September 24th, 2014
12:34 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog editorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - According to Jewish tradition, on Rosh Hashana, God decides who will live and die during the next year. For Cantor Shlomo Glick, the holy days - which begin the Jewish new year - are particularly poignant.
Not only does Glick, who lives in Jerusalem, stand at the front of synagogues and sing solemn prayers on Rosh Hashana, but he is an EMT for United Hatazalah, a volunteer emergency service.
Glick, 36, spoke to CNN via email about his spiritual and secular roles - including a time he stopped religious services to treat a man in cardiac arrest.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: For people who might not know, can you explain a bit about the role of a cantor?
A: A cantor leads Jewish congregations in prayer. We are professional singers who have extensively studied the order and meaning of the prayers in addition to how to carry our voices. A good cantor tailors the tunes and style of prayer with the audience to ensure that everybody sings in unison and finds meaning in the service.
Q: Which job, EMT or cantor, do you think is more important?
A: I love performing and inspiring people in prayer, but there is no greater feeling than saving a life.
Q: You work closely with human frailty. Does that make the High Holy Days more poignant for you?
June 28th, 2014
08:12 AM ET
(CNN) - For 1.6 billion people, the holiest month of the year began this past Saturday.
The exact starting date sometimes depends on the locale, but most Muslims across the globe will be fasting, praying and abstaining from sex and smoking during daylight hours. Many call it a time of spiritual purity and rededication to God.
Here's everything you need to know about the observance.
What is Ramadan?
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Hijri, or Islamic calendar. The word derives from the Arabic ramida or ar-ramad meaning a fierce, burning heat.
April 17th, 2014
08:00 AM ET
Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNNFollow @CandidaMoss
(CNN) - It’s that time of year again: the time when chocolate comes in pastels, cherry blossoms start to bloom and well-marketed religion exposés are released to the world.
In other words, it’s Easter.
Among the rash of sensationalist stories we can expect through the season, the annual “Easter was stolen from the pagans” refrain has sprouted again just in time for Holy Week.
Don’t believe the hype.
Perhaps most misinformed theory that rolls around the Internet this time of year is that Easter was originally a celebration of the ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess Ishtar.
This idea is grounded in the shared concept of new life and similar-sounding words Easter/Ishtar. There’s no linguistic connection, however. Ishtar is Akkadian and Easter is likely to be Anglo-Saxon.
Just because words in different languages sound the same doesn’t mean they are related. In Swedish, the word “kiss” means urine.
But the biggest issue for Christians is the claim that Jesus’ resurrection - the faith’s central tenet - might have pagan roots.
April 14th, 2014
11:44 AM ET
By Joel S. Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - Moses: the main character of the Torah, the paradigmatic law-giver and the star of multiple motion pictures.
As Passover rolls around again and Jews the world over retell the story of Moses’s big moment, it’s worth remembering that there are aspects of Moses that haven’t made it to the big screen or into public consciousness.
For example, here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Hebrew prophet.
1. Moses was probably Egyptian.
The most important piece of evidence for this is his name.
In the Bible, it is explained that his name is derived from the Hebrew word mashah, “to draw,” as in “to draw him from the waters of the Nile,” where he had been hidden as an infant.
Unfortunately, it is awfully hard to get from that verb to the name Moses, which would probably mean something like “the one who draws," which isn’t how the story goes.
February 13th, 2014
05:32 PM ET
Opinion by Janet Nima Taylor, special to CNN
(CNN) - Valentine’s Day can conjure up the whole spectrum of human emotion, from the ecstasy of new love to the intense pain of loneliness.
It seems the day reeks of the expectation that we need a perfect relationship in order to be happy. But what do we really want?
Some of you might know that the Buddha left his wife and young child to pursue enlightenment, so maybe he’s not the best person to give advice about your love life. On the other hand, his teachings on love, relationships and suffering have a lot to say about our harried modern lives.
The Buddha’s first teaching, known as the Four Noble Truths, was about the connection between expectations and suffering.
He taught that life includes suffering because we seek happiness in inherently dissatisfying ways. If things are going great, we think they'll never change. (They always do.) If things are going poorly, we think it's because the world has failed us.
December 23rd, 2013
03:29 PM ET
Opinion by Rachel Held Evans, Special to CNN
(CNN) - This week we celebrate Christmas, and as a Christian, I want to say I’m sorry.
I’m sorry that this season has become about fights over manger scenes on public property, about complaining when clerks say, “Happy Holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas,” about rampant commercialism and faux persecution.
I’m sorry that Christians in the United States can be so entitled when we’ve long enjoyed majority status, when we can be so blind to our own privilege.
It is ironic, really, because in the church calendar, the seasons of Advent and Christmas call us to reflect upon and celebrate what Christians believe was the most radical act of humility of all time - the incarnation.
December 21st, 2013
10:22 AM ET
Opinion by Chris Stedman, special to CNN
(CNN) - The “War on Christmas:” what — or who—is it good for?
In recent years, one organization, American Atheists, has claimed the mantle of prime atheist promoter of the tired “War on Christmas” narrative.
This year, they ushered in the season with an electronic billboard in New York City’s Times Square carrying the message: “Who needs Christ during Christmas? Nobody.” The word "Christ" is crossed out, just in case their message wasn't clear enough.
The American Atheists maintain that their latest entry in the annual “War on Christmas” saga is a message to other atheists that they are not alone.
In a recent Fox News appearance, American Atheists President Dave Silverman said, “The point that we’re trying to make is that there’s a whole bunch of people out there for whom religion is the worst part of Christmas, but they go to church anyways, and we’re here to tell them they don’t have to.”
While that intention is important and admirable, very few people—atheist or theist—seem to interpret the message as welcoming to anyone. Many of the responses I’ve seen have been vitriolic and disturbingly anti-atheist.
December 15th, 2013
06:53 AM ET
Opinion by Russell D. Moore, special to CNN
(CNN) - On my Christmas list of gifts to buy my evangelical friends, there's a little book of prayers.
This is less predictable than it may seem, since the prayers aren't from a celebrity evangelical preacher, but from a morbid, quirky Catholic who spent her short life with pet peacocks and wooden-leg-stealing Bible salesman stories.
But I think Flannery O'Connor's newly published "Prayer Journal" is exactly what Christians need, maybe especially at Christmas.
November 26th, 2013
08:49 PM ET
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Leon Gersten could not bear to watch “Schindler’s List,” the movie about Czech industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi extermination camps. It was too painful for the Holocaust survivor, too close to reality.
But now, almost 70 years after his village in Poland was liberated by the Soviet army, Gersten is meeting the man who is the Oskar Schindler of his own life: Czeslaw Polziec.
Like Schindler, Polziec is Catholic. His family secretly sheltered Gersten in rural Poland for two years during World War II.
As though such a reunion between survivor and rescuer were not emotional enough, this one is taking place Wednesday on the eve of Hanukkah, which coincides this year with Thanksgiving. Two celebrations of gratitude.
October 30th, 2013
03:32 PM ET
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editorFollow @BurkeCNN
(CNN) - Like lots of people, when October 31 rolls around, Trey Capnerhurst dons a pointy hat and doles out candy to children who darken the door of her cottage in Alberta.
But she’s not celebrating Halloween. In fact, she kind of hates it.
Capnerhurst says she’s a real, flesh-and-blood witch, and Halloween stereotypes of witches as broom-riding hags drive her a bit batty.
“Witches are not fictional creatures,” the 45-year-old wrote in a recent article on WitchVox.com.
“We are not werewolves or Frankenstein monsters. We do not have green skin, and only some of us have warts.”
Warts or not, many witches say they have mixed feelings about Halloween.
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