Friday, 31 May 2019

First openly sodomite Orthodox Jewish rabbi ordained in Jerusalem

Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves:
Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature:
And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;
Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers,
Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents,
Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:
Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.
Romans 1:24-32

It's not just Christianity--even Orthodox Judaism is showing signs of apostasy. As reported by Sam Sokol of Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 27, 2019 (links in original):

JERUSALEM (JTA) — A gay rabbinical student denied ordination by a liberal seminary in New York was welcomed into the rabbinate in Jerusalem, breaking a longstanding taboo against homosexuality in the Orthodox community.

Daniel Landes, a prominent American-Israeli rabbi, granted semichah, Hebrew for ordination, to Daniel Atwood alongside a mixed group of men and women at the Jerusalem Theater on Sunday evening during a ceremony attended by more than 200 guests.

Atwood was informed earlier this year that he would not be ordained after completing his studies at New York’s Yeshivat Chovevei Torah despite the school previously saying it would ordain him.

While there has been a significant increase in empathy for LGBT Jews in recent years within the Orthodox community, inclusion has rarely reached the level of communal leadership, and same-sex marriage is universally prohibited. Atwood became engaged to another man last fall.

“I was told three years ago that my giving woman semichah would create chaos and damage them and their families and dumb-down Torah learning. The opposite has been the case,” Landes, who until recently was the longtime head of the co-ed, nondenominational Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, told attendees at the ordination ceremony.

“Here’s the real question. Is our Torah and halachic system so weak and devoid of resources that it cannot be challenged by a new situation?” Citing the verse “The Torah is perfect, restoring the soul,” Landes thundered that “it is a perfect Torah only when and if it restores the soul. That’s what we need to work for.”

In 2016, Landes ordained eight Orthodox women as rabbis in a ceremony here. The ordination program is part of Yashrut, an organization he heads that aims to build “civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance.”

Atwood — a 27-year- old graduate of Yeshiva University, Modern Orthodoxy’s flagship institution — smiled throughout the ceremony, dancing with Landes and his fellow ordainees.

“I feel very excited to be receiving semicha and very grateful to Rabbi Landes and Yashrut for taking me on,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, adding that his joy was tempered by “a little sadness to not be with the cohort and teachers that I learned with for many years at YCT.”

Asked how he felt to be a representative of the LGBT community within American Orthodoxy, Atwood replied that he felt “that responsibility very strongly” and that while he had not set out to be a symbol, he hoped that he could become “a rabbinic presence for LGBT [Jews] and Jews of all sorts, whatever their orientation, who feel left out.”

Many young gay Orthodox Jews who would have previously left the fold are staying “and it’s almost unimaginable for them to not have a place,” he continued. “They are demanding a place and I think that having spiritual leadership guide that along is important.” He also downplayed any conflict between his LGBT and Orthodox identities, saying that he was not “looking for labels that are going to get in the way of the good work that needs to be done.”

Orthodox Judaism had traditionally firmly opposed same-sex relationships, although there is a growing movement toward inclusion among more liberal elements of the community. However, Atwood’s case shows that even this tolerance has limits.

While Chovevei Torah initially welcomed Atwood with full knowledge of his orientation, the yeshiva’s dean told JTA that a recent, unspecified event caused a reevaluation of the decision to grant him ordination. Six months ago, Atwood and his partner got engaged on the stage of a concert in New York City.

“He came out to us in the end of his first year and we were fully prepared to give him semichah until certain circumstances arose over a few months ago,” Linzer told JTA last month. “Because this is such a sensitive issue, it took us a few months to come to the decision that I came to. I was trying to figure out if there was a possible way forward. I came to the conclusion there was not.” He acknowledged that the process of denying Atwood ordination “was not handled well.”

The Reconstructionist and Reform movements began ordaining gay rabbis in the 1980s, with the Conservative movement following in 2006.

Atwood’s fiancé, Judah Gavant, told JTA that he is very proud of both his partner and “our whole community” and that Atwood’s ordination was part of a process of “moving things forward and making a Jewish world that is available to more people that want to be a part of it.”

Late last year several dozen Israeli and American Orthodox rabbis co-signed an open letter in support of the LGBTQ community in response to a letter from some 200 other Orthodox rabbis in Israel that called its members “perverts” and an “organization of abominations.”

For his part, Landes does not believe that the Biblical prohibition of same-sex relations applies to people for whom homosexuality is “not an act of volition” and thinks that there is room for LGBT Jews in the wider community.

Rabbi Nathan Lopes Cardozo, another prominent rabbi who has occasionally come into conflict with the Orthodox mainstream, agreed with Landes, telling JTA that while he didn’t have a rabbinic source to back it up, he believes that “the prohibition [on homosexual acts] only applies to those who are purely heterosexual.”

“I think that people really trying to serve the Jewish people should be looked after and that I have a small role in that,” Landes told JTA. “And when they are totally outstanding I want to be helpful.”

Asserting that Orthodox views of homosexuality have been slowly changing, he said that there is a new awareness that “they’re not pedophiles, they’re not people of falsehood or whatever, they’re good people.”

Landes said that the genesis of his transformation from the mainstream Orthodox position, which views homosexuality as a grave sin, came several decades ago after he explained to members of his own congregation in the United States why he had declined to attend a conference organized by the Central Conference of American Rabbis after the Reform-affiliated group passed a resolution on LGBT inclusion. A young man with whom he was close walked out of the explanation with a hurt look on his face.

“I saw his eyes the look of betrayal,” Landes said. “I never suspected. What did I do wrong? I knew I did something terribly wrong. So that has haunted me. And did I ever find him? I found him. He didn’t want to speak to me. So there is no happy ending to the story.”

And while the rabbi initially couldn’t imagine gay Jews wanting to remain in the Orthodox community, let alone become Jewish scholars under its auspices, he now has a different view. “I think we will start within the gay community itself and if there is the ability to create a real community on the religious level it will lead to acceptance or maybe it will be limited for a long period,” he said. “Things happen when you have some openings.”

Asked for comment, Rabbi Avi Shafran, spokesman of the Orthodox Agudath Israel organization, told JTA that “if ‘Orthodox’ retains any meaningful meaning, the adjective is merited neither by the institution that declined Mr. Atwood nor the individual who is ordaining him.”

Germany's Jews advised not to wear skullcaps in public for fear of attacks

The title of this post is the same as one from six years ago, with just the first word changed. As reported by Justin Huggler of the London Daily Telegraph, May 26, 2019:

Berlin--A German government watchdog has issued a warning to Jews not to wear skullcaps for their own safety, amid growing concern over a rise in anti-Semitic attacks.

Felix Klein, the German government’s official anti-Semitism commissioner, warned at the weekend that it is not safe to wear traditional yarmulke or kippah skullcaps in public.

“I cannot recommend Jews to wear the kippah at any time, anywhere in Germany,” Mr Klein said in an interview with several local newspapers. “Sadly I have to say this. My evaluation of the situation has changed.”

Mr Klein’s warning comes a year after similar advice from Germany’s largest Jewish organisation, and follows a disturbing increase in anti-Semitic attacks.

According to official figures, 1,799 hate crimes were committed against Jewish people in Germany last year, an increase of more than 10 per cent compared to 2017. They included 62 cases of violence against Jews, up from 37 in 2017.
There has been concern in recent years that Muslim immigration could be fuelling the rise in violence against Jews, but an official report published earlier this month found that 90 per cent of 2017’s anti-Semitic attacks came from the far-Right scene.

Mr Klein blamed “increasing social disinhibition and brutalization” for the rise. “The Internet and social media have contributed greatly to this, as well as the continued attacks on our culture of remembrance,” he said, referring to German attitudes to the Holocaust.

Björn Höcke, a senior politician from the Alternative for Germany party (AfD), called in 2017 for a “180-degree turn” in the German culture of atonement for the crimes of the Second World War and described the national Holocaust memorial as a “shameful monument”.

The head of Germany’s largest Jewish organisation backed Mr Klein’s warning. “It has long been the case that Jews are at risk in some major cities if they are recognizable as Jews,” Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews, told Welt am Sonntag newspaper.

“It is therefore to be welcomed if this situation gets more attention at the highest political level.”

See my previous post Finland's Jews advised not to wear skullcaps in public for fear of attacks (January 15, 2013)

Good riddance to the leader of the "Death of God" movement

I missed this item when it occurred several months ago; as reported by Jim Haught of the Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette, March 23, 2019:

A once-notorious Charlestonian — a Stonewall Jackson descendant who caused a national religious storm in the 1960s — has died with little notice.

Theologian Thomas Jonathan Jackson Altizer was so controversial in his heyday that he received numerous death threats and hate letters. When he appeared on “The Merv Griffin Show,” the audience erupted in such anger that a curtain was lowered, the band played loudly to drown out shouts, and Dr. Altizer was smuggled out a back door to safety.

The West Virginian led the radical “Death of God” movement after World War II. He contended — oddly, I think — that God created the universe, then poured himself totally into Jesus and died at the Crucifixion. God’s spirit diffused throughout humanity, and He no longer existed as a deity.

“Every man today who is open to experience knows that God is absent,” Altizer wrote in one of his books, “The Gospel of Christian Atheism.” In another, he said: “We must recognize that the death of God is a historical event: God has died in our time, in our history, in our existence.”

Son of a Charleston lawyer, Altizer graduated in 1944 from Stonewall Jackson High School — named for his celebrated ancestor who fought for slavery in the Civil War. He earned a doctorate in the history of religions at the University of Chicago, then became a professor at Emory University at Atlanta.

While at Emory, his lectures, writings and books triggered such hostility that demands flared for his dismissal. But Emory refused, saying he had academic freedom to express his conclusions.

Time magazine wrote a cover issue about him, emblazoned “Is God Dead?” Altizer was called “the bad boy of theology.” He advocated “godless Christianity” and wrote: “The Christian today is called upon to say no to God because God himself has ceased to be present in history.”

During that period, Dr. Robert Emery was chairman of religion and philosophy at the University of Charleston (then Morris Harvey College). In a Gazette interview, he agreed with some controversial ideas then advocated in what was called “the new theology” — partly overlapping Altizer views. The professor expressed doubts about the Virgin Birth, Resurrection, heaven, hell and other supernatural dogmas.

Public uproar and angry letters to the editor followed the interview. Baptists held a statewide meeting to denounce Dr. Emery. The Charleston college — which then pledged to help students “attain Christian maturity” with “a firm faith in God” — ousted the professor. Charleston Unitarians formed a committee seeking his reinstatement, to no avail.

Dr. Altizer later went to the State University of New York. After retirement, he lived at Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where he died Nov. 28 of a stroke at age 91.

Upon his death, fellow theologian Jordan Miller commented: “By some accounts, he was the most hated man in America for a year or so.” Dr. Miller said Altizer “believed that God became a human being and died.”

In the 1960s, I was the Gazette’s religion reporter, covering such upheavals. Those were stormy times.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

40 years ago: Indian guru receives prison sentence in Switzerland for ordering followers to commit crimes against opponents

As reported by United Press International, May 23, 1979:

Lausanne, Switzerland--Self-styled Indian guru Swami Okmarananda [reported in some newspapers as Ommarananda--blogger] was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment Tuesday for ordering members of his bizarre Divine Light Centre to kill and intimidate opponents of his sect.

Okmarananda, 49, whose sect practised sexual and black-magic rites, promptly appealed the verdict by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court.

He was arrested in 1976 after Divine Light members blew up the house of Zurich state police chief Jakob Stucki.

Stucki and his family escaped unhurt.

Sentenced along with Okmarananda was his right-hand man Joseph Meichtry, a Swiss, who was sentenced to seven years.

A German woman, Verena Plein, received a four-year sentence and was ordered to undergo psychiatric treatment.

A 24-year-old Australian nurse, Katherine Bingham, was sentenced to 27 months.

Verena Plein told the court during the two-week trial that she had been forced to serve as a human altar. She was raped and a chicken was slaughtered over her body.

Katherine Bingham told the court that Okmarananda had sect members inject poison into chocolates and tomatoes and try to give them to the families of authorities opposing the Divine Light Centre, which had its headquarters in Wintethur, north of Zurich.

Two youths, Johannes Schaeben and Theo Diem, received suspended terms of one year and six months respectively.

Miss Bingham's sentence was also suspended. She will be expelled immediately from Switzerland because the court also handed down a sentence of three years expulsion from the country.

According to the Wikibin entry on Swami Okmarananda:

The evidence against the Swami himself is disputed, however, and in a later series of articles published in the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger an investigative journalist presented certain materials which supposedly had been suppressed at the time of the trial, such as involvement of Belgian and Zurich police. One of the Zurich police officers - who led the investigation and the one who is accused of signing a letter ordering the suppression of material - was later accused of corruption.

Swami Okmarananda died on January 4, 2000, six days after his 70th birthday.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

100 years ago: The death of Austrian occultist Guido von List

On May 17, 1919, Austrian journalist and occultist Guido von List died at the age of 70. Mr. List was born into a Roman Catholic family in Vienna, but early in life he developed an interest in pre-Christian paganism. He began his journalistic career in 1877, and used his writings to promote Wotanism, a pan-Germanic völkisch movement worshipping pre-Christian pagan deities. He was influenced by the Theosophical Society and became increasingly interested in occultism, including the study of Runic alphabets.

Mr. List eventually promoted a belief that the modern world was degenerate, and claimed to have received a vision in 1917 that victory of the Central Powers over the Allies in World War I would be the apocalyptic cleansing event that would usher in a new Pan-German Empire based on Wotanism. Mr. List's alleged vision was proved erroneous by the November 1918 armistice and subsequent events. His health declined, exacerbated by food shortages resulting from the non-fulfillment of his vision. Mr. List died while on a visit to Berlin.

Guido von List achieved enough popularity in his own time to inspire the creation of societies promoting his ideas, the first of which was founded in 1908. His ideas influenced the creation of the Thule Society, occultist predecessor to the Nazi Party. While Mr. List's name is largely unknown today, his influence remains, and writers such as historian Joscelyn Godwin have noticed the similarities between the ideas promoted by Guido von List and the beliefs of New Agers and Green Party supporters today. For an example of a pro-Nazi organization that promotes ancient European paganism and is critical of Christianity, see the website of National Vanguard.