Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

Many of you might have gathered from reading this blog that I believe that we, as Christians, have a lot that we can learn from other religions. I think it is healthy when we find that a religion perhaps has a spiritual practice that brings us closer to God or their scripture or doctrine describes something that we feel and believe, as Christians, but in different words. I oftentimes think that it is simply interesting to compare and contrast different faiths or to see how another faith’s beliefs and practices might complement our own or provide us with a new perspective. Anyway, now that we’ve got that header out of the way.

I just finished reading a book called “Jewish Prayer and Practices”, it could also be known just as well as “Judaism 101” or “Judaism for Dummies”. Basically, all the basic things around holidays, prayers, food, Sabbath, services…it’s all there. Nothing is in great detail that would satisfy a real scholar on the topic, but for an average person like me (and likely you) it’s a good starter.


Towards the end, I came across one of the chapters on charity. So, in Judaism/Hebrew the word that some might call charity is known as “tzedakah”. It comes from the same root as just or righteous or pious. It’s not simply about giving to charity, but also “conveys a sense of justice or fairness in making the world right” (Lieber, 277). Do people actually ever cite things in blogs? Anyway. Tzedakah is obligatory and it’s a mitzvah. You can look that one up for yourselves.


Centuries ago, Rabbi Moses Maimonides designed eight different levels of tzedakah. Here they are, in reverse…goodness? (and for citation purposes, I’m quoting this list directly from the book).

1) A person gives unwillingly
2) A person gives cheerfully, but not enough
3) A person gives enough, but not until asked
4) A person gives before being asked, but directly to the poor person
5) The poor person knows from whom he or she takes, but the giver does not know who is receiving
6) The giver knows to whom he or she gives, but the receiver does not know the giver.
7) Fully anonymous giving, the giver does not know to whom he or she gives, nor does the poor person know from whom he or she receives.
8) The very highest form of tzedakah is to strengthen the hand of the poor by giving a loan, or joining in partnership to help a person become independent


Okay. Also, just throwing this out there, but the priorities here are in line with Jesus’s teachings that we should not give for the sake of appearances, but should do so in secret.


What struck me the most was the eighth. In this framework, the highest form of giving to others is to give a loan or to help another person become independent. In summary, the greatest good of charity is measured by whether it helps. Not in the temporary (but still useful) sense of giving someone a new coat, but by being part of a long-term solution. Giving should attempt to address the underlying problems, rather than the symptoms. Giving should be a solution, rather than a bandaid.


It often feels like this is what people are missing in priorities, including the federal government. Or, what about our foreign aid? Investing in communities is going to produce more results and help more lives than shipping containers of grain or sending a check. It’s one of the reasons that microfinance is starting to transform the charity world.  While people who are impoverished have traditionally never been candidates for loans, people are realizing that investing in the businesses and educations of people in need is both a sound business decision and truly impacts lives.


Our goal also should not be in giving someone charity. That’s not what that highest form is about. It’s not about you giving something to someone, it’s about working with another person. Charity is not between benefactor and penitent, but a partnership where both members have the same goal. We could benefit from incorporating these ideas into our mindset. As we choose to give, let’s look for opportunities that are working with the people it serves to create a long-lasting solution to a problem. Change doesn’t come by acting upon someone, you have to act with them.


And for those of you who would now like something to do… You can always check out Kiva. It is a nonprofit that allows you to donate your money to a borrower, or a group of borrowers (and you can pick where they’re from, what they’re doing, how much you give, etc.). Your donation is not charity, it is a loan, and you are extremely likely to be paid back, giving you the chance to loan to another person.


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I know I haven’t posted in awhile, my apologies.  The past few weeks have been rather crazy.  Here is the long-promised Part 3 of 4 on Religious Literacy.

Religious Literacy: what every American needs to know and doesn’t is written by Stephen Prothero. It both discusses the history of religious literacy and illiteracy, chronicles the increased lack of religious literacy in America, and proposes solutions to religious illiteracy.

His first chapter is entitled “A Nation of Religious Illiterates”, discussing the staggering lack of informed knowledge that many Americans have on religion.  He mentions the odd paradox that while religion has fallen from prominence in the debate in many European countries though religion continues to be taught in schools, here in America, religion has flourished in the public debates, despite the fact that there are staggeringly few instances of the Bible or religious classes being offered in school.  The religious literacy quiz that you see below?  The vast majority of Prothero’s college students failed the exam.  When I was reading this book a few years ago, I sometimes informally administered it to friends and family, my observation was that performance on the exam was directly correlated with age.  Older people were much more likely to be able to answer the Biblical questions, but younger people were much more likely to be able to answer about other faiths (though it has been pointed out, and is true, that the test is more geared to Judeo-Christianity, I probably should have come up with a new test, but I’ll admit that I’m not sure enough in some of my knowledge of other religions to really create one I felt was really accurate and represenative, though I continue to try to improve my knowledge of other religions).  What I found troubling was his quoting of the statistic that apparently “two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life’s basic questions”.  Since Biblical illiteracy is so ubiquitous, the idea that while the majority look to it as authoritative but know little about it, I find concerning and dangerous.

Prothero goes on in quotation of statistics from surveys on Biblical illiteracy.  Half of American adults can name one of the four gospels…most Americans cannot identity the first book of the Bible…many believe that Billy Graham gave the Sermon on the Mount (for the record, it was Jesus)…most believe Jesus was born in Jerusalem…oh, and ten percent believe that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife (I’m holding out hope that about half of those were just messing with the person taking the results).  In 2005, there was a bill in Alabama that proposed to protect public displays of the ten commandments.  A reporter interviewed all ten cosponsers of the bill and only one could name all ten.  A gallup poll found that 8 percent of teenagers thought that Moses was an apostle.

Propthero continues on to emphasize the importance of religion and to discuss both the religious literacy we once had (much do to the Protestant focus on reading the Bible at the start of our nation) and then how the literacy diminished.  Prothero also discusses an interesting phenomenon, that many of the organizations that were assumed would instill religious values and knowledge in their children, church, family, et cetera, now are not.  Prothero discusses that “some friends tell me that they don’t bring their sons and daughters to worship services or talk with them about their faith because they want their children to be free to choose a religion for themselves.  This is foolhardy, not unlike saying that you will not read anything to your daughter because you don’t want to enslave her to any one language.  The fact of the matter is that you cannot avoid teaching religion to your kids; if you offer them nothing, you are telling them that religion counts for nothing.”  I have to agree with much of this statement.  While I can accept that many parents do not want to repeat their parents’ mistakes by enforcing worship or dogma on their children, I think not bringing children into faith is equally a mistake.  I do not mean that every child should go to church or synagogue, etc.  Many parents do that, bring their children to church because they think they should and not out of any personal faith.  Except in rare cases or when there is a strong community in the church as a pull, most of those children will leave the church soon, and so will their parents.  Worship or religion is going to do little good if you don’t tell your kids that it matters.  I also think that the opposing idea, that we shouldn’t constrain our kids by teaching them a faith, is while well-intentioned, is rather naive.  There is a difference between explaining what you believe to your children, and telling them that they have no choice but to believe that too.  It is a crucial difference.

The rest of the book is Prothero’s argument on the necessity of religion in education.  He argues that every school should have a required Bible course and a required world religions course.  He discusses how many people are afraid to teach or mention religion in school because they feel it is unconstitutional.  It is not.  It is illegal to teach religion, it is not illegal to teach about religion.  We cannot advocate any particular creed or religion or idealogy, but that does not mean that we cannot teach information on it so that our students can be informed citizens.  Prothero maintains that his push for increased teaching of religion in schools is civic, not religious.  Prothero’s book is interesting and informative.  However, there’s a good likelihood that if you want to read the book in the first place, he’s preaching to the choir, but it still might be worth reading if you want to be more informed on issues of religious literacy.

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Here are the answers to the quiz that I posted the other day.  Some of the questions have flexibility in answers, such as it being said differently in another language or so on so please take that into account.  Two more parts to this series of articles still to come.  Again, the answers to this quiz (like th quiz itself) come from Stephen Prothero’s book “Religious Literacy”.

1. Name the four gospels.  List as many as you can.  (1 point each).

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John

2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism. (1 point).

There are many possiblities here.  They include: the Vedas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas, Upanishads, Puranas, Mahabharata, Bhagavad Gita, Ramayana, Yoga Sutras, Laws of Manu, and the Kama Sutra.

3. What is the name of the holy book of Islam?  (1 point).


4. Where according to the Bible was Jesus born?  (1 point).


5. President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road.  What bible story was he invoking? (1 point.)

The Good Samaritan

6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament? (1 point each)

Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy

7. What is the Golden Rule? (1 point.)

“Do unto others as you would have them do unot you” (Matthew 7:12), or a similar sentiment from Rabbi Hillel or Confucius.  (“Love your neighbor as yourself” is NOT the Golden Rule)

8. “God helps those who help themselves.” Is this in the Bible?  If so, where? (2 points.)

No, this is not in the Bible.  It was said by Ben Franklin.  It contradicts Proverbs 28:26: “He who trusts in himself is a fool”

9. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”: Does this appear in the Bible?  If so, where? (2 points.)

Yes, this appears in the Beatitudes of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:3)

10. Name the Ten Commandments.  List as many as you can. (1o points)

The Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish traditions all have different versions of the ten commandments.  Give yourself credit if you have any ten of the following twelve.

1. I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage.

2. You shall have no other gods before me.

3. You shall not make ourself a graven image.

4. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

5. Remember the sabbath day and keep it hol.

6. Honor your father and your mother.

7. You shall not kill/murder.

8. You shall not commit adultery.

9. You shall not steal.

10. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

11. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife

12. You shall not covet your neighbor’s goods

11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.  List as many as you can.  (4 points.)

1. Life is suffering

2. Suffering has an origin

3. Suffering can be overcome (nirvana)

4. The path to overcoming suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path

12. What are the seven sacraments of Catholicism?  List as many as youcan. (7 points).

1. Baptism

2. Eucharist/Mass/Holy Communion

3. Reconciliation/Confession/Penance

4. Confirmation

5. Marriage

6. Holy Orders (Nuns or the Priesthood)

7. Anointing of the Sick/Last Rites

13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause”.  What are the two religion clauses in the first amendment?  (1 point each.)

“Congress shal make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”.  The words before the comma are referred to as the establishment clause; the words that follow constitute the free exercise clause.

14.  What is Ramadan?  In what religion is it celebrated? (2 points.)

Ramadan is a Muslim holiday characterized by a month of fasting.

15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear by drawing a line from one to the other.  Some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa.  (7 points).  (I’m not going to retype this whole thing.  I’m just going to put the answer).

Adam and Eve and the Serpent-Garden of Eden

Paul-Road to Damascus

Moses-Parting of the Red Sea and Exodus

Noah-Olive Branch

Jesus-Garden of Gethsemane

Abraham-Binding of Isaac

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This quiz is taken from a book entitled “Religious Literacy” by Stephen Prothero.  It is designed to test some basic knowledge of the main world religions.  It leans more to the Judaic-Christian faiths, but I think it is partially designed to be correlated to the religious makeup of the country.  I will be posting the answers and scoring subsequently, if you’d like to share your answers to the questions in a comment, or afterwards if you’d like to share your score (there shall be no judgment, don’t worry) by all means do.  No cheating though, please, this quiz is designed to be informative for you and reaching for google rather defeats the purpose ;).  If you have any questions or comments please feel free to leave a comment.  I took this several years ago and while I was reading the book I often did an informal quiz with friends or family who were around, I found the results very interesting.  The third part of this will be a book review of “Religious Literacy”.  Thank you!

1. Name the four gospels.  List as many as you can.

2. Name a sacred text of Hinduism.

3. What is the name of the holy book of Islam?

4. Where, according to the Bible, was Jesus born?

5. President George W. Bush spoke in his first inaugural address of the Jericho road.  What Bible story was he invoking?

6. What are the first five books of the Hebrew Bible or the Christian Old Testament (also known as the Pentateuch)?

7. What is the Golden Rule?

8. “God helps those who help themselves”: Is this in the Bible?  If so, where?

9. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God”: Does this appear in the Bible?  If so, where?

10. Name the Ten Commandments.  List as many as you can.

11. Name the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism.

12. What are the seven sacraments of Catholicisim?  List as many as you can.

13. The First Amendment says two things about religion, each in its own “clause”.  What are the two religion clauses of the First Amendment?

14. What is Ramadan?  In what religion is it celebrated?

15. Match the Bible characters with the stories in which they appear.  Hint: some characters may be matched with more than one story or vice versa:

Adam and Eve                            Exodus

Paul                                           The Binding of Isaac

Moses                                        Olive Branch

Noah                                          Garden of Eden

Jesus                                         Parting the Red Sea

Abraham                                    Road to Damascus

Serpent                                     Garden of Gethsemane

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