Debunking the ‘myth of the cultural Jew’

From time immemorial, Jews have been concerned with the question of Jewish survival. But since the 1990 National Jewish Population Study and the more recent Pew Research Center study on American Jewry (2013), the issue of Jewish continuity—if not survival—has taken on much greater urgency. In a new thought-provoking book, “The Myth of the Cultural Jew: Culture and Law in the Jewish Tradition,” Roberta Rosenthal Kwall not only provides a unique framework for gaining a deeper understanding of this matter, but also for a better understanding of the evolution of Jewish law. Indeed, Kwall makes a major methodological contribution to the academic study of Jewish law and tradition, writes Richard D. Zelin.

Posted on May 27, 2015 and filed under Book Review, Books, Jewish Life, Analysis.

Menschkins: Meet Mr. Men’s Chicken

The 85th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more coverage on Jewish arts.

Posted on May 27, 2015 and filed under Arts, Menschkins.

After decades of IOC silence, slain Israeli Olympians headed for recognition

Relatives of the Israeli Olympians murdered by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Munich Games have long pushed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to recognize the 11 victims with a moment of silence or other official tribute. As recently as 2012, the 40th anniversary of the "Munich Massacre," the IOC persisted in its refusal to grant that request. But the playing field is shifting. In time for the 2016 Rio Olympics, a first-ever IOC-supported official memorial telling the story of the massacre will be erected in Munich. The memorial, whose groundbreaking ceremony will take place this summer, is being constructed at the initiative of the Bavarian government to bring a sense of closure to this 43-year drama.

Posted on May 22, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel, World, Sports.

The legacy of Robert Wistrich, world’s leading scholar of anti-Semitism columnist Ben Cohen learned of the death of Robert Wistrich, the world's leading scholar of anti-Semitism, on the afternoon of May 19. Less than 24 hours later, he was on a plane from New York to Tel Aviv to attend Wistrich's funeral. Cohen learned from Wistrich that one can be both an unapologetically proud Jew and an incisive writer and thinker, and that Jewish history is also general history—that it is impossible to understand the trials of a people locked in their diaspora without an intimate knowledge of the prevailing political forces around them.

Posted on May 22, 2015 and filed under Analysis, Opinion, World.

An academic case for Christian Zionism

In what was reportedly the first-ever event specifically devoted to presenting academic arguments in support of Christian Zionism, the Institute on Religion and Democracy sponsored a recent conference titled “People of the Land: A Twenty-First Century Case for Christian Zionism” in Washington, DC. The combined presentations at the symposium made a theological and historical case for Christian Zionism that illustrates how it is a movement rooted in traditions as old as the Church itself, writes Tricia Miller, a senior research analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

Posted on May 22, 2015 and filed under Analysis, Christian, Israel, U.S..

For Israeli Arab and American Jewish teens, a rare chance for dialogue

Mai Azem, a 16-year-old Israeli Arab, had never met an American teenager. Until she joined the “Q School” in Tira, a predominantly Arab city in central Israel, she wouldn’t have been able to have a conversation with one, either. But thanks to Q Schools, an after-school English language-enrichment program for Arab youths, and an interfaith evening arranged by the Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI) on Mother’s Day earlier this month, she managed to converse with American Jewish students, get to know them, and exchange personal information. Azem was one of 120 high school students (80 American Jews and 40 Israeli Muslims) who attended the dinner event at the Mosenson Youth Village, home to AMHSI, a pluralistic, college-preparation, international semester abroad program for high school students.

Posted on May 21, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel.

At ‘bat mitzvah,’ Israeli center seeks more women’s advancement milestones

The controversy surrounding Israel’s complex framework of laws relating to family life is well-known. Often portrayed via popular culture in films and books, the get (Jewish divorce) process, and other issues relating to the status of women in family law, are a major concern among both secular and Torah-observant Israelis. Against that backdrop, one Israeli institution dedicated to bringing about legal and social change is the Ruth and Emanuel Rackman Center for the Advancement of the Status of Women, housed within the faculty of law at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. This week, the center celebrated its “bat mitzvah” year with a ceremony highlighted by a keynote speech from Orthodox feminist leader Blu Greenberg.

Posted on May 21, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel, Jewish Life.

Major Jewish groups: school workshop has anti-Israel bias, flawed pedagogy

Mainstream Jewish organizations—including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the women’s Zionist organization Hadassah, and a local Jewish Federation—are raising concerns about a Boston University-affiliated high school workshop over what they consider to be its anti-Israel bias and questionable pedagogical techniques. In April, Jewish communal attention was initially drawn to the issue when the advocacy group Americans for Peace and Tolerance (APT) released a video on Axis of Hope’s (AOH) “Whose Jerusalem?” workshop, which specifically selects Jewish students to act as members of the Palestinian terror group Hamas during mock negotiations. “It’s very concerning, when as a way to teach conflict resolution, we’re having kids role play this particular organization (Hamas),” said Robert Trestan, director of ADL's New England Region.

Posted on May 20, 2015 and filed under Israel, U.S., Education, Features, News.

How should pro-Israel voices tackle the war of ideas on college campuses?

Pro-Israel voices are fighting back against anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on college campuses, but who is winning this war of ideas? An episode at Columbia University, a historic hotbed of anti-Israel activity, illustrates the complex dynamics at play. Last month, Christians United for Israel (CUFI) planned a lecture at Columbia concerning the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his support for Israel. CUFI says that the school administration unfairly singled out the pro-Israel group's event, including imposing what called CUFI called an “unprecedented level of bureaucratic scrutiny in an effort to intimidate.” But the event went on as planned at Columbia, a campus that also happens to top the new initiative's recently published list of 10 American college campuses where anti-Semitism is most rampant.

Posted on May 20, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel, U.S..

Why the Palestinians’ gun culture should concern us

Palestinian teenager Ilaa al-Araj was recently killed by gunfire that erupted during a wedding in Balata, in Palestinian Authority (PA)-controlled territory. Palestinian Arabs bring their shotguns to weddings because it is a staple of their culture to fire guns in celebration on such occasions. It’s a “common practice,” according to the Palestinian news agency Ma’an. Of particular concern to anyone who cares about Israel is that the PA, which makes no effort to discourage its gun culture, is home to schools and media teaching young Palestinians that those who use guns—to kill Jews—are heroes and martyrs, writes columnist Stephen M. Flatow, whose daughter Alisa was killed in a Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995.

Posted on May 20, 2015 and filed under Israel, Opinion.

Menschkins: The ultimate Jewish aspiration

The 84th installment of Harvey Rachlin's new comic strip, "The Menschkins." Click here for more coverage on Jewish arts.

Posted on May 20, 2015 and filed under Arts, Menschkins.

Illinois, latest state to oppose BDS, takes concrete action against boycotters

Illinois on Monday became the third state in a month to pass legislation formally opposing the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel. But going further than non-binding anti-BDS measures in Tennessee and Indiana, the Illinois bill took concrete action against those who boycott the Jewish state. The legislation—which unanimously passed both the Illinois House (102-0) and Senate (49-0), and will be signed into law by Governor Bruce Rauner—prohibits state pension funds from including BDS-participating companies in their portfolios.

Posted on May 19, 2015 and filed under Israel, News, U.S..

Pope Francis in pro-Israel crosshairs over Palestinian state, Abbas meeting

Controversy is swirling over conflicting reports as to whether or not the Pope Francis called Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas an “angel of peace” during a meeting at the Vatican on Saturday. The episode comes after the Vatican last week recognized the “State of Palestine” in its announcement of a new treaty. Both incidents were roundly criticized by the Israeli government and pro-Israel commentators.

Posted on May 18, 2015 and filed under Israel, World, News.

Meet the new neighborhood terrorists in Gaza

The Palestinian terror group Hamas, which has killed hundreds of Israelis and launched thousands of rockets at the Jewish state, finds itself facing a threat to its rule in Gaza. Over the last month, Islamic State-inspired jihadist groups in Gaza, who ironically argue that Hamas has been too lenient towards Israel and has failed to implement Islamic Sharia Law, have launched a campaign entailing both propaganda and physical attacks on Hamas. “There is ongoing public disenchantment against Hamas inside of Gaza,” said Neri Zilber, a visiting scholar at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “Their popularity did spike after the [last summer’s] war [with Israel], as a sort of ‘rally around the flag’ effect. But conditions inside of Gaza are still quite terrible and much worse than they were before the war.”

Posted on May 18, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel, News.

Israeli project works to make global cities’ water good to the last drop

California headlines this month scream “water shortage”—but the shortage is not limited to the western United States. According to a recent report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, water managers in 40 of 50 states expect water shortages in some portion of their states within the next 10 years. Amid this grave prognosis, a new Israeli research project might make the Jewish state part of the solution. Researchers from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU), Technion - Israel Institute of Technology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and Australia’s Monash University are working to develop “water sensitive cities.” Such cities would adopt and combine decentralized and centralized water management solutions to deliver water security. Data gathered from the project may be used to support development of urban master plans in cities in Israel and worldwide.

Posted on May 18, 2015 and filed under Features, Israel.