Monthly Archives: December 2009

“He was the best of the Jews” – A Muslim Homily Suggestion

M. A. Muqtedar Khan, professor of political science at the University of Delaware offer his fellow Muslims a suggestion of a topic to speak about.

“He was the best of the Jews”

If Muslim Imams told the story of Rabbi Mukhayriq to their congregations in America and elsewhere, I am confident that it will contribute to manifestations of increased tolerance by Muslims towards others.

By Muqtedar Khan, December 28, 2009

There are many stories that contemporary Imams rarely tell their congregations. The story of Mukhayriq, a Rabbi from Medina is one such story. I have heard the stories about the battle of Uhud, one of prophet Muhammad’s major battles with his Meccan enemies, from Imams and Muslim preachers hundreds of times, but not once have I heard the story of Rabbi Mukhayriq who died fighting in that battle against the enemies of Islam.

So, I will tell the story of Rabbi Mukhayriq – the first Jewish martyr of Islam. It is quite apropos as the season of spiritual holidays is here.

Mukhayriq was a wealthy and learned leader of the tribe of Tha’labah. He fought with Prophet Muhammed in the battle of Uhud on March 19, 625 AD and was martyred in it. That day was a Saturday. Rabbi Mukhayriq addressed his people and asked them to go with him to help Muhammed. His tribe’s men declined saying that it was the day of Sabbath. Mukhayriq chastised them for not understanding the deeper meaning of Sabbath and announced to his people that if he died in the battle his entire wealth should go to Muhammed.

Mukhayriq died in battle against the Meccans. And when Muhammed, who was seriously injured in that battle, was informed about the death of Mukhayriq, Muhammed said, “He was the best of Jews.”

Muhammed inherited seven gardens and other forms of wealth from Mukhayriq. Muhammed used this wealth to establish the first waqf – a charitable endowment – of Islam. It was from this endowment that the Prophet of Islam helped many poor people in Medina.

When Muhammed migrated form Mecca to Medina in 622 he signed a treaty with the various tribes that lived in and around Medina. Many of these tribes had embraced Islam, some were pagan and others were Jewish. All of them signed the treaty with Muhammed that is referred to by historians as the Constitution of Medina. The first Islamic state, a multi-tribal and multi-religious state, established by Muhammed in Medina was based on this social contract.

According to Article 2 of the Constitution, all tribes who were signatory to the treaty constituted one nation (ummah). Mukhayriq’s people too were signatories to this treaty and were obliged to fight with Muhammed in accordance to Article 37 of the Constitution, which says:
The Jews must bear their expenses and the Muslims their expenses. Each must help the other against anyone who attacks the people of this document. They must seek mutual advice and consultation, and loyalty is a protection against treachery. A man is not liable for his ally’s misdeeds. The wronged must be helped.
In a way Rabbi Mukhayriq, who was also a well-respected scholar of Jews in Medina, was merely being a good citizen and was fulfilling a social contract. But his story is fantastic, especially for our times when we are struggling to build bridges between various religious communities. Mukhayriq’s loyalty, his bravery, his sacrifice and his generosity are inspirational.

Perhaps it is about people like Mukhayriq that the Quran says:
And there are, certainly, among Jews and Christians, those who believe in God, in the revelation to you, and in the revelation to them, bowing in humility to God. They will not sell the Signs of God for a miserable gain! For them is a reward with their Lord (3:199).
Mukhayriq’s story is a story of an individual’s ability to transcend communal divides and to fight for a more inclusive idea of community. He was a true citizen of the state of Medina and he gave his life in its defense. He was a Jew and he was an Islamic hero and his story must never be forgotten and must be told and retold. When Muslims forget to remember his, and other stories that epitomize interfaith relations they diminish the legacy of Islam and betray the cause of peace.

If Muslim Imams told his story in their congregations in America and elsewhere, I am confident that it will contribute to manifestations of increased tolerance by Muslims towards others. There are many such wonderful examples of brotherhood, tolerance, sacrifice and good citizenship in Islamic traditions that undergird the backbone of Islamic ethics. I wish we told them more often.

Muqtedar Khan is Director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware and a fellow of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.

In another one of his writings The Islamic State and Religious Minorities, he offer these comments on the role of Jews within Islam. He is looking to cultivate Muslim theories of religious tolerance against those who have been advocating an Islamic state. He wants an Islam based on social contract not coercion. He presents early Islam as a Jewish-Muslim federation.

The irony of this reality is that in seeking to impose Islamic law and create an Islamic state, Islamists are actually in direct opposition to the spirit and letter of the Quran. The Quran is very explicit when it says “there is no compulsion in religion,” (Quran 2: 256). Elsewhere the Quran exhorts Jews to live by the laws revealed to them in the Torah. In fact The Quran expresses surprise that some Jews sought the arbitration of the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him) rather than their own legal tradition (5:43). The Quran also orders Christians to live by their faith; “So let the people of the Gospel judge by that which Allah has revealed therein, for he who judges not by that which Allah has revealed is a sinner,” (Quran 5:47). From these verses it is abundantly clear that an Islamic state must advocate religious pluralism even to the extent of permitting multiple legal systems.

Unlike the present day Islamists, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), when he established the first Islamic state in Medina – actually a Jewish-Muslim federation extended to religious minorities the rights that are guaranteed to them in the Quran. Prophet Muhammad’s Medina was based on the covenant of Medina, a real and actual social contract agreed upon by Muslims, Jews and others that treated them as equal citizens of Medina. They enjoyed the freedom to choose the legal system they wished to live under. Jews could live under Islamic law, or Jewish law or pre-Islamic Arab tribal traditions. There was no compulsion in religion even though Medina was an Islamic state. The difference between Medina and today’s Islamic states is profound. The state of Medina was based on a real social contract that applied divine law but only in consultation and with consent of all citizens regardless of their faith. But contemporary Islamic states apply Islamic law without consent or consultation and often through coercion.

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Rick Warren’s new agenda:what we can learn from it?

Someone in the comments mentioned that my post was similar to a NYT op-ed and said it must be a meme going around. It is not a meme but that we all subscribe to the same list serves of religion information such as the Pew foundation that study and conduct surveys of religion in America. Orthodoxy, except for the truly sectarian, follows these trends as much as any other group does. So if you want to know the range of positions available at a given time they provide the guidelines. Orthodoxy will follow other similar conservative groups. Chief Rabbi Sacks is closer to Pope Benedict. NY Centrist Orthodoxy is closer to certain aspect of the Evangelicals and the Kiruv organizations are closest to other aspects of the Evangelicals.
At the end of last month, Pew held an interview with Rick Warren to let journalists know where things are going. Rick’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, is the best-selling nonfiction book in American history – over 30 million copies. That was the first quarter century of his career and corresponds to the religious turn in America. He has now turned to broader concerns. These are some of the directions and causes people will want from their Orthodoxy. Whoever gets there first will claim them

We do training of what we call the three legs of the stool: business leadership, church leadership and public leadership in government.
We have over 4,500 small groups. They meet in every city in Southern California.
The second signature issue of our church we started in 1993, 10 years later, and it is called Celebrate Recovery. Celebrate Recovery is a Bible-based recovery program. It’s similar to AA but it’s built on the actual words of Jesus.
The third signature issue we began in 2002, and that is our AIDS initiative for people infected and affected with AIDS.
The fourth signature issue we began in 2003. It’s called the P.E.A.C.E. Plan. It’s a global humanitarian effort to take on the five biggest problems on the planet: poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption and conflict. P.E.A.C.E. stands for Promote reconciliation, Equip ethical leaders, “A” is assist the poor, “C” is care for the sick and “E” is educate the next generation.

Notice his working together with lay leadership and government agencies. He divides his Church into many focus groups “parents with a Downs child” “parents of an ADD child” “parents of twins.”
His work with AA was done in Judaism by Rabbi Abraham Twerski and several elements of the Engaged Yeshivish world, not YU. Centrist Orthodoxy does not relish the thought of working with addictions as part of the rabbinate. Aids treatment is not part of the community at all. Finally, the community does not make as its mission to fight poverty, disease, illiteracy, corruption, and conflict. This last one is where the future of American conservative religion lies.

WARREN: the future of the world is not secularism. The future of the world is religious pluralism, and we must learn to get along. It is not secularism. There was the myth in the 20th century that if we just educate people they won’t need God anymore.
I was the keynote speaker for ISNA, the Islamic Society of North America, which is the largest convention of Muslims. It was here in D.C. on the Fourth of July. There were 25,000 Muslims here in town, and they invited a non-Muslim to be the keynote speaker.

This affirmation of religious pluralism from an exclusivist Evangelical Christian is where things are going. And unlike the 1980’s and 1990’s where Evangelicals said “woe is me- the secularists are after us;” Rick Warren is now boldly going out into the world and trying to put relgion in the public sphere (Don’t confuse his position with that of First Things and David Novak.) Many college students participate in interfaith events as part of the post 9//11 world, even Orthodox. We have had orthodox Jews and Muslims discussing difficulties in dietary laws and hair covering, Catholics and Orthodox Jews holding joint Friday night dinners, and groups of several faiths meeting to each talk about their experiences- not theology or doctrine but personal narratives.

I have many, many who are gay leaders across the nation who have worked with me on AIDS. Kay and I have personally given millions of dollars – millions of dollars personally – to help people with HIV and AIDS. We’ve worked with all kinds of gay groups on these issues. I wrote those guys apologies and said, you guys know I didn’t mean this. Oh, we knew. We knew it, Rick.
But all of the criticism came from people who didn’t know me – 100 percent. Not a single gay leader who knew me personally criticized me. Not one. All of it came from people who didn’t know me personally because I didn’t have the relationship. That goes back to this thing about if you don’t have the relationship, where do you know where that guy’s head is anyway? He said that. He didn’t correct it. Well, that’s not their fault; that’s my fault.

My message is to the individual, and that is, every individual matters. I don’t care who you are or what you’ve done, what you claim to be or – you matter to God and you are loved unconditionally. You can’t make God stop loving you. Here’s my philosophy of life: If God gives me a choice to reject him or love him – because it’s not love if I’m forced to love him – if God gives me a choice to reject him or love him, then I’ve got to give everybody else that choice too. And that’s why I believe in America. I’ve got to give everybody the choice.

This is his philosophy on GLBT issues as an evangelical. He does not support Gay marriage but would not support the anti-legislation either. The press and the blogs love to tear him apart from both sides. The web is filled with statements hinging on his every word to see what he accepts or rejects. In contrast, Rev. Richard Cizik who was Vice President for the National Association of Evangelicals and was leading evangelicals toward ecology and global stewardship (another role model for orthodoxy) expressed his support for same sex unions and that he was closer to supporting same sex marriage and was forced to resign from his leadership position.

Melinda Gates, who was a friend of mine said, Rick, I get it. The church could be the distribution center for health care. I said, not only health care, for everything else. You can use it for education, you can use it – all five things that we’re talking about in the P.E.A.C.E. program. I said, let me give you an example.Then we started teaching them more things like how to dress a wound, all the way up to how to administer ARVs. Today, right now, I have 1,400 trained community health care workers – it will be over 1,500 by the end of December – in an area that had one doctor a year-and-a-half ago.

Notice he is friends with confirmed agnostic Melinda and Bill Gates. And when he asks for money it is not to build churches or parochial institutions but to offer health care in Africa. Young Jews like AJWS and Hazon.

Third is I added up all that the church had paid me in 25 years and I gave it all back. I knew I was being put under the spotlight, and I never wanted anybody to think that I do what I do for money. I don’t. I do it because I love Jesus Christ. And I love people.
We’re not going to change our lifestyle one bit. I still live in the same house I’ve lived in for 17 years. I drive a 10-year-old Ford truck. I bought my watch at Wal-Mart. I don’t own a boat, I don’t own a plane, I don’t own a vacation home. I didn’t want to be a televangelist. The second thing is seven years ago I stopped taking a salary from Saddleback Church, so I effectively retired.

See any Orthodox leaders going this route?

We lowered the age of the leadership body in our church by 16 years in one week. We had a group of pastors who have been with me pretty much since the start that we call our elders. Most of us are in our 50s, mid-50s, and we have led the church all these years. All along we’ve been mentoring the next generation, which is what I’m doing. I’m spending the rest of my life mentoring the next generation. We had a group of young guys who were in their 30s and a couple reaching 40, and in one week we turned over the leadership.

This is important for the change in leadership style– see this quiz that I posted a while ago.Take the Quiz

Jewish Sufis in Iran

Siman Tov Melammed: (before 1793- 1823 or 1828, nom de plume Tuvyah)  was an Iranian Jewish rabbi, poet and polemicist. He was the hakham, the spiritual leader of the community of Mashad and had to deal with a variety of religious tension of the era including forced disputations with Shii Imams. In 1839, the entire community was forced to convert to Islam. They lived as relatively secret Jews until the 20th century. Raphael Patai wrote a book on them Jadid al-Islam.

We usually associate Jewish-Sufism with Bahye ibn Pakuda, Avraham ben haRambam, and other Egyptian descendents of Maimonides such as David Maimuni or Joshua Maimuni. (These have been published by Paul Fenton with French translation and have not attained a wide readership.) Melammed’s writings are the tip of a much larger world of Jewish Sufi thought in Persia and Central Asia. Melammed wrote, in Persian, a philosophic and mystical poetic commentary on Maimonides thirteen principles called Hayat al Ruh; a sufi commentary on the Guide for the Perplexed. Within the large treatise, he wrote a poem in praise of Sufis.  Vera Moreen translated selections in 2000, (Queen Esther’s Garden, Yale UP , 2000) Below are 6 stanzas out of 30 (not to run a foul of fair usage laws.).

Melammed praises the Sufis for transcending their physical bodies and the habits of ordinary life to become servants of God. They are radiant and contented from their devotion to God and they lead other back through a straight path to God.

Description of the Pious Sufis Roused from the Sleep of Neglect

Godly and radiant like roses

The Sufis are, the Sufis,

Whose carnal soul is dead,

Doused their desires, the Sufis.

Firmly they grasp the straight path,

Leaders benevolent, guides

Of those who strayed are the Sufis.

Drunk with the cup and soul’s sweets,

With love of seeing the Unseen;

Without reins in both hands are the Sufis.

Dead to the world of the moment,

Alive to the hear after;

Full of merit and kindness are the Sufis.

God’s love is their beloved,

God’s affection their decoration,

And that which veils Him from the Sufis.

The most contented of beggars,

Avoiding rancor and dispute;

Freed from the Day of Punishment are the Sufis.

The issue must have been seriously debated because there is also a poem by an unknown Jacob against Jews becoming Sufis. The poem says to follow Moses, and his father Imran and to avoid the path of the famous Sufi Majnun. One should not relinquish one’s status as the chosen people for a universal faith.

Jacob: Against Sufis

O people of “Imran’s son”

Let not Satan deceive you,

Lest you forfeit religion and faiths;

My life for Moses’ life;

Whoever abandons his faith

Becomes a sage like Majnun,

Roaming about, confused;

My life for Moses’ life.

Bravely he is called a friend.”

But he turns common instead of chosen,

[Now] what religion can he call his own?

My life for Moses’ life.

Rules for Comments

I have received hits by the thousand this weekend that I did not expect because of two very different posts. I am posting some rules for comments and will eventually create a page for the rules. I have tried to write these rules without getting anyone upset and have tried to avoid an overly harsh tone.

I aspire to an informed discussion that stays on topic as much as possible. I like comments that clarify the ideas, correct details, and offer important parallels. I also like comments that discuss the application of an idea to life.

Also since many of you have just showed up after three months, feel free to give substantive comments to older posts. I am still engaged with most of these topics.

First, I like the quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that goes like this: Great minds discuss ideas. Average minds discuss events. Small minds discuss people. So please comment on the ideas.

Second, I have little tolerance for basic questions: if you could answer your question with a quick trip to Wikipedia, a Google search, Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy, or opening the Mishneh Berurah, then do so. I am not teaching a class here.

Third, the blog assumes that you read academic works, social theory, and Jewish texts. If you’re not an insider to the various discourses we participate in and you’re still interested in the topic, figure out a way to become more of an insider.

Fourth, no comments with an overly harsh tone, snark, or condescension to major authors. And no snappy reactions to the title of a post that has little to do with the content of the post.

Fifth, do not parachute in with a personal agenda or think that this is another place for  graffiti tagging with your 1 millionth comment of your personal view of the world. If you want a venue with unrestricted free speech where you can comment indefinitely and be cherished for the unique intellectual snowflake you undoubtedly are, then you definitely shouldn’t comment. (I admit this one is a bit harsh; I got caught in the string of similes.)

I allow comments in the hope that reader input will spur thinking in interesting directions. Answering basic questions or fielding snarky comments do not stimulate thinking.

If you find that the blog posts have spurred your thinking and believe you are able to return the favor in some way, then you should definitely comment.

Post is the name of a breakfast Cereal

Post is the name of a cereal company that makes Raisin Bran, Honey Combs and Shredded Wheat. In 2006, they discontinued Post-Toasties, the brand of choice in summer camp. When I hear the prefix post-, I think of cereal.
The latest infection of language is to call everything is post- and post-modern. People who want change apply it to every change they want and people who are against change call all change as post –modern. Simply things like the modern poetry of Rilke or the thought of Hegel can be called Post-modern by those who have not read/heard of them.
People throw around terms indiscriminately. I do not like the term right and left- there has to be a description.  Right and left differ between decades and countries. I do not like it when the word existential is used as a synonym for emotional or important. Nor do I like it when hermeneutic, which means the horizons and assumptions that allow for interpretation, is used for exegesis. And I do not like when the word “unique,” which in Rav Soloveitchik means revelatory and outside of culture, is used for special.
So here is a little screed from another blog inhabitato dei, with the expletives removed.

You’re not “post-“ anything so shut up!

If there was one term I could actually effect a moratorium on I think it would have to be the phrase “post-”. But, since I can’t effect a moratorium, allow me to propose an axiom instead:
Any conceptual position (theological, philosophical, etc.) that describes itself using the modifier “post-” is never actually “post-” anything in anything other than a temporal sense (and usually that’s not the case either).

Postmetaphysical? No. Postfoundationalist? No, you were never foundationalist to start with. Postliberal? No, you’re still liberal. Postmodern? Shut up, that’s just stupid. Post-postmodern? Kneecaps, meet baseball bat.

The only possible places where I can think of the term “post-” having any real usefulness are in the realms of architecture and art history. Insofar as it gets used by philosophers and theologians its just an attempt to short circuit an argument by pretending that the views you are attacking were a developmental stage you  went through when you were young and not quite as well read as you obviously are now. To call any view “post-” anything is just a masquerade alloying one to define your adversary as wrong, arcane, and naive from the outset.

In short, adopting the language of “post-” is unforgivably cheap and masks a lack of ability to actually make good arguments against things you want to criticize.

There are indeed large cultural changes afoot. Gen Y- the Millennial are the most liberal generation alive and their immediate seniors gen X is the most conservative. And more importantly- Since the 1730’s, every 30-35 years American culture has dramatically shifted from liberal to conservative and back again. But describe it. Calling it post-modern is like the 1958 person saying “we cant kept kosher outside the house- we are modern” or the 2000 person saying “of course we are libertarian and not interested in high culture, are we dont seek religious experience, we are Orthodox.”

Michael Fishbane – Sacred attunements – part III

Sacred Attunements chapters 2 and 3 continued from part I here and part II here.

Chapter II – “Jewish theology begins at Sinai, but God was before this event”

Sinai is commitment, creation of scripture, prophecy. Divine presence and efectivity is the horizon. It takes courage to live in the light of the truth of the covenant.We want to enter the language of revelation.

(This is a great existential definition sharply removing Sinai from the symbolic and human, but not going as far into the experiential-mystical as Rav Kook. One of the times Fishbane spoke at the local minyan, he discussed Rav Kook and it seemed like he was using the or penimi without the or makif. he shows nice use of Ricouer)

“The decisive turn to Sinai is made by the solitary spirit..” First, we move out of habit into commitment, then attentiveness to encounter. We return to community to formulate a life of justice and righteousness. Our model Moses could endure censural vastness and then return to work in the community unlike Elijah and Job who were lost in silent submission and did not formulate a covenant with God.

Three cords of Torah, Sinai is an ongoing spirit of Jewish living producing the Oral Torah and behind all the Torah is a broader Torah kelulah, a openness to Being. Behind the Torah was Sinai is an even deeper Torah kelulah which pulsates through reality, through Being. (Nice ability to avoid Heschel’s dichotomy of Torah from Sinai and Torah from Heaven).

Texts unfold into life by means of interpretation

Peshat is subjugation of self to text. But there is no one peshat. It is ever constructed in the acts of reading and speaking. Peshat is attentiveness to details of the text.

Derush – contemporary ongoing meanings, relationship words to each other, conjoined words, oral words- this is the oral Torah. Drush gathers textual cations into a vortex of instruction.  It helps us become human and build character. Drush is a serious theological task. Mythic conceptions are not childlike crudities but creative imagination striving to grasp what is sensed.

Remez is finding the supersensual ideas of philosophy in the text. In great hands, like those of Maimonides he returns to the peshat and finds the openings to the higher truths in the text. Remez offer stairwells, or Jacob’s Ladder to high truths.

Sod – revealing and concealing of aspects of divinity. It seeks alignment with the language and energies of discussions of divine structures. We move beyond the text to a meta-communicative level. The eye for symbols, the ear for sounds, and the mouth for the recitation and mindful meditative life-rhythm.

Chapter III “Living within the covenant, we are challenged to actualize the principles of Sinai at every moment, through the bonds we forge with persons and things in the course of life.”

Halakhah is the gesture of the generations – ongoing practices cultivated and inculcated for the various spheres of life.

Fishbane calls God –“the life of all life” from a neoplatonic piyyut of Saadyah. This is his preferred term for God.

The second half of the chapter is on prayer and has lots of insights. Many of the paragraphs are poetic insights strung together. I need to teach it once in the context of other exhortations to prayer (Hirsch, Heschel, Rav Kook, Rebbe Reshab) in order to grasp the finer points.

“The phenomena of prayer responds to the vastness of sounds and sights which surround us in the natural world.”

(Most studies of Jewish prayer have parroted the work of Fredrich Heiler who has two types of prayer- petitionary and mystical. Moshe Greenberg on Biblical Prayer, Heinneman on Rabbinic prayer, Scholem on Kabbalistic prayer, Soloveitchik on Halakhic prayer have all used Heiler’s typology. But most Jewish prayer is actually Adoration, in which we praise to the King. Our prayer gestures are based on adoration to the King, and the Psalms we use are not petition but adoration.) Evelyn Underhill has a great book on Adoration produced almost the same year as Heiler.

Fishbane moves into the world of adoration using Gademer, Rilke, and the Psalms.

He presents four levels, a PARDES of prayer

Peshat- yes it is submission to the text—but also the silence before response, the articulation of human needs,, and a realization of the gaps and gifts of the world.

Derush-meaning in the present.Remez  – higher wisdom and abstractions- he asks: what would they say?

Sod- reaching the unfathomable, toward the Transcendent, toward religious censura

He ends the chapter with a homily explaining gemilut hasadim as radical kindness.

(Great, contemporary Jewry can use a lot more on kindness and gemilut Hasidim)  but then returning to Heidegger and Rosenzweig –we get “”Ultimately, the phenomena of hesed is the practice of death….successively divesting oneself.”

(If one sees oneself in a tight knit community then Miktav  MiEliyahu offers a world of mashbia and mekabel were everyone is always giving and receiving. But if one is an isolated individual then there it is death to give.)

Three Catholic Queries for a Jewish Audience

Busted Halo is a website for outreach to the younger generation, kinda wide mix. They have been running a lot of Jewish material like this. and here. The former Jewish article is a sweet one. There are three questions that struck my eye. The first is that whenever I am overseas in religious areas, I can buy Catholic head coverings as gifts like mantillas. What happened to head covering for Catholics in America? My wife actually wanted to know. If I was more of an entrepreneur, I would be importing hats from Italy and Spain. (I see the potential mark-up from the pottery cost there and the mark up in the NYC store Sur Le Table) Basically they just let the requirement for women to cover their hair fall into disuse but it may still be technically required. The second one is how do they explain do not make a graven image.Answer- Roman custom. The final question is on the source of Christmas. Jews have always wondered about its relation to Saturnalia. Well, here is the Catholic take on it. Yes, the date is arbitrary and connected to Springtime, Mitra, and Saturnalia.

Why do women no longer have to have their head covered while at mass? And why do some still do it?

There has long been a practice of women covering their heads in public, and especially in holy places, across religious traditions.  Paul makes note of it in 1 Cor 11:4-16.  Drawing upon this, as well as tradition and local custom, as in the Middle East, the 1917 Code of Canon Law originally required women to cover their heads in church (#1262).

Especially after Vatican II, the practice of wearing veils has largely faded away among Catholics in the West; non-Western Catholics and those who prefer a traditionalist or Tridentine observance of the faith here may still wear them more regularly.  Some say this veil was a casualty of feminist resistance as well as the decline of hats as part of fashion and social custom more generally.  But the 1983 Code of Canon Law omitted any ruling on veiling, perhaps as an accommodation to Vatican II’s attempts to modernize the Church. There is some dispute on whether this omission cancels out the 1917 canon on this matter.

Second Question

Christianity emerged from Judaism, which itself rejected figurative religious art as being too much like idol worship (see Ex 20:3).  But once Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Constantine in the 4th century CE, it was not long before Roman practices of portraying and honoring the divine (their gods and emperors) would make their way into Christian practices as well.

Although the saints are portrayed in statues, icons, paintings, and other media, they are not worshipped as God is.  Rather, we venerate the saints, meaning that we honor them, give them respect, and show them devotion for what they have accomplished in their lives of faith.  John Coleman, SJ sees saints as generally having five characteristics:
exemplary model
extraordinary teacher
worker of wonders or source of benevolent power
intercessor
possessor of a special, revelatory relation to the holy.
In short, they invite to see and relate to God anew. Asking saints to intercede for us is not idol worship because they themselves are not the object of worship.  We are asking for their help to make our case before God, just as you might have a friend advocate for you.

Third Question

How did December 25th get to be Christmas Day?

An exact date was attempted to be calculated for the Nativity of the Lord but it was deemed impossible (there was/is not enough information available to determine this).  So originally, March 25th the first day of spring was discussed as an appropriate day to celebrate the birth of Christ to coincide with the re-birth of the spring!   However, other scholars noted that this would be a better day to place Jesus’ conception, as we believe that God becomes incarnate at the moment he is in Mary’s womb.

Therefore, if we add 9 months to that date we get…December 25th!

Secondarily, many Romans were sun worshipers.   Many celebrated a kind of sun feast day on Dec. 25, while others note a virility god named Mithra with the same birthday.

Lastly, the Romans observed a debaucherous time of year called Saturnalia Dec. 17-23. Thus, Dec. 25 offered a date with a good theological basis that also would counter several pagan holidays.In 336, the Emperor Constantine officially named the “birth day of Christ” Dec. 25.