Michele Chabin

Michele Chabin writes for Religion News Service.

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Israeli Soldier’s Ham Sandwich Nearly Lands Him in Military Prison

by Michele Chabin 06-03-2015
Photo courtesy of Nitr via Shutterstock / RNS

Photo courtesy of Nitr via Shutterstock / RNS

A U.S.-born Israeli soldier who brought a ham sandwich to his army base was initially sentenced to 11 days in a military prison before a media frenzy prompted the Israel Defense Forces to drop all disciplinary measures.

In a rare apology, IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Motti Almoz wrote on Facebook: “We were wrong. The IDF will continue to keep kosher on the one hand, but will not probe a soldier’s sandwich on the other. There are tensions in Israeli society and there are different stances and opinions. There is room for everyone in the IDF.”

Why Vatican's Recognition of Palestine Upsets Israeli Government

by Michele Chabin 05-13-2015
Israeli President Shimon Peres, Pope Francis, and Palestinian President Mahmoud

Israeli President Shimon Peres, Pope Francis, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Image via RNS/Reuters.

The Vatican’s decision to recognize Palestine as a sovereign state on May 13 angered Israeli officials.

The move comes four days before the first-ever canonization of two Palestinian nuns and it solidifies the standing of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is scheduled to meet with Pope Francis at the Vatican on Saturday.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told The Times of Israel that the government is “disappointed by the decision. We believe that such a decision is not conducive to bringing the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.”

Women of the Wall Pluck Torah Scroll Across Partition to Women’s Section

by Michele Chabin 04-22-2015
Photo via Miriam Alster / Flash 90 / RNS

Women of the Wall celebrate with the Torah scroll during their prayer at the Wall. Photo via Miriam Alster / Flash 90 / RNS

For the first time in its 26-year history, the feminist prayer group Women of the Wall managed to read from a full-sized Torah scroll April 20 after one of its members surreptitiously borrowed one from the Western Wall’s men’s section.

The scroll’s procurement, which was facilitated by the group’s male supporters standing on the other side of a partition, was a bold move by a group that has continuously challenged the ultra-Orthodox establishment’s sole authority over the holy site.

Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, rabbi of the Western Wall, has long prohibited women from wearing prayer shawls and reading from a Torah. He based his prohibition on a regulation that forbids any religious ceremony “not in accordance with the custom of the holy site and which offends the sensitivities of the worshippers at the place.”

Although a 2013 court ruling confirmed Women of the Wall’s right to pray at the Wall, Rabinowitz has continued to ban anyone from bringing a Torah into either the men’s or women’s section and has placed all 100 of the holy site’s Torahs in the men’s section alone.

Although the group recently smuggled a tiny Torah into the women’s section, “you needed a magnifying glass to read it and we had to return it to its owners in London,” said Anat Hoffman, WOW’s chairwoman.

But on Monday morning, the group’s male supporters held a Torah reading service at the Wall, next to the gender partition. Once their service finished, the men opened an unlocked gate leading to the women’s section and a female WOW activist stepped into the men’s section and picked up the Torah.

Children of Holocaust Survivors More Anxious About Iran Nuclear Threat

by Michele Chabin 04-14-2015
Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Baz Ratner / RNS

Ultra-orthodox Jews visit Yad Vashem’s Holocaust History Museum in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of REUTERS / Baz Ratner / RNS

As Israelis mark Holocaust Memorial Day on April 15, a study by researchers at Bar-Ilan University has found that the adult children of Holocaust survivors are more fearful than their mainstream peers about the threat of Iran developing a nuclear weapon.

Given that many studies over the decades have found that children of Holocaust survivors are deeply affected by their parents’ traumatic experiences, Amit Shrira, the study’s author, set out to discover whether these second-generation survivors were more anxious over a potential Iranian bomb than others of their generation. His study was published in Psychological Trauma, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

Shrira compared the feelings of 63 children of Holocaust survivors whose parents lived under a Nazi or pro-Nazi regime to those of 43 children whose parents either fled to unoccupied countries or immigrated to Israel.

The study found that second-generation survivors “exhibit greater preoccupation with the Iranian nuclear threat” than the comparison group.

Four Killed in Jerusalem Synagogue Terror Attack

by Michele Chabin 11-18-2014

A view of Har Nof neighborhood in Jerusalem. Photo via Sir kiss/Wikimedia Commons/RNS.

At least four worshipers, three of them U.S.-born, were killed in an attack on a west Jerusalem synagogue Nov. 18 by two Palestinians wielding a gun, an ax, and a meat cleaver, police said.

The incident was the latest violent event in the tense city where relations between Arabs and Jews have been deteriorating for months over a contested shrine holy to both Jews and Muslims.

Police spokeswoman Luba Samri said eight people were wounded in the assault, including police officers. Samri said the attackers were Palestinians from east Jerusalem.

One of the victims was Rabbi Moshe Twersky, 59, a native of Massachusetts, according to Haaretz. Aryeh Kupinsky and Kalman Zeev Levine, 43 and 55, respectively, were also U.S.-born. Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, 68, was born in England.

The attack took place in the Jewish neighborhood of Har Nof in the western part of the city. The attackers were shot and killed by police following a shootout. Police were searching the area for other suspects.

The Abu Ali Mustafa Brigades, the military wing of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the BBC.

Yosef Posternak, who was at the synagogue at the time of the attack, told Israel Radio that about 25 worshipers were inside when the attackers entered.

“I saw people lying on the floor, blood everywhere. People were trying to fight with (the attackers) but they didn’t have much of a chance,” he said.

Petition Requests El Air Airlines Create a Special Seating Section for Ultra-Orthodox Jews

by Michele Chabin 10-01-2014

El Al Boeing 767-300 in the air. Photo courtey of Aero Icarus via Flickr/RNS.

A Chicago woman has launched an online petition asking El Al Airlines to allot a section of its planes to ultra-Orthodox Jewish men who do not want to sit next to women.

Sharon Shapiro initiated the petition on Sept. 28, after two instances when several ultra-Orthodox men flying on Israel’s national carrier refused to sit in their assigned seats, which adjoined a seat occupied by a woman. The flights were delayed after female passengers refused to relinquish their assigned seats and the ultra-Orthodox men refused to sit down.

Incidents like these have been going on for years, according to women’s rights advocates.

Gender segregation is a core precept in ultra-Orthodox society, which believes that contact between unrelated men and women is strictly forbidden by Jewish law.

In Israel, attempts by some ultra-Orthodox men to impose gender segregation in public spaces such as offices, public buses and even streets in certain neighborhoods have prompted legal action by groups opposed to what they view as religious coercion.

In Israel, Biblical Land-Use Laws Call for Creative Workarounds

by Michele Chabin 10-01-2014

Volunteers pack food packages to be distributed to needy Israelis. Photo via Michele Chabin/RNS.

On Oct. 3, when Israeli Jews sit down for their pre-Yom Kippur meal, prior to the Day of Atonement fast, many will be discussing where to buy their produce during this agricultural sabbatical year.

That’s because this Jewish New Year, 5775, is a sabbatical year, when, according to the Bible, the land of Israel is supposed to lie fallow. Called a “shmita” year in Hebrew, the sabbatical is intended to allow the poor to reap whatever may still be growing on the land “so that the poor of your people may eat,” Exodus 23:11.

The start of the sabbatical-year prohibitions, which include sowing, planting, pruning, reaping, harvesting and improving the land, coincided with the start of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year that began this year on Sept. 24. Produce planted before the shmita can be harvested this year.

But people have to eat, so a century ago rabbis found a way to bypass the law so no one goes hungry.

At Christmas, Rare Collaboration to Restore an Ancient Church

by Michele Chabin 12-23-2013
Michele Chabin/RNS

In Manger Square, the Palestinian Authority erected a Nativity scene and Christmas decorations. Michele Chabin/RNS

BETHLEHEM, West Bank — Two weeks before Christmas, one of the most powerful storms to hit the Middle East in a century dumped several inches of snow on the hills of Bethlehem.

In addition to shuttering schools and businesses, the storm caused runoff to trickle down the walls of the Church of the Nativity, built above the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

Fortunately, the water damage was relatively minor, church officials say, thanks to a rare cooperative venture already underway to repair the basilica’s roof, leaky windows and old wooden beams, some 1,500 years old.

“There were still leaks, but thanks to the scaffolding that was erected for the restoration work, the damage was controlled,” said the Rev. Pierbattista Pizzaballa, custodian of the Holy Land for the Roman Catholic Church.

In what some are calling the biggest miracle in Bethlehem since the birth of Jesus, the three churches that share responsibility for the Nativity church put aside centuries of tense relations this past year to ensure the job gets done.

'Lost Faces of the Bible' Reconstructs Four Skeletal Remains Using Science, Forensics

by Michele Chabin 11-22-2013

Still photograph of “Lost Faces of the Bible” Title Graphic. Photo courtesy of AP Faces Ltd.

Many artistic renderings of biblical figures hang in churches and museums, but no one really knows what they and their contemporaries looked like.

Now, an international team of archeologists, forensic anthropologists, and facial reconstruction experts has tried to answer this question by recreating the faces of three adults and a newborn whose skeletal remains date back to biblical times.

A new four-part TV seriesLost Faces of the Bible (airing on the National Geographic Channel beginning Monday), follows the experts as they recreate long-gone faces utilizing the same state-of-the art technology used by police investigators.

Jewish Feminists Say They’d Accept Western Wall Prayer Compromise

by Michele Chabin 10-07-2013
RNS photo by Michele Chabin

Women praying at the Western Wall. RNS photo by Michele Chabin

JERUSALEM — In a stunning reversal, a feminist Jewish prayer group said it will consider a government proposal to allow a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall — but only after the government agrees to their conditions.

For 25 years, Women of the Wall has demanded access to pray at the sacred site that is home to the remnants of the Jewish Temple and is overseen by the Orthodox religious establishment. The group objects to the restrictions placed on them when they pray in the women’s section. They want to continue to pray in that section but will consider a compromise.

After a “comprehensive and emotionally trying decision-making process,” the group’s executive board on Monday overwhelmingly decided “to create a future in which, under the right conditions,” its members will pray “in an equal and fully integrated third section of the Kotel,” the Hebrew word for the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall has demanded the right to pray directly from a Torah scroll, wearing prayer shawls and phylacteries — practices and rituals that strict Orthodox Judaism reserves for men.

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