Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category
On March 24, 2010, only a week before the start of the Jewish holiday Passover, the Chief Rabbinate in Israel has issued a dire warning to its citizens: be on the lookout for pirate matzah. Israeli police had raided a warehouse containing a 7-ton stockpile of matzah with fake kosher certificates, and feared that this could represent a fraction of the pirated matzah on the market. The rabbinate has tried to ease the public’s anxieties by publishing color photos of the fake matzah packages and by ordering local rabbis to post the statement in synagogues and other prominent places to warn Orthodox Jews to avoid the faked product. The unleavened bread is a main feature of the eight-day Passover holiday, which is celebrated each year in the early spring, beginning on the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It commemorates the emancipation of the Israelites from slavery in ancient Egypt (which is described in the book of Exodus).
The Cliff Notes version of this epic saga is as follows: After enduring many decades of backbreaking slavery at the hands of the Egyptians, God sent the prophet Moses to Egypt to free his chosen people. God instructed Moses to deliver the following crystal clear warning to the Pharaoh, “Send forth my people, so that they may serve Me!” Suffice it to say, the Pharaoh scoffed at Moses’ many entreaties and refused to free the Israelites. God then unleashed upon Egypt ten devastating plagues, afflicting them and destroying everything from their livestock to their crops.
Finally, at the stroke of midnight of Nissan 15 of the Hebrew year 2448 (roughly 1313 B.C.), God unleashed the last and most horrible of the ten plagues on the Egyptians; the death of all of their firstborn sons. God of course “passed over” the homes of the Israelites- hence the name of the holiday. Brought to his knees by the ravages that the ten plagues had wrought on his kingdom, Pharaoh finally relented and practically chased all of his Jewish slaves out of Egypt. In fact, they fled Egypt in such a hurry that the bread they had baked in preparation for their trek did not have time to rise before their departure for Mount Sinai and their birth as God’s chosen people.
The highlight of Passover is the two “Seders,” observed on the first two nights of the holiday. The Seder is a fifteen step tradition that is directly tied to the special food that is prepared to relive and experience the freedom that their ancestors gained that night. Thus, the Jewish Passover Seder includes the following rituals: eating matzah (a type of extremely bland unleavened cracker that must be made from kosher flour); bitter herbs (to symbolize the bitter slavery endured by the Israelites); and the drinking of four cups of wine or grape juice (to help wash down the bone-dry matzah and of course in celebration of “newfound freedom”). Dinner is accompanied by the recitation of the Haggadah, a liturgy that describes in detail the story of the Exodus from Egypt.
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On Palm Sunday Christians celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, the week before his death and resurrection. For many Christian churches, Palm Sunday, often referred to as “Passion Sunday,” marks the beginning of Holy Week, which concludes on Easter Sunday. According to the Biblical accounts of Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, crowds of his followers greeted him with waving palm branches, and by covering his path with palm branches. Immediately following this great time of celebration in the ministry of Jesus, he begins his journey to the cross.
In remembrance of this event, we celebrate Palm Sunday. It is referred to as Palm Sunday because of the palm branches that were laid on the road as Jesus rode the donkey into Jerusalem. Palm Sunday was the fulfillment of the Prophet Daniel’s “seventy sevens” prophecy: ” Know therefore and understand, That from the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem Until Messiah the Prince, There shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; The street shall be built again, and the wall, Even in troublesome times” (Daniel 9:25). John 1:11 tells us, “He (Jesus) came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” The same crowds that were crying out “Hosanna” were crying out “crucify Him” five days later (Matthew 27:22-23).
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Death by burning has a long and storied history in the grisly annals of capital punishment. The undisputed execution method du jour for the crimes of treason, heresy and witchcraft before the practice fell out of favor in the late 18th century death by burning is now considered cruel and unusual punishment in the Western world. According to ancient records, many an early Christian martyr met their maker thanks to the Roman practice of punishing the newly-minted followers of Christ by burning them alive. Luckily for Christians, the tables had turned in their favor by 1184, when the Synod of Verona (Catholic church council) legislated that burning was to be the official punishment for heresy. This decree was later reaffirmed by the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215, the Synod of Toulouse in 1229, and numerous spiritual and secular leaders up through the 17th century.
Execution by burning surged in popularity during the 14th and 15th centuries, as witch trials became all the rage in Scotland, Spain, England, Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. It is estimated that up to four million convicted “witches” and heretics were burned at the stake during this time. Called The auto de fé, the popular ritual involved a Catholic Mass; prayer; a public procession of those found guilty; and a reading of their sentences which took place in public squares or esplanades and lasted several hours with ecclesiastical and civil authorities in attendance. After this lengthy service, the patience of the attending audience was well rewarded when the condemned were bound to a large stakes and roasted to death. According to experts on such things, death comes from the carbon monoxide poisoning before the flames engulf the body if the fire is relatively large (for instance, when a large number of heretics were executed at the same time). However, if the fire is small, the convict burns slowly and dies in great pain.
The Catholic saint Joan of Arc is probably the most famous historical figure to be put to death by burning. Claiming divine guidance, this nineteen year old peasant girl led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years’ War. Moreover, she was indirectly responsible for the coronation of Charles VII. Eventually captured by the Burgundians and sold to the English, Joan was tried by an ecclesiastical court which found her guilty of heresy and condemned her to death by burning. Tied to a tall pillar in the Vieux-Marche in Rouen, she asked two of the clergy, Fr Martin Ladvenu and Fr Isambart de la Pierre, to hold a crucifix before her (to give her something to look at while she died). After she died, the English allegedly raked back the coals to expose her charred body so that no one could claim she had escaped alive, and then burned her body twice more in a literal example of the word “overkill”. Her executioner, Geoffrey Therage, admitted later that he “…greatly feared to be damned.”
On the initiative of Charles VII Twenty-four years later, Pope Callixtus III reviewed the decision of the ecclesiastical court and found Joan innocent of all charges and declared her a Catholic martyr too boot. She was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. She is, along with St. Denis, St. Martin of Tours, St. Louis IX, and St. Theresa of Lisieux, an official patron saint of France.
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Little is written in the Synoptic Gospels about the life of St. Thomas the Apostle; nevertheless, his distinctive personality is clearer to us than that of some of the other twelve disciples (with the exception of Judas, of course). He is often referred to as “Doubting Thomas,” a term that has come to be used to describe someone who will stubbornly refuse to believe something without direct, physical and personal evidence (also known as a skeptic).
According to the Gospel of John, Jesus appeared to a group of his disciples after he was resurrected, but Thomas was not in attendance for this special guest star appearance. The lucky disciples excitedly told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he [Thomas] said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.’” Eight days later, Jesus appears before His disciples again (this time Thomas was there). Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Then Jesus told him, ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
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The Hebrew Bible contains a particularly puzzling book commonly referred to as “The Song of Songs.” Considered one of the five megillot (scrolls) of the Hebrew Bible, the book is also known as the “Song of Solomon,” “Solomon’s Song of Songs” and “Canticles.” The book contains frankly erotic and romantic imagery, and the poem suggests movement from courtship to consummation. Although the poem is attributed to King Solomon in the traditional title (Song 1:1), the language and style of the work, among other considerations, point to a time after the end of the Babylonian Exile (538 B.C.). Thus, most scholars believe that an unknown poet composed this masterpiece. The structure of “Songs” is difficult to analyze; here it is regarded as a lyric dialogue, with dramatic movement and interest.
Moreover, despite its placement in the Hebrew Bible, “The Song of Songs” has no overtly religious content. Thus, “Songs” is often interpreted as an allegorical representation of the relationship of God and Israel, or for Christians, God and the Church or Christ and the human soul, as husband and wife. Many Jews believe that the author of “Songs” intended it as an allegory of the ideal Israel, and a parable in which the true meaning of mutual love-whether it exist between husband and wife, or God and “the chosen people”-is explored in its powerful (albeit brief) 117 verses. Ashkenazi Jews often recite “Songs” on the Sabbath during the intermediate days of Passover. It is even more popular with Sephardic Jews, who commonly recite the book every Friday night.
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In the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on its thirteenth day … on the day that the enemies of the Jews were expected to prevail over them, it was turned about: the Jews prevailed over their adversaries. – Esther 9:1
And they gained relief on the fourteenth, making it a day of feasting and gladness. – Esther 9:17
[Mordecai instructed them] to observe them as days of feasting and gladness, and sending delicacies to one another, and gifts to the poor. – Esther 9:22
Purim is a holiday that commemorates the deliverance of the Jewish people of the ancient Persian Empire from (super evil dictator) Haman’s plot to exterminate them. Purim is celebrated on the 14th day of Adar (usually in March), the day that, according to the Book of Esther, Haman had chosen to kill the Jews (after casting lots to help him decide), and the day that the Jews successfully defended themselves against his vicious attack.
In cities that were walled in the time of Joshua, Purim is celebrated on the 15th of the month, because the book of Esther says that in Shushan (a walled city), deliverance from the massacre was not complete until the next day. The 15th is referred to as Shushan Purim. In leap years, when there are two months of Adar, Purim is celebrated in the second month of Adar, so it is always one month before Passover.
Purim is celebrated by a public reading of the book of Esther. During the public recitation, it is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle noisemakers whenever (super evil dictator) Haman’s name is mentioned during the service. There is also mutual gift giving and a celebratory meal, replete with costumes and lots of wine. In sum, Purim is a blast, and many Jews describe it as their favorite holiday.
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In the Sigmund Freud’s last book, Moses and Monotheism (1939), he advances a psychoanalytical interpretation of Moses’ life, which is explored through three essays titled, “Moses an Egyptian,” “If Moses Was an Egyptian,” and “Moses, His People, and Monotheistic Religion.” Freud postulated that Moses was an Egyptian nobleman who adhered to the monotheism of Akhenaten. Following a theory proposed by a contemporary biblical critic, Freud, a committed atheist, believed that Moses was murdered in the wilderness, producing a collective sense of patricidal guilt that has been at the heart of Judaism ever since. “Judaism had been a religion of the father, Christianity became a religion of the son”, he wrote.
Upon first examination the work seems somewhat disordered, and contains repetitions and inconsistencies. The writing appears to reflect the movement of Freud’s thought, his doubts and hesitation, his concern regarding the scientific nature of the information he provides, and his fears concerning the way the text might be received among Viennese Catholics and by the Jewish community.The last essay includes prefatory notes written at different times, one in Vienna before Freud’s departure for Great Britain, the other in London, which partly contradicts the first. Finally, part two of the third essay is preceded by a “Summary” in which he reevaluates much of the information in the first essays.
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