JERUSALEM (JTA) — The Temple Mount was closed following clashes between Muslim worshippers and Israeli police amid Jerusalem Day celebrations.
Four Palestinians and an Israeli police officer were reported injured in the Wednesday morning clashes.
Masked Palestinians threw rocks and firecrackers at Jewish security forces on the Temple Mount. The attackers barricaded themselves in the Al Aksa Mosque after being pursued by Israeli police, who used rubber bullets to disperse the rioters, according to Palestinian reports.
Muslim worshippers on the Temple Mount also threw rocks Tuesday at a group of Jews visiting the site.
Jerusalem Day marks the reunification of Jerusalem during the Six-Day War in 1967. The annual Jerusalem Day flag procession through the Old City of Jerusalem will take place late Wednesday afternoon, with thousands expected to participate.
Meanwhile, at a Tuesday evening program in honor of Jerusalem Day at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva, Israeli housing minister Uri Ariel said there would be no more housing freezes in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
“We will not come to terms with the delays and restrictions [on construction] in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, and we will continue to build in all parts of our land,” Ariel said. “Jerusalem will never again be divided. Between the Jordan River and the sea, there will be only one state — the State of Israel.”
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(JTA) — Two French Jewish men were attacked while on their way to synagogue.
The men, brothers aged 18 and 21 from the Paris suburb of Creteil, were attacked from behind Sunday by two men on bicycles, according to a statement from the French Jewish organization SPCJ. The attackers, men in their twenties, wore brass knuckles and hit the brothers in the face. The attackers fled after the brothers defended themselves.
A passing car stopped to pick the men up and drove them to the hospital. According to SPCJ, the men’s faces are “heavily injured,” and will need surgery, but the men are expected to recover.
The attack comes one day after four people died in a shooting at the Jewish Museum of Brussels. Police are still searching for a suspect in the shooting.
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Pope Francis is bringing along not one but two Argentinean rabbis on his trip to the holy land.
Skorka told JTA that he would be with the pope “all the time except, of course, at the private meetings he will hold with the different dignitaries.”
But he will be joining the trip a bit late.
“Since the departure of the Pope from Rome will be close to Shabbat, I will only meet with him on his arrival to Bet Lehem,” Skorka wrote to JTA in an email.
But the other Argentinean rabbi traveling with the pope — Rabbi Alejandro Avruj — will accompany the entire trip, starting in Jordan and then going to areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority and to Israel, though he won’t be as close a papal traveling companion as Skorka.
Avruj will be making the journey with a Catholic priest, Jose Maria “Pepe” di Paola, with whom he has worked closely since the 2001 Argentinean economic crisis. The rabbi and the priest together manage the Shalom charity project, which brings daily meals to hungry children in Buenos Aires.
“I met Jorge Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, at a shantytown in Buenos Aires. Bergoglio was the boss of my teammate Pepe and he came with us to bring food and recreational activities to the kids,” Avruj told JTA.
Like Skorka, Avruj developed a friendship with Bergoglio. The future pope participated in a 2012 Kristallnacht commemoration ceremony with Avruj, who later invited him to help light the Hannukah candles at the synagogue where he served.
“One day before the ceremony, he called me to confirm his appearance and asked me which subway station was closest to the temple. He arrived very sweaty in a 6 p.m. rush hour from a crowded subway,” Avruj recalled. “He is a very simple person, very focused on the really important things in life — relationships, values, friendship and, of course, God.”
The pope and Skorka will also be traveling with Omar Abboud, who is the Muslim representative at Argentina’s Institute for Interreligious Dialogue and former secretary general of Islamic Center of Buenos Aires.
Skorka has known Abboud for decades.
“He is a person of high values and spirituality. That the Pope travels with a Rabbi and an Islamic leader is a sign that only walking together and through a path of dialogue will we be able to achieve changing the present world reality,” Skorka wrote to JTA.
Skorka expressed hope that the pope will make a contribution to advancing peace in the region.
“My expectations are that Pope Francis could engrave a deep message of peace and spirituality,” Skorka explained. “It is a great opportunity to introduce a pure spiritual dimension in looking for new paths which can lead to an approach to peace.”
(JTA) — Four Orthodox rabbis and one of their sons were indicted on charges of conspiring to kidnap and torture Jewish men to force them to grant religious divorces to their wives.
Rabbi Mendel Epstein and his son David Epstein, Rabbi Martin Wolmark, Rabbi Jay Goldstein and Rabbi Binyamin Stiller were charged Thursday in New Jersey federal court with participating in a kidnapping ring. According to the indictment, the ring was organized to force reluctant husbands to grant their wives a get, or a Jewish divorce, in exchange for fees running to tens of thousands of dollars.
The ring operated between 2009 and 2013 and employed methods such as beating the victims and shocking them in their genitals with electric cattle prods, the indictment said.
The four rabbis were previously indicted on separate kidnapping-related charges in October of 2013 as part of a larger group, according to a statement from U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman. That group included two of Goldstein’s sons, both of whom have since pleaded guilty to extortion charges related to that indictment.
Attorneys for Wolmark, Goldstein and Still denied the charges, the Associated Press reported.
According to the indictment, Mendel Epstein stated to an undercover agent that the fee for the kidnapping would be $10,000 for the beth din, or rabbinical court, to issue the divorce, and $50,000 to $60,000 for the “tough guys.”
A sworn statement by FBI agent Bruce Kamerman quoted Epstein as saying that it was essential that the torture of the kidnapped husband not leave a mark so that police would dismiss any allegation as “some Jewish crazy affair.”
The defendants face fines of up to $250,000 for each kidnapping count as well as prison sentences of up to life in prison, according to the U.S. attorney.
(JTA) — An Israeli government religious court granted a ritual divorce to a woman whose husband is in a coma and cannot consent.
The ruling by the court in Safed took place two months ago but was made public Tuesday.
Jewish law requires the husband to consent in order for the ritual divorce, or get, to be valid. But according to Haaretz, the court used an obscure Jewish legal concept called a “get zikui” to allow the divorce because the husband would have consented if he were conscious.
The ruling can act as precedent for other women with husbands in comas, but the court ruled that it would not apply to women whose husbands intentionally refuse to divorce them.
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(JTA) – The Turkish city of Izmir restored a 17th-century synagogue at risk of collapse.
Reconstruction of the Beit Hillel Synagogue began about a year ago. At the time, only the facade was intact; the remainder largely had been destroyed by a pair of fires.
Once the reconstruction is completed, the structure will be turned into a museum, according to the Hurriyet Daily News.
“Izmir is the city of tolerant people,” city authorities were quoted as saying. “This project is a result of this understanding.”
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks was praised by a Catholic cardinal and then blessed by a Mormon apostle.
The former British chief rabbi was being honored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Washington-based public interest law firm that’s been busy representing clients — such as Hobby Lobby — who say their religious freedoms are being trampled by the government.
The crowd gathered last week at Manhattan’s Pierre hotel may not have shared a dogma — one could spot yarmulkes, Sikh turbans, clerical collars and nuns’ habits in the room — but they did have a common concern. And Sacks made clear that he shared that concern.
“Today, I’m sad to say that that liberty is at risk throughout Europe,” he said in his keynote speech, during which he accepted the Becket Fund’s Canterbury Medal.
In Britain, we have seen a worker banned from wearing a small crucifix at work. A nurse was censured for offering to utter a prayer on behalf of one of her patients. The Catholic adoption agencies were forced to close because they were unwilling to place children for adoption to same-sex parents. And as far as Judaism is concerned, religious liberty has been under very serious threat indeed. We have seen shechitah — the Jewish way of killing animals — banned in Denmark. We have seen circumcision banned by a court in Germany. These are liberties Jews have enjoyed throughout Europe for centuries. And this is for me the empirical proof that this deeply secularizing Europe, that the secular societies in Europe are much less tolerant than the religions that they accuse of intolerance.
Sacks noted that the threat from what he called “political correctness” also extended to America.
“Look at what has happened in this country to people merely because they oppose same-sex marriage, or they gave a donation to a body that opposed same -sex marriage,” he said, an apparent reference to the controversy that last month forced the resignation of the newly appointed chief of the Internet company Mozilla.
Sacks recently finished his tenure as chief rabbi and moved across the pond to teach at NYU and Yeshiva University. In Britain, Sacks had used his pulpit and erudition to establish himself as one of the country’s leading public intellectuals, a widely respected voice on issues related to religion and society.
From his reception at the Becket Fund, it was clear that he had garnered some admirers on these shores as well. In his brief speech, New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan praised Sacks: “I don’t know of a man who understands the theology of Pope Benedict XVI more than you do.”
Later, Sacks was blessed by D. Todd Christofferson, an member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, who praised the rabbi’s work as he offered the event’s closing prayer.
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