Archive for the ‘religion’ Category


>April 22, 2011
A Passover Toast to a Rabbi Known for Social Activism, and for Kosher Coca-Cola
By SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN

Rabbi Tuvia Geffen, of blessed memory, was born in Lithuania in 1870 and educated in the renowned Slobodka yeshiva. In the wake of a pogrom, he immigrated to New York in 1903, and seven years later he moved to Atlanta to become the rabbi of Shearith Israel, a tiny and struggling Orthodox congregation meeting in the battered remnant of a Methodist church.

During his early decades at Shearith Israel, Rabbi Geffen established Atlanta’s first Hebrew school and oversaw its ritual bath. He stood by Leo Frank, the Jewish man falsely accused of murdering a young Christian girl, and after Frank’s lynching in 1915, the rabbi urged his congregants not to flee the South in fear.

At Passover in 1925, he spoke eloquently and presciently against Congress for passing immigration restrictions that “have slammed shut the gates of the country before the wanderers, the strangers, and those who walk in darkness from place to place.” As early as 1933, he warned about the Nazi regime in Germany. Long before feminism, he advocated for Orthodox women who were being denied religious divorce decrees by vindictive husbands.

But all those achievements are not why we invoke the name and memory of Rabbi Geffen today, more than 40 years after his death. No, we come to honor his least likely yet most enduring contribution to the Jewish people and his adopted nation: kosher-for-Passover Coca-Cola.

Yes, observant Jews of today, searching supermarket counters for those bottles with the telltale yellow cap bearing the Orthodox Union’s certification, and yes, Coke die-hards of any or no religion who seek out those same bottles for the throwback flavor of cane-sugar Coke, you owe it all to Rabbi Tuvia Geffen.

He of the long beard and wire-rim glasses and Yiddish-inflected English, a man by all outward appearances belonging to the Old World, he was the person who by geographical coincidence and unexpected perspicacity adapted Coca-Cola’s secret formula to make the iconic soft drink kosher in one version for Passover and in another for the rest of the year. To this day, his 1935 rabbinical ruling, known in Hebrew as a teshuva, remains the standard.

That ruling, in turn, did much more than solve a dietary problem. A generation after Frank’s lynching, a decade after Congress barred the Golden Door, amid the early stages of Hitler’s genocide, kosher Coke formed a powerful symbol of American Jewry’s place in the mainstream.

“Rabbi Geffen really got the importance of it,” said Marcie Cohen Ferris, a professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina, who specializes in Jewish life in the South. “You couldn’t live in any better place than the South to get it. To not drink Coca-Cola was certainly to be considered un-American.”

Or look at the interplay of Jews and America from another angle. Rabbi Geffen’s solution to the Coke problem was not to forget the kosher rules and melt into the melting pot. But neither was it to decry the spiritual pollution of modernity in the form of a fizzy drink. A half-century before the era of cultural pluralism, his answer was to have the majority address the distinct needs of a minority.

As a contemporary Orthodox rabbi, Adam Mintz, has written in an essay on Geffen and Coke: “Struggling to find their place in a land that was often hostile to their religion, American Jews respected and appreciated rabbis who sought to include them within the Orthodox camp rather than simply condemn them as sinners. Of course his approach would not have been possible had he not felt confident in his powers of persuasion.”

We can safely say, however, that this issue chose Rabbi Geffen rather than the other way around. As early as 1925, as the Orthodox authority in Coke’s home city, he was receiving inquiries from other rabbis about the drink’s kosher status. A few other rabbis had already given certification, without knowing the secret formula. And multitudes of American Jews were drinking Coke regardless.

“Because it has become an insurmountable problem to induce the great majority of Jews to refrain from partaking of this drink,” Rabbi Geffen wrote in his teshuva, “I have tried earnestly to find a method of permitting its usage. With the help of God, I have been able to uncover a pragmatic solution.”

Putting aside God’s props for a moment, we should note that Rabbi Geffen had some significant earthly help in the person of Harold Hirsch, a Jewish Atlantan who was Coca-Cola’s corporate lawyer. Through Hirsch, Rabbi Geffen was permitted to enter that industry’s Holy of Holies and receive Coke’s secret formula.

With it, the rabbi was able to identify the elements that rendered Coke nonkosher during the bulk of the year (oil of glycerine derived from beef tallow) and specifically during Passover (a corn derivative). Hiding the exact ingredients behind Hebrew euphemisms in his teshuva, Rabbi Geffen explained the needed corrections. Glycerine could be replaced by coconut or cottonseed oils, and the corn derivative by cane or beet sugars.

Kosher-for-Passover Coke is now produced under rabbinic supervision at bottling plants serving Jewish population centers in New York, Florida, Southern California and Houston, among other areas. A number of other major brands have followed Coke into the Passover market: Dannon, Lipton, Pepsi and Tropicana. There are tequila and blintzes made without forbidden grains.

“It used to be that for Pesach you were limited to matza and hard-boiled eggs,” said Rabbi Menachem Genack, the head of the Orthodox Union’s kosher-certification program. “Now, I’ve got to tell you, I love those cheese blintzes.”

And, whether devout or debauched, Coke fans anticipate Passover for their own cultish reason: the usual sweetener, high-fructose corn syrup, is replaced by cane or beet sugar.

Moshe Feder, an editor of science-fiction and fantasy books, traveled to six supermarkets from his home in Queens before finding four two-liter bottles of Passover Coke. The subject of his quest happened to come up at a seder the other night. The host, a Jewish man, had never heard about the difference between Coke and Passover Coke. But two Roman Catholic guests, Mr. Feder reported, “knew all about it.”

Rabbi Geffen, of blessed memory, who’d have guessed you were so ecumenical?

E-mail: sgf1@columbia.edu
A Passover Toast to a Kosher Innovator — On Religion – NYTimes.com


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Yemen’s hidden alcohol problem
By JUDITH SPIEGEL / THE MEDIA LINE
17/01/2011
Since alcohol is largely forbidden in this Muslim country, treatment for alcoholism is private, as government brushes it under the rug.
Yemen, Sana’a – It’s nine o’clock at night on a busy road on the outskirts of Sana’a and a man is waiting at the shadows. Samir, a 22-year-old university student, has been cruising in his car with his mates and has been engaged in a constant mobile phone negotiation with this man until finally, a location for the deal is made.

Samir halts his car. The man emerges from the shadows and quickly passes him a plastic bag containing two bottles of Stolichnaya vodka, wrapped in local newspapers and asks for the money. Samir gives him 12,000 Rials ($60) for both bottles.

In an Islamist country where alcohol is largely forbidden, just a simple transaction for a few bottles of vodka has a sinister nature of black alley contraband and fear. As much as alcohol is taboo, treating alcoholism is even more challenging since it exposes its sufferers to stigmas.

Samir, who spoke on condition his last name not be revealed, says he does not consider himself to be an alcoholic. He just has “to drink a few beers in the evening to be able to sleep.” A student at one of the Yemeni capital’s prestigious universities, Samir says he often skips classes to drink and was “stressed out” because of his father’s high expectations from him to get high marks and take over his family business. He both adores and fears his father and says his fear of not living up to his expectations makes him seek daily solace in alcohol.

He is not alone. According to Dr. Hisham Al-Nabhani, a psychiatrist at Al Amal psychiatric hospital, about six cases like Samir’s cross his door every month seeking treatment for alcohol abuse.

“They usually come after drinking for three or four years,” Al-Nabhani told The Media Line. “Most of them have high economic status, are the sons of military officers or businessmen who have money and therefore access to alcohol.”

Al-Nabhani said most of them had lived in Saudi Arabia for extended periods.

“This is where they picked up the habit of using alcohol. I know it is even more forbidden there than in Yemen but people tend to hunt after forbidden things,” he added.

Yemeni law prohibits the consumption of alcohol in public or public drunkenness. If caught, violators are sent to prison and not to treatment centers like the Al Amal hospital. What happens in private homes, however, is another matter and police do not as a rule search houses for alcohol. Unlike in Saudi Arabia, there are no religious police enforcing the Islamic ban on alcohol.

“If people drink at home, this is between them and Allah, not between them and the Yemeni law,” Dr. Al-Nabhani says.

Ironically, alcohol is relatively easy to obtain in Yemen. There is locally brewed vodka, called Baladi, named after the Arabic word ‘bilad’ which means country. Vodka, whisky, beer and gin is also smuggled in from Ethiopia or Djibouti and then sold through dealers. There are even towns such as Haima and Amran where whole streets are lined with little shops selling booze behind their iron doors. At first glance the shops appear like the average Yemeni grocery with cans of beans, washing powder and cigarettes lining the walls. But they have a clandestine side room where crates of Heineken beer and bottles of whisky of assorted brands can be found.

The shops are known by many, including government officials. A recent Wikileaks report quoted President Ali Abdullah Saleh joking with US General David Petraeus that he loathed drugs and weapons coming from Djibouti, but whisky, on the other hand was fine, as long as it was good whiskey. Curiously, the report did not receive much media attention in Yemen despite fears in the foreign press that it could lead to a “Whiskey Controversy.” Yemen denied the quotes were made and the government-controlled newspapers and television channels ignored it.

Samir recalls how he and others seeking an alcoholic drink had ventured to the Russian Club, a nightclub in Sana’a playing outdated music but where alcohol flows freely, provided one is a foreigner. The club denied Samir and his mates entry since they were Yemenis.

“This is not up to the guy at the gate, it is up to us, for heaven’s sake,” Samir says angrily, recalling they went home and ordered a bottle of gin from a dealer.

Dr. Al-Nabhani believes that those coming to his clinic with an alcohol problem are only the tip of the iceberg and that the phenomenon is much more wide spread than the Yemeni public wants to admit.

“We only see the complicated issues where families bring the man to our hospital,” he says. “It is always men. I have never seen a woman here. They usually are brought after he starts beating his wife, his sons, his neighbours and the family was desperate for treatment.”

“It is there, so why deny it? The first step to treatment is acknowledgement, but in our society this is taboo. Furthermore, everyone in Yemen who seeks psychological or psychiatric help is considered insane, so this does not motivate people to go to a psychiatric hospital either,” he says.

Al Amal hospital checks in alcoholics for a two-week treatment, during which they receive medication, group and behavioural therapy. After they leave, they continue to receive medication and psychological treatment.

“But it only works with people who come voluntarily,” Dr. Al-Nabhani laments. “Those who are forced here by their families usually fall back again.”

The Al Amal hospital is funded by the Charitable Society for Social Welfare, a Yemeni charity founded by Sheikh Abdul Majeed al-Zindani, an influential Yemeni religious leader who is also on the United States lists of terrorists. This doesn’t bother Dr. Al-Nabhani or his colleagues since their goal is to deal with alcoholism, and stay away from religious politics.

Because officially there is no alcohol, there are no campaigns or any other public awareness programs. People only know about treatment programs such as the one at Al Amal due to word of mouth. For years, Dr. Al-Nabhani and his colleagues have tried to publicize their care, but they are not supported by the government.

“So we can only sit here and wait for people to come to us,” he says, adding sardonically that knocking behind the closed doors of Sana’a would likely lead to a seven-fold increase in alcoholism patients.

Meanwhile, young men like Samir continue to titter on alcoholism which raises the question: Would it not be better to legalize it and just sell it in the supermarkets so that things can be controlled? Dr. Al-Nabhani is not so sure.

“First of all, access would be easier so we will have more drinkers,” he says. “Secondly, people think that if this were the case then Yemen would no longer be an Islamic country. As long as it is hidden, they simply think the problem does not exist.”

Yemen’s hidden alcohol problem

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Cohabitation et tolérance
La singularité et l’exception marocaines exaltées à Londres
flecheRouge Publié le : 11.11.2010 | 17h26
Le modèle marocain singulier s’impose dans un monde en proie aux turbulences et aux divisions, dixit le président du Musée juif de Londres.

La vocation du Maroc en tant que havre de paix et terre de rencontres a été saluée à Londres à l’occasion de l’exposition «Morocco», organisée dans la capitale britannique par le musée juif de Londres en partenariat avec la Moroccan-British Society (MBS), que préside l’ambassadeur du Maroc en Grande-Bretagne, Chrifa Lalla Joumala Alaoui.
La cérémonie d’inauguration de cette grandiose manifestation a été l’occasion pour de nombreuses personnalités d’exprimer leur reconnaissance au Royaume, pays qui a su depuis plusieurs siècles donner l’exemple en matière de pluralisme et de cohabitation entre les différentes cultures et religions. «Le Maroc a été, depuis des centaines d’années, un modèle de coexistence entre les adeptes des différentes religions dans un cadre marqué par le respect des valeurs de chaque communauté», a déclaré à la MAP, Lord Young, président du musée juif de Londres et Conseiller du Premier ministre britannique, David Cameron. «Ce modèle marocain singulier s’impose dans un monde en proie aux turbulences et aux divisions», a dit Lord Young, émettant le souhait de voir les autres pays suivre l’exemple de l’exception marocaine.

Lord Young a tenu à souligner le rôle important que le Maroc a depuis toujours joué pour la promotion des valeurs de tolérance et pour trouver un règlement juste et durable au conflit du Moyen-Orient.
Par ailleurs, Lord Young a exprimé sa gratitude à la MBS pour son partenariat et son soutien pour l’organisation de l’exposition. Rappelant que la MBS œuvre pour le renforcement des relations d’amitié et de coopération privilégiées entre le Maroc et la Grande-Bretagne, il s’est dit convaincu que la grande contribution apportée par la MBS pour la tenue de l’exposition ne manquera pas de renforcer davantage ces relations.

La présence des juifs au Maroc date depuis plus de 2.000 ans, a-t-il dit, soulignant que l’exposition «Morocco» offre l’occasion propice pour rendre un hommage appuyé au Maroc, un pays où la cohabitation entre musul

Lord Young a également tenu à rendre un vibrant hommage à feu S.M. Mohammed V pour la sollicitude que le défunt Souverain accordait à ses sujets de confession juive.
L’exposition de Londres vise à la fois à promouvoir la diversité de la communauté juive et renforcer les relations de dialogue et de coexistence entre les différentes cultures et religions, a-t-il encore dit.

Même son de cloche chez Claire Spencer, qui dirige le département Moyen-Orient/Afrique du Nord à l’Institut Royal des Affaires Internationales (Chatham House, basé à Londres), qui a relevé que l’exposition offre l’occasion de mettre en relief la place du Maroc en tant que «référence clef» en matière de relations entre différentes communautés. «Nous sommes ici pour célébrer les aspects et les dimensions culturels du Maroc au Royaume-Uni, loin de toute considération d’ordre idéologique», a-t-elle dit. De son côté, Sydney Assor, membre éminent de la communauté juive marocaine en Grande-Bretagne, a rendu hommage à l’ambassadeur du Maroc en Grande-Bretagne pour les efforts inlassables qu’elle ne cesse de déployer pour la promotion de l’image authentique du Maroc en tant que terre de paix et de rencontres.

«C’est grâce à vos efforts que le public britannique aura l’occasion de découvrir la culture juive du Maroc, vieille de plusieurs siècles», a-t-il dit, réitérant l’attachement indéfectible de la communauté juive marocaine à la mère patrie et au glorieux Trône alaouite. L’exposition «Morocco», qui durera jusqu’au 6 mars 2011, représente un véritable voyage dans le temps, mettant en relief la richesse de la civilisation du Maroc et la splendeur de ses valeurs intrinsèques de tolérance et de respect de l’autre. A travers une collection de 74 photographies inédites, prises durant les années 40 et 50 par Elias Harrus, Marocain de confession juive, le visiteur découvre la vie quotidienne des juifs de l’Atlas et du sud du Maroc et leur interaction avec leurs concitoyens musulmans dans un environnement empreint de quiétude et d’enrichissement mutuel.

Ces photos sont d’une importance particulière du fait que cette communauté juive a, depuis, virtuellement disparu des montagnes de l’Atlas et du sud du Maroc pour s’installer dans les grandes villes du Royaume ou immigrer à l’étranger, estime la directrice du musée juif, Rickie Burman. L’exposition comprend également des photos captées par Pauline Prior qui a revisité, à la demande du musée juif d’Amsterdam, les mêmes lieux que Harus pour transposer ce qui reste du patrimoine juif au Maroc. Le musée juif expose également des costumes traditionnels portés ou confectionnés par des juifs marocains ainsi qu’une collection de bijoux.

A signaler que cet événement phare vient rappeler l’exposition exceptionnelle des textes et des livres saints des trois religions monothéistes, qui s’est tenue du 27 avril au 23 septembre 2007 au siège de la prestigieuse British Library (BL) à Londres. Tenue sous le Haut Patronage de S.M. le Roi Mohammed VI et de S.A.R. le Prince Philip, Duc d’Edimbourg, l’exposition avait réalisé un succès éclatant témoignant ainsi du rôle de premier plan que le Maroc joue dans le rapprochement entre les religions, les civilisations et les cultures.

Un tel constat de succès a été souligné dans un rapport élaboré par la BL, qui a noté que l’exposition, a été l’événement le plus réussi jamais organisé par l’institution, attirant plus de 200.000 visiteurs durant cinq mois. Un sondage réalisé par l’Institut Mori a montré qu’une grande majorité des visiteurs de tout âge ont indiqué que cette exposition de portée universelle leur a permis de découvrir les multitudes de valeurs partagées par les trois religions monothéistes: l’Islam, le Christianisme et le Judaïsme.

Convergence des civilisations

«C’est un Maroc fort de sa diversité culturelle et riche de toutes ses histoires additionnées que l’Angleterre
est invitée à découvrir», a déclaré à la MAP André Azoulay, conseiller de S.M. le Roi.
«Espace privilégié de convergence des civilisations berbère, arabo-musulmane et juive, le Maroc a su résister aux mirages d’une histoire réécrite en fonction des aléas de l’instant», a dit M. Azoulay après avoir donné lecture du message adressé par S.M. le Roi Mohammed VI, que Dieu l’assiste, aux organisateurs de l’exposition sur le judaïsme marocain, inaugurée mercredi soir au siège du Musée juif de Londres.
«Le message de S.M. le Roi donne sa juste mesure à la singularité, à la modernité et à la profondeur des choix faits par le Maroc pour résister aux tentations du repli», a ajouté le conseiller de S.M. le Roi, en mettant en relief la détermination des communautés juives marocaines, où qu’elles se trouvent, pour «afficher, promouvoir et protéger leurs racines marocaines et leur mobilisation effective aux côtés du Maroc».

Par MAP

Cohabitation et tolérance : La singularité et l’exception marocaines exaltées à Londres

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