Religion news 21 September

Image credit: @LouMagel

The Shofar heralds the Jewish new year, in sanitised celebrations

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year (5781), was celebrated in muted fashion this weekend, with many celebrations and events cancelled due to the coronavirus restrictions.  Jewish News reported that some synagogues had slashed the numbers of people allowed to attend services by 90 per cent.  St Albans Cathedral invited members of the local Jewish community to blow the shofar – ram’s horn – from the top of the bell tower. Detailed instructions on how to observe the rituals safely, were issued by the government on Thursday. In America, there was an ingenious solution for a compliant shofar ritual (pictured).

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s guiding scriptural light: “Justice you shall pursue”

Tributes paid to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Supreme Court Justice who died aged 87 on Friday, confirm that her passion for fairness and the law was rooted in her Jewish family upbringing and identity. The Religion News Service says a passage from Deuteronomy hung in her chambers at the court: “Justice, justice you shall pursue.” She was a determined campaigner for women’s rights, civil liberties and minority groups and an icon for progressives. Her death leaves a vacancy which President Trump is determined to fill with haste.

Churches urged to campaign for the release of 40 million slaves

The International Justice Mission, an American based agency, is enabling churches to hold ‘Freedom Sundays’, where they will highlight the problem of modern slavery and understand how to campaign to end it. Resources are provided including films, sermon outlines, liturgy and resources for children. It estimates there are 40 million slaves and a quarter of those in forced labour are children. Estimates suggest the people trafficking industry is worth £100 billion.

Bishops call for better treatment of migrants

Two Church of England bishops have called on the government to change the way immigrants are treated in the UK. In a House of Lords debate, the Bishop of Southwark Christopher Chessun said they should not face an additional taxation surcharge as people on low pay cannot afford it: “How is this affordable? How is this morally justifiable?”.  The Bishop of Durham Paul Butler wanted to limit the time an immigrant could be detained and an assurance that unaccompanied child asylum seekers would be reunited with their families in the UK after Brexit.

Top journalists discuss “disproportionate focus on Islam” when reporting terrorism

The Muslim Council of Britain has assembled a panel of top journalists and academics to consider its report that the media has a disproportionate focus on Islam when reporting terrorism. Jon Snow Channel 4, Frank Gardner BBC and Rohit Kachroo ITV, will take part in a zoom briefing next week. The report looked at the way 16 attacks were covered between 2015-2020 and said half of British news stories which mentioned terror, terrorists or terrorism also referred to Muslims or Islam. Headlines using words such as “Allahu Akbar” implied that religion is always the motivator, ignoring criminal or mental health issues.

Leading Catholic academic says only women can reform the church

Lucetta Scaraffia, an Italian academic and ardent campaigner for women’s rights, says that only women can reform the church because they are not compromised by power. Speaking to Novena News, she said women’s ordination “would mean clericalising and therefore also corrupting the female strength of the Church”. Instead she advocates that lay women should become cardinals – a theme of her most recent book. She started a women’s supplement to the official Vatican newspaper in 2012, which exposed the way the church had treated women as inferior and ran stories about nuns being abused by male priests and bishops. It was closed down in 2019.

Three stolen Hindu statues from India recovered in the UK after 40 years

BBC journalist Yogita Limaye reports that three bronze Hindu sculptures stolen from a southern Indian temple more than 40 years ago were found in the UK  and returned to Indian government officials last week. They represent the Hindu deities Lord Ram, his wife Sita and brother Lakshmana. The India Pride Project worked with international police forces to track them down and followed a trail after seeing a photograph in an antique sellers’ catalogue. The police stepped in and the sculptures were returned. Had they been sold, they would have gone for millions of pounds. The people who stole them were jailed but it is not known how they found their way to the UK.

Alexa offers 1662 Book of Common prayer by command

The Times is reporting that Amazon’s Alexa is able to offer readings from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Owners will be able to command her/it to offer prayers, with the words delivered by clergy. Thus, passages such as “Dearly beloved, the scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins” will be delivered through smart technology, a fusion  of ancient and modern.