Watch out for fake shofars

Jews everywhere will soon hear the blowing of the shofar, ushering in Rosh Hashanah and the “Days of Awe.”

Tonight begins the Jewish year 5769.

466689468_4e85209140.jpgBut not all shofars are kosher.

The Forward reports that there is a black market of sorts for fake shofars, horns that have not been hallowed in accordance with Jewish law.

A real shofar, for instance, must be one, whole piece. But some black-market horns have small pieces glued in place.

The article points out that if a synagogue gets hold of a fake, it may unknowingly use it for a long time.

One fellow who blows the shofar in Jerusalem told the paper: “It is difficult to overlook the irony that the shofar, of all things, a tool for repentance on the day when we atone for our sins, is being used to advance somebody’s personal wealth with disregard for ethics.”

Priests for Life’s Frank Pavone won’t set up abortion-fighting community

An interesting note: Port Chester native the Rev. Frank Pavone, a leading figure in the culture wars as head of Priests for Life, has abandoned plans to form a religious community of priests focused on fighting abortion.

father-frank_shadow.jpgPavone founded the Missionaries of the Gospel of Life only two years ago. The fledgling community, based in Amarillo, Texas, has nine seminarians.

But Religious News Service reports that Pavone decided to end the experiment because it was getting in the way of his primary goal, which is of course fighting abortion.

Pavone founded Priests for Life in 1991 as a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, with the blessing of Cardinal O’Connor. But after Cardinal Egan asked him to take a parish position, Pavone found his way to Texas, where he continues to work as one of the most high-profile Catholic voices on the religious right.

Hispanic Catholics will teach future generations

I spent a few hours at the Archdiocese of New York’s big “Catechetical Convocation” on Saturday at the Westchester County Center and one thing was immediately clear.

The “Irish church” that once was in New York is becoming — or has become — an “Hispanic church.”

Some 2,000 educators — people who teach in parish education programs around the archdiocese — came to the convocation. They came for spiritual nourishment and to learn how to become better teachers.

No one was counting the ethnicity of those present, but I would guess that more than half of those in attendance were Hispanic. Maybe way more than half. It would have been easy to step inside the County Center (home to so many reptile shows and used computer shows) and think that it was some sort of Hispanic gathering.

Taking things further, the vast majority of white people in attendance were old-timers. But I saw lots of Hispanic teens and 20-somethings, some of whom seemed to tag along with their parents or their siblings– to an all-day catechetical conference.

hermana-glenda-2-730685.jpgI mentioned in my article that the archdiocese’s Catechetical Office, which ran the show, was smart enough to invite Sister Hermana Glenda, a guitar-strumming nun who is incredibly popular in Spain and Latin America. She sang in Spanish and English and brought down the house (quietly).

Boy, was she good. A powerful presence in a gray habit. And a new voice for a “new” Catholic Church in New York.

A challenging question for ‘Texas faith’

The terrific Religion Blog at the Dallas Morning News website has started a new feature called “Texas Faith,” which involves a panel of clergy weighing in on a question.

A recent question was this: What do you find in your faith tradition that helps you deal with or explain the reality of suffering?

All the answers are worth reading, but here is a sobering response from Gerald Britt, vice president of Central Dallas Ministries:

gb1.jpgI found that I can’t explain the reality of suffering. I’m alternately amazed and amused by those who try. For those of us who are Christian, to try and lead with that in a discussion of faith usually leaves those who are not of our tradition with the impression that we are evasive or trying to escape reality.

Twenty-two years ago, our 11 year-old son died from schleraderma. We have no idea how he contracted the idea and it was approximately seven months from the time of his diagnosis to his death. It was excruciatingly painful to watch a previously healthy boy, die painfully and inexplicably.

Last year, our only living son was murdered in a senseless domestic violence incident. Less than a week before his death, he talked about how he forgave his wife and wanted to just move on. Three days later he was dead.
We lived to see him become a young man, who loved his daughter and had great plans for his future.

The week after his funeral, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer.

I can’t explain why any of this happened. My faith however, helps me in two ways:

One it teaches me the insufficiency of answers. If someone, anyone were to explain to me why I and my family had to go through any of this it wouldn’t help. Ultimately, I’d rather have my boys back and my health unimpacted by illness. No answer with regard to this suffering would be sufficient.

Secondly, I choose to stubbornly believe that God is good. The Book of Psalms is punctuated throughout with these words: ‘The Lord is good…” and there are no qualifiers. He is not good, ‘if’; He is not good ‘when’; He is not good, ‘as long as’; He is not good, ‘until’. He is just good. I choose to stubbornly cling to that unqualified goodness – even when things that happen to me are not good.

Jewish charitable groups face declining contributions

Jewish philanthropic groups are antsy about the fall-out from the economic crisis.

All charitable groups must be, especially when there is a growing demand for services on the part of people who are struggling.

Mark Talisman, a leading Jewish activist, has suggested an emergency national summit of Jewish leaders to talk about what’s happening, the Jewish Week reports.

“Our organizations face a potential emergency with donors, who are heavily concentrated in real estate, banking and finance,” he says, noting that kosher food pantries around the country have been out of food for months.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism,  says the government can’t focus all its efforts on saving financial institutions: “What we are doing is communicating about the need not to forget the poor and the vulnerable, not forgetting the individual homeowner while addressing the broader mortgage crisis. But beyond that, there hasn’t been much engagement in the last few days because things are moving very swiftly.”

Endorsements from the pulpit — or not

This Sunday, a few dozen pastors across the country plan to talk politics, endorse candidates and attack other candidates.

They say they will exercise their First Amendment rights. But they will also ignore a federal ban on campaigning by non-profit groups — putting their tax-exempt status at risk.

pulpit.jpg“Pulpit Freedom Sunday” is a project of the Alliance Defense Fund, a group that wants to shrink the wall between church and state.

ADF Senior Legal Counsel Erik Stanley explains it like this: “Pastors have a right to speak about Biblical truths from the pulpit without fear of punishment. No one should be able to use the government to intimidate pastors into giving up their constitutional rights. If you have a concern about pastors speaking about electoral candidates from the pulpit, ask yourself this: should the church decide that question, or should the IRS?”

The Rev. Wiley S. Drake of First Southern Baptist Church of Buena Park, Calif., tells the LA Times: “I’m going to talk about the un-biblical stands that Barack Obama takes. Nobody who follows the Bible can vote for him. We may not be politically correct, but we are going to be biblically correct. We are going to vote for those who follow the Bible.”

Obama probably won’t fare too well in any of the churches taking part in this initiative.

Other groups, such as the Interfaith Alliance and Americans United for Separation of Church and State, think this is a really bad idea. Over 150 clergy have signed an Interfaith Alliance pledge to refrain from endorsing candidates.

The Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, said: “I cannot stress strongly enough my objections to turning houses of worship into pseudo-precinct nominating conventions.”

American Jews (except for the Orthodox) favor Obama

Americans Jews favor Obama over McCain by 57% to 30% (with 13% undecided), according to the American Jewish Committee’s just-released Annual Survey of American Jewish Opinion.

obama-kah2.JPGObama has the support of 59% of Conservative Jews, 62% of Reform Jews, 61% of “Just Jewish” Jews — but only a paltry 13% of Orthodox Jews.

On the question of which “one issue would you most like the candidates for president to discuss,” 54% of American Jews answered “economy,” 11 “health care,” 6 “war in Iraq,” 5 “energy” and “terrorism,” 3 “Israel,” 2 “immigration,” “education,” “taxes,” and “social security,” and 1% “Supreme Court nominations.”

And, 56% of American Jews do NOT think “there will come a time when Israel and its Arab neighbors will be able to settle their differences and live in peace.” 38% think peace will be achieved.

Taking a lead from Rome, NY Archdiocese to offer conference Saturday on the Bible

On Saturday, the Archdiocese of New York will present an all-day catechetical conference at the Westchester County Center in White Plains.

A few thousand people are expected to come from across the 10 counties of the archdiocese.

I have an advance in today’s LoHud/Journal News.

You can get all the info and see a schedule of events here.

newlogo-yellow-copy.gifThe theme will be “The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church.” If that sounds familiar, it is the same theme that Pope Benedict XVI has set for the upcoming Synod of Bishops at the Vatican (Oct. 5-26).

Sister Joan Curtin, director of the archdiocese’s Catechetical Office, which is putting on the conference, told me: “Once that synod occurs in Rome, the word will go out around the world, to the universal church. We wanted to be on the cutting edge here in New York.”

The Catechetical Office has long offered teach-ins for educators. But last year, to celebrate the bicentennial of the archdiocese, the office decided to have a broader convocation that could provide spiritual education and sustenance to Catholics from all walks of life.

They’re sticking with that approach this year. Attendees can take part in a number of workshops about the Bible from a Catholic point of view. There will also be programs aimed at those who do teach children in the faith.

If you want to know the Vatican’s rationale for promoting the study of Scripture, go the Vatican website here. The document you will find there includes this:

The purpose of this Synod is primarily pastoral, namely, spreading and strengthening encounters with the Word of God by thoroughly examining its doctrinal underpinnings and allowing them to show the manner in which this is to be done. This will lead to experiencing the Word of God as the source of life in everyday circumstances and devising true and readily available ways in which Christians and all people of good will can listen to God and speak with him.

In a concrete sense, the Synod intends among its many objectives: to help clarify the basic truths of Revelation as the Word of God, Divine Tradition, the Bible and the Magisterium, which prompt and guarantee an authentic and effective living of the faith; to spark an appreciation and deep love of Sacred Scripture so that “the faithful might have easy access” to it; to renew listening to the Word of God, in the liturgy and catechesis, specifically through lectio divina, duly adapted to various circumstances; and to offer a Word of consolation and hope to the poor of the world.

This Synod desires to give the Word of God as bread to the People of God. Its aim is to foster a proper approach to biblical hermeneutics and to correctly direct the process of evangelization and inculturation. It also intends to encourage ecumenical dialogue, which is closely linked to listening to the Word of God and to promote an encounter and dialogue of not only Christians and Jews9 but also those engaged in interreligious and inter-cultural dialogue. The synod proposes to achieve this task by treating the following three areas:

Is the economy a ‘values’ issue?

Four years ago, when politicians referred to “values” issues, we all knew what they meant: abortion, sexuality, marriage, stem cells, etc.

Now Democrats are trying to portray our economic troubles as “values” issues.

Read the AP’s Eric Gorski and decide for yourself:

AP Religion Writer

In Parma, Ohio, an organizer for Barack Obama arrived at a recent “Catholic house party,” a campaign-sponsored chat about values, prepared to answer questions about abortion.

The conversation instead lurched into the battered state of the local economy — not surprising in a community where laid-off Ford auto workers are now greeters at Wal-Mart.

Across the religious spectrum, from atheists to evangelicals, the economy ranks as the top issue on voters’ minds — a scenario that usually works in Democrats’ favor.

fb1cbb6c059a4b7f977b951f12da0c57.jpgNow, with U.S. financial systems in turmoil and the government rushing to fix it, Democrats sense an opportunity to highlight the economy as a values issue and attract middle-of-the-road religious believers who were central to George W. Bush’s winning coalition in 2004.

For years, more liberal faith leaders have tried to elevate fighting poverty at home and abroad onto the values agenda. What’s changed is that an increasing number of voters are seeing suffering not just in the streets but in the mirror.

Barriers remain to both major parties if they seek to appeal to religious voters on the economy. You’re either for or against gay marriage or abortion rights, but no one supports foreclosures and layoffs. Differences arise over solutions, and analysts say it can make more sense for campaigns to make general pitches on the economy than faith-based appeals.

Then there’s the mind-boggling complexity of things like the $700 billion government bailout Congress is considering this week just as the presidential race is heating up.

“This is daunting, complicated stuff even for sophisticated voters,” said John Green, a political scientist at the University of Akron in Ohio. “You can make values arguments about the economy. But you’d have to be subtle and complex and require a good bit of discussion — not the sorts of things presidential campaigns are given to.”

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Introducing the Green Bible

Environmentally aware Christians may be interested in the new…Green Bible.

The cover is made of cotton and linen and has a sack-like feel. The pages are made in part from recycled paper. The ink is soy-based.

Over 1,000 verses that highlight the importance of the planet and the environment are highlighted in, you guessed it, green.

Opening the Green Bible to any page, I just pointed to Psalm 66, which includes two verses in green: “All the earth worships you; they sing praises to you, sing praises to your name.” and “He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot. There we rejoiced in him,…”

green_site_book_04.gifThe Bible includes essays by N.T. Wright, Pope John Paul II and others, and a foreword by Desmond Tutu, who writes: “The future of our fragile, beautiful planet home is in our hands. As God’s family, we are stewards of God’s creation.”

An endorsement by Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the head of Orthodox Christianity, looks like this: “The abuse of nature and mistreatment of its invaluable resources are tantamount to sin. May The Green Bible offer opportunity for a new beginning and repentance of our past ways.”

The Green Bible, published by HarperOne, goes for $29.95.

The Sierra Club, the Humane Society and the National Council of Churches have all played a role in promoting the Green Bible.