The Rev. Andrew Mitchell, Stull United Methodist Church, 1596 E. 250 Road:
You’ve heard it from schoolteachers — “there are no stupid questions.” Stupid answers, however, are another matter — and one of my big worries as a pastor who gets quite a few questions dealing with life and death from a faith perspective.
I remember one particular question catching me off-guard — and it wasn’t the usual case of a church member trying to play “stump the pastor.” I was asked if there is an increase in suicide rates before Easter because people are confronted during this time with the story of Judas killing himself.
I had never considered that hearing about Judas hanging himself in shame might provoke someone to attempt or complete a suicide. That rationale, to me, seemed similar to blaming song lyrics for driving one to end his or her own life (the subject of a 1990 trial against a heavy metal band named, ironically, Judas Priest — that was cleared of any responsibility for the fatality).
Many times I do think that a question posed to me sounds rather “strange,” but I have to remind myself that it probably doesn’t seem so odd for the person asking it. This particular question, in fact, did have some merit — suicide rates indeed peak in the spring (most people tend to think it is higher during the winter, but they actually drop). I was skeptical, though, that Judas would be responsible for lives taken beyond his own, centuries beyond his time.
So my answer? “I don’t know. But I do hope that the Easter story of Jesus’ resurrection — a restoration of wholeness to life — resonates much more deeply than Judas’ story with those who might be contemplating suicide.”
David Berkowitz, president, Lawrence Jewish Community Center, 917 Highland Drive:
Because I am Jewish, I have been asked a number of, what seemed to me, strange questions about what Jews believe in or do.
Among them was, “Do Jews believe that children are a blessing from God?” Yes, we do, but like all parents, some days the blessing is more evident than others.
“Do we allow nonmembers to take communion at our services?” No, we don’t allow anyone to take communion at our services since that is a Christian rite and one not practiced by any other religion, including Judaism.
Perhaps the strangest question of all took place when I had been invited to address an adult education class that was studying Judaism at a Baptist church in Ottawa. After I had answered the submitted questions, one of the members of the class asked me, “Do Jews still sacrifice animals?” The short answer is no, we have not done so since the destruction of the second Temple in 70 CE. Except for a very small number of extreme Orthodox, no Jews want to see the reinstitution of animal sacrifices. Nowhere in our bible, which most people refer to as the Old Testament, is there the statement that God needs sacrifices either to sustain his powers or even as in some Pagan religions to survive. The prophet Micah also states that what God really wants is that we do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. When the Temple was destroyed, the Jews were prepared to accept the ruling of the most important and learned rabbi of that time that we had a better sacrifice to substitute: that of our hearts and our lips.
The important thing about these questions is that they were asked not in a derogatory manner but in an attempt to find out more about Judaism. As long as questions are asked in that spirit, I or others will be more than happy to answer them.
— Send e-mail to David Berkowitz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
— Send e-mail to Andrew Mitchell at email@example.com.