Friday, May 30, 2008

how Jewish legal decisions are made today

Friday, May 16, 2008

Video sermon for Israel trip on the admonitions

Israel first in loving life

Why Israelis Love Life

by Hillel Fendel

An Asia Times article, explaining why Israel is the "world's happiest
country," cites statistics showing that Israel leads the world in the
national gap between fertility and suicide rates.

The author, identified only as Spengler, compiled and compared the
fertility rates and suicide rates of 35 industrial countries, and found
that Israelis "appear to love life and hate death more than any other

Spengler explained that he compared "the proportion of people who
choose to create new life, against the proportion who choose to destroy
their own. Israel stands alone, positioned in the upper-left-hand-quadrant,
or life-loving, portion of the chart."

Israel's fertility rate (births per woman) is 2.77, according to
Spengler, while its suicide rate is 6.2 per 100,000 people.??In the U.S.,
however, the numbers are only 2.1 and 11, respectively, and in France they
are 1.98 and 18.? The gaps in the numbers of many of the other
countries are on the chart are even wider.

"It's easy for the Jews to talk about delighting in life," Spengler
wrote in another Asia Times article, because "they are quite sure that
they are eternal, while other peoples tremble at the prospect impending
extinction. It is not their individual lives that the Jews find so
pleasant, but rather the notion of a covenantal life that proceeds
uninterrupted through the generations."

"Israel is surrounded by neighbors willing to kill themselves in order
to destroy it,"? Spengler writes. He notes that Muslims teach, "As much
as you love life, we love death" - a formula found in a Palestinian
Authority textbook for second graders as well.

Oil-rich Saudi Arabia ranks 171st on an international quality of life
index, Spengler writes, while "Israel is tied with Singapore on this
index, although it should be observed that Israel ranks a runaway first on
my life-preference index, whereas Singapore comes in dead last."

Spengler suggests traditional Jewish faith in G-d as the reason for
Jewish joy.? Muslim faith, however, is?of the type that encourages a form
of fatalism, he feels: "Arabs did not invent suicide attacks, but they
have produced a population pool willing to die in order to inflict
damage greater than any in history. One cannot help but conclude that
Muslim clerics do not exaggerate when they express contempt for life."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008




By Deborah Rubin Fields

“If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Hillel the Elder might not have imagined it, but his words have become the touchstone of a small, but growing movement in Jerusalem . All over Israel ’s capital, more and more residents are showing an interest in Jewish environmental sustainability.”

Just how some Jerusalemites came to apply the ideas Hillel expressed makes for fascinating reading. We must first, however, define “environmental sustainability.” This term means that we satisfy our current needs and wants, but without depleting the resources of those who will come after us. You may look at it as a kind of insurance policy: by acting in a certain way today, you provide a quality life for future generations.

The phenomenon of a Jerusalem-based Jewish environmental movement sprung from a kind of cultural and religious hunger. Interested residents had a need to solder their Jewish daily life with their commitment to social action and the environment. Their feeling was that many Israeli tikun olam and nature organizations were not focusing on or solving problems in ways that tied in with people’s Judaism. This cadre wanted to repair Israeli society, but to do so by applying the justice contained in Judaic sacred texts.

This group is still loosely connected. It consists mainly of Orthodox and Masorti residents who originally became acquainted either through their environmental group or synagogue affiliation. Although some members meet in formal settings like the Shomera Organization ( or the chevruta of Ru’ach HaSiviva, much activity transpires informally via the internet.

At the moment, this electronic communication serves four valuable purposes. It provides people with a freedom of expression that probably would not be possible in standard news outlets that must answer to “anti-green” advertisers. It allows for on-going response to various subjects, whereas regular newspapers usually limit feedback to one round of, “Letters to the Editor.” It cuts down on meeting time, an important factor for those who frequently work five or six days a week. Finally, it reduces financial expenses to almost nothing. It does not appear to cut down on the quality of the interaction.

Thus, before the beginning of the year 5768, one activist wrote and posted an article entitled, “A Step in the Right Direction.” This circulating article began by explaining that, while many Jerusalem residents concern themselves with Elul and Tishrei’s two R’s, namely, repentance and redemption, few know that this is also a time to activate three other R’s, specifically, recycling, reduction and reuse. The text then listed concrete pro-ecology steps to prepare for the High Holidays.

These measures included 1) sending New Year e-blessings, rather than cutting down trees to make into paper cards and 2) giving away good, but used products (for more fortunate Jerusalem families, Rosh Hashanah and Pesach are classic times for home improvements and remodeling) to gemachim (a word originating from the term gemilut chasidim, or acts of loving kindness) or to members of the Jerusalem Free Cycle ( and the Agora ( networks.

Other articles have dealt with issues that involve the synagogue. One circulating text focuses on concrete ways to prepare an environmentally sustainable kiddush. Among the suggestions given is the idea of using a permanent set of dishes, rather than non-recyclable plastic plates, cups and cutlery. When it comes time to wash the plates, congregants are advised to use ecofriendly soap products.

Some groups have started hashing out their next campaign. They have studied Deut. 4:9 which states: “Take utmost care and watch yourselves scrupulously.” They are applying this law to taking responsibility for their health and well-being. These members plan to reduce Jerusalemites’ heavy and destructive reliance on plastic products. Besides the ecological damage that plastic shopping bags cause, people find it distressing to see that Jerusalem has far more plastic bags than Israeli flags flying.

To help reduce the staggering amount of plastic accumulating in Jerusalem ’s garbage dumps, activists have recently approached the large plastic recycler, Aviv Recycling Ltd. ( about the possibility of recycling the containers of dairy products and household cleaners. One green group, Ramot for the Environment, has already instructed residents of that Northern Jerusalem neighborhood to rinse and throw designated plastic containers into Aviv’s curbside recycling bins.

The challenges are monumental. But these Jerusalemites continue to practice an environmentally sustainable life inspired by the values found in the Torah. From their point of view, ecology and Judaism must be welded together. If they aren’t, the future is at risk.


The synagogue environment affords the individual a place for personal learning and growth. The hope is that your private Jewish home life will ultimately mirror your Jewish communal life.

Whether you live in Israel or in the Diaspora, the mind-set for an environmentally sound Kiddush is essentially the same. It entails your recognizing that the synagogue is your communal home. In preparing a kiddush, you are actively supporting the concept of a quality community or environment. This means taking stock of the materials your congregation uses for kiddush and as much as possible taking the following environmental sustainable steps.

Napkins and Tablecloths

If you use cloth napkins and tablecloths, they ideally should be made of organic cotton. If you use paper products, make sure they are unbleached products. The point is to reduce the reliance on environmentally harmful petroleum-based pesticides and chlorine.

Cups and Plates

If you do not have a permanent, reusable set of cups and plates in your congregation, or the means of acquiring such sets, then purchase only paper or compostable products. Read the label on the paper dish package to ensure that it does not have a plastic coating. Disposable dishes that are acceptable for composting are those made from sugar cane, maize or potato products. Do a search on the internet using the term “biodegradable dishes” to find a local dealer who carries these goods.


Instead of using plastic forks, knives and spoons at the kiddush, put out wooden toothpicks. Using toothpicks will require careful planning as to what Shabbat and holiday refreshments may be served with such utensils. Leave out a small container marked “toothpicks for composting” so that congregants can dispose of their used pieces. Alternatively, use a permanent, reusable set of cutlery or arrange a kiddush table of just “finger foods.”

Beverage Bottles

Recycle glass wine/grape juice bottles and plastic water/soft drink bottles. Turn over the empty plastic bottles. Check that the bottom of the plastic bottle has the triangular recycling symbol. Inside the triangle, you should see the code name PET or the number 1. If your area has a bottle deposit program, redeem the money. Donate the returned change to your favorite tzedakah.


If your synagogue or neighborhood has a compost container, collect pareve food leftovers to throw into the compost box. Do not put in oily foods or foods that have seeds.


After the kiddush, tidy up using environmentally friendly cleaners. These products generally have a plant base. They contain no phosphates, no animal ingredients, no chlorine, and no petroleum. They have not been tested on animals.

General Shopping Guidelines

Consider buying organic food or opt for locally grown produce. Small, local growers reportedly rely less on petroleum-based pesticides and fertilizers than do mega-farmers. By supporting local farmers, you reduce the amount of harmful carbon-based fuels needed in long-distance (farm to store) transport.

(This article originally appeared in Emunah Magazine, Spring 2008/5768)

Video tour of Israel

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

On My Mormom video

Dear Rabbi Ginsburg,

I wanted to write and thank you for your video on Mormonism (posted on
youtube). You treated the subject with respect and honored my religion
by studying the religion well. Your treatment was fair and your
discourse was intelligent. Your understanding goes well beyond what most
people know of my church.

I enjoy watching your videos and, as a Mormon, I feel a great kinship
with the Jewish people. I am a fervent supporter of Israel and continue
to vote for politicians who support my views of Israel and who will
continue to protect and supply the country with means to protect itself
from terrorists. Every time I read of terrorist attacks in Israel my
heart goes out to the Jewish people who diligently struggle to keep the
holy land in the hands of G-d's chosen people.

I am an American and speak Russian and Finnish, but my most treasured
language is Hebrew even though I am nowhere as fluent as I am in my
other languages. I read from the Tenakh in Hebrew and continue to struggle
with the language, but it brings me a lot of joy.

Please continue forward with the good work you are doing. You efforts
are appreciated.


Sunday, May 11, 2008

the Gabbai and a Holocaust reunion

The gabbai's eyes moved rapidly across the familiar faces of the men packed into shul on this sunny Shabbos morning.

Shloime Kaufman, the gabbai, had been going through this routine for the past twenty years, looking out over the congregation and at his many friends and neighbors a world of warm-hearted people with whom he shared his life. Choosing a few each week for aliyos was a job that came with its difficulties, but it also gave him the weekly opportunity to count these blessings. This secure, contented world in which he found himself was all the more precious because, by any law of logic or probability, it should never have come into existence.

The world Mr. Kaufman had known as a child and young man in Poland had been erased. It had collapsed all around him, snuffing out the lives of his loved ones. At the time, he had thought that surely the few survivors who managed to emerge from the rubble alive would be left with nothing no yeshivos, no shuls, no gedolim to guide them. And yet, here he was, the grandfather of a beautiful, Torah-observant family, the gabbai of a thriving shul, surrounded by friends and family. Better to relish the miracle of the present than think too much about the searing pain of the past.

Mr. Kaufman scanned the rows of men as the Torah was removed from the ark. His eyes rested upon an unfamiliar face, a man about his own age with a short grey beard. He hadn't seen him in shul before. He surmised that he must be a guest. But there was something very familiar about this face.

Suddenly, the man's features and expression jarred loose a powerful flash of recognition in Mr. Kaufman's mind. It was Menachem Reiner, his closest childhood friend. It was Menachem, the boy with whom he had grown up in their small Polish shtetl, with whom he had attended yeshivah in Bialystock. It was Menachem, the young man to whom he had clung, and who had clung to him, as they began their cattle-car journey into the fearsome blackness of Auschwitz . They had promised each other to stick together, they had given each other courage and hope. Bearing the numbers the Nazis had tattooed on their arms, they had found in each other the strength to hold onto their humanity and resist becoming only numbers. They had vowed to help each other survive, both in body and soul.

And they did survive, Boruch Hashem. But when the war ended, each went his own way, eager to begin anew. For sanity's sake, they each tucked the past away into a deep, locked box that would be opened only on rare occasions. Menachem had settled in Israel , and Shloime Kaufman had obtained a visa for America .

Consumed with creating a future and healing the wounds of the past, they had lost touch with each other. That was forty-two years ago. Now, with unbelieving eyes and trembling hands, Mr. Kaufman beheld the unmistakable face of his friend once again. Shlomie decided in his mind: Menachem Reiner would get the sixth aliyah.

As the Torah reading began, the gabbai felt as if his heart could not be contained in his chest. He wanted to leap across the rows of men and fall upon his friend in a mighty embrace. "This must be how Yosef felt when he finally saw his brother Binyamin," he thought to himself. "All these years!" Nevertheless, he clamped a tight lid on his emotions and performed his duty, calling up each aliyah with the traditional chant of "Ya'amod" followed by the honoree's Hebrew name. By the fifth aliyah, however, beads of sweat were sparkling on his forehead and tears were welling up in his eyes. He prayed that when the time came to call up number six, his voice would be able to break free of his tight throat.

There was no need to ask Menachem his name because he could never forget Menachem ben Yehoshua. For the first time, he began to wonder how would Menachem react when they came face to face? It was time to call him up, but Mr. Kaufman could not open his mouth. There were no words fit for this moment. All the suffering locked away in that figurative box was now out in the open, laid out before his eyes, and it was too much to bear.

The congregation began murmuring and looking toward Mr. Kaufman, fearing that the pale, trembling man was becoming ill. A deep cry rose up inside the gabbai a cry to Hashem that contained in its broken sound all of His children's cries of anguish. Mr. Kaufman turned in the direction of his friend and at last found his voice. "Yaamod, 57200148!" he called.

The baffled men in the shul did not understand what had happened. What was this number? What had become of Mr. Kaufman? But in the back of the room, one man understood completely. The number was Menachem's number, tattooed on his arm as a lifetime reminder of the darkest period of Jewish history, the epic tragedy of his people which he had witnessed with his own eyes.

The entire shul sat in stony silence as Menachem moved slowly toward the bimah. Finally, as they saw him approaching his long-lost brother, they understood the scene that was unfolding in front of them. Menachem needed no introduction. With tears coursing down his face, he cried out, "Shloimele! Shloimele! Is it really you?" "Yes, Menachem, it's really me!" Mr. Kaufman answered, embracing his friend. They wept into each other's shoulders, rocking gently. "Ay, ay, ay, ay, ay," Mr. Kaufman breathed. Words were powerless to carry his chaotic emotions.

The entire shul sat spellbound, witnessing a moment that could have melted a heart made of iron. As these two men stood together, living witnesses to the Jewish people's miraculous survival, it seemed that the Heavens had opened up to declare, through them, that Hashem would never forsake His people. Am Yisrael Chai! The Jewish nation is alive, and Torah has been rebuilt in America .

The Holocaust survivors who came to America planted the seeds, and it is up to us to reap the fruits of their labor and continue their legacy. (From, Stories for the Jewish Heart - Book 2 R. Binyomin Pruzansky)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

yossi harrel commander of Exodus, died

Yossi Harel, commander of Exodus, dies at 90

By Eli Ashkenazi

The man who commanded the clandestine operations that brought in four ships carrying some 24,000 illegal immigrants between 1945 and 1948, Yossi Harel, died yesterday in Tel Aviv at the age of 90.

The writer Yoram Kaniuk, a friend of Harel, told Haaretz that when the ships he commanded sailed past the coast of Turkey, Harel would think of the Armenian village in Franz Werfel's novel "40 Days of Musa Dagh," which described the Armenian genocide. "He loved the Armenian people and felt close to them," Kaniuk said, adding that he wanted to mention Harel's sensitivity to the Armenians as a sign of the great humanitarianism and compassion that were central to his Harel's character. Advertisement

Harel was born in 1919, a sixth-generation Jerusalemite. He joined the Haganah at age 15 and later became part of the unit commanded by Orde Wingate, where he earned a reputation for bravery. Kaniuk related that David Ben-Gurion and Shaul Avigur (commander of the Aliyah Bet illegal immigration campaign and founder of Shai, the Haganah intelligence service) had marked him out as suitable to command the clandestine immigration ships because in addition to his leadership skills and fighting prowess, "there was something very hevreman [sociable] about him. He was not the kind of clap-you-on-the-back hero. He was a man of manners, the type who didn't raise his voice. He was a man of conscience and a daring fighter." He was also sensitive, and showed special care for women about to give birth on the ship, Kaniuk said.

Kaniuk also said, "Many of the sabras were snobs. They felt like heroes and did not show great sensitivity to the [Holocaust] survivors. It was hard for them to get in touch with their Jewishness. To Yossi, his Jewishness was important, as someone who had grown up in Jerusalem and not in Tel Aviv or on a kibbutz."

Harel commanded the major clandestine immigrant operations, including four ships: Knesset Israel, The Exodus, Atzma'ut and Kibbutz Galuyot. By the time he was 28 he had been responsible for about 24,000 immigrants had come in under his command, more than one-third of those smuggled into the country secretly between 1945 and 1948.

The Exodus, whose captain was Yitzhak "Ike" Aharonovich, went down in history for its heroic voyage from France in July 1947, carrying 4,500 Holocaust survivors, and the fight for months to keep it from being turned back by the British. Eventually the ship was forced back to Europe and sailed to Hamburg, Germany.

But the high point in Harel's career was not the more famous Exodus, according to an earlier article in Haaretz by historian Dr. Aviva Halamish. It was the two-and-a-half week voyage of the Knesset Israel. The ship set sail in November 1946 from Yugoslavia with 4,000 souls on boad. According to Halamish, this voyage brought to the fore the contrasts between the Yishuv, the Jewish community in pre-state Israel, and the clandestine immigrants, who were Holocaust survivors and "carried their struggle with them." Inspired by the story of the Knesset Israel, the poet Natan Alterman wrote in the newspaper Davar of the "division of labor" between the two groups.

Harel later went on to study mechanical engineering in the United States. He was called back by Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Moshe Dayan to command Unit 131, the intelligence unit that operated the Israeli spy ring that collapsed in Egypt in 1954. Eventually, Harel left the army and went into

Hungary Jewish Culture and rising anti semitism

woman wears an Israeli-flag jacket for a commemoration during Hungarian Holocaust Day. More Photos >

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Published: May 7, 2008
BUDAPEST — Ostensibly, a rock concert sparked it, reminding us that culture is not the exclusive province of liberals, certainly not here in Europe. A young woman (who knows whether she was just intending to make trouble) walked into a ticket office in the traditionally Jewish 13th District in this Hungarian capital several weeks ago and asked about Hungarica, an obscure extremist far-right band.

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Cultural Tensions The woman said the ticket agents called her a fascist and threw her out. The agents said that she spouted anti-Semitic abuse when told the office didn’t handle that event. A little later somebody tossed a Molotov cocktail outside the office. Then a blogger, Tamas Polgar, with the screen name Tomcat urged neo-Nazis to rally at the ticket office, and about 30 turned up on April 7 along with 300 counterdemonstrators. Tomcat called for a second rally, four days later, and about 1,000 more extremists were met that time, across police barricades, by 3,000 antifascists, including the beleaguered Hungarian prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, and the former German chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

It’s hard to know whether to feel disheartened by the large showing of neo-Nazis or encouraged by the larger opposition to it. It turns out that aside from the well-documented rise of the far right, Jewish culture has also been conspicuously on the rise here.

That said, anti-Semitism can thrive even in the absence of a single Jew. History has proved that repeatedly. Hungarica served its purpose without having to play a single note.

The other day Gyorgy Kerenyi, a producer at Hungarian Public Radio who founded a Gypsy-run station, remarked that today’s counterculture among the students he meets at the university where he teaches often seems nationalistic and right wing, tapping into an old European avant-garde tradition.

Might this be because there’s an absence of political engagement on the other side of the spectrum? I inquired first at Trafo, a city-financed theater and art gallery. The gallery recently organized a show by a Polish artist, Artur Zmijewski. (Mr. Zmijewski, among other things, made a video in which he touches up, or “refurbishes,” to use his word, the tattoo of a Polish Auschwitz survivor, perhaps Jewish, perhaps not.) The theater presented a Dutch troupe, Hotel Modern, which staged a performance about the Holocaust. Both events were sensitive, in complex ways, to issues of anti-Semitism.

But, as Gyorgy Szabo, Trafo’s director, noted, the artists involved were foreigners, not Hungarians. “In the Hungarian arts community, we don’t have a tradition of confrontation,” he said. He obviously wasn’t thinking of Hungarica.

He then harked back to the Communist days: “In the former era there was a social treaty that said you can have your privacy as an artist if you don’t touch on political issues.”

Peter Gyorgy, a professor of media theory and an art critic here (he wrote admiringly in the leading Hungarian daily newspaper about Mr. Zmijewski’s show), nodded when he learned what Mr. Szabo had said. Like everyone, he acknowledged that anti-Semitism is more out in the open today.

“Hungary is a deeply traumatized society since the First World War, and the Holocaust, of course,” Mr. Gyorgy said. “After the early years of Hungarian Communism, to be Jewish was one’s private affair. Then after Communism, in the early ’90s, when the multiparty system started, we missed our chance for a public discourse about this situation. Now there’s a confluence: the instability of the government, the hatred for the prime minister and the fact that Jewish culture has become more conspicuous. A new generation of Jews has emerged, which behaves like Jews.”

He was talking especially about young Jews, not necessarily religious, but also not shy about identifying themselves culturally as Jews. “To be Jewish today is a question of one’s public culture,” Mr. Gyorgy went on. During the Communist era, he explained, many Jews grew up hardly knowing they were Jewish; he was among them. “Before, I was defined in a way I could influence,” Mr. Gyorgy said. “Now, as happened in Germany and Austria, that’s over. In today’s political atmosphere, there’s less space for autonomous self-definition. You are forced to address your own Jewishness, to see it as a problem.”

Agoston Mraz, a young centrist-minded political analyst for the Hungarian think tank Nezopont, put it a little differently: “There is a new Jewish pluralism, and Jewish culture is flourishing in Budapest. And one result is that, while I myself don’t think there is such a clear increase in anti-Semitism, there is now the opportunity to be more explicit about it.”

Wednesday, May 7, 2008


Despite Incentives Offer, Iran Rejects Nuclear Halt
Iran on Monday said it would not accept any incentives package from world powers if the deal required Tehran to stop enriching uranium—a key step toward developing nuclear weapons, Reuters reported. "Those incentives that violate the Iranian nation's right [to nuclear technology] in any form will not be reviewed by the Islamic state," said Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammed Ali Hosseini. In 2006, Tehran rejected an incentives proposal offered by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia—and Germany. Iran has rebuffed multiple binding U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it suspend its atomic work. Click here to learn more about Iran's nuclear program.

Aid Deliveries Halted as Terrorists Attack Convoy
As Israel attempted to transfer food and fuel to civilians in Gaza on Sunday, Palestinian terrorists fired mortar shells at the aid convoy, forcing a halt to deliveries through the Karni border crossing and the Nahal Oz fuel terminal, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz reported. Police said that approximately 50 trucks carrying essential supplies were forced to turn back as a result of the attack. The European Union, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority have blamed the terrorist group Hamas for "aggravating the humanitarian situation" in Gaza by stealing fuel and attacking border crossings. Click here to see how, despite the risks involved, Israel works to provide humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians.

Hizballah Rearms with Iranian, Syrian Weapons
Nearly two years since its war with Israel, the Lebanon-based terrorist army Hizballah has more than doubled the size and scope of its rocket arsenal with weapons smuggled from Iran and Syria, and can now strike Tel Aviv with ease, The Los Angeles Times reported. Hizballah's rearmament violates U.N. Security Council Resolution 1701, which calls for an arms embargo on the terrorist army. Recently, U.N. troops patrolling in Lebanon confronted a Hizballah weapons convoy. Rather than surrender their weapons, the Hizballah fighters aimed their guns at the U.N. troops, who ran for shelter. Click here to learn about Hizballah's dangerous arms buildup.

Quartet to Arab States: Honor Pledges to Palestinians
The members of the Middle East Quartet—the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia—insisted on Friday that Arab states honor their financial and political pledges to help the Palestinian Authority (PA), Reuters reported. Of $717.1 million promised to the PA by Arab League members, only $153.2 million has been delivered. One senior U.S. official criticized the lack of action, calling the contributions from the oil-rich Arab states "woefully short." Israel has demonstrated its commitment to peace with the Palestinians by releasing prisoners and removing dozens of roadblocks and checkpoints in the West Bank. Arab governments must match Israel's readiness for serious negotiations by taking concrete steps that demonstrate a true commitment to ending the conflict. Click here to learn about the needed steps for progress.

Hamas Blames Jews for Holocaust
As Israel on Thursday marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, a new report revealed that Hamas' Al Aqsa television station recently aired a documentary blaming Jewish leaders for orchestrating the death of six million of their own people, The Jerusalem Post reported. "The Satanic Jews thought up an evil plot to be rid of the burden of disabled and handicapped in twisted criminal ways," Hamas' documentary explains. "They were sent [by the Jews to die] so there would be a Holocaust, so Israel could 'play' it for world sympathy." Programs on Hamas TV often preach incitement against the United States, Israel and Jews, and the terrorist group recently enlisted a Mickey Mouse look-alike to broadcast to children its message of Islamic domination and terrorism against Jews.

Israel Offers Aid to Cyclone-Ravaged Myanmar
The Israeli Foreign Ministry on Monday said that Israel would send medical assistance and water sanitation supplies to Myanmar in the coming days to help the population cope with the devastating effects of the cyclone that has killed more than 20,000 people, The Jerusalem Post reported. The Foreign Ministry said it was waiting for a list of needs from the Myanmar government. A meeting will soon be held at the ministry to finalize details of the shipment, which will be sent with the help of various Israeli NGOs. Israel frequently provides emergency assistance when disasters strike around the world, including after the Indian Ocean tsunami in 2004 and during the wildfires in Greece in 2007.

Rabbi Jonathan Ginsburg

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Monday, May 5, 2008

Great development pluralism in Israel

For the first time in its 60-year history, the State of Israel is funding the building of synagogues that will serve non-Orthodox congregations.

Until now, the Orthodox establishment, under an unofficial status quo arrangement, has enjoyed a total monopoly over state funds earmarked for the building of houses of prayer.

In Israel, where there is no separation of religion and state, all public religious services are provided through a network of neighborhood and city rabbis who are chosen by the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate. Non-Orthodox streams of Judaism in Israel are not officially recognized by the rabbinate.

The soon-to-be built synagogue belongs to Modi'in's Yozma Reform Congregation. A special ground-breaking ceremony will be held on Monday.

Kinneret Shiryon, Yozma's female rabbi, said the announcement, on the eve of Israel's 60th anniversary, was particularly satisfying.

"It feels enormously rewarding to see that our perseverance has finally paid off," said Shiryon, a US immigrant.

"I have seen progressively that the State of Israel's pluralistic Jewish expression has grown during my 26 years here. People have not just stayed with the Orthodox status quo; rather, they are looking for and finding different options."

A total of six prefab synagogues will be provided to both Reform and Conservative congregations in Modi'in, Tivon, Zichron Ya'acov, and Tzur Hadassah.

Rabbi David Lau, one of three state-salaried Orthodox rabbis in Modi'in, refused to comment.

Shiryon said none of Modi'in's rabbis have ever openly recognized Yozma, which runs six preschools, an elementary school and various volunteer and social activities in addition to the synagogue. About 240 families belong to the community, and a total of 550 families receive various services from Yozma, she said.

State recognition and funding of the synagogue is the result of a legal battle that began several years ago, waged by the Reform Movement's legal arm, the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC), and Yozma.

IRAC and Yozma petitioned the High Court against what they called the discriminatory methods of state money allocations for religious institutions adopted by the Construction and Housing Ministry and Modi'in's municipality.

As a result of the legal action, IRAC and Yozma entered negotiations with then-construction and housing minister Isaac Herzog (Labor). A compromise was reached in which the Reform Movement dropped its petition while the ministry's religious institutions development unit agreed to provide the Yozma community with a 200-square-meter prefab building.

Attorney Rabbi Gilad Kariv, a senior member of IRAC, said Sunday that although municipalities had allocated city land for the building of non-Orthodox synagogues in the past, this was the first time the actual building was being funded by the state.

Kariv explained that IRAC had taken advantage of two developments that facilitated the acquisition of state funding.

"First, there was the dismantling of the Religious Affairs Ministry and the parceling-out of its various functions," Kariv said. "Jurisdiction over the building of synagogues was transferred to the Construction and Housing Ministry. Secondly, Isaac Herzog, who is sensitive to liberal Judaism's needs, was appointed as construction and housing minister."

Recently, power over the building of synagogues was restored to the reinstituted Religious Affairs Ministry, headed by Shas MK Yitzhak Cohen.

Kariv said he fears that additional synagogues for about eight Reform congregations in Netanya, Kiryat Ono, Nahariya, Karmiel and Rosh Ha'ayin, among other places, will be long in coming.

Sunday, May 4, 2008