Reform rabbis: Thumbs down to negative ads

Reform rabbis today released a statement about the presidential campaign.

They don’t like it. At least all that negative stuff.

Here’s the statement of the Central Conference of American Rabbis:


Reform Rabbinical Leaders Decry Negative Campaign Tactics

Long ago, the ancient Rabbis distinguished between an appropriate argument (“a dispute for the sake of Heaven”) and a non-productive debate which is to be avoided. The classic example of the regrettable dispute is found in Numbers 16. There, Korach and his band of rebels oppose the leadership of Moses, Miriam and Aaron. Korach and his allies offer no alternative plans for the Children of Israel; they merely lust after the power God has bestowed upon Moses, his brother and sister.

negative_ads_626_article3.jpgIn the United States today, we find ourselves in the midst of a hard-fought Presidential election. In so many ways, debate is worthy. Our nation and our leading Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates face issues of war and peace, the welfare of the U.S. and global economies, health care, the future of our planet, and so many very real issues deeply affecting the future of every American – and, by extension, of the whole world.

Sadly, though, in recent weeks, as in previous years, the tone of the campaign and events surrounding it has turned increasingly malicious, divisive and hateful. One campaign or the other launches an ad hominem attack against its opponents. More often, forces close to campaigns, as well as independent groups desperately seeking the election or defeat of one ticket or the other has engaged in vile, often false, accusations. Increasingly, we fear that the campaign is degenerating into a dispute that is not at all for the good of the United States and everything we hold dear.

Neither racism, sexism, ageism, nor xenophobia is well disguised in some of these attacks. We are especially saddened that some in the Jewish community have participated in perpetrating calumnies to further a particular political goal.
We are particularly shocked by statements distinguishing some citizens as “real Americans,” apparently implying that other American citizens are something less than “real.” Having been victims of such imprecations in ages past, even in our own beloved country decades ago, the Jewish community is and ought to be particularly sensitive to all such charges.

We call on both the Obama-Biden Campaign and the McCain-Palin Campaign, the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, candidates for offices across the land and all who support any of these to turn away from negative campaigning, racism, sexism, and lies that separate Americans. Let the debate continue to be vigorous on the issues. And let the campaign be for the sake of all that is good about the United States of America.


Rabbi Peter Knobel, president
Rabbi Steven A. Fox, executive vice president

Not an ideal 100th birthday present

I don’t use this blog to lament the demise of (my beloved) newspaper industry.

But it’s worth noting the “transformation” coming to the Christian Science Monitor, which was started in 1908 by Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science, and continues to be published by the Church of Christ, Scientist.

The Monitor said yesterday that it will discontinue its 5-day-a-week print edition in April and basically become an on-line newspaper (without the paper). It will start a weekly magazine, so there will be something you can hold in your hands that says Christian Science Monitor.

1.jpgIt may be a prescient move by the Monitor as the newspaper biz crumbles, thanks to the Web and the economy.

“I’m not sure that the rest of the industry will follow us, but I think they’ll be watching,” Monitor Editor John Yemma says in the LA Times.

I’ve subscribed to the Monitor at several points and have always admired the paper’s ability to explain national and internationally news clearly, accurately and fairly. The paper has a way of covering foreign news that helps a novice truly grasp what’s happening overseas — without dumbing things down.

The paper does include columns about the Christian Science faith. But the Monitor’s overall coverage, in my view, is unaffected by its religious affiliation.

I remember during the 1990s struggling to understand the crisis in the Balkans. It was the Monitor’s coverage, day after day, that helped me get a handle on what was happening and why.

The newsPAPER will be missed.

Let’s hope that the Web version has a long, healthy life.

Another festival of lights

Want to learn a bit about Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights that falls today?

My colleague Suzan Clarke explains how Hindus in the LoHud will celebrate the festival. Here’s the basics, from Suzan’s article:


Diwali falls on a date set by a lunar calendar, and generally occurs during October or November on the Gregorian calendar. Today is the third of five days of celebration.

Diwali is marked by about 800 million Hindus – along with Sikhs and Jains – worldwide, and is it based on two legends.

One commemorates the return of Lord Rama from exile. Another story tells of Lord Krishna’s defeat of a demon who was terrorizing people in the south. Krishna is one of the most popular Hindu gods.

Overall, though, Diwali symbolizes the triumph of good over evil.

Despite the regional variations, the holiday is universally celebrated among India’s Hindu majority, either as Rama’s homecoming, the Hindu New Year or the worship of Lakshmi, the domestic goddess of wealth and prosperity.



Priest Vimesh Joshi of the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir on Yonkers Avenue in Yonkers stands in front of the statues of two gods, on the left (take a breath) Purnapurushottam Shri Bhagwan Swaminarayan, and on the right (another breath) Mul Aksharmurti Shri Gunatitanand Swami. (Photo by Mark Vergari / The Journal News )


Shantaben Patel of Tarrytown prays at the Yonkers temple. (Seth Harrison / The Journal News)

Red Mass tomorrow in White Plains

Bishop Gerald Walsh, rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary and vicar of development for the Archdiocese of NY (that’s him), will celebrate the annual Red Mass for those in the legal profession tomorrow (Wed, Oct. 29) in White Plains.

tjndc5-5b5pzovviyovzf85ezi_layout.jpgIt will take place at 6 p.m. at St. John the Evangelist Church, 146 Hamilton Ave., the big, old church near the White Plains train station.

Some prominent folks have celebrated the Red Mass in White Plains, which is organized by the Westchester chapter of the Guild of Catholic Lawyers

Archbishop Edwin O’Brien — a two-time rector of St. Joseph’s Seminary in Yonkers and now the Archbishop of Baltimore — presided several times.

And Cardinal John O’Connor did so several times during the late 1980s. In 1988, he said that his work was not unlike that of judges of lawyers:

“I have to try to administer the law, the divine law,” he said. “It is very difficult to preserve the law in its integrity.”

Should the Lord’s Prayer open Parliament (in Australia)?

The U.S. isn’t the only country wrestling with church/state issues:

Associated Press Writer

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) _ The speaker of Australia’s Parliament has called for a public debate about whether the country’s lawmakers should end the practice of starting each session with the Lord’s Prayer.Lawmakers have started every day of Parliament with the Christian prayer for more than a century — a tradition inherited from Britain during colonial rule.

But some are now questioning whether a prayer adopted by the first Australian Parliament in 1901 remains relevant in an increasingly secular and religiously diverse nation.

r226494_898735.jpgDumping the prayer is unlikely to happen any time soon, though, as Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull said Sunday said they wanted to keep the prayer.

More than 65 percent of Australians still identify as Christians, and there are no Muslims or Aborigines among Australia’s 226 federal lawmakers. The only two Jewish lawmakers, both members of the government, did not return calls by The Associated Press on Monday.

Speaker of the House of Representatives Harry Jenkins (that’s him) told News Ltd. newspapers that lawmakers and members of the public had repeatedly raised the issue with him since he took office in February.

“One of the most controversial aspects of the parliamentary day … is the prayer,” Jenkins was quoted on Sunday as saying. “On the one end of the spectrum is: Why have a prayer?”

Jenkins declined to be interviewed Monday but issued a statement saying he had “received a wide range of opinions about the opening prayer” and its relevance “in modern Australia.”

Sen. Bob Brown, leader of the Australian Greens, a minor opposition party, wants the prayer replaced by a period of silent reflection, while independent lawmaker Rob Oakeshott wants each day to begin with a recognition of Aborigines as Australia’s original inhabitants.

Brown failed in 1997 to replace the prayer with a period of silence. He has said he plans to propose 30 seconds of silence after the prayer, as a “period of reflection” for those who did not want to pray.

Ikebal Patel, Australian Federation of Islamic Councils president, said he did not object to the prayer, but supported Brown’s proposal as more inclusive.

“There should be an attempt to try and be a little bit more generic and inclusive,” Patel said.

Aborigines and other religions should be acknowledged, he said.

“Parliament shouldn’t be seen to be a Christian club,” he added.


New Rochelle AME Zion pastor to be honored

The New Rochelle-based Coalition for Mutual Respect will honor the Rev. Michael J. Rouse, pastor of St. Catherine AME Zion Church in New Rochelle, with its Yitzhak Rabin Peacemaker Award.

The award has been given annually since 1997.

According to a statement from the coalition, “a divine spirit motivates Reverend Rouse in his human relations and work of conciliation between people of all faiths.”

newrochelle-tolerance1.jpgBefore coming to New Rochelle, Rouse served in Chicago and helped form the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice.

The coalition was founded by Rabbi Amiel Wohl, Rabbi Emeritus of Temple Israel of New Rochelle and still co-chair of the coalition, and the Rev. Vernon Shannon, Rouse’s predecessor as pastor of St. Catherine’s AME Zion Church. (Pictured are Wohl and Rouse.)

The award will be presented on Wednesday, Nov. 19 at the New Rochelle City Hall Chambers at 5:45 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. A reception will begin at 5 p.m.

I’ll talk ‘disasters’ the day after Election Day

I should mention that I’ll be talking about my book — Can God Intervene? How Religion Explains Natural Disasters — on Wednesday, Nov. 5 at Wainwright House in Rye. At 7 p.m.

galleryphoto01.jpgYes, that’s the day after Election Day.

You won’t be that tired from staying up to watch the returns…

Wainwright House, if you haven’t been there, is a “learning center” that offers all sorts of programs dedicated to greater understanding “through mind, body, spirit and community.”

I appreciate that they invited me. All the relevant info is HERE.

Church pews for sale

A few weeks back, a colleague noticed an ad for a couple dozen church pews on Craigslist.

The seller was in White Plains.

Who was it? Why were they selling church pews?

I’ll explain it in a day or two.

The ad is no longer on Craigslist. There are several other ads for pews, though, in New York alone.

In fact, I see there are two pews for sale in Piermont. And others in New Rochelle!

Do we have a trend?

Egan getting more kudos for anti-abortion column

Not surprisingly, Cardinal Egan’s latest (and most interesting?) case against abortion is whipping around the blogosphere and getting raves from pro-life bloggers.

Three Catholic mothers in Texas write: “Cardinal Egan, GREAT JOB” and: “Teach it, fathers! Preach it. Live it. Who cares what the world thinks? They’ll never like us anyway. It’s a fools game to try.”

Another blogger writes of Egan’s column — which basically says that a photo of a 20-week-old fetus proves the anti-abortion case beyond doubt –  “How startlingly clear true reason is, when confronted honestly.”

Another: “It’s the single best pro-life plea I’ve read in a long time.”

Numerous blogs, referring to the photo Egan wrote about, have offered (in more or less the same wording): “Cardinal Egan wants you to LOOK”

Still others have continued a trend that began with Egan’s statement about Nancy Pelosi: comparing him to his predecessor. One blogger wrote: “Well done, Cardinal Egan, you are a tribute to the legacy of our beloved John Cardinal O’Connor.”

Although Egan took some hits for sitting next to pro-choice Obama at the Al Smith Dinner, I continue to think that he is reshaping his legacy to some degree as a leading abortion fighter of his day, at least within Catholic circles.

Frequent church-goers still like the GOP

The Democratic candidate is doing well with Christians (but mostly those who go to church less).

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds that Obama is scoring with Catholics who go to Mass less often and white evangelicals who to church…you guessed it!…less often.

Obama has the support of only 17% of evangelicals who frequent church and is breaking even with McCain (45% to 45%) with Catholics who are always at Mass.

Overall, though, Pew finds Obama leading McCain 52% to 38% with registered voters.


Graphic source: Pew Center for the People & the Press