Hasidic brothers do battle in court

I still can’t link to anything. And I see that all links in previous posts have turned to gibberish (coding). Those links should return once whatever is wrong with the LoHud blogs is corrected.


New York’s highest court will today begin hearing a fascinating case involving two brothers who are fighting for control of the Satmar Hasidic sect.

030723_202314-179_rebzali1big.jpgRabbi Aaron Teitelbaum and his younger brother, Rabbi Zalmen Teitelbaum (that’s him), are the sons of the late Rabbi Moses Teitelbaum, the leader of the movement, who died last year.

The brothers are fighting to succeed their father — bringing to mind numerous family disputes in the Bible.

A key question here is whether secular courts can decide this case without delving into religious issues.

“A central question in the matter is whether the leadership dispute can be decided by neutral principles of law,” Nelson Tebbe, a Brooklyn Law School professor, tells the Times Herald-Record up in Middletown, N.Y.

You can read the THR article by cutting and pasting: http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20071016/NEWS/710160308

The Satmar sect is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and now has some 20,000 people in the Orange County community of Kiryas Joel.

For what it’s worth, Zalmen Teitelbaum says his father endorsed him and that secular courts should not be involved. His brother, of course, disagrees and wants the courts to decide the matter.

Back to blogging

Well, we’re back. All the LoHud blogs have been out of commission since last week. I still can’t link to anything and it’s possible that the whole thing will go down again.

But onward.

It’s been strange not blogging. I keep seeing and hearing things and thinking “I have to blog about that.”

0_61_coulter_ann_2006.jpgLast week, for instance, when I first heard something about Ann Coulter saying that Jews need to be “perfected,” my first inclination was to blog about whether anyone would care. After all, Coulter is a professional provocateur. If she’s not in the news for a few months, she writes or says something that’s certain to upset someone.

Sure enough, the ADL “strongly condemned” Coulter. Others followed. More free press for Coulter.

Interestingly, Coulter apparently went on WOR radio in NY last week to “defend and explain” her position. She said that the idea that the Jewish people need to be perfected “stated the … doctrine of Christianity” and “comes from that raging anti-Semite, St. Paul.”

Of course, this was a pretty mainstream Christian position for centuries and remains so (with nuances) in much of the evangelical Protestant world.

I wonder what church Coulter attends…

Onward Christian pretzels

Are pretzels Christian?

In a homage to pretzels (one of my favorite snacks) on “Slate.com,”:http://www.slate.com/default.aspx?id=2175228&nav/tap1 Sara Dickerman says that pretzels have Christian origins:

Because of their link to beer and harvest-time drinking, I like to think of pretzels as one of those pagan holdovers like mistletoe, but, at least in legend, their invention is decidedly Christian. An Italian monk, in the year 610, is said to have twisted a rope of dough into the classic form — the twist itself representing arms folded in prayer, and the three holes a nod to the Holy trinity. Some claim pretzel comes from the Latin pretiola, which means “little rewards,” as the crunchy knots were purportedly given to children as prizes for piety. Other etymologies look back to the Medieval Latin term bracellus, meaning “bracelet.”

Godless finalist for National Book Award

Uh oh. The godless Christopher Hitchens is a finalist for a National Book Award, the AP is reporting.

tjndc5-5ex49xqt9kzzpntxmv8_layout.jpgHe got the nod in the non-fiction category for his anti-religion tract “God is Not Great.”

For folks who believe that some sort of atheist insurrection is taking place (led by writers like Hitchens), this will be further proof. At least if he was a finalist for fiction

The other finalists in the non-fiction category, by the way, are: Edwidge Dandicat for her memoir “Brother, I’m Dying;� Woody Holton’s “Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution;� and Tim Weiner’s “Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA.�

It is kind of interesting that Hitchens is getting much more general attention for “God is Not Great” than for his fervent, ongoing “support”:http://www.slate.com/id/2175284/fr/flyout of the war in Iraq (given his liberal background and all).

No ‘Ten Commandments’ for the Lo Hud

An animated version of The “Ten Commandments”:http://www.epicstoriesofthebible.com/index.php opens in theaters nationwide next Friday (Oct. 19). But as best as I can tell from the film’s “website,”:http://www.epicstoriesofthebible.com/theatre_listings.php it’s not opening in the Lower Hudson Valley.

It’s opening in 10 theaters across New York state, most of which are in Western New York — Buffalo, Rochester, Orchard Park. The closest to “downstate” is in Ithaca.

poster_thumbnail.jpgI wonder why. Does the film’s distributor not think it will sell in the godless city and its suburbs? Or do theaters not want it? I will try to find out.

For what it’s worth, I was curious how many showings the movie will get in a Bible Belt state. So I checked Tennessee. It will open in eight theaters in Memphis and nine in Nashville, plus 10 others.

I received an email the other day inviting me to a sneak preview, but the closest preview around appears to be in Washington, D.C. I’m not going.

Anyway, this is a big time production with big name voices. The movie “stars” Ben Kingsley as the narrator, Christian Slater as Moses himself and Alfred Molina as Ramses (he played a great villain in Spider-Man 2).

The voice of God? Elliott Gould.

Rock it, Jimmy Swaggart!

You might think that Jimmy Swaggart would have a problem with the devil’s music.

jimmy-swaggart.jpgBut the televangelist will play piano at a “concert”:http://www.cmt.com/news/articles/1570332/20070921/kristofferson_kris.jhtml honoring his cousin, rock pioneer and aging bad boy Jerry Lee Lewis. The Nov. 10 show in Cleveland will be co-sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

What a strange sight it will be: Swaggart jamming with Kris Kristofferson, Shelby Lynne, Wanda Jackson, Cowboy Jack Clement, George Thorogood, and others.

Swaggart, of course, ruled the airwaves until a prostitute-in-a-hotel scandal brought him down during the late ’80s. But he’s still “kicking.”:http://www.jsm.org/

Thanks to the “Bible Belt Blogger”:http://www2.arkansasonline.com/blogs/bible-blog/ for catching this.

NYS Catholic Conference: Let illegals drive

A big-time legislative battle is brewing over Gov. Spitzer’s proposal to allow illegal immigrants to seek driver’s licenses.

County clerks and Republican legislators plan to “fight the plan.”:http://www.thejournalnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2007710070355

Among those who support Spitzer is the “New York State Catholic Conference,”:http://www.nyscatholic.org/pages/news/show_newsDetails.asp?id=338 which represents Cardinal Egan and NY’s other bishops. Executive Director Richard E. Barnes (that’s him) says in a statement:

resize_bioasp.jpegFor the past several years, the Catholic Church has been involved in the area of comprehensive reform of our national immigration policies. In his executive action regarding identification requirements for state driver’s licenses, Governor Spitzer has addressed a problem that is in actuality a symptom of a larger problem that should be resolved ultimately by the federal government. Clearly, a balance must be struck between important homeland security concerns and certain economic realities. But the federal government has not instituted a comprehensive immigration policy; therefore these issues end up being addressed piecemeal by state and local governments. Given that reality, we believe that Governor Spitzer’s action was appropriate.

While this matter is partially one of economic justice for the immigrants themselves, the state also has an economic interest at play. In certain sections of our state, we see labor market shortages, which are being filled by this population. In order to fill these positions, which are of critical importance to our state’s economic well being, the immigrant community needs valid licenses in order to get to the jobs.

While the Church’s role is to speak to issues of human dignity and economic justice, the government’s role is to balance all of these needs, including the legitimate security issues that have been raised by others. We leave it to the Governor and other state officials to resolve these matters as they deem necessary to protect our citizenry, to ensure economic justice, and to meet the labor needs of business and industry.�

I’m not aware of any religious voices opposing Spitzer so far. Are there any out there?

Preparing clergy to minister to the dying

Clergy from across Westchester are coming together Thursday morning for what promises to be an important conference about “ministering to the terminally ill.”

Organizers point out that while clergy can address the end of life from a theological perspective (and from experience in the trenches), they generally receive little or no training on the clinical and practical needs of the dying.

I plan on attending to see what clergy think and hear what they’re told.

Thursday’s meeting, at the Westchester Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Mount Vernon, will cover issues such as: end of life care options; hospice and palliative care; advance care planning and advance directives; the role of clergy before and during medical crises; and grief and bereavement.

The conference will run from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. I don’t know if there are any spots left, but you can contact Nancy Piotrowski at 914.699.1600×337 or NP.WestRehab@earthlink.net.

A new prayerbook for Reform Judaism

Back in May of 2001, I interviewed Rabbi Chaim Stern, one of the most influential liturgists in Reform Judaism.

He was only weeks from retiring from the pulpit of Temple Beth El of Northern Westchester in Chappaqua. We talked in his office, mostly about his major work, “Gates of Prayer,” the primary Reform prayerbook from 1975 until now.

tjndc5-5b3ikq20jit4zn2n6jt_layout.jpgStern (that’s him) pieced it together between 1971 and 1974, with the help of many others, of course. But Stern was the editor.

He told me:

A prayer book is not like a novel. It has to be used for years on end, over and over. You have to capture what one is thinking and feeling. It can’t be too timely, in the sense of vernacular. But it can’t be too elevated, too removed, because that wears out and is usually hollow. It has to be timeless, which is no easy trick.

When we spoke, Stern knew that the Reform movement was working on a new prayerbook, a successor to “Gates of Prayer.” He clearly had mixed feelings about it, and was thinking about updating his own work for those who might like it.

But Stern died only months later, on Nov. 5.

And now the successor to “Gate of Prayer” has arrived. Mishkan T’filah (“Sanctuary of Prayer”) has been years in the making, piloted in 300 congregations nationwide, including many in the Lower Hudson Valley. It’s 712 pages and will likely be around for a while.

Reform Judaism has been moving back toward tradition over the last decade or so. Rabbi David Ellenson, the president of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, the Reform seminary, tells the “Jewish Week”:http://www.huc.edu/newspubs/pressroom/external/o.php?out=http://www.thejewishweek.com/news/newscontent.php3?artid=14571 that “there is no question” that the new prayerbook represents a return to tradition.

Interestingly, the book features the return of the prayer for the resurrection of the dead. The prayer’s elimination was once a defining feature of the cerebral Reform tradition.

The Reform movement has never denied the existence of an afterlife, but its rabbis have had very different ideas on what resurrection might mean.

“Certainly to the 19th century reformers, the idea that Judaism believed in resurrection of the dead seemed to them the antithesis of the kind of rational Judaism that they thought most Jews wanted and expected,� Jonathan Sarna, the esteemed Jewish history professor at Brandeis University, tells the JW.