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I write the biweekly “Beliefs” column for The New York Times and also report for The Atlantic, The Nation, This American Life, and elsewhere. I have four daughters and two dogs.

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Monday
Sep202010

Martin Peretz, Ta-Nehisi Coates calls you a bigot...

...and I am persuaded. See here, and then ask yourself, what can be said in this man’s defense? I should add that I am persuadable to the contrary — I have never met Peretz, and I am no scholar of his oeuvre — but so far, following the debate, the ayes have it.

By the way, speaking of Coates, his memoir is fantastic. It’s a bit tough going, a little too lyrical, in the early going, but then it comes around and delivers big.

Monday
Sep202010

Indiscretions with young people

In my Saturday column in The Times, I wrote about Rev. James Stoll, a gay rights pioneer within Unitarianism, having to leave his first church because of indiscretions. Many readers wrote to ask about those indiscretions, so I am now posting one of the documents I found in the Harvard archives (there are several more). I have whited out one name, because it refers to possible events that took place with a possibly underage boy.

 

Monday
Sep202010

“Because Martin Peretz has some good qualities, we should overlook his rank bigotry.”

That seems to be what the Boston Globe is saying in this rather clumsy editorial.

Monday
Sep202010

Jews paying their rabbis a lot of money (to be blunt)

This is a very important piece in The Forward, part of a series on how synagogues spend their money. To summarize, synagogues pay their clergy about twice what Christian churches do (controlling for all sorts of things, although I have not looked at how sophisticated the controls are). Christians send a lot more of their money to mission efforts and to the denominational bodies (think Catholics and their expensive hierarchy), and one imagines that a lot of that money goes to bureaucratic waste, so it could be argued that it’s far better to compensate clergy well, as the Jews do. But a few thoughts:

First, the rabbi average salary is brought WAY up by the gross overpayment that wealthy synagogues make to their overpaid, lap-of-luxury rabbis. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Perhaps more, although we can’t get those figures. Lots of rabbis at smaller or struggling temples and synagogues are underpaid, or not paid. There is a shul a few blocks from me with annual dues of only a few hundred dollars a year, and only a few dozen member families; you can bet their rabbi is not paid too well. Of course, that rabbi was arrested recently for perhaps supplementing his income in unlawful ways (let’s keep in mind the American presumption that he is innocent until proven guilty).

Second, the bigger, more worrisome issue here is what happens to religion in a land of plenty. This is not just an issue for Jews, but it is a particularly worrisome issue for Jews, because of their (our) material success. I don’t believe that extreme poverty is good for the soul: hungry people tend to steal, you know. But nor are vast riches good for the soul. And I have heard far too little conversation among clergy of any faith about whether there should be caps on how much money the clergy make. Sometimes, of course, the clergy to the poor congregations drive the biggest SUVs. So it is complicated. But the problem is real, and I do not believe there is any correlation between paying clergy gross sums and having spiritually thriving congregations.

Sunday
Sep192010

Allah Beta Theta

Just read over the wires about this book deal — can’t wait for the publication of it. Korb is a terrific author, and Caldwell a great editor, and I had no idea this college even existed:


Scott Korb's AMERICA, MEET ISLAM, a closely observed narrative account of the inaugural class of Zaytuna College, the nation's first four-year Muslim college, with revealing portraits of the school's founders Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, arguably the two most important people in American Islam, to Amy Caldwell at Beacon Press, by Jim Rutman at Sterling Lord Literistic (NA).