Who Owns Jewish Ritual?

My rabbinic networks have been abuzz about the second episode of a new reality TV show on TLC called “The Sisterhood.” I first learned of the controversial episode when someone Tweeted the clip to me asking me what I thought. I then sent an article about the episode from The Christian Post to my colleagues in Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders program and an interesting discussion ensued.

TLC’s new reality TV show “The Sisterhood” has been panned by Christians for disrespecting Christianity and by Jewish people for using Jewish ritual in a Christian framework.

The new reality show features Texas couple Brian Lewis and his wife Tara and their children. The show premiered on New Year’s day. In the second episode, the family discusses their preparation for their son’s upcoming bar mitzvah. The couple’s 13-year-old son Trevor however isn’t Jewish and neither are his parents. In fact, Trevor’s father is a Christian pastor who was raised in a Jewish household before converting to Christianity before marriage.

In the show Tara speaks directly to the camera, explaining, “To celebrate our Jewish heritage, we are throwing him a Bar Mitzvah. A Christian Bar Mitzvah.” Brian explains it as more than just a passing of age ceremony and more of  a social event.

The notion of a Christian boy celebrating a bar mitzvah was enough to irk many Jewish viewers, but the show ruffled even more feathers by using Jewish ritual items for the occasion. Pastor Brian reveals to his son the tallit that he will wear for his ceremony.

This raises the question of whether Jewish people “own” such concepts as a bar mitzvah and traditionally Jewish ritual garb like a tallit. After all, the Jewish people were not the first people to create entering adulthood ceremonies or prayer shawls (those are likely borrowed from the ancient Egyptians). So, the episode actually encourages an interesting conversation about the kishke (gut) reaction to seeing a religious Christian family appropriating a Jewish life-cycle event and Jewish ritual items. Interestingly, some Jewish people even took exception with the cake prepared for Trevor’s bar mitzvah resembling a Torah scroll.

I’ll get back to the Christian bar mitzvah, but two very recent events forced me to consider these issues as well. Sitting in a session on Tuesday morning at CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas, a gentleman wearing tzitzit (a four cornered undergarment with ritual fringes hanging out) sat down next to me. I immediately noticed that he wasn’t wearing a kippah (yarmulke) although the four braided fringes complete with threads of blue were proudly dangling around his waist. It didn’t take me long to realize that he was a religious Christian and not Jewish. Eavesdropping on the conversation he was having with the woman on the other side of me, I heard him explain that he and his family live a devout Christian lifestyle in Texas in accordance with both the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Rohan Marley shows off his gold Jewish Star necklace as I display my gold chai necklace.

The second event took place yesterday at CES when I visited with Bob Marley’s son Rohan at the House of Marley booth. House of Marley is a headphones company and part of the Marley family of brands including the Marley Mellow Mood drink that is owned by Bob Marley’s family and investors from the Detroit Jewish community including Gary Shiffman and Alon Kaufman. Rohan, a former football player for the University of Miami and the Canadian Football League, proudly displays a gold Jewish star around his neck. When I asked him why he wears a Jewish star I got a heartfelt ten-minute explanation of how his Rastafarian belief draws from both the Old Testament and the New Testament. He told me that the Jewish star is his way of reminding himself daily of the ethics of the Jewish biblical tradition and how that is the foundation of Christianity.

While some would be uncomfortable with gentiles wearing tzitzit or a Jewish star necklace, my feeling is that we Jews don’t have the trademark on such things. Yes, they are inherently Jewish in our time and in our culture, but what is preventing someone else from adopting those items and connecting their own narrative to them. Who says that only Jews can get married under a chuppah or dance the hora at a wedding? Who says that a Christian boy with Jewish ancestry can’t have a ceremony on his 13th birthday called a bar mitzvah? It might make some Jews uncomfortable, but that gut reaction should lead to a conversation about why it elicits that response.

My colleague, Rabbi Eliot Pearlson of Miami, provided me with some insightful links and images on such topics as specifically Christian tzitizit and tallit, Christian chuppas and ketubas (wedding contracts), South Koreans studying Talmud, and Christian Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We are living in interesting times, but religions have historically borrowed and appropriated different traditions and rituals from each other.

Another one of my colleagues, Rabbi Joshua Ratner, offered that he takes exception with non-Jews “picking up rituals they (and often we) don’t understand just because they look cool. I have far less of an issue with imitation/syncretism if the object being ‘borrowed’ has some understood meaning that results in others wanting to borrow it, rather than its aesthetic content. But that just begs the question–to be Rabbis Without Borders, if we know that religious syncretism is a way of life, do we now have an obligation to educate the non-Jewish public as well as our particular Jewish communities?”

That comment reminded me of when I was a child and my father would let me borrow his tools. If you’re going to use my hammer, he would say, let me first show you how to use it correctly. But does borrowing something mean the borrower has to use it the same way the lender does? Shouldn’t everyone have the right to determine which religious rituals they want to use from other faiths and have the ability to put their own spin on them without criticism? As uncomfortable as that may make some of us, I think the answer is yes.

Here’s the clip from the “A Christian Bar Mitzvah” episode of The Sisterhood:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jewish Children and Halloween: Point-Counterpoint

Tomorrow night is Halloween. Perhaps the only Jewish custom concerning Halloween is the debate as to whether it’s an appropriate celebration for Jewish children. Much has been written on both sides of the argument, but I have never addressed it here on this blog. This year, I decided to offer a point-counterpoint exchange answering the question “Is Halloween Kosher?” — Meaning: Is Halloween an acceptable experience for Jewish children in America? My friend and local colleague Rabbi Aaron Starr does not condone his children’s participation in Halloween while I do. Feel free to leave your own opinion in the comments below.

Rabbi Aaron Starr

POINT | It is hard to say “no” those whom we love the most. But, as parents, we know there are times when our sacred task is to teach and to guide, and thus to decline lovingly our children’s requests to do that which we as their caretakers know is dangerous physically or spiritually. For example, despite the vast commercialization and de-emphasis on the religious side of Christmas and Easter, Jewish parents should not allow their children to celebrate these Christian holidays. Likewise, Jewish parents should warmly steer our children away from the celebration of Halloween. Instead, Jewish living should be offered as the fun, meaningful, impactful path our children ought to take.

According to ABC News, Halloween dates back to a Celtic holiday when spirits were believed to rise from their graves, and costumes were used to fool the spirits in hope that farmers’ land would survive through the winter. Later, Christians assimilated Halloween into their own religion as the night before November 1’s “All Saints’ Day”. Then in the 19th century, Irish immigrants adapted their own native customs to the American celebration of Halloween, carving pumpkins into lanterns to honor the souls they believed were stuck in purgatory. What is clear is that the American celebration of Halloween is a product of strong pagan and Christian traditions that have been overly commercialized by twentieth and now twenty-first century candy and costume companies.

How much better it would be for our children and our People to encourage our kids to celebrate Jewish holidays with equal passion and excitement as others do Halloween! It seems to me far more uplifting to dress our children up in celebration of Purim and to give away gifts of food to our friends and those in need than to celebrate a pagan-Christian holiday by parading through dark streets in scary costumes receiving or even begging for candy from strangers.

Aaron Starr is a rabbi at Congregation Shaarey Zedek in Southfield, Michigan. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiStarr.


Rabbi Jason Miller

COUNTERPOINT | Our children (like us) are growing up in two worlds. They are living in Jewish homes, infused with Jewish values and traditions, and as participants in a vibrant Jewish Diaspora community. But, our children also live in a secular society in which certain “holidays” and their customs have become part of the fabric of that society.

While I would never condone Jewish children celebrating such Christian holidays as Christmas or Easter, I don’t see the problem in them participating in Halloween. This American tradition may draw its roots from troubling origins (like Thanksgiving), but over the centuries it has been become re-imagined as a fun, neighborhood experience. To draw a connection from the 21st century observance of Halloween to Samhain or All Hallows Eve is shortsighted and silly. I was unaware of the Celtic, Pagan and Christian connections to Halloween as an adult, and I suspect that will be the case for my children as well.

Today’s practice of Halloween seems innocent enough for me to allow my children to participate without hesitation. Our Halloween tradition consists of pumpkin picking (also used to decorate our sukkah) and then carving, selecting appropriate costumes (often recycled from Purim), and then walking our neighborhood with friends to go door-to-door collecting candy. There is no begging or threatening for these gifts of chocolate bars and lollipops; only the sweet sounds of repeated “pleases” and “thank yous” from the mouths of adorable children. Halloween is a night when the neighborhood comes alive. It’s an opportunity to catch up with neighbors as the cold winter looms. Upon our return home we sort through the collection of candy identifying the kosher sweets to keep and the non-kosher and undesirable ones to be donated.

To forbid our children to participate in Halloween is to pretend we’re living in a gated shtetl, ignorant of the American society with which our Jewish lives coexist. I have no problem saying “no” to those I love, but I also believe in the importance of making thoughtful, sensible decisions when there’s no harm to fear.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jesus, We Can Finally Talk About Jesus

I’ve always said that the only times Jewish people mention Jesus are when they stub their toe, miss the bus, or tell you about their theater tickets to a certain Andrew Lloyd Webber rock opera. Two new books will change that. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus and The Jewish Annotated New Testament (edited by Marc Z. Brettler and Amy-Jill Levine). The former discusses the Jewish life of Jesus of Nazareth and the latter is a newly revised edition of the Christian Scriptures with notes and essays from Jewish scholars in the hope of making the “New Testament” accessible to Jews.

In my final years of rabbinical school at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I was living and working in Caldwell, New Jersey as a rabbinic intern. One of the congregants at the synagogue, Agudath Israel, was a professor at the College of St. Elizabeth in Morristown, New Jersey. She asked me to give a presentation about Judaism to the women in her undergraduate class. In preparation for my visit she asked the students to submit a list of five questions each that they would like me to consider. Without any exaggeration, a full 90% of the students included at least one question about Jesus Christ in their list.

I had received questions from Christians in the past concerning the Jewish view of Jesus, but that experience confirmed for me just how curious Christians are about how Jews understand Jesus in both historical and theological perspectives. Many of the women in that class at the College of St. Elizabeth were surprised to learn that Jews do not consider Jesus to be the messiah and the entire class was shocked to discover that Jesus’ teachings were not part of the required coursework I was doing in my rabbinical school studies. By far, to this day the most frequent questions I receive from Christians all have to do with the Jewish understanding of Jesus.

The topic of the contemporary view of Jesus among Jews has long been stuck somewhere between taboo and “we just don’t talk about it”. But now, thanks to two new books it is front and center. Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, who refers to himself as “America’s Rabbi” has written a new controversial book that will be released next week. For those who thought Boteach’s Kosher Sex was too radical, his new Kosher Jesus is sure to ruffle feathers. With Boteach, it is difficult to know if he writes these provocative books and articles because he’s genuinely passionate about the scholarly discussion it will generate or if he just lusts after the spotlight. Still playing up his friendship with the late Michael Jackson and very passively campaigning to be the next Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach has been busy publicly questioning what all this fuss is about with his new book. In truth, Boteach knows that every Orthodox rabbi and scholar — from Chabad Lubavitch to the Haredim — who attack Kosher Jesus as blasphemous and its author as a heretic are only helping his book sales.

Boteach loves the attention he’s getting and in the weeks leading up to its release has been penning article after article fighting back against his naysayers. In a recent Jerusalem Post article, Boteach wrote, “Unless you’ve been a space-tourist with Virgin Galactic the past few weeks you will know that on [sic] February my new book will be published.” (There’s no doubt in my mind he received a generous kickback from Virgin’s Richard Branson for mentioning Galactic.) Media attention aside, I think Boteach’s book is important and will finally make it “kosher” for Jews to learn about and discuss Jesus as the historical figure.

Boteach’s book portrays the actual story of Jesus’ Jewish life as told in both early Christian and Jewish sources. If you ask most Jews to tell you about the historical figure of Jesus, their response often turns fuzzy after a quick introduction that he was Jewish. Kosher Jesus explains how Jesus was a Torah-observant teacher who instructed his followers to observe the Torah. Jesus’ teachings were quoted extensively from the Torah. And before being murdered by Pontius Pilate, Jesus fought Roman paganism and persecution of the Jewish people. His death was retribution for his rebellion against Rome.

No matter what one believes Boteach’s intentions were in writing this book (more fame, more money, a Chief Rabbi position, setting the academic record straight, or a combination thereof), he clearly did his research on the subject and has taken away the taboo of Jews discussing Jesus of Nazareth. Hopefully, Boteach’s book will give Jews the ability to go a little deeper in their understanding of Jesus. This will be helpful for rabbis like me who often field questions about Jesus from Christians, but it will also prove useful for Jews living in predominantly Christian areas as well as for the Jewish college student with a Christian roommate or agressive missionaries on campus.

Rembrandt’s portrayal of Jesus is more apparently Jewish than other artistic renderings

As I have been reading the many criticisms of Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and his Kosher Jesus, one thing that I’ve noticed is the strong discomfort his attackers have with even mentioning Jesus. As Josh Fleet mentioned in his Huffington Post article, some of Boteach’s critics refuse to even type out the name Jesus. Instead they refer to Boteach’s book as Kosher J. abbreviating the name of Jesus in a way that is reminiscent of how they refuse to spell out the word “God” or “Lord” choosing instead to use “G-d” or “L-rd”. This struck me as odd as it seems to put Jesus in the same category as God whose name must not be rendered in print (even though the English words “God” and “Lord” are not actual names for the Jewish deity and I’ve never understood a ban on spelling out God’s name in Latin characters). In any event, it is similarly odd that many of Boteach’s critics who are eager to put him in herem (excommunication) for having the chutzpah to publish a book about Jesus of Nazareth are the same Chabad Lubavitch members who seem to be placing their bets that the late Lubavitch rebbe is the messiah. One man’s false messiah is another man’s god. One man’s spiritual leader is another man’s messiah.

I especially like the way Josh Fleet concludes his article about the sharp criticism of Kosher Jesus. Fleet writes, “In 2012, the topic of Jesus should not be a Jewish taboo. If we believe so much that our relationship with Christianity is based on deceit, tragedy and senseless hatred — that it has broken us — then we are obligated to believe it can be based on trust, opportunity and boundless love — that it can be fixed.” Well stated, and I believe that what will equally help fix the way Jews deal with the topic of the historical Jesus will be the new contribution by Brandeis Professor Marc. Z. Brettler and Vanderbilt Prof. Amy-Jill Levine. Their new version of the New Testament is revolutionary in that it has been published for Jews.

I am always surprised when Christians are surprised that New Testament studies was not part of my academic courses in rabbinical school. No matter how many times I explain that Jews do not believe our Torah has been superseded by the “New Testament”, Christians still don’t understand this concept. It’s as if they think that we’re big fans of the first Godfather movie and yet refuse to watch the sequel. In truth, most Jews who are knowledgeable about the Jewish Bible have little clue about the narrative of the “New Testament”. One of the primary reasons for this has been the Jewish ban on studying Christian religious texts for theologically dogmatic reasons. However, the new version that Brettler and Levine have put forth seems to make this scholarship safe for Jewish students.

An article in the USA Today explains Prof. Levine’s intentions in completing this project:

The project, published in November by Oxford University Press, is the latest effort in Levine’s lifelong quest to help Jews and Christians understand each other better. 

That quest started when she was growing up among Portuguese Roman Catholics in North Dartmouth, Mass. She was fascinated by her schoolmates’ faith and horrified when one of them told her that the Jews had killed God by crucifying Jesus. 

She made it her life’s work to prevent Christians from spreading that kind of anti-Semitic claim and to help build a bridge between the two faiths. 

After all, she said, Jesus and his early followers were Jews. So the two faiths have much in common. 

The Annotated New Testament points out places where Christians get Judaism wrong.
“The volume flags common anti-Jewish stereotypes, shows why they are wrong and provides readings so that the Gospel is not heard as a message of hate,” Levine wrote in an email. “These stereotypes include the Old Testament/Jewish God of wrath vs. the New Testament God of love and the view that Judaism epitomized misogyny and xenophobia.”

When you consider how little most Jews know about Jesus from a historical perspective, it is actually an exciting time when this discussion will no longer be taboo. While some religious Jews will claim it is dangerous to read books like Kosher Jesus or to have Brettler and Levine’s commentary of the “New Testament” on your bookshelf for reference, I actually think that this will lead to better Jewish-Christian dialogue. It will also alleviate so much of the misinformation and ignorance that many Jews have about Christianity and its roots. I’m eager to see where this leads and I’m grateful to Rabbi Shmuley Boteach for having the conviction to publish Kosher Jesus, and to Profs. Brettler and Levine for using their scholarship to educate us on a religion about which we have been hesitant to learn more.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Jews for Tebow

The Tim Tebow craze is now hotter than ever as the Denver Broncos’ quarterback is shepherding (sorry!) his team into the playoffs. In November I wrote about about how Tim Tebow and his kneeling in public prayer (“Tebowing”) was heating up the discussion of prayer in sports. I had no idea that the Tebowing craze would continue to be such a hot topic this late into the NFL season. Whether God is on his side or he’s just a phenomenal athlete in crunch situations, Tebow has certainly become the topic on everyone’s mind.

The most popular article written about the Jewish perspective on Tim Tebow was by my colleague Rabbi Joshua Hammerman of Connecticut. When I first read his article on The Jewish Week’s website, I had to continuously go back and re-read each sentence because I couldn’t believe what Hammerman was arguing. Apparently, neither did most people including Gary Rosenblatt, the editor of The Jewish Week who had the article taken down from the website (but not before it was published in the print edition).

Out of respect for Hammerman I decided not to comment on his article at the time. He was receiving a heavy amount of criticism from Tebow fans who took exception with his overly harsh critique of the quarterback. Hammerman’s article read more like a satirical piece that was printed a few months before Purim, the Jewish holiday on which such satire is commonplace. Hammerman wrote, “If Tebow wins the Super Bowl, against all odds, it will buoy his faithful, and emboldened faithful can do insane things, like burning mosques, bashing gays and indiscriminately banishing immigrants.” After The Jewish Week took down the article, Hammerman issued an apology to Tim Tebow, his fans and his family. The Jewish Week also issued an apology explaining that the article “violated our own standards calling for civility in posting comments on our website.”

Rabbi Hammerman ate some crow and issued the following statement:

I have spent my entire career engaged in dialogue with people of all faiths while speaking out passionately against intolerance and extremism. I have the deepest respect for those who are committed to their faith, including Mr. Tebow. I realize the way in which I attempted to make my points was clumsy and inappropriate, calling to mind the kind of intolerance and extremism my article was intended to disparage. I sincerely apologize to Mr. Tebow, his family, the Broncos and Patriots and all those whom I may have offended.

The tide, however, seems to have shifted. Jews went from either not knowing what to make of Tim Tebow and his public displays of his Evangelical Christian faith to criticizing his fanaticism as Rabbi Hammerman regretfully wrote. Now, groups called “Jews for Tebow” are sprouting up everywhere. A “Jews for Tebow” Facebook page has close to 500 Likes. Jewish fans are showing up to Tebow’s games wearing “Jews for Tebow” shirts and rabbis are speaking positively about Tebow from the pulpit.

The “Jews for Tebow” Facebook page was created by a self-described non-observant Israeli named Ike Thaler, who is not from Denver (he lives in South Florida). What prompted him to create the Tebow Facebook group on behalf of Jewish fans? He explains, “I have been a Tebow fan since his first year in College, but I decided to look for a forum to express my support for Tim Tebow as well as find a way to provide a different Tim Tebow fan page which includes more humor and the lighter side of the subject. I wanted to create a fan page like no other Tim Tebow fan page. Our page is ‘not your parent’s Tim Tebow fan page’.”

Thaler’s own faith has strengthened since becoming a Tebow fan. He claims that his loyalty and admiration have grown tenfold since seeing Tebow getting battered for expressing his religious beliefs. “I obviously disagree with his religious views, but I admire him for being so positive and sticking to his morals by expressing his priorities in serving God over the temptations that fame and the superstar status bring into his life. What a positive role model.”

Thaler tells me that he is currently working on releasing a unique video related to Tim Tebow that is going to be a video like no other one on the Web. It is going to mix humor and football clips with a unique Jewish twist. “It is sure to get bring out Jewish emotions,” he claims.

I’m noticing more Jewish people talking about Tebow and I get a lot of questions about my opinion on Tebowing. I think it’s great that he has strong beliefs and isn’t embarrassed to express those beliefs in public through his comments or his actions. Tebow is not forcing anyone else to believe what he does, but he is proud of his core beliefs.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Experiencing Israel’s Majesty Each Day Through New Mobile App Israel365

Cross-posted on the “Jewish Techs” blog on The Jewish Week website

Like many American rabbis who relocate to Israel on aliyah, Rabbi Naftali “Tuly” Weisz began to look for a way to make a difference in the Holy Land. The 30-something Modern Orthodox rabbi had already made some significant relationships with the Israel-loving Evangelical Christian community in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

Wanting to continue his outreach to the Evangelical Zionists, Rabbi Weisz decided to create a mobile app that brings the beauty and majesty of the Jewish homeland to their cellphones on a daily basis. So, he got to work on designing the right app that would be easy-to-use and attractive enough to look at daily.

The app, called Israel365, features a stunning visual image of the Land of Israel from more than 30 award-winning Israeli photographers. Each day, the photo of Israel appears alongside an inspirational quotation from the Bible in English, Hebrew and with English transliteration. Each day also includes an interesting historical anecdote and Hebrew lesson based on the Biblical passage geared to the Evangelical Christian community, but of course available for download by any fan of Israel. As a digital app, the daily photos can be emailed or posted to Facebook with the simple tap of the screen and shared with friends.

Modeled after the traditional daily desk calendars with inspirational quotes each day, the mobile app is currently only available for the iPod, but an Android app is already in the works by Weisz. For individuals without an iPhone can currently sign up for a daily email message that brings Israel365’s daily content to their inbox. In addition to releasing the app on alternative mobile platforms, Weisz plans to add additional foreign language translations to the app.

The Israel365 app was officially released on the first day of the new year by United with Israel, the world’s largest pro-Israel social community. United with Israel boasts nearly one million Israel supporters across the globe.Its founder Michael Gerbitz explained that the Israel365 app “will allow people to connect to the Land of Israel and its people on a daily basis.”

Weisz has spent the past several months creating the app and working with rabbinic colleagues and Evangelicals both within Israel and in the Diaspora to spread the word about the utility of the app. “Israel365 promotes the colorful beauty and significance of Israel instead of the conflict-ridden black and white landscape the traditional media emphasizes,” Weisz said. “Using innovative technology, the Israel365 app brings the diverse vibrancy of Israel to life in a modern and meaningful manner.”

No doubt that Weisz was already convinced of Israel’s beauty and deep connection to biblical history when he made aliyah with his family. Now, he’s sending the magic of the Holy Land to other lovers of Israel on a daily basis through mobile technology. Users can sign up for daily Israel scenes and inspiration at www.israel365.co.il or search the Apple App Store for “Israel365” to download the free iPhone app to connect with Israel each day of 2012.

Once again, The Jewish Week’s tech expert Rabbi Jason Miller will review the best Jewish mobile apps of the past year on the “Jewish Techs” blog and in the print edition of The Jewish Week. Check back in a couple weeks to see which apps made the list of “The Best Jewish Apps of 2011.”

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

A Rick Perry Hanukkah

Governor Rick Perry made it clear in his “Strong” campaign commercial that he believes kids can’t celebrate Christmas in our country. Apparently, however, governors can celebrate Hanukkah each year in the Capitol building with members of the local Chabad Lubavitch.

Here’s a video I uploaded to YouTube showing Rick Perry’s dismay that kids can’t celebrate Christmas followed by his Hanukkah dancing and menorah lighting:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Rick Perry Video Uses Aaron Copland Music

My video parody of Rick Perry’s “Strong” campaign ad on YouTube has been attracting a lot of attention with about 4,500 likes and under 100 dislikes, including close to 650 comments. It has been featured in USA Today, Daily Kos, Jewish Journal, JTA, Forward, Jewcy, and Spiegel Online (German).

There have been many video parodies of Rick Perry’s campaign ad turning it into a meme on the Web. But I’ve noticed that the best way to mock Rick Perry and his homophobic, “war on religion”-paranoid message is to do nothing. The video mocks itself.

When I was choosing the background music for my video parody with the video’s editor Adam Luger we tried to come as close as possible to the background music in the original Rick Perry commercial. However, we were unable to determine who composed the music. Well, it now appears that the joke’s on Rick Perry because that background music was inspired by none other than Aaron Copland. Jewish? Check! Gay? Flaming! Member of the Communist Party? You betcha!

Paul Schied writing in the Harvard Political Review first reported that the music heard in the background of Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad was composed by Aaron Copland, a prominent composer who was Jewish, outwardly gay, and a member of the Communist Party. It turns out that Schied’s music majoring roommate detected the Copland composed music. It turns out that the music was inspired by Aaron Copland, but is actually a “cheap knock-off of sorts of Copland’s Appalachian Spring according to The New Yorker music critic Alex Ross.”

The background music in Rick Perry’s ad was inspired  by composer Aaron  Copland who was gay.

So, for those of you keeping score at home, Rick Perry’s campaign ad (which was originally created for the Iowa television market but quickly went viral on YouTube) has him proclaiming that it’s wrong for gays to serve openly in the military when kids can’t celebrate Christmas in school, but has him wearing a jacket that looks like the one worn by Heath Ledger in the gay romance movie “Brokeback Mountain” and features background music inspired by a gay, Jewish composer. You just can’t make this stuff up!

Here’s my video response:

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Response to Rick Perry’s Campaign Ad

Like many millions of people, when I watched Texas Governor Rick Perry’s “Strong” Campaign ad for the first time on YouTube I was deeply troubled. “I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m a Christian,” Perry begins. “But you don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there’s something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.”

My first thought was of the gay men and women currently serving in uniform who are risking their lives in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the globe to protect our country. I immediately decided to film a parody of Rick Perry’s video. I wanted it to be a spoof of his video in order to show the ridiculousness of his message.

The response to my video has been great so far. After only 15 hours there have been about 800 likes and only 10 dislikes with almost 5,000 views. The most meaningful aspect has been the comments on the YouTube video. One viewer wrote, “i’m an atheist but i would sure would vote for rabbi jason over any of the idiots that are postulating themselves if i could.” Another wrote, “As a non religious person raised as a christian in the church, i strongly support this, I have friends of all religions and believe our differences is what makes this country great! THANK YOU FOR YOUR EDUCATED WELL THOUGHT OUT OPINION.”

I have been pleasantly surprised that there have not been more negative, hate-filled comments in response to my video. I will not censor any comments because I believe it’s important that everyone sees the hate that exists in some people’s hearts and the ignorance that exists in their minds. Here’s a comment that made me feel very good this morning: “Bless you, Rabbi! Thanks for retaliating in such an intelligent, focused, and humorous video! Every time I’m reminded that there are people like you in this country, I have hope for it again… Hope you and your family have a bright and beautiful Hannukah! Cheers! -from Agnostic, Gay, Christopher :)”

Here is the video, which was filmed and edited by Adam Luger:


Text:
I’m not ashamed to say that I’m a Jew — Heck, I’m even a Rabbi… but you don’t need to be in shul on every Shabbos to know there’s something wrong in our country when gays can serve openly in the military and yet they still can’t get married legally in most U.S. States.

Our Jewish kids in public school have to watch as their peers celebrate Christmas — a holiday they don’t observe. They have to sit quietly as the Christian students pray in school. That just seems uncomfortable.

As President, I will fight to end this crazy talk that there’s a war on religion. And I will fight anyone who discriminates against others simply because of their sexual orientation.

Intelligence made America strong. It can make her strong again.

I’m Rabbi Jason Miller and I think it’s too cold to film a video outside in Michigan in the winter. Who approved this?

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Facebook Advice from Nuns

Cross-posted to the Jewish Techs blog at The Jewish Week

As Social Media has become more popular over the past few years, an emerging field of study and consulting has emerged. All of a sudden everyone is a social media maven. The youngest employee (or intern) at law offices, accounting firms, medical practices, restaurants and non-profit organizations suddenly become the in-house social media experts charged with the task of creating Facebook pages and keeping them updated.

In most cases, it’s best to leave the social media marketing to the experts. However, there are times when advice comes from unusual places. Bernhard Warner, writing in AdAge Digital, shows that nuns in Rome may be able to teach us a lot more about social media than we probably thought. Warner, the director at the editorial consultancy Custom Communication, writes:

The power of creativity. I have to admit it’s only recently that I began looking into what religious orders, charities and religious NGOs are doing in the area of social media. What particular impresses me is the genuineness of their approach and the creativity with which they use to lay out tough messages — sacrifice, vocation, mercy, charity — in a medium filled with a lot of distractions for the typical social media user. What do I mean? Look at the tweets of Sister Christine Ereiser, a Benedictine nun from Tulsa, Oklahoma. She’s active on Twitter and is avid podcaster. By the way, her order, the Benedictine Sisters, is engaging, humorous and even cheeky at times. Go sisters! Finally, I have to point out the pioneering work of Sister Julie from Chicago, a podcaster, blogger and founder of A Nun’s Life Ministry. She provides a fascinating insight into a community of nuns that we don’t often get to see: they are avid content creators, active networkers, and, yes, very geeky!

Warner walks us through the ways in which these nuns can guide us trhough our social media usage with ethics, commitment and values. So, don’t discount advice on social media from unusual places. But that doesn’t mean that you should let the intern or a high school volunteer quarterback your social media campaign- either.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller

Social Media and Religion

I read yesterday’s article in the NY Times about how people are interacting with religion through social networking sites like Facebook and was amazed at the success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page. It is one of the most popular Facebook pages with over 8.5 million fans. I figured there should be a similar Facebook page that offers users a daily dose of Torah wisdom so I created the Torah Daily Facebook page this morning. The page quickly amassed 100 followers and will continue to grow. The Torah Daily Facebook page will offer daily inspiration from Jewish texts provided by anyone with some wisdom to share.

Here is the blog post I published on The NY Jewish Week’s Jewish Techs blog after reading yesterday’s NY Times article on social media and religion:

With about a billion users between Facebook and Twitter alone, more topics than just Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are being discussed on social media networks today. Religion is certainly one of them.

An article by Jennifer Preston in yesterday’s NY Times (“Jesus Daily on Facebook Nurtures Highly Active Fans”) reports that “while it’s too early to say that social media have transformed the way people practice religion, the number of people discussing faith on Facebook has significantly increased in the last year, according to company officials. Over all, 31 percent of Facebook users in the United States list a religion in their profile, and 24 percent of users outside the United States do, Facebook says. More than 43 million people on Facebook are fans of at least one page categorized as religious.”

The article was prompted by the wild success of the Jesus Daily Facebook page, which was launched by a diet doctor from North Carolina who posts a few motivational quotes from Jesus each day. The Facebook page, created by Dr. Aaron Tabor, has close to 8.5 million fans and, according to AllFacebook.com, in the past three months has had more daily interaction (likes and comments) than the official Justin Bieber page with 3.4 million interactions last week alone.

There are now over 750 million people on Facebook so it shouldn’t be surprising that users are interacting with pages to find an online spiritual community. If you’re already navigating around the Facebook site on a computer, tablet or mobile phone it’s much easier to read a spiritual teaching in your news feed than to actually attend a synagogue or church service.

Rabbi Laura Baum, a social media maven who is part of OurJewishCommunity.org was quoted in the article explaining how social media has changed our lives. She said, “There are those people who prefer to check out our tweets on their phone or listen to our podcast. I don’t think the use of technology needs to be for everybody. But we have found a community online. Many of them have never felt a connection to Judaism before.”

An increasing number of synagogues have found that it is much easier to connect to the membership through a Facebook page than through a traditional website. Like a website, the Facebook page is an efficient way of disseminating information for a congregation, but it adds the social interaction features that promote community and have made Facebook the killer app of social media. Linda Jacobson, the president of start-up congregation B’nai Israel Synagogue in Michigan has used Facebook to connect with members and reach potential members. “Our website is great for publicizing calendar events, displaying photos and telling visitors about our congregation. But Facebook goes well beyond that,” Jacobson explained. “It allows our followers to interact with that information and with each other. There’s an entire ‘backchannel’ that brings people together virtually to share photos from our congregational programming, comment on lifecycle events, create sub-communities based on interest categories and coordinate meals when there’s a death in the congregation.”

Jacobson seems to have put social media to good use because she’s seen her congregation’s membership rolls steadily increase over the past year. Rev. Kenneth Lillard, author of “Social Media and Ministry: Sharing the Gospel in the Digital Age,” was also quoted in the NY Times article and he concurs that social media tools like YouTube, Twitter and Google Plus in addition to Facebook represent “the best chance for religious leaders to expand their congregations since the printing press helped Martin Luther usher in the Protestant Reformation.”

Beyond official synagogue Facebook pages, there are many ways in which users are looking to Facebook for spiritual insight and education. Some popular Facebook pages have been created by rabbis in an effort to share motivational teachings from the Torah. Rabbi David Wolpe, the popular author and spiritual leader of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles, has a Facebook page that boasts over 19,000 fans. Wolpe utilizes Facebook to offer short sound bites that both motivate and challenge his readers. He makes a point of trying to respond to all questions on the page as well, which is not an easy task for a busy pulpit rabbi and a highly sought-after speaker like Wolpe. One follower asked if the rabbi had any marriage advice to which Wolpe responded simply “Shared values; forgiveness; deep attraction; resilience; luck; faith.”

One thing that social networking sites like Facebook have demonstrated is that one need not be an official religious leader, like a priest or rabbi, to dispense wisdom to help guide people in their daily lives. Many individuals and businesses offer a daily prayer or spiritual teaching to inspire their followers on their Facebook pages. Some Facebook users may post an inspirational teaching as a status update. There are businesses that post weekly motivational quotes on their Facebook page as a way to engage their following.

As social media increasingly become part of our daily lives, people will find new ways to interact with religion and spirituality. For some, it may be interacting with like-minded people on a synagogue Facebook page. For others it may be learning a different Talmud text each day through a Twitter feed. In the Digital Age, a minority of virtual religionists will emerge. These will be individuals who do not affiliate with a bricks and mortar religious institution like a synagogue, but are nevertheless engaged in many aspects of a faith community through social networking. Increasingly, people will say they are religious or spiritual or inspired by religious texts, but only because they have chosen to plug in and engage with social media.

(c) Rabbi Jason Miller | http://blog.rabbijason.com | Twitter: @RabbiJason | facebook.com/rabbijasonmiller