Friday, October 16, 2009

Two Jewish notes

Two quick stories about Jewish communities out here that I don't think I've mentioned yet:

1) In China (PRC), it is actually illegal for the Chabad in Shanghai to have any interaction with Chinese citizens, because of the government ban on proselytization. This law does not apply to foreigners (whose religious needs organizations are allowed to serve), so anyone holding a passport of another country (or permanent residence) is okay. But, unlike in Japan, where you can have a conversion class, such a formal outreach to anyone interested would not be a good idea in China.

2) I am generally amazed by hiluni (secular) Israelis, especially the way that Judaism for them is traditional Orthodox or nothing. A group of Israeli architects visited the new Jewish community building here in Tokyo. When entering the space designated for services (where they had to be reminded to put on head coverings out of respect), they repeatly asked where the women were supposed to sit. Their host continually replied that men and women sit together, and so there was no separate women's section.

Later, when seeing the gorgeous tiled bathrooms, they remarked that the building must have been built on a budget, because the sinks don't have automatic hand sensors. Their host explained that, no, there were no budgetary concerns here, but, rather, the automatic hand sensors would cause a problem on Shabbat. This perplexed the Israelis, who seem to not be able to wrap their heads around a shul that sat men and women together, yet cared about automatic hand sensors on Shabbat.

Apprently, in their world, once you don't discriminate based on gender for ritual participation, you might as well throw out all of the laws of Shabbat and kashrut!

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