Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

Neferneferuaten Nefertiti (1370 – 1330 BC)

“Beautiful are the Beauties of Aten, the Beautiful one has come”

Egyptian queen and the Great Royal Wife (chief consort) of Akhenaten, an Egyptian Pharaoh. Nefertiti and her husband were known for a religious revolution, in which they worshiped one god only, Aten, or the sun disc. Akhenaten and Nefertiti were responsible for the creation of a whole new religion which changed the ways of religion within Egypt. With her husband, she reigned at what was arguably the wealthiest period of Ancient Egyptian history.

Some scholars believe that Nefertiti ruled briefly as Neferneferuaten after her husband’s death and before the accession of Tutankhamun, although this is still an ongoing debate.

Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

“In Japan we have the phrase shoshin, which means “beginner’s mind.” The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner’s mind.. For a while you will keep your beginner’s mind, but if you continue to practice one, two, three years or more, although you may improve some, you are liable to lose the limitless meaning of original mind.

For Zen students the most important thing is not to be dualistic. Our “original mind” includes everything within itself. It is always rich and sufficient within itself. You should not lose your self‑sufficient state of mind. This does not mean a closed mind, but actually an empty mind and a ready mind. If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.

If you discriminate too much, you limit yourself. If you are too demanding or too greedy, your mind is not rich and self‑sufficient. If we lose our original self‑sufficient mind, we will lose all precepts. When your mind becomes demanding, when you long for something, you will end up violating your own precepts: not to tell lies, not to steal, not to kill, not to be immoral, and so forth. If you keep your original mind, the precepts will keep themselves.

In the beginner’s mind there is no thought, “I have attained something.” All self‑centered thoughts limit our vast mind. When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. Dogen‑zenji, the founder of our school, always emphasized how important it is to resume our boundless original mind. Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.

So the most difficult thing is always to keep your beginner’s mind. There is no need to have a deep understanding of Zen. Even though you read much Zen literature, you must read each sentence with a fresh mind. You should not say, “I know what Zen is,” or “I have attained enlightenment.” This is also the real secret of the arts: always be a beginner. Be very very careful about this point. If you start to practice zazen (meditation), you will begin to appreciate your beginner’s mind. It is the secret of Zen practice.”

~ Shunryu Suzuki
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Who Were The Puritans?

The roots of Puritanism are to be found in the beginnings of the English Reformation. The name “Puritans” (they were sometimes called “precisionists”) was a term of contempt assigned to the movement by its enemies. Although the epithet first emerged in the 1560s, the movement began in the 1530s, when King Henry VIII repudiated papal authority and transformed the Church of Rome into a state Church of England. To Puritans, the Church of England retained too much of the liturgy and ritual of Roman Catholicism.

Well into the 16th century, many priests were barely literate and often very poor. Employment by more than one parish was common, so they moved often, preventing them from forming deep roots in their communities. Priests were immune to certain penalties of the civil law, further feeding anticlerical hostility and contributing to their isolation from the spiritual needs of the people.

In the early decades of the 17th century, some groups of worshipers began to separate themselves from the main body of their local parish church where preaching was inadequate and to engage an energetic “lecturer,” typically a young man with a fresh Cambridge degree, who was a lively speaker and steeped in reform theology. Some congregations went further, declared themselves separated from the national church, and remade themselves into communities of “visible saints,” withdrawn from the English City of Man into a self-proclaimed City of God.

One such faction was a group of separatist believers in the Yorkshire village of Scrooby, who, fearing for their safety, moved to Holland in 1608 and then, in 1620, to the place they called Plymouth in New England. We know them now as the Pilgrims of Plymouth Rock. A decade later, a larger, better-financed group, mostly from East Anglia, migrated to Massachusetts Bay. There, they set up gathered churches on much the same model as the transplanted church at Plymouth (with deacons, preaching elders, and, though not right away, a communion restricted to full church members, or “saints”).

The main difference between the Pilgrims and the Puritans is that the Puritans did not consider themselves separatists. They called themselves “nonseparating congregationalists,” by which they meant that they had not repudiated the Church of England as a false church. But in practice they acted–from the point of view of Episcopalians and even Presbyterians at home–exactly as the separatists were acting. 

By the 1640s, their enterprise at Massachusetts Bay had grown to about 10,000 people. They soon outgrew the bounds of the original settlement and spread into what would become Connecticut, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Maine, and eventually beyond the limits of New England.

The Puritan migration was overwhelmingly a migration of families (unlike other migrations to early America, which were composed largely of young unattached men). The literacy rate was high, and the intensity of devotional life, as recorded in the many surviving diaries, sermon notes, poems, and letters, was seldom to be matched in American life.

The Puritans’ ecclesiastical order was as intolerant as the one they had fled. Yet, as a loosely confederated collection of gathered churches, Puritanism contained within itself the seed of its own fragmentation. Following hard upon the arrival in New England, dissident groups within the Puritan sect began to proliferate–Quakers, Antinomians, Baptists–fierce believers who carried the essential Puritan idea of the aloneness of each believer with an inscrutable God so far that even the ministry became an obstruction to faith.

Puritanism gave Americans a sense of history as a progressive drama under the direction of God, in which they played a role akin to, if not prophetically aligned with, that of the Old Testament Jews as a new chosen people.

Perhaps most important, as Max Weber profoundly understood, was the strength of Puritanism as a way of coping with the contradictory requirements of Christian ethics in a world on the verge of modernity. It supplied an ethics that somehow balanced charity and self-discipline. It counseled moderation within a psychology that saw worldly prosperity as a sign of divine favor. Such ethics were particularly urgent in a New World where opportunity was rich, but the source of moral authority obscure.

Source: history.com

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

The Chained Books of Hereford Cathedral (Hereford, Herefordshire – Great Britain)

This cathedral contains two medieval marvels: a chained library of rare books and one of the earliest maps of the world.

In the Middle Ages, before the availability of the printing press, volumes on law and religion were quite rare and valuable. To protect against theft, the books at Hereford Cathedral were chained to desks, pulpits, and study tables.

The chained library was created in 1611 when a collection of hand-transcribed, hand-bound books was moved into the Lady Chapel. Most of the volumes in the collection are acquisitions dating back to the 1100s, although the oldest book in the collection, the Hereford Gospels, dates to about the year 800.

The medieval world map stored at Hereford Cathedral depicts three continents: Europe, Asia, and Africa. On the as-yet-unexplored periphery of these lands roam fire-breathing dragons, dog-faced men, people who survive on only the scent of apples, and the Monocoli, a race of mythical beings who take shade under their giant feet when the sun becomes too bright.

The 5 × 4.5-foot map (1.5 × 1.4 m), created around 1300, is part geography, part history, and part religious teaching aid. A lack of confirmed information on Asian and African geography presented no obstacle for the mapmaker, who used hearsay, mythology, and imagination to fill in the gaps—which explains the four-eyed Ethiopians.

Sources: Atlas Obscura

Joan of Arc Beatified

On this day in 1909 Joan of Arc was beatified (Beatification is a recognition accorded by the Catholic Church of a deceased person’s entrance into Heaven and capacity to intercede on behalf of individuals who pray in his or her name), nearly 500 years after her execution; which is somewhat coy of the Vatican when viewed in the light of recent fast-tracking of saintly candidates.

Regardless of the supernatural elements of her story, she remains an interesting historical character. Quite how a teenage peasant girl in the early years of the 15th century managed to convince a garrison commander and then the uncrowned king of France Charles VII that she could lead an army against English forces remains to this day a mystery shrouded in legendary tales.

#JoanOfArc #Beatificatio

Antisemitism Murder in France

Antisemitism at it’s finest:

Imagine if a white American guy tortured and murdered a black woman, first beating her up and kicking her while shouting “white power!” and then throwing her out the window to her death. This would, of course be all over the Western media as an example of a racist crime. And imagine further that the murderer gets off completely because the courts find that before the murder he’d smoked marijuana, so he wasn’t responsible for his deed. Now that would, rightly, be a national scandal, all over the media of all stripes.

Now imagine instead that the murderer was an anti-Semitic Muslim who did the same thing to an Orthodox Jewish French woman who was his neighbor, crying “Allahu akbar,” uttering Muslim prayers, and then torturing her before throwing her out the window to her death. And then the courts let him off because he was high on weed.

For more follow the link.

#DisappointingFrance #AntiSemitism

https://honestreporting.com/media-ignore-outrageous-french-court-acquittal-of-antisemitic-murderer/

The Torah

Traditionally, the Torah has been seen either as a document that was entirely revealed to Moses by God on Mount Sinai (along with the whole of the Oral Torah, i.e. the Mishnah and other works of Rabbinic literature which build upon the written Torah) or that Moses completed the Torah during the trek through the wilderness (including what was revealed on Mount Sinai). Historians and literary critics, noting historical inaccuracies and duplications that indicate a composite text have suggested that the Torah includes sources from the period of King David and King Solomon (around 1000 BCE), from the seventh century BCE during the reign of King Josiah, and from the sixth century BCE during the Babylonian exile.

For Jews, the concept of “Torah ” is much broader than the books themselves, the delimited concept of the Torah. “Torah” can refer to all of traditional Jewish learning, but “the Torah” usually refers to the Torah she’bi’ktav, the written Torah, also known as the chumash (the five volumes or Pentateuch, sometimes referred to as the Five Books of Moses).

The Torah, Prophets (Nevi’im) and the Writings (Ketuvim) collectively make up The Hebrew Bible (what Christians refer to as the Old Testament). The Bible is often referred to by the Hebrew acronym TaNaKh (usually spelled Tanakh, or Tanach ). Numerous editions and translations of the Bible and the Chumash (the text of the Torah) can be purchased online. However, you can also read (and search) the entire Bible (along with many other major Jewish texts) in Hebrew and English translation free of charge on Sefaria.

Readings from the Torah, which are divided into 54 weekly Torah portions are the centerpiece of the Sabbath morning service. During the Torah service, the Torah scroll is taken out and the weekly portion chanted or read aloud. The Torah scroll, also known as a sefer Torah, is hand-written on parchment according to numerous specifications by a sofer (scribe), a specially trained individual.

The Torah’s stories, laws and poetry stand at the center of Jewish culture. They chronicle God’s creation of the world, the selection and growth of the family of Abraham and Sarah in relationship to God in the land of Canaan, the exile and redemption from Egypt of that “family-become-nation” known as Israel, and their travels through the desert until they return to the land of Canaan. Along the way, Israel enters into a covenanted relationship with God, and God reveals many of the rules for governing a just society and for establishing appropriate worship.

The English names for each of the Torah’s five book are actually Greek, and like the Rabbinic names for the books, they describe the contents. The common names for the books come from a significant word in the beginning verses of the book. The following are the names of the five books and a brief summary of each:

Genesis (“Origins”)/Bereishit (“In the Beginning”)

Genesis tells the story of creation, Noah and the flood, and the selection of Abraham and Sarah and their family as the bearers of God’s covenant. Stories of sibling conflict and the long narratives of Jacob and his favorite son Joseph conclude with the family dwelling in Egypt.

Exodus (“The Road Out”)/Shemot (“Names”)

Exodus tells of how the family of Jacob grew and then was enslaved in Egypt. The baby Moses, born of Israelites but adopted by Pharaoh, becomes God’s prophet who, after bringing 10 plagues down upon Egypt, leads the Israelites through the Red Sea to freedom and to the revelation at Mount Sinai. The story of the Israelites worshipping the golden calf, which follows soon after the revelation at Mount Sinai, is almost obscured by lengthy materials on the building of a sanctuary (tabernacle) in the wilderness.

Leviticus (“Laws of the Levites”)/Vayikra (“And God Called”)

Leviticus deals mostly with laws of Israelite sacrificial worship. Related rules include the basis for Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and issues of purity and impurity. The holiness code, which describes a sanctified communal life, is a highlight of the book.

Numbers (“The Census”)/Bamidbar (“In the Wilderness”)

Numbers begins with a census of the Israelites and the tribe of Levi. A group of Israelites spy out the land of Canaan; their discouraging report sends them back into the desert for an additional 38 years, during which the Israelites continue to behave badly, rebelling against the authority of Moses and his brother Aaron, and having illicit relations with Moabite women.

Deuteronomy (“Second Law”)/Devarim (“Words”)

Deuteronomy is Moses’ final message to the people of Israel before they cross over the Jordan River into Israel. Moses reminds the people of how God has redeemed the people from Egypt and of the details of the covenant between Israel and God. In stark language, Moses describes the rewards for observance of the laws of the covenant and the punishment for disobedience. Finally, Moses passes along his authority to Joshua who will lead the people into the land.

Sources: Essential Judaism, Unearthing the Bible, myjewishlearning.com, Chabad.org

Torah & Science: Genesis as Allegory

“In Jewish religious thought Genesis is not regarded as meant for a literal reading, and Jewish tradition has not usually read it so.”

~ Steven Katz, founding director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies

In the Middle Ages, Saadia Gaon argued that a biblical passage should not be interpreted literally if that made a passage mean something contrary to the senses or reason (or, as we would say, science; Emunot ve-Deot, chapter 7). Maimonides applied this principle to theories about creation. He held that if the eternity of the universe (what we would call the Steady State theory) could be proven by logic (science) then the biblical passages speaking about creation at a point in time could and should be interpreted figuratively in a way that is compatible with the eternity of the universe.

It is only because the eternity of the universe has not been proven that he interpreted the verses about creation at a point in time literally, but he still insisted that the creation story as a whole was written metaphorically.

To Saadia and Maimonides, belief in the truth of the Torah does not require a denial of science (“reason,” “logic”) when the two seem to conflict. These philosophers imply that questions of science should be left to scientists and scientific method. In fact, Maimonides quotes a passage in the Talmud in which Jewish scholars abandoned an astronomical theory of their own in favor of a theory of gentile scholars (Pesahim 94b).

Maimonides approved of their action, saying that “speculative matters everyone treats according to the results of his own study, and everyone accepts that which appears to him established by proof.”  To him, clearly, Science is a matter of speculation and is not the field in which the Torah seeks to be decisive.

In more recent times Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook held that scientific ideas which seem to conflict with the Torah need not necessarily be opposed, but can serve as stimuli to delve more deeply into the Torah and discover more profound meaning in it.

The approach of these thinkers is one that Fritz Rothschild has described as a guiding principle of Jewish biblical exegesis:

“The view that the Torah contains God’s message to man has led to ever new interpretations, since it constantly forced believing readers of the Torah to reconcile the words of the sacred text with whatever they held to be true on the basis of their own experience, the canons of logic, contemporary science, and their moral insights…. The traditionalist will always feel called upon to interpret the text so that it reflects not ancient error but the highest standards of trustworthy knowledge and insight of his own time.” (Rothschild, “Truth and Metaphor in the Torah”)

This approach urges us to probe more deeply into the biblical accounts of creation and to search for the intention of the Torah’s compilers in presenting these accounts. By compilers I mean those who gathered all the sources and books together and produced the Torah in the form in which it was canonized in classical Judaism. In critical terms these are the redactors of the Torah; in Franz Rosenzweig’s terms, rabboteinu (our rabbis).

Whatever the intention of the individual accounts of creation may have been, it is clear from the Torah as a whole that its compilers were not overly concerned with the details of the creation story in the first chapter of Genesis. They incorporated several accounts of creation in the Torah even though no two accounts agree in detail with Genesis 1 or with each other. Genesis 1 describes the creation of the world in six days. The second account of creation is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2).

Several other accounts are found in poetic form in Psalms, Proverbs, and Job. Genesis 1 says that man was the last living creature created; Genesis 2 says that he was the first. Genesis 1 speaks of the prehistoric waters in purely naturalistic terms and says that God merely commanded them to gather in a single spot so that dry land could appear.

But in poetic passages the ancient waters are personified as rebellious sea monsters which threatened to swamp the dry land, until God subdued them and created the seashore as a boundary which they were prohibited from crossing.

The most notable difference between Genesis and all the other accounts is that none of the others mentions the idea that the world was created in six days. This idea–which is the centerpiece of the whole creationist movement–was apparently not considered important enough in the Torah to be repeated in other accounts of creation. 

The fact that so many differing accounts were all accepted in the Torah shows that its compilers were not concerned about these details. They undoubtedly assumed that the differences could be reconciled, but they left this task to the ingenuity of exegetes. This virtually assured that different reconciliations would be proposed and some of the passages would have to be interpreted non-literally.

What the Torah as a whole insists on is not these details, but only what the stories have in common. In other words, these stories are regarded as poetic statements of certain basic truths, not as literally scientific accounts of how the universe developed.

What matters in Judaism are the concepts shared by all these stories: that the world was created by God, that He planned it carefully and designed it to be hospitable to man. These are the very conclusions to which astronomy now points. The other details of the biblical accounts should not be taken literally, but metaphorically or poetically.

To give just one example: the six days of creation culminating in the Sabbath on the seventh day symbolize how God guided the development of the world stage by stage according to a well-thought-out plan. The process is described as taking place over a period of seven days because seven was regarded in the ancient world as the number of perfection and seven days were regarded as the ideal length of a process. The unit of “seven days” is more a statement about the perfection of the process than a chronological statistic.

Thus a literal reading of the Torah, on which “creation science” implicitly insists, misses the point of the Torah itself, which seems uninterested in literal interpretation. Like poetry and certain kinds of prose, which sometimes speak in metaphors and symbols, the Torah as a whole does not intend these stories to be taken literally.

Literalism is not only misleading but is also a disservice to the cause of the Torah itself. It forces the Torah to compete as science, and in such a competition it cannot win. In a scientific age such as ours the Torah will never be accepted as science by educated people.

What is more, attempting to secure acceptance for it as science is hardly worthwhile, for this would divert attention away from the Torah’s religious message to details which from a religious point of view are trivial.

The religious message is precisely the realm in which science cannot compete, and those devoted to the cause of the Torah would do far better service to their cause by stressing its unique religious message. To the religious person it makes little difference whether the world was created in six days or several billion years.

What counts is the deeper message of the biblical account of creation: The world was made by a wise Creator who seeks man’s welfare, who created the world carefully with man’s benefit in mind, who created man with Godlike qualities and commanded him to administer the world wisely.

Though we observe the Sabbath every seven days, it is this deeper message which we celebrate each week. The current views of modern science deepen our understanding of this message and renew our confidence in it.

Sources: Essential Judaism, Conservative Judaism Journal, myjewishlearning.com, Chabad.org

American Conservative Judaism

The Conservative movement is the second largest of the three main religious denominations within American Judaism, claiming 18 percent of American Jews, according to a 2013 study by the Pew Research Center. Historically it has occupied a sort of middle ground between Reform and Orthodox, maintaining (unlike Reform) that Jewish law remains binding on modern Jews, but affording far greater leeway than Orthodoxy in adapting those laws to reflect modern realities.

• The movement tolerates a range of religious practice in its commitment to halachic pluralism — the idea that multiple (and opposing) opinions concerning the requirements of Jewish law can be considered equally legitimate.

• Most (but not all) Conservative synagogues are egalitarian on gender issues, and the movement has endorsed religious rulings both in favor of and opposed to same-sex marriage.

• While its rabbis are not permitted to officiate at interfaith weddings, the movement has in recent years made a greater effort to welcome interfaith couples and families into its congregations. One of its mottos has been “Tradition and Change.”

• In the mid-20th century, the Conservative movement was the dominant stream of American Judaism. In some years in the 1950s, the movement was adding 100 new affiliate congregations annually. But by the end of the century, the movement was in serious decline, with some fretting openly that Conservative Judaism was on the road to oblivion.

The movement began as an effort to “conserve” traditional Judaism in the face of the liberalizing tendencies of Reform leaders in the late 19th century. One critical moment of division is often said to be the Reform movement’s famous 1883 “trefa banquet,” when non-kosher foods were served at a dinner honoring the first rabbis ordained through the Reform seminary Hebrew Union College. The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, which would become the flagship institution of the Conservative movement, was founded in 1886 — one year after Reform adopted its Pittsburgh Platform of 1885, which explicitly rejected Jewish practices it viewed as inconsistent with modern ideas.

The movement has been defined by its official commitment to Jewish law (halacha ), even as it has staked out positions that entail substantial departures from what was long considered normative Jewish practice. In 1983, the movement began ordaining women rabbis, which prompted some JTS faculty to quit the school in protest. In 1998, the movement’s updated prayer book, Sim Shalom, contained an alternative Amidah text that included the names of the matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah alongside the names of the patriarchs. Some of the God language in the book replaced gendered language such as “King” and “Father” with more gender-neutral terms, like Sovereign and Guardian.

One of the movement’s most significant — some would say fateful — innovations was the 1950 ruling permitting worshippers to drive to synagogue (but nowhere else) on Shabbat. Amid the rapid suburbanization of postwar America, this change enabled many to attend synagogue who would otherwise be unable to get there on the Jewish Sabbath, when driving is traditionally prohibited. However, some critics would later point to this shift as undermining the movement’s stated commitment to Jewish law.

In the 21st century, the movement’s long-term viability has continued to be drawn into question. The percentage of Jewish households that identified as Conservative dropped by 10 points — from 43 to 33 percent — between 1990 and 2000, according to surveys of the American Jewish population conducted in those years. By 2013, a Pew survey found only 18 percent of American Jews identified as Conservative, roughly half the number that called themselves Reform. The movement’s synagogue umbrella group, the United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism, also experienced a significant drop-off in affiliated congregations.

The decline is attributed to various factors, chief among them intermarriage. A majority of intermarried Jews who were raised Conservative no longer identify as such as adults, according to sociologist Steven M. Cohen. At least some of those Jews have gravitated toward the Reform movement, which has traditionally been more welcoming of intermarried couples. Others have pointed to the movement’s liberalization over the years, which has turned off more traditionally minded Jews, as well as to the rise of independent minyans, which have attracted many graduates of Conservative day schools and summer camps. Still others have fingered geographic mobility as the culprit — the relocation of American Jews from areas where the Conservative movement historically had a strong presence (the northeast and the Midwest), to areas where Reform congregations predominated (the South and the West).

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But according to Cohen, there remain some encouraging signs for the movement in recent studies showing that among those who do identify as Conservative, metrics of Jewish engagement remain strong. “What Conservative institutions like camps and day schools have been doing is working to build a core group with relatively high levels of Jewish observance, engagement and literacy,” Cohen wrote in a 2015 op-ed for JTA. “If they keep doing so, the evidence suggests that while the overall number of Conservative Jews may still decline, this dedicated core will continue to sustain what was once America’s largest Jewish denomination.”

By 2017, a Pew survey found only 14 percent of American Jews identified as Conservative, roughly half the number (28 percent) that called themselves Reform. To understand that in a broader context thirty-seven percent identified as “just Jewish” with no formal affiliation with any of the big three denominations (big four if you consider reconstructionist).

Sources: Essential Judaism, myjewishlearning.com, Chabad.org