47th Anniversary: Nostra Aetate

Vatican

In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions...

Thus begins the Roman Catholic Church's Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, better known by its first two words, nostra aetate, "in our time". It was promulgated 47 years ago today--October 28, 1965.

Originally titled Decretum de Judaeis, "Declaration on the Jews," this text--whose final form had (and has) wide-ranging implications for Catholics' relationships with all religions--began as a piece concerned only with Christian-Jewish relations. Much has been written about the meanings in, effects of, and history leading up to this important milestone. Here are a few examples from BJPA:

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Browse BJPA for Christianity

Browse BJPA for Jewish-Christian relations

 

 

Primary Special: Cuba

Cuba

As Florida Republicans make their choice for a presidential nominee today, some will be thinking of -- and perhaps basing their votes on -- US policy toward Cuba.

Although we focus primarily on North American Jewry, BJPA has a handful of resources related to Cuba:

The Jewish Immigrant in Cuba (1926)

Jewish Social Work in Cuba (1928)

Exodus 1939, from Hungary to Cuba (1978):
          Part 1
          Part 2

The Miracle of Cuba: 50 Years After the Revolution, Cuba is Experiencing a Real Rebirth of Jewish Life (2008)

Jewish Life in Cuba Today

Excerpts from The Miracle of Cuba:

"While more than 15,000 Jews lived in Cuba before the revolution, there are only approximately 1,500 today, and it is “a permanent challenge that often the most active members of the community emigrate to Israel,” explains Fernando Lapiduz, who is presently working for the Joint as a cantor and social worker in Cuba...

...In addition to the three synagogues, there are two Jewish cemeteries, one Ashkenazi and one Sephardi, in Guanabacoa, at the edge of Havana. Even though visitors rarely manage to find their way here, the Joint Distribution Committee pays the wages of cemetery custodians. A few tombs that have been broken open suggest the reason why. Afro-Cuban adherents of Palo Mayombe, a mixture of the Central African Bantu culture, Santeria, and Spanish Catholicism, believe that Jewish bones possess magical powers because they belong to unbaptized souls, and therefore bones were being stolen from the cemetery on a regular basis.

Read more...

From the J-Vault: Sunday Laws

J-Vault logo

This week, from the J-Vault: The Status of Jews in the American Sunday Laws (1934)

"Altho the Federal Constitution provides against legislation infringing the religious liberty or conscience of any group, or of preferring one religion as against another," wrote Jacob Ben Lightman in the Jewish Social Service Quarterly (predecessor to the JJCS), "there have, nevertheless, been statutory enactments from time to time, providing for the observance of the Christian Sabbath, Sunday." (Spelling geeks take note: "Altho" above is not a typo -- it's spelled that way in the journal.)

There is no Federal Sunday law. But the policy of Anglo-American law has been to retain the status quo of any and all existing laws of any state at the time of its entrance into the Union and to permit such state to formulate what laws it will, provided they are not in conflict with the Federal Constitution. Under such Anglo-American policy, the Sunday laws were permitted in the various states, practically unchallenged, until found obnoxious by certain religious minority groups ; namely, Christian Sabbatarians and Jews.

It was the latter who brot the issue to the fore. To observant Jews the Sunday laws were obnoxious because of their religious conviction that Sunday was not the Sabbath, and because they felt such laws to be economic discriminatory measures. This, because they were virtually forced to refrain from persuing their trade or business two days a week; that is, Saturday and Sunday. Yet the Constitution of the United States provides against the undue deprivation of one's property.

If, then, the Sunday laws were to be reconciled with the Constitution, it became necessary, from the point of view of judicial opinion, to clarify the position of the Jews with regard to the Sunday laws. This was attempted in a number of cases that were argued before the American Courts.

Lightman goes on to review the history of Christian sabbath law from Constantine to the American colonies.

Read the whole publication here.

J-Vault logo

David Elcott on Interfaith Mideast Peace Work

Prof. David Elcott discusses the decline of interfaith work on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Part of our Office Hours series.)

David Elcott on Interfaith and Interethnic Coalition-Building

For the latest installment in our Office Hours series, Prof. David Elcott discusses his experiences working with leaders across boundaries of religion and ethnicity to build meaningful interfaith and interethnic coalitions.

 

Rogan Kersh: Israel Remarkably Relevant in American Politics

In the second installment of our Office Hours series, Prof. Rogan Kersh of NYU Wagner discusses the place of Israel in American politics.

 

Cain's Incomplete Apology, and Religion in Politics

After offending Muslims (and at least one Jew) last week by saying localities have the right to ban mosques because Islam includes the concept of shari'a law, Herman Cain has now met with Muslim leaders and released an apology:

...While I stand by my opposition to the interference of shariah law into the American legal system, I remain humble and contrite for any statements I have made that might have caused offense to Muslim Americans and their friends. I am truly sorry for any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution and the freedom of religion guaranteed by it. Muslims, like all Americans, have the right to practice their faith freely and peacefully.

As I expected, we discovered we have much more in common in our values and virtues. In my own life as a black youth growing up in the segregated South, I understand their frustration with stereotypes. Those in attendance, like most Muslim Americans, are peaceful Muslims and patriotic Americans whose good will is often drowned out by the reprehensible actions of jihadists...

Cain's apology is unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, he ought to have stated specifically that he now realizes that localities do not have the right to ban mosques, if in fact he has come to that realization.  If he has not, and he still believes localities may ban mosques, then his apology for causing offense is utterly hollow. If he has changed his position, then he should say so directly; dodging the specific issue just leaves him looking weaselish. (Speaking of weaselish, see also the phrase "..any comments that may have betrayed my commitment to the U.S. Constitution...")

Second, Cain again makes the problematic assertion that shari'a has no right to "interfere" in the American legal system (see the first sentence excerpted above). It is actually quite tricky to pin down what this might mean, and once again a glance at parallel concepts in other American religions is instructive. Does Cain believe that shari'a should be held to a different standard than Jewish halakhah and Catholic canon law? If so, he continues to favor bigotry. Even if this is the case, I can't imagine he'll be up front about it, so let's assume he would say he believes that religious legal systems should all be held to the same standards. How, then, would Herman Cain define interfering, and how precisely would he seek to curb it?

I have emailed the following questions to Herman Cain's campaign:

  1. Should shari'a law be held to the same standards or different standards than Jewish halakhah or Catholic canon law?
  2. If a Muslim citizen believes shari'a law reflects God's will, and that shari'a prohibits gay marriage, and so votes for a candidate who opposes gay marriage, does that count as "interference"?
  3. If a Jewish citizen believes halakhah reflects God's will, and that halakhah requires a middle ground between the standard pro-life and pro-choice abortion positions, and so votes for a candidate who is centrist on abortion, is that "interference"?
  4. If a Christian citizen believes Jesus commanded socialism, and so votes for a socialist candidate, is that "interference"?
  5. When anti-slavery Christian pastors preached that God insisted slavery be abolished, was that "interference"?
  6. When, in the 1950s and '60s, Archbishop Joseph Rummel of New Orleans threatened pro-segregation Catholic politicians with excommunication, was that "interference"?
  7. When, today, pro-life Christian clergy instruct their flocks that God wants the United States to protect unborn life by force of law, is that "interference"?
  8. Please provide a clear, specific hypothetical example of something that would be "interference": an example for shari'a, for halakhah, and for canon law.

We'll have to see whether or not some campaign staffer sends answers.

(As I mentioned last week, the gold standard for addressing these questions, in my opinion, is Prof. Stephen L. Carter's God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics.)

Intermarriage and Complexities of Antisemitism

rings

Jewish Ideas Daily recently highlighted a fascinating gem from the Atlantic Magazine in 1939: I Married a Jew, an anonymous personal reflection by a German-American woman married to a Jewish American man.

The article is an amazing read, deserving of much more detailed discussion than I have time to devote in this post, but I will say in briefest summary that the mix of sympathy for Jews as individuals and revulsion for various expressions of Jewishness which this author displays is incredible. She loves her husband and his family (unless they're all together as a family), and she will even countenance a little (not too much) Jewish pride, especially as relates to Biblical figures such as Moses, Solomon and (naturally) Jesus, but she is also very put off by Jewish cultural distinctions, favoring complete assimilation, and speaking of the world's "Jewish problem" as a product of oppression on one hand, and of Jewish (stereotypical) villainies, which she takes to be very real and very problematic, on the other.

What strikes me as so important about this article is not its being out of date, but rather its relevance to the present. If one removed the dismissive comments about Hitler being unfortunate yet not particularly unique or worrisome, and made only a little subtle revision to the terms, emphases and frames of reference, then this woman's viewpoint could just as easily have been written yesterday as in 1939. (Indeed, a few reader comments below the article reveal that some people apparently thought it was written in the present. Not that internet comments prove anything.) Modern American culture does not embrace all of the anti-Jewish views which are affiliated with traditional Christian anti-Judaism, but modern American culture certainly does share with this author a distaste for Jewish "clannishness" and particularism -- witness the ubiquity of intermarriage among Jewish characters on TV and in movies. Hollywood's usual portrayals of intermarriage assume that intermarriage is not only acceptable, but actually desirable. This perspective differs in many ways from our 1939 author, who blames the Jews for their own persecution during European history. But it shares with her the fundamental assumption that Jewish assimilation is the answer to Jewish problems. This reflexive sense that Jews are okay as long as they aren't too Jewish is very much alive in 2011.

Intermarriage as a catalyst for the exposure of uncomfortable disagreements is another element that makes this 1939 article strangely up-to-date. These marital dynamics are echoed in this recent blog post by Allison Benedikt, another deeply personal reflection centering on an intermarriage, this one from the perspective of the Jewish partner. In the post, which has prompted many strong reactions, especially from Jeffrey Goldberg, Benedkit describes her unquestioningly Zionist childhood and her transformation, as an adult, into a passionate anti-Zionist, influenced significantly by the strong anti-Israel views of her non-Jewish husband. I hasten to add that I'm not making an equation or a conflation with this juxtaposition of the two articles. By comparing them, I don't mean to equate Benedikt's husband to the 1939 author of I Married a Jew, or to equate anti-Zionism with antisemitism. But I do mean to note that in both cases, an intermarriage has the effect of forcing the couple to take a stand on an extremely divisive issue of peoplehood. Writing in response to Benedikt's piece, Julie Wiener notes that Intermarried Does Not Equal Anti-Zionist. She's right, of course, but it would be folly not to admit that a marriage across the religio-ethnic divide is more likely than an in-marriage to force a conversation on these, and other, difficult topics.

Not that conversation is a bad thing. One difference between today and 1939, perhaps, is that conversations about these feelings do not tend to occur as openly. Nobody wants to be branded a bigot, and these days Americans of all persuasions tend to throw around such labels quite freely. We seem to think of antisemitism, like other forms of intergroup hatred, as a binary, all-or-nothing phenomenon. To listen to contemporary American discourse, a person is either "an antisemite" (a noun and an identity), or else a "normal" person, who is presumably completely free of anti-Jewish bias. (The same underlying assumption could be cited with regard to homophobia, sexism, racism, etc.) Reality, of course, is much more complicated, as this 1939 article reveals. Love and hate can be present in the same person. Faulty assumptions, negative emotional reactions, and prejudices can (and usually do) coexist in the same brains with genuine love and respect for the "other" group in question. Admitting as much might allow everyone to be more honest with one another, without anyone being afraid of being labeled a bigot, and without anyone else being afraid to point out when an idea is bigoted. The trick is to be able to criticize ideas (even quite strongly) without demonizing the people who hold them (except in the most extreme and obvious cases of open hatred). That would leave space for quite a few difficult -- and necessary -- conversations.

Yom Yerushalayim / Jerusalem Day

Jerusalem

Happy Yom Yerushalayim! On this day in 1967, Israel captured and reunited Jerusalem during the Six-Day War.

 Here are just a few of many BJPA publications having to do with Jerusalem:

Publications on Difference at Passover

Four Cups

Across Barriers

 

Publications on the mixed, modern Seder

 

The First Cup: Mixed Marriages

Passover, a Lesson in Inclusiveness

Adam Bronfman, Kerry M. Olitzky, 2009

 

The Second Cup: Jews and Christians

Is Every Seder Kosher for Passover?

A. James Rudin, 1999

 

The Third Cup: Jews and Palestinians

Sharing Pesach with a Palestinian

Lawrence Baron, 1988

 

The Fourth Cup: Jews and Jews

Keeping Peace at the Seder Table

Sally Shafton, 1984

 

Explore many more publications about Passover at bjpa.org