Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Huffington Post: Jewish Ritual is "Strange."

[Where Jews are involved the Huffington Post steps in it yet again. From the Houston Chronicle:]

The article comes with a lot of excuses and disclaimers. Judaism is an old religion, so declaring any Jewish holidays or rituals “most anything” is folly, admits Josh Fleet, the associate religion editor at Huffington Post. And, perhaps to couch his borderline offensive claim that a Jewish ritual is “strange,” Fleet also adds the word “awesome” to the headline (which surely helps for search engine optimization).
But ahead of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot (sometimes called Tabernacles), which begins around nightfall on Sept. 30 and ends at night on Oct. 8, Fleet sounds off on the strangeness of the ritual of taking the biblically-mandated four species (a palm, a citrus, a myrtle, and a willow).
Hassidic Jew inspecting an etrog/Shutterstock
And, at the end of his post, “Lulav And Etrog: Sukkot’s Strange, Awesome Ritual (PHOTOS),” Fleet offers a “quick poll,” which asks readers to vote: “What is Judaism’s most unusual ritual?” The choices are: Lulav and Etrog (Four Species), Tefillin (Phylacteries), Kaparot (Yom Kippur “Scapegoat”), Shofar (Sounding a Ram’s Horn), Eruv (Invisible Enclosures), Brit Milah (Circumcision), or Tzitzit (Fringed Garments).
The lead in to the poll is worth citing, as well. “While the ritual of the four species may seem hard to top in terms of uniqueness, it has its competition. Weigh in below…,” Fleet writes.
One wonders how “uniqueness” is measured. Is waving the lulavmore unique than the ritual performed in John 12:12-13 (which was clearly based on Sukkot), “The next day the great crowd that had come for the festival heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, ‘Hosanna!’ ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ‘Blessed is the king of Israel!’”
Is going to confession less unique (or weird) than wrapping phylacteries around one’s arm? Is going on Hajj more unique than Mormon garments? It’s easy to see how nonsensical (and for some, perhaps even hurtful) this kind of discourse is. The same goes for Fleet’s claim that the four species are ” Judaism’s closest thing to a rain dance.” (Nevermind that there’s actually a Jewish prayer for rain, which is surely closer to a rain dance.)
The bizarre thing about all this is that many symbols — perhaps even all symbols — are “strange” (or if one perefers the HuffPost’s euphemism, “unique”) when viewed from the outside. A gentleman spread out on two sticks of wood bleeding to death is a very peculiar centerpiece of any interior decoration scheme if one doesn’t know that the man is Jesus, and a bit about his life story. The same goes for just about ever other religion, which is why faith sections ought to be shedding light on what’s beneath the surface.
Calling other people’s faith traditions (or even one’s own) names like “weird” and “strange” is more the stuff of the kindergarten playground than serious religion reporting.
hassidic Jew inspects an etrog. Credit: Shutterstock.

Let's finish up with some comments from the not anti-Semitic readership, besides the rant of the day of course:

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