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
discussions there, I repeat the body of my postings here with links for
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
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
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
(from a discussion of Discrimination against Muslims
started by Eboo Patel about March 15, 2007 that had become rather
My comment, March 20, 2007, 12:47 am
I’m Jewish; my background / introduction is the sixth entry (March 15)
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
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
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
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
(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
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
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
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
Posted by Sally Quinn and Jon Meacham on July 9, 2008 4:49 AM
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
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
July 18, 2008 8:39 PM
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