One-Upsmanship and Brotherly Love

Last night I went to a David Broza concert and met Broza

Today, my brother is in Chicago for the DMB concert and he meets Dave Matthews

He wins!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Huntington says the U.S. is really a Christian Nation!

‘Under God’

Michael Newdow is right. Atheists are outsiders in America.


Wall Street Journal Online
Wednesday, June 16, 2004

The battle over the Pledge of Allegiance has stimulated vigorous controversy on an issue central to America’s identity. Opponents of “under God” (which was added to the pledge in 1954) argue that the United States is a secular country, that the First Amendment prohibits rhetorical or material state support for religion, and that people should be able to pledge allegiance to their country without implicitly also affirming a belief in God. Supporters point out that the phrase is perfectly consonant with the views of the framers of the Constitution, that Lincoln had used these words in the Gettysburg Address, and that the Supreme Court–which on Monday sidestepped a challenge to the Pledge of Allegiance–has long held that no one could be compelled to say the pledge.

The atheist who brought the court challenge, Michael Newdow, asked this question: “Why should I be made to feel like an outsider?” Earlier, the Court of Appeals in San Francisco had agreed that the words “under God” sent “a message to unbelievers that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community.”

Although the Supreme Court did not address the question directly, Mr. Newdow got it right: Atheists are “outsiders” in the American community. Americans are one of the most religious people in the world, particularly compared with the peoples of other highly industrialized democracies. But they nonetheless tolerate and respect the rights of atheists and nonbelievers. Unbelievers do not have to recite the pledge, or engage in any religiously tainted practice of which they disapprove. They also, however, do not have the right to impose their atheism on all those Americans whose beliefs now and historically have defined America as a religious nation.

Statistics say America is not only a religious nation but also a Christian one. Up to 85% of Americans identify themselves as Christians. Brian Cronin, who litigated against a cross on public land in Boise, Idaho, complained, “For Buddhists, Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians in Boise, the cross only drives home the point that they are strangers in a strange land.” Like Mr. Newdow and the Ninth Circuit judges, Mr. Cronin was on target. America is a predominantly Christian nation with a secular government. Non-Christians may legitimately see themselves as strangers because they or their ancestors moved to this “strange land” founded and peopled by Christians–even as Christians become strangers by moving to Israel, India, Thailand or Morocco.

Americans have always been extremely religious and overwhelmingly Christian. The 17th-century settlers founded their communities in America in large part for religious reasons. Eighteenth-century Americans saw their Revolution in religious and largely biblical terms. The Revolution reflected their “covenant with God” and was a war between “God’s elect” and the British “Antichrist.” Jefferson, Paine and other deists and nonbelievers felt it necessary to invoke religion to justify the Revolution. The Declaration of Independence appealed to “Nature’s God,” the “Creator,” “the Supreme Judge of the World,” and “divine Providence” for approval, legitimacy and protection.

The Constitution includes no such references. Yet its framers firmly believed that the republican government they were creating could last only if it was rooted in morality and religion. “A Republic can only be supported by pure religion or austere morals,” John Adams said. Washington agreed: “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles.” Fifty years after the Constitution was adopted, Tocqueville reported that all Americans held religion “to be indispensable to the maintenance of republican institutions.”

The words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the Constitution, and some people cite the absence of religious language in the Constitution and the provisions of the First Amendment as evidence that America is fundamentally secular. Nothing could be further from the truth. At the end of the 18th century, religious establishments existed throughout Europe and in several American states. Control of the church was a key element of state power, and the established church, in turn, provided legitimacy to the state. The framers of the Constitution prohibited an established national church in order to limit the power of government and to protect and strengthen religion. The purpose of “separation of church and state,” as William McLoughlin has said, was not to establish freedom from religion but to establish freedom for religion. As a result, Americans have been unique among peoples in the diversity of sects, denominations and religious movements to which they have given birth, almost all embodying some form of Protestantism. When substantial numbers of Catholic immigrants arrived, it was eventually possible to accept Catholicism as one more denomination within the broad framework of Christianity. The proportion of the population who were “religious adherents,” that is church members, increased fairly steadily through most of American history.

Today, overwhelming majorities of Americans affirm religious beliefs. When asked in 2003 simply whether they believed in God or not, 92% said yes. In a series of 2002-03 polls, 57% to 65% of Americans said religion was very important in their lives, 23% to 27% said fairly important, and 12% to 18% said not very important. Large proportions of Americans also appear to be active in the practice of their religion. In 2002 and 2003, an average of 65% claimed membership in a church or synagogue. About 40% said they had attended church or synagogue in the previous seven days, and roughly 33% said they went to church at least once a week. In the same period, about 60% of Americans said they prayed one or more times a day, more than 20% once or more a week, about 10% less than once a week, and 10% never. Given human nature, these claims of religious practice may be overstated, but the extent to which Americans believe the right response is to affirm their religiosity is itself evidence for the centrality of religious norms in American society.

Only about 10% of Americans, however, espouse atheism, and most Americans do not approve of it. Although the willingness of Americans to vote for a presidential candidate from a minority group has increased dramatically–over 90% of those polled in 1999 said they would vote for a black, Jewish or female presidential candidate, while 59% were willing to vote for a homosexual–only 49% were willing to vote for an atheist. Americans seem to agree with the Founding Fathers that their republican government requires a religious base, and hence find it difficult to accept the explicit rejection of God.

These high levels of religiosity would be less significant if they were the norm for other countries. Americans differ dramatically, however, in their religiosity from the people of other economically developed countries. This religiosity is conclusively revealed in cross-national surveys. In general, the level of religious commitment of countries varies inversely with their level of economic development: People in poor countries are highly religious; those in rich countries are not. America is the glaring exception. One analysis found that if America were like most other countries at her level of economic development, only 5% of Americans would think religion very important, but in fact 51% do.

An International Social Survey Program questionnaire in 1991 asked people in 17 countries seven questions concerning their belief in God, life after death, heaven and other religious concepts. Reporting the results, George Bishop ranked the countries according to the percentage of their population that affirmed these religious beliefs. The U.S. was far ahead in its overall level of religiosity, ranking first on four questions, second on one, and third on two, for an average ranking of 1.7. According to this poll, Americans are more deeply religious than even the people of countries like Ireland and Poland, where religion has been the core of national identity differentiating them from their traditional British, German and Russian antagonists.

Along with their general religiosity, the Christianity of Americans has impressed foreign observers and been affirmed by Americans. “We are a Christian people,” the Supreme Court declared in 1811. In the midst of the Civil War, Lincoln also described Americans as “a Christian people.” In 1892 the Supreme Court again declared, “This is a Christian nation.” In 1917 Congress passed legislation declaring a day of prayer in support of the war effort and invoking America’s status as a Christian nation. In 1931 the Supreme Court reaffirmed its earlier view: “We are a Christian people, according to one another the equal right of religious freedom, and acknowledging with reverence the duty of obedience to the will of God.”

While the balance between Protestants and Catholics shifted over the years, the proportion of Americans identifying themselves as Christian has remained relatively constant. In three surveys between 1989 and 1996, 84% to 88% of Americans said they were Christians. The proportion of Christians in America rivals or exceeds the proportion of Jews in Israel, of Muslims in Egypt, of Hindus in India, and of Orthodox believers in Russia.

America’s Christian identity has, nonetheless, been questioned on two grounds. It is argued, first, that America is losing that identity because non-Christian religions are expanding in numbers, and Americans are thus becoming a multireligious and not simply a multidenominational people; second, that Americans are losing their religious identity and are becoming secular, atheistic, materialistic and indifferent to their religious heritage. Neither of these propositions comes close to the truth.

The argument that America is losing its Christian identity due to the spread of non-Christian religions was advanced by several scholars in the 1980s and ’90s. They pointed to the growing numbers of Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and Buddhists in American society. Hindus increased from 70,000 in 1977 to 800,000 in 1997. Muslims amounted to at least 3.5 million in 1997, while Buddhists numbered somewhere between 750,000 and two million. From these developments, the proponents of de-Christianization argue, in the words of Prof. Diana Eck, that “religious diversity” has “shattered the paradigm of America” as an overwhelmingly Christian country with a small Jewish minority.

The increases in the membership of some non-Christian religions have not, to put it mildly, had any significant effect on America’s Christian identity. As a result of assimilation, low birth rates, and intermarriage, the proportion of Jews dropped from 4% in the 1920s to 3% in the ’50s to slightly over 2% in 1997. If the absolute numbers claimed by their spokesmen are correct, by 1997 about 1.5% of Americans were Muslim, while Hindus and Buddhists were each less than 1%. The numbers of non-Christian, non-Jewish believers undoubtedly will continue to grow, but for years to come they will remain extremely small. Some increases in the membership of non-Christian religions come from conversions, but the largest share is from immigration and high birthrates. The immigrants of these religions, however, are far outnumbered by immigrants from Latin America, almost all of whom are Catholic and also have high birthrates. Latin American immigrants are also converting to evangelical Protestantism. In addition, Christians in Asia and the Middle East have been more likely than non-Christians to migrate to America. As of 1990, a majority of Asian-Americans were Christian rather than Buddhist or Hindu, and about two-thirds of Arab-Americans have been Christian rather than Muslim, although Arab Muslim immigrants have become much more numerous. While a precise judgment is impossible, at the start of the 21st century the U.S. was probably becoming more rather than less Christian in its religious composition.

Americans tend to have a certain catholicity toward religion: All deserve respect. Given this general tolerance of religious diversity, non-Christian faiths have little alternative but to recognize and accept America as a Christian society. “Americans have always thought of themselves as a Christian nation,” argues Jewish neoconservative Irving Kristol, “equally tolerant of all religions so long as they were congruent with traditional Judeo-Christian morality. But equal toleration . . . never meant perfect equality of status in fact.” Christianity is not legally established, “but it is established informally, nevertheless.”

But if increases in non-Christian membership haven’t diluted Christianity in America, hasn’t it been supplanted over time by a culture that is pervasively irreligious, if not antireligious? These terms describe segments of American intellectual, academic and media elites, but not the bulk of the American people. American religiosity could be high by absolute measures and high relative to that of comparable societies, yet the secularization thesis would still be valid if the commitment of Americans to religion declined over time. Little or no evidence exists of such a decline. The one significant shift that does appear to have occurred is a drop in the 1960s and ’70s in the religious commitment of Catholics. This shift, however, brought Catholic attitudes on religion more into congruence with those of Protestants.

Over the course of American history, fluctuations did occur in levels of American religious commitment and religious involvement. There has not, however, been an overall downward trend in American religiosity. At the start of the 21st century, Americans are no less committed, and are quite possibly more committed, to their religious beliefs and their Christian identity than at any time in their history.

Mr. Huntington, the Albert J. Weatherhead III University Professor at Harvard, is the author of “The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order” (Simon & Schuster, 1998). This is adapted from the current issue of The American Enterprise.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Pistons Basketball

Mazel Tov to Bill Davidson, Tom Wilson, Joe Dumars, Coach Larry Brown, and the entire Pistons Basketball team for a most impressive NBA Championship win over the Los Angeles Lakers in five games!

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

A Halakhic Investigation of Homosexual Relationships

This is a very well written teshuva (Jewish legal responsum) on homosexual relationships by Rabbi Simchah Roth (Conservative), who lives in Israel. Regardless of one’s personal opinion on the matter, it is valuable to investigate the core issues that Rabbi Roth raises. Dear David is available online.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Larry David actually helps someone!

‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ clears murder suspect

Tuesday, June 1, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” an HBO show known for its acerbic wit, accidentally helped deliver a happy ending to a man who had been charged with murder.

Juan Catalan spent 5 1/2 months in jail on murder charges before his attorney found video footage taken by the show at Dodger Stadium that backs up his client’s claims of innocence.

Police arrested Catalan in August, alleging he killed Martha Puebla, 16, in the San Fernando Valley on May 12, 2003, because she had testified against his brother in another case.

Catalan insisted he and his 6-year-old daughter were watching the Los Angeles Dodgers lose to the Atlanta Braves, 11-4, minutes before Puebla was killed about 20 miles north of the stadium.

He said he had ticket stubs from the game and testimony from his family as to his whereabouts the night Puebla was killed. But police still believed he was responsible, saying they had a witness who placed Catalan at the scene of the slaying.

Catalan said he asked to take a lie detector test, but was refused.

Defense attorney Todd Melnik subpoenaed the Dodgers and Fox Networks, which owned the team then, to scan videotape of the televised baseball game and footage from its “Dodger Vision” cameras. Some of the videotapes showed where Catalan was sitting but Melnik couldn’t make him out.

Clues on the cutting room floor

Melnik later learned that HBO had been at the stadium the night of the killing to tape an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” a comedy starring “Seinfeld” co-creator Larry David. The lawyer found what he was looking for in footage that had not made the final cut.

“I got to one of the scenes, and there is my client sitting in a corner of the frame eating a hot dog with his daughter,” Melnik said. “I nearly jumped out of my chair and said, ‘There he is!”‘

The tapes had time codes that allowed Melnik to find out exactly when Catalan was at the ballpark. Melnik also obtained cell phone records that placed his client near the stadium later that night, about 20 minutes before the murder.

The attorney said it would have been impossible for Catalan to get out of the parking lot, change vehicles and clothing and play with his daughter as well as kill Puebla during that span.

Catalan, who could have faced the death penalty had he been convicted of murder, was released in January because a judge ruled there was no evidence to try him.

“To hear the words from the judge’s mouth, I just broke down in tears,” Catalan, 26, said Tuesday. “It was the happiest moment in my life.”

Catalan, now raising his family and working with his father as a machinist, has submitted a claim against the city of Los Angeles, alleging false imprisonment, misconduct and defamation of character. Puebla’s murder remains unsolved and the case against Catalan’s brother, who is accused of being the driver in a drive-by shooting, is still pending.

Prosecutors and police did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Other evidence also helped dismiss the case against Catalan, but the videotape “had extreme dramatic effect,” Melnick said.

The show was hardly about the ballpark crowd that night. It focused on David hiring a prostitute, not for sex but to be a passenger in his car so he could travel in the carpool lane and escape traffic on his way to the stadium.

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is a series on cable network HBO, whose parent company is Time Warner Inc. which also owns

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

An autistic boy’s beautiful words about Rabbi Hillel

Each year Valley Beth Shalom’s Tikvah Program for children with special needs leads the congregation’s Friday night service. This year the theme was the teachings of the ancient sage, Hillel. My 11-year-old son, Jacob, has autism, and he contributed to the service by writing these profound words. I wanted to share his beautiful teachings with you. I am a very proud Abba!

B’virkat Shalom,

Rabbi Bradley Artson


By Jacob Artson

Hillel was a great teacher of Torah. I love Hillel’s saying that you should never judge a person until you are in his or her shoes. I have often felt judged by people who look at me and think I am retarded because I can’t speak or move the way most people can. Hillel probably didn’t know anyone who had autism but his teachings are very meaningful to me because I love Torah just as he did, and it is very comforting to know that great Jews like Hillel have taught about me without even knowing me. I learn from him that I also need to be more patient with people and try to see their perspective before I make negative judgments about them.

The Torah helps me keep my hope and helps me keep working hard to be like other kids. I am very grateful to all of you for supporting my Hebrew School class so I can learn about how to be a good Jew and a person who earns respect.

Hillel is a wonderful role model for all people whether they have special needs or not. I have learned from Hillel that I can be a role model by living his teachings and that I am responsible for my behavior just like all typically developing people are responsible for the way they treat other people. I am very happy that I was born Jewish because this is a terrific way to live in the world as a partner with God and all of God’s creation.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Bill Davidson and his teams

Mr. Bill Davidson, the owner of international glass company Guardian Industries, could have three champions this year. He’s the owner of the WNBA’s defending champion Detroit Shock. The Tampa Bay Lightning, his NHL (hockey) franchise play Monday night for the Stanley Cup. His Detroit Pistons take on the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the NBA (basketball) Finals.

Mr. Davidson is well known as a Jewish philantropist, donating millions of dollars to Israel institutions including the Technion University and the excavations next to the Western Wall. He is also the chief benefactor of the Jewish Theological Seminary’s William Davidson Graduate School of Jewish Education, where I recently received a Masters Degree. What follows is yesterday’s New York Times piece on Mr. Davidson.

NEW YORK TIMES (June 5, 2004)

2 Teams, 2 Leagues, 2 Finalists: One Owner


TAMPA, Fla., June 4 — So which sport is Bill Davidson’s favorite: hockey or basketball?

He owns the N.H.L.’s Tampa Bay Lightning, which is playing in the Stanley Cup finals against the Calgary Flames. He also owns the Detroit Pistons, who begin the N.B.A. finals against the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.

If Davidson had to choose a sport, which would it be?

“I don’t want to answer that question,” Davidson said as he sat in a luxury suite at the St. Pete Times Forum during Game 5 of the Lightning’s game against Calgary on Thursday night. Casually dressed, he watched Calgary win, 3-2, in overtime, giving the Flames a 3-2 advantage in the four-of-seven-game series.

Game 6 is Saturday night in Calgary, and if the Lightning wins, the series returns to Tampa for Game 7 on Monday. Davidson, 81, also plans to attend the Pistons’ opener against the Lakers on Sunday. He sat courtside during some Pistons games this spring at the Palace of Auburn Hills, with a television monitor at his feet to keep track of his hockey team.

“I try to work it out whatever way I can,” Davidson said in a friendly but brief interview during the first intermission Thursday night.

Pistons Coach Larry Brown occasionally wore a Red Wings jersey before Calgary eliminated them from the playoffs, but he has switched to a Lightning jersey in honor of the man who signs his paychecks. During one of the intermissions Thursday night, Hooper, the Pistons’ mascot, took a ride on the Zamboni as it resurfaced the ice. Hooper carried the N.B.A. Eastern Conference trophy and held a sign promoting the N.B.A. finals.

Davidson bought the Pistons 30 years ago, 25 years before he invested in the N.H.L. Like the Lightning, the Pistons were an underperforming franchise that Davidson and his staff built into an elite club.

The Pistons won N.B.A. titles in 1989 and ’90. Davidson’s group built the Palace, which opened in 1988. Its design was revolutionary at the time; it had luxury suites on three levels, an idea that intensified the gentrification of seating in sports stadiums. His management style with his teams is to delegate authority and interfere little.

Davidson, a graduate of the University of Michigan and Wayne State University law school, also owns the Detroit Shock, the defending W.N.B.A. champion. His company, Palace Sports and Entertainment, promotes concerts in Michigan and in Florida; Forbes magazine has estimated Davidson’s net worth at $1.9 billion.

Although he is perceived in Detroit as primarily a basketball man, Davidson said he used to watch games at Olympia Stadium, accompanied by his uncle, when the Red Wings were a relatively new business.

“I started going even before Gordie Howe,” he said. “I remember Gordie Howe’s first game. I remember Ted Lindsay’s first game. I grew up right in the heart of the city.”

Davidson, who established himself in the glass business with Guardian Industries, is one of three N.H.L. owners who grew up in Detroit and bought franchises after success in other businesses. Mike Ilitch, who owns a pizza chain, bought the Red Wings in 1982, and Peter Karmanos built a computer business before buying the Carolina Hurricanes in 1994.

Davidson operates a 21,500-seat arena in the same market as Ilitch’s Red Wings and used to own a minor league team that played there. Markets like Los Angeles and New York support more than one team, but does Davidson think Detroit can support two?

“I think so because of the geographics,” Davidson said, alluding to the area’s proximity to Canada. But he said he was unsure if it would ever happen in the region.

He was more specific about the mood surrounding the N.H.L.’s anticipated collective-bargaining crisis. There could be a lockout next season if there is no new deal with the N.H.L. Players Association. Davidson said he was not optimistic.

“I’m convinced there will be a lockout, and quite a lengthy one,” he said.

Although Davidson said he was not sure if he would buy into the N.H.L. again, his top aides for the Lightning, Tom Wilson and Ron Campbell, have said that the team would not lose money this season if it reached the finals. The Lightning has had three sold-out home games. Palace Sports and Entertainment also owns the arena and uses it for concerts and other events.

In recent years, there has been speculation around the N.H.L. that Davidson would not mind selling the Lightning, but Wilson recently said: “We’re not shopping it. We’re enjoying it.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |

Keeping it Kosher: Britney Spears accepts Madonna’s Hashgacha

Madonna changes Britney’s eating habits!

Originally at WebIndia123 (May 24, 2004)

Thanks to singer Madonna, there is a new change in Britney Spear’s life, not in her love list, but in her diet.

The pop singer has given up the Atkins diet and taken up a Kosher food plan, reports

The ‘Toxic’ beauty reportedly got very impressed with Kabbalah, an aspect of Jewish mysticism, under the influence of pop star Madonna, who is a staunch follower of the faith.

After coming under media scrutiny for putting on weight, prompted Spears to change her diet plan.

“Britney is following in the footsteps of Madonna and Winona Ryder, who all stick to Kosher food. She just feels so much healthier. As well as mot of the dishes being prepared with vegetable oil, Britney also avoids eating gelatine. Britney did the Atkins diet for a while, but then thought better of it. She just can’t be bothered with serious diets and would much rather stick to one routine when it comes to food,” a source was quoted as saying. (ANI)

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | | Twitter: @RabbiJason |