יום שני, דצמבר 25, 2006


Holiday lights

Chanukah ended at sundown Saturday. An hour or two afterwards, I happened to look out our window and see the lights on the houses across the canyon. The immediate thought that sprang to mind was, but isn't the holiday over?

Of course, a fraction of a second later, I realized the absurdity of my thought, but it was an interesting moment!

יום חמישי, דצמבר 21, 2006


Well, that's a relief--Belief-O-Matic says I'm 100% Reform Jew!

I will admit a weakness for the time-wasting opportunities afforded by various "quizzes" on the 'net. Via TikkunGer, I came across one at Beliefnet called the Belief-O-Matic. So, I took the quiz.

And, ready or not, here are the results...

The top score on the list below represents the faith that Belief-O-Matic, in its less than infinite wisdom, thinks most closely matches your beliefs. However, even a score of 100% does not mean that your views are all shared by this faith, or vice versa.

Belief-O-Matic then lists another 26 faiths in order of how much they have in common with your professed beliefs. The higher a faith appears on this list, the more closely it aligns with your thinking. [...]

1. Reform Judaism (100%)
2. Liberal Quakers (92%)
3. Unitarian Universalism (89%)
4. Neo-Pagan (86%)
5. Sikhism (85%)
6. Baha'i Faith (83%)
7. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (75%)
8. Orthodox Judaism (71%)
9. New Age (71%)
10. Mahayana Buddhism (69%)
11. Islam (67%)
12. Jainism (66%)
13. Secular Humanism (65%)
14. Theravada Buddhism (55%)
15. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (53%)
16. Orthodox Quaker (50%)
17. Hinduism (49%)
18. Scientology (47%)
19. New Thought (46%)
20. Taoism (46%)
21. Nontheist (38%)
22. Jehovah's Witness (37%)
23. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (29%)
24. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (26%)
25. Seventh Day Adventist (26%)
26. Eastern Orthodox (21%)
27. Roman Catholic (21%)

Naturally, I am pleased at coming out 100% Reform Jew. I would never take a quiz like this too seriously, but it is fun and I certainly can't argue with the results. I would not have expected Neo-Pagan to come in at over 85%, but given the post below on ancient winter-solstice festivals, maybe I should not be so surprised! And that Baha'i comes in fairly high is hardly a surprise.

TikkunGer (linked above) has some interesting reflections on why "eastern God-centered" religions came in high on his own list. As for me, Sikhism scored high, but Hinduism low. I don't know enough about either to know why the two are so separated in my own beliefs (according to my responses to the quiz).

Seeing Liberal Quaker (I will admit I never knew there was any other kind) and UU up there is also not a surprise, I suppose (but see my "further reflections" below). Finally, seeing Eastern Orthodox Christian and Roman Catholic at the bottom reinforces my belief (so to speak) that the quiz has some validity.

Update: TikkunGer discusses re-taking the "quiz"!

And further reflections (22 Dec.): While I can see that one of the points of the quiz must be to reveal less-appreciated correlations of what I will call ancillary beliefs across faiths, any scoring mechanism that results in both Judaism (of any strain) and any form of Christianity being over 90% must be taken with a grain of salt (kosher salt, presumably). That is, the quiz's internal scoring and ranking mechanism is not eliminating faiths for which one or more fundamental beliefs of the quiz-taker contradict the faith. What I mean is that one--such as me--can't be compatible with any strain of Christianity if one utterly rejects the divine nature of Jesus of Nazareth. On the ancillary beliefs, sure, I am compatible with Quaker and some of the Mainline Protestant faiths, simply because I share many of the positions taken by the organized manifestations of these faiths on social and foreign policy. But they are still Christian and I am not. Taking them out leaves me with Neo-Paganism, Sikhism, Baha'i, and Orthodox Judaism to round out my top five. (Actually, New Age and Orthodox are tied; must be my inner mystic.)

For whatever it all might be worth...

Some other bloggers' experiences with the quiz:

Rachel, at VeryOpinionated.com finds "several of the answer choices too simplistic to accurately reflect what I believe." I expected to feel that way, as I did about a couple of political-beliefs quizzes I have taken. Yet one of the political-beliefs quizzes (which I may post here later) and this religious one produced perfectly reasonable results for me (again, for whatever it might be worth).

Ryan Schultz, at as I live a few more questions, finds that "what's interesting to me is how the quiz results actually match up with what I had already been thinking about myself and my spiritual beliefs" [emphasis in original]. He then had an inspired (pun intended) idea: "I would take the Belief-O-Matic test a second time, only answer each of the questions as I would have fifteen years ago, before I burned out of my job, before I came out of the closet, but after my separation and divorce. Results?" Quite different!

Rev. Matt Tittle at Keep the Faith found it accurate, and says that quiz-takers should be sure to take a look at their bottom five in addition to their top five. (Good advice, as I noted above.) And he invites readers to post their own in his comment section, and many did so.


The new moon and the winter solstice

Today is the first day of winter (for those of us in the northern hemisphere). The winter solstice has been tied to spiritually imbued festivals since long before monotheism came around, and of course, our own Jewish Chanukah was built on the tradition of bringing light to the darkest time of year.

If (as discussed in the previous post) Chanukah is timed to the new moon closest to the winter solstice, then how often do these two events coincide as closely as they did this year? If I correctly understand the tables on Earth's Seasons and Phases of the Moon offered by the US Naval Observatory, it would be every nineteen years.

The last time the new moon was the night before the day of shortest daylight (as was the case this year) appears to have been 1987, and the next would be 2025. The actual moments of the new moon and solstice last came on the same night in 1995 and would do so again in 2014.

יום שני, דצמבר 18, 2006


Chanukah: Light and darkness

Chanukah occurs when it does in order that we are lighting candles at the time of maximum darkness--the new moon closest to the winter solstice:
if Hanukkah is not merely a solstice but a darkness festival, then the 25th of Kislev is the perfect time. In some years, the solstice day itself would be a night of bright full moon--especially powerful in an agrarian-pastoral culture with few artificial lights. So even the solstice itself would feel less like the darkest day of the year on such a moonlit night. By setting Hanukkah on the 25th of the month, the Jews made sure that the night would be dark. By setting it in Kislev, they made sure the day would be very short and the sun very dim. [Rabbi Arthur Waskow at My Jewish Learning]
In that case, Jews in the southern hemisphere really should celebrate the holiday in Sivan or Tamuz, no? And adopt a summer-solstice festival in Kislev.


Palestinian instability

It seems obvious that Israel will not be meaningfully secure until Palestine is stable. And events over the weekend portend an increasingly unstable situation in the Palestinian Territories.

President Mahmoud Abbas insists he will press on with his plan to hold early elections for both presidency and parliament, despite Hamas's claim that it will boycott them on the grounds that they are unconstitutional.

I have studied the Palestinian constitution, and Hamas's interpretation is correct, as best I can tell (from the English translation posted at the PA's website). There is no provision allowing the president to dissolve parliament and call early elections. The parliament was just elected in January for a four-year term.

What little of the coverage of the Palestinian elections noted, however, was that Hamas barely "won" the elections. In fact, Hamas was backed in the portion of Palestine's electoral system that asks for voters' party preference by only 44% of the voters. Fatah came in a very close second, with 41%.

If Palestine used an electoral system like that of Israel, Hamas would have won less than half the seats in parliament and been forced to form the unity government that Abbas has been trying for months to create. Instead, Palestine uses an electoral system in which only half the seats are allocated based on party preference. The others are elected by one of the world's worst electoral systems* and the result was that the overall outcome was 56% of the seats held by Hamas, which thus claimed it had no reason to form a unity government because the constitution allows the prime minister and cabinet to be appointed by the majority of parliament. Again Hamas's interpretation is correct.

The political tragedy in a situation filled with tragedy is that a majority of Palestinian voters voted against Hamas, and no doubt many of the plurality that did vote for it did so because of disgust with the staus quo, and not to endorse the Hamas rejectionist platform or its Syrian overlords. But Hamas's leadership was put in the drivers seat by the electoral system.

It's hard to see an end to the instability as the presidency and the parliament and their respective supporters clash over Abbas's attempt to call these elections. And the irony is that, if Hamas participated in them, it could very well win the presidency as well as retain the parliamentary majority (assuming no change in the electoral rules).

It is hard to see how Abbas's gambit--backed by Tony Blair on his visit over the weekend--can produce a better outcome than the status quo. Bad as that is.

* Half the seats in the Palestinian parliament are elected in multi-seat districts by plurality--about as disproportional and therefore unrepresentative an electoral system as exists. The voter may cast votes for up to as many candidates as there are seats in the district. The winners are simply the candidates with the most votes. This system practically guarantees all the seats in the district go to the largest and best organized party. That is, if all or most of the plurality party's supporters use all their votes and cast them all for candidates of one party, it will sweep. Hamas was the plurality--but not majority--in most districts, and it also had the most disciplined supporters (i.e. they were somewhat more likely to use all their votes for their party's candidates than were Fatah voters). The other half of the seats are allocated by Territory-wide proportional representation, based on a separate party-list vote.


Ahmadinejad's allies do poorly

Good news. If Ahmadinejad's "conference" on the Shoah was meant to mobilize his ultra-fundamentalist allies in the local-council and Assembly of Experts elections, the gambit backfired. According to Reuters India (a much more thorough source than most other English language media, though BBC has been good on this, too), turnout in these elections last Friday was much higher than had been expected (around 60%). The reformists were the ones who were mobilized, and they and more moderate conservatives have pushed Ahmadinejad's allies into a minority on the councils of Tehran and other major cities.

Even in the Experts election--one of the most important institutions in Iran--candidates loyal to Hashemi Rafsanjani (whom Ahmadinejad defeated in the surprise outcome of the June, 2005 presidential election) performed better than allies of Ahmadinejad.

Iran is not a democracy. Far from it. However, it is not a totalitarian state, either. And even if we want to call it a theocracy (whatever that might mean), we have to recognize that those who claim to determine how God wants Iran to be governed are divided over what that means. The Assembly of Experts consist of the clerics who effectively govern Iran through their influence on the Supreme Leader. The Experts also pick the new Supreme Leader--a task they are unlikely to be called on to perform until Ayatollah Khamanei dies. The Supreme Leader can't manage the country alone, and the balance of factions within the Islamic clergy affects how he manages the political process. And that "managing" includes exercising, directly or indirectly through other institutions he controls, his various vetoes over the president.

So, while the president was not on the ballot on Friday and neither was the parliament (with which Ahmadinejad has had numerous policy conflicts), the outcome shows that his bluster has not won him and the ultras within the clerical establishment additional support. In fact, the reverse has happened.

Ahmadinejad is weaker now that he was last week, and the chances that the next Supreme Leader will be from the ultra-fundamentalist camp just declined. This is good news.

יום שלישי, דצמבר 12, 2006


Neturei Karta, honored guests of Ahmadinejad

OK, I understand that some Orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist. But how one tiny and inconsequential sect can give credence to a Shoah-denying "conference," at which America's leading contemporary fascist is also present, and that is sponsored by the government of Iran, all the while claiming to be speaking for all Orthodox Jews, is really beyond me. Fortunately, they are tiny and (mostly) inconsequential, though they have gotten their very visibly Orthodox appearance on world television this week, making them seem as though they are more consequential than they are.

Interesting further discussion at Jewschool.

יום שני, דצמבר 11, 2006


Haredi air?

Some haredi businessmen in the USA are claiming in setting up a haredi-owned airline to compete with El Al, which some haredi leaders are threatening to boycott over a decision to conduct some flights on Shabbat. As noted in the JPost:

El Al stands to lose a significant chunk of its clientele if, as is expected, the boycott is called. Haredim make up some 20 to 30 percent of passengers on certain flights to the US and Europe. They are among the most faithful clients who continue to fly even during difficult geopolitical situations in Israel.

In theory, El Al could offset some or all of the losses by flying on Shabbat.

Imagine that. Individuals could decide for themselves whether or not to fly on Shabbat.

יום חמישי, דצמבר 07, 2006


Conservative Reform and Reaction?

The Conservative Jewish movement of the USA has made its much-anticipated decision to allow the ordination of openly gay rabbis and to recognize same-sex marriage (or "commitment"). At the same time, it continues to allow the more "orthodox" within to go on opposing such liberal reforms.

There are those who believe that this attempt to split such a large difference is doomed to split the movement itself. For instance, Rabbi Ismar Schorsch, former chancellor of the Conservative movement's Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, whose views were summarized recently in Haaretz:

Schorsch predicts that the liberal branch of the Conservative movement (the groups demanding rights for homosexuals) will eventually join the Reform movement, while the conservative branch of the movement will join modern-Orthodox groups, which are also experiencing growing conflicts with the conservatives (more religious) in their own ranks.

There will still be three streams, but their composition will be different: The conservative Orthodox will be on one side, the Reforms and liberals on the other, and a collection of modern Orthodox and conservative Conservatives in the middle.

Ongoing discussions in many places on the blogosphere, including Velveteen Rabbi and Jewschool.


Who is a Jew? And Why convert?

A post in two parts...

1. Who is a Jew?

In the ongoing debate, I endorse the definition of Rabbi Rami, who says that a Jew is:

a person who calls herself a Jew, makes rabbinic Judaism her primary source of spiritual exploration and celebration, wrestles with God, Torah, Mitzvot, and Israel, and who identifies with, joins with, supports, and defends her fellow Jews world-wide.

My definition is behavioral rather than genetic, and is stricter than blood, if not thicker.

The context of Rabbi Rami's post is a question of whether Messianic Jews still count. He concludes that he uncertain whether they fall within or beyond his definition.

In any case, a behavioral definition of being a Jew. Amein, rabbi!

2. Why convert?

I hasten to add that my statement about a behavioral definition is not a statement against a process of "conversion," per se. This is something I have wrestled with for months. That is, why enter a formal process when I could just behave and believe? That is, do I need the institutional seal of approval? Even more, do I need it when it is Reform Judaism and just about only Reform Judaism (or probably Reconstructionism) that appeals to me, yet many more traditional/Orthodox Jews would never recognize me as a Jew in any case? I think TikkunGer sums up the thinking I have been gravitating towards:

it’s been my experience at least with most religions the conversion process is about personal salvation or emancipation, and anything else is a distant second to the primary reason. [...]

Becoming a Jew is about recognizing God and Torah but requires more than just these two ingredients, it’s about joining a family, it’s about joining a tribe, it’s about joining a peoplehood. [...]

This joining of the tribe is very much like immigrating to a new land, both literally and spiritually and requires more than just a desire. It requires that a convert not only learn and study, but also demonstrate that he or she is able to live life in a Jewish fashion.

This discourse (and the whole post is really worth reading) deserves a personal reflection. I was interested in "The Jewish People" long before I came to think about "The Jewish Religion." In fact, as I discuss in my previous post On Atheism, from the time I drifted away from Lutheranism until the time I decided to enter Judaism, I seldom gave God and spirituality much thought.

There have been times in the more recent phase of my own journey when I thought that my interest in peoplehood before religion was putting it backwards. But I am getting increasingly confident that it is precisely the right way to do it. If all I wanted was spirituality without Jesus-as-Lord, I could be a Bahai or a Buddhist, or any number of religions that don't require anything like a formal "conversion" process. But that's not what I've been looking for. It has taken me a while--including 15 years of marriage to my wonderful Jewish wife--to realize that it was both the Chosen People and Who Chose Them that I wanted to get closer to.

יום רביעי, דצמבר 06, 2006


Ukrainian anti-Semitism

How sad. One in three Ukrainians do not want Jews to be citizens of their country, a survey found. The Ukrainian Jewish community is experiencing quite a revival. At the same time, attacks on Jewish people and monuments are increasing One recent example was the damage last summer to the Babiy Yar memorial menorah.


Of course, Ukraine is the country where the Cossak Hetman, Bogdan Chmielnicki, is such a national hero that there is a massive statue of him right in the center of Kyiv. (See the Jewish Encylopedia.com entry on Chmielnicki.)

Kyiv St. Michaels a view from Sofiyska.jpg

I wonder if the pollsters did any regional breakdown. I would guess these attitudes are much worse in the unreconstructed east than in the west.

(Thanks to Jewschool for the tip.)

UPDATE: A newer JPost item indicates that the study's authors found attitudes towards Jews to be in about the middle of the spectrum of Ukrainian minorities about which respondents were asked:

71.8 percent of respondents said they did not want to see [Roma] as citizens of Ukraine, and 61.4 percent expressed a similar attitude toward ethnic Romanians.

Moreover, the survey found, that 6.6 percent of Ukrainians do not want to Jews to come to Ukraine, compared to 14.6 percent of those who do not want to see Americans in the country and 0.7 percent of respondents who do not want Russians to visit Ukraine.

For a variety of reasons, Ukraine is a country for which I feel a high degree of affinity. It is so troubling to learn of such high degrees of xenophobia and racism among that country's population.

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