The Big Questions television programme – 12 January 2014

As the Big Questions show airs today I have prepared a few sources and resources about the various issues which were touched upon – some of which reflect my position as a rabbi working within Liberal Judaism and others which simply present a more nuanced and, in my opinion, coherent comment on the issues that were discussed.

I should add that the debate as it progressed placed me curiously at the end of the panel containing the ‘against’ voices (ie advocating that Human Rights should not always override Religious Rights). I actually don’t think my position is so clear, though the false dichotomy of the question is really the problem in that regard.

The truth is that whilst all of us were forced to defend our religious communities we should remember it is easy to mock behaviours and customs which seem strange to us and the people exhibiting them (is there a cultural superiority at work here? I’m reminded of the commentary on Modernity and Jewish practice in Prof Arnold Eisen’s book ‘Rethinking Modern Judaism’ – chapter 1). We should be careful because I suspect behind the debate lie the seeds of division and hatred in humanity.

I want to add one other thing to the question of the t-shirt wearing students. I personally have no issue with the wearing of the t-shirts and would not seek to ban the freedom of expression that allows them to be worn. We all, as followers of religion, need to reinforce our sense of humour and remain impervious to provocation and thick skinned to anyone who would like to cause offense. But, I do have an anxiety about the way in which public discourse and the t-shirts themselves seek to provoke conflict. I wonder what is actually at the heart of this debate in which the two sides back off into their corners? I am not convinced that it is really about secularism or freedom of speech or in fact religious doctrine. And in fact, the debate about the veil and the t-shirts have a number of similarities – they’re about clothing, about belief, identity and are at the nexus between one’s self and the outside world (and making statements about that world).

Anyway, I digress. Here are some resources and I also commend to readers that they follow the UK Human Rights Blog and the Law and Religion UK Blog. There is also useful information on the EHRC website. I’m also grateful to the tweeters whom I follow, who comment on these issues, frequently as professionals and often in the field of law and philosophy.

A brief summary to the Human Rights Act and religion is here: http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/human-rights/what-are-human-rights/the-human-rights-act/freedom-of-thought-belief-and-religion/index.html

Some posts by me about Human Rights

Is Christianity in the UK under attack?

I’m not the person to answer this, but I followed closely the former Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on this subject last summer (that is aside from the threat to Christians in some parts of the world at the moment). Personally, I think religious communities on the whole in the UK have it pretty good at the moment. There is a tolerance, respect and constructive involvement of religious communities in public debates. We even have, though it bothers me slightly, a minister for faith and communities. The reality is that religious groups need to come to terms with the fact that they no longer carry the authority as they used to, which means they have a role to play in the conversations in the ‘public square’ but do not get to veto our elected politicians when it comes to law making. I’m certain that there is a difference between Christianity and Islam (both of which were dominant religions of whole geopolitical regions) and Judaism and other minority religions in the UK which have negotiated the way in which their religion plays a role in public and private. It is no surprise that an established church feels threatened as its traditional role changes and authority wanes:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/08/16/rowan-williams-persecuted-british-christians_n_3768502.html

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/aug/15/rowan-williams-persecuted-christians-grow-up

B+B judgement:

http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/12/11/gay-discrimination-and-christian-belief-analysis-of-bull-v-hall-in-the-supreme-court/

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/RoB/religion_or_belief_in_the_workplace_an_explanation_of_recent_judgments_final.pdf

Homosexuality, Equal Marriage and Liberal Judaism:

http://www.rainbowjews.com/

http://www.keshet.org.uk/

https://rabbijanes.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/equal-marriage-liberal-judaism-views-before-the-parliamentary-vote/

http://www.liberaljudaism.org/news/news-archive/459-rabbinic-conference-statement-on-jfs-lesson-controversy.html

Refusal to serve pork products:

http://ukhumanrightsblog.com/2013/12/23/ms-muslim-employees-and-the-tricky-issue-of-reasonable-accommodation/

Circumcision:

This was the issue on which I was taken to task most in the programme. I recently gave comment to the Ham & High Newspaper on the subject, but my comments were not printed very extensively. However the conversation with the reporter was considerably more civilised! The ignorant assertion of the student (as I understood it), in the programme, that the Talmud’s description of infant mortality post-circumcision is like a mandate to kill Jewish babies was in my opinion a gross misreading of the sources. The Talmud is not written in a time of modern medicine and actually reinforces, through a limited understanding of medical conditions, the view that circumcision is not permitted in Jewish law in cases where the child’s life will be at risk.

http://www.hamhigh.co.uk/news/circumcision_is_not_genital_mutilation_north_london_rabbis_jump_to_defence_of_religious_practice_1_3174666

https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?id=101505309894175&story_fbid=608975835813784

Liberal Judaism publication on the subject: http://liberaljudaism.org/images/pdf/leaflets/lj_in_practice_circumcision.pdf

http://www.theguardian.com/law/2011/jun/15/male-circumcision-ban-health-religion-debate

A general document about some myths.

One of the mohelim from the Association of Reform and Liberal Mohelim has his own  website.

Segregated seating at Universities:

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/news/2013/december/gender-segregation/

http://freethoughtblogs.com/maryamnamazie/files/2014/01/560365-Letter-to-Universities-UK-06-01-2014-final.pdf

Professor Mary Beard wrote her own response to the furore itself – http://timesonline.typepad.com/dons_life/2013/12/sex-segregation-on-campus.html

Guidance on Sikh articles of faith

http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/publications/sikh_articles_of_faith_guidance_final.pdf

Obsessions of the faith and traditional values:

A blog post from me in which I bemoan the fact that we (politicians and religious leaders) seem obsessed by sex and reproduction.

I wrote a post here about why I hate it when (particularly Christian leaders and politicians) talk of ‘traditional’ values.

French Secularism:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/3325285.stm

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