The Battle of the Eruv

WalledGarden

Hemant wrote about a story I also wanted to mention: the Freedom from Religion Foundation has written a letter of complaint to the city government of Miami Beach, Florida, demanding the dismantling of Orthodox Jewish eruvin on public property.An eruv is a Jewish ritual boundary made of string or wire, stretched between objects such as trees or light poles, to create a symbolic enclosure which is considered to be part of the "inside". With an eruv set up, observant Jews can carry objects like … [Read more...]

On Retconning Biblical Violence

NoahsArkCartoon

In 2009, I wrote "The Twisted Moral of Passover", about how this major Jewish holiday is really a celebration of genocide: the mass killing of the Egyptian children that preceded the Israelites' deliverance from slavery. (The very name of the holiday refers to how the Israelite slaves supposedly marked their doors with blood so that the divine executioner would see it and pass over their houses.)Even if there isn't any archaeological evidence for this event, or for the Egyptian captivity in … [Read more...]

The Political Pull of New York’s Ultra-Orthodox

WilliamsburgBridge

New York City's mayoral election is approaching, and as the race heats up, more attention is being paid to the increasing political influence of the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish sects of Brooklyn.Like their counterparts in Israel, New York's Hasidim have rebounded from the decimation of World War II. They were nearly wiped out by the Nazi genocide, but their numbers have swelled in the generations since, due to religious and cultural teachings that make it a duty for Hasidic families to … [Read more...]

Remembering the Holocaust, Respecting the Constitution

OhioHolocaustMemorial

In Ohio, the state legislature recently approved a plan to build a Holocaust memorial on the grounds of the statehouse, with public money to be contributed towards the cost of construction. The winning design incorporates two tall structures of stainless steel, engraved with the testimony of an Auschwitz survivor, that are shaped so as to create a prominent negative space in the shape of a Star of David. You can see an image of the design above, to get a sense of it for yourself.The Freedom … [Read more...]

Weekend Coffee: Snap Responses to Current Events

In the Times this week, Israel's ultra-Orthodox rabbis are enforcing gender apartheid by sending their own women and girls to flood the Wailing Wall plaza, so that women who actually want to pray there can't get in:“They’re trying to change the religion and politics in Israel — they should do that in the Knesset and not at the Kotel,” Ms. Beskin said, using the Hebrew terms for Israel’s Parliament and the Western Wall. “The rules should be, honestly, just respect the tradition here.” … [Read more...]

Fighting War the Biblical Way

After several days, the fragile ceasefire in the latest iteration of Israel and Gaza's endless war is still holding. But while the bombs were falling, there was no shortage of voices calling for the battle to be escalated even further, like Gilad Sharon, son of the former Israeli Prime Minister, who wrote in an op-ed:"We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima - the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit … [Read more...]

Perfecting Man’s Moral Shortcomings

In the Book of Exodus, there's a bizarrely out-of-place story that I've always found hilarious. This is immediately after God has told Moses that he's going to be God's messenger to Pharaoh, listing all the signs and wonders Moses will be able to do to convince the Egyptians of his authority, and sent him on his way:"At a lodging place on the way, the Lord met Moses and was about to kill him. But Zipporah [Moses' wife] took a flint knife, cut off her son's foreskin and touched Moses' feet … [Read more...]

Book Review: Unorthodox

(Note: This review was solicited and is written in accordance with my policy for such reviews.) Summary: A memoir of escape from the overbearing, oppressive life of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, but the appalling details are somewhat clouded by doubts raised about the narrative's veracity. Like many other books that I've reviewed, Deborah Feldman's Unorthodox is an autobiography that tells the story of escape from a suffocating religious community. In her case, it's a story of escape from Satmar … [Read more...]

Fighting Gender Apartheid in Israel

The world is increasingly taking notice of the turmoil brewing in Israel, where a growing culture war between the rest of Israeli society and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, or "haredim", is becoming impossible to ignore. Simply stated, what the haredim want is gender apartheid: the forced segregation of the sexes in all public accommodations and the erasure of women from public life. And they've repeatedly proven that if they can't achieve this through the political process, they're … [Read more...]

Religion Imprisons Women

One hypothesis for the origin of religion is that it's a kind of "costly signaling" - a way for people to prove their loyalty to the group by participating in complex rituals and extravagant shows of devotion. But there's an underappreciated danger to this: when everyone in a community already follows a strict interpretation of faith, religious belief will have a tendency to spiral out of control into extremism, as group members go to greater and greater lengths to express their piety. And when … [Read more...]


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