Thursday, October 31, 2013

Coney Island's Sea Gate Still Defenseless After Sandy — By Its Own Choice 

Pinny Dembitzer bounced his SUV past the "For Sale" signs lining Sea Gate's Atlantic Avenue, slamming his way through potholes in this gated community on the western tip of Coney Island.

Dembitzer apologized for the rough ride. His car, like most cars in the neighborhood, replaced one that was destroyed in October 2012, when Hurricane Sandy pushed monster waves through Sea Gate. He seemed resigned to the beating the road was giving his shocks.When the water flushed out of the neighborhood after the storm it took with it the sand underneath the streets, opening sinkholes and shuffling the sewers. A mile and a half down the road from Nathan's Famous and the Cyclone rollercoaster, Sea Gate's pavement is as rough as a dirt track.

It's not the roads, though, that are troubling Dembitzer. A leader of the Hasidic community here and a former president of the neighborhood association, Dembitzer is more worried about the waves. A year after Hurricane Sandy, Sea Gate has yet to rebuild the sea walls washed away during the storm. The neighborhood is less protected than ever.

"I don't think a day goes by people don't worry," Dembitzer said. "Right now, if… [the] water goes up a little bit, the water goes into Sea Gate." In part, that's Sea Gate's own fault.

Surrounded on three sides by water, Sea Gate is privately owned, with a wall separating it from the rest of Coney Island. When it was offered federally funded storm protection in the 1990s — as long as it was prepared to open its private beach to the public — Sea Gate chose to keep its gates shut.

Today, the city wants Sea Gate to reconsider a large-scale beach reinforcement project. Sandy, however, doesn't appear to have changed the neighborhood's mind. All that's changed in Sea Gate is the carpeting in the basements.
"We're a private community," said Barbara Garofalo, a life-long Sea Gate resident who serves on the board of the association.

Orthodox Jews make up a tenth of the population in Sea Gate, but their presence feels larger than that. Hasidic families can be seen strolling on the beach and sitting by the water. A shirtless, tattooed man looking out over the ocean from his second-story porch said that when an apartment was open in his building recently, it was mostly Orthodox men who came to inquire about renting it.

When Dembitzer moved to Sea Gate as a newlywed in 1980, there were just 100 ultra-Orthodox families living on this narrow point sticking out into Gravesend Bay. Today, there are 300 such families and seven shuls. Dembitzer, whose red beard is graying at the end, is a member of the Boro Park-based Bobov Hasidic sect. He owns a store in Boro Park, but seems to spend much of his time dealing with the business of the neighborhood out in Sea Gate.

The Sea Gate Association, which collects dues to pay the neighborhood's private police force and to maintain the roads and sewers, is largely controlled by the Hasidic community. Russian Jews and non-Jewish old-timers live here, too, but Dembitzer has rotated in and out of the presidency for years, dropping out when he hits the term limit and jumping in again after a break. The governance structure is byzantine, involving a board and a nominating committee and an annual meeting at which members of the nominating committee are elected. Hasidic representatives attend those sparsely attended meetings armed with proxies from hundreds of their Hasidic neighbors, using their organizing prowess to exert heavy influence on the election process.

In October 2012, when the city gave the order to evacuate, half of the people here stayed put. In 2011, many had left to escape Hurricane Irene, which turned out to be a dud. The second time around, people figured evacuating wasn't worth the effort.

It's a mistake they won't make again.

"At about 8 o'clock in the evening, the water from the ocean just decided to invade us," Dembitzer said. "I was standing outside and just all of a sudden we see the waves coming in and the water went from zero to about four or five feet in no time."



Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rabbi bans students from eating soya in case it leads to increase in gay tendencies 

According to reports by ynetnews and the Huffington Post, officials at the yeshiva and the boys school banned students from soya products, claiming that eating such food just once a week can lead to “unwanted arousal.”

The rabbi of the Gur hasidic sect made the new rule, based on a fear that the hormones in soya would make boys more feminine.

According to the report, he told students to”stay away from any food containing soy because even eating a soy based product just once a week can cause unwanted arousal.”

The ban reportedly comes from a belief that soya-based products contain hormones which damage the spirituality of students by accelerating how quickly they mature sexually.

Doctors have debunked the claim, however, saying there is no evidence that puberty, or sexual activity is increased by eating soya.

London-based liberal Rabbi Mark Solomon, told PinkNews the worry was mainly among mothers working at children’s day centres where soya based foods were served.



Man pays $1,000 so atheist ex-Hasid will keep Sabbath 

Ari Mandel in his religous days (photo credit: courtesy)Ari Mandel in his army days (photo credit: courtesy)

hat’s the going rate for an ex-Hasidic, atheist US army veteran to religiously observe a
single Sabbath?

One thousand dollars, it turns out.

It also turns out that, like many good stories, this one begins with a single tweet.

Ari Mandel, who grew up in Monsey, New York, has been trying to raise money for Chai Lifeline by
running in the Jerusalem marathon next March. He was having trouble reaching the $4,500
minimum when someone tweeted to him that we would contribute $10 if Mandel would keep just
one Sabbath.

“I said, are you crazy? Ten dollars?” Mandel told The Times of Israel in an interview this week. “I’m
a social media addict, you’re going to give me ten dollars to stay away from Facebook and

Mandel maintains an active social media presence, and he blogs at “Confessions of a Koifer: The
(humble) opinions of a recovering Hassid.”

Koifer is a Yiddish term for heretic.

As luck/fate/divine providence (take your pick) would have it, when Mandel posted about the
proposal on Facebook — he goes by the name Rachmuna Litzlon, or “God help us” in Aramaic —
he was met with a more serious offer.

“What’s your price?” a Facebook user by the name of Isaac Mavorah asked Mandel, noting that
participation in synagogue services would have to be part of the deal.

“I’ll wear a shtreimel [a Hassidic fur hat] and go to the mikvah for the right price,” Mandel replied.
It wouldn’t be Mandel’s first time selling spiritual assets for cash. He once tried to sell his “portion
in Olam Habah (Heaven)” on eBay, with the bidding reaching $100,000 before the site canceled
the bid.

Although at first, Mandel didn’t think Mavorah was in earnest, it turned out that he wasn’t playing around. Still, Mavorah was insistent on verifying that Mandel would truly observe this upcomingShabbat, so Mandel offered to have his friend, who has assumed the online persona Rabbi Pinky
Schmeckelstein, serve as his witness.

Schmeckelstein, the author of a satirical blog, takes on serious issues through frequently off-color
fake homilies.

The two have known each other for about a year, Schmeckelstein told The Times of Israel. “We in
particular have collaborated on anti-sexual abuse issues in the Jewish community,” he explained.

“Rachmuna will be with me from after Friday night dinner (I will see if I can bring him as a guest for
dinner as well),” Schmeckelstein wrote on Facebook. “He will sleep in my MO [Modern Orthodox]
house. I will bring him to davening [prayers] with me at my MO Shul. He will eat Shabbos lunch
with me. Short of joining me and my Bashert [spouse] in bed, I will certify his activities through

“I’ve been following his Facebook for a while,” Mavorah told the Times of Israel, “never
commenting much then one day he posted about his Chai Lifeline fundraising campaign.

Seemingly he was well behind his goal because he said someone was offering a donation if he
kept Shabbat, but no one came forward with a significant amount. So I asked him what’s your
price? He said make me an offer. So like any negotiation I started low at $260, he went high at
$2600. We eventually agreed somewhere in the middle at $1,000.”

“To me, the sum is insignificant,” said Marovah. “One thousand dollars to get a Jewish atheist to
keep Shabbat, Mikvah, and praying with a Minyan AND help sick children?”

“Truth is I would have paid double.”

Schmeckelstein also offered to have Mandel prepare a Talmud class if Mavorah got another friend
to match his pledge. As it turned out, an anonymous donor gave $500, and Mandel will be giving a
class on the origins of Hasidism at Schmeckelstein’s synagogue as well.

Mandel said it would be his first time keeping Shabbat in its entirety since leaving the Orthodox

Mandel, who grew up in the Nikolsburg Hasidic sect, said he had an insular childhood and received
no secular education alongside his Torah studies. “It was a very restrictive lifestyle,” Mandel
recalled. “But it was a fine upbringing.”

Armed with a naturally curious mind, Mandel started exploring the outside world on his own. “I had
been researching and doing homework and all that kind of stuff,” he said. “The more I read, the
more the curtains around my eyes began to be pulled back. I kept following my curiosity. It broke
apart the foundation on which my entire world was based.”

At the age of 24, Mandel made up his mind.

“It finally came to a point where I didn’t want to be part of that life anymore. So I left,” he said.
Not surprisingly, Mandel’s parents didn’t take it well at first. “We’ve since reconciled,” said Mandel.
“We get along wonderfully now…they’ve accepted me, we get along now.”

After leaving the insular world he had known his whole life, the next step was the US Army.
Surprisingly, the military proved to be a relatively soft landing for a newly secular young man.

“The nice thing about being in the army, especially in basic training, is that everyone is out of their
element, so I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb more than anyone else did,” Mandel reflected.
Still, he had to smile and nod as if he was in the know when conversation turned to pop culture.

He didn’t tell people about his background, or that he was Jewish at all, until they got to know him.“I made it a point of not telling people until they got close. I wanted to break stereotypes with the
people I got to know.”

Serving almost five years in the 82nd Airborne Division, Mandel was deployed to South Korea and
Haiti. When Haiti was struck by a devastating earthquake in 2010, Mandel arrived there with his
unit that very night.

His foray into the secular world continued when he entered the media arena.

“I was slightly known before I got out within the small ‘OTD [off the derech, literally, 'off the path']
community’ (if there is such a thing),” he said, adding that he became “really well known” after
organizing a protest against the “asifa,” the Hasidic rally in New York against the evils of the

“It got international press attention,” Mandel said. “Then my eBay shtick just took it to a whole other

Nowadays, Mandel’s social media presence has proven to be surprisingly profitable, with
the attention the Sabbath deal has brought leading to more donations pouring in.

“Make this one Shabbos as Jewy and holy as you possibly can, I’m game, as long you dish out the
shekels,” he posted on Monday, just hours before hitting his minimum goal.

But the exercise is not likely to lead Mandel back to the world he turned his back on.

“I know Orthodox people who have been following the story would love for this to be the case, but I
don’t have high hopes. It’s not like I left Orthodoxy because I hated Shabbos,” he said.

“Staying away from the Internet is what’s going to be the hardest,” he added.



Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Jewish groups in new database admit losses of $150 million to Madoff 

A new database of non-profit organizations’ tax disclosures sheds light on the scale of the damage inflicted on Jewish community organizations by the Madoff Ponzi scandal. It also paints a picture of organizations changing their regulations to prevent such disasters in the future.

Almost two dozen Jewish organizations are included on the list of over 1,000 nonprofit organizations which suffered a “significant diversion” of assets through unauthorized uses or unanticipated losses such as theft, investment fraud and embezzlement between 2008 and 2012. Half of the organizations’ losses can be attributed to the giant investment fraud scheme conducted by Bernard Madoff.

The entire database, compiled by the Washington Post, covers a veritable cross-section of American civil society, ranging from local parent-teacher organizations to the Teamsters, from Washington think tanks to small-town fire stations.

Investment funds linked to Madoff’s scheme, which targeted portfolios ranging in size from individual shareholders to massive organizations, are documented in the database as defrauding Jewish organizations of over $150 million. This database does not, however, include a number of the organizations also known to have been defrauded by Madoff, including the Women’s Zionist Organization of America and the Elie Wiesel Foundation. Total estimated losses as a result of what is believed to be the largest Ponzi scheme in US history are around $18 billion.

Yeshiva University, where Madoff sat on the Board of Directors and even served as treasurer, is prominent in the newly published list of declared losses. Madoff’s investment scam depleted almost $110 million from the New York institution and its affiliate organizations.

The database shows that the losses were at times catastrophic, but sporadic in their impact on YU affiliates. The Yeshiva Endowment Foundation alone lost some $2.6 million in 2008, and ended the year with negative revenue figures of over $1.3 million. They did better, relatively, than the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary, which had over $10 million invested through Madoff, and finished the year with almost $2.4 million in negative revenue.

Following the scandal, Yeshiva University sprang into action to change its business practices. In December 2008, the university hired a law firm “to assist management in reviewing and addressing the then-current policies and procedures relating to corporate governance and oversight.” Following the review, the university toughened up its conflict-of-interest policy under which members of the Board of Trustees “may not be engaged in business with the University or the high schools” and established a waiver committee to review any exceptions.

University officials are no longer entitled to manage the money in the university’s investment pool or any individual investments, and the university engaged in a process of divestment from any investments managed by the university’s board of Trustees or Investment Committee. In addition, the Investment Committee was disbanded and reconstituted, university officials were required to fill elaborate conflict-of-interest forms and disclosures, and a professional chief investment officer was hired to oversee investments.

The database also gives some sense of the loss to local Jewish federations, the backbone of community life in dozens of states.

The Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles disclosed that in 2008, it lost approximately $6.4 million in investments due to the Madoff scandal. In February 2009, it filed a securities investment protection corporation customer claim for $500,000 related to the loss. The Jewish Community Fund of the Jewish Federation Council of Greater Los Angeles reported a more dire loss — $23.9 million, including $5.86 million of alleged earnings on investments that turned out to be fictitious.  Reeling from the loss, the foundation appointed a special committee to investigate the fraud and to attempt to recover funds from Madoff’s liquidated assets.

The Los Angeles-based Lee and Herman Ostrow Family Foundation, which is active in Jewish giving, suffered losses as a result of the Jewish Community Foundation’s “common investment pool”, which invested its funds with Madoff. In that case – similar to Yeshiva University – the investment committee was reconstituted, and oversight was drastically increased.

The Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul, which registered some $3.1 million in revenue in 2009, noted that the organization had $800,000 invested through Madoff, and added that “the organization does not expect to recover these funds.” The Jewish Community Centers Association of North America wrote succinctly that “the organization became aware during the year of one material diversion of the organization’s assets which related to its investments with Bernard L. Madoff Securities.”

The organization, which listed total 2008 revenue at $12.6 million, did not enumerate the scale of its losses. Organizations are only required to report such diversions if the total sum is above $250,000 or if they exceed 5% of an organization’s annual gross receipts or assets.

The American-Jewish Congress took a large hit, too. It recorded that approximately $2.2 of investiture “were stolen by Mr. Madoff” and that some $16 million in trust funds administered by AJC officers and employees were “also taken by Mr. Madoff.” The AJC’s total revenue that year was slightly over $1.3 million – significantly less than the amount pilfered in the Ponzi scheme.

ELEM Youth in Distress also recorded losses in 2008, but its files could not be accessed for further details. In other interviews, Zion Gabbai, Elem’s Israel director, said that the organization which cares for highly at-risk Jewish and Arab youth had invested some $850,000 with Madoff as a “safety net”.

The Etzion Foundation said in its disclosure that it had not known that its investment in Ascot Partners LP had been invested in Madoff Securities. The Teaneck-based organization which funds Orthodox educational initiatives in Israel and North America, did not disclose the amount lost for the organization, which had over $2 million in revenue in 2008.

The American Friends of the Israel Philharmonic were also hit by the Madoff scandal, writing tersely on the declaration that “as an investor with Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities, LLC, AFIPO’s account no longer exists.” The America-Israel Cultural Foundation did not mention Madoff by name at all, but just noted in 2008 that “the custodian of the investment pool did not invest the funds and stole the remaining monies under his custody.”

The new database shows how ripples of the Madoff effect spread outside of the framework of Jewish community organizations. The Washington Institute for Near East Policy also took a hit on an investment with Tremont Group Holdings that was a feeder fund to Madoff Securities. The Washington think tank, which recorded slightly over $6 million in revenue in 2008, noted that its market value loss was almost $1.2 million and the principal loss was $250,000. In the shadow of the loss, the Washington Institute noted that in the next year the Board of Directors adopted “a new investment policy with enhanced due diligence standards and procedures.”

Not all the losses documented in the database, however, were from Madoff. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany reported in 2010 losses estimated at $42 million after swindlers created thousands of fake identities of Holocaust survivors based on Russian-speaking elderly people who received kickbacks. The organization first reported the fraud to the FBI in 2009, and in 2010, 11 employees and several other individuals were indicted on fraud and embezzlement charges. Estimates of losses now are closer to $60 million.

The New York-based Touro College divulged in its forms that in 2010 “a former construction manager pled guilty to wire fraud for diverting Touro College assets. The perpetrator, with the aid of an unscrupulous contractor, utilized a sophisticated kickback scheme.” The disclosure forms emphasize that the “college aided in the investigation of the matter” but did not reveal the sums purloined.

Less-nationally prominent organizations were not immune from major fraud either. The Jewish Community Center of Duchess County (New York) recorded in 2010 that “it was discovered after the fiscal year end that the bookkeeper at the time was involved in an embezzlement scheme and had stolen company assets” and in 2010 the Lubavitch Center of Essex County’s director discovered that former employee Susan Shack had been embezzling money from the center. Shack was obligated by the court to return $220,000, although the organizations believes that the amounts embezzled were higher.

Philadelphia-based Jewish Heritage Programs appeared on the list as well, but no documentation of embezzlement could be seen for 2009, the year cited by the Washington Post. In its 2010 forms, the organization registered as Advancing Women Professionals and the Jewish Community Inc. recorded that approximately $62,000 – over 10% of its annual revenue – was diverted during an 21-month period by an independent contractor. The next year, the organization reported that the individual returned $70,000 to the organization to cover the loss and the related legal fees.

Another organization, Chessed Rivka – which, according to the Washington Post, is headquartered in Lakewood, CO, could not be found, and its documents could not be accessed

In at least two cases, the losses were incurred in Israel, not in the United States.The American-registered “Israel Tennis Center” organization recorded that in 2008, “a material diversion of the organization’s assets occurred as it pertains to the leasing agreements for both the Ramat Hasharon Center and the Sajor Center” and in 2009, the American Friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art reported that “certain works of art were stolen and destroyed by fire during the current year.”

It is possible that losses at Jewish charitable organizations may be even higher. The question that formed the basis of the database is only asked of larger non-profit groups, while smaller organizations and private foundations fill out different – or even no – paperwork documenting such losses.



Monday, October 28, 2013

How South African rabbis got 2,000 women to bake challah 

More than two thousand South African Jewish women converged on a street in Johannesburg’s Glenhazel neighbourhood two weeks ago to learn the intricacies of preparing challah – the bread Jews customarily eat on Friday nights when saying Kiddush to mark the onset of Shabbat.

The street had been closed Thursday evening, with permission from the city council, and the scene was set for the women-only challah bake, where they learnt to knead and shape the dough before taking it home to bake for their Shabbat.

Their degree of religiosity ranged from secular to committedly frum. The event had the feeling of a festival, but with a serious intention.

The challah bake was part of The Shabbos Project, brainchild of Orthodox Chief Rabbi Warren Goldstein to entice Jews, regardless of their degree of religiosity, into observing at least some aspects of Shabbat, without finger-wagging them to keep the full package of ritual.

South African rabbis are cock-a-hoop at the results. The project fell on fertile ground and the massive turnout exceeded all expectations.

South African Jewish leaders look askance at their American counterparts, wringing their hands over the increasing numbers of United States Jews who feel no Jewish identity at all, as exposed in the recent Pew survey.

By contrast, all indications are that Jewish ethnicity and religiosity are alive, well and strengthening among South African Jews, who number a miniscule 70,000, compared to the six million Jews in the U.S.

In a nation of 50 million with strong ethnic consciousness, the Shabbos Project was a demonstration of Jewish cohesion. Virtually the entire Jewish mainstream – secular and religious – was set abuzz by the prospect of observing that Shabbat, collectively and individually.

Marketed with extreme professionalism, with the help of an advertising agency, the project's light-hearted tenor generated excitement countrywide. Even secular Jewish celebrities endorsed it – like cricketing supremo Ali Bacher, comedian Nik Rabinowitz, sports administrator Raymond Hack and Benita Levin, news editor on Radio 702, one of the country’s premier radio stations. Jewish groups, including Modern Orthodox, Chabad and Ohr Somayach, teamed up in support.

The Shabbat toolkit

The several weeks of build-up included a free Shabbat “toolkit” of user-friendly cards with instructions and explanations, newspaper adverts, a vibrant website and Facebook page and mass emailings to Jews.

The dedicated events included closing another Johannesburg street – two-thirds of SA Jewry lives in Johannesburg – near the large Great Park shul, where long tables were set up for a mass open-air Friday night dinner. Special discounts were offered in hotels near shuls for people who lived far away to stay and walk to shul on Shabbat. Provision was made for Jews to spend Shabbat in an artists’ precinct in downtown Johannesburg, before participating in Nike We Run Jozi, a 10km night run through the city. Post-Shabbat concerts took place with well-known performers like Shlomo Katz and Yonatan Razel.

Rabbi Goldstein characterized the project’s ethos as people “owning” their experience of Shabbat by doing it themselves, rather than just attending a pre-arranged community event. It worked. In a mass email the following week, he thanked the community for making the project “so much more than we could ever have dreamt possible.”

South Africans have experienced nerve-wracking times over several decades during the country’s struggle from apartheid to democracy. Along with other groups, many Jews, concerned for their personal safety, immigrated to what they thought were safer shores – Australia, the U.S. Israel, etc. SA Jewry today numbers just over half what it was in the 1970s. Its morale fell amidst the tumult of the country's post-apartheid struggle to find its feet.

Things have improved in recent years. The community is less restless, its numbers have stabilized and a new, robust sense of South Africanness has developed. A 2005 survey of SA Jews by the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town found that 79 percent believed they were ‘very likely to continue living in South Africa for the next five years,' compared to only 44 percent in 1998.

There is also a clear trend of increasingly strict Orthodox religiosity, particularly amongst 18-34 year olds, indicating growing communal religiosity in the future as less religious, older sectors die off. When asked by the survey to identify their religious lifestyle, 66 percent answered ‘traditional,’ meaning mildly Orthodox with strong Jewish identity. Some 14 percent called themselves ‘strictly Orthodox’ and 7 percent Reform. Approximately 12 percent were minimally Jewish. Other indicators revealed strong ethnicity – for example, 95 percent of Jews with spouses or partners were with Jewish ones.

In the small SA Jewish community, rabbis play key roles. The charismatic, late former Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, who arrived from London in 1987 as apartheid was waning, was crucial in leading SA Jewry into the new dispensation. He developed a personal friendship with former President Nelson Mandela, spoke at his induction ceremony as President and represented SA Jewry at the faith-group hearings of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1997, where 41 groups gave representations. He apologized for Jewish communal acquiescence during apartheid – a factor shared by most groups, who buckled under the brutality of the regime.

This is not to say there is total unanimity among SA Jews. For example, the Orthodox rabbinate’s resistance to the annual Limmud conference is a divisive issue, though increasing numbers of kippah-wearing Orthodox Jews attend year-by-year. And some Jews are simply unmoved by The Shabbos Project or anything like it. As in any community, there are people on the margins, disconnected from the mainstream for political, religious or social reasons. Some are indifferent to things Jewish, others are uncomfortable with what they view as the excessive influence of Orthodox rabbis.

How does one measure The Shabbos Project’s success? Commentators ask whether in three months’ time, it will be viewed as a one-off, communal party unique to South Africa, or a model which could be replicated elsewhere to solidify Jewish identity – in the U.S., for example.

To return to the international scenario: American Jewry’s condition is of theoretical concern to South African Jews, but their own reality differs starkly. When an entire community gets excited about Shabbat observance, its cohesion looks likely to remain strong in coming years.



Sunday, October 27, 2013

Women of the Wall meets the fashion runway 

They’ve been on the front lines of the fight over the Western Wall. Now, will they be on the covers of fashion magazines?

According to Ynet, Women of the Wall is serving as an inspiration for a new women’s clothing line by fashion designer Comme-Il-Faut. Based on traditional hasidic men’s modes of dress, the line will, Comme-Il-Faut hopes, look good with the prayer shawls famously worn by Women of the Wall at its monthly Western Wall prayer service.

Featuring dark-white contrasts, vests, long pants and even a kapote — the traditional hasidic coat — the line tailors centuries-old outfits worn by hasidic men to modern women’s tastes, introducing “a design and feminine twist” into the clothes, Comme-Il-Faut designer Sharon Daube told Ynet.

Many Israelis react with indifference to Women of the Wall, but after meeting with the group’s leadership Daube called its mission “authentic and real.”

Part of the collection is a t-shirt that says, in traditional Torah script, “We lovingly give permission to one another” — a reference to Women of the Wall’s claim that the group does not need license from haredi rabbis to pray at the wall. Proceeds from the shirt’s sales will go to the group.

This isn’t the first time Comme-Il-Faut has confronted a heated Israeli political debate. A decade ago, the company staged a photo shoot next to Israel’s separation barrier for a catalogue called “Women Crossing Borders.”

Women of the Wall plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a service at the Western Wall next week. No word yet on whether — along with the usual media delegation — a reporter from Cosmo will show up.
Ben Sales is JTA's Israel correspondent. He reports on Israeli politics, culture, society and economics, in addition to covering Palestinian and regional affairs. A graduate of Washington University in St. Louis and the Columbia University Journalism School, he is the former editor-in-chief of New Voices, the national Jewish student magazine.



Saturday, October 26, 2013

Orthodox Jews urged to vote against casino referendum 

The referendum to legalize more non-Indian owned casinos in New York’s upcoming election is hitting some opposition in the Jewish community, according to The Yeshiva World.com.

Citing an increase in gambling addiction, violent crimes and the denigration of the Catskills in general, two “Satmar weeklies, Der Yid and Der Blatt, known with their influence on tens of thousands voters from the both Satmar factions and other Hasidic communities in New York city and Upstate New York (Catskills), featured long articles in their papers on the ills resulting from the casinos.”

In addition, another newspaper representing the Jewish Community, Di Tzeitung, called for a “No” vote. With tens of thousands of votes at stake, the Jewish community voting as a block could defeat the referendum.

However, according to Steve Israel on the Times Herald Record website today, there is another side to this breaking story. From interviews with local civic and Hasidic leaders in Sullivan County he quoted casino supporter and Town of Thompson Supervisor, Tony Cellini, as saying “That paper doesn’t represent the Satmar (Hasidic) community.”

He then quoted Rabbi Moishe Indig as saying, “He (the Yeshiva World writer) is not affiliated with anybody. He’s not even Hasidic”, and David Weiss, owner of the former Kutsher’s Sports Academy as “fully supporting” the referendum. Both Jewish leaders urge members of their community to support the referendum because it will benefit Sullivan County.

With a scant two weeks to go before the vote, referendum supporters are wondering if the controversy over the favorable wording of the referendum coupled with the supposed concern of the Jewish community about the degradation of the Catskills could turn ambivalent voters against the proposition.



Friday, October 25, 2013

Fake Hasidic Professor Busted in Poland 

A 46-year-old man who pretended to be an Israeli professor has been arrested in Poland for having defrauded three Polish colleges in 2010, the Polish media reported.

The reports say that the man, identified as Mariusz K., was arrested last week in Krakow, where he had fled when the case came to light.

The Rzeczpospolita newspaper said Mariusz K. had used a false Israeli ID and a variety of other false documents attesting to his academic and other credentials in order to be hired as a university lecturer.

According to Rzeszpospolita, he taught at the Higher School of Business and Social Sciences in Otwock; at Łazarski University in Warsaw and at the University of Natural Sciences and Humanities in Siedlce.

The reports said several hundred students who had had him as a professor will have to repeat their exams.

It was not clear why Mariusz K. had carried out the alleged fraud, but the reports said he had been paid a total of about $40,000 from the three schools.

In Krakow, he had grown a long beard, disguised himself as a Hasidic Jew and enrolled in the Jewish studies program at Jagiellonian University, the reports said.

Several news sites ran a picture showing a bearded man wearing a large kippah, his face obscured, being escorted by police to the prosecutor’s office.

Rzeczpospolita posted video showing this man, apparently handcuffed, being locked into a cell.



Thursday, October 24, 2013

Husband Of Hasidic Sex Abuse Victim Getting Death Threats 

Last winter, ultra-Orthodox Jewish counselor Nechemya Weberman was convicted by a Brooklyn jury of 59 counts of sexually abusing a teenage girl, and was sentenced to 103 years in prison for his crimes. During the trial, victim Boorey Deutsch testified about being abused from the ages of 12 through 17, despite threats of retaliation. Now, nearly 10 months later, she and her husband Hershy Deutsch are receiving death threats.
“I know my Jewish rights...I am allowed to kill you and that [is] what I am going to do,” the Post reports one person wrote on Deutsch's Facebook. “I AM GOING TO KILL YOU WITH IN THE NEXT THREE YEARS you may be stronger than one thousand satmar people but not stronger than a gun bullet."

The Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office is investigating the threat, which was left by "Ben Weiss" (believed to be a fake account) under one of the couple’s wedding photos. “If he can write such things, he might be able to actually do it. My body got very cold,” he told the Post. “I’m willing to do anything in the world to get him locked up.”

This isn't the first time the Deutsches have been harassed since the trial ended: back in September, the couple were harassed in their family’s synagogue on Rosh Hashanah.

Journalist Allison Yarrow’s wrote a book about the trial and Weberman, The Devil of Williamsburg, which offers some fascinating insights into the Satmar community. Among other things, she reveals that Weberman was originally offered a five-year plea bargain which he rejected: "He couldn’t have pleaded guilty in any case. Satmar would not have let him plead guilty. Even if he wanted to, he would’t have been allowed to because it would have been a mark on Satmar."



Fire breaks out at Ramapo house tied to disputed yeshiva 

A 13-year-old girl suffered smoke inhalation Wednesday after a fire broke out at a building next door to a yeshiva that had been illegally converted from a single-family house on Highview Road.

The girl, who was treated at Good Samaritan Hospital, had been home alone in the caretaker’s house with two small dogs when an iron left unattended in a second-floor bedroom ignited the fire at 95 Highview Road, authorities said.

The house apparently lacked smoke detectors as flames left the house uninhabitable for the family of five, officials said. Tallman Fire Chief Chris Szklany said 40 firefighters responded and made short work of the fire and smoke flowing from the two-story building.

Neighbor Annette Doerr called the fire a “nightmare,” especially after she said close to 150 students at the yeshiva next door at 97 Highview Road moved close to the burning house to watch firefighters. She has surveillance cameras and said she counted the students.

“The kids all came out and went onto the lawn to look at the fire,” she said. “I’m screaming like a lunatic at them to get away. I brought them onto my lawn.”

Doerr also said she was concerned the flames shooting out of the second-floor window might spread to a town-approved trailer used as a classroom about 50 feet away.

Doerr and her husband, Bob, have been fighting Ramapo and Talmud Torah Ohr Yochanan since the congregation illegally opened a school inside the single-family house at 97 Highview Road in October 2009.

Ramapo took Talmud Torah Ohr Yochanan to state Supreme Court to force installation of fire-safety devices and to ensure the congregation obtain site-plan approvals and get variances. The agencies are still reviewing the plans.

Since then, the number of students and teachers has been capped at 85 for the house, but the school has added two trailers and set up classrooms on the second floor to accommodate up to 165 students.

Officials with the Rockland County Illegal Housing Task Force, which reported the yeshiva to the New York State Codes Division some time ago, blasted the owners of the property Wednesday.



Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ex-Chasidic Mother’s Death Seen As ‘Tipping Point’ 

If snapshots could tell the story of a person’s existence, then by all accounts, recent pictures of Deb Tambor showed only happiness and a complete life being lived to the fullest.

There was Tambor on the beach, in a tank top, as she basked in the sunlight with her friends, and then in synagogue, clad in a tallit, as she completed psichat ha’aron, the opening of the holy ark. There was Tambor next to Elvis Presley and Britney Spears impersonators; protesting abuse at rallies; atop an ATV, in a convertible and cuddling in bed with her small dogs. There she was, nestled in the various embraces of her adoring boyfriend. In almost all the photos, there was Tambor’s broad smile and its accompanying indentations imprinted on either cheek.

But pictures never tell a complete story, and what was missing from these was the deep depression that enveloped Tambor, a 33-year-old ex-chasidic woman who left the Skver community in which she was raised, married and bore three children. Tambor regularly posted about her bitter custody struggles on a Facebook page for the burgeoning community of self-described “Off the Derech” (OTD) Jews; there, she also posted about her increasingly reserved children. Friends testify that it was her children’s alienation from her, orchestrated, her supporters say, by their chasidic father and community, that caused Tambor’s profound sadness.

Tambor sought psychiatric help for her depression, found a new home and partner in fellow ex-chasid Abe Weiss, and forged close friendships with other OTDers. But her monthly supervised visits with her children, who took to calling her Devorah because they were instructed to refer to only their stepmother as Mommy, were too painful a reminder of what she had lost. On Sept. 27, Tambor was found dead in an apparent suicide at the home she shared with Weiss in New Jersey.

The ensuing outcry from mainstream and OTD bloggers on social media and from writers throughout the New York area has shed light on a disturbing trend within ultra-Orthodox communities — the alienation of children from their non-frum parents, and the dearth of resources available in the United States to help them.
“The chasidic community drove Deb to commit suicide, pure and simple,” said Pearl Reich, 32, a mother of four who left her own chasidic community in Borough Park, Brooklyn, two years ago. Reich has since appeared on radio and talk shows like Dr. Phil’s to describe the campaign of degradation the ultra-Orthodox community waged against her and continues to wage against other parents who defect; the community, Reich told The Jewish Week, labels such people as “heretics” and “whores,” and attempts to wrest custody and children’s affections away from them.

“The two most important resources in a battle like that are money and emotional support, and people who leave the community usually don’t have either,” said Reich, who eventually won full residential custody after a lengthy legal saga and with the help of anonymous contributions from sympathizers in her former community. “There were many times where I felt like giving up, and I can understand how a mother who is cut off from her own children can get to a place where suicide seems like the only option.”

Fraidy Reiss had a happier ending when she left an arranged marriage to an abusive ultra-Orthodox man and prevailed in the ensuing battle in court for custody of their two daughters. “I was very lucky that my ex gave up the fight for custody pretty quickly, even though I was openly living as an atheist,” said Reiss.

Mindful of women with less-happier endings, Reiss founded a nonprofit organization two years ago called Unchained At Last that helps both Jewish and non-Jewish women leave arranged and forced marriages and win custody of their children in civil court. So far, the organization has supplied over 65 clients, mostly from ultra-Orthodox backgrounds, with pro bono divorce attorneys and other support services. But the nonprofit has yet to help a formerly chasidic mother win custody of her children and raise them outside her former community.

“I see many of those women go to beit din, or Jewish court, and end up with divorce agreements that say they must raise their children ultra-Orthodox, and sometimes even that they must remain ultra-Orthodox, in order to retain custody of their children,” explained Reiss. “Those agreements are legally binding and very difficult to overturn in civil court.”

While Unchained At Last is the sole resource for women in the U.S. wholly dedicated to helping them leave arranged marriages and forge new lives, it is not as well known as Footsteps, the national organization that provides both men and women who leave their religious Jewish communities with educational and professional training, and emotional and social support groups.

Though its website cites no programs tailored specifically toward helping parents with legal and financial assistance, Michael Jenkins, a psychotherapist and Footsteps’ program director, said 30 percent of its members are parents and refers to a Family Issues Handbook as a “beginning resource to navigating court systems and family supports.”

Lani Santo, Footsteps’ executive director, says that the organization has been doing “much deeper work” to assist members facing the added issues of divorce and custody arrangements after leaving the community, and is on the verge of debuting a pilot of the Footsteps Family Supports project. “People are seeing Deb’s passing as the tipping point for the difficult issues that parents face,” said Santo.

Whatever support OTDers find in one another and in these two support organizations, it is often a weak opponent when matched against the considerable power and influence wielded by the united ultra-Orthodox community; that community raises substantial funds for legal battles and often instigates an operation of intimidation against the opposing parent.

That was the case with Kelly Myzner, a secular Jew who became ultra-Orthodox at age 21, quickly married within the community and had three sons. When she filed for sole legal and physical custody in 2011, the family court judge awarded custody to her allegedly abusive ex-husband, citing her belief that religious consistency carried great weight. Myzner’s case caused several bloggers, such as Shmarya Rosenberg, who runs the website Failed Messiah, to point out that Rockland County’s influential Orthodox community donated large sums of money to the campaign of the family court judge hearing Myzner’s case.

“In places like Rockland County and Lakewood [in New Jersey], the haredi communities use their political influence and money to rip children away from parents who are no longer haredi, or sufficiently haredi,” Rosenberg told The Jewish Week. “That power and influence is considerable and judges are often seemingly much more concerned with what haredi rabbis want done than they are with what is best for the children or with what is ethical,” Rosenberg said.

The considerable political and financial influence of the ultra-Orthodox villages within Rockland County’s town of Ramapo, which includes the New Square community where Tambor is from, has been raising eyebrows for years. When an Orthodox majority won control of the East Ramapo School District in 2007, it sharply reduced the district’s school budget and inspired bitter acrimony among Ramapo’s non-Jewish residents. A 2011 arson attack on a New Square dissident that left him with severe burns emphasized what some see as the community’s totalitarian rule and demand for absolute conformity, and its potential wrath against noncompliant individuals.

Shulem Deen, a prominent blogger who left the Skver community six years ago, recently wrote in Tablet magazine that in Rockland County, “…custody battles required rabbis, community leaders, and Orthodox family therapists on your side. I was unaware that family courts were also part of the local political machinery and that elections and constituencies were never far from a judge’s mind. I was unaware that my relatively meager resources were no match for a powerfully resourceful community with an ideological stake in the future of my children.”

Photos of Deb Tambor in recent years are still being posted, on a Facebook page dedicated to her memory; a virtual commemoration of her life. They paint images of her in happier times, but knowing all we do of Tambor now, one cannot help but look at them, and notice only what is missing.



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Lhota Sees Hope in Frum Vote 

As polls suggest the lopsided mayoral race is all but over, with Democrat Bill de Blasio a mile ahead, Republican Joe Lhota seems to be working overtime to pick up support in neighborhoods where Jews have been most willing to cross party lines.

Recent Quinnipiac University polls have consistently shown Jews supporting Lhota more than Protestants or Catholics, which may be why he’s campaigning in the area’s most Orthodox neighborhoods. (Overall, de Blasio holds a lead of 68 percent to 24 percent.)

“You have my word that I’ll continue funding our [the city’s] social-service programs all throughout,” Lhota told voters in Flatbush, according to reports.

“I was always a supporter of vouchers [for private schools]. I can talk about vouchers until I am blue in the face.”

Three out of four Lhota appearances Sunday, one of the last three weekends before Election Day, were at Jewish venues: a community council breakfast in Riverdale, one in Borough Park and a meeting with the Flatbush Jewish Coalition.

“Joe Lhota has spent an enormous amount of time visiting the Jewish community and talking with them about important issues like public safety, helping small business, school choice and less governmental interference,” said a Lhota spokesman Tuesday.

In recent months Lhota has asked rabbis for their blessing, gone sukkah-hopping, shook hands on street corners, visited Jewish shops and, on one recent occasion, ran into controversy when a zealous Borough Park rabbi asked female staff and reporters to wait outside his shul, and Lhota didn’t object.

Both de Blasio and Lhota were invited to the Jewish Community Council of Borough Park’s annual breakfast Sunday, presided over by a former City Council aide to de Blasio. Yeruchim Silber is now the JCC’s director.

But only Lhota showed up.

“It does appear he is trying to make inroads here and is spending a lot of time in this community,” Silber told The Jewish Week. “When a major party candidate comes, you hear him out.” Silber said de Blasio’s “12-year record” was well known among the attendees.

Lhota is also focusing a chunk of his advertising budget on the Orthodox. Fifty-nine percent of his online display advertising in the three months ending in mid-September has been placed on the haredi Yeshiva World News website, according to Adclarity, an Israeli startup company that monitors digital advertising.
“Joe Lhota is making a desperate attempt to garner as many votes as possible as he goes down to defeat in the upcoming general election for mayor,” Joel Schnur, a spokesman for AdClarity who is also a political consultant, said in a statement.

“One of his best chances, according to his handlers, is to pitch the Orthodox Jewish community to vote for him. The latest study of American Jewry — “A Portrait of Jewish America”— done by the Pew Research Center, indicates that 57 percent of Orthodox Jews are registered or lean Republican.”

Schnur noted in the statement that Lhota likely sees Orthodox Jews open to his message that de Blasio would bring back an era of high crime in the city, a point his campaign makes in a controversial TV ad that includes images from the 1991 Crown Heights riots. De Blasio has denounced the ad as divisive, and a tactic out of the national Republican playbook.

Lhota’s strategy is reminiscent of the 2008 presidential campaign of his ex-boss, Rudy Giuliani. Desperately needing to gain ground in other early-voting states, Giuliani instead focused his campaign on friendly turf in Florida, hoping a big enough win there would give him momentum for other victories. (He placed third there.)
According to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, released Monday, 38 percent of Jewish likely voters support Lhota, slightly more than the 34 percent of Catholics and far more than the 16 percent of Protestants. De Blasio has 57 percent of the Jewish vote, the same as his Catholic figure but less than the 76 percent of Protestants.

A Marist College poll that includes voters who are undecided but leaning toward a candidate, however, showed fewer Jews backing Lhota than Catholics, 26 to 31 percent. Protestants in that poll supporting Lhota amounted to 14 percent.

De Blasio has kept his public appearances to a minimum while he focuses on fundraising — an event with Hillary Clinton netted a reported $1 million Monday — and debate preparation. His campaign spokesman did not respond to an inquiry Tuesday about whether any upcoming appearances were planned at a Jewish venue.

“It’s no surprise Bill de Blasio is absent from the [Jewish] community because showing up would require him to answer questions on his role in the Dinkins administration during the Crown Heights riots, his record raising taxes and fees and his plans that will handcuff the NYPD and make us less safe,” said the Lhota spokesman.

De Blasio supporters say his long history of ties with Jewish leaders forged while managing Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign, during two terms in the City Council and as public advocate make election year visits unnecessary.

“Bill de Blasio represented Borough Park; he practically knows every stone, every parking meter,” said chasidic political consultant Ezra Friedlander. “I would hope the people decide to vote for someone based on how they perceive their ability to function in that office, not because … they weren’t at every melave malka.”

A Sunday feature in the Daily News noted that de Blasio, as an aide to Deputy Mayor Bill Lynch, had a “front seat view” of the Crown Heights riots and noted that the state report commissioned by then-Gov. Mario Cuomo on the unrest faulted Lynch’s performance during the crisis.

The topic came up on Monday when the frontrunner appeared at an event with state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, and the News reporter, Greg Smith, pressed him about his role.

“I was in City Hall working on the staff,” said a visibly annoyed de Blasio, according to the New York Observer’s Politicker blog. “I did receive calls from concerned community leaders around the city and that’s all … I was not on the site. I came away with very strong views but I did not participate directly. I just need to be crystal clear about that.”

Lhota on Sunday sought to capitalize on the new interest in Crown Heights, telling the Politicker, “Bill de Blasio was given information by people in the community. They’ve all testified to the fact. It stayed there. It stayed there with Bill de Blasio.”

Jewish leaders contacted by The Jewish Week Monday and Tuesday did not recall hearing de Blasio’s name or seeing him during that time.

“A tall guy like that would have stuck out in my mind,” said Rabbi Shea Hecht, a politically connected Crown Heights rabbi who recalls attending a meeting at a local public school with Lynch at the time. “I don’t remember hearing his name [in connection with the riots] until now, but I can’t be sure.”

David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, who was in Israel at the time but in regular phone contact with city leaders, said “we dealt mostly with Herbie Block [Mayor David Dinkins’ Jewish liaison] and [Deputy Mayor] Milton Mollen.”

Rabbi Jacob Goldstein, chairman of the Crown Heights community board, also said he didn’t recall de Blasio having a role. “Lynch was the point guy, so whoever worked with him was doing what [Lynch] told him to do,” said the rabbi. “They were filtering the calls at City Hall.”

In a July interview with The Jewish Week, de Blasio criticized his bosses’ response to the violence, saying: “It was a perfect storm and was very painful time and a very difficult time. I think any of us who could do it over again would say the police response should have been stronger, earlier, more resolute.”

Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who is backing de Blasio but hasn’t yet publicly campaigned with him, said he had no concerns about a return to high crime, as Lhota has been warning, if the Democrat wins because it would doom his re-election bid.

He said Lhota’s people had asked for a meeting during a recent visit to Borough Park but Hikind declined, saying it could send a message of ambiguity about his choice.

Hikind, who is the city’s most prominent Orthodox politician, acknowledged that Lhota could gain support among “more conservative Jews in certain pockets.” And he said there are issues on which he strongly disagrees with de Blasio.

“But the bottom line is, would his door be open? Will he be someone who listens seriously to the concerns of the Jewish community, and there is no doubt in mind” that he would.



Monday, October 21, 2013

Israel awards New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg $1 mn 'Jewish Nobel' 

Israel has recognized New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg as the first ever recipient of a $1 million award popularly dubbed the "Jewish Nobel Prize."

The Genesis Prize Foundation said Monday that Bloomberg was the winner of the inaugural prize.
According to the foundation, the award recognizes "exceptional human beings who, through their outstanding achievement, come to represent a fundamental value of the Jewish people."
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present the prize early next year in Israel. The foundation says Bloomberg will then announce to which philanthropic cause he will donate the prize.
The foundation quoted Bloomberg as saying he was honored to be prize's first recipient. He noted his parents "instilled in me Jewish values and ethics that I have carried with me throughout my life."


Sunday, October 20, 2013

'Lost’ Indian Jews come to Israel despite skepticism over ties to faith 

A Kassam rocket had just landed across the street, but it couldn’t wipe the smile off David Lhundgim’s face as he entered his apartment in this embattled town near the Gaza border.

Born in the rural provinces of northeast India, Lhundgim has lived in Sderot since he moved to Israel in 2007, and by at least one measure he seemed to be well-adjusted: Lhundgim didn’t flinch when he heard bombs explode outside.
For him, immigration to Israel was the fulfillment of a biblical promise; explosions were but a minor nuisance.

“After 2,000 years in exile we would have lost our community,” Lhundgim said. “All of our lives were about how to move to Israel and keep the commandments.”
It’s not hard to understand why Lhundgim sees his life story as one of biblical prophecy fulfilled. Until age 24, he lived in a remote corner of northeast India in a community that believes itself to be descended from the ancient Israelite tribe of Menashe. Ritual similarities to Judaism — such as an animal sacrifice around Passover time — strengthened those beliefs.

Today, Lhundgim is among some 2,000 Bnei Menashe that live in Israel; another 5,000 are in the pipeline waiting to immigrate. This week, the Israeli government gave approval for 899 more Bnei Menashe to come.

The community has been permitted to move en masse despite practicing rituals in India with only glancing similarity to Judaism and claims of ancient Jewish ancestry that some politicians and experts find dubious.

“This is a bluff,” said Avraham Poraz, a former Israeli interior minister who temporarily halted Bnei Menashe immigration a decade ago. “They don’t have any connection to Judaism.”

The Bnei Menashe are hardly the first group to make claims of ancient Jewish ancestry in a bid to gain Israeli citizenship. The Falash Mura, Ethiopians who claimed to be descendants of Jews who converted to Christianity more than a century ago, were brought to Israel starting in the early 2000s.

But unlike the Falash Mura, whose immigration, absorption and conversion to Judaism was largely organized and funded by the government and the Jewish Agency, the Bnei Menashe’s immigration has been wholly organized and financed by a private organization — Shavei Israel, a nonprofit that aims to bring groups with Jewish ancestry to Israel and reconnect them to Judaism.

Shavei founder Michael Freund, a conservative columnist and former aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is almost singlehandedly responsible for bringing the Bnei Menashe to Israel. His organization has provided them with a Jewish education in India, converted them in accordance with Orthodox standards and brought them to Israel, where they were settled initially in West Bank settlements — all on Shavei’s dollar.

Founded in 2004, Shavei now works with groups of claimed Jewish descent in Europe, South America and China. Permanent Shavei emissaries are stationed in Spain, Portugal, Brazil, Poland, Italy and India — spots with particularly large populations of potential recruits.

With an annual budget of approximately $1 million, the organization funds Jewish education and programming for what it calls “our lost brethren,” brings them on tours to Israel and, in some cases, manages their immigration.

“Many of them are looking for ways to reconnect, and it behooves us to reach out to them and facilitate that process,” said Freund. “It is a strategic opportunity, and it is one that is not being exploited to the fullest.”

Nowhere has Shavei’s focus been more intense than with the Bnei Menashe. Freund began working with the group in 1997 while an aide to Netanyahu. He reached a deal with the government to allow 100 Bnei Menashe to immigrate every year under the auspices of Amishav, another organization working with the Bnei Menashe. When Netanyahu was voted out in 1999, Freund joined Amishav and soon began running its operations.

Freund sent teams of Jewish educators to Bnei Menashe communities in the Indian provinces of Manipur and Mizoram to teach Orthodox Jewish law and a right-wing narrative of Israeli history. Lhundgim said he was told that the West Bank, along with the entire land of Israel, belongs to the Jews.

Amishav settled the initial groups of Bnei Menashe immigrants in Israeli settlements in Gaza. When Freund joined the organization, he housed hundreds of Bnei Menashe in Kiryat Arba, the Israeli settlement adjacent to Hebron in the West Bank.

Yirmiyahu Lhundgim, 62, David’s cousin, who immigrated to Kiryat Arba in 1999, says Amishav didn’t teach him to differentiate among the West Bank, Gaza and Israel.

“They said it was the land of Israel, so we would live anywhere,” he said. “We didn’t know anything about it.”

In 2002, author and translator Hillel Halkin wrote a book about the group called “Across the Sabbath River: In Search of a Lost Tribe of Israel.” He concluded that though the group may have had distant Jewish ancestry, none of their recent forebears were Jews.

“What is specious is the myth that these people in northeast India for generations lived Jewish lives,” Halkin told JTA. “They were animists. They were not monotheists and did not practice anything remotely resembling Judaism.”

At a 2003 Knesset hearing, Labor Knesset member Ophir Pines-Paz accused Amishav of “turning these people into sacrifices of Israeli right-wing policies.” Later that year, Poraz suspended the Bnei Menashe’s immigration.

In 2005, then Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar endorsed the Bnei Menashe’s claim to Jewish ancestry. Immigration resumed the following year, but the newcomers were settled in northern Israel rather than the West Bank.

“We wanted to make it clear that there was no hidden political agenda,” said Freund.

Freund claims that Shavei is apolitical, but some of its activities suggest it has a right-wing agenda. A 2012 trip of Poles of Jewish descent organized by Shavei visited the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, a mostly Arab city in the West Bank, and spent Shabbat in Mitzpeh Yericho, a settlement deep in the West Bank.

Freund says such tours are meant to show participants the land of Israel and Jewish historical sites. Settling early Bnei Menashe arrivals in Kiryat Arba was a practical rather than ideological decision; Freund wanted them in a religious environment, and Kiryat Arba was willing to accept them even though they had not yet formally converted.

If Freund’s objective is to make faithful Jews out of the Bnei Menashe, he may well be succeeding. David Lhundgim is a practicing Orthodox Jew who studies daily in a yeshiva. He has heard the doubts cast on the Bnei Menashe, but like the rockets that occasionally fall around him, they do not shake his faith.

“The whole goal was to come to Israel,” he said. “Every Jew needs to know that the essence is to return. A person who thinks that exile is OK has a mental disorder.”



Saturday, October 19, 2013

Scotch whisky distillers seek kosher status 

While some whisky is naturally kosher, whisky that has matured in wine or sherry casks is not. Instead, some of Scotland’s best-known distilleries are bringing in rabbis to supervise whisky bottlings, which allows them to have malts certified as officially kosher – meaning that they conform to the regulations of kashrut, or Jewish dietary law.

Distilleries now producing kosher-certified whisky include Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Auchentoshan, Glen Garioch, Bowmore, Glenrothes and Tomintoul. Many of the kosher bottlings are exported to the United States and to Israel, while some are sold to the Jewish community in the UK.

David Margulies, director and owner of London-based kosherwineuk.com, which sells more than 25 single malt ­kosher-certified whiskies, said: “It is a market which has expanded hugely recently.

“There are more Jewish people drinking whisky than ever before, and some Orthodox people have a problem with whisky that is sherry casked, although not all Jews do. Distilleries don’t want to have this problem so special batches are made supervised by rabbis.”

Hannah Fisher, senior brand manager for the Bowmore and Glen Garioch distilleries, said: “It’s a growing market, and we certainly have a Jewish community of whisky drinkers that ask for kosher products.

“We want to be able to give clear communication of what’s kosher and what’s not. We think it will continue to grow as a market, not least because there are more specialist retailers out there who can sell these tailored products.”

Glen Garioch has just produced a new kosher whisky, Glen Garioch Virgin Oak, which is matured in virgin North American white oak casks.

Although the whisky process is itself kosher, most wine and sherry is not, meaning that, for some Jews, whisky that has matured in a barrel that once contained wine or sherry no longer conforms to Jewish dietary law.

In New York, single malt whisky has become so popular in the Jewish community that it has spawned the Jewish Whisky Company, an independent bottling company that sells Scottish malts including Glen Moray, Laphroaig, Ben-Riach and Arran.

“We want to cater to the Jewish market in a way that nobody has before,” said founder Joshua Hatton, who also runs an annual whisky festival in New York City called Whisky Jewbilee.

“With a focus on kosher-keeping Jews to ensure their dietary needsare met, we always maintain two-thirds of our line to be ex-bourbon matured whisky which is kosher by nature. Furthermore, as a Jewish-owned company, we follow the laws of Pesach [Passover], ‘selling’ our grain-based goods for an eight-day period in the spring before purchasing them back afterwards.”

He added: “There are a lot of ins and outs when it comes to Halachah [Jewish law] and we’re making sure to follow them so that our kosher-
keeping brothers and sisters know we have their backs.”

In Israel, whisky has become so popular that its first single malt whisky distillery is currently under construction. The Milk and Honey Distillery, which promises to produce a kosher “Speyside/Highland inspired single malt”, will use waters from the Holy Land and is being created under the eye of Scottish master distiller Dr Jim Swan.

Duncan Baldwin, brand development director at Tomintoul distillery, which produces a number of kosher-certified whiskies including the 14-year-old Tomintoul Kosher Portwood, said that it was a way 
of expanding the whisky’s ­audience.

“Some of the Tomintoul range has been classified as kosher and ratified, and we just think that by doing that we allow ourselves the opportunity to serve a wider audience than would have been otherwise,” he said. “America is an important market and they serve a big Jewish community. Having kosher-certified bottlings allows those who strictly follow the Jewish faith the opportunity to try our whiskies.”

Margulies said he thought it would continue to be a lucrative avenue for whisky distillers. “I anticipate the market will continue to boom, and more distilleries will start producing kosher-certified whisky. It opens up an extra market for whisky distilleries, and the Jewish market are big spenders and they have some cash, so why not?”

However Hatton said that some Jews believe that kosher certification is not necessary.

“As the Jewish Whisky Company, we remain respectful to those that have concerns ­regarding ex-sherry/other ex-wine casks. However, we align ourselves with many Scottish rabbis that deem all whisky 
to be kosher by nature regardless of cask type used in the ­maturation process,” he said. “Because of this, we will not steer clear of bottling ex-­sherry/other ex-wine cask matured whiskies.”

A Scotch Whisky Association spokeswoman said: “We welcome interest from Jewish consumers and many Scotch whisky brands are listed as meeting kashrut dietary rules. Individual companies will consider whether or not to pursue kosher certification.”



Friday, October 18, 2013

Read the new Chaptzem article in the Country Yossi Family Magazine 

Make sure to pick up your free copy of the Country Yossi Family Magazine and read the brand new original article 'The Dangers of Technology' written by Chaptzem, the only Heimishe blogger to make the transition from cyberspace to print.


Rabbi Accused Of Sexually Abusing Long Island Student 

Gary Lieberman, 56, of Far Rockaway, is accused of sexually abusing a preteen student at a West Hempstead religious school, police said.

A rabbi has been accused of sexually abusing a student at a religious school on Long Island four years ago.

Gary Lieberman, 56, of Far Rockaway is expected to be arraigned on two counts of first-degree sexual abuse in First District Court in Hempstead on Friday.

Lieberman repeatedly abused a student between November 2009 and May 2010 at the Hebrew Academy of Nassau County in West Hempstead, where he was a teacher, police said.

The student was 10 years old when the alleged abuse began, investigators said.

Lieberman allegedly told the boy no one would believe him if he told anyone about the abuse because he was a rabbi, police said.

Lieberman was terminated from his job at the Hebrew Academy in August 2010, but police say he may have continued teaching at other private religious schools.

School officials learned of the alleged abuse this year and notified police, who arrested Lieberman on Thursday.

“There was an allegation regarding an incident which allegedly occurred years ago which was recently brought to our attention regarding a teacher that has not worked at the school for several years,” the school said in a statement.

“The school was proactive in reporting the allegation to the police and we are continuing to cooperate with their investigation,” the statement continued.

Detectives worry there could be additional victims and are asking anyone with information to contact the Special Victims Squad at 516-573-4022.



New JCC Set to Open in Warsaw in Sign of Jewish Revival 

In a sign of the growing revival of Polish Jewish life, a new Jewish Community Center is set to open in Warsaw on Oct. 27.

The new JCC, which will be the second in the country after the JCC in Krakow, is funded by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & Culture, the Koret Foundation, and other private donors. It will serve as a hub for the growing array of Jewish cultural, educational, and community programs as well as activities in Poland’s capital.

“The opening of the JCC is yet another chapter in the remarkable story of the revival of Jewish life in this country,” JDC CEO Alan Gill said in a statement. “It’s a testament to the perseverance of Polish Jews that they are continuing to rebuild their institutions after surviving near annihilation followed by decades of oppression. JDC is delighted to have teamed up once again with the Jews of Warsaw and esteemed funding partners and passionate activists like Tad Taube to help facilitate this new flagship for Polish Jews to be empowered, innovate, and create their own brand of Jewish identity.”

Once home to Europe’s largest Jewish community before the Holocaust, more than 25,000 Jews reside in Poland today. Since the end of communism, there has been a revival of the Polish Jewish community and greater recognition of Poland’s Jewish past.



Thursday, October 17, 2013

Jerusalem Hasidic cult leader sentenced to 26 years for abusing wives, children 

D. in court.

A Jerusalem resident who established a private cult and married six wives was sentenced on Thursday to 26 years in prison.

Last month, the Jerusalem District Court found him guilty of a long list of crimes, including rape, sodomy and physical abuse, including electric shock and whipping his wives and children.

The 58-year-old man will also pay NIS 100,000 to his victims. His personal assistant was sentenced to six years in prison.

D., 58, belongs to a large, well-known Hasidic sect and considers himself the spiritual heir of one of Hasidism’s founders. Since 1980, he has married six wives, who together bore him 17 children.

From 2000 to 2009, he lived with his wives and children in an isolated house in Jerusalem, supporting himself by sending the women out to beg.

D. convinced his wives and children that he had special spiritual powers. But in reality, the Jerusalem District Court found, he was a sadist who forced them to confess to various sins and then inflicted brutal punishments, which included rape, sodomy, electric shocks, whippings, starvation and being imprisoned naked in a storage shed.

The judges declared the sentence, writing that "some of the offenses were carried out in the most degrading manner; others included brutal attacks, jailing, and extreme sexual behavior, some of which was performed in front of the children. In some cases the punishments were performed in the presence of the children, and their mere presence was conceived by the defendant as part of the punishment."

Last month, when D. was found guilty of most charges, judges Jacob Zaban, Raphael Carmel and Rivka Friedman-Feldman wrote that he “caused his wives to believe that their behavior and thoughts harmed not only him, but also the salvation of the nation of Israel, and thereby aroused deep feelings of guilt and self-loathing in them, for which they could atone only by confessing to him and undergoing suitable punishments that he determined and supervised.” They also noted that some of the children were subjected to similar punishments.

“The women, who believed with perfect faith that the defendant sought to help them and redeem the nation of Israel, desperately sought to please him and gave themselves over completely to his caprices. They fully accepted, and sometimes even initiated, the punishments imposed on them,” according to the verdict.

“The fact that the victims of this punishment agreed to perform whatever punishment the defendant imposed on them and didn’t always voice their objections, both due to fear of him and of further punishment and because of their adoration of and faith in him, constitutes an additional sign of the extent of his control.”

The Prosecutor's Office was hoping for more severe sentences, 65 years for D., and 20 years for his assistant, and may appeal the Supreme Court demanding harsher punishments.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

In Ramallah and in Bnei Brak, big hair's back among observant women 

Orthodox Jews call it a bubu. Religious Muslims call it a puff. Both are based on the same idea: stuffing something other than a woman’s real hair under her headscarf to create the illusion of long flowing tresses beneath.

The Jewish version, the bubu, is a sponge-like accessory, usually the size of a baseball, that’s either clipped directly onto the hair or in some instances, inserted into a pocket inside the headscarf created especially for this purpose. The Muslim version, the puff, is a floral hair clip that comes in various sizes and colors and attaches directly to the hair.

In both cases, though, the attachment forms a huge hump on the head, suggesting lots and lots of hair, and causing the headscarf wrapped around it to protrude from the back of the skull at a 90-degree angle.

Once upon a time, it was rather simple to tell observant Jewish and Muslim women apart – despite the hair coverings that are standard garb for both groups and dictated by religious rules of modesty. The Jewish women tended to tie their scarves behind the head and were partial to solid colors, though not necessarily black or white. The Muslim women, on the other hand, used their hijabs to cover the entire front of the neck as well, and more often than not, restricted themselves to either black or white.

An ironic development

But that’s no longer the case. Out-of-towners visiting the modesty fashion centers that dot both sides of the pre-1967 Green Line can’t help but be struck these days by the fact that - as distant as they may be culturally, religiously and politically - fashion-conscious women strolling the streets of Ramallah and Bnei Brak have remarkably similar tastes when it comes to new trends in headwear.

Perhaps it’s a sign of the times, but the drab colors that once defined hair coverings for both Jewish and Muslim women are gone, having been replaced by bright-colored patterns, often decorated with fringes, beads and other eye-catching ornaments. Somewhat ironically, these headscarves, whose original purpose was to deflect attention from the female head, have through their volumizing effect and bold designs become the centerpiece of many outfits worn today by both observant Jewish and Muslim women. Headscarves have become the one piece of attire that often sets the tone for all the rest.

Numa Yaqub, the proprietor of a toy store in downtown Ramallah, says he finds the contemporary style alluring, and even offers an explanation as to why it hasn’t yet caught on among Israeli Arabs. “In Jaffa, the Arabs need to differentiate themselves from the Jews,” he says. “Here in Ramallah, they don’t, because they live among themselves.”

A customer in the store, who identifies herself as Zahara, wears a white sweater, snug blue jeans, and a headscarf decorated in bold hot-pink, sky-blue, and black-and-white patterns that draw out the solid colors in the rest of her attire – a look quite popular outside on the street as well. “My face is thin, so it makes me look fuller,” she says, explaining her preference for the puffed look.

From black-and-white to leopard prints

The selection is enormous, judging from random stops at big and small shops in downtown Ramallah that cater to female clientele. Not by chance, the once-standard black-and-white hijabs are rarely seen on the streets anymore, except on the heads of much older women. As Yaqub puts it: “If you see a young woman with a black or white hijab and no puff underneath, you know she’s not from here.”

Checks, polka dots, leopard-skin prints, wild geometric shapes and softer paisley patterns are among the dozens of different designs visible on headscarves decorating the heads of young, fashion-conscious Muslim women, their colors spanning the spectrum of soft pastels to fluorescent orange and lime. When not wrapped around the head, covering the oversize bun created by the puff, the scarves are prominently displayed hanging outside storefronts or folded neatly in huge piles inside.

Jehed Jada, who owns a headscarf shop near the main downtown square, says most of the women popularizing the new fashion are between 16 and 35 years old. “It’s something that’s become extremely trendy in the past few years,” he says.

Not all are thrilled with the look and what it suggests. In an article titled “Clerics Split Hairs Over Latest Hijab Fashion,” the U.K.-based online fashion site Hijab Style recently reported that the more flamboyant look, also known as the Abu-Nafkha-style hijab, was enraging some prominent Muslim clerics, one famously describing it as “the leaning humps of female camels” and damning those who followed the trend to a bitter fate.

The ‘it’ style

Jewish women sporting a similar look have been spared such attacks. “There’s nothing wrong with a Jewish woman looking beautiful and caring about how she looks,” says ultra-Orthodox stylist and fashion designer Miri Beilin. “If the point is to create the illusion of lots of hair, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”

The concept, she says, has recently carried over to the world of wigs, typically worn by the very ultra-Orthodox, “where the ‘big hair’ look of the 1980s is back in style again.”

And what’s the attraction? “Lots of thick hair,” explains Beilin, “is a sign of a healthy woman, and women want to look healthy.”

A recent visit to the biannual fashion fair for modesty-conscious Jewish women, held just outside the ultra-Orthodox community of Bnei Brak, would seem to confirm that. There, the designers displaying and selling haute couture hair wraps were clearly drawing the largest crowds.

So call it big hair, Abu-Nafkha, bubu or puff. Whatever the case may be, for modesty-conscious women with a sense of flair – Jewish and Muslim alike – it’s indisputably the modern-day “it” style.



Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Chassidic Chaplain in Maryland is Now a Major 

Rabbi Chesky Tenenbaum, center, helping Jewish members of the Maryland Defense Force perform the Sukkot mitzvah of shaking the lulav.Rabbi Tenenbaum at a Rockville, Md., Volunteer Fire Department memorial service

Rabbi Yechezkiel Tenenbaum begins with what has now become a routine account, at least, for him: “I am someone who first made news because of my beard.” By the way, “everyone calls me Chesky,” says this soft-spoken man who grew up in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y.

For the past two years, Tenenbaum has resided in the Park Heights section of Baltimore with his wife, Chani, and their four young children. He serves Chabad of Maryland, specifically as associate rabbi of Chabad of Park Heights, and is director of the Jewish Uniformed Service Association of Maryland, or JUSA.

And he has garnered some real media attention since 2006.

That year, he had to appeal—and later was granted the ability—to serve as a chaplain in the Maryland Defense Force, a branch of the U.S. military that supports the National Guard. The issue was a rather unusual one; it focused not on his capabilities, but on his beard. While he has told this story often, he has recently opened a new chapter in his career.

The 34-year-old has just been promoted to the elevated status of 4th rank, what the army calls “04.” That comes with the corresponding title of major, up from his former captain status. With a sense of awe, he explains: “I believe I am now the highest-ranking Chassidic rabbi serving as a chaplain in the State Guard and Defense Force,” which is what Maryland calls this branch of their military.

Because he works as a volunteer, the promotion won’t come with a raise, though he will have more responsibilities for a greater number of people. “The truth is, it's more of an honor. And it is certainly an honor," states the rabbi.

But back to the beard, he says half-jokingly.

After leaving Crown Heights, Tenenbaum and his wife settled in Maryland, where he became associate rabbi at the Chabad in Gaithersburg. “While we were there, I was serving as the chaplain at a local hospital in Maryland, where I used to do a Shabbat service every Friday,” he explains. “It was there that I met a gentleman who had joined one of the services. Afterwards, he mentioned he was retired from the military, and since I have an uncle in the military, we had a nice discussion.”

“Two months later, that same gentleman called me up and asked me to contact the Maryland Defense Force about becoming a chaplain for them. ‘What about my beard?’ I remember asking, because I knew this would be an issue.”

In the military, with its uniformity and adherence to rules, facial hair is not allowed. Tenenbaum didn’t expect they would make an exception for him. But it turns out that his uncle—the one he mentioned to the man in the hospital—is a well-respected chaplain and colonel in the U.S. Army, Chaplain Col. Jacob Goldstein.

Goldstein was, in fact, the first member of the U.S. Army to be allowed to have a beard. He has been in service—first in the New York State National Guard and later in the U.S. Army Reserves—since 1977, with a beard.

So the issue is, by now, two generations deep in their family.

“My uncle traveled from New York to Maryland for the ceremony when I originally became a chaplain in the defense force, and the general there and my uncle did the pinning of my original rank at the ceremony,” says Tenenbaum. “My uncle has been very supportive and helpful to me.”

'Serving Those Who Serve Us'

After earning his smicha, or rabbinical ordination, in 2002, Tenenbaum pursued the idea of becoming a chaplain for the military, with the required military basic training. Though the beard came into play in 2006 while he was still at the Chabad House in Montgomery County, Md., it wasn’t until the following year that the issue got resolved.

Tenenbaum says, “I was the first Chassidic rabbi to go into the chaplaincy in Maryland’s Defense Force, but several others have followed me on a similar route, in other states across the country, using my beard exemption.”

He fills other communal roles as well, serving as chaplain of the Volunteer Fire Department in Rockville, Md., and chaplain of the Shomrim Society of Maryland.

And somehow, he had the idea and necessary energy to do more, creating and launching JUSA, which was incorporated last year. The organization serves as an outreach program for law-enforcement members in Maryland; that is, members of the fire department, police force, public-safety officers and the military, connected by their heritage.

“These service members give so much of themselves,” says the rabbi. “But they were not being properly served for their religious needs. I sought to correct that by providing the Jewish members with services before each of the Jewish holidays, as well as other events that bring Jews together and keep them connected.

“Most recently, we offered a Rosh Hashanah event at two different armories in Baltimore and held a Sukkot party for law-enforcement members. We have people come out to these events and the thing is, until a short time ago, they never had any of these services available to them before,” he says. “I feel very gratified that we can offer these programs and that JUSA is growing, having become a 501(c)(3) this year.

“Our motto is: Serving those who serve us.”

He feels quite strongly that “law-enforcement members need someone there for them, the way they are always there for others. This is a way for me to give back to them for all they do to protect the public and the country.”

The JUSA programs Tenenbaum offers cycle throughout the Jewish calendar year. He has noticed that those who attend aren’t always Jewish. “Jews and non-Jews alike come to learn. A general attended our Pesach service last year because he said he wanted to learn more about it.”

The rabbi and his family regularly get to host a rather special crowd: “We have law-enforcement officers over to our house. Our guests are usually from the surrounding local areas, and we invite them to come with their families so we can be together in a family setting to enjoy Shabbat or holiday celebrations.”

With the High Holidays now over, Tenenbaum is turning his attention to Chanukah. “I’ll begin by sending something to my superiors about the date I’m proposing for the holiday get-together. Then I’ll work on putting together the prayers for the service. We always begin with a prayer for the safety and security for all uniformed officers in harm’s way.”

And, of course, he says, the festival will involve the lighting of the menorah, an explanation of the holiday’s customs, and the requisite sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts) and gelt (chocolate coins). Menorahs and candles will be distributed to those who need them.

As always, Tenenbaum will be on hand to answer questions and talk to individuals.

“The role of a chaplain, since it is a volunteer job, is not so much based on a daily schedule," he explains. "It is more to be on call to address the needs as they come up.” And they can come up at any time, especially as folks approach the holidays.

“I also try to be available at the bimonthly drills held for Defense Force members,” he adds. “Soldiers of all religions come to me and the other chaplains for counseling.” After all, that’s the real gist of the job.



Monday, October 14, 2013

Temple Mount: Israelis Arrested for Singing National Anthem 

Jerusalem police arrested 10 Jews who prayed and sang Israel's national anthem "Hatikva" on the Temple Mount on Monday morning. They had come as part of a group of 30 who were divided by police into smaller groups, as part of a host of restrictions imposed upon Jewish visitors.

Following their arrest police closed the site to non-Muslim visitors.

The Temple Mount is Judaism's holiest site and the location of the two Holy Temples of Jerusalem, the latter of which was destroyed by the Romans in 70CE.

Despite that fact, Jewish visitors face severe restrictions upon ascending the Mount, including a blanket ban on praying or on performing any other form of worship, as well as restrictions on the size of groups which can ascend. Those who violate the restrictions face arrest and a prolonged ban from ascending altogether.

Numerous court rulings have stipulated that Jews must be permitted to pray on the Temple Mount as a basic right to freedom of religion. Nevertheless, the Israeli police force has repeatedly ignored the rulings, citing unspecified "security concerns" as a pretext to continue enforcing the ban, and even barring religious Jews from the area for days or even weeks at a time.

Police sometimes close the Mount to Jews altogether in response to Muslim riots – despite evidence that such violence is usually planned in advance for the specific purpose of forcing Jews out. Prominent Israeli MKs, such as Moshe Feiglin and Zeev Elkin, have been forced to leave the Temple Mount due to fears of Muslim riots.

Attorney Adi Kedar, who is representing the detainees on behalf of the Honenu legal-aid organization, responded to the arrests in a statement to the media.

"The Israel Police's level of discriminatory policy is repeatedly rising while trampling human rights and restricting Jewish movement in the most sacred places."

"Freedom of expression is not valid on the Temple Mount," declared one of the Jewish worshippers, "It's time that freedom of expression and human rights will also be given to the Jews on the Temple Mount , and that everyone will have the great privilege to pray in this holy place."

Shai Malkah and Michael Puah of the Likud party's Jewish leadership (Manhigut Yehudit in Hebrew) faction criticized the arrests, accusing the police of neglecting their job out of fear of Muslim violence.

"We call on the police to stop their weakness and ineffectiveness against the violence and threats of the Muslims on the Mount.

"We must stop the situation in which Hamas flags are waved on the Temple Mount on a daily basis, while they arrest those who wave the Israeli flag."

This is the latest in a spate of arrests of Jewish worshippers on the Temple Mount. Earlier today, two women were arrested for praying at the gates of the Mount.

Attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir, who represents the young women on behalf of Honenu, said that he was advising them to press charges against the police.

"It is regrettable that the police do not give freedom of prayer to Jews near the Temple Mount. It's a case of illegal detention and I will recommend to the girls to file a civil suit."

Last week, Rabbi Yisrael Ariel of the Temple Institute, which educates about the Temple Mount and the Holy Temples, was arrested along with Jewish activist Yehuda Glick, as the two were visiting the site.

An eyewitness told Arutz Sheva that the police used excessive violence detaining the two, dragging them to the ground unnecessarily.

But Temple Mount activists remain undeterred, buouyed on by increasing popular support.

Recent years have seen a considerable increase in the number of Jews ascending the Mount - much to the anger of Islamist and Palestinian Authority leaders.

At the start of the month, a large group of hareidi-religious Jews ascended the Temple Mount - to jeers by Muslim worshippers - in a significant break from the majority of hareidi leaders, who (along with other rabbis) discourage Jews from ascending over concerns that they could accidentally violate the strict rules of ritual purity mandated at the site.

Other rabbis, however, dispute this view, claiming that the excessive caution over the laws of ritual purity deprive Jews of worshipping at their holiest site, and has all but surrendered the area to the Waqf, enabling a systematic campaign to remove every sign of ancient Jewish presence at the site and amid wholesale and illegal destruction of Jewish antiquities on the compound.



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