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Archive for the ‘Anthropology’ Category

The Evolution of Human Spirituality

Thursday, July 11, 2013 @ 10:07 AM
posted by Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Religion is not a maladaptive “illusion” (Freud), nor is religion a manipulative “opiate” (Marx). Religious behavior is a ubiquitous biological adaptation rooted in Homo Sapiens, because religion like intelligence and language helps human communities survive. Religion, like intelligence and language, can be used for both good and evil purposes, but this is also true of culture, science, politics and all other important human activities. Since almost all revealed religions teach that humans have a pre-birth soul that predisposes them to respond to a Divine call even before the revelation occurs, I identify the existence of a biologically based, self-conscious spiritual soul with the evolution of Homo Sapiens spirituality.

A reference to a prescriptural, prehistoric period when spiritual evolution was unaided  by God appears in the book of Genesis (4:26) where it states, “At that time humans began to invoke YHVH by name.” Most of the rabbinic commentators translate the verb hukhal to mean ‘profane’ taking this as a negative statement. But ‘began’ is the more normal meaning of the verb. The Torah asserts that prior to Enosh humans did not practice religion based on the divine insight of revelation (i.e., “invoke YHVH by name”) that they were able to do later. Mystical and spiritual experiences were interpreted by human intelligence without the benefit of prophetic revelation. In the spirit of this Torah insight I offer the following account of the evolution of pre-historic human spirituality. read more

Confronting Cremation: Violation of Jewish Law or Sensible Modern Ritual?

Sunday, April 14, 2013 @ 04:04 PM
posted by Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips

This article was published previously by Rabbi Regina Sandler-Phillips in The Forward at http://forward.com/articles/156397/confronting-cremation/?p=all#ixzz2IGRcOnqF. Thank you to Rabbi Sandler-Phillips for her permission to republish here.

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At first glance, the two sides of the Jewish cremation dilemma seem clear. Opponents deplore what they see as a violation of Jewish law, desecration of the body and callous indifference to the memory of the Holocaust.

Proponents claim that cremation is less costly and more ecological, and that it saves land for the living. Yet a closer examination reveals a much more complicated picture. We need a Jewish conversation that speaks to the realities of both cremation and burial. This conversation is difficult because it involves facing death — not the illusory death of movies and computer games, but real and inevitable mortality — and what it means for our lives.

     Levayah, the Hebrew word for “funeral,” actually means “accompanying.” Whether we bury or burn, our willingness to accompany is usually quite limited. Between medical pronouncement and final disposition, our dead are typically wrapped up and taken away to preparations of which we have only the vaguest knowledge. It’s much easier to focus on the details of a product — an urn or a coffin, a memorial plaque or a headstone — than on honoring and protecting a body in transition. read more

Jews, Genes and Genetics: A Look at Family, Haplotypes and Peoplehood

Monday, May 28, 2012 @ 10:05 PM
posted by Roger Price

In the United States today, the freest and richest nation on the planet, a country characterized by opportunity and mobility, the reality is that most Jews are Jews, if at all, by choice. For some, that choice is relatively easy, a coincidence of birth, culture and acceptance. For others, the situation is more complicated, involving perhaps disaffection with the faith or circumstances into which one was born and raised or, conversely, an attraction to a set of beliefs or patterns of behavior newly encountered.

Regardless of one’s position, in the open and fluid society that is America, most adults are not forced to be Jewish, i.e., to engage in conduct commonly understood to be specifically Jewish, such as attending shul, keeping kosher, studying sacred texts or simply identifying as a Jew. Nor are they forced to believe in a particular collection of ideas or ideals, including whether God exists, or, if they think that God does, what attributes or aspects that God may or may not have. Certainly strong social pressures can operate on an individual to motivate him or her to behave or believe one way or another, but most individuals still retain the ability to choose whether to be Jewish.

There is, however, one matter that is not open to choice, much less dispute or revision, and that is one’s genetic structure. And here, as elsewhere, advances in science in the relatively recent past have allowed us to investigate, to probe, to attempt to provide science based perspectives, if not answers, to the most basic questions: “Who am I?” and “Where did I come from?”.    read more