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Items from "On Faith"

The Washington Post  has an on-line interfaith discussion, at

Since its structure makes it a little hard to point directly at the middle of
discussions there, I repeat the body of my postings here with links for people
who want to see the context.

(1) "Share your faith story", item 6,  March 15, 2007 10:24 PM.  

(2)  re: Discrimination against Muslims, March 20, 2007, 12:47 am. 

(3) re: Are you satisfied with your life?, May 18, 2307

(4) re: A Non-believer Taking Communion , July 12, 2008

(5) re:  Interfaith Weddings,  July 18, 2008

  (1)  posted to the page "Share your faith story"

My grandfather was a 1911 immigrant to the U.S. and an orthodox rabbi. My father rebelled into agnosticism. I received at home a strong Jewish cultural education not accompanied by synagogue membership.

In 1961 I entered Kenyon College, an Episcopal-connected school in Ohio, I had several friends who were pre-divinity students. They tended to ask “what do the Jews think about X?” I knew my parents’ beliefs but little of more typical Jewish beliefs. Being a good student, I went to the college library to find out. When my questions got advanced, the college librarian sent me to the divinity school librarian - who in turn sent me to the Professor of Old Testament at Bexley Hall divinity school, the Rev. Richard Henshaw. I audited his some of his Old Testament courses for Episcopal divinity students. By the time I emerged from college in 1964, I’d become a believing orthodox Jew. But I had a strong interest and background in the Christianity around me, and I’ve been an active attendee (nonmember) in a nearby Church wherever I’ve lived.

By 1976, I’d had an orthodox Jewish marriage end in divorce, and was too badly burned to try marriage again for some time. When I remarried in 1983, my present wife and I had children by former marriages whose religious identity was fixed, and no plans for more children, so the fact that she was a Protestant seemed less important to me than her significant religious knowledge and interests. (Among her ancestors was one of the first Mayflower passengers to be run out of Plymouth Colony as a heretic.) We simply joined a Reform Temple (she doesn’t speak Hebrew) and agreed that we’d both be very active in both the Temple and her Church (Presbyterian-USA school years, American Baptist at our summer home.)

She’d started teaching college physics, I started teaching mathematics, we met in computer science. When we retired, I started writing (at her urging) on interfaith, cross-cultural, and value-forming experiences. More recently, we realized that Americans simply cannot afford to treat our local Muslims as strangers or remain ignorant about them, so we started attending our neighborhood Mosque as well. We bring along guests from synagogues and churches whenever we can get them to come. My primary impression of the mosque is that it reminds me very much of my immigrant grandfather’s synagogue: a large variety of immigrants, languages, costumes, and customs, but very interesting and friendly people who are learning about America very quickly and have a lot of values and stories in common with the rest of us.

I’ll urge my readers, as well as my friends: take the time to go visit the nearest mosque.

Edward Ordman, Professor Emeritus, University of Memphis, Tennessee

(2)  Posted to the discussion "Discrimination Against Muslims"

(from a discussion of Discrimination against Muslims
started by Eboo Patel about March 15, 2007 that had become rather vituperative:
My comment, March 20, 2007, 12:47 am       or     Full thread

Edward Ordman:

I’m Jewish; my background / introduction is the sixth entry (March 15) at

As a Jew, I’m well aware that during many centuries the Jews have been treated better as a minority in Muslim countries than in Christian countries. I found the review of some past problems between Jews and Muslims (above in the original thread) by “Historian” fascinating, but it doesn’t change my view on that. Let’s not review here tales of Christian expulsions of Jews (and worse.) The issue is not what happened in the past, but what ought to happen in the future.

Very few non-Muslim Americans have ever visited a mosque. I recommend it. While occasionally the sermon (the Friday afternoon sermon, or “Khutbah”) is on a fine point in the Koran that I don’t have the background for, several have been among the best sermons I’ve heard, and I’d have been happy to have heard them in my synagogue or my wife’s church (I admit that one Khutbah sounded too much like something out of St. Augustine for my Jewish tastes!). The “Social Issues” discussion group is not unlike the corresponding class in my synagogue, and has been happy to have a Jewish voice participating..

Yes, you’ll encounter extreme nationalists and religious extremists in many countries, many religions, and many historical periods. A remarkable feature of the United States is that it has allowed a great many religious beliefs to flourish and most of them have found ways to coexist respectfully with one another and even to learn and benefit from one another, and that is the sort of religion I find in my neighborhood mosque in Memphis, Tennessee. It has a great many immigrants among its members, and I find that it is doing a lot of the same “Americanization” work that my grandparents’ synagogues did a century ago. It is thrilling to me, as an American, to hear a Muslim immigrant to the US explaining to a roomful of others - “We are Americans now. This is our country. If any of don’t feel like Americans, your children will. You have to raise them to live as Americans.”

Muslim minorities have gotten along very well in many places in the world in the past, said the Muslim speaking to Muslims. Learn about the American political system, learn the way Americans make decisions. It was a talk any American should have been happy with. But this sort of moderate Muslim voice - as widespread as it is in this country - isn’t “news”. There are moderate and informative web sites out there - look at, say, //isna.com . It certainly does address the problem of anti-Muslim sentiment, but much of what is there (or in their magazine) is not very different from the web sites or magazines of the Presbyterians or the Methodists, or the Reform Jews. Muslims face the same everyday problems, made worse by the hostility they sometimes encounter.

Back on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden seemed to have one public demand; a war between Islam and the West. Unfortunately, George Bush decided to accede to that demand. Some of the purveyors of anti-Muslim sentiment in this discussion seem to be determined to help bin Laden along. One cure is for us all to learn more about Islam: not the Islam of the fear-mongers, or of tenth-century Arabia, or of the esoteric theologians, but the practical day-to-day Islam of our neighbors, our American Muslims.

Edward Ordman

(3) Posted to the discussion, "Are you satisfied with where you are now in your life?"

I'm commenting on a reply by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, who has spent his
life working on a wonderfcul Talmud translation and commentary).

I have the greatest admiration for Rabbi Steinsaltz; his translations and commentaries have had an immense impact, making Jewish religious knowledge available to an audience that had much more limited access before his work. And he is right; in Talmudic studies as in many other areas of knowledge, the more you know, the more questions you have and the more compelling the search.

But as to "Are you satisfied with your life?", recall that life is a journey and not a destination. Rabbi Steinsaltz has not, and will not, arrive at the end of his task, and the fact that it is a worthwhile and fulfilling task and one that helps many people should make the -journey- satisfying.

And that is how I feel about my own life. I have not had the impact in one area that Rabbi Steinsaltz has had, but there is satisfaction in working in multiple areas. I'm a Professor Emeritus of Computer Science, very active locally in Jewish-Muslim relations, and about to leave on a trip to talk with pro-peace organizations in Palestine and Israel - building peace is not a task I expect to have much impact on, but can perhaps do a little bit.

As the Talmud says, the work is not ours to finish, but neither are we free to take no part in it.

Posted by: Edward Ordman | May 18, 2007 10:36 PM

(4) Posted to:  What about a non-Catholic takiong communion at a Catholic funeral?

 Commenting on an essay by Sally Quinn, where the question posed was
Sally Quinn and Communion
What do you think about Sally Quinn, a non-Catholic, going to Communion at Tim Russert's Catholic funeral?
What are some do's and don'ts for observing the religious rituals of others?
Posted by Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham on July 9, 2008 4:49 AM

Edward Ordman:

I have been an interfaith activist for many years - a Jew who has attended church since the 1960's, and, in more resent years, also attended mosque somewhat regularly. I'm very clear on what I do and don't believe, and want to be respectful of other religions without compromising myself. At a place I attend regularly, and where my views are known, it is fairly easy to negotiate what I will and won't do.
I generally don't kneel in churches; but one family of grandchildren belongs to an Episcopal Church that uses a very open call for communion, and in that church I will go up and kneel with my grandchildren (but I do not receive the elements; crossing hands over one's chest is understood pretty universally as "no thank you." At one church my wife and I attend, the elements are passed down the row in pews, so I may serve my (Christian) wife.
At a Catholic funeral mass for a friend, the priest issued an open call to line up for standing communion, specifying that one could receive a blessing instead of the elements. It was a very moving experience to participate in this alongside a devout Muslim friend.
I do not go up for communion is response to the usual invitations which are (typically) for baptized believers in Jesus as Christ. But I very much appreciate invitations properly extended to others to join in in some ways.
Muslims usually are reluctant to attend church services because of the fear of appearing to worship someone / something other than "The One God" (the Cross, Jesus, etc.); some are slightly more comfortable in Jewish services due to the clear monotheism. I am certainly more comfortable (theologically) in Muslim services than Christian ones, and after some discussion with the locals have become comfortable kneeling in my neighborhood mosque, where it is understood that I am not a member of the Muslim community.
With regard to the specific question starting this discussion - I think that funerals often attract people respectful of the deceased but not necessarily of the same faith. I would certainly prefer to see open and inclusive services, open invitations (e.g. to communion), and a great deal of permissiveness and understanding as to the extent to which people may show respect by participating.

Posted by: Edward Ordman | July 12, 2008 10:37 AM

(5)  In a discussion of interfaith weddings, started by Eboo Patel 

at  http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/eboo_patel/2008/07/an_interfaith_wedding.html
Edward Ordman:

My wife and I had an interfaith Jewish/Baptist wedding just over 25 years ago. It was not a first wedding for either of us, so the issue of religion of the children did not arise.

Rabbis were in short supply in rural New Hampshire, but a close Jewish friend (whose son was a rabbi) was adept enough at Hebrew and Aramaic to co-officiate with the (American Baptist) pastor whose church housed the ceremony - the first time a hupah (Jewish wedding canopy) had been erected in that church!

We are both intensely interested in religion and simply merged interests - we are very active both in a church and a synagogue - actually a Reform Temple, since it will accept my wife as a member - our church doesn't officially list me as a member, but accepts me as a very active one who just isn't quite on the books.

And in recent years, since retirement, we have also become very active in our neighborhood Mosque. It resembles an orthodox Jewish synagogue far more than a Reform one, but has accepted us well and our presence has both helped promote some joint activities and allowed us to help avoid potential conflicts in the community.

An essay I've written on an earlier mosque visit appears at


Our good friends include at least one "Muslim and Methodist" couple, so we have seen that it can work. Obviously, we strongly encourage further interfaith activities, while recognizing that the problem of "what religion will the children be?" is a real one.

July 18, 2008 8:39 PM

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