Saturday, August 27, 2016

Orthodox Christians, Orthodox Jews, and Vera

I have been waiting for the right moment to make a blog post comparing the Orthodoxy among Christians and Jews.

A New York Times article depicting how Ukrainian-Americans feel about the Republican Party and their embrace of Donald Trump, despite Trump's admiration of Ukraine's biggest threat to its existence, Russian president Vladimir Putin, has caught my attention recently.  First off, the article was written at the (unofficially) largest diaspora of Ukrainian Christians in the world: good old Parma, Ohio, USA. (A Parmesan is both a person from Parma, Italy and a grated cheese from the same location.  A Parmenian is a person from Parma, Ohio.) Secondly, the article primarily interviews Ukrainian Christians of a Catholic persuasion, which tend to lean more right.  Which leads to a certain point: how do Ukrainian Orthodox Christians view politics?  Hell, what do Orthodox Christians view politics?  And what about Orthodox Jews?  Are they the same?

Yeah, Vera. Are Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews the same?  That would be a no.

I know that, Dear Reader.  I'm not referring to just their religious views.  I'm referring to the word "orthodox".  Do they both do things by the book?

Um, I would think they would.

Well, let me explore the difference between Christians and Jews of the Orthodoxy.

Orthodox Christians
  1. There are different types of Orthodoxy within Christianity, as they are separated by nationality.  Greek Orthodoxy is the largest group of Orthodox Christians, followed by the Russians and the Ukrainians.  There are other nationalities represented, including the Orthodoxy from Serbia, Antioch (a Turkish city near the Turkey-Syria border), Egypt, and even here in the United States.
  2. While most Orthodox churches, based in the United States, do not divulge in politics or politicians per se (otherwise they would lose their tax exempt status for being a non-profit because of party partisanship), some churches do get involved with issues that affect their parishioners.  In other countries, like Russia and Greece, however, the Orthodoxy (as it is called) have great influence over the political game.  Most of the time, in those countries, they will lean more conservative, or "right," versus leaning liberal, or "left" (or "wrong," depending on who you ask, heh).
  3. In terms of charity, Orthodox churches in the United States will help out those who are less fortunate in "their motherland" or "their homeland," which, ironically, is not Israel.  The "homeland" is based off of the nationality that Orthodox church belongs to.
  4. Unlike their denominational siblings Catholicism and Protestantism, the Orthodoxy believes that they are the true - the original - denomination of Christianity; that they continue the same practices as Jesus Christ and his followers did when the first church was founded way back when. Catholicism tends to add more restriction to what its followers are permitted to do, whereas Protestantism is more lax in their rules and focuses more on aggressively searching for people to convert to their denomination of Christianity. Orthodox Christians, like all Jews, will not actively seek people to convert to their brand; folks will have to go to them for information on conversion.
Come to think of it, a lot of Orthodox Christianity's liturgy (or service) is straight no chaser based off of the rituals from Judaism. A prayer book, instead of the Bible, is used for weekly worship and for other holidays.  The "blood and body of Christ" derives from the blessing of the "borei p'ri hagafen" (fruit of the vine) and "hamotzi lechem min ha'aretz" (the leavened bread from the earth).

The thurible, which is a unique capsule, called a censer, is suspended by chains and attached with bells that an Orthodox priest holds by said chains during services. Each capsule has two chambers, one for the incense, which is at the top, and hot coals to release the fragrance of the incense, located at the bottom. The incense contents themselves smell very similar to the besamim, the burned incense inhaled by Jews at the end of Shabbat, during a ritual ceremony called havdalah.

Orthodox Jews

Note: I had to do some extended research on this one, because even I am not too familiar with this category.
  1. There are different types of Orthodoxy within Judaism, as they are separated by belief, not necessarily by region. Various Orthodox sects include Charedi (or ultra-Orthodox) and Modern.  Those beliefs are carried out not only in the synagogue, but outside the synagogue as well, whereas most Orthodox Christians practice their beliefs typically within the confines of their church (at least from my experience).
  2. When it comes to politics, meanwhile, there is a big divide between how Orthodox Jews and Orthodox Christians operate. Orthodox Jews, in their belief that the word in the Hebrew Bible is literal and not up for interpretational debate, will lean heavily on the conservative side of politicians and issues alike. The same principle observed by Orthodox Jews in the United States is also reflected, if not more so, in Israel.  In fact, most of the current statutes that are currently in the books with the K'nesset, or Israeli parliament, were made by Charedi politicians.
  3. Charity, or tzedakah, is a big factor here, as it is considered a commandment, or mitzvah, among all Jews, not just the Orthodox.  Not only to Orthodox Jews give contributions to "Eretz Yisrael," or the Land of Israel, they also donate to Jews in other portions of the Diaspora (outside of Israel) who are less fortunate, for example to help a Chabad community in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
  4. Orthodox Jews, like Orthodox Christians, believe that their brand of worship is the "correct" or "right" way to practice their religion.  But, when it comes to everyday life and culture, that's where the similarities end.  For example, whereas Orthodox Christians will "dress" for holidays in their homeland costumes, Orthodox Jews will dress based on modesty all the time, regardless of holiday. Married Orthodox women will wear a headscarf, very similar to the hijab for practicing Islamic women, called a mitpachat (or tichel). Men will dress wearing their tallit, or prayer shawl, tucked inside their clothes, but allowing the fringe, or tzitzit, sticking out between their pant top and their shirt bottom.
So, what do these "differences" have to do with the current political climate?

The differences have actual similarities.  Both Orthodox factions, conservative in religious practice, are having a hard time with their vote on Donald Trump, the Republican candidate for United States President. Orthodox Christians, particularly Ukrainian Orthodox Christians, are worried that Trump's admiration of Putin will lead the US to back Russia in Russia's attempts to destroy Ukraine (don't even ask me to elaborate on that). Orthodox Jews, especially the Ultra-Orthodox Jews, view Trump as anti-Semitic as they come.

If you take anything away from this, Dear Reader, is this: the Orthodox isn't some group of religious folks either alongside State Road in Parma or Mayfield Road in Mayfield Heights (here in Cuyahoga County, Ohio) that nobody outside of their realm has ever heard of.  These folks, as part of my overall hypothesis, are going to dictate what happens with the 2016 General Election, along with other minorities, who feel that their voices haven't been heard either.

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