January 7, 2005

by Andrew Silow-Carroll
One from Column A...

So here's a question: Say you are a religion reporter for a daily newspaper and you need a quote on the "Jewish perspective" on God and the tsunami, or any other topic. Do you pick your source by denomination (and let me limit the exercise: you write for a general interest publication, not a Jewish one, with room only for one Jewish clergyperson, not one each from the major Jewish denominations)?

I wonder if the first impulse would be to call an Orthodox rabbi, under the impression that you'd be getting a pespective that most closely hews to whatever it is we call "tradition."

The local Reform rabbi, on the other hand, probably speaks for more local Jews, but would he or she be offering a truly "Jewish" perspective or one more reflective of liberal sprituality and ethics ingeneral (I neither endorse nor deny these generalizations -- I'm just guessing how a reporter is likely to think).

Or is the best bet to go with a Conservative rabbi, whose movement considers itself grounded in halakhah but open to "legal innovations" (as Joseph Telushkin describes it in Jewish Literacy, a book I'm guessing a reporter at a general interest newspaper would be more likely to consult than a publication by the movement itself).

Or might you skip the whole exercise and instead find a professor of Jewish thought who ostensibly would offer a disinterested "Jewish view" with no denominational biases?

I'd love to hear from religion reporters on this. But I think it is important for regular Jews to think about it as well -- it could tell you a lot about your own preferences and prejudices. Andit might also raise a yellow flag whenever we read a religion piece about the "Christian" or "evangelical" view -- when we should ask similar questions about diversity among clergy.


That very story appeared in today's Washington Post. The writer (or editor) elected to use for one of two Jewish viewpoints, Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar who declared -- making me glad that at least there is not government-sponsored, or -supported religion in the U.S. -- that this hideous loss of life is "an expression of God's wrath with the world. The world is being punished for wrongdoing -- be it people's needless hatred of each other, lack of charity, moral turpitude."

At least the rabbi was succinct. For the article's other Jew, we get the opinions of Michael Lerner. The following is from the article:

Part of his answer to the question "How could God have allowed this to happen?" includes a point of view that "deserves some continuing attention -- the answer from karma or universal justice," he writes.

Referring to the earthquake that caused the tsunami, he goes on to say, "The tectonic moves of the earth are part of a totally integrated moral system that has been in place since the earth began to evolve. That moral system, described by the Bible, tells us that the physical world will be unable to function in a peaceful and gentle way until the moral/spiritual dimension manifest in the behavior of God's creatures coheres with God's will: that is, is filled with justice, peace, generosity and kindness."

Posted by: David Holzel at January 8, 2005 8:09 PM
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