Tag Archive | orthodox

Not so innocent: Israel, genocide, and the myth of the “chosen people”

Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska and attending Temple Baptist Church, I grew up with the same beliefs that many Evangelical Christians hold towards Israel:  Israel is the promised land of the descendants of Abraham.  When I read in the books of Joshua and Judges about the legendary conquest of Palestine by the Hebrews after their 40 years wandering in the wilderness, no one seemed to even notice that these military campaigns of conquest amounted to GENOCIDE where civilians, including and especially women and children, were put to the sword so the Hebrews could come in and take their land.  This was GOD’S WILL and therefore it was okay.  If God wants it, the killing is moral and just, right?

In my 20 years in the Church, no one ever questioned this doctrine.  No one ever said “hey, wait, these are war crimes.”  Instead since it was divinely mandated, it must be right — and historically true, of course.

This sentiment is echoed in temples, both reform and orthodox, especially at Hanukkah and Passover.  Israel belongs to the Jews as a right forged in an ancient covenant with God.  Jews are the Chosen People.

Being the “Chosen People” of God carries a lot of weight.  Being chosen means you are granted a measure of special grace from God, the right to do certain things without consequences.  You can kill as you please because God wants you to.

Now before anyone gets in a huff and calls me anti-Jewish, let me be very clear:  I love Jewish culture, food, tradition, and especially my many Jewish friends and acquaintances.  I lived for over four years in a orthodox Jewish neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York as not only a gentile, but one of the Old Religion of Britain and Ireland who strives to honour and embrace the British-Irish part of my heritage in my day-t0-day life.

As a historian who often favours being the outsider because of the objectivity this offers me for learning and study, I was able to listen, learn, and observe without the social-psychological chains that often blurs most people’s perspective.  I have no agenda except discovering the truth.  This is why my writing is so powerful and my books are to be believed.  I’m not a slick politician or sales person trying to sell something to you; just an honest researcher looking for truth.

The Bible of course covers ancient history — legendary or literal is a matter of debate.  Yet in Christian churches and in many Jewish congregations as well this doctrine that Israel is the God-given promised land of the Hebrews/Jews persists.

This Zionist idea that Israel rightfully belongs to Jews transcends denominational differences and enters the realm of politics.  Israel has certain rights to behave in whatever is perceived as its own interests.  To gainsay Israel’s decisions is to be anti-Jewish.  I am here to say that nothing could be further from the truth.

Last week I found the above video in a facebook feed exploring the modern state of Israel’s history.  In it and you discover that Israel is hardly this innocent and moral God-blessed nation who can do no wrong.  Far from it.  Objectively speaking, the Israelis are guilty of genocide and war crimes such as the West typically condemns when done by any other nation — except Israel.

Indeed anyone from any country who even remotely questions what Israel does is quickly labelled as anti-Jewish, especially politicians.  It would seem that to be pro-Jewish means not noticing Israel’s faults — or its war crimes.


I stand here asking you to now question that dogma.  Take a step back towards objectivity. When Iraqis do this to its peoples, when Syrians do this in its civil war, when Russia treats a minority group this way, DO WE NOT CALL THEM WAR CRIMES and CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY?


Perhaps it is time to abolish this whole “chosen people” propaganda and instead look at all human beings as humans.  No one is expendable.  Life is life!  Every single human in this world deserves a decent and safe home, clean and nourishing food and water, the best possible education, decent clothing, safety from harm, and the chance to live a satisfying life.  Anyone who steals any of these things from anyone else needs to be sanctioned and dealt with.  Everyone has the right to live.  Everyone.

Breaking the Religious Code of Silence in Rape, Incest, and Domestic Violence

May 16, 2012

May 10, a New York Times article reports, “Ultra-Orthodox Shun Their Own for Reporting Child Sexual Abuse.” The story details the dire consequences many Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn continue to face for daring to report child molestation and abuse to secular authorities. As we have all heard reports about for the last few years with the recent controversy over Roman Catholic clerical sexual abuse, the incidents, and the religious community response to anyone daring to break the code of silence that keeps victims hidden and perpetrators un-noticed, transcends religions. Blaming the victims and protecting the abusers is not just a Roman Catholic problem, or an Orthodox Jewish one for that matter.

I know all about this from my personal life. I too grew up in a very conservative religious community. In my case, it was Evangelical, “Born-Again” Christian. I grew up hearing sermons from Jack Van Impe, Billy Graham, Jerry Falwell, and countless others whose names I’ve forgotten across the years, all of whom would probably be considered Tea Party today for their ultra-conservatism. When I was in junior high I remember an older, teen peer being shunned in a formal church service, ex-communicated and banned from our church for pre-marital sex. With so much hidden (or not so hidden) pain of my own to go through, I did not process at the time (or perhaps could not in that religious environment) exactly what I had witnessed in seeing that shunning.

It is time our organized religions stop this conspiracy of blame and conspiracy of silence. No one makes a man or woman beat another. No one makes someone rape anyone. Responsibility for these terrible things lies on the person who does them. Surviving doesn’t make you dirty or sinful or evil or corrupt or anti your religion. When you suffer this, you are NOT to blame, no matter what someone says. Churches, synagogues, temples, religious communities of every theology and structure all need to stop this behavior. No matter how many weapons a perpetrator has or how powerful s/he is physically, not one abuser can continue without the silent consent of the group. When the group stands against these horrible things, the violence STOPS.

Violence is not the victim’s problem; it is everyone’s problem. We are all diminished every time a person is verbally demeaned, every time someone is forced into a non-consensual sexual act, every time someone is physically assaulted. Responsibility lies with all of us. If we do nothing to help the person in jeopardy, if we ignore the screams, if we turn away instead of intervening, then we have only empowered those doing these things.

Eating Kosher: Why You Don’t Need to Be Jewish to Eat a (Largely) Kosher Diet

This April 10th, 2012 article explains exactly what kosher means for those of us not raised eating it.


Eating Kosher: Why You Don’t Need to Be Jewish to Eat a (Largely) Kosher Diet

You have been eating kosher all your life. You probably never realized it when your mom served you cookies, pickles, or even apple juice, but whether you are a Jew or a gentile, kosher has been part of your meals from the beginning. It’s everywhere in the supermarket, even if you were not paying attention to those little symbols like the capital “U” in a circle that is the trademark of the “Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations” certifying that a given food is kosher (see more on rabbinical kosher foods and the marks used to certify foods as such see,http://everything2.com/title/kosher+symbols). But if you really look for these symbols you will notice just how prolific kosher foods are at ordinary supermarkets throughout the U.S.

Then there are the Jewish grocery stores and specialty stores found in major cities featuring specific kosher brands many gentiles have never seen in stores before, much less tried. Whether it’s a Jewish bakery featuring every day breads and desserts, Jewish butchers, or even restaurants, you’ll find a dazzling array of kosher foods in major cities.

But, major supermarket brands aside, aren’t kosher foods just for Jews? Originally, perhaps-before pink slime, by-product laden convenience foods, and heavily processed boxed dinners full of ingredients even chemists have a hard time pronouncing! But as we strive to eat healthier and better control what we eat, I’ve discovered the kosher foods I ate by default in Midwood, Brooklyn have qualities that fit very well with my goals for a healthier, less processed diet:

Kosher foods are not made of by-products and garbage meats. By definition, skin, tendons, bones, and other garbage meats are not ground up and put in beef and chicken foods (even hotdogs) certified kosher. While these by-products often make their way into commercial pet foods, humans are specifically not allowed to eat these scrap, “pink-slime” components under rabbinical law.

To be certified kosher EVERY ingredient must comply with rabbinical rules. This limits the number of trace ingredients that are included as part of the processing and what sort of trace ingredients can be included. Kosher is therefore important for those with food allergies as it requires stricter labeling than currently required by the FDA, limiting allergen exposure risks.

Most fresh, whole fruits and vegetables are kosher. There is a reason you don’t buy apples or cranberries with a sticker on it certifying them as kosher. That is because fresh, whole fruits and vegetables are typically kosher. In fact, eating whole fruits and vegetables prepared at home in recipes is one of the easiest ways to keep kosher-but watch any non-fruit or vegetable ingredients like milk, butter, oils, or meats that you might add. Salad dressings can affect whether or not your otherwise veggies remain kosher. While absolute compliance is a non-issue for gentiles (and in fact many veggies a gentile expects to be kosher are not) and less of an issue for many reform Jews, it is helpful for everyone to think about what and how much we add to our fruits and vegetables as it is very easy to destroy many of the health benefits of eating whole fruits/vegetables.

Kosher foods taste good unto themselves. Most non-Jews have not considered eating hamatachen, charoset, challah, kosher sushi, or other distinctly kosher/Jewish foods, but like any other style of cuisine, there are delicious goodies to be found among kosher/Jewish cuisine. Walk into any Jewish bakery in Brooklyn and you will find breads, pastries, and desserts that no one can refuse. Don’t feel you need to be Jewish to indulge; most people who eat Mexican or Italian foods are neither Mexican nor Italian in heritage! Expand your palate!

Consider kosher foods for your pets. This may sound odd, but yes, there is such a thing as kosher pet food. As with human kosher foods, these foods avoid the by-products and junk foods we seen in many traditional brands. The need for strictly kosher pet foods is highly debated across rabbinical literature, but the consensus seems to be kosher pet food is mostly a non-issue except for observant Jews during Passover. At Passover, kosher food for pets is preferred.

Eating kosher is only mandatory for Jews, but with an open mind and a taste for enjoying a broad range of foods, gentiles can discover the healthy benefits and tasty delights of eating Kosher-Jewish cuisine–for you and your pet.

For more information, please see http://everything2.com/title/kosher+symbolshttp://star-k.org/kashrus/kk-issues-pets.htmhttp://www.evangersdogfood.com/kosher.php,http://www.star-k.org/kashrus/kk-passover-petfood.htm,http://www.epicurious.com/articlesguides/holidays/passover/charosetrecipes,http://www.oukosher.org/index.php/,http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Traditional-Hamantaschen-13706,http://www.epicurious.com/tools/searchresults?search=challah&x=24&y=13.

From Orthodox to Reform: an Introduction to American Judaism

Changing gears, here is a post exploring Judaism in America.


From Orthodox to Reform: an Introduction to American Judaism

Exploring the Basics of Judaism in the United States

 September 6th, 2013
Growing up in Nebraska I knew almost nothing about Jewish cultures — even after taking a full year of Hebrew/Jewish history as part of my history major at the University of Nebraska. It took a 2005 move to Midwood, Brooklyn and a concerted effort on my part to discover and appreciate the enormous diversity in Jewish life, diversity most gentiles never explore. In the news, all Jews (ethnic and/or religious) are portrayed as the same. But in fact, there is at least as much diversity in Jewish life as there is Christian life, if not more so. There are Jews who live by very strict guidelines set by their denominations and Jews whose religious lives (or lack thereof) have absolutely no correlation with their heritage — and everything in between.To further enhance my understanding of my neighbors, I took time out in 2010 to regularly attend services at Temple Beth Emeth located only a few blocks away from the Church Avenue Station on the Brighton line (B/Q trains). Here are a few things I learned along the way:

  • Dietary rules vary greatly across Jewish denominations. The secular Jews I know usually eat no different than others in mixed Jewish/gentile groups. At Beth Emeth, the Reform Jews I met ranged across the dietary gambit from absolutely strict kosher to non-kosher. By contrast, the most orthodox and conservative congregations tend to practice a kosher diet.
  • Gender segregation, while common in orthodox congregations, is not practiced in reform congregations. At this time, I have not located definitive information one way or another concerning segregation or a lack of segregation among conservative congregations.
  • While there are certain cultural and core theological ideas across the gambit of Jewish congregations, how these ideas manifest greatly depends on both the denomination of Judaismand the specifics of an individual congregation.


Jewish Congregations tend to fall in one of three categories: orthodox and ultra-orthodox sit at the most traditional end of the spectrum. In the middle are conservative congregations that retain many of the ideas and practices of the orthodox, but not all of them. At the most liberal end of the spectrum are reform congregations like Beth Emeth. The European equivalent of “reform” Judaism is called “progressive.”


Not surprisingly, conservative and reform Judaism are both more popular in the United States than orthodox.


In day to day life, these differences can be dramatic. In orthodox Judaism, the rules for living can be very exacting and detailed, especially during shabbat or during a particular holiday like Yom Kipper. So as you might expect with anyone whose life experience centers on interacting with people of the same cultural and religious background, I noticed it was difficult for my orthodox neighbors to understand why I would, for example, go off to catch the train on a Saturday — or even take the train to go to Temple.In reform congregations, there is no problem with driving or taking public transportation during shabbat. So no one blinked an eye when I took the B train to get to services. Under orthodox Judaism, it is not allowed to travel by train or bus during shabbat; orthodox Jews tend to walk to services.

These sorts of rules are probably one of many reasons why American Jews often prefer conservative and reform temples.

Fortunately there is a lot more to Jewish life an culture than just rules and theology. In my five years in Brooklyn, I discovered the many beauties of this culture — along with delicious cuisine that all gentiles should really give a try to.

For some reason, Jewish culture and Judaism remain mysterious among gentiles. I would like to suggest to you that it is time for that to change. Regardless your opinion about the particulars of one denomination of Judaism or another, the wonderful truth is that Jewish culture is beautiful and precious, its food delicious, and its holidays of value to all cultures around the world. As we enter the high holiday days that fill September, I wish you peace, joy, and enlightenment.

Shalom! May you have peace.
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