FaithWorld

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Israel’s burial crisis and the afterlife

Far from the spotlight of peace talks and military conflicts, Israel is facing a different kind of land crisis: it is running out of space to bury its dead. Most Jewish cemeteries in major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, are filled beyond maximum capacity. Gravestones are packed together leaving little room for mourners to gather.

Cemeteries in Israel are packed with graves. REUTERS/Darren Whiteside

You can read about a new system of multi-tiered burial chambers being used in the Jewish state to solve the issue of land. It's actually an ancient system, used thousands of years ago by Jewish sages, that was modernised by two Israeli architects and given approval by the country's chief rabbis. Ancient Sanhedrin Tombs Modernised Multi-Tier System

Ancient Sanhedrin tombs and their modern-day revival

Adding to the problem of dwindling burial space for Israelis, each year about 1,500 Jews from around the world choose the Holy Land for their final resting place. For some, the choice could come from the allure of being buried in the Jewish state. For others, it stems from the Bible. And you can always find some group that offers to help make it happen.

Israel's Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger said in an interview with Reuters that it is written in the Talmud -- a collection of ancient Rabbinic texts -- that "the earth of the Holy Land cancels all the sins of the person who passed away so he can go directly to heaven and paradise without sin".

One of the most sought after -- and expensive -- cemeteries is Jerusalem's Mount of Olives, just outside the Old City walls. Many Jews pay thousands of dollars to be buried at the Mount of Olives because the Bibilical Prophet Zecharia said that the Messiah, upon arriving in Jerusalem, will first ressurect those buried there.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Collective Punishment in Religious Jerusalem Neighborhoods?

ISRAEL-RELIGION/RIOTMuch ink has been spilled about the riots of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jews in Jerusalem over the past several weeks (See our article on that here). Among some sources, there's a note of disdain for this sector of Jewish population, seen as being contemptuous of the state of Israel while making up the largest portion of the country's welfare recipients.

So I was a bit surprised to see one group rise to defend the Haredim this week --left-leaning bloggers. A few critiques were posted about Israel's Jerusalem municipality's reaction to Haredi riots. Philip Weiss, in his blog Mondoweiss, calls the police treatment of Haredim "bigotry." And Jerry Haber, of the Magnes Zionist blog, began his latest entry saying, "I tend to distrust news reports about Haredim the same way I distrust news reports about Palestinians; both are hated sectors in Israeli society (though the haredim that participate in the state are much more privileged.)"

Not only bloggers took issue with police treatment of Haredi communities. Haaretz, Israel's left-leaning daily, had an editorial condemning Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat's "collective punishment against Haredim".  They criticised his decision to halt municipal services to two ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, Mea She'arim and Geula in response to the street violence.  Barkat said this was done for safety reasons, to prevent attacks on municipal workers.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

The “Shabbat Wars”–to be continued?

ISRAEL-RELIGION/ It's hard to imagine that a quarrel over a municipal parking lot could not only lead to blows, but could possibly drag the Prime Minister into getting involved. At least, that's what a member of the Labor party called for on Sunday, says the Jerusalem Post. Now, police are investigating threats to the Jerusalem mayor's life.

This is the aftermath of the latest battle in the ongoing "Shabbat Wars" between ultra-Orthodox Jews and Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat over opening a municipal parking lot on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath (See Reuters coverage of the big protests/rioting that happened Saturday here). Hundreds of ultra-orthodox Jews rioted against the opening, while around a thousand secular Israelis rallied on Saturday in support of the parking lot opening. Now a Jerusalem City Council representative is resigning over the issue, and the former police commander has condemned Barkat for "insisting on making the wrong decisions" (Read more here).

ISRAEL-RELIGION/

In spite of these ruffled feathers on the political scene, most of the coverage in the mainstream Israeli media has leaned towards supporting Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat's decision to open a Saturday lot. See this op-ed from Hanuch Daom with Yedioth Ahronoth, which criticizes "the sane elements within the Orthodox community who do not dare to face up [their ultra-religious counterparts] and say: Enough."

Is there a place for God’s Holy Mountain in Jerusalem?

God's Holy MountainAsher Frohlich’s painting of “God’s Holy Mountain” (at right) depicts a scene from an imagined future Jerusalem where Islam’s Dome of the Rock stands beside a rebuilt Jewish temple and worshipers of different faiths mingle in the courtyard.

Is this scene too good to come true?

The problem today, in the simplest of terms, stems from the fact that one spot in the heart of the old city of Jerusalem, is sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Jews know it as  the Temple Mount and Muslims call it al-Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary). For more about the religious history of the complex, click here.

Today, a gilded dome stands above a rock where Muslims believe Mohammad rose to heaven. It is the same spot where a sanctuary known as the ‘holy of holies’ of two ancient Jewish temples is believed to have been located. Many Jews still pray for the temple to be rebuilt, a step some believe would then herald the return of the Messiah and a time of world peace.

Sikh temple project sparks dispute over copying holy sites

golden-temple (Photo: Sikhs pray at the Golden Temple in Amritsar, 17 Sept 2001/Rajesh Bhambi)

Are some holy sites so holy or so unique that they shouldn’t be copied? Should monuments like the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican or the Western Wall in Jerusalem have a kind of copyright so nobody can replicate them elsewhere?

It seems unlikely that believers of any faith would undertake such a project, if for no other reason that most holy sites are quite complex, with artwork that would be very expensive to reproduce. But some Sikhs in India are building what looks like a copy of the Golden Temple, their religion’s holiest shrine, in Sangrur, 265 miles (427 km) southeast of the temple in Amritsar. The project has sparked off a debate in the Sikh community and the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC), which maintains gurdwaras in India’s Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh states, has protested against it and called on the religion’s five high priests to intervene. The Sikhs building the new gurdwara deny they’re copying the famous temple, simply giving a facelift to their dilapidated gurdwara.

As Mumbai’s DNA daily put it: “Imitation is sometimes not the most acceptable form of flattery.”

Islamic tone, interfaith touch in Obama’s speech to Muslim world

obama-speech-baghdadIt started with “assalaamu alaykum” and ended with “may God’s peace be upon you.” Inbetween, President Barack Obama dotted his speech to the Muslim world with Islamic terms and references meant to resonate with his audience. The real substance in the speech were his policy statements and his call for a “new beginning” in U.S. relations with Muslims, as outlined in our trunk news story. But the new tone was also important and it struck a chord with many Muslims who heard the speech, as our Middle East Special Correspondent Alistair Lyon found. Not all, of course — you can find positive and negative reactions here. (Photo: Iraqi in Baghdad watches Obama’s speech, 4 June 2009/Mohammed Ameen)

Among Obama’s Islamic touches were four references to the Koran (which he always called the Holy Koran), his approving mention of the scientific, mathematical and philosophical achievements of the medieval Islamic world and his citing of multi-faith life in Andalusia. These are standard elements that many Islam experts — Muslims and non-Muslims — mention in speeches at learned conferences, but it’s not often that you hear an American president talking about them.

Two religious references particularly caught my attention because they weren’t the usual conference circuit clichés. One was his comment about being in “the region where (Islam) was first revealed” – a choice of past participle showing respect for the religion.

Visiting the Samaritans on their holy West Bank mountain

samaritan-slideshow (Click on the photo above for a slideshow on the Samaritans)

Samaritan High Priest Abdel Moin Sadaqa was relaxing on his porch watching Al-Jazeera on a wide-screen TV when we dropped by his home to talk about his ancient religion. “I like to keep up with the news,” the 83-year-old head of one of the world’s oldest and smallest religions explained as he turned down the volume. Told we wanted to make him part of the news, more precisely part of a feature on Samaritanism, he sat up, carefully put on his red priestly turban and proceeded to chat away in the fluent English he learned as a boy under the British mandate for Palestine. Our interview with him and other Samaritans were the basis for my feature “Samaritans use modern means to keep ancient faith.”

sadaqa (Photo: High Priest Abdel Moin Sadaqa at his home, 19 May 2009/Tom Heneghan)

Visiting the descendants of the biblical Samaritans was the last stop in a series of visits in Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank I made after covering Pope Benedict’s trip to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. Leaving Jerusalem with Ivan Karakashian from our bureau there, we drove through Israel’s imposing security barrier to Ramallah, picked up our Nablus stringer Atef Sa’ad there and then drove north along the web of priority roads that link the spreading network of Israeli settlements in the West Bank back to Israel. Signs of the Israeli-Palestinian face-off were all around — Israeli army patrols and checkpoints, guarded Jewish enclaves flying the Star of David flag on the hills and Palestinian villages with their mosques and minarets in the valleys. The tension seemed to melt away, though, when we turned onto a narrow road to wind our way up Mount Gerizim to the Samaritan village of Kiryat Luza.

The West Bank Samaritans used to live in Nablus, the nearest Palestinian city, but left it when the first intifada in 1987 brought the tension too close for comfort. The Samaritans get along with both Israelis and Palestinians and many have identity papers from both sides, Husney Kohen, one of the faith’s 12 hereditary priests, told us at the community’s small museum in Kiryat Luza. But their custom of not taking sides and keeping secrets meant that gunmen began using their neighbourhood as a place to execute enemies in broad daylight without worrying about witnesses. “We weren’t hurt, but we were afraid,” he said. Now living on their holy mountain, the Samaritans feel safe.

GUESTVIEW: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the author’s alone. The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is Professor of Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

sheikh-and-rabbi-2 (Photo: Muslim sheikh and Jewish rabbi address interfaith meeting in Brussels, 4 Jan 2005/Thierry Roge)

By Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky

Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Peace and love between all men – except journalists and security, of course

pope-blessing

Pope Benedict has left the Holy Land bequeathing a message of peace, tolerance and love between all religions and peoples.

We hope that message also filters through to the eternally fractious relationship between journalists and security men - which gets even more strained when a high-profile visitor like the Pope is in town.

Months of elaborate preparation went in to ensuring the Pope's visit was safe and successful and also to ensure journalists got controlled access to major events to tell the stories their readers and viewers want to see.

PAPA DIXIT — Pope’s last day and departure for Rome

On the last day of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict visited the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic partriarchates, prayed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and delivered a farewell address that touched on the main political points of his trip.

Here are some excerpts from his speeches:

pope-greekAT THE GREEK ORTHODOX PARTRIARCHATE OF JERUSALEM:

ECUMENISM: “I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives. Of particular joy for our Churches has been the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The warm welcome he received and his moving intervention were sincere expressions of the deep spiritual joy that arises from the extent to which communion is already present between our Churches. Such ecumenical experience bears clear witness to the link between the unity of the Church and her mission.” (Photo: Pope Benedict presents a book at the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, 15 May 2009/Pool).

AT THE CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE: