In 1948, the year of his bar mitzvah, Michael Walzer's parents took him to a Jewish fund-raising banquet. After an impassioned lecture by a guest speaker, pledge cards were distributed with the expectation that they would be filled out on the spot. The owner of one of the most prominent stores in town, who knew every family's financial status, reviewed the pledges. If he thought someone wasn't pledging enough, he'd tear up the card and pass it back. The meaning of the Hebrew word tzedakah (charity or justice) suggests that giving is an act of both charity and justice, says Walzer. To not give what you're capable of giving to the poor is tantamount to taking something from them (Foreign Affairs, July/August).
South of the border
Aug 15, 2011
When Mitt Romney's father, George, was running for president in 1968, his eligibility for president was more of an issue than his religion. George was born in Mexico, where the Romney family moved for the freedom to practice their Mormon religion, including polygamy. Polygamy has long been abandoned, yet Romney relatives still live in northern Mexico, in precarious territory between two warring drug cartels. One of the Romney cousins in Mexico says: "We have a saying: When a Romney drowns, you look for the body upstream. They don't just flow with the current" (Washington Post, July 23).
Bygone blue laws
Aug 12, 2011
Two of the most influential conservative lobbying groups are going head-to-head this fall in Pennsylvania over the legalization of hunting on Sunday. The Farm Bureau is defending one of the last remaining blue laws that forbids hunting of most game species on Sunday. Apart from citing the religious justification for the ban, Farm Bureau members claim that they want one day free of hunters traipsing across their property. Challenging that position is the Sunday Hunting Coalition, led by the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The economic benefit of extending hunting to Sunday would be significant, they say. Almost every other blue law has fallen in Pennsylvania (RNS).
Aug 11, 2011
The biblical figure of Orpah in the story of Ruth often gets a bad rap. Unlike Ruth, she turned her back on their mother-in-law Naomi and returned to her Moabite people; she did not cast her lot with the Israelites, her deceased husband's people. Some minority groups, however, see in Orpah a model, says Korean-American biblical scholar Uriah Y. Kim. Orpah refused to turn her back on her people and her own cultural heritage for the sake of blending in with another people and culture. Nevertheless, Orpah had been faithful to her Israelite husband and mother-in-law. Kim likes to think that Orpah continued to demonstrate faithfulness to the God of the Israelites (Interpretation, July).
Aug 10, 2011
The late Abraham Joshua Heschel and Jack Reimer, both rabbis, once went to visit mutual friends who had just lost a loved one. When they arrived, Heschel hugged the grieving family members without uttering a word. Then he sat down and remained silent. After an hour passed, Heschel got up and hugged the mourners again; then the two rabbis departed. "I learned that you don't have to be glib," said Reimer. "You just have to care" (Spiritual Life, summer).