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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

A Conversation with Mike Ghouse on Pluralism


A Conversation with Mike Ghouse on Pluralism

For you to live your own life in peace, life and matter have to co-exist in harmony. Whether you are a theist, agnostic or an atheist, you would want a balance in the society, you would want to be able to live without fear, without being mugged, robbed, lied to, cheated, frightened or deprived of the basics of life for sustenance.

If each one of us does our share in creating a just world, where the safety and security of our own life is sustainable; where we don't have to run for life or worry about tomorrow, the world would be better place to live. Indeed for most part it is.

Working for a just world is not a noble thing or work of art or work of politicians, religious leaders or someone else's work, it is your work and my work and our work and is a necessity.

Every Religion and tradition (Atheism, Paganism and others included)... Continued

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He co-chairs the center for interfaith inquiry of the Memnosyne Foundation, president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@aol.com

Friday, October 10, 2008

Reconciliation of Civilizations

Collection of a few good pieces on Pluralism.

The Reconciliation of Civilizations: A Sermon for Kol Nidre
By Rabbi Brant Rosen I believe in pluralism. In the Holy Quran, God tells us, “I created you into diverse nations and tribes that you may come to know one another.” I believe America is humanity’s best opportunity to make God’s wish that we come to know one ...Shalom Rav - http://rabbibrant.com

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Tell me the Talmud

"Tell me the Talmud" follows my comments;

If you are a Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Zoroastrian, Jain, Sikh, and Buddhist or belong to any faith, you may relate with the Jews in learning about their scriptures.

God willing, I have committed to translate Qur'aan from a perspective of its intent "a guidance book for all people and all ages", to be inclusive in every sense. I would add "one of the several guidance books for all times to come". I sincerely hope all the Holy Scriptures will one day be translated in a common way that every person, no matter what faith he or she practices, must feel in tune with and relate with every one of the books. Those books were written for the whole universe and we have to see them in that light.

When Prophet Muhammad practiced his faith, his environment was Pluralistic, people of different faiths existed during his life time and his sensitivities were geared for co-existence and harmony. Indeed, when he was the head of the state of Madinah, and the leader of Arabia (Hijaz) at that time, he initiated the Madinah Pact and signed it along with Jews, Christians and others; it is about the freedom to practice one's faith and live in harmony. However, the guidance he offered for humanity was later on re-interpreted in monopolistic societies, different than the pluralistic society he lived amidst, which led the scholars of those monopolistic societies to miss out the sensitivity towards other faiths.

Qur’aan has been deliberately mis-translated by the European Kings from the tenth century onwards to make the Muslims appear to be a cult, branding them as enemies and consolidating their land holdings from the stronger Arab armies. Indeed, they created an enemy for their subjects and the suckers fell for it, just as McCain, Bush and the Neocons have suckered a few Americans into believing in Islamophobia. Indeed the foundation of many a flaunting American Scholars on Islam is based on that falsity. Muslims Kings have also mistranslated the book to create Europhobia to consolidate loyalty from their Muslim subjects, the word Jihad is a prime example which the Muslim Kings highlighted as holy war and the Neocon fed on it and continue to do so. The holy books are beautiful, the leadership has been criminal on all sides, it is time for the general public to wake and not get duped by these Neocons on either side of the fence. The American Neocons are for their own pocket books as the Muslim Neocons are, they don’t care for America nor the others care for Islam. The good news is that all extremists form less than 1/10th of 1% in each group and no more than that.

The time has come to seek the truth and understand the beauty and wisdom of all our scriptures. Here is a good example of the Jewish people planning to learn the meaning of the Talmud in the Pluralistic tradition, just as Muslims and others are efforting. I hope, we do not fall into the trap of justifying the interpretations of legendary scholars out of reverence, we should justify if it stands for co-existence. Indeed, that is the purpose of religion, to bring peace and composure to an individual and create a balance between the individual and what surrounds him – life and environment.

Mike Ghouse

Tell me the Talmud
Oct 9th 2008 JERUSALEM
From The Economist print edition

How the Jewish book is reaching a wider audience

THE Talmud is the bedrock of traditional Judaism: a repository of law and lore, chaotically interwoven with biblical explanation and legend. Compiled in fifth-century Babylon (today’s Iraq), it has since enticed, intrigued and exhausted generations of Jews.

For Orthodox Jews, lifelong study of the Talmud is the supreme religious precept. But for many earnest students through the ages, it has been a frustrating grind. Written in Aramaic (often described as the language of Jesus), it does not easily surrender its textual meaning or inner reasoning. In the 11th century, a French rabbi named Shlomo Yitzhaki, often known by the acronym Rashi, wrote a ground-breaking commentary to make the original text more accessible. But even he is often terse and replete with abbreviations and unelaborated allusions, as are the thousands of commentaries and books of scholarly correspondence that accrued over the ages.

Talmud students inevitably wasted time barking up wrong trees or beating paths that had been beaten before. Not any more. The traditional study is radically changing and broadening, thanks to a 20-year-old American-based project nearing completion. “The Art Scroll Talmud” has published all 72 volumes of its English-language Talmud and nearly 60 volumes of a Modern Hebrew version. A French edition is progressing more slowly, and there are plans for a Russian one.

Fifty-odd scholars in the United States and Israel, working alone but linked electronically, provide a colloquial translation of the text grounded in Rashi’s commentary, plus a digest of other, often conflicting commentaries. They use electronic archives of Talmudic literature that can be reached by key words and concepts but cannot produce the creative analogies and fine distinctions that are the stuff of Talmud study.

Sales have topped 50,000 for the more popular tracts in each language. “This isn’t something you can curl up and read,” says Nosson Scherman, one of the project’s editors. “It still needs effort.”

“The Art Scroll Talmud” accounts in part for a recent splurge in Talmud classes among Jews worldwide, not only in synagogues, but in city offices, on commuter trains, in community centres and on the internet. The learners are mainly but not only Orthodox. Many follow a universal page-a-day programme: all over the world, people are studying the same text on the same day. It takes them seven years to complete the whole opus.

The Transparent Synagogue

The article by Rabbi Andy Bachman "The Transparent Synagogue" follows my comments;

Dear Rabbi,

I really enjoyed reading your column and will share it with my groups made of Bahai, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Hopi, Jain, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Toltec, Wicca, Zoroastrian and other faiths. It is a good story telling.

I wrote a peice very similar to this - I used the rituals as the structure to hold the life of an individual Muslim. http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Articles/The-spirit-rituals-and-politics-of-Ramadan.asp

Next year on Yom Kippur, I will share some of your ideas with the group, and of course with your permission. At this time, I used this; http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/09/spirit-of-rosh-hashanah.html

Then the Diwali Festival falls at about the same time and here is the essence of that:http://wisdomofreligion.blogspot.com/2008/09/spirit-of-navaratri.html

As I read about Yom Kippur, I could relate the essence of it in Ramadan, Diwali and festivals of other faiths, like Paryushan in Jainism.

The purpose of religion is simply to make each one of a better being, and bring about a balance between oneself and what surrounds him/her - life and enviromnet.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He is the founding president of World Muslim Congress with a simple theme: Good for Muslims and good for the world. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website http://www.mikeghouse.net/. Mike is a Dallasite for nearly three decades and Carrollton is his home town. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com


The Transparent Synagogue
Rabbi Andy Bachman
Yom Kippur Drash
October 8, 2008

Shanah Tovah.
Gmar Chatimah Tovah.

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year of blessing, good health and peace.

One usually ends a Drash on Yom Kippur with such a wish; but this year, more than ever, we need to reassure ourselves that in our time of great uncertainty, the sustainability of our our Tradition and what it offers us–not just in the piety and seriousness of these Days of Awe but also in times of trouble in our nation and the world–our Tradition can shelter us, our People can comfort us, and our Synagogue can provide something of a structure to use in building our lives anew in this Season of Renewal.

Structure is a good thing–even for the most free of spirit. It says everything about our values. Our words are a structure; our Torah a scaffold of our beliefs and values.

I married a couple recently–they are both architects, in their early thirties. When this couple first walked into our Congregation–two structures as profoundly beautiful as they are in need of repair (like our great nation) they were in awe. Just as people should be when they walk into a place that Jacob himself found awesome as he awoke from a dream and called the spot “Beit Elohim. How awesome is this place and I did not notice!” They noticed, and said so, and after first thinking they’d get married in the picnic house in Prospect Park where they had booked their reception, they opted to build their own Chuppah, get married in our Chapel, and then go eat in the Park. It was a class move.

The Chuppah’s was all about transparency–there was a steel structure which held a modestly opaque silk that was illustrated and adorned with digitally rendered red and white flowers. It was both the Chuppah and the “idea of the Chuppah.” I really enjoyed standing there.

Their Ketubah–the marriage contract–bore the same qualities. A friend designed it with an abstract illustration. When I looked at it, I could see a couple, the woods in the Park, or, from another angle, nothing but pleasant execution of drawing skill. The heading was the Hebrew date, rendered in traditional language, followed by their own uniquely written vows to one another. And at the end they had declared their union to be a “valid acquisition of one another.” That notion is taken directly from the Talmud–though in Traditional Judaism, only the man acquires the woman. Here, their mutual acquisition, their commitment to one another, to their shared values, and to the Jewish Tradition, was all part of the transaction.

For me, the fascination and pride in this encounter is two-fold. One, the overall engagement with the Tradition. I admit it’s my line of work but hey, that’s a good thing. Two, is the fact that one member of this couple grew up as a relatively unaffiliated Reform Jew and the other member of the couple is not Jewish. But Judaism and the structures of Judaism, the infrastructure of Judaism, the architecture of Judaism, not only speaks loudly and to the hearts of such seekers but provides the foundation upon which these people have begun to design and construct their lives. But we know that–that’s why we’re here. We’ve had the date circled in our calendar for a long time. Notwithstanding my friend Allen, who called me today from LA and when I said I couldn’t talk too long because I was preparing for Yom Kippur, he joked, “but that’s not for six months!” It reminds me of the actor Jeffrey Tambor’s joke on Garry Shandling’s Larry Sanders show a few years back. When being interviewed about his desire to study Judaism more seriously with his rabbi (whom he had a big crush on) Tambor’s character, Hank Kingsley was asked if he observed Judaism. “The major holidays,” he offered. “Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the 4th of July.’”) Even for those most “outside” the fold, the structure remains.

Our two buildings here at Beth Elohim were constructed at the dawn of the twentieth century. And this sanctuary still has a foot firmly planted in the 19th century to be sure. Around Grand Army Plaza, next to our neighbor Union Temple, the architect Richard Meier is completing a decidedly twenty-first century building made of glass and white steel, a paragon of transparency, constructed on the principles, as he put it, of Louis Kahn’s tradition of the “architecture of occasion.” Meier says that such buildings “encourage public gatherings and contemplation, inspire creativity, give pleasure, and infuse both visitors and occupants with a sense of event.”

“Encourage public gatherings and contemplation, inspire creativity, give pleasure, and infuse both visitors and occupants with a sense of event.”

Sounds like a great mission for a synagogue and a great reason to be Jewish.

It’s a sign of our post-modern era and our digital age that we have the ability to both deconstruct but also rebuild the idea of what it means to be Jewish while at the same time holding on to what we firmly believe are the Eternal Values of Jewishness and Judaism. This is the adaptability factor–a quality all good historians credit for Judaism’s survival.

Transparency means something today. We are hearing calls for it in government, in how our schools are run, in business (God knows we need it especially in business) and in religious life as well. It seems to be a standard now by which people assess and judge their affiliations. A century ago the Rabbi was rather distant and opaque. He stood upon this Bimah, high above and far removed from the people below. In the sixties that began to change with the shift toward greater folkiness and proximal nearness. Rabbi Sack was to most, Rabbi Sack. Rabbi Weider was to most, Jerry. That says alot about a generational shift toward accessibility, further democratization of the Tradition, and an intimacy that served as a counter-weight to the distant and fear-inspiring models of leadership from of old.

Now we are in another era–Transparency. In a world of competing interests–after all, many institutions in our neighborhood (which Richard Meier is onto) strive to “encourage public gatherings and contemplation, inspire creativity, give pleasure, and infuse both visitors and occupants with a sense of event.” Local organic food in gourmet restaurants; music in the Park; fundraisers for our schools and cultural institutions. Each strive to meet this standard where they live.

Imagine for a moment that we reconstructed this institution and one could spend all day peering inside. Whereas a certain voyeurism is rewarded by topflight architects selling to celebrity, what happens when the paradigm shifts to religion and peoplehood? What do you see inside a transparent synagogue?

I actually think if more people saw what went on, they’d be inspired to participate even more in the “sense of event.”

In the Early Childhood Center, they’d peer in on a child and parent learning to bless the candles, juice and challah for a Friday night–each for the first time. They would also read emails going out in calls of support for families where a mother or father have died long before their time. There’d be food delivered, visits to the home, and communal support, being hung on the I-beams of early childhood communal infrastructure.

In the After School Program, they’d see impoverished families taken in, tutored in math and reading alongside neighborhood kids who get the same treatment, and in real time, living out the Jewish values of learning, welcoming the guests, and caring for those in need, to level the scales of justice in our society.

In the Office one afternoon they’d see Clergy, Staff, Administration and Maintenance talking about the meaning and symbols of the Jewish New Year–the apples and honey, the shofar, the white robes, the search for forgiveness–since all of us, on any given day, are participants in the Covenantal Mission of the Jewish People to be a Light Unto the Nations. As Moses said to all assembled at the close of his life, “You stand this day, all of you, before the Eternal Your God, your tribal heads, your elders, your officials, all the people of Israel. Your children, your spouses, even the stranger within your camp, from woodchopper to waterdrawer, to enter into the Covenant of the Eternal your God.”

You’d see members talking about the finances; the website; our chesed work; ways to better reach our members, their friends and families.

And on Shabbat evening or Shabbat morning, you’d see multiple forms of worship, young and old, new members and long time members, gathered like our ancestors once stood at the foot of Mount Sinai, joyously upholding perhaps the oldest, most long-enduring of Jewish architectural achievements, the Shabbat, what Rabbi Heschel called the “Sanctuary in Time.”

In a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life we learn that only 16% of American Jewry attend religious services at least once a week; that American Jewry’s belief in God and membership in “houses of worshop” is lowest among all faiths in America.

And yet, when it comes to educating our kids, we are the highest–easily outpacing Catholics and Protestants. What’s fascinating however is that without transparency, we could happily settle into the Bar/Bat Mitzvah mode, pat ourselves on the back, and pass the responsibility on to the next generation. Something several generations of Jews have actually done. But a further look at the data reveals that most Jews don’t believe God hears or answers our prayers; 90% reject a literalist interpretation of Torah; 90% accept pluralist views of interpretation of Judaism; and only 5% believe Judaism is the one, true path.

With transparency comes risk and responsibility. With risk comes a kind of thrill; with responsibility comes humility. Together, they are a potent combination for moving us forward as a community.

With transparency we shouldn’t assume we know what’s going on inside the building–we should wash the windows and take a look.

With transparency we shouldn’t assume we know what’s happening on Shabbat–some candles and challah dedicated to the God I don’t believe in! but we should roll by and take a look.

With transparency, when you look, you learn. And when you don’t like something, you speak up, you pop off an email, you respond to a survey, and you expect a response. And when you don’t like the response, you move on and build it on your own. That’s the way the rest of the world is trying to work and we should adapt accordingly. I think that explains why we are living in a Golden Age of Jewish cultural achievement in writing, music and the other arts; I think that explains why there are so many Independent Minyans in each major city in North America and Israel. Each demonstrate a love for Jewishness and if that love can’t be met by an existing institution, Jews will simply move on–either to their own iteration, or the yoga studio, Buddhism or another tradition.

But the notion of an open, adaptive transparent institution is a very old Jewish idea.

This summer in Israel we spent a morning at Meron, the burial place of Shimon Bar Yohai, near Tzfat, whom the mystical tradition says wrote the Kabbalah’s great work, the Zohar, but who scholars say was merely an inspiration. (Remember, 90% of us reject literalist views, thank God.) For the students, there was hilarity and fascination with the countless pilgrims and seekers who touch graves for good luck, ask the dead for favors, and pray for the messianic return of Nachman of Breslov, one of the Patron Saints of Meron. In fact, followers believe that Nachman and Shimon Bar Yohai are essentially one and the same person! There were cds and amulets for sale; holy kabbalah water to salve the body and the soul; Rebbe Nachman kippot to cover newly pious heads. (If only there were a kippah to end the financial crisis or the war in Iraq or hunger or homelessness. Ah, the prosaic pursuits of the lonely non-literalists!)

Up on the hill, away from the show going on in the burial caves, is an ancient, decrepit, synagogue from Roman times that very likely was used by Shimon bar Yohai. Overgrown by weeds, a mass of Herodian stone, a mere remnant of what once was. But the grave down below burned with life. It was crazy.

On the bus afterward, at a picnic lunch, and later that day on a bike ride toward the sea, that the questions began to flow. What did Judaism say about the Messiah? About life after death? About whether or not the dead or God intercede for those who make requests in prayer?

Relieved that the 90% non-literalists were asking the educational questions that are the pride and joy of Jewish continuity, I began teaching those who asked, meeting their minds where they were at. Torah occurred; Mayim Hayim; Living Waters. Clear. And yes, Transparent.

And like a magic trick pulled out of thin air, a structure emerged. There was the scaffolding of Torah and the I-beams of experience. There was the facade of life’s passing moments and the parapets of responsibility. There was the aspirational need to be lifted, existentially beyond the self with a soaring view of light and sky and there was the comfort and rootedness of a chair, a tree to lean against, the stability of an Idea.

The structure of our Tradition is available for all to see and all to utilize in our newly transparent world. The structure of Torah for the hungry mind; the structure of Avodah for the seeking soul; and the structure of Gemilut Hasadim, Acts of Lovingkindness, for those seeking a warm hand and an open heart.

The white we wear on Yom Kippur is not only about our renewed and contrite souls; it’s about our marriage yet again, our re-acquisition, of the learning that is the Foundation of our People. The Torah, which we acquire like two lovers take ownership of the Ketubah, is the Architectural Plan of our Existence. Given at Sinai. In plain view. For all to see, to learn from, and act upon.

In Awe and Humility, with Honor toward helping those most in need, let us rededicate ourselves in this season, for ourselves and our families, our city, our country and our world, in the sacred opportunity to be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year of blessing, good health and peace. And six months from now, when we gather at Seder tables to recite the words, “Let all who are hungry come and eat,” let’s remember that tonight, in full transparency, we said, “Let all who are hungry for Torah, for Spirit, and for Community come and see and take part in our public gathering and contemplation; our inspired creativity. And let us infuse our guests and the members of our community with events of Torah and Worship, in events that build community and create acts of Lovingkindness.

May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life for another year of blessing, well-being, and peace.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Who put hate in my Sunday Paper?

Who put hate in my Sunday Paper?

The majority of Americans and Israelis are being duped by the Neocons. This group is bent on creating chaos and have consistently messed up peace in the Middle East and elsewhere. Imagine the world without them? They buy our Congressman and Senators and of course, like the obedient dogs, they sing the songs of the hand that feeds them, rather than looking at the genuine interests of America and Israel. Peace is not in their interests, peace does not give them a nice chunk of money, chaos does. We need to ask this group to take a vacation and see how much better the world would be without them, if we can pull some money and feed these rascals on their vacation, they will be happy and the world would be peaceful.

Their actions, rather pretensions to protect Israel and America's interest have hurt both the nations. Frightening and threatening others does not bring peace or security but a constant threat. It is time for the majority of the people of America and Israel to understand that they the Neocons are the cause of chaos and insecurity. Imagine the world without them.

Has anything good ever come out of these people? It is time for them to take a back seat and let peace and prosperity prevail. If Daniel Pipes can work for peace he will be very successful, as he is successful in creating hate, chaos and a disturbance in the society. May God give him sense to work for peace and security of America and Israel.

Read the full article at: http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Articles/Hate-in-my-sunday-paper.asp

Mike Ghouse