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U.S. Rabbi Rescues Sacred Scrolls Lost in Holocaust

By Reuters

From a crowded bookstore in suburban Washington D.C., Rabbi Menachem Youlus runs a worldwide effort to rescue sacred Torah scrolls from oblivion. For 13 years, Youlus has found and rescued 435 of the scrolls, which contain the Hebrew text of the first five books of the Bible. He has found Torahs hidden in old churches and basements in Eastern Europe and the former USSR. He has found them in antique stores and hoarded in peoples' homes for the past 60 years -- the last remains of Jewish communities wiped out by the Holocaust. Once in Ukraine, Youlus found two Torahs in a mass grave along with the remains of 263 men, women and children, some still wrapped in clothes bearing the Star of David, which the Nazis forced all Jews to wear. When he rescues a Torah, Youlus tries to determine if it can be repaired to be used again by a synagogue.


Israel's Supreme Court Recognizes Non-Orthodox Conversions

By VOA News & IsraelNationalNews.com

Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the government to recognize as Jews those who have been converted to Judaism by non-Orthodox rabbis. Thursday's 7-4 ruling ends the Orthodox monopoly over conversions in Israel, and is expected to significantly broaden the definition of who is a Jew in the Jewish state.

The "hop-over" decision stems from a 1999 case of 17 foreigners who studied Judaism in Israel. The plaintiffs then tried to circumvent Orthodox prohibitions by going abroad to have the actual conversion ceremonies performed by more liberal rabbis. Thursday's ruling drew immediate praise from Reformist and Conservative leaders.

However, Orthodox Shas leader Eli Yishai called the decision a disaster, likening it to what he called on Israel radio an "explosives belt that has brought about a suicide attack against the Jewish people." Observant Jews clearly do not recognize the Supreme Court as a religious authority, and will not relate to people who undergo such "conversions" as Jews. The children of such "converts," in fact, will not be considered Jews for purpose of marrying into observant and traditional communities.

All living former and present Chief Rabbis - Avraham Shapira, Ovadiah Yosef, Mordechai Eliyahu, Shlomo Amar, Yona Metzger, Yisrael Lau and Eliyahu Bakshi-Doron - said that non-Orthodox conversions are not religiously valid and would not be recognized.

However, today's decision does allow the new "converts" to become automatic Israeli citizens by virtue of the Law of Return, which grants Israeli citizenship and new-immigrant status to any Jew in the world who immigrates to the country. "Anyone who feels like becoming an Israeli citizen, can now do so," said Knesset member Benny Elon bitterly. "This option does not exist for any other country in the world."

New immigrant citizens receive an "absorption basket" from the government, worth 15,000 shekels over the course of eight months. "This decision will turn conversion into a fictitious process," Rabbi Metzger said. "What's next, conversion by fax or by SMS?"

The fundamental religious difference between Orthodox and a non-Orthodox conversion is that the former require the convert to accept the obligations of traditional Jewish Law [Halakhah]. Non-Orthodox conversions suffice with a general commitment to the Jewish People and some or no aspects of observance of Halakhah. Judaism discourages converts, largely because of the many Malachi responsibilities that they must assume.


Rabbinate Recognizes Bnei Menashe as 'Descendants of Israel'

By IsraelNationalNews.com

In a historic decision, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar has decided to formally recognize the Bnei Menashe community of northeastern India as "descendants of Israel." The Chief Rabbinate has also agreed to send a beit din (rabbinical court) on its behalf to the region to formally convert them to Judaism.

The Bnei Menashe claim descent from the tribe of Menashe, one of the 10 tribes exiled from the Land of Israel by the Assyrian empire over 2,700 years ago. They reside primarily in the two Indian states of Mizoram and Manipur, along the border with Burma and Bangladesh. In recent years, over 800 members of the community have made Aliyah [immigration to Israel], thanks largely to the efforts of Shavei Israel (www.shavei.org), a Jerusalem-based group that reaches out and assists "lost Jews" seeking to return to the Jewish people.

Shavei Israel Chairman Michael Freund, who took part in Thursday's meeting with the Chief Rabbi, praised the decision. "This is a momentous day," he said, "and we are very grateful to the Chief Rabbinate for the openness and sensitivity that they have demonstrated in addressing the issue of the Bnei Menashe. This is the breakthrough that we have all been waiting for, and thank God, the remaining 6,000 members of the community still in India will at last be able to come home to Zion."

In June 2003, then-Interior Minister Avraham Poraz of the Shinui Party decided to halt the Bnei Menashe aliyah, reportedly because he objected to the fact that they were all religiously observant and many chose to live in Jewish communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza. After Poraz' decision was announced, Freund turned to the Chief Rabbinate, and began lobbying to receive official rabbinical recognition of the Bnei Menashe as a means of circumventing the Interior Minister's decision. Yesterday's meeting with the Chief Rabbi marked the culmination of those efforts.

Rabbi Eliyahu Birnbaum, a Dayan (rabbinical court judge) and spokesman for Rabbi Amar, said that the decision had come after careful consideration and study of the issue. "The Chief Rabbi sent a delegation of two Dayanim (judges) to India last year," Rabbi Birnbaum said, "to conduct a thorough investigation of the community and its origins. After a thorough review of their findings, it was decided that the Bnei Menashe are in fact descendants of Israel and should be drawn closer to the Jewish people."

Rabbi Birnbaum added that once various conditions laid down by the Chief Rabbi are fulfilled, such as the construction of mikvaot (ritual baths) in India, and the dispatch of additional teachers, the Chief Rabbinate would send a beit din of its own to the area to convert members of the community to Judaism, thereby allowing them to make Aliyah to Israel.

The first of the Bnei Menashe to arrive in Israel did so in 1979. More members of the community continued arriving slowly during the coming years, and large groups came in 1993 and 1994. Several hundred of them now reside in Israel, mainly in Kiryat Arba, Gush Katif, Beit El and Ofrah.


Arabs Vandalize Judaism's Holiest Site

By IsraelNationalNews.com

An act of Islamic vandalism on a wall of Judaism's holiest site, the Temple Mount, has elicited outrage on the part of archaeologists. The word "Allah" was found carved into the eastern wall of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The Arabic letters are approximately a foot tall.

It is suspected that Arab workers brought in by the Waqf Islamic authority, which controls the Temple Mount, are the culprits. Police feel they used stone cutting tools to engrave the word into the stone, which is located about 30 feet off the ground. The stone in question is located next to scaffolding brought in by Jordanian workers to prevent the collapse of the wall. The Temple Mount retaining wall was in danger of collapse after the Waqf engaged in massive and unsupervised excavations below the mount. The material dug out from beneath the mount was then mixed with refuse and discarded into the Kidron Valley.

Archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar of the Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities strongly condemned the vandalism. "They are supposed to be fixing and bolstering the wall, not carving names into the ancient structure," the Hebrew University archaeologist told Arutz-7. "The Antiquities Authority and the police, as well, have failed to provide even elementary protection that is provided for any archaeological site, let alone the Temple Mount."

Mazar added that the Jordanian work strengthening the walls that were weakened during the illegal construction is being carried out, "purposely," very slowly. The Committee for the Prevention of the Destruction of Antiquities warned ten months ago that the "Temple Mount has been abandoned, with no archaeological supervision whatsoever. This is a shameful crime. Graffiti on an archaeological site! Can you imagine what a political storm would have resulted if graffiti with a Jewish theme had been carved into such a site?"


Rabbis Call for Army No-Shows After Passover

By IsraelNationalNews.com

Leading rabbis of the nationalist camp, headed by former Chief Rabbi Avraham Shapira, publicized a call Thursday for soldiers not to show up for army service after the Passover holiday. The rabbis' call states that any reserve service that is carried out between Passover and the end of this summer "helps, directly and indirectly, the implementation of the disengagement plan and the evacuation of parts of our homeland." The weeklong Passover holiday ends April 30 (May 1, abroad).

The rabbinical letter states that reserve soldiers who receive call-up orders "have actually received orders to take part in destruction and uprooting. From Passover and afterwards, we are all enlisted to defend Gush Katif." The letter is signed by Rabbi Shapira), the Yesha Rabbis Council, the Union of Rabbis for the Land of Israel, Women in Green, Mateh Maamatz, and the Defensive Wall Task Force.

Responses were quick to come. Knesset member Ilan Shalgi (Shinui) said that Attorney-General Menachem Mazuz must resign if he does not now order a criminal investigation into the signatories. Even MK Gila Finkelstein (National Religious Party) responded sourly to the idea, saying, "I respect the rabbis, but going AWOL or not showing up for army service characterizes the left-wing, and not the religious-Zionist public. Even before the State was established, the religious Zionism movement took upon itself to cooperate with the State's institutions."

On the other hand, the Professors for a Strong Israel organization released this statement: "The plan to use the IDF for political purposes in order to expel Jews from their homes in their Land, will greatly impair the morale of IDF officers and soldiers. It will cause a great split in the army and in society, and a genuine danger to the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state."

Eran Sternberg, spokesman for Gush Katif, said that he recently received an order to show up for reserve duty in a place he had never been called to before. "I realized that we were being called up in order to allow younger soldiers who usually guard that area to be trained in how to take part in the expulsion. I had no hesitation. I called my headquarters and told them that I would not be showing up, as I had no intention of enabling other soldiers to take a training course in how to bend my wife's arm and how to take her baby from her arms. I know that the purpose of the army is to protect the Jewish People in its land, and not to remove Jews from their homes."


'Jaws' Caught Off Israeli Coast

By IsraelNationalNews.com

A giant shark 16.5 ft. (five meters) long, weighing hundreds of kilograms, was caught by fisherman off the coast of Ashdod this week, according to a report in the Ha'aretz newspaper's money magazine The Marker.

Because of its immense size and weight, the shark had to be towed all the way back to the Ashdod marina. Back in port, fisherman cut up the shark and sent its pieces to their colleagues in Gaza---as a good will gesture. Shark is a non-kosher fish, but in Gaza, it's apparently considered a delicacy. When they cut up the shark, they found a small dolphin inside. No mention was made who, if anybody, got the dolphin to eat.

Dr. Avi Barnes of the Inter-university Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat said there are plenty of sharks, up to 90 species, swimming around the Mediterranean Sea. He noted that while all sharks are carnivorous, humans "aren't on their usual menu."

But just when you thought is was safe to go back into the water (swimming season officially opens on April 17), great white sharks of Jaws fame do live in the Mediterranean. Barnes said they usually stay away from shore and leave people alone "if they're not bothered." In any case, he said, fisherman should be warned. He also noted that in 1946, a Great White Shark (acting on orders of the Jewish underground?) attacked a British police officer off the coast of Tel Aviv.

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