The Music of Eternity

A famously cultured friend of mine, now sadly deceased, used to express polite amazement at my ability to enjoy the music of Richard Wagner, despite my almost idolatrous devotion to Bach; apparently this struck him as a combination of tastes as improbable as a successful alloy of fire and water. And, on the one occasion that I touched upon the topic of Anton Bruckner in his presence, he merely arched an eyebrow and directed me to the table where the drinks were being served. Consequently, I never quite learned his opinion of the old Austrian schoolmaster, but I suspect it fell somewhat short of rapt veneration… . Continue Reading »

A 2009 Ranking of Graduate Programs in Theology

A few years ago, I made a crude and impressionistic ranking of graduate programs in theology in North America. Recently, I mused in a more general way about what makes for a really good program in theology, and, in response, a couple of friends asked me if my old opinions still hold true. It’s a good question, and one I’ll try to answer… . Continue Reading »

Women Orthodox Rabbis: Heresy or Possibility?

At an Orthodox synagogue in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx, on March 22, Jewish history was made. Sara Hurwitz, a learned and devout Orthodox Jewish woman was conferred the new title of MaHaRa’T, an acronym for Manhigah Hilkhatit, Ruhanit, Toranit (for a halakhic spiritual and Torah leader) by Rabbi Avi Weiss, senior rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale. Some Jewish pundits ridiculed the invention of a new title… . Continue Reading »

Secularization or Exodus?

For many evangelicals today, secular means something very close to godless. The termsecularization describes the impulse that drives the ACLU and other groups to expunge prayer from schools, to take down the Ten Commandments from courthouse walls, to pressure Christians to keep their beliefs private, to muzzle all religiously motivated efforts to curb abortion. And yet, some Christians and many historians and sociologists view secularization as the genius of public Christianity, especially public Protestantism… . Continue Reading »

Saint Sakyamuni

In 1571, the Doge of Venice presented King Sebastian of Portugal with certain relics of St Josaphat of India (including, if memory serves, a fragment of his spine). This was a lavish gift, to say the least. No legend of the late Middle Ages and the early modern period was more famous throughout the entire Christian world than the tale of Barlaam and Josaphat, nor were there very many saints more beloved than its eponymous protagonists… . Continue Reading »

When Values Collide

The term “Modern Orthodox” is, in a sense, self-contradictory, which makes one wonder why it has been used for so long to describe a significant portion of the Jewish community. The “Orthodox” part refers to the community’s strong commitment to traditional core beliefs and practices. The “Modern” part implies a willingness to absorb practices and values from contemporary culture. Sometimes the two complement each other, but often they conflict… . Continue Reading »

The Agony of Mainline Protestantism

This summer the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) held their biennial Churchwide Assembly. As is so often the case with American Christianity, the headline grabbing issue was sex. The Assembly didn’t exactly affirm or endorse homosexuality, but, after agreeing to disagree about the moral significance of homosexual relationships, it opened up the possibility for same-sex blessings and homosexual clergy… . Continue Reading »

Israel in the Year 5770

How does it stand with the people Israel in the new year 5770? As James Kugel (a Harvard scholar of the Hebrew Bible) explained in a lecture at my synagogue earlier this year on Israel’s Independence Day, for most of Jewish historyindependence was an alien idea. Except for a few decades of the Davidic kingdom, the Jewish commonwealth always paid tribute to the surrounding powers”Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or Rome. Israel still faces an existential threat, but this should not obscure the fact that the position of the Jewish people today is at least strong as ever before. Jews who have kept the faith in Israel as well as in the Diaspora have reason to look happily toward the new year… . Continue Reading »

Texts for the Times

“What accounts for the six-fold increase in the total number of horror films released since 1999?” asks David Goldman in “Be Afraid”Be Very Afraid.” “Subgenres such as erotic horror (mainly centered on vampires) and torture (the Saw series, for example) dig deep into the vulnerabilities of the adolescent psyche. Given the success of these films over the past ten years, the number of Americans traumatizing themselves voluntarily is larger by an order of magnitude than it has ever been before.” That’s an odd fact Goldman notes, and an interesting question he poses”but it’s only one of many in the new issue of First Things… . Continue Reading »