RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Conservative Seminary to Allow Openly Gay Students NEW YORK (RNS) Openly gay students who want to serve as rabbis or cantors are now welcome at the Jewish Theological Seminary, school officials said Monday (March 26). The announcement came three months after the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s decision-making body, gave seminaries and congregations permission to ordain homosexual rabbis and bless same-sex unions. JTS made its decision after evaluating thousands of survey responses and conducting discussions with faculty, religious leaders and students. The application deadline for prospective students has been extended to June 30.

White Lawmaker, With God on His Side, Seeks Apology for Slavery

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ In his first months in office, freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, has introduced resolutions paying homage to Stax Records and Negro League Baseball, and apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans. Cohen says a formal apology by the U.S. government would be a healing act that could generate a revealing examination of slavery’s central role in the making of America and of its legacy for black Americans. “It’s not just symbolism,” Cohen said during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. But, for the only white member of Congress representing a majority-black district (Rep. Robert Brady, a Philadelphia Democrat, represents a plurality-black district), the symbolism isn’t bad.

There Are 46 Days in Lent, but Only 40 Days of Sacrifice

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Forty-six. Count ’em. That is the number of days between Ash Wednesday and the start of Easter in the Western tradition of Lent. So why do Christian churches often refer to the 40 days of Lent, and what should followers who sacrifice a favorite food or activity during the penitential period do the other six days?

Sacrifice and Fasting Central to Lent

c. 2007 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ Philip Horvath says it is not easy to walk by Wendy’s on his way home from school and not go in. That’s why the eighth-grader at St. Christine Catholic Church in Euclid, Ohio, gave up fast food for Lent. “I think of God,” Philip said.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service List of Top 50 Rabbis Raises a Few Eyebrows NEW YORK (RNS) Many versions of a common Jewish joke boil down to a basic punchline: two Jews will always have at least three opinions. So it’s no surprise that the list of “America’s 50 Most Influential Rabbis” unveiled Monday (March 26) in Newsweek has prompted a few raised eyebrows among readers. The rankings, compiled by Sony Pictures CEO Michael Lynton, News Corp.’s Gary Ginsberg and Jay Sanderson of JTN Productions, include 18 Reform, 17 Orthodox, 10 Conservative, three Reconstructionist and two Renewal rabbis. The businessmen used a point system that rewarded rabbis with international reputations and large constituencies, granting the top spot to Marvin Hier, founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Declining Vulture Population Impacts Zoroastrian Death Rites

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Not only do the Zoroastrians in India (called Parsis) face declining numbers, there is another disappearing population that threatens their sacred traditions: vultures. The predatory birds are integral to the community’s traditional death ritual. At the top of a building in Mumbai called the “Towers of Silence,” the Parsis lay their dead on an open-air terrace to be eaten by vultures. Zoroastrians believe bodies should be disposed of in a way that does the least harm to other humans or nature.

Zoroastrianism 101

c. 2007 Religion News Service Good and Evil Zoroastrians believe their God, Ahura Mazda, created all that is good in the world and gave humans the ability to make choices. One of those choices is evil. Evil is a force in the world called Angra Mainyu, but it was neither created by Ahura Mazda nor is it all knowing. Monotheism Some have called Zoroastrianism dualistic, but many scholars assert that the supremacy of Ahura Mazda makes it the first monotheistic faith and only ethically dualistic.

Zoroastrians, Divided Over Conversion, Face a Shrinking Future

c. 2007 Religion News Service CHICAGO _ As a high school boy in Minnesota, Joseph Peterson spent the late 1960s reading at the local library, passing over Mad Magazine or sci-fi novels in favor of ancient religious texts. The scripture of the Zoroastrians _ the faith of the old Persian Empire _ captured the Christian teenager with its reverence for nature and belief that God created good but not evil. “It was years before I would meet another Zoroastrian,” he said. Donning a “sudra,” or sacred white shirt tied with a chord, Peterson began to dress, pray and think of himself as a Zoroastrian.

Jews Look to Rebuild New Orleans and Jewish Community

c. 2007 Religion News Service NEW ORLEANS _ Its numbers sharply reduced by Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans’ Jewish community is about to launch a novel rebuilding campaign to recruit as many as 1,000 Jewish families to New Orleans with offers of moving grants, loans and other economic incentives. The unusual initiative _ maybe unique in the recovering city _ is part of an aggressive, multipronged effort by the Jewish Federation of Greater New Orleans to repair or even expand the Jewish community beyond its pre-Katrina numbers. The community plans to market New Orleans to Jewish families nationally as a city filled with opportunities for pioneers interested in rebuilding a battered Jewish community, as well as the broader city. To complement its marketing effort, the federation already has offered loans and other help to about a dozen families returning to their homes in New Orleans.

COMMENTARY: New Ways to Tell the Greatest Story Ever Told

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) To every age, Holy Week must speak anew. The story remains the same _ the most extensively detailed narrative in the Gospels, indeed the starting point for creating the Gospels. But how we read it changes from age to age and from culture to culture. As always, some believers want to make their reading of the Passion Narrative normative for all.

RNS Daily Digest

c. 2007 Religion News Service Conservative Seminary to Allow Openly Gay Students NEW YORK (RNS) Openly gay students who want to serve as rabbis or cantors are now welcome at the Jewish Theological Seminary, school officials said Monday (March 26). The announcement came three months after the Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Rabbinical Assembly, the Conservative movement’s decision-making body, gave seminaries and congregations permission to ordain homosexual rabbis and bless same-sex unions. JTS made its decision after evaluating thousands of survey responses and conducting discussions with faculty, religious leaders and students. The application deadline for prospective students has been extended to June 30.

There Are 46 Days in Lent, but Only 40 Days of Sacrifice

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Forty-six. Count ’em. That is the number of days between Ash Wednesday and the start of Easter in the Western tradition of Lent. So why do Christian churches often refer to the 40 days of Lent, and what should followers who sacrifice a favorite food or activity during the penitential period do the other six days?

Sacrifice and Fasting Central to Lent

c. 2007 Religion News Service CLEVELAND _ Philip Horvath says it is not easy to walk by Wendy’s on his way home from school and not go in. That’s why the eighth-grader at St. Christine Catholic Church in Euclid, Ohio, gave up fast food for Lent. “I think of God,” Philip said.

White Lawmaker, With God on His Side, Seeks Apology for Slavery

c. 2007 Religion News Service WASHINGTON _ In his first months in office, freshman U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Memphis, has introduced resolutions paying homage to Stax Records and Negro League Baseball, and apologizing for the enslavement and racial segregation of African-Americans. Cohen says a formal apology by the U.S. government would be a healing act that could generate a revealing examination of slavery’s central role in the making of America and of its legacy for black Americans. “It’s not just symbolism,” Cohen said during an interview in his Capitol Hill office. But, for the only white member of Congress representing a majority-black district (Rep. Robert Brady, a Philadelphia Democrat, represents a plurality-black district), the symbolism isn’t bad.

Arkansas Jews Get a Lesson in Wandering Toward a Permanent Home

c. 2007 Religion News Service (UNDATED) For the past 26 years, members of the tiny Temple Shalom synagogue in Fayetteville, Ark., have celebrated Passover without a building to call their own. But that’s about to change, thanks to an uncommon act of charity that stands to infuse their holiday with new significance and, members hope, be a catalyst for conflict resolution far beyond Arkansas. Temple Shalom has accepted a pledge from a local developer to donate his time and erect a 6,600-square-foot facility without taking any profit. What makes the pledge even more unusual is that it comes from a Palestinian Muslim who grew up seeing Jews as the people who divided his family, bombed his West Bank village and forced him to flee into nearby mountains for safety.