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Scientology case has judges debating the meaning of religion

20 07 2013
By , legal affairs correspondent of The Guardian

Grand opening of the Church of Scientology of London, UK, October 2006

Grand opening of the Church of Scientology of London, UK, October 2006

Case is brought by Louisa Hodkin, who wishes to marry her fiance in the Church of Scientology’s building in London

Five supreme court justices have spent a day wrestling with notions of God, nirvana and what constitutes worship in an attempt to decide whether Scientologists may conduct weddings.

In one of the more curious appeals to come before the UK’s highest court, senior lawyers – wearing puzzled expressions, and bemused smiles but no wigs – ranged across centuries of legislation and a number of faiths to try to establish what religion is.

The case has been brought by Louisa Hodkin, who wishes to marry her fiance, Alessandro Calcioli, in the Church of Scientology’s building on Queen Victoria Street in the City of London.

The registrar-general of births, deaths and marriages has declined to license the Scientologists’ “chapel” as a place of meeting for religious worship under section two of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855. Hodkin and her partner, who are volunteers at the Church of Scientology, claim the refusal is discriminatory. At a previous hearing, the court of appeal rejected their application.

Wigs and gowns are rarely worn in the supreme court in Westminster these days. On Thursday, the air of intellectual informality was enhanced by the eccentricity of the issues. On one hand was James Strachan QC, for the registrar-general. Scientology, he told the court, was initially founded by the American writer L Ron Hubbard as “dianetics” – a process of self-discovery. Scientology did not describe itself as a religion until 1951. Its eighth level of perfection, Strachan said, was a state of “infinity”. “The process of Scientology is not about worshiping God, infinity or a supreme being,” he said. “It’s about auditing, training and developing self-awareness. The judge [in the courts below] had difficulty in understanding whether it might be a theistic religion.”

Strachan, however, insisted Scientology did not qualify as religion: “It does not involve worship of a divine being. The central processes of Scientology are not about reverence or veneration. It’s about constructing the self.”

Scientologists do refer to a “creed” and “sermons”, he conceded, “but it’s not religious worship. If the registrar-general has wrongly registered Buddhists or Jains [other faiths that do not worship gods] then they should be de-registered. The argument that it’s discrimination [against Scientology] goes nowhere.”

Against him was Lord Lester, the veteran Liberal Democrat peer, who pointed out that the Church of Scientology already enjoys “charitable rates relief” on its London headquarters worth £300,000 a year.

Scientology was akin to Buddhism, he implied. “[The Buddhist principle of] nirvana is not venerated as a being or power that is supernatural or divine. In Scientology, L Rob Hubbard is not venerated.”

In other jurisdictions, such as Australia, Scientology has been accepted as a religious denomination. The refusal to register the chapel was religious discrimination, Lord Lester insisted.

The five supreme court justices – Lord Neuberger, Lord Clarke, Lord Wilson, Lord Reed and Lord Toulson – brought in Islam, Unitarianism, Quakerism and other faiths to develop comparisons.

“A Quaker service often consists only of silent meditation,” one justice observed.

The appeal is of wider significance since Scientologists have applied for certification at other premises in England that they claim are used for religious worship.

Speaking after an earlier judgment, Hodkin said: “I hope the court allows me to marry in my own church, surrounded by my family and friends, which means everything to me.”

The court has reserved judgment. At the end of the hearing, Lord Lester tried a note of religious reconciliation: “Nirvana,” he explained, “is a state which an individual attains, the state your lordships attain quite often at the end of a case.”

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POLAND: Jewish leaders protest against the ban on kosher slaughterhouses

19 07 2013

Poland had recently extended the ban on Kosher meat production citing animal cruelty as the reason since according to Kosher rules, animal must be alive when its throat is cut. This raises several serious ethical questions. Are the animal rights above the rights of the people to practice their religious customs? Are the animal rights real reason or is it just a case of camouflaged antisemitism?  If the animal rights are the real reason, then why not ban the whole meat production industry? If you never saw a slaughterhouse from inside, maybe you should visit one and see for yourself. I warn you, if you do visit any slaughterhouse, Kosher or non-Kosher, chances are you will be vegetarian at least for a while.  And than, the fact that Poland was the place where millions of Jews lost their lives during the Holocaust, doesn’t make Poland the best candidate to experiment with putting animal rights above the rights of Jews to follow their tradition. Below you will find a news article about the Polish decision and the article with the response from Jewish community. Your comments, viewpoints and opinions are welcome. 
         
Jura Nanuk,
President & Founder

A scene from kosher slaughterhouse in Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem.  Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

A scene from kosher slaughterhouse in Mea Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem. Photo by Nati Shohat/Flash90.

JERUSALEM, July 15 (Reuters) – Israel has criticized an extension of Poland’s ban on kosher meat production, saying on Monday that it damaged efforts to rehabilitate Jewish life in a country whose large Jewish community was all but wiped out in the Holocaust.

Citing animal cruelty, Warsaw lawmakers on Friday rejected a government-backed bill that would have allowed slaughterhouses to produce meat in accordance with Jewish ritual law. The practice was halted last year by a constitutional court ruling.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry called the vote “totally unacceptable”.

“Poland’s history is intertwined with the history of the Jewish people. This decision seriously harms the process of restoring Jewish life in Poland,” it said in a statement.

“We call on the parliament to reassess its decision and expect the relevant authorities to find the way to prevent a crude blow to the religious tradition of the Jewish people.”

The Holocaust almost eliminated Poland’s Jewish community, Europe’s biggest before World War Two broke out in 1939. Nazi concentration camps including Auschwitz and Treblinka were located on Polish soil.

Some Polish Jewish groups have also said prejudice about their faith played a part in the anti-kosher measures.

Usually, slaughterhouses stun livestock before killing them, while kosher rites demand that an animal is killed by slitting its throat while it is alive and bleeding it to death. The halal meat consumed by observant Muslims is killed in a similar way.

The bill’s defeat was a setback for Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who has sought to strengthen ties with Israel.

During a trip to Spain, Tusk described the Israeli Foreign Ministry statement as inappropriate.

“Especially the historical context is, to put it mildly, off target and is not applicable to the situation,” he said. (Writing by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Andres Gonzalez in Madrid; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Alistair Lyon)

Jewish leaders ask EU to block Polish kosher slaughter ban

Europe’s Jewish leaders on Thursday asked the European Union to back their call for a Polish ban on the ritual slaughter of animals for food to be overturned.

Jewish community and religious leaders from across Europe also urged the EU to review its own legislation on animal slaughter to strengthen the rights of Jews and Muslims to eat meat killed in line with their religious requirements.

The EU rules are designed to minimise suffering for animals when they are killed, but religious groups are exempted from a requirement that animals be stunned before death.

Kosher and halal slaughter require an animal to be killed by slitting its throat.

“We call on the European Commission and European Parliament to reinforce the directive (legislation) to allow Jews and Muslims to practise their religion,” said European Jewish Congress secretary-general Serge Cwajgenbaum.

He was speaking after urgent talks called in Brussels after Poland’s parliament on Friday rejected a government bill to overturn the ban.

Jewish leaders said Poland was the only country in the 28-nation EU to effectively ban the production of kosher food.

The ritual slaughter of animals for food has been banned there since January 1 after a constitutional court ruled it was incompatible with animal rights law.

The lawmakers’ rejection of the bill angered the Jewish community, farmers and companies that had exported kosher meat to Israel and halal meat to Muslim countries.

Kosher McDonalds at Ben Gurion airport, Tel-Aviv, Israel. No chheseburgers available there as according to kosher rules meat and diary products should not be mixed.

Kosher McDonald’s at Ben Gurion airport, Tel-Aviv, Israel. No cheeseburgers available there as according to kosher rules meat and diary products should not be mixed.

Related post: Dutch MPs vote to ban religious slaughter





PHOTO ESSAY: Jewish women take ownership of traditionally male rituals

15 07 2013

By /The Huffington Post

These Jewish women are shaking up the establishment in Israel by participating in rituals usually reserved for men only.

Chaya Baker was ordained as a rabbi. Tamar Saar has read from the Torah, the Jewish holy scroll. Anat Hoffman demands that women be allowed to pray as men do at a key Jerusalem holy site.

Depending on whom you ask, these women are either pioneers or provocateurs.

They are part of the liberal Reform and Conservative streams of Judaism, which allow women to perform rituals typically reserved for men under Orthodox Judaism, the dominant form of Judaism in Israel. They say they are exercising egalitarian worship, which runs counter to the traditions of Israel’s Orthodox establishment.

Under Orthodox tradition, women can’t become rabbis, nor can they perform a number of rituals men do.

The liberal denominations make up the majority of Jews in the United States, the world’s second largest Jewish community. What has emerged is a growing rift between the world’s two largest Jewish communities, which often disagree about religious affairs.

Baker became ordained as a rabbi in 2007. She performs many of the same duties a male rabbi would, such as holding prayer services, counseling congregants and leading study groups. But because of her affiliation to the Conservative movement, she is limited in the ceremonies she can perform. For example, the unions of the couples she marries are not recognized in Israel. They must have a second ceremony either with an Orthodox rabbi in Israel or travel abroad to marry.

Baker, 35, said many Israelis have become alienated by the Orthodox grip on many aspects of society and that the more liberal streams offer a Judaism that jives with a modern Israeli’s outlook. She said she sees a growing recognition in Israeli society of the more marginal streams, and with that, a greater role for women in Judaism.

“People are changing their concepts of gender roles within Judaism,” Baker said.

Saar is one of the few 12-year-old Israeli girls who are having Bat Mitzvah ceremonies as boys do. In this rite of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, they study a particular portion of the Torah and read from it during the ceremony.

Saar wore an orange dress accented with a white and orange-pink prayer shawl she made herself as she recited the biblical passage in front of nearly 100 family members and friends in May. Tamar’s two older sisters also had Reform Bat Mitzvah ceremonies like hers, and she said more girls in Israel should, too.

“Girls make up half of the world’s population, and it is stupid that men are worth more, because we are exactly like them,” Saar said.

One of the most prominent groups pushing for the right of women to worship as men do is the “Women of the Wall.” The Jewish women’s group, led by Hoffman, holds monthly prayer services at the Western Wall, a remnant of the biblical Temple compound and the holiest site where Jews can pray, where they perform rituals Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

Hoffman, often draped in a pink, purple and white prayer shawl, has been arrested for what she says is her right to pray as she wishes. The Western Wall’s ultra-Orthodox rabbi, Shmuel Rabinowitz, has called the women “provocative,” but an Israeli court has upheld their right to pray there.

The court ruling is one of a string of recent achievements by Reform and Conservative streams in Israel. Israeli officials have proposed building an area for mixed male-female prayer at the Western Wall to accommodate those streams. The area currently has separate prayer zones for men and women.

Last year, Israel agreed to grant state funding to some non-Orthodox rabbis. Many Orthodox rabbis are paid by the government.

In 2010, the Israeli government froze a contentious bill that would have strengthened Orthodox control over Jewish conversions. The same year, Israel began allowing Israelis with no declared religion to marry outside the strict religious establishment – giving hope to many who reject the Orthodox monopoly on family matters. Civil marriages are generally banned in Israel.

Rabbi David Golinkin, who heads the Conservative Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, said that positive trend is attributable to Israelis’ search for an alternative to Orthodox Judaism. He said he sees greater recognition for the liberal streams, and the rights they grant women, continuing.

“There’s a growing recognition that there is more than one way to be Jewish. It’s legitimate to be Jewish in different ways, and the state of Israel has to serve of all its citizens,” Golinkin said.

Here’s a gallery of images from The Associated Press showing women performing Jewish rituals in Israel.

pioneers1

Israeli Rabbi of the Ramot Zion community, Chaya Baker, puts on Tefilin, also known as Phylacteries, at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers3

Israeli Rabbi of the Ramot Zion community, Chaya Baker, poses with members of the community for a photo at their synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers2

Israeli youth Tamar Saar, center, poses for a photo with the Rabbi of their community, Maya Lebovich, right, and her parents at a synagogue in Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem. Photo taken Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

pioneers4

Israeli youth Tamar Saar, left, poses for a photo with the Rabbi of their community, Maya Lebovich, at a synagogue in Mevaseret Zion near Jerusalem. Photo taken Tuesday, June 18, 2013.

jewish women

Israeli Rabbis Miriam Berkowitz, left, and Valery Stessin, of the Kashuvot organization for pastoral care, also known as spiritual support, pose for a photo at a hospital in Jerusalem. Photo taken Thursday, June 20, 2013.

pioneers6

Israeli Rabbi and Torah scribe, Hanna Klebansky, poses for a photo at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers7

Israeli Rabbi and Torah scribe, Hanna Klebansky, left, poses for a photo with members of the community at a synagogue in Jerusalem. Photo taken Wednesday, June 19, 2013.

pioneers8

Israeli Rabbi and Jewish law “Decider”, Diana Villa, poses for a photo at the Schechter Institute of Jewish studies where she teaches in Jerusalem. Photo taken Sunday, June 16, 2013.

pioneers9

Israeli Rabbi and Jewish law “Decider”, Diana Villa, center, poses for a photo with colleagues at the Schechter Institute of Jewish studies where she teaches in Jerusalem. Photo taken Sunday, June 16, 2013.

pioneers10

The chairman of the Women of the Wall organization, Anat Hoffman, poses for a photo in Jerusalem. Photo taken Thursday, June 20, 2013.





Living Interfaith Church: A church that embraces all religions and rejects “us” vs. “them”

15 07 2013
Reverend Steven Greenebaum

Reverend Steven Greenebaum

By 

LYNNWOOD, Washington — Clad in proper Pacific Northwest flannel, toting a flask of “rocket fuel” coffee typical of Starbucks’ home turf, Steven Greenebaum rolled his Prius into a middle school parking lot one Sunday morning last month. Then he set about transforming its cafeteria into a sanctuary and himself into a minister.

He donned vestments adorned with the symbols of nearly a dozen religions. He unfolded a portable bookshelf and set the Koran beside the Hebrew Bible, with both of them near two volumes of the “Humanist Manifesto” and the Sioux wisdom of “Black Elk Speaks.” Candles, stones, bells and flowers adorned the improvised altar.

Some of the congregants began arriving to help. There was Steve Crawford, who had spent his youth in Campus Crusade for Christ, and Gloria Parker, raised Lutheran and married to a Catholic, and Patrick McKenna, who had been brought up as a Jehovah’s Witness and now called himself a pagan.

They had come together with about 20 other members to celebrate the end of their third year as the congregation of the Living Interfaith Church, the holy mash-up that Mr. Greenebaum had created. Yearning for decades to find a religion that embraced all religions, and secular ethical teachings as well, he had finally followed the mantra of Seattle’s indie music scene: “D.I.Y.,” meaning “do it yourself.”

So as the service progressed, the liturgy moved from a poem by the Sufi mystic Rumi to the “passing of the peace” greeting that traced back to early Christianity to a Buddhist responsive reading to an African-American spiritual to a rabbinical song.

In other weeks, the service has drawn from Bahai, Shinto, Sikh, Hindu and Wiccan traditions, and from various humanist sources.

If the Living Interfaith Church could appear hippie-dippy, as if scented with sage and patchouli, that impression proved deceptive. Mr. Greenebaum’s goals were serious, and they exemplified a movement in American religion toward dissolving denominational lines.

“Many of our most intractable ills may be laid on the altar of our divisions into ‘them’ and ‘us,’ ” Mr. Greenebaum, 65, said during his sermon. “Such a mind-set allows us to judge others and find them lesser beings. Now, I’m not here to try to convince anyone that there is no such thing as right or wrong. But I am here to say that there is no ‘them.’ And there is no ‘us’ who are somehow superior to them.”

From the lectern, Mr. Greenebaum pointed to the concrete ways that his congregation had put virtue into action.

Members had collected 700 pounds of food for a local food bank and donated money to survivors of Hurricane Sandy. He had been an advocate for gay marriage. And 60,000 online visitors had clicked onto the church’s Web site, intrigued by its radically inclusive model.

Indeed, fully one-quarter of Americans attend worship services outside their own faiths, according to a 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center. The report attributed that trend to the growth of interfaith marriage and to the influence of Eastern religions and New Age spirituality.

Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, placed the experiment of the Living Interfaith Church within the larger “idea of religion as compassion.”

Its exponents, he said, include the Dalai Lama and the author Karen Armstrong. Americans can readily connect such theology to the national civic values of neighborliness and tolerance.

As for himself, Dr. Prothero expressed admiration and reservations.

“This strikes me as a kind of institutionalization of a very strong trend,” he said of Mr. Greenebaum’s start-up. “It’s the idea that all religions are different paths up the mountain, and when you get to the top of the mountain you find compassion.

“But one reason we have different religions is that we have different rituals and different beliefs. Those are not insignificant.

“So for all religions to be one religion, you need to elide all the elements that were central to religion in the past: the hajj to Mecca, Jesus dying on the cross, whatever it might be. You’ve got to turn these first principles into last principles.”

In Mr. Greenebaum’s case, he grew up as a Reform Jew in suburban Los Angeles and does not consider that he ever left that faith. But from the time he began being exposed to other religious traditions as a member of his college choir, he found himself rejecting Judaic exceptionalism.

“I believed that God spoke to Moses,” he put it. “But I don’t believe he spoke only to Moses. So it never made sense to me to worship separately.”

Over the course of his professional life — teaching, writing for television, directing choirs — he searched futilely for a spiritual home. Many ecumenical efforts involved mutual respect but not shared worship. The rhetoric extolling “Judeo-Christian tradition” or the “Abrahamic faiths” excluded other religions and humanism.

Then the Sept. 11 attacks, with their “holy war” justification, hit Mr. Greenebaum as a “depressing and saddening reinforcement that we need to pray together — or else we’ll keep slaughtering each other in the name of God.”

He firmed up his theological foundation by earning a master’s degree in divinity from Seattle University, a Jesuit institution. He put forward his case for interfaith as a capital-I religion in “The Interfaith Alternative,” his 2012 book.

Now his church has bylaws, a written covenant with “Six Fundamental Assumptions,” tax-exempt status, regular tithing and 30 regular worshipers.

He remains, however, a decidedly humble shepherd.

“I wanted to join something like this, not start it,” he said. “I kept thinking someone more holy, more knowledgeable would have done this. But I do what I need to do.”

For more information please visit the link below:
www.livinginterfaith.org





Ramadan: Muslim month of fasting and prayer

9 07 2013

108405xcitefun-ramadan3

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and a time when Muslims across the world will fast during the hours of daylight.

Ramadan is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam.

The Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad during this month. The actual night that the Qur’an was revealed is a night known as Lailut ul-Qadr (‘The Night of Power’).

How do Muslims keep Ramadan?

Almost all Muslims try to give up bad habits during Ramadan, and some will try to become better Muslims by praying more or reading the Qur’an.

Many Muslims will attempt to read the whole of the Qur’an at least once during the Ramadan period. Many will also attend special services in Mosques during which the Qur’an is read.

Fasting is intended to help teach Muslims self-discipline, self-restraint and generosity. It also reminds them of the suffering of the poor, who may rarely get to eat well.

It is common to have one meal (known as the suhoor), just before sunrise and another (known as the iftar), directly after sunset.

Because Ramadan is a time to spend with friends and family, the fast will often be broken by different Muslim families coming together to share in an evening meal.

Eid ul Fitr

The end of Ramadan is marked by a big celebration called ‘Eid-ul-Fitr’, the Festival of the Breaking of the Fast.

Muslims are not only celebrating the end of fasting, but thanking Allah for the help and strength that he gave them throughout the previous month to help them practise self-control.

The festival begins when the first sight of the new moon is seen in the sky.

There are special services out of doors and in Mosques, processions through the streets, and of course, a special celebratory meal – eaten during daytime, the first daytime meal Muslims will have had in a month.

Eid is also a time of forgiveness, and making amends.

During Eid-ul-Fitr Muslims dress in their finest clothes, give gifts to children and spend time with their friends and family.

At Eid it is obligatory to give a set amount of money to charity to be used to help poor people buy new clothes and food so they too can celebrate.

In the name of Central-European Religious Freedom Institute, I wish Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslim believers.

Jura Nanuk,
Founder & President

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY: Dalai Lama Turns 78

7 07 2013

INDIA-TIBET-RELIGION-BUDDHISM

 

BYLAKUPPE, India — Thousands of Tibetans waved banners and danced and schoolchildren sang prayers Saturday at a Tibetan university in southern India in celebration of the Dalai Lama’s 78th birthday.

Speaking after an interfaith meeting, the Tibetans’ spiritual leader called for love and compassion to promote world peace.

Turning to a Muslim priest, the Dalai Lama said the real meaning of jihad, or holy war, was “to combat our negative emotions.”

“Jihad is not beating or killing (others),” he said.

He said 150,000 Tibetans living abroad represent “6 million Tibetans (in China) who have no freedom or opportunity to express what they feel.”

The Dalai Lama has lived in exile in India since 1959. Beijing accuses him of seeking to separate Tibet from China, but he says he wants only wide autonomy under Chinese rule.





First Australian Muslim MP swore his oath on Koran

2 07 2013

husic

Mr Husic, Australia’s only Muslim MP, was appointed a parliamentary secretary yesterday and swore his oath on his father’s Koran, with Governor-General Quentin Bryce declaring it a “great day for multiculturalism in Australia”. But while many rejoiced in the moment, anonymous internet trolls attacked Mr Husic, the Australian-born son of Bosnian immigrants, on his Facebook page.

Mr Husic became Australia’s first Muslim frontbencher on Monday when he was appointed to Kevin Rudd’s new-look ministry as Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary for Broadband.

“This is a wonderful day for multiculturalism, and everything it stands for in our country,” Governor-General Quentin Bryce told Husic during the swearing-in ceremony in Canberra on Monday.

However, after receiving dozens of messages of congratulations on his Facebook page, the comments quickly turned to disgust and outrage that he chose to be sworn in on the Muslim holy book.

Some called it un-Australian and unconstitutional.

Husic has previously said that he is a moderate Muslim who does not involve himself heavily with most of the religious customs and behaviours of the faith.

Australia Muslim MPAsked about his religion in 2010, he told the ABC: “If someone asks me, ‘Are you Muslim?’ I say yes. And then if someone says, ‘Well do you pray and go to a mosque and do all the other things that are associated with the faith?’ I say no.

“I often get told that I describe myself as non-practising when in actual fact I don’t go round saying that. Like I just say ‘I’m Muslim’.”

Mr Husic, 43, the son of Bosnian Muslim migrants, became the first Muslim to be elected to parliament when he won his western Sydney seat of Chifley in the 2010 election.

Related post: Tulsi Gabbard, first Hindu In US Congress, uses Bhagavad Gita at swearing-in ceremony








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