Matzo matzo matzo

Beliefnet, always looking for new ways to cover religion, is offering a “video”:http://www.beliefnet.com/story/214/story_21458_1.html that shows the making of matzo.

You can go right into a matzo factory in Crown Heights (that’s Brooklyn, for non-New Yorkers) and get a tour by Rabbi Mendy Heber of Chabad.

The AP has a nice feature about Yaakov Horowitz, the head matzoh guy at Manischewitz in Jersey City.

Here it is:

By JANET FRANKSTON LORIN

Associated Press Writer

JERSEY CITY, N.J. (AP) — Except for a poster of grains from around the world, the office of Yaakov Horowitz at Manischewitz looks like a typical rabbi’s study.
Heavy books with Hebrew script are stacked on the shelves, portraits of other rabbis adorn the walls, and Horowitz displays a shofar, or ram’s horn, that he blows on his company’s production floor before the Jewish High Holy Days.
As chief rabbi at the kosher food company Manischewitz, the world leader in matzoh production, Horowitz is the matzoh maven. Grain used to produce matzoh is a big part of his life.
“It’s not just the most important kosher food,� says the 51-year-old Horowitz. “It is also the most important Jewish food and the last link to Jewish heritage. I feel the responsibility very profoundly.�
He oversees the company’s annual production of 75.6 million sheets of matzoh, the unleavened bread eaten by Jews around the world during the eight-day Passover holiday and the centerpiece of the seder.

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Egan’s retirement watch begins

Cardinal Egan turns 75 on Monday, the age when bishops are required to submit their retirement papers. So speculation is starting to churn about whether Pope Benedict will bring Egan back to Rome or let him stay in New York for next year’s bicentennial of the archdiocese or even indefinitely.

I’m working on a story about the speculation right now.

But I went back this morning and looked at something I wrote in July 1997 about Cardinal John O’Connor, who was then two-and-a-half years past retirement age and still going strong. He died in office in 2000.

Here’s the start of my article from back then:

In the 2 1/2 years since Cardinal John J. O’Connor reached retirement age, speculation about his future and his eventual successor has come in waves, ebbing for a time and then surging with every off-the-cuff comment from the cardinal about his uncertain status.

Now a new consensus is emerging among O’Connor acquaintances and church observers that the “ Cardinal O’Connor watch ” can be put on the back burner. While few would be shocked if Pope John Paul II suddenly announced tomorrow that O’Connor would get a deserved rest, there is a growing feeling that if His Eminence has stayed around this long, maybe he is not going anywhere soon.

Some are even suggesting that given the pope’s stated interest in celebrating the millennium, the pontiff will want one of his favorite conservative cardinals in office until the year 2000.

Consider that the 77-year-old cardinal, one of the nation’s most visible religious leaders, can’t seem to stop himself from adding commitments to his appointment book.

On Sept. 20, for instance, he is set to honor the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Mount Vernon by celebrating Mass there. Four days later, he is down to lead the annual “ Red Mass ” for Westchester County lawyers, as he has for nearly a decade. And he has promised to be on hand to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains on May 17 of next year.

“ He’s not acting like he’s going to retire, now is he? ” said William Harrington of Pound Ridge, a senior managing partner with the law firm of Bleakley Platt & Schmidt and an active supporter of the Archdiocese of New York who speaks regularly with the cardinal. “ Many people assumed he would retire. But he’s as active as he ever was. He’s all priest, and still tending to his flock. ”

O’Connor hit the church’s mandatory retirement age when he turned 75 on Jan. 15, 1995. To no one’s surprise, the pope asked O’Connor – to whom he is close personally and philosophically – to stay on for an indeterminate period. And thus began a steady analysis of O’Connor‘s public statements and personnel movement within the church for any hints about when O’Connor might retire and who might replace him.

But now there is a growing feeling that the pope, who is also 77, may want O’Connor by his side at the new millennium. And maybe O’Connor is not ready to give up the power that comes with media coverage of his weekly sermons at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. So the yellowing list of the four or five presumed leading candidates to succeed O’Connor will only get yellower.

“ Since he’s about the same age as the pope, and they are also close friends, my guess is that the cardinal will stay, ” said Rabbi James Rudin, interreligious affairs director for the American Jewish Committee, who works often with O’Connor. “ The year 2000 is very important to the pope. And the cardinal is still vigorous and strong. ”

Rudin said American Jews are keenly interested in O’Connor‘s future, given O’Connor‘s steady attention to Jewish concerns. He cited O’Connor‘s involvement in Vatican-Israel relations and O’Connor‘s quick response to Jewish concerns about former United Nations Secretary General Kurt Waldheim’s ties to Nazi Germany.

“ (O’Connor) may be more popular with Jews than some Catholics, ” Rudin said. “ It’s an interesting piece of history that the Jewish community of America, not just New York, is very interested in his legacy. ”

The Most Rev. Anthony F. Mestice, an auxiliary bishop under O’Connor and pastor of Resurrection Church in Rye, went as far as to say it would be a mistake for the pope to retire O’Connor before 2000.

“ It would be an error to replace him before the next millennium of Christianity, ” said Mestice, the vicar of central Westchester. “ If I were the pope, and I had a person like Cardinal O’Connor, who is in terrifically good health and working as hard or harder than when he came, I would leave him alone. Some people in their 50s act like they’re 95. But he’s not one. I think he’ll be here another five years. ”

Should public schools teach about the Bible?

For a long time, religious groups and some secular groups have called for public schools to teach about religion — religious history in America, the role of the Bible in American culture, the basics about each major faith group, and so forth.

In recent years, a group called the Bible Literacy Project (which includes representatives from across the religious spectrum) has even produced a textbook that can be used to teach about the Bible. (Some Christian groups say the text advances a secular humanist approach…).

This week’s Time magazine “cover story”:http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1601845,00.html is a good overview on the subject. It’s called “The Case for Teaching the Bible.” The story jives well with Stephen Prothero’s new book, Religious Literacy, making the case that schools must teach something about religion if American citizens are to become religiously literate.

Time’s David Van Biema puts it this way:

“SIMPLY PUT, THE BIBLE IS THE MOST influential book ever written. Not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it is the best-selling book of the year every year. In a 1992 survey of English teachers to determine the top-10 required “book-length works” in high school English classes, plays by Shakespeare occupied three spots and the Bible none. And yet, let’s compare the two: Beauty of language: Shakespeare, by a nose. Depth of subject matter: toss-up. Breadth of subject matter: the Bible. Numbers published, translated etc: Bible. Number of people martyred for: Bible. Number of wars attributed to: Bible. Solace and hope provided to billions: you guessed it. And Shakespeare would almost surely have agreed. According to one estimate, he alludes to Scripture some 1,300 times. As for the rest of literature, when your seventh-grader reads The Old Man and the Sea, a teacher could tick off the references to Christ’s Passion — the bleeding of the old man’s palms, his stumbles while carrying his mast over his shoulder, his hat cutting his head — but wouldn’t the thrill of recognition have been more satisfying on their/own?”

The matzo bus

When you gotta make matzo, you gotta make matzo.

My colleague Steve Lieberman is “reporting”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007703270372 that a Spring Valley rabbi had been making matzo in a school bus, using gas lines from his house, before being shut down yesterday because of safety violations.

Rabbi Aaron Winternitz said he was making matzo for his congregation of less than 50 people. They make about 100 pounds of matzo a year.

A village inspector said the rabbi needed an engineer’s certification and plans for the installation of a long oven inside the bus.

And the bus must be 10 feet from his house — not the current 4 feet.

Passover begins Monday evening.

Egan avoids protesters at NYC church

Cardinal Egan was confronted by protesters last night after celebrating Mass at an East Harlem church, the NY Post is “reporting”:http://www.nypost.com/seven/03272007/news/regionalnews/egan_flees__the_masses_regionalnews_jana_winter_and_dan_mangan.htm this morning.

About 30 people shouted “Egan, Egan, open our church,” to protest the recent closing of Our Lady of the Rosary in Yonkers and Our Lady Queen of Angels in NYC.

The Post says that Egan avoided the protesters by taking a tunnel to the church school. The paper quotes a priest talking to another priest: “Thank God we got him out of here.”

This should make for more blog fodder for those who don’t like the way the archbishop has handled the closing of parishes.

The 50 most influential rabbis (maybe)

How do you compile a list of the 50 most influential rabbis in America? You start with the CEO of Sony Pictures.

Newsweek today released such a “list,”:http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/17721005/site/newsweek/ explaining that it started coming together when “Sony Pictures CEO and Chairman Michael Lynton got together with his good friends and fellow power brokers Gary Ginsberg, of Newscorp., and Jay Sanderson, of JTN Productions (Jewish Television Network).”

There is a “Jews in Hollywood” joke here somewhere…

Anyway, the moguls took several factors into consideration, including each rabbi’s media presence (of course), influence in their own movement and the larger Jewish world, their impact so far, etc.

Even though the list is completely subjective, I bet that those on it will be citing it for a long time.

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Atop the list is Rabbi Marvin Hier (that’s him), founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (and apparently well connected in Hollywood).

The rest of the Top 10:

2. Yehuda Krinsky, head of the Chabad Lubavitch.

3. Uri Herscher, founder of the Skirball Cultural Center in LA (West Coast bias?).

4. Yehuda Berg, the Kabbalah guru.

5. Harold Kushner, beloved, inspirational writer.

6. David Ellenson, president of the Reform seminary.

7. Robert Wexler, president of the University of Judaism.

8. Irwin Kula, author and co-president of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

9. Shmuley Boteach, author and TV reality guy.

10. M. Bruce Lustig, rabbi of the largest congregation in Washington.

Conservative Jewish seminary to train gay clergy

The main seminary of Conservative Judaism “announced”:http://www.jtsa.edu/about/communications/press/20062007/20070326.shtml this morning that it will now accept qualified gay and lesbian students into its rabbinical and cantorial schools.

The announcement from Jewish Theological Seminary is significant but not surprising. Three months ago, the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards gave its blessing to gay clergy, paving the way for the seminary to act.

The decision comes less than a year after the retirement of Ismar Schorsch, the seminary’s long-time chancellor who steadfastly opposed the ordination of homosexuals.

His successor, Arnold Eisen, writes in a lengthy “letter”:http://www.jtsa.edu/cjls/eisenletter.shtml released today to the Conservative community:

“In sum: The CJLS has authorized the ordination of gay and lesbian Jews as rabbis and cantors. A solid majority of Conservative clergy and lay leaders supports it. The JTS faculty likewise strongly favors it. I am convinced this decision to ordain is right — right not just on the basis of my experience as a North American who came of age in the latter part of the twentieth century, or as a Jew who seeks above all to remain true to the tradition we call Torah, but as an American Jew seeking wholeness and integrity in the combination of these to the fullest possible extent. That, I believe, is what Conservative Judaism is all about.”

The seminary now plans a two-year dialogue within the Conservative world, “the ultimate goal being a re-clarification of the principles of Conservative Judaism and a recommitment to its practices.”

The seminary has extended its application deadline for the incoming class in order to accommodate any new applications.

Did the Christian delegation to Iran teach us anything?

Last night, I watched the PBS newsmagazine NOW, which “profiled”:http://www.pbs.org/now/shows/312/video.html the recent trip of 13 liberal Christian leaders to Iran.

I’ve been very interested in the trip because I found a short “statement”:http://www.ncccusa.org/news/070226iranopen.html released by the delegation after their return to be curiously lacking. The statement said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad favored a political solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict — disregarding his pledge to wipe Israel off the map — and made no mention of his single-handed resuscitation of Holocaust denial.

A NOW reporter showed the delegation meeting with various officials and some regular Iranians.

The Rev. Shanta Premawardhana of the National Council of Churches described the trip this way:

“When political leaders mess up, religious leaders have to be there to build relationships and bring the people up to higher moral ground.”

When the show gets going, an Iranian official says that it’s a “big lie” that Iranian weapons are being used in Iraq and insists that Iran would never make nuclear weapons because “It is forbidden in Islam to kill human beings.”

Maureen Shea of the Episcopal Church then wonders: “Are we having a little spin here?”

But most of the show makes that case that Americans simply do not understand Iran. Mary Ellen McNish, general secretary of the American Friends Service Committee (the Quakers), said this:

“They get a picture painted by the U.S. government, inflamed by the media, who only want to spread the word that will get the most viewers and that, for me, is fear.”

The narrator then adds:

“Rarely does the American press go inside the story and over what is really going on…”

The show makes the case that American know little about what happened in Iran before the 1979 hostage crisis, including how the U.S. helped put the Shah in power and keep him there. But the earlier events are what Iranians remember.

“How you bring the narratives together is probably the most central question before us,” Premawardhana said.

The political context was all well and good. It’s all important. But there was precious little time spent on what Iran’s goals are today.

The narrator made one, brief mention of Ahmadinejad’s threats to Israel. And she quickly mentioned that he did not like being questioned about the Holocaust. “He wants to do more research,” she explained.

But no members of the delegation were shown talking about these two points, which have gotten tremendous attention in the U.S.

Instead we get McNish saying this:

“You can’t say we’re not asking the hard questions. We are. But we are understanding deeply the pain the Iranian people have suffered at the hands of American foreign policy.”

So this delegation, seeking the admirable Christian goals of peace and diplomacy, reached conclusions that will be meaningful to those who think the same way they do. But will the vast majority of Americans, who do not know what to think of Iran and fear Ahmadinejad’s delusional pronouncements, learn anything at all?

At one point, the narrator says:

“It’s becoming a shouting match between two countries. Will the voices of religion even be heard?”

It’s more than a shouting match, isn’t it?

Serving the religious needs of the developmentally disabled

Special religious services are offered for just about every group and sub-group. But how much is said about the importance and meaning of services for the developmentally disabled?

Before I started covering religion a decade ago, I wrote a lot about the developmentally disabled, particularly about their housing and vocational needs. Although many, many people worked incredibly hard on their behalf, the disabled were still a very overlooked group. After all, most can’t lobby for what they need.

It’s worth noting that several Jewish groups in Westchester and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York are holding annual events next week — a seder and a Mass — for the disabled.

On Wednesday, March 28, the 20th Annual Community Passover Seder for Persons with Developmental Disabilities will be held at Temple Shaaray Tefila in Bedford. Nearly 200 people are expected to take part, to hear the story of Passover in word and song.

More than 60 volunteers from many congregations work all year to make the seder happen. It’s sponsored by “Westchester Jewish Community Services'”:http://www.wjcs.com/ Havorah Program, “Temple Shaaray Tefila”:http://www.shaaraytefila.org/ and “Jewish Women International.”:http://www.jwi.org/site/c.okLWJ3MPKtH/b.2213779/k.BFB9/Home.htm

And — get this — every year, a class from a synagogue school creates an original Hagaddah for the event. How cool is that? This year, the sixth-grade class at Temple Beth Abraham in Tarrytown is stepping up.

Meanwhile, on Saturday, March 31, the “archdiocese”:http://www.ny-archdiocese.org/ will celebrate its annual Mass for the developmentally disabled at 10:30 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Cardinal Egan will preside.

About 70 people from Rockland and Orange counties will caravan to Saint Dominic’s Home in Blauvelt to head down together to St. Pat’s.

Thousands are expected to the Mass, including people in wheelchairs and maybe even hospital beds.

At the very least, people should know that the seder and Mass are taking place. Then they can spread the word and maybe increase support and participation for next year.

Teaching the ‘pure freedom’ that comes with sexual abstinence

Dannah Gresh, a best-selling evangelical Christian author who has built a career around promoting sexual abstinence, will lead a youth conference on sexual purity tonight and tomorrow at “Ridgeway Alliance Church”:http://www.ridgewaychurch.com/ in White Plains.

About 400 kids of middle school and high school age are expected to attend.

“What she teaches is along the lines of our beliefs in terms of marriage,” Cynthia Petterson, a parent and active volunteer at Ridgeway, who is coordinating the event, told me. “Sexual abstinence is a way for young people to be in line with what God wants.”

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Gresh founded the abstinence-promoting group Pure Freedom and has led sexual purity conferences for about a half-million youth. But this is her first time in the tri-state area, Petterson told me.

A resident of State College, Penn., Gresch has told her story on the 700 Club, the Christian Broadcasting Network and elsewhere. On her “website,”:http://www.purefreedom.org/ she says this:

“As a young married woman and a new mom, I was driving down the highway listening to the familiar voice of Dr. James Dobson. Suddenly, the host asked his guest, “What is the most common question a young girl will ask her mom about sex?” Without delay the woman responded, “Mom, did you wait?”

I pulled my minivan to the side of the highway and allowed ten years of tremendous denial and grief to engulf me. My heart’s desire was, is and always will be to live a lifestyle of purity, but in high school I detoured from that pursuit long enough to get tangled up by lust. Like no other sin, moments of unbridled passion had intertwined my life painfully into another’s.

That evening, it took me three hours to tell my husband in the darkness of my bedroom. Satan had me cornered into a prison of blackmail until the very moment that my lips uttered my long-awaited confession. Oh, how I wish I had done that sooner. Christ’s forgiveness finally verbalized in the midst of my husband’s warm familiar embrace suddenly began to heal the deep tear in my heart.”

Within weeks, she was giving her first “purity” retreat.