FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

At home with Israel’s ultra-Orthodox

By Ronen Zvulun

As a native of Jerusalem, an Orthodox Jews’ appearance is not alien to me. The thought which often comes to mind when thinking about the ultra-Orthodox community is “so close yet so far”.

SLIDESHOW: ISRAEL'S ULTRA-ORTHODOX

How does my life as a secular person differ from the life of a Haredi man (Hebrew for “those who tremble (before God)?

How different are the lives of my daughters from that of a child growing up in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood: the education, the atmosphere at home, the games, the books, the Western-based culture in which my family lives versus the sheltered lives of the Haredim. Nonetheless, despite all these differences, I find the common ground between us and am mostly welcomed when I cover their reality.

I photographed the Kreus family preparing for the Sabbath on a Friday evening. As a father of two, I was amazed to see how a family of 14 works in harmony like a well-oiled machine. One child peels potatoes while the eldest dresses her siblings as others go to help relatives nearby.

Their house is small, including a simple kitchen, two bedrooms and a front courtyard yet nothing feels missing. I can’t help feeling as if I went back in time while photographing the family.

from Photographers' Blog:

Two worlds of Purim

By Nir Elias

As an Israeli and a resident of “ultra” secular Tel Aviv for most of my adult life, Purim -- the celebration of the Jews' salvation from genocide in ancient Persia, as recounted in the Book of Esther -- has always been a time of partying and dressing up, for me.

Images of Orthodox Jews celebrating Purim were always very familiar. But being present at one of these celebrations was a different experience altogether.

This year I went to photograph the Vizhnitz Hasidic community in Bnei Brak, an ultra-Orthodox city some 7 km (4 miles) from Tel Aviv. The Vizhnitz community members tend to emphasize the joyous gatherings and celebrations commemorated in the Jewish tradition.

German president welcomes Islam in 20th anniversary Unity Day speech

imam (Photo: An imam leads prayers at a mosque in Dortmund on German Unity Day, October 3, 2010./Ina Fassbender)

German President Christian Wulff said Sunday that Islam had a place in Germany, during a speech celebrating two decades of the country’s reunification.

The president, who holds a largely ceremonial position but is considered a moral authority for the nation, used the televised ceremony to wade into a debate over immigrant integration that has captivated public attention for weeks.

“First and foremost, we need adopt a clear stance: an understanding that for Germany, belonging is not restricted to a passport, a family history, or a religion,” he told an audience in the northern city of Bremen.  “Christianity doubtless belongs in Germany. Judaism belongs doubtless in Germany. That is our Judeo-Christian history. But by now, Islam also belongs in Germany.”

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Desperately seeking… Madonna? Enlightenment?

U.S. pop singer Madonna (C), accompanied by Brazilian model Jesus Luz (R), visits the grave of Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzhak Luria at a cemetery in the northern town of Safed September 4, 2009. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen

"You're so beautiful!" a middle-aged American woman in a modern Orthodox Jewish headscarf called out across the street to a complete stranger as I was walking through the northern Israeli town of Safed the other day. Anywhere but Safed - also known as Tzfat - and I might have been more startled. But in this mountain-top retreat for Jewish mystics, both of an Orthodox and of less conventional persuasion, the public outburst of peace, love and understanding seemed entirely natural.

Depending on your national cultural references, it's hard to capture the spirit of Safed precisely - it is part hippie-haven, part devotional centre for hordes of black-clad Hassidic Jews; part Taos, New Mexico, part Crown Heights, Brooklyn. I have tried to sum it up in a story today. While the Orthodox who flock there in the hundreds of thousands every spring to pray at the graves of the founders of Kabbalah mysticism would doubtless take exception to the idea, for an international audience it is probably Madonna who has done most to put Safed on the map lately. The Queen of Pop, whose interest in Kabbalah has drawn many other non-Jewish celebrity emulators, paid a brief visit last year, while on tour in Israel.

The town originally came to prominence when a Roman-era Jewish sage, taking refuge nearby, penned what is viewed as the foundational text of Kabbalah, the Zohar. After a period when it was better known as the biggest Crusader fortress in the Middle East, Safed acquired new fame in the 16th-century when Ottoman rulers let Jews expelled from Spain settle there. They brought back to the Holy Land a Kabbalistic tradition that was substantially reinvigorated by rabbis in Safed. The town, where some believe the Messiah will appear, has since then been one of four holy cities for Jews, alongside Hebron, Tiberias and Jerusalem.

from The Great Debate UK:

Shlomo Sand on “The Invention of the Jewish People”

Professor Shlomo Sand, approved portrait 3 (c) Olivia Grabowski-West, (low res)

Picture taken by Olivia Grabowski-West.

In his controversial book, "The Invention of the Jewish People," author Shlomo Sand challenges historical notions of the link between Judaism and Israel, and argues that there is no record of exile of the Jewish people.

Israel has deliberately forgotten its history and replaced it with a myth, writes Sand, a Jewish scholar and historian based at the University of Tel Aviv. Without exile, there is no right to return, he says.

“The disparity between what my research suggested about the history of the Jewish people and the way that history is commonly understood – not only within Israel but in the larger world - shocked me as much as it shocked my readers.”

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox Jews take on Intel

In recent months, ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem have taken to the streets in protest over businesses operating on Saturday -- the Jewish Sabbath when ritual law bans Jews from working.  At times, the demonstrations have even turned violent, like a conflagration in July over a parking lot near the Old City. Most of the ultra-Orthodox ire has been directed at the Jerusalem municipality.

jer01nov14BAZ.jpg

Until now.

Last week, the Shabbat Strife took a surprising turn with some ultra-Orthodox taking aim at the world's biggest electronic chip maker for keeping their new Jerusalem plant open on the Jewish day of rest. Though the building is located in an industrial park on the outskirts of the city, it is nearby a religious neighborhood that strictly observes the Sabbath laws.

Intel's new electronic chip plant was inaugurated on Nov. 15, and the company said it would operate on Saturdays in accordance with its business needs and Israeli law. This announcement drew hundreds of angry ultra-Orthodox Jews who gathered outside the building. Some threw rocks at police trying to disperse the crowd.

“No religion” segment of U.S. population profiled

At the “Values Voter Summit” of conservative Christian activists I attended last week in Washington, more than one participant lamented the “secularization” of America.

That will come as a surprise perhaps to more than one foreign reader of this blog, given America’s famously high rates of religiosity which set it apart from much of the rest of the developed world. And the evangelical tradition which much of the U.S. “religious right” comes from has been fast growing in recent decades.

spire1But Americans who claim no religion are fast growing and Trinity College in Hartford offers a detailed portrait of this group in a new report released this week called “American Nones: The Profile of the No Religion Population.”

“The Evolution of God” — a purpose-driven history?

U.S. author Robert Wright traces the history of God and suggests that it might all point to the unfolding of something divine, though perhaps not in the sense that most people of faith would envision.

wright_theevolutionofgod

In his just published “The Evolution of God,” Wright takes his readers on a thought-provoking journey through the spiritual beliefs of our hunter-gatherer ancestors to the development of the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. You can see my interview with Wright here.

Wright’s engaging book covers a lot of ground and it certainly raises many questions that may be of interest to readers of this blog. I’m just going to throw a few of them out here — trust me, there could be many, many more.

from AxisMundi Jerusalem:

Jewish Custom in the Time of Swine Flu

ISRAEL/In Israel, the death count for the H1N1, or swine flu, outbreak reached 7 yesterday, and for some citizens, fighting the virus has taken on some religious dimensions.

Israel's leading paper, Yedioth Ahronoth, wrote an article about health concerns raised by Israel's Ultra Orthodox media: kissing mezuzahs. A mezuzah is a tiny encasement holding a piece of parchment with a Jewish prayer enscribed on it. Mezuzahs are nailed to most doorways inside a Jewish home, and traditionally, Jews will touch the mezuzah and kiss their fingers when entering a house.  An ultra-orthodox journalist decided to ask seven doctors their opinion on whether this tradition could be dangerous in the Swine flu era.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, "The doctors unanimously agreed that bacteria leave high levels of residue on such objects, but six of them refused to comment on mezuzot in particular, 'so as not to get in trouble with the rabbis'."

Wine and faith link shows on new Reuters wine page

kosher-wine1

Reuters.com now has a new page called World of Wine dedicated to our articles about the fruit of the vine. Although the page has no link to religion, wine does to some faiths — and it shows here.

Among the first few articles listed on the page is a recent feature on wine and Judaism — “Kosher wines pouring out of the religious niche.” The photo with the feature (seen above) shows Rabbi Yair Didi, who supervises production of kosher wines at the ‘Cantina di Pitigliano’ winery, sampling a glass in the Italian town of Pitigliano in Tuscany (26 March 2007/Daniele La Monaca).

And the top picture on the page shows Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd presenting a six-bottle case of white wine from Down Under to Pope Benedict. Wine plays a central part in the Catholic Mass, but Rudd suggested the pontiff might drink this dessert wine “here in the Vatican on a warm summer’s night.” The photo is copied below (9 July 2009/Pier Paolo Cito).