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Archive for September, 2011

What does the Jewish year mean, anyway?09.27.11

Tomorrow at sundown begins Rosh Hashanah and the Jewish year 5772.

Five years ago, I wrote an article about the meaning of the Jewish calendar. Officially, it’s 5,772 years since creation.

But we all know that all Jews do not believe the same things about such things.

I wrote at the time:

“The Jewish calendar year was formulated long ago by rabbinic authorities who wove together a Torah-based family tree of the patriarchs. Adam, of course, is at the top, and he was said to have lived to the age of 930.

The branches continued through Noah, who arrived 10 generations later and also made it to 930, through Abraham another 10 generations later — who died at a relatively young 175 — and on and on.

After all the calculations were done, many based on estimates from unclear biblical accounts, creation was set to the year 3761 B.C.E.”

The world of science, meanwhile, holds that the universe is billions of years old. Maybe 13 billion (give or take a few million).

Big difference.

Much is made of the fact that some evangelical Christians disregard science and hold that the world is actually around 6,000 years old. But what do the Jews believe?

Back in 2006, Rabbi Elizabeth Dunsker, formerly of the Reform Temple of Suffern, told me: “We celebrate the biblical view of the world, but from a Reform perspective, we don’t separate ourselves from a scientific understanding of the universe, of evolution. Intelligent people can have contradictory ideas in their heads.”

David Kraemer, a professor in the Talmud and Rabbinics department at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary in NYC, told me: “All attempts to do the counting are flawed. All calendars are, in some sense, arbitrary. But the number is important because this is how the Jews count.”

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, an official with the Orthodox Union, told me: “As far as Orthodoxy Jewry is concerned, the number is the number. How it conforms with what science seems to have proven, that the world is much older than that, is open to interpretation. But it doesn’t change the basic belief of every religious Jew that (tonight) the world will have a birthday, its 5,767th.”

Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman for Agudath Israel, an Orthodox group, told me then that the six days of creation may not have been “ordinary days.”

He said: “The happenings of the week of creation, other than what the Bible tells us, are unknown. Then there is the moment of creation, in which untold aging of the universe could have taken place. One could also theorize that time worked differently. Einstein did describe a universe in which time is relevant to the observer.”

“Torah tells us to perceive the world as 5,767 years old,” Shafran said.

So there you go.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Creation, Jewish year, Rosh Hashanahwith Comments Off on What does the Jewish year mean, anyway?

No easy peace on gay marriage or the Middle East09.23.11

Catching up with a few things after — during — a very busy week. (I’ve been reviewing hundreds of state education reports. You don’t want to know.)

1. So Archbishop Dolan is fighting mad at the Obama administration over gay marriage. It’s not just that the administration will not defend the Defense of Marriage Act, but how the administration is characterizing those who oppose gay marriage.

He wrote to Obama: “The institution of marriage is built on this truth, which goes to the core of what the Catholic Bishops of the United States, and the millions of citizens who stand with us on this issue, want for all children and for the common good of society.  That is why it is particularly upsetting, Mr. President, when your Administration, through the various court documents, pronouncements and policies identified in the attached analysis, attributes to those who support DOMA a motivation rooted in prejudice and bias.  It is especially wrong and unfair to equate opposition to redefining marriage with either intentional or willfully ignorant racial discrimination, as your Administration insists on doing.”

A staff analysis from the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference (of which Dolan is president) notes that the Justice Department is comparing the Defense of Marriage Act to racial discrimination laws.

The analysis states bluntly: “According to the government?s view, support for a definition of marriage that recognizes that sexual difference is a defining and valuable feature of marriage now constitutes a forbidden intent to harm a vulnerable class of people.  The false claim that animus is at work ignores the
intrinsic goods of complementarity and fruitfulness found only in the union of man and woman as husband and wife.  DoJ?s contention thus transforms a moral disagreement into a constitutional violation, with grave practical consequences.”

2. On the same subject at the state level, NYS Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asked a state court on Friday to toss a lawsuit filed by an evangelical lobbying group that challenges the state’s gay marriage law.

New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms filed the suit in July, contending that the state Senate broke its own procedural rules before its closely watched vote approving same-sex marriage.

According to the AP: “In his motion to dismiss, Schneiderman relies heavily on the separation of powers to argue the court shouldn’t get involved in matters “wholly internal” to the legislature. He also contends the various meetings between executive and legislative branch members, lobbyists and other interested parties were proper under the open meetings law.”

Also, a short article on the NYCF website makes the case that town clerks who have religious objections to same-sex marriage should not have to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. They are standing behind Rose Marie Belforti, Ledyard town clerk in Cayuga County, who apparently wouldn’t issue a license to a lesbian couple.

NYCF states: “They’re putting legal pressure on Mrs. Belforti to sign same-sex “marriage” licenses, but Rose Belforti is standing tall. We know that the fragrance of Rose’s act of obedience is a sweet smell to her Savior.”

3. As the U.N. wrestles today with whether to create a Palestinian state — and all that would mean — the Jewish Week writes about a recent meeting of local Israelis and Palestinians right here in Yonkers.

The meeting was apparently called by the Dialogue Project, “a 10-year-old venture to build relationships between different ethnic and religious groups.”

Dergham Alkhatib, 43, who spent much of his childhood in a Palestinian refugee camp in Jordan, told the Jewish Week that he was “conditioned to hate Jews.” Now he says: ““We have to overcome this miserable history, instead of looking at all Palestinians as terrorists and all Zionists as people who want to steal Palestinian homes.”

After Alkhatib talked about his concern that Palestinian refugees will be taken care of, the JW described what happened:

*****

But Alkhatib’s comment drew an emotional response from Cari Gardner, 66, who said any reference to refugees or a Palestinian “right of return” is something that “triggers” her. She has no idea what “right of return” means, she told Alkhatib, known to friends as Leo. Does it mean that all Palestinian refugees should return, she asked, and, if so, to where — to the West Bank or to within Israel’s pre-1967 borders? Finally, she asked, can’t the refugees simply go on with their lives?

That, in turn, drew an emotional response from Lori, an American convert to Islam whose late husband was Palestinian. Turning to Gardner, Lori said that, while she understands her concern, she likens the feelings of Israelis who fear a massive influx of Palestinian refugees to the feelings of Palestinians in 1948 who witnessed a massive influx of Jews. “How did they feel seeing all these people coming in?” she asked.

Some might see such exchanges, especially between people who know and like each other, as a dismal sign. And many Jews and Muslims believe that such dialogues achieve little, if anything, and serve only to legitimize abhorrent points of view.

Nevertheless, members of the Yonkers group said participating in the dialogue over the years has changed their perception of the other group.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in gay marriage, Gay marriage in New York, Middle East, Middle East peace, Uncategorizedwith 134 Comments →

Priests for Life’s Father Pavone looking for new church home09.16.11

There’s been tremendous interest this week in the fate of Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life.

As I wrote a few days ago, the bishop of Amarillo, Texas, has called Pavone away from PFL — questioning both the organization’s finances and Pavone’s obedience.

Today, PFL released a letter from the vicar of clergy in Amarillo stating that Pavone is a priest in good standing and has not been accused of malfeasance or wrong doing.

It sure seems that the toothpaste is out of the tube on this one. Bishop Patrick J. Zurek, in a letter to his fellow bishops across the country, wrote of Pavone that he needed “to safeguard his priestly ministry, to which I am obligated as his father, and to help the Church avoid any scandal due to the national scope of the PFL’s work.”

Apparently, at a press conference yesterday in Amarillo, Pavone said he is likely to leave the diocese and seek incardination elsewhere. Pavone already left the Archdiocese of New York after Cardinal Egan sought to have him serve in a parish.

What bishop will want to take Pavone now? We’ll see.

Not surprisingly, people have very strong opinions about Pavone. Some feel that his anti-abortion work is above reproach and that it is a crime to divorce Pavone from his ministry. Others feel that he is a priest adrift, removed from his vow of obedience, and needs to be reigned in.

In my previous post, by the way, I included Pavone’s own statement to me that some see him as a “loose cannon.” Except I banged it out as “loose canon,” which a reader described as “too cute.”It was unintentional, I assure you. But “loose canon” really is kind of cute.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in abortion, Priestly obedience, Priests for Life, Uncategorizedwith 2 Comments →

Father Frank Pavone suspended from Priests for Life by his bishop09.13.11

Last year, I wrote something of a profile of Father Frank Pavone, the head of Priests for Life and one of the main anti-abortion leaders in the country.

He grew up in Port Chester, so I had long wanted to write something about his upbringing and how he became the Culture Warrior that he is today. The only place I can find the story right now is the Priests for Life website.

I interviewed Pavone at his parents’ home, across the street from Port Chester H.S. We talked for a long time about all sorts of things, including the perception that he put his Priests for Life ministry ahead of his obedience to his bishop.

You might remember that Pavone was a New York priest who left the archdiocese in 1994 2001 after Cardinal Egan asked him to serve a parish. Pavone affiliated with the Diocese of Amarillo, Texas, where the bishop supposedly gave him freedom to continue on the road doing Priests for Life work.

Pavone told me that he knew he was sometimes seen as “independent operative, a loose cannon.”

I bring this up because of a bizarre, even stunning conflict that has arisen between Pavone and Amarillo Bishop Patrick Zurek.

Zurek has apparently called Pavone to Texas and suspended him from any ministry outside the diocese. According to a letter to his brother bishops, Zurek is concerned about the finances of Priests for Life.

He writes: “The PFL has become a business that is quite lucrative which provides Father Pavone with financial independence from all legitimate ecclesiastical oversight. There have been persistent question and concerns by clergy and laity regarding the transactions of millions of dollars of donations to the PFL from whom the donors have a rightful expectation that the monies are being used prudently.”

Serious stuff.

Zurek also questions Pavone’s obedience: “I would venture to say that the supreme importance that he has attributed to his PFL ministry and the reductionist attitude toward the diocesan priesthood has inflated his ego with a sense of self-importance and self-determination. This attitude has strained his relationship with me and has give me the impression that I cannot invoke obedience with him because he is famous. It is my desire to help him readjust his priestly bearing through spiritual and theological renewal in order to recapture that essential priestly hallmark of respect and obedience.”

Pavone has this afternoon released a statement. Pavone writes that he plans to visit Texas, but is appealing Zurek’s actions to the Vatican.

Pavone insists that Priests for Life’s finances are on the level and that he chooses to live a life of poverty (which, as a diocesan priest, he does not have to).

Pavone writes: ““I want to be clear that I do not harbor any ill will towards the Bishop of Amarillo, nor do I foster suspicions about his motives. I am merely confused by his actions. It is impossible for me to believe that there is no place in the Church for priests to exercise full-time ministry in the service of the unborn. We do it for the sick, the poor, the hungry, and the imprisoned. But where in the Church is the place where a priest can exercise the same kind of full-time ministry for the children in the womb? That is the question that is at the heart of my own calling.”

Wow. How will this play out?

When I spoke with Pavone, I asked him about his relationship with the bishops. He said: “Many bishops are risk-adverse. We can take on projects they might see as too political. They can say ‘amen’ to us, but not have to answer for what we do.”

Zurek, apparently, is not risk adverse.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in abortion, Priestly obedience, Priests for Lifewith 36 Comments →

10 years09.12.11

I heard so many people say in recent days that they did not want to read or hear anything else about 9/11.

It’s understandable. The media saturation point was reached days before the actual anniversary, it seemed.

And yet, so much of what took place Sunday was truly moving.

I didn’t work yesterday, but I went with my wife and kids to Westchester County’s anniversary program at the Kensico Dam in Valhalla. It took place under “The Rising” memorial.

I’ve been to the Dam many times, especially when my boys were of “playground age.” So it was kind of eerie to hear the quiet when we arrived, even 20 minutes or so before the ceremony.

You could hear individual crickets in the trees despite hundreds of people waiting.

The ceremony was just right. Not too long. Respectful. Focused on the 123 county residents who were lost.

Several relatives of the victims, including a few young kids who were babies on 9/11, read the names of the victims. At that point, I think, the whole 9/11 commotion finally made sense to my kids.

Rob Astorino and Ken Jenkins offered tasteful and insightful comments on the day. There was some talk of the evil that we witnessed on 9/11 and, really, who could disagree.

The Rev. Adolphus Lacy, pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church in Peekskill, said a prayer. We all held hands and sang Amazing Grace. Then we went home to think some more about something we haven’t been able to get off of our minds for ten solid years.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in Sept. 11 anniversarywith 1 Comment →

How to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/1109.07.11

We are days away from the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the media coverage is swelling each day.

I didn’t think that I would want to read tons of remembrances, analyses and essays. After all, what is left to say? But I can’t stop reading the stuff.

New York magazine’s “Encyclopedia of 9/11” — available on-line — is particularly good.

The religion world is, of course, quite focused on the anniversary. On my desk at the moment I have Christianity Today (“The Gospel at Ground Zero: The horrors of 9/11 were not unlike those of Good Friday”) and Guideposts (“9/11 Survivors: Journeys of Faith”).

I’m also looking at a new book — “Life is Too Short: Stories of Transformation and Renewal After 9/11″ — by Wendy Stark Healy, former communications director for Lutheran Disaster Response of New York.

On Sunday, I contributed a profile of Dr. Mahjabeen Hassan, a Westchester plastic surgeon and a Muslim who has spent the last decade talking to people and groups about Islam.

What else? The AP’s fine religion writer Rachel Zoll interviewed Cardinal Egan about his experiences on 9/11. The article has gotten a lot of play. You can read it here.

Tomorrow night (Sept. 8), the Upper Room, a group of progressive Catholics from the New Rochelle area, will hold an “evening of prayer” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at the Province Center Chapel, 1338 North Ave. in New Ro.

On Sunday, Archbishop Dolan will celebrate a Memorial Mass at 9 a.m. at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. He will then celebrate Mass at St. Peter’s Church, across from Ground Zero, at 12:30 p.m.

Also on Sunday, there will be an interfaith memorial service at Lyon Park in Port Chester at 4 p.m. It’s at Putnam Avenue and King Street.

Also on Sunday, Unity Made Visible, a 7-year-old interfaith group based in Bedford Hills, will hold a program of “music and uplifting messages.” It will be from 4 to 5:30 at Fox Lane H.S. Coordinator Paul Storfer said: “For too long, we have witnessed 9/11 being used as a rallying cry for those who preach divisiveness and intolerance. On the upcoming 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we at Unity Made Visible want to take this day back and turn it into an opportunity for unity, compassion, education, and understanding.”

It’s hard to understand why Mayor Bloomberg chose to exclude clergy-led prayers from the main commemoration on Sunday morning. Apparently, there will be spiritual readings and moments of silence. But why not include a priest, minister and rabbi — and maybe an imam?

One observer, Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center who researches religious liberty, told AP that Bloomberg may have wanted to avoid the question of inviting a Muslim representative.

While some national voices have spoken out against Bloomberg’s decision, New York’s religious leaders haven’t had much to say. In fact, Archbishop Dolan told NY1 that he spoke with Bloomberg about it and was okay with the way things are going.

Posted by: Gary Stern - Posted in 9/11, 9/11 anniversary, Media coveragewith 2 Comments →

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