lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
My, it has been a long time since I have updated. I'm still reading my reading page every day or so, but life has been just the right combination of busy, happy and uneventful to keep me from writing posts with any regularity.

I thought I'd give you an update on my spiritual PDE efforts.

I have now read my way through the whole Tanach in translation. I think it has given me an appreciation of how the bits that pop up as haftarahs fit in with the whole. I commented to a friend that it was a bit like actually sitting down to watch the box set of a show you've previously just caught the odd repeat of when flicking through TV channels. I've found the reading on my commute method every week quite useful, so I've bought The Observant Life on Kindle and have just started reading that. In terms of Talmud, I'm continuing going to Talmud study at my rabbi's house about once a fortnight and I've also started doing chavrutah with [personal profile] kerrypolka on the alternative weeks. We're doing about one daf (page) a go in English, which means that it will take over a 100 years for us to get through the Babylonian Talmud at this rate. I don't think we're going to make it.

I have done less well with the Hebrew. I've only attempted any translation about three times in the last more than three months. I just can't seem to bring myself to get into the habit of studying it regularly. Grammar exercises are boring but translation at my current standard is a massive slog, looking up the majority of the vocabulary and trying to remind myself of the verb and noun forms. I think another obstacle is that I need a grammar book and a big dictionary to have a hope at translating anything, which means that Hebrew practice can't be done on my commute, which is a shame because I find that the easiest time to slot in learning (the Tanach was read almost exclusively on the Northern Line). I'd welcome suggestions for ways to brush up my Biblical Hebrew other than just sucking it up and getting on with doing it on a regular basis.

I'm starting to think more about children. Don't jump the gun with the 'mazel tov's, but as a happily married non-childfree woman in her thirtieth year, they're beginning to become less of a far off hypothetical. I've been thinking about the kind of Jewish upbringing and eduction I'd like to provide for my children. Now, I hate the 'Judaism as a giant intergenerational ponzi scheme' but I think that, just as 'what would you do if you had a million pounds?' can be a useful thought experiment, 'what kind of religious example do you want to give to your children?' can be a useful thought experiment to work out what you'd like your religious life to be. This has motivated me more to improve my Hebrew. It's also made me want to explore prayer. Aside from shul, I almost never engage in set prayer. I think when (G@d willing) I have children, I'd like to encourage them to start and end the day with prayer. Many times in the past I've had a go at praying regularly, but I've never kept it up. This time I'm having a go at starting small. Really small. I'm trying to get into the habit of saying Modah Ani when I wake up in the morning. I'll see how I go at that.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
In my previous post about the idea of a spiritual PDE, I wrote about the Jewish learning I was planning to undertake in the coming months. However, learning isn't the only mitzvah, so I want to think of areas to improve and targets to set for myself for other mitzvot.

I thought I good place to start would be would be the Lubervitcher Rebbe's 10 point mitzvah campaign, not because I think he is the magical invisible Messiah, but because he and the organisation he led were pretty good at getting Jews to be a bit more observant, so the 10 mitzvot he highlighted are probably good ones for a jumping off point to more observance.

The first in his list is:

1. Light Shabbat candles
I already light Shabbat candles. I think I would like to work more of my Shabbat observance. As I see it there are two problems with my Shabbat observance. The first is that I haven't sorted myself stuff to do during Shabbat. It wasn't so bad earlier in the year, I'd go to shul, come home, have lunch, have a schluff and Shabbat was out. Now Shabbat doesn't go out until 9:30 and I find myself looking at the clock after lunch and thinking it's an awfully long time until I can can get on with things. I don't want Shabbat to become like Sunday afternoons when I was a child and nothing was open and nothing was on TV apart from sport and I'd be bored out of my mind. I want Shabbat to be a delight. I love the Shabbats when there happen to be enough shul activities that I potter from house to house eating, praying and schmoozing. I think I'd like to improve this by planning activities before Shabbat. I think I'll try to make it the norm that Alec and I play games or go for walks during Shabbat. I also want to invite people over for Shabbat lunch.

Another area I want to work on is to following Shabbat prohibitions. I'm relatively shomer Shabbat, but there are areas where my observance could be improved, in particular using electricity and using Alec and a Shabbos goy. Thinking about it, I think a big problem is that I don't really know or understand exactly what the laws are. I doubt I'll ever observe Shabbat the way some people do, but I want that to be more of a conscious decision based on an understanding of the halachic reasoning and where I think I should be, rather than the current situation, where I do some things but not others because that's just where I've got to and I break some prohibitions which rabbis to the left of Masorti Judaism would say were binding but end up doing other things which only some Charedim do because I heard about it somewhere and didn't know any better.

There'll always be times when I have to make a trade off between Shabbat and something else. I'm going to want to go to weddings on Saturdays and sometimes that will involve breaking Shabbat prohibitions, but I want to be making those trade-offs from a position of knowledge and know how to minimise the infringements.

So my two goals for Shabbat observance are:

1. Organise to do fun things on Shabbat afternoon, rather than getting bored and counting the minutes until it goes out; and

2. Learn more about Shabbat observance, particularly Shabbat prohibitions, so that I can make an informed decision about what I want to change in my current practice.

That's where you guys can help. I've read the Shabbat section of Klein and I've ordered How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household to read about the issues in there. Can you suggest any other resources to get a better idea of Shabbat observance, preferably from a Conservative/Masorti perspective?
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
At work we have just been through the PDE process. I have to confess that I'm not quite sure what PDE in this case stands for (and Wikipedia in this case wasn't much help). Basically at the start of the year we sit down with our line manager and set some goals for the year. These are divided between work type goals (I will deliver this set of National Statistics on time) and development type goals (I will improve my skills in verbal presentations). The form and how we fill it in are a bit clunky but we're supposed to narrow them down into SMART goals. Over the course of the year you review your goals every so often and they can be adjusted in response to changes in your role and circumstance. Then at the end of the year review how well you did at them and come up with a new PDE for the next year inspired by your review of the previous year.

I reflected last Yom Kippur, that Yom Kippur is rather like this process. You use Elul and the Days of Awe to review the year just gone and try to improve in the next year. It struck me that it might be useful to go through a similar process of setting myself some SMART goals for my Jewish life and even making a record of them to review every so often.

At Yom Kippur I just didn't really have the head space to do this. Settling into a new home, new job, new shul; my head was spinning too much to set myself those kinds of goals and try to achieve them. Now I'm finding that over the last few months my minds been thinking about Jewish observance in a bit more of a serious development way, so maybe it's time to have a go and setting some SMART religious goals in a mid-year PDE to be reviewed in Elul and Yom Kippur.

One thing I have been thinking more seriously about is Jewish Learning. Living in North London gives me a lot more opportunities than I'd have in most other places I might live in the next few decades. At first I started by just going to a lot of classes at my shul. Now I've started to think a bit more about what's manageable and what learning would be the most useful to me, not just what happens to be available and convenient.

Last year I decided to try to read the whole Tanach in a year. Well, I say the whole Tanach, I decided to make it easier on myself by calling the Torah done as I'd heard it all in shul. I stuck to just the Neviim and Ketuvim. I sat down, counted how many chapters there were in total and worked out how many I'd need to read a week on average to get through the whole thing in a year. I then set myself a schedule, dividing longer books into multiple weeks and grouping together shorter books into the weeks. It actually only boils down to an hour or so's reading a week, which I can do on my Monday commute. I've managed to keep to that schedule and I'll finish the Neviim in a couple of weeks.

I've started doing Talmud study. Studying Talmud is something I've always wanted to do and I've always seen as serious learning for serious Jews. Not just hearing the story of Honi the circle maker every Tu B'Shevat, but actually sitting down with a page of Talmud, with all the blocks of Mishnah, Gemara and commentaries on it, and going through it making sense of the argument. Luckily my shul has started a fortnightly evening class which does just this which I've started going to.

The Talmud class has made me realise a big area of need for Jewish development: Hebrew. I've learnt Biblical Hebrew at various places at various times but it's never been that amazing and it's certainly gotten rusty since the days a couple of years ago when I knew my pual from my piel. I can see that this is a barrier to Jewish learning and participation because I can't study texts in Hebrew and I feel a bit embarrassed about it. Answer: I'm spending half an hour to an hour a weekend working through The First Hebrew Primer which I already had on my bookshelf from a previous set of Hebrew classes. Once I get to the end of it I'll see where my Hebrew is and reevaluate where to go next. I might move onto another textbook or I might just sit with my BDB and some verb tables and try to translate a bit of Bible each week.

I think three ongoing Jewish learning projects at a time is probably just about right to keep things going and not get overwhelmed. If I have time I might post about ideas for goals in other areas of Jewish life.
lavendersparkle: (bride and groom)
I'd really recommend a documentary I heard on the radio today: Twin Sisters, Two Faiths. It follows a pair of identical twin sisters who are both converts: one to Islam and one to Christianity. The documentary follows them as they both have their second children and their agnostic mother dies of lung cancer.

A lot on this struck a cord. It's wonderful to hear the experiences of people who love each other deeply and believe very different things.

Here's a quote from the program: "There is sometimes a sense when you talk to people about inter religious dialogue that it's about us sort of trying to find some common ground that we all agree with but I think as grown ups we can disagree violently without being violent."

It's available on iPlayer. Go and have a listen.
lavendersparkle: (Ood)
I was pootling around the internet and I noticed something odd on Plymouth and Exeter Methodist District's website. Rev Pete Pillinger, the chairman of the district has a little biography on which he mentions his son and his daughter.

Bio here for the link phobic )

This is odd because Pete in fact has two sons, but only mentions the elder son in his bio. This is even more odd because his youngest son was born in 1990 and he mentions in 1990 moving back to Britain, now with a daughter, but doesn't mention the birth of his youngest child.

I wonder whether it has any connection to the fact that his youngest son didn't attend the trial of his eldest son. Peter Pillinger's eldest son, Tim Pillinger, was convicted of beating his wife this summer and Pete Pillinger, his wife and his daughter all attended the trial but his youngest son wasn't there.
lavendersparkle: (Candles)
This post is a muddle of Christian and Jewish ideas about forgiveness because my life is a muddle of Judaism and Christianity and the experiences I'm particularly drawing upon involve Christians I know.

We are now in the month of Elul, the month when the Shechinah is said to be most accessible, the season of introspection, repentance and renewal which began in the darkness of the fast of Tisha B'Av and crescendos in the Days of Awe and the transcendent fast of Yom Kippur. My thoughts naturally turn to repentance and forgiveness, but as I mull over the events of the last year I can't help but think about the ways that the principle of forgiveness can be misused in ways which are incredibly harmful.

In my pootling around the internet I found a report on domestic violence presented to Methodist conference in 2002. I think that many people might be surprised by what aspects of Christian theology cause problems for victims of domestic violence. The report, as one might expect, found that Methodists tend to stay in abusive marriages longer because marriage is regarded as a lifelong commitment. A more unexpected and more troubling problem comes from a different theological source:
"Christian forgiveness was mostly seen to mean continuing to welcome an abuser as a member of the Church while an ex partner was excluded from Church attendance by fear."

This was very much the experience of my friend Ellie, and part of the reason for why she no longer feels comfortable worshipping Methodist churches (although her situation was complicated by the fact that her abusive ex-husband is the son of a senior Methodist minister, the Revd Peter Pillinger who is the District Chair for the Plymouth and Exeter District). Some members of her congregation would admit that the thought it was wrong that her husband beat her, but they refused to 'take sides'. They thought that it was wrong of her to get the police involved and, oddly enough, the forgiveness which poured out for her abuser was not forthcoming for her 'sin' of securing her protection.

I think that the difficulty is that humans have a tendency to distort religion to suit their own prejudices, whether that be an Orthodox Jew assaulting a woman for performing rituals which are halachically permitted or a liberal priest justifying sexually harassing a congregant on the grounds that G@d is very nice and only nasty bigots disapprove of his sexual behaviour. Generally people don't want to have to confront the reality of domestic violence within their community and so some Christians use doctrines of forgiveness to avoid confronting domestic violence, in ways which hurt victims within their communities. It's difficult to address but let's begin with talking about what forgiveness is and isn't.

Forgiveness is not saying that what the person did was OK.
Forgiveness is the opposite of that. There is no need to forgive actions which were not sins. Forgiveness requires confronting an action head on, in all it's horror, acknowledging that justice would require that this action resulted in punishment, and still forgiving.

Forgiveness is not saying that what a person did was justifiable or excusable.
Forgiveness should be available at all levels of culpability and so unless someone was completely not culpable, and therefore not in need of forgiveness because they were not to blame for what happened, excuses are not relavent.

Forgiveness does not mean putting the interests of the perpetrator above the needs of the victim.
Loving people equally, despite their sins, does not mean treating them all the same. People have different needs and sometimes those needs conflict and when they do you need to come to a solution which causes the least harm. Generally it is more harmful for a victim to be excluded from her community because they refuse to rebuke her abuser or take her suffering seriously, than for an abuser to be excluded for the safety of his victim.

Allowing an abuser to continue to abuse is not loving to the victim or the perpetrator.
Care must be taken to not make a situation worse and to respect the autonomy of the victim, but as a general principle, if it takes exclusion from his community, restraining orders, convictions or prison time for an abuser to stop abusing his victim, then that is better for the abuser as well as the victim. The abuser will one day have to confront his sins, in this world or the next. Better for him to have been stopped before his sins grew further.

Repentance is not just words.
Many abusers love to say sorry. They'll beat the shit out of their wife and then show up the next day with flowers and tears begging to be forgiven and promising they'll never do it again. How could a Christian wife refuse just because that's what he did the last x many times before when "love keeps no record of wrongs" (1 Corinthians 13:5) and she should forgive her brother "seventy-seven times" (Matthew 18:22)? Repentance is not just saying that you're sorry, it also resolving to not to sin again. Someone who is genuinely repentant should be willing to give their victim some space, seek treatment for any issues contributing to their abusiveness and allow their victim to be open about what she has experienced. Someone in a position of power should be willing to renounce it for the sake of their flock.

I think this long post was better summarised by Isaiah 1:16-20:
Wash yourself clean;
Put your evil doings away from my sight.
Cease to do evil;
Learn to do good.
Devote yourself to justice;
Aid the wronged.
Uphold the rights of the orphan;
Defend the cause of the widow.

Come let us reach an understanding,
says the L@rd.
"Be your sins like crimson,
They can turn snow-white;
Be they red as dyed wool,
They can become like fleece."
If, then, you agree and give heed,
You will eat the good things of the earth;
But if you refuse and disobey,
You will be devoured by the sword.
For it was the L@rd who spoke.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I'm being a bit inspired by the blog On Being Both as I've just started reading through it over the last few days. I have quite different approaches to the author to Judaism and interfaith marriage. I hope she doesn't take these posts as attacks, it's more that her posts have inspired me to articulate some of my views on the things she writes about.

As I mentioned in my previous posts, I dislike the way that interfaith dialogue often relies upon manufacturing superficial levels of agreement and papering over differences. One of the ways that this happens in relation to Jesus. The general party line is to describe him as a wise teacher and good man, if you're a non-Christian (Muslims have this easy because he's a prophet to them).

I thought about this when I read the post:
But go and ask ten of your Christian-born friends if they believe that Jesus is their personal savior. If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to make an educated guess that most of you born or raised Christian think of Jesus as a role model, an important historical figure, a revolutionary rabbi, an inexplicable mystery, or even an inspiring myth. Or as the son of God, in the sense that we are all sons and daughters of God. All of which works for me just fine.

Actually the first thing which struck me in the post was the idea of Christians not really believing that Jesus is their personal saviour. Alec dislikes the term 'personal saviour' because it's the kind of term used by people who seem to think that Jesus is their boyfriend. However, Alec, and almost everyone I know who describes themselves as Christian, would say that they thought Jesus was the Messiah and G@d incarnate. I didn't think that that was such an unusual view for Christians married to non-Jews to have.

So what do I think about Jesus? I don't really know what to think. I think it's a good bet that he existed. It would be odd for such a large sect to grow so quickly based upon the teaching of someone who was entirely fictional. I don't think that he was G@d or the Messiah. As a child I read the prophesies of Isaiah and came to the conclusion that the Messiah promised in them had not yet come. The problem with coming to any further conclusions is that all that we have to go on are the writings of the builders of a religious sect, written decades after he died. Trying to work out what Jesus was like based upon the Gospels is like trying to work out what Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson was like based upon the writings of Messianic Lubervitchers. It's not going to be a balanced historical picture. So maybe he was a good teacher or a wise rabbi who was just a bit misunderstood by some of his followers. On the other hand, he could equally have been a charlatan or a lunatic. There's no way of knowing. There's no way of knowing how much the Gospels even bear any resemblance to what he actually said or did.*

The thing which really annoys me is the reason for the adoption of the 'Jesus was a wise teacher' approach, which is basically to avoid pogroms. I object to having to adopt positions to placate the religious privilege of others and to avoid the threat of physical violence. That's not a paranoid view, it's the reality of over a thousand years of Jewish-Christian relations. For centuries Jews kept their less complimentary views on Jesus hidden from Christians in Hebrew religious texts. When European Christians became aware of these texts it led to book burnings, blood libels, host desecration allegations and massacres. No wonder today most Jews aren't even aware of the Talmudic passages which describe Jesus in Hell in a pit of boiling excrement and it's only mentioned in antisemitic websites and academic papers.

I am a stubborn, stiff necked person. I can't bear to be blackmailed or threatened. I can't bring myself to tell you sweet nothings about your Messiah, whilst I feel that there's a gun to my head. Talk of Jesus the role model makes me think of accounts of his actions in the Gospels which I find morally objectionable. Talk of Jesus the important historical figure makes me think of the thousands of my co-religionists killed in his name. Talk of Jesus the revolutionary rabbi makes me think of the German feminist Christian theologian who equated Judaism with patriarchy and Fascism. Talk of Jesus the inspiring myth makes me think of how often I bang against people who don't even realise the extent to which their views are dependent upon a Christian world view.

I'm not as angry and bitter all that sounds. I have lots of Christian friends and relatives and, of course, a Christian husband, and we can all get along and love each other whilst acknowledging that we believe different things. I love my husband, who has dedicated his life to Jesus, so much. Even more amazingly he loves me, even though I don't accept his Messiah and even though it means that he can't avoid confronting the ways in which his religion has created the antisemitism which now endangers his wife and future children. I think that it's more worthwhile to stare into these ravines together, rather than try to paper over the cracks.

*For example, I'm rather suspicious about whether Jesus was born in Bethlehem. There doesn't seem to be any other historical documents backing up the census and mass movement of people which is supposed to have resulted. On the other hand there are prophesies that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem, which are a bit awkward if your Messiah is Jesus of Nazareth. It all seems a bit too much like a convenient plot devise to get Jesus born in the right place.
lavendersparkle: (Lamentations)
Tisha B'Av will be upon us in less than two hours. Tisha B'Av commemorates many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people over the millennia. This year, at the front of my mind are the tragedies which have befallen one of my oldest friends.

Three summers ago my friend married.

Two summers ago she and her husband attended my wedding.

Last summer she revealed that he had violently attacked her repeatedly, including in the days before my wedding. She finally pressed charges.

The trial begins this Thursday.

Please hold her in your prayers and fasting.

May HaShem help us to heal the brokenness of this world.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Tomorrow is the fast of Esther, to commemorate the fasting our ancestors in the hope that we would be able to find a way to avert our destruction at the hand of tyrant. Monday, the day after Purim, the day of our rejoicing in our near miss, will probably be the first day of trial of the husband of my friend Ellie, for beating her.

Whether you will be fasting or not, please pray for Ellie.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I found someone else who expressed some of what I'm feeling at the moment.

God is in exile because we put Him there. He's with those poor children as their rabbi fondles their penises and as other rabbis lie to cover it up. He sits in the fraudulent beit dins and in the special assemblies called to fake non-existent lunch programs. He was there with Abramoff as he stole from poor Indians and gave to rich Jews and He was there when rabbis looked the other way. We, all of us, those who stole and those who lied, those who abused and those who covered up, and those who just closed their eyes and would not see – have turned God into a lonely old man riding a bus, a liar, irrelevant, lost.

I can't bring God home, but I can stop covering for and associating with those who abuse Him.

That is what I believe.

From Failed Messiah Blog
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
One of the things about being close to, but not part of, the Anglican church, is that when there is ecumenical drama I can sit back with the pop corn without mourning the situation of my own religion.* On the other hand, this is the church of lots of the people I love, so I do have a vested interest in its goings on. I suppose the thing to remember in all this is that the this whole kerfuffle, whilst making the news, is quite peripheral to most members of the Church of England. Forward in Faith only represent about 800 parishes worldwide, to put that into context the diocese of Ely contains over 300 parishes. More than anything, when sections of the Church of England drive me to despair, I think of the work that Alec does as a part-time chaplain at the local hospital: bringing comfort and listening to the believers and those without a faith; to Anglicans and Roman Catholics all manner of other faiths; to regular churchgoers and those who, for a variety of reasons, haven't set foot in a place of worship in years, but now wish to speak to him; to the healing and the dying. I know that theology and sacraments are important, but increasingly I feel that that human connection, which transcends our doomed attempts to classify and understand the universe, is what it's really all about.

That all got rather earnest so without further ado, some links of reactions to the Pope's announcement of plans for personal ordinariates for Anglicans entering the Catholic Church.

In case you have no idea what I'm talking about here is an article about what's going on.

Christina Rees and Rev Dr Giles Fraser of St Paul's Cathedral reacting to the the announcement on the Today programme. Neither seemed particularly concerned by the prospect of chunks of Forward in Faith leaving the church. Giles Fraser's said that he had nothing but congratulations for people who found a better fit outside of the Anglican church. Chistina Rees position could possibly best be summarised as "Off you fuck".

Bishop Alan (the first blogging CofE bishop) echos Rev Dr Fraser's sentiments with the insightful caveat that:

"Assimilating a lot of people who perhaps have struggled, and some might even say haven’t made a raging success of living within their own tradition, you’ll get two sorts of “convert”:

1. people who really should try out and perhaps are called by God to be part of the Roman tradition. Becoming Roman Catholics will enable them to be better disciples, so the whole Church of God, every denomination, is enriched — the wealth of one Christian expression is the resource of all: Hip, hip, hooray!

2. people who aren’t terribly good at living in any tradition on anything but their own terms. “The disciplines and relationships of Community are for the little people...”"

So, at least three Anglican's are happy with the move. More concerned is Catholic comedian Frank Skinner in his piece My Church is not a safe haven for bigots. He raises the point that conversion to Catholicism should really be due to positive feelings about the church rather than negative feelings about a different church, although his list of possible attractions to Rome is, perhaps, a little unconventional.

"If the Anglicans seeking this shelter were doing so because of their instinctive recognition of a great truth; because some part of them yearned for the poetry of the Old Church, rather than the prose of Anglicanism; because they had come to believe that the Pope was a direct, if sometimes fractured, link with St Peter; or even just because they felt an unexpected surge of joy when Glasgow Rangers lost 4-1 at Ibrox on Tuesday night, I would rejoice at their return to the fold. The fatted calf would already be on the rotisserie."

Another group not happy with possible exodus is Reform, a group of Conservative Anglican's at the low evangelical end of the church. As their press release shows. They're so keen not to see half the members of their special anti-female bishops club leave that they say that even if a priest believes in the doctrines of the Church of Rome, they should still consider staying in the Church of England so that they don't have to submit to so much discipline.

Finally, there's the people who might leave. I have to say, it's not as if anything's been preventing them from paping all these years and they've even been allowed to keep their wives since the first wave of priests crossed the Tiber to escape female ordination. The tone of the post doesn't generate much sympathy on my part.
"Please note, the desire for buildings and fabric is not a money grabbing point, rather it is a pastoral consideration. The British hold firm allegiance to bricks and mortar, a fact regardless of the rights and wrongs entailed. It would seem churlish, for example, to take S. Barnabas church building from a congregation that has only ever worshipped in the Catholic tradition, especially when there are so many other churches in Tunbridge Wells! Why not offer the emerging RC Anglican Patrimony Church a place in which to worship? A small sacrifice for the gift of women bishops."

That last line just sounds a bit too much like some arsehole blackmailing his wife over a get. What's a few tens of thousands of pounds/churches for getting me out of your life?

As this set of links is, of course, hugely influenced by my own prejudices here's a link to a page of lots more links about the story.

*It reminds me of an anecdote Ed Kessler likes telling about how an Orthodox priest friend of his reads the Jewish Chronicle and explains that reading about all of the broigus in the Jewish community makes him feel so much better about his own church.

**I wonder whether the use of Tinky Winky to illustrate the post was a covert reference to a particular part of priestly discipline that some of the priests and bishops who have threatened t leave the church over female bishops aren't so good with.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Reply to this meme by yelling "Words!" and I will give you five words that remind me of you. Then post them in your LJ and explain what they mean to you.

The words I got from [ profile] atriec were: religion, marriage, clothing, Queens', food

religion )

marriage )

clothing )

Queens' )

food )
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
I might surprise some people by revealing that I am very saddened and angered by the verdict of the Appeals court in the JFS school admissions case.

Some background. JFS is an oversubscribes Orthodox Jewish state school in London. In the UK, state funded faith schools are allowed to give priority to children from their faith communities in their admissions policies. As JFS is very oversubscribed, you can only get in if you're Jewish, and as JFS is an Orthodox school they use an Orthodox definition of who is Jewish. In 2006 a boy applied for the school, whose father was Jewish by Orthodox standards and whose mother had undergone a Conservative conversion. His father enquired about whether it would be possible for the boy to have an Orthodox conversion so that he could go to the school. The London Beth Din replied that conversion would take longer than a year and the boy would not get priority for admissions by virtue of being in the process of conversion. The school was oversubscribed, the boy didn't get into the school. The father appealed but did not win his appeal. He then took the school to court on the grounds of racial discrimination. The school one the case in the High Court, so he appealed and recently won in the Appeals Court. The school, with the backing of the Board of Deputies and the Chief Rabbi, will be appealing the verdict in the House of Lords.

The current policy of JFS means that I would not be able to send my children there, but I am still appalled by the verdict. Lots of people I know are pleased by the verdict because there don't like JFS, for being the epitome of everything which is awful about non-observant 'Orthodox' Anglo-Jewry, the London Beth Din, due to their arsey power politics particularly in the area of conversion, and faith based admission policies. However, the verdict of the Court of Appeal was not about the virtue of the London Beth Din and in my opinion it is worse. What the verdict boils down to, is that the Jewish definition of who is Jewish, is racist. When I say 'Jewish' I mean the definition of Jewishness held by all mainstream Jewish movements. If this verdict is upheld in the Lords it will effect JCOSS's admissions policy just as much as it will effect JFS's. Orthodox, Masorti and Reform Judaism all essentially have the same definition of who is a Jew, they just don't all recognise each other's conversions, but they all agree that you're Jewish if your mother is Jewish or you convert. The Court of Appeal have declared that this definition of who is Jewish is racist, and Jewish schools must instead use a Christian based definition of who is Jewish based upon religious practice. I'm not sure how exactly they propose to measure this. Presumably, as we're already applying Christian standards of religiosity let's go the whole hog, they're going to use synagogue attendance. Never mind that Judaism is a home based anarchic religion in which one can live an observant lifestyle without darkening the doors of your local shul too often, Anglican religiosity is often gauged by church attendance, why shouldn't Jews fall into line. Even if school places genuinely did depend upon observance, do we really want children's school places to depend upon whether anyone saw you drive on shabbat or grab a bite to eat from a non-kosher restaurant?

Another thing which annoys me about the case is that the judges are claiming the JFS admissions depend upon whether the child's mother is Jewish. This is blatantly not true. The majority of JFS pupils (possibly all) will have Jewish mothers, but they are there because they are Jewish. I don't know how the London Beth Din does about child conversions, but there are circumstances in which a child might be Jewish independent of his or her mother. If an Orthodox couple adopted a non-Jewish baby, it is usual for an Orthodox Beth Din to be willing to covert the infant, as long as they are satisfied that it will receive an observant upbringing. It is quite common for children to convert at the same time as their parents, it's possible that a widower or divorcee might convert his children with him. I wonder whether there may not be many children there in these circumstances because JFS isn't frum enough to attract Orthodox converts and their children. I rarely agree with the London Beth Din, but I have to say that if I were contacted by someone who'd suddenly decided he wanted his son to convert so that he could get into a particular school, my reply would be similar to theirs. Conversion to Judaism is a serious undertaking. I would hope that most rabbis of any denomination, faced by someone seeking a quicky conversion so blatantly not 'for the sake of Heaven', would, in the nicest outreachy way possible, tell them that they were being completely unreasonable.

Anyway, what's this world where children's admission to policies depend upon the faith of the child rather than that if his or her parents. Children apply to secondary school at the age of 10 or 11. Of all of my friends who've managed to confound their parents by adopting a different religion, I've never met someone who managed it before the age of 10. I think some of the same people who are applauding the JFS case would be appalled if a religious group converted a child that young without their parents' permission. So all faith schools, even the nice C of E ones, are basing their admissions on the religion of the parents rather than the children.

I just don't think that it's racist for a religious minority to stick to their over 2000 year old definition of who is a member of their religion, rather than have to adopt the definition of used by the majority religion. It's not racist that I couldn't have an aliyah until I converted. It's not racist that Alec can't toivel our dishes whereas our bacon loving friend Rob could. Legally imposing the categories of the majority religion upon a religious minority for no good reason, on the other hand, is oppressive.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Or rather, upon closer inspection of her wikipedia page, she's a militant secularist attempting to restrict other women's freedom of expression whilst styling herself as a "human rights' advocate.

She was on Womens' Hour today actually advocating the criminalisation of wearing a burqa in England. I am actually almost shaking with anger at such brutish intolerance to attempt to turn the potentially violent force of an institutionally racist and sexist police and criminal justice system upon women who refuse to show enough flesh for the majority's liking. Let's explore some of the arguments used to justify such a move.

1) Immigrants should conform to our ways.
This argument always fits a weird paradox in Western Europe. Among the many vague values which get mentioned when you ask people what they like about the values of their country are often tolerance, freedom and (particularly in England) room for eccentrics. What could be more British than letting someone wander around wearing a tent with eye holes if they want? What could be less British than banning certain items of clothing? We're a nation who developed a police turban. I don't want us to lose that. I also have a sympathy for the women who must exist who want to wear a burqa and aren't immigrants. Should we drive our daughters into exile if they want to dress in ways we don't approve of?

2) People shouldn't have to see religious clothing.
I really don't understand the delicate little flowers who are likely to faint at the sight of a burqa. It's not that scary. Every day I walk past lots of churches. I occasionally see the odd monk or nun. I frequently see clergy wearing dog collars. Despite this constant onslaught I manage to both survive and remain non-Christian. If seeing a burqa is all it takes to magically achieve your reversion to Islam, maybe you should be a Muslim.

3) It's a security risk.
I think these sorts of issues should be dealt with empirically. When we worried about Sihks carrying their kirpans in public we looked into it and found that kirpans had almost never been used to commit crimes. How many crimes have been perpetrated by women wearing a niqab or burqa in the UK? I hesitate to say that because it will incentivise members of the BNP and the National Secularist Society to wear burqas to commit crimes just to prove a point. If one needs to identify a woman a female attendant can ask to to step to a secluded place to see her face. Airports should have female attendants anyway to frisk and search female passengers. Face recognition technology is currently piss poor at identifying people.

4) Now we've gotten past that lets get to the one people who think that they're liberal like to trot out. Women aren't wearing burqas voluntarily, they're being forced by their fathers and husbands who are also abusing them and restricting their freedom.
We could get into a very long conversation and coercion, consent and embedded decision making, but unless we're also going to put on the table wearing make up, heterosexual sex and full time working hours let's pretend that these concepts are as simple as most people pretend they are. Some women freely choose to wear a burqa or niqab. I know this to be true. I do not know what proportion of British women who wear burqas do so because they want to. Let's assume, for the sake of argument that the majority are being forced, what would criminalising burqa wearing achieve? At best you now have abused, controlled an threatened women, but now you can see their faces. You still can't tell whether they're being abused and you're still not doing much to stop them being abused, but you've made them look like everyone else so you don't have to think about it.* Men aren't going to magically stop abusing their wives and daughters. Their faces being seen in public doesn't stop non-Muslim men abusing their wives. At worst what you've got is abused and controlled women who are allowed out of the house less. You've got abused controlled women who are at risk of prosecution. You've got abused controlled women who have much less ability to escape their situation and access services to help and protect them. Not an improvement.

I cover my hair for religious reasons. No one forced me. My husband is neutral about it. My family finds it odd but tolerates it. My religious community see it as an eccentricity. I was born in England. I can beat almost anyone in a "whose ancestors have been here longest" contest. However, because I refuse to let men other than my husband see my hair:
I am excluded from serving as a judge in Denmark.
I would not be allowed to work for a French state school or hospital and would not be allowed to attend a French state school.
I would not be allowed to be a teacher in 8 out of 16 German states (even though nuns are allowed to teach wearing habits).
These are abuses of women's human rights.

If that's all made you too angry and depressed, here's a great treatment of the issue which might inject some sense into the people who think legislating over what women wear is a great way to liberate them.

*And before people chime in that you'll be able to see the bruises if they're not wearing a burqa, I know a woman who dresses conventionally and was beaten by her husband and no one had an inkling of what was going on. I saw her the day after she was thrown down the stairs and I never suspected. There are lots of ways to hurt and control which don't leave marks.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
There was a program on Radio 4 yesterday which really bothered me in a WTF kind of way. I found it hard to articulate exactly what made me so bothered by the broadcast but Alec seemed to agree that the broadcast was problematic so I don't think I was over reacting.

The broadcast which pissed me off so much was Sunday Worship, which was a service marking the 80th anniversary of the birth of Anne Frank held in Blackburn Cathedral. I must confess that when I heard them say what the broadcast was going to be I turned it off (I don't usually listen to Sunday worship anyway). I later listened to it on iplayer because I should at least liste to it if I'm going to criticise it.

Here are some of my issues.

I don't think that there was anything else on the BBC that day to mark the anniversary. If you're only going to have one thing on the radio to mark the life of someone who was murdered because she was Jewish, is an Anglican service really the appropriate thing to have.

I really think that European Christians should commemorate the Shoah. It's such a huge and traumatic part of our collective past that we all need to find to mark and reflect upon it, just as we need ways to mark and reflect upon the world wars. However, there's always going to be a tension in Christian worship about the Shoah. Although the Holocaust was based upon a 19th and 20th century mythology of race, the Jewish victims of the Shoah were killed in part because their ancestors had managed to resist centuries of Christian persecution to abandon their Judaism. It's hard for Jews to really claim victims of the Shoah as martyrs because Christians and atheists with one Jewish grandparent were killed along with the most pious Jew. However, if you take the prayers and hopes of people clinging to their Judaism when G@d is allowing them to be killed for being Jews, and slot them into a Christian service without even trying to flag the tension involved, that's fucked up.

The service was quite universalised. It wasn't as bad as I had feared. They did mention quite frequently that Anne Frank was Jewish but the service was less an attempt to listen to the experience of Jews and other victims of the Shoah and more an attempt to shape an Anne Frank narrative which was convenient for promoting interfaith relations in Blackburn, to listen to a composer of Christian choral music's work and to pick bits of the testimony of some Jewish Shoah victims which fitted well into a Christian message of faith and hope. If you want to discuss genocide and persecution as universal (Christian) themes, why pick a particular Jew to build that message around?

This brings me onto another thing, I don't really like the cult of Anne Frank. I just don't find Anne Frank the best way to engage with the Shoah. Possibly it's partly because my whole attitude to the Shoah has been shaped since I was in my teens. I think it's also partly because I tried to read the Diary when I was young and give up before she went into hiding because I found her so irritating. A less personal problem I have with such emphasis on Anne Frank is my suspicions about why she's become the Holocaust "poster girl" to the gentiles. I understand that her diary was one of the first accounts to be published, but I can't help but wonder whether an awful lot of it has to do with the fact that she was young and pretty and female, and died whilst still young and pretty and "innocent" and our culture loves women who die before their looks fade. She was middle class and her family was highly assimilated. Obviously the diary stops before the horror of deportation and the camps, so the reader doesn't have to engage with the torture that happened there. The story focuses on the non-Jews who hid the Franks, rather than the people who perpetrated the Holocaust or the majority who did nothing and let it happen. It makes it a more comfortable read. I get the feeling that when Anne Frank is held up there's an implicit message that the murders of older, less than saintly, ugly, working class and non-assimilated Jews, and homosexuals and gypsies and everyone else not similar enough to middle class Western European Christians, weren't as much of a tragedy.

If such a service can reduce the likelihood of race riots in Burnley then maybe it's worth it, but such an act of appropriation wasn't appropriate for broadcast on national radio. Those are my thoughts anyway.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I just wanted to tell you all abut the start of a new series which is what all journalism would be like if I were omnipotent broadcasting doctator. The show is More of Less on Radio 4, which can be down loaded as a podcast from their site. It bills itself as a show to looking behind the statistics we hear on the news.

This week was an example of the intelligent, reasonable journalism it exemplifies. They tackled drugs and religion without the need for shouting matches or hyperbole. They brought on the author of a study estimating the costs of drugs prohibition. He immediately admitted to the limitations of any kind of study of this kind and that his figures were highly speculative. They couldn't get anyone from the home office to speak against him so they brought in another academic from the field, whose main criticism was that he didn't feel that the 'worst case scenario' from the study was bad enough as one could argue that heroin consumption might more than double if it were legalised. They then had a very reasonable and accessible discussion about how one could estimate the effects of legalisation upon consumption, compare usage across countries, compare usage across substances or look at historical events like China during the opium wars.

On to religion, and the figures quoted about church attendance and how newspapers managed to come up with the idea that Muslims would outnumber Anglicans in England in a few decades. The different ways of measuring Church of England members were explained leading to the less exciting revelation that Church of England attendance has pretty much levelled out, after a sharp decline a decade or so ago, and anyone who thinks that half of all English Muslims regularly attend the mosque should go and speak to an average imam.

Just for fun there were some bizarre allegories for the credit crunch and correcting a former minister for education about his maths.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
For full disclosure, I cover my hair. I've covered my hair since I got married, just under eight months ago. I really like covering my hair. I like having parts of my body which I keep private for myself and those I choose to show them to. I like the way my pretty scarves look. I like the way the scarf can pull together a whole outfit. I like being able to fall out of bed and rush out of the door without having to brush my hair. I like not having my hair blow in front of my face when I'm cycling or falling into things I'm doing. I also come from a background where this is unusual. I am white. I was raised in an Anglican family where hair covering was not practised. I go to a synagogue where one other woman covers her hair. I am married to a man who has no expectations about how I should dress and very much takes his lead from me. When I am pooteling about people probably look at and think 'hippy' rather than 'danger to democracy'.

This all, I am increasingly realising, gives me a very different approach to head scarves than an awful lot of people. When I see another woman covering her hair I think good on her.* I project onto her my feelings and motivations and assume she's happy with what she's wearing. I'm sure that there are some women who are forced to cover their hair, legally required in some countries. This is not nice, but actually, in the big scheme of things, I doubt that being made to cover their hair is the main problem facing these women, in the way a lot of the media makes out. Generally, violence and the threat of violence and economic disempowerment are far greater threats to women than any dress code. A burqa (contrary to what my nearest Amnesty International book shop might claim) is not violence, the threat of violence to a woman who does not wear one is. Generally, it just baffles me why anyone would be so concerned about what other people choose to wear.

I was rudely awoken from my benign view this morning. I vaguely remembered that some employer in the UK had commissioned staff hijabs for their hijab wearing staff to wear, in the company colours.** Now, I think that this is just a bit of fun. Most employers are perfectly happy with women wearing hijab in black or white or he company colours and have no need to make a special corporate hijab. I wanted to show pictures of the hijabs to someone so I Googled a bit to find web pages about it and was really saddened by the results. As well as Ikea, the Metropolitan police an the Lincolnshire fire brigade*** have introduced uniform hijabs, that's a good thing in my book. What saddened me was the number of Google results which saw these innovations as the end of Western civilisation. I just can't for the life of me understand their point of view. Usually I'm quite good at understanding views I don't agree with but I just can't understand why people would object so strongly to police woman covering her hair in a way that matches her uniform. Part of the sadness is that this is slightly personal in that, in the unlikely event I ever joined the Metropolitan Police, I'd probably end up wearing the snazy police hijab. However, more it saddens my to think that hijabis, and muslimahs in general, have to face this constant barrage of negativity from the media. It makes me think of how I feel whenever Israel is involved in conflicts and why I don't read the Guardian anymore.****

Muslimah Media Watch is a blog which comments on this sort of thing. I was struck by one story she was dissecting, the BBC coverage of yet another "I was raped and beaten by my evil Muslim family but then I fled to the West, took off my hijab, abandoned Islam and became free!" stories. Now, there are women who are beaten and raped and escape to the West and abandon Islam and feel better for it and they deserve to be believed and have their voice heard. The problem is, call me cynical, but I don't think that these stories get lots of coverage because of the media's deep concern about violence against women. These narratives serve a nice purpose. They make non-Muslim Westerners feel good and allow them to think that their hatred of Islam and Muslim countries is based upon honourable concern for their poor women-folk. Rape is endemic in every country on Earth. Lots of women are raped by their Western secular step fathers. Lots of rapists are successfully prosecuted in Muslim countries. I'm sure there must be a woman somewhere who was repeatedly raped by her Western secular step-father, was ignored by the Western authorities, escaped, converted to Islam, married a Muslim man and moved to a Muslim country where she now happily potters about feeling free in her abaya. You'll never see that story published and if you did it would be spun as crazy brain washing Muslims preying on a vulnerable woman rather than as a indictment of the whole of Western society. The bias comes from choosing which stories to report, which stories can be made to fit into a particular narrative.

This is very, very bad. It's bad because it confirms prejudices. It's bad because it breed complacency and denial about the violence against women in Western societies. However, it's worst effect is upon Muslims. It sets up the discussion that either you're for rape or against Islam, you can't support one and not the other. This paralyses attempts to combat violence against women in Muslim communities because it closes off the discussion if the possibility of being both against rape and for Islam is denied so strongly. The obvious defence is denial and there is a terrible temptation to deny the experience women like Fatimah and call them liars to protect Muslims from the threat of Western Islamophobia. Even more cruelly, it causes Muslim women to silence themselves to protect their communities. Would you seek help from domestic violence from the authorities if you knew that your suffering would be used to discredit your religion? If you knew that you might be exposing your friends and family to police violence and more state intrusion against your community? When you use women's experiences to serve your own agenda, sometimes the only defence women have is to keep silent.

*I'm far too white to be able to get away with thinking like "you go girl".
**It turns out that the employer I was Ikea as you can see here.
***Before we get into 'political correctness gone mad' the fire brigade hijab is for wearing to school visits etc. not for fighting fires, when I presume they wear helmet and such like.
****Referring to funding organisations who have in their charter that they want to kill people like me as 'anti-war activities' is a good way of getting me to stop reading your paper.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
I was faffing on the internet and came across this. It struck me as a bit off and you can see my reply to it. The thing I found objectionable wasn't so much their anti-Zionism in itself, although I'm never going to agree with a position that removes the country of many millions of Jews, it was the fact that the 'occupation of Palestine' was the only conflict they mentioned specifically. There are 2 billion Christians in the world. The whole of the EU, the US, Canada, Australia and Russia are all Christian majority, at least culturally speaking. Could they not have found a conflict involving Christian majority powers to have mentioned? It just strikes me as a bit odd and clueless. If you're going to have a group of left wing members of group X, which has huge amounts of privilege compared to group Y, which has been oppressed by group X for hundreds of years, starting off by criticising a large section of group Y for being all nasty and oppressive is probably the wrong way to go. It's a bit like a group of middle-class feminists focussing on domestic violence among the working classes. Stop trying to make yourselves feel better by concentrating on the perceived misdeeds of a group you've othered. It never ends well.

Unrelated to Israel, is the other thing which makes me get twitchy around some left-wing Christians. A tendency toward Marcionism. Angela Tilby gave a lovely sermon about this heresy which is reprinted in Heresies and How to Avoid them. The problem comes that if you are a nice liberal Christian there are lots of bits of the Bible which aren't so nice and liberal and lots of actions of the early church weren't so nice and liberal either. So they have a bit of a problem. So, like Marcion, some of them decide that bits of the Bible are 'inauthentic' and edit those bits out. In the late 1990s the Jesus Seminars colour coded the Gospels to show what was authentic and inauthentic accounts of the words of Jesus. Oddly enough this left wing group came up with a picture of Jesus who was an anti-authoritarian hippy who wasn't big on rules.

According to Angela Tilby, antisemitism is one of the diagnostic tests of slipping into Marcionism. Marcion attributed the bits of Gospel he disagreed with to the Gospel having been corrupted by Jews. Left-wing Christians tend not to go in for that sort of conspiracy theory, but they do sometimes tend to attribute any bits of the Bible they don't like to the patriarchal nastiness of the culture its authors came from, and guess which culture that was. Acknowledging that all writings which have been written so far have been written within and influenced by patriarchy is a perfectly sensible thing to do, but sometimes it turns into externalisation, if one doesn't acknowledge the patriarchy of one's own tradition. There's a strain of left-wing Christianity which portrays Jesus and Christianity as this great liberation from patriarchy, homophobia etc. This works to better effect if you can portray what came before as really really patriarchal and if you shift all of the troubling bits of Christianity to Judaism. So some Christians forget that 'love your neighbour as yourself' appears in that much maligned book, Leviticus (Leviticus also instructs us to love the stranger as ourselves, so we've got everyone covered) and ascribe anything which might seem a bit sexist in Paul to his Jewish side getting the better of him. In its most extreme manifestation German Protestant feminist theologian, Christa Mulack, saw Judaism as analogous to Nazism, obedience to the commandments of G@d as analogous to obedience to the commandments of Hitler. She saw Judaism as the source of patriarchy and therefore responsible for all genocides of Western civilisation, including the Holocaust.

Rhetoric like that is bad enough in the pulpit, but the idea of The Jews as wicked, violent, sexist and militaristic compared to pacifistic feminist Christianity can easier spread from the pulpit into the streets and everyday and political discourse. I suppose this is where it comes full circle. I can understand why Western Christians would be genuinely concerned about the welfare of Palestinians. However, when Christians fixate on the misdeeds of Israel to the exclusion of consideration of any other conflicts, particularly those involving Christian aggressors, one has to worry that the Marcionite habit of externalising all the sins of patriarchy to the Jews has reared its head again.


Mar. 6th, 2009 11:15 am
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Default)
Lately I've been thinking about choice and its relation to information. The question I've been pondering is, does more information about the available options give you more or less of a choice?

So, imagine you're choosing which school to send you children to. There are two schools you could send your child to and usually (at least if you're like my parents) you'd gather information on exam results, sports facilities, transportation options, curriculum etc. and make a choice. Now imagine you're given more information. Imagine you were told, from a source that was completely reliable, that if you send you child to one school, he will be killed in an accident in three years time, whereas if you send him to the other school he'll graduate and go on to university prepared for a reasonably happy life. Would that really be a choice? What if you were told nothing about the schools apart from their names and asked to choose? What if you were told to ask between A or B without being told which letter stands for which school?

I suppose in all of those situations you have a choice. The way they differ is the degree to which you have an opportunity to use your judgement in making the choice and therefore the difference between what would happen if you chose for yourself or someone else picked what they thought the best option was for you. I'm not sure whether this is because we think that people with better judgement are more deserving of shinies or whether we think that we're best at deciding what's good for us so we care more about situations in which the ranking of different considerations would affect the answer so we want to make the choice ourselves so that our ranking is the one used.

This issue was brought to my mind by a discussion about G@d. There's an old chestnut that the reason that G@d doesn't bounce about announcing his existence through sky writing is because that would give us less of a choice because it would be impossible not to believe in him. This argument doesn't make much sense to me. See how well it works in other contexts. Would it make sense for me to hide in the wardrobe so that my husband had a choice about whether to think that I was at home or not? Would it make sense for a doctor to drop hints but not explicitly tell his patient that she had cancer so that she would have more choice about medical treatment?

An argument I like more is that, whilst there might not me sky writing the sky is writing enough. By this argument there is enough evidence of G@d in the world that a reasonable person would who was judging it fairly would believe in G@d. Within this framework I suppose you could argue that not being as obvious as G@d could be allows choice because people who really don't want to believe in G@d have just enough wriggle room to be able to persuade themselves. Another option is that G@d wants some people to be atheists, in which case it makes sense to hide a bit. This seems a bit odd, but given that it's part of G@d's plan to allow genocides it seems to be the least of a theologian's problems.

Moving away from theology, I've noticed another aspect of choice and it's relation to information is the what choice one wants other people to make. In situations in which there is general agreement that one should have 'informed choice' there are differences of opinion about what information a person should have to be informed and that tends to correlate with what information would be most likely to swing someone in the direction of the decision they think they should make. People who are into 'natural birth' think that it's important for pregnant women to have lots of information about the negative effects of standard interventions but generally try to shield them from information about 'natural births' going wrong or positive intervention heavy births. A while ago a quite gruesome account of what an epidural looks like was posted on LJ. A woman who was very into 'natural birth' said that she thought it was reasonable to post so that women would have a more informed choice. Knowing that this woman is also very pro-abortion-choice I wondered whether she'd apply the same logic to grisly accounts of abortions. I somehow doubted it. I guess part of the problem is that there's no such thing as an objective opinion. Obviously your decision and what you think is relevant information are correlated because how else would you have come to that decision and once you've come to a decision is human nature to emphasise the information which backs your decision up and discount information that contradicts it. I think it's called cognitive dissonance.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this. It's really just pondering allowed.
lavendersparkle: Jewish rat (Rat)
Wasted quite a bit of time today being grumpy over the internet at someone who posted a rant about how materialistic 'western Judaism' by which he meant the small selection of Reform and Conservative shuls in the parts of the US he had lived in, were. It seemed to boil down to the idea that he felt that it was completely unacceptable for a congregation to charge it's members membership fees. He also claimed that any place of worship that was meeting its members spiritual needs wouldn't need to ask for membership fees because people would love it so much that the donations would exceed the needs of the church. In my experience, the only religious institutions which aren't strapped for cash are crazy brainwashing cults. The more I think of it the more I think that the difference is which extreme of two bad ways that people relate to religion and money I have seen.

The one he seemed to be criticising is the consumerist model. In this model you buy tickets to go to shul in the same way that you would be tickets to go to the cinema (often with special rates for students and the unemployed).* You don't regard the shul as a community which you are a part of but as a provider of a service you are purchasing. I think shuls which work along this kind of model also have a tendency to pander to the desires of this kind of congregant in terms of things like sermons which flatter rather than challenge, after all you want to provide a product the customer is willing to buy.

On the other hand, there is what I would call the delusional infant model. I this model, rather than being big and brash and upfront about money, you don't mention it at all. The place of worship has no expectation that its members will contribute a particular amount to its upkeep, the problem is neither do they. In this model members of a congregation think that they should get special brownie points for just showing up never mind paying to be there. They'll donate money, but see that as something above and beyond the call of duty which they should be praised for. The congregants have this idea that They should be pleased at another bum on seat so They should make sure that there's a church just the way they like it to entice them in without thinking through who They is. Delusional infant congregants can take a little bit of 'tough love' style reproach in sermons but they see it as an affront if anyone mentions money. They also tend to resent anyone who receives money from the church (i.e. it's employees) because they are in denial about how much work goes into keeping the church going and identify the clergy as the closest thing to the ill-defined They that they have contact with.

It reminds me a bit of deadbeat dads who try to buy their children's love and deadbeat dads who 'really love their kids' and expect that to mean that they shouldn't have to pay child support to their 'nasty grasping ex.** In both cases there's something really crucial missing, a genuine sense of being part of and responsible for a group endeavour. What Christians refer to a mature discipleship. I think a danger is that an attempt to move away from a consumerist model could just turn into a delusional infant model, if the only change is a removal of an explicit expectation of money. This isn't any closer to mature discipleship and at least with the consumerist model you could afford to mend the roof. In a healthy congregation people talk about money. There is an openness about how much things cost to run and what could be done if there was more money and members of the congregation understand that being a member of the congregation means contributing the time and money they can afford to ensure that it keeps going and can achieve what it wants to achieve.

So what does this have to do with membership fees? Well, the more I thought about it the more I realised that an a congregation with a healthy attitude to membership, the difference between membership fees and not having fees becomes almost semantic. It's useful to give people guidelines about how much to financially contribute. Telling the congregation that, for the congregation to run it needs to receive £x per person or y% of its members' income helps people get a better idea of what's reasonable to give. People who can afford less will give less, people for can afford more will give more. However, this doesn't seem that different to if a shul charges a fee of £x or y% of income in membership fees, but will lower the fee if someone can't afford it and welcome donations if people want to give more and would never turn away a non-member.

I like that my shul charges membership fees. As with Judaism in general, it's a way of knowing what's expected of you and it's a way of saying 'This isn't just somewhere I go. It's my shul and I want to contribute and take some financial responsibility for it.'

*I get the idea that the kind of shuls which work along this model tend also to be the kind where anyone can stand on the bimah as long as they're ordained or related to the bar mitzvah boy.

**Often these are the same deadbeat dad. That's very similar to the punchline of one of Ed Kessler's favourite jokes.