d for creating both light and darkness. Why is this so important? It might not have been so crucial, were it not for the Zoroastrians, a group that once dominated the Persian – Iraqi world that hosted our Talmudic sages. They came up with one of the most elegant – even if wrong – solutions to the problem of evil. They posited two gods, one responsible for good (symbolized by light – and they were fire-worshippers, to boot), the other for evil and darkness. Our blessing directly challenged this notion, asserting that the One G-d is responsible for all phenomena, whether we see them as good or not so good. Zoroastrians were the most famous of dualists. Everyone knew that.

Everyone but Laurie Goodstein, who somehow credited them with a core belief in one god. I decided to check the ultimate authority, just in case my memory … Read More >>

The World Council of Churches and Making Religion Irrelevant

Good religion, bad religion. Differentiating between them jumped into prominence in the aftermath of 9/11. Americans who ordinarily gave religion a wide berth suddenly had to contemplate religious warfare on their native soil. Europeans were used to this; to Americans it was quite new. A litmus test of acceptability quickly sprang into existence. Religion was good if it promoted tolerance, cooperation and respect for other groups. If it wanted to convert people (especially people close to your shopping mall) by the sword, it was bad.

People who value religion in their lives require much more of religion to make it good. A while back, I came across some Jewish demographers who argued for a paradigm shift in Jewish outreach. A generation or two ago, young Jews could be connected to the Jewish community through the Holocaust, or through Israel. This was no longer the case. The Holocaust card had been played too often, and was associated with persecution and oppression – notions that young Jews didn’t want to think about. Israel’s image on campus was so poor, that increasing numbers of students found identifying with it a liability.

Fortunately, they argued, a new strategy suggested itself in reaching under-affiliated, Jews, albeit in a different age cohort. Jews just a few years older and starting families sensed a moral aimlessness around them. As they thought about the values that they would want to teach their children, they realized that they were coming up short on answers to questions of right and wrong, or moral and ethical questions in an ever-changing world. If Jewish teachers could point the way through Jewish wisdom and tradition, they had a great chance to connect the younger generation with their legacy and their coreligionists.

People who take religion seriously have every expectation that a Deity Who cares about Man will have something to say about the issues that consume people, both major and minor. Religion, they reason, ought to work. If it cannot address the eternal questions of life, it won’t satisfy the quest for significance. Religion should address the ultimate issues, such as the meaning and purpose of life, and the existence of justice in an apparently unjust world. It also ought to provide insight into the everyday dilemmas that people must agonize over. It should help them in their relationships with spouses, children, parents and friends. It should guide them in relating to their jobs, their free time, their issues of money, satisfaction, and security. It should help make some sense out of the headlines of the morning paper. Tertullian, Pascal and Kierkegaard may not have obsessed over these issues, but then again there may not have been any need to in their days, when many people thought they had a better handle on these things. The western tendency to question everything and take nothing for granted leaves many people searching for moral footholds while feeling like they are falling down the side of the mountain. Continue reading → The World Council of Churches and Making Religion Irrelevant