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JSTANDARD.

COM
2014 83
AUGUST 29, 2014
VOL. LXXXIII NO. 51 $1.00
NORTH JERSEY
Indian sabbatical helps
local scholar think about
Hindu-Jewish commonalities
J e w i s h S t a n d a r d
1 0 8 6 T e a n e c k R o a d
T e a n e c k , N J 0 7 6 6 6
C H A N G E S E R V I C E R E Q U E S T E D
Page 20
FROM NUREMBERG GIRL TO NEW JERSEY MAYOR page 8
FEDERATION HELPS DAY SCHOOLS MAKE THEIR CASE page 10
BY GUM! LOCAL STUDENTS HAVE BRIGHT IDEA page 12
HAVIVA NER-DAVIDS SECOND ACT page 33
Pointing
the way
Cover Story
20 JEWISH STANDARD AUGUST 29, 2014
JS-20
Passage to India
Local academic
finds Jewish
parallels in
Hindu university
LARRY YUDELSON
D
r. Alan Brill of Teaneck faced his students.
The classroom reminded him of British Man-
date era buildings in Jerusalem. It obviously had
been built in the 1940s, or at least refurbished
then. All the desks had inkwells.
Among the students earnestly taking notes were three
Buddhist monks from Cambodia wearing orange robes; two
Tibetans, one of whom looked like a Sherpa in his yak-wool
vest; an Australian Christian dressed like a hippie trying to
dress like an Indian, and several Indians dressed in modern
clothing. Up front, wearing a traditional long golden coat,
was the professor of Hindu religion and philosophy who
normally taught this course. He was particularly diligent in
his note-taking.
The days topic was the Bible.
And then came a question that highlighted both the
vast gulf between Indian and Jew, and the commonalities
between Indian and Jewish religion:
Do Jews still sacrifice animals?
Thats not a hard question for Dr. Brill, an ordained Ortho-
dox rabbi, to answer.
In fact, there are probably few Christians in America who
dont know that Jews stopped sacrificing animals nearly two
thousand years ago.
But in India, the question made perfect sense. After all,
in Indian, animal sacrifices only ended in the early 20th
century.
The question was emblematic of Dr. Brills six-month stay
in India a place where Judaism doesnt register on the
religious awareness of even the most educated, but where
peoples intensely religious lives full of household ritual,
frequent prayers and hand washings, and elaborate food
Cover Story
JEWISH STANDARD AUGUST 29, 2014 21
JS-21
regulations makes it in some ways much
closer to Judaism than Christianity.
Dr. Brill was in India on sabbatical from
Seton Hall University, where he teaches in
the department of Jewish-Christian stud-
ies. He was based in the graduate school of
religion and philosophy at Banaras Hindu
University in the city of Varanasi, where
he had a Fulbright-Nehru fellowship, cour-
tesy of the U.S. State Department.
The interactions between Dr. Brill and
his students embodied an encounter
between two ancient religious traditions
that have had relatively little interaction.
(Dr. Brill was able to catalog those encoun-
ters many consisting simply of medieval
rabbis responding to reports of Indian
religion in Arabic writings in just one
chapter of his 2012 book, Judaism and
World Religions.)
Dr. Brill taught an introduction to Juda-
ism course as part of the Introduction to
Western Religions course required of grad-
uate students in the religion school. Even
the courses usual instructor had never
heard of Talmud or midrash, Dr. Brill said.
And he too was surprised to learn that
Jews long ago stopped bringing animal sac-
rifices, that the practice wasnt ended by
Judaisms 19th century Reform movement
as it has been by Indias 19th century reli-
gious reformers.
Wait. Animal sacrifices? Arent Hindus
vegetarians?
Yes and no.
India is a big place With 1.2 billion peo-
ple, it is the second most populous coun-
try on earth. Unlike China, the most pop-
ulous, religion has not been repressed
there. Instead, in India it flourishes. As of
the 2001 census, 80 percent of Indians are
Hindu; 13 percent Muslim (making India
the country with the worlds third largest
Muslim population), and the rest mostly
divided between Christianity, a Western
import, and the homegrown religions of
Sikkhism, Buddhism, and Jainism. But
what is called Hinduism by the West and
the Indian national census is really a col-
lection of related religious traditions with
common roots and practices but great
differences that are recognized by individ-
ual practitioners.
Dr. Brill compares it to someone who
sees Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as
essentially one religion. (He met many
people like that in India.) After all, the
three monotheistic religions share the
same theology of one God who created the
world and rewards and punishes sinners;
and they share many religious figures,
such as Abraham and Moses.
In reality, Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam are at least three religions and the
closer you look at any one them, the less
monolithic is appears to be. (Is the differ-
ence between Reform and Orthodox Juda-
ism significant? How about the difference
Left: Dr. Alan Brill and
a cow share a street
in Varanasi. Above:
Boatmen wait for pas-
sengers on their ghats
sacred staircases
that lead down to the
Ganges river. Right:
Brightly colored infor-
mal art tells some of
Indias sacred stories.
PHOTOS BY ROBERT CARROLL
Cover Story
22 JEWISH STANDARD AUGUST 29, 2014
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between Chabad and Satmar?)
All the more so in India with its more than 1,500
languages, representing myriad distinct ethnic groups.
Almost any obscure Hindu sect has more members
than there are Jews, said Dr. Brill. That includes one
group, dating back to the 13th century, that pretty much
adopts a Jewish-style theology of pure monotheism.
The most important thing I learned is not to trust
any of the generalizations, stereotypes, or almost any-
thing written in American popular literature, Dr. Brill
said. Even the most basic things that come on a Google
search are incorrect.
One example: The same way Jews are not still directly
practicing the religion described in Leviticus, no Hindu
is practicing the religions of the Vedic texts directly.
Theyve had dozens of points of changes. Like any other
religion, theyre practicing 20th century versions of it.
Banaras Hindu University is, as its name implies, a
religious college as are, in their way, Seton Hall and
Dr. Brills alma mater, Yeshiva University. But unlike the
two small New York-area institutions, Banaras University
is huge, boasting 20,000 students. It is in one of Indias
holiest cities, on the banks of the sacred Ganges river,
the city of a million residents that draws three million
pilgrims each year many with the belief that dying in
the holy city, or being cremated on the shores of the
Ganges, will prove auspicious.
Dr. Brill uses an Israeli metaphor. Its like Bar Ilan
University a modern Orthodox institution but
located within Bnai Brak, an ultra-Orthodox center.
In that metaphor, Dr. Brill likens his alien presence to a
Swedish Lutheran living in Bnai Brak.
Another difference between the Indian institution and
the American religious colleges: Conferences at Yeshiva
University and Seton Hall dont open with ceremonial
offerings to busts of their founding presidents.
But Dr. Brill found plenty of ways in which Banaras
reminded him of YU.
There were the pious students who kissed their
sacred Sanskrit texts, like yeshiva students kissing their
Bibles or Talmuds. Some went further and also kissed
their Sanskrit dictionaries, an extension of the realm of
holiness Dr. Brill also has seen in Jewish circles.
The pious students also paused at the doorway to
touch the floor reminiscent of the YU students who
would kiss the mezuzah on the door jamb.
The two holiday calendars posted on Banaras Univer-
sitys website point to Indias religious diversity. The first
records 17 days on which the campus is closed, including
Christmas and Good Friday; four Muslim holidays whose
exact date is subject to change depending on when the
new moon is sighted; national holidays like Indepen-
dence Day and Mahatma Gandhis birthday, and several
Hindu holy days. A second page offers 39 secondary hol-
idays. Employees can choose two to observe.
But an observant Jew seeking to take off the 13 tradi-
tional Jewish holidays would be met with understand-
ing, Dr. Brill believes. They would be fine with it. There
are many more regional holidays that are not on the
list, but for which practitioners take off.
Hindus do not have a Sabbath but they have at least
Street shrines give local workers the chance to
make offerings throughout the day.
A beggar sits before a closed Internet cafe.
Cover Story
JS-23
JEWISH STANDARD AUGUST 29, 2014 23
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one festival every 10 days, he said.
Dr. Brill has begun to write a book
that in some way explains the contours
of Hinduism for Judaism, or lets both of
the religions look at each other, the simi-
larities and differences. (This will fol-
low his soon-to-be-completed history of
Modern Orthodox Judaism from 1800 to
2000; his first book on interfaith topics,
Judaism and Other Religions: Models of
Understanding, is coming out in paper-
back this fall.)
With that in mind, he was particu-
larly keen to find out how his classes on
Judaism would resonate with the Indian
students.
He was thrilled to see them catch on to
subtle points.
When the students read Genesis,
they all said, Look! Adam was origi-
nally a vegetarian.
Another time, a professor sitting in on
his class called out, Oh, this is God in
search of man!
The Indian had unwittingly used Abra-
ham Joshua Heschels phrase to summa-
rize the Jewish Bible, where God speaks
to humankind in a manner that contrasts
starkly with the gods in Hindu scripture,
who speak only to each other.
And both the story of Adam and Eve
in Genesis and the philosophy of Mai-
monides in his Guide to the Perplexed
earned the high praise of being yogic.
For them, yogic is not the exercise
part, Dr. Brill said. Its how you go
from falsehood and false consciousness
to regaining the truth through correct-
ing your mind and your habits. Yoga for
them is a process by which you elevate
the falsehood of the human condition
through philosophy, through correct
ethics, and also meditation and physical
discipline. The Hebrew translation for
yogic is mussar, he added.
The Indian students found that some
of the most esoteric ideas of Judaism
were the easiest for them to grasp.
Theoretical kabbalistic discussions of
whether God is separate from the world,
whether the world is all God, and how
God infuses the world anything that
sounds scholastic, Dr. Brill said. Thats
what they spent their time studying.
Subtle points of how does emanation
work. It doesnt matter whether its from
a Hindu or a Buddhist point of view.
They could have three other courses all
on that topic.
Some of the things that seem least
Christian about Judaism make the most
sense to Hindus. Both Judaism and Hin-
duism have the same set of questions.
To take one example from the kitchen:
Both Jews and Hindus know that mush-
rooms dont fit into the category of veg-
etables. The Hindus I was with dont eat
them. Jews say a different blessing before
This temple to Shiva is at the center of Banaras Universitys campus.
Cover Story
24 JEWISH STANDARD AUGUST 29, 2014
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Bissli
Family Pack
eating them. The actual practice is different, but
theres a certain common way of thinking, of always
doing a taxonomy and creating a rule from it.
There was a court case in India recently where the
judge ruled that Hinduism is a way of life, not a reli-
gion the same way as many Jews see themselves.
Hinduism gives us a template for us as Jews to see what
were doing, as opposed to the Christian concept of
religion.
Dr. Brill found that the Hindu practice of vegetarian-
ism varied in different parts of India much as does
observance of kashrut in different parts of Israel.
In Jerusalem, not only is everything kosher, but
everything is under good certification, he said. The
majority of the country is keeping traditional dietary
practices, even if not so strictly. But there are cities
that are secular and ignore it entirely.
Vegetarianism is seen as the traditional practice in
India, he continued. Most people who live in Vera-
nasi, where he was based, are vegetarian. In the
modern cities, theres quite a bit of meat-eating. In the
completely secular parts, it doesnt exist.
But just as most Israelis avoid pork, in India, even
those who eat meat tend to avoid cow.
The result is that the most prestigious restaurant
chain is KFC because many Indians feel comfortable
eating American fried chicken. McDonalds is seen as
less prestigious. In India, the chain has modified its
menu; instead of serving beef burgers, it serves veg-
gie burgers, chicken burgers, and burgers made out
of cheese.
While Benaras is a coeducational institution, unlike
Yeshiva College, still men and women cannot touch.
When there was a school performance, it was very
much like a yeshiva day school play. One could prof-
itably compare how to do shomer negiah dramatics
in both faiths, he said, using the Hebrew phrase for
those who observe the traditional Jewish ban on unre-
lated males and females touching each other.
The lead male role in the play was given to a girl,
so that she could touch and hug the heroine. A minor
male role was performed by an actual male student, but
the rest of the individual roles were women. The men
served as a dance troupe, acting out selected events in
the narrative, he said. And like at a day school, there
was the awkward ending when the female students
only received flowers and a shawl from the female dean
and the male students from the male dean.
If the school was traditional, old-time Brahman,
there would have been no mixing allowed. If it was
fully modern then it would not have been a question
that is likely the case at Indias secular universities.
Instead, they try to walk the same tightrope as their
modern Orthodox counterparts.
A few words about Hinduism, monotheism, and
idolatry.
Judaism takes great pride in not worshiping idols.
Its right there at the beginning of the Ten Command-
ments: Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee a graven image, nor
any manner of likeness, of any thing that is in heaven
above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the
water under the earth.
And the psalms of Hallel are full of mockery. Their
idols are silver and gold, the work of mens hands.
They have mouths, but they speak not.
Its not a surprise, then, that Jews are discomfited by
Hindu religion, with its devotional statues and images
dedicated to Krishna, Vishnu, and myriads of other
less prominent deities.
According to Dr. Brill, no matter how much ancient
Indian religion resembled the idolatry condemned by
Cover Story
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JEWISH STANDARD AUGUST 29, 2014 25
All kids supplements
the Torah, by the time rabbis first discussed Hindu
beliefs in the middle ages, they were responding to
reports filtered through monotheistic Islam, whose
empires stood at the borders of India or ruled portions
of it. In Judeo-Arabic translations of Hindu texts, dei-
ties was translated as angels.
At the same time, Hindu theology had undergone its
own theological shifts.
As a result, by the time of the first official encounters
between Jewish and Hindu leaders a 2007 summit
in Delhi featuring Israeli Chief Rabbi Yonah Metzger
the two sides could sign a declaration that Their
respective traditions teach that there is one supreme
being who is the ultimate reality, who has created this
world in its blessed diversity, and who has communi-
cated divine ways of action for humanity, for different
peoples in different times and places. In a follow-up
meeting in 2008, the declaration went further: It is
recognized that the one supreme being, both in its
formless and manifest aspects, has been worshipped
by Hindus over the millennia. This does not mean that
Hindus worship gods and idols. The Hindu relates
to only the one supreme being when he/she prays to a
particular manifestation.
If you ask an Indian about the image of a deity,
whether in their home or in a temple, they would
say the image is just the way to direct your heart, Dr.
Brill said. Everyone understand these are just repre-
sentations. .
He added that Western views of Indian religion
arent helped by the choices made by the graphic
designers, who tend to put images of dancing gods on
the covers of books about Hinduism.
Those are actually decorations on the outside of
buildings, not the actual ones used in worship, he
said. Imagine if we took pictures of lions on the out-
sides of the Torah ark or zodiacs from old synagogues,
and put them on the cover of a book about Judaism.
But these questions about monotheism and idolatry
are seen as incredibly judgmental and provincial by
most Indians, because they start the conversation by
comparing Indian religion to Western conceptions, Dr.
Brill said. Indians want Westerners to recognize how
much their focus is on a personal God; on how much
they too want to get grace or repent before God. They
resent how Western textbooks dont present them
as concerned with charity, good deeds, helping one
another, and family life, and how much theyre doing
all that to help gain Gods merit or love.
Of all of Dr. Brills encounters with Hinduism in India,
probably the most alien was the death ritual. Like Jews
seeking to be buried in Jerusalem, people come from
across India to Veranasi and the Ganges with their
dead. Rather than being buried, the bodies are burned.
Cremation has very exact rules, Dr. Brill said.
Another major difference ties into the diversity and
its origins.
On his blog at kavvanah.wordpress.com, Dr. Brill
imagined a hypothetical world in which Judaism had
followed a Hindu-like path from biblical times.
Imagine if, instead of saying there has to be one
Temple in Jerusalem, the response to Jereboam was to
say, Its a great idea! Maybe we should have a separate
temple every days journey through the country, he
said. Imagine if Elijah and the priests of Baal said,
Theres only one God over everything. Why are we
fighting?
Its completely against Judaism, but to their way of
thinking, everyones heart is in the right place.
Dr. Brill believes the biggest impact of his teaching
on the Indians he met was cultural. They had never
really thought of Judaism, of where it fits in, he said.
They only knew it through Christian or anti-Semitic eyes,
through Shylock or Mein Kampf.
Indians know far less about Judaism than do American
Christians, even those American Christians who have never
met a Jew before. At first, Dr. Brill found that ignorance to
be shocking.
So, what do you think about Hitler turns out to be a
common conversation opener.
They have no knowledge of World War II, he said. Its
like you would ask someone from the former Communist
bloc what it was like under Stalin, without meaning any per-
sonal offense. They only know Hitler as a strong leader. They
fought for the British, but their World War II ran through
Burma and Indochina.
For these future religious teachers and religious leaders
studying at Benaras, The whole course of Jewish history
and our self-conception as a people, the Holocaust, Israel
that didnt register. These sort of questions they put in
the history department. They tend to think of religion in
the abstract.
They do have a great interest in learning about Israel,
Dr. Brill said. The Jewish organizations have a great deal to
gain in creating a teaching guide about Judaism and about
Israel for the Indians.

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