FaithWorld

Mosque-synagogue twinning drive crosses the Atlantic

Schneier & Imams

Rabbi Marc Schneier with French imams, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

An innovative campaign to build grass-roots dialogue between Jews and Muslims in North America has crossed the Atlantic and taken off in Europe. The “Weekend of Twinning of Mosques and Synagogues,” which began last year with about 100 houses of worship in North America, expanded this year to include events in eight European countries. The weekend meetings, which have been taking place in November and December, bring together mosque and synagogue congregations to discuss ways of overcoming anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in their own communities.

To get an idea of how these meetings go, here are reports on twinning events in … New YorkNew OrleansBuffaloTorontoMinneapolisParis

Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding who initiated this outreach to Muslims, met with his European partners at a dinner in Paris on Tuesday evening. The twinning drive took off most successfully in France, home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish minorities. The Jewish-Muslim Friendship Society of France (AJMF), whose leader Rabbi Michel Serfaty had already created a Muslim-Jewish  network with a “Friendship Bus” that tours France promoting dialogue, brought together 30 synagogues and 30 mosques. There isn’t any comparable network elsewhere in Europe, but several congregations organised similar twinnings this year  in Belgium, Britain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands and Switzerland. Schneier & Serfaty 1

Rabbis Michel Serfaty and Marc Schneier, 8 Dec 2009/Rafi Fischer

“At a time when the conventional wisdom says that our two peoples must live in perpetual conflict, Rabbi Serfaty and the AJMF are showing that there is another, much better way,” Schneier said at the dinner hosted by the AMJF. “We are gratified that this is happening not only in France, where conflict between Muslims and Jews has been especially intense, but across North America and Europe as well. In the spirit of Chanukah, let us keep aglow the light of caring and understanding and allow that light to guide the reconciliation and cooperation of Muslims and Jews worldwide, including the Middle East.”

One way that Schneier spread the word about twinning was by inviting 28 European imams and rabbis to visit New York and Washington last summer to see U.S. dialogues in action. That led to their participation in the twinning weekends this year.

GUESTVIEW:When it comes to clergy misconduct, take off those stained-glass specs

eee2 (Photo: Protest against clergy sex abuse at the Catholic cathedral in Sydney, 18 July 2008/Tim Wimborne)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Elizabeth E. Evans is an American freelance journalist living in Glenmoore, Pennsylvania who writes about religion.

By Elizabeth E. Evans

Two large scale American studies of clergy gone off the rails raise a host of troubling and baffling questions, not solely about clergy sexual misconduct, but about how and why parishioners either tolerate or ignore signals that something is wrong. One sad but perhaps inescapable conclusion from them is that it may be time to start taking a more skeptical look at those who exercise power in our congregations.

garlandThis fall, Baylor University’s School of Social Work released the results of a national study of clergy sexual misconduct with adults. Roughly three percent of adult women who attend religious services at least once a month have been the target of inappropriate sexual behavior by pastors, researchers found . That’s a startling number. But even more eye-popping were the number of congregants — eight percent — who knew about clergy sexual misconduct in their faith community.

Climate change debate spurs warm feelings in London

china-climateIt is rare that religion and science find agreement, but that is what happened when Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks spoke at a meeting on saving the earth from climate change.

“The great Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson published a book in 2007 called “Creation”, subtitled An Appeal to Save Life on Earth,” Sacks told leaders of all the major faiths meeting at Lambeth Palace in London on Thursday. (Photo: A partially dried reservoir in Yingtan, Jiangxi province, China, 29 Oct 2009/stringer)

“I thought that was a very good book. E.O. Wilson is known not to be religious, but what this book was was a call to religious people and scientists to call off the war between religion and science and work together for the sake of the future of life on earth.

Will Orthodox Jews say good-bye to Sabbath elevators?

jerusalem-cropped (Photo: Posters for protest in Jerusalem against parking lot open on Sabbath, 8 July 2009/Baz Ratner)

In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world’s Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel’s top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as “Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators,” is  against Jewish law. This decision — already been opposed by other leading rabbis – could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.

The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.

Reuters photoIn modern times, it’s tough to imagine going 24 hours without using anything electric. So gadgets have been invented to allow the use of certain appliances without physically turning them on. Like timers for lights, called Shabbat clocks. Or special cookers for stove tops. Or elevators for Shabbat.

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.

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).

Reform Judaism in Israel wins small battle for recognition

Ultra-Orthodox Jews dance at a wedding in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Gil Cohen Magen (JERUSALEM)

The Reform Judaism movement in Israel claimed a small victory in its fight for recognition when the High Court this week ruled in favor of state funding for non-Orthodox conversions.

For years Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel have been trying to break the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinic Court, which is the sole authority for Jewish ceremonies like weddings and conversions. That’s an especially big responsiblity in a country where there is no civil marriage, essentially forcing all Jewish Israelis to seek an Orthodox rabbi when they wish to wed — or go abroad.

The more modern, liberal movements have a less strict interpretation and observance of Jewish law than the Orthodox, who make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population.

Singing away theological differences in Nazareth

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(Photo: Pope Benedict with Galilee religious leaders, 14 May 2009/Osservatore Romano)

Talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words. There’s more than that behind this picture of Pope Benedict holding hands and singing a song for peace with leaders of other religions in Nazareth’s Basilica of the Annunciation on Thursday. This might seem like an innocent gesture to most people who see it. To some Vatican correspondents following the pope on his Holy Land tour, it was an unprecedented step that spoke volumes about the evolution of his theological thinking.This sing-along started at an interfaith meeting when a rabbi began singing a song with the lyrics “Shalom, Salaam, Lord grant us peace.” At some point, the 11 clerics on the stage stood up and held hands to sing the simple tune together. Never very spontaneous, Benedict looked a little hesitant but then joined in. It was something of a “kumbaya session” — a “religious version of We Are The World,” one colleague quipped — but it was good-natured and well meant. The pope has been preaching interfaith cooperation at every stop on his tour and it seemed appropriate that it culminate in a show of unity among the religions in Galilee.But wait a minute. This is the same Joseph Ratzinger who, when he was a cardinal heading the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, frowned on Pope John Paul’s pray-in with other religions at Assisi in 1986. He even declined to attend what became one of the landmark events of his predecessor’s papacy. Catholics cannot pray together with other religions, he argued, because only Catholicism was the true faith and all others were flawed to greater or lesser extents. Praying together carried the risk of syncretism, or mixing religions.Over the years, Cardinal Ratzinger made several critical comments about other religions, especially Buddhism and Islam (although he is changing there as well). He drew a sharp line between Catholics and other Christians in the 2000 document Dominus Iesus that called Protestant denominations deficient and not proper churches. They felt slighted and several said so openly. The only faiths Ratzinger seemed interested in were Orthodox Christianity and Judaism (ironically, given the cool welcome he got in Israel — but that’s another story).Things change when a cardinal becomes a pope. Suddenly, he was no longer just the Vatican’s doctrinal watchdog, he was the head of the world’s largest church and its smallest country. He was a spiritual leader, a temporal head of state, a major diplomatic figure and one of the most prominent — if not the most prominent — spokesman for religion on the planet. That’s a lot to juggle at the same time.

A pope arrives bearing gifts

What kind of gift does a pope give when he visits the Holy Land? This morning, the Holy See Press Office distributed a few pictures of presents Pope Benedict has brought along. Take a look:

pope-nativity-mosaic

Mosaic of the Birth of Christ

This mosaic is a copy of part of the 13th-century mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. It was produced by the Vatican Mosaic Studio in 2000. The pope was due to hand it over to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to Bethlehem on Wednesday.

pope-manuscript-1Copy of 14th-century Ashkenazi prayerbook page

This is a copy of a page for the holy day of Yom Kippur. The original book from 1375 once belonged to Queen Christiana of Sweden, whose library was bought in 1690 — one year after her death — by Pope Alexander VIII. The pope presented this to Israel’s two chief rabbis on Tuesday

At Dome of Rock, Benedict uses Muslims’ argument to Muslims

pope-dome-outsideAt Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, part of the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary complex including Islam’s third-holiest mosque Al-Aqsa, Pope Benedict urged Palestinian Muslim leaders to pursue interfaith cooperation by using an argument that other Muslims have been using to engage Christians — including himself — in dialogue. The need for interfaith dialogue is emerging as one of the two most consistent themes of Benedict’s speeches during his current Middle East tour (the other being the link between faith and reason). Appeals like this risk being empty phrases, but he has given some new twists that make them stand out. (Photo: Pope at Dome of the Rock, 12 May 2009/Israeli govt. handout)

In his speech to Muslim leaders this morning, the pope said reason shows us the shared nature and common destiny of all people. He then said: “Undivided love for the One God and charity towards ones neighbour thus become the fulcrum around which all else turns.” Readers of this blog may recognise that message in a slightly different form — it echoes the “Common Word” appeal by Muslim scholars to a Christian-Muslim dialogue based on the two shared principles of love of God and love of neighbour. Since we’ve reported extensively about that initiative, readers may also remember that the Vatican was initially quite cautious about it. Up until the Catholic-Muslim forum in Rome last November, the line from the Vatican was that Christians and Muslims couldn’t really discuss theology because their views of God were so different. Vatican officials sounded different after three days of talks and Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who is in charge of interfaith relations, said the Common Word group could even become a “privileged channel” for discussions in future. And now Benedict uses their argument to other Muslims.

Another new element — Benedict has begun using core Islamic terms to build bridges to his Muslim audience. Speaking at the King Hussein Mosque in Amman, he referred to God as “merciful and compassionate.” Today, he spoke of a shared belief “that the One God is the infinite source of justice and mercy.” He even expressed the hope that Muslim-Christian dialogue explores “how the Oneness of God is inextricably tied to the unity of the human family.” The Trinity is one of the biggest stumbling blocks between Christianity and Islam. Muslims see it as belief in three separate Gods, unlike the three persons in one God as Christians understand it. Centuries of Muslim anti-Christian rhetoric is built on the idea that Christianity is not really monotheistic like Islam (and Judaism, by the way). If the detailed theological discussions the Common Word group has launched lead to a better understanding of this issue, even if no agreement is possible, that would still be major progress.