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Updated: 33 min 38 sec ago

Two French Jews attacked

Sun, 05/25/2014 - 09:04

(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.

Gang of 4 Rabbis Indicted in Orthodox Divorce Torture Extortion Scheme

Sat, 05/24/2014 - 08:49

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.

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The pope’s rabbinic travel buddies

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 20:09

Pope Francis, then-Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio, presenting the honorary doctorate award of the Pontifical Catholic University of Argentina to Rabbi Abraham Skorka, Oct. 11, 2012. (Courtesy Universidad Catolica Argentina)

Pope Francis is bringing along not one but two Argentinean rabbis on his trip to the holy land.

The pope’s close friendship with Rabbi Abraham Skorka is well known. Skorka even wrote a book with the then archbishop of Buenos Aires.

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.”

Four rabbis indicted on kidnap conspiracy charges

Fri, 05/23/2014 - 17:08

(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.

Israeli religious court grants divorce to woman with comatose husband

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 11:17

(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.





URJ Announces New Director for Jacobs Camp

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 10:32
Jacobs Alum and Former Assistant Director Anna Blumenfeld Herman to Run Foremost Jewish Summer Camp in Deep South

Alejandro Jodorowsky Goes on a Voyage in Search of Himself

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 10:00

‘The Dance of Reality,’ a new movie by cult director Alejandro Jodorowsky, is a departure for a filmmaker best known for violent imagery and New Age symbolism.

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17th Century Turkish Synagogue Is Refurbished

Thu, 05/22/2014 - 07:39

The Turkish city of Izmir restored a 17th-century synagogue at risk of collapse.

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Jonathan Sacks Warns of Religious Freedom Threat in Right-Wing Law Firm Speech

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 14:24

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.

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Turkish synagogue restored in Izmir

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 14:00

(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: Religious liberty’s under threat — on both sides of the pond

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 13:08

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.

Sacks explained:

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.

Jewish Boy Scout Leader and Rabbi Nabbed in Child Porn Round-Up

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 11:53

A Jewish Boy Scout leader from Long Island and a Brooklyn rabbi were among some 71 people arrested in the New York City area.

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Boston Rabbi Barry Starr Sent Nude Pics to Teen — Trolled Web for Sex

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 07:58

Disgraced Boston-area Rabbi Barry Starr sent naked photos of himself to boys and trolled the internet for sex, court documents alleged.

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Boston Rabbi Barry Starr Paid Teenage Boy $500K To Cover Up Affair

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 13:23

Boston-area Rabbi Barry Starr allegedly paid nearly half a million dollars — taken from synagogue funds and borrowed from his congregants — to hide his affair with a 16-year-old male.

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I Am 1 Billionth 'Anti-Semite'

Tue, 05/20/2014 - 06:00

The ADL says its global poll shows a quarter of the world holds anti-Semitic views. But Jay Michaelson says the study is so hopelessly flawed, any thinking person could fail — even a rabbi.

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Pope Francis Heading to Holy Land With Rabbi and Imam as Interfaith Wing Men

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 17:44

With a rabbi and a Muslim sheik as his travel companions, Pope Francis is heading to the Middle East with what he hopes will be a powerful message of interfaith respect.

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What do Rick Perry, Sean Penn, Sheldon Adelson and Chris Christie have in common?

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 16:44

Actor Sean Penn accepting the Champion of Jewish Justice Award at the World Jewish Values Network’s gala dinner in New York City, May 18, 2014. (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

NEW YORK (JTA) — The last time New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie spoke at a venue attended by Sheldon Adelson, he alienated the Republican Party mega-donor and other hawkish pro-Israel Jews by referring to the West Bank as “the occupied territories.”

Sunday night at a gala awards program in Manhattan honoring Adelson and hosted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Christie avoided the topic of Israel altogether.

But Sean Penn didn’t.

Held in the cathedral-like Cipriani restaurant, the dinner for Boteach’s This World: The Values Network featured an unusual lineup of big-name guests. Among those joining Christie, Penn and Adelson were Texas Gov. Rick Perry; Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel; Israel’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer; the Somali-born women’s rights activist and Islam critic Ayaan Hirsi Ali; human rights activist and author John Prendergast; Harvard law professor and Alan Dershowitz; Jewish philanthropist Michael Steinhardt; and Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.

The dinner, at $750 per person, seemed to serve a mix of purposes: part awards ceremony, part fundraiser and part pro-Israel rally. It was also very much a celebration of The Values Network and its founder, the well-connected and media-loving Boteach.

An author of 30 books and a one-time congressional candidate who describes himself as “America’s Rabbi,” Boteach was celebrating 25 years as an Orthodox rabbi and promoting his latest book, “Kosher Lust.” A video at the dinner featured Dr. Mehmet Oz announcing “Kosher Lust” as his book of the month. Later in the evening, Boteach said he had dedicated the book, which he described as a modern-day “Song of Solomon,” to Sheldon and Miriam Adelson.

Based in Boteach’s hometown of Englewood, N.J., The Values Network describes itself as an “international organization focusing on bringing the universality of Jewish values and wisdom to the media, the culture, the family and national affairs,” and “supporting, defending and promoting the State of Israel as the supreme embodiment of universal Jewish values.”

It appears to be as much a vehicle for supporting and promoting Boteach. Photos of the rabbi dominate its website, and the two subheads of its “About This World” tab are “About Shmuley” and “FAQ.” The only frequently asked question is, “Does Rabbi Shmuley counsel couples?” The answer is yes, and the website provides his contact information.

Christie’s speech, which The Values Network’s PR firm had promised would be a “ ‘major speech’ on Israel and the Middle East, according to insiders,” was notable for its failure to mention Israel, even as the presumed Republican presidential hopeful criticized President Obama’s foreign policy vis-a-vis Syria, Iran and Russia.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, left, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Christie’s wife, Mary Pat, at the World Jewish Values Network’s gala dinner in New York City, May 18, 2014. (Ben Gabbe/Getty Images)

By contrast, one of Christie’s likely rivals for the Republican nomination — Perry, who was invited to present the Adelsons with the Principle Benefactor Award — rhapsodized on stage about his many travels to Israel, during which he “crossed the Jordan River” and “peered over the Golan Heights into Syria.”

“It’s time for this country to renew our commitment to a strong Israel,” Perry said. “Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state! The cause of good shall triumph over evil.”

(Perry also told Christie that he had “landed in your wonderful city,” apparently referring to Newark Liberty International Airport.)

In the lineup of pro-Israel activists and Republicans, Penn stood out not just for his Hollywood credentials but for his left-wing politics. The actor, whom Boteach described as “Hollywood’s foremost humanitarian,” was an outspoken critic of President George W. Bush and friends with Venezuela’s late president Hugo Chavez.

Penn said his ties to Venezuela helped him secure the freedom of Jacob Ostreicher, an American Jewish businessman imprisoned in Bolivia for 18 months. Ostreicher, who was accused of money laundering but never formally charged — he has maintained his innocence — presented the film star with the Champion of Jewish Justice award.

During the presentation, Ostreicher thanked Penn for, among other things, giving him an all-night back rub and stocking his refrigerator with kosher food.

Explaining his reasons for helping Ostreicher, who described himself as politically to the right of conservative pundit Sean Hannity, Penn emphasized that it was not “because my father’s family is Jewish and I’m committed to insular, tribal protection.” Rather, he said, Ostreicher was “railroaded by a corrupt Bolivian judiciary” and “trapped in a place where I had regional access.”

Penn was the evening’s only speaker to mention the Palestinians. He referred to the West Bank as “undeclared territories,” noted that the ranks of those unjustly imprisoned around the world include Palestinians and said that the label of anti-Semitism is “too often used to discredit dialogue.”

The eclectic program also featured a tribute by Boteach, along with his nine children, honoring his wife, Debbie, and a call for the audience to make financial pledges via text message. The pledges were projected on a large screen.

Lebanon Synagogue Reopens After $1M Spruce Up

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 07:46

Beirut’s only synagogue is set to reopen following a five-year renovation.

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Knesset Bill Would Allow Jewish Prayer on Temple Mount

Mon, 05/19/2014 - 07:39

Two MKs from Likud and Labor have collaborated to propose a law that would allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount.

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