Michele Chabin, Religion News Service

Michele Chabin writes for Religion News Service.

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Netanyahu Prohibits Israeli Parliament From Visiting Temple Mount

Image via Jabeen Bhatti / RNS

In a bid to defuse the wave of Palestinian violence that has struck Israel and the West Bank during the past few weeks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Oct. 8 prohibited all of the country’s parliamentarians from visiting the Temple Mount, a contentious site holy to both Jews and Arabs.

Netanyahu made the controversial decision in order to quell Muslims’ fears that Israel was preparing to assert sovereignty over part or all of the Mount, the site of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock, and the long-destroyed Jewish Biblical Temples. Netanyahu has long denied such intentions.

Far-right-wing Jews, including Israeli agricultural minister Uri Ariel, say Jews should have the right to pray at Judaism’s holy site, and some have vowed to build a Third Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. Arab leaders, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, have said such a move would result in a regional war against Israel.

Overlapping Holidays Prompt Jerusalem Activists to Work on Overcoming Divisions

Image via The Abrahamic Reunion/RNS

An interfaith group gathered in a private home Sept. 21 to head off potential tensions over how Jews and Muslims celebrate Yom Kippur and Eid al-Adha, two holidays that overlap this year.

The meeting of the Abrahamic Reunion took on added significance in Jerusalem, where more than a week of violent clashes between Israelis and Palestinians on the Temple Mount have spilled into the streets of East Jerusalem.

Two dozen people of various faiths heard a rabbi explain the laws and traditions of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, and a Muslim sheikh explain the laws and traditions of Eid al-Adha, the Muslim holiday that honors the willingness of Ibrahim (the biblical Abraham) to heed God’s order to sacrifice his son.

The day culminated with an interfaith peace walk between the eastern and western parts of the city. Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and considers it part of its capital. The Palestinians say East Jerusalem must be the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Orthodox and Secular Jews Fight Over Shaping Jerusalem's Character

Yossi Cohen. Image via Michele Chabin/RNS

Yossi Cohen was shocked when city inspectors warned him last month to close his downtown convenience store during the Jewish Sabbath or else be socked with fines.

“For 20 years I’ve been open during Shabbat (the Hebrew for Sabbath) and suddenly the city decides I have to close?” said Cohen, one of eight convenience store owners ordered to shut down from sundown Friday until Saturday night.

“The message is clear: The municipality doesn’t want non-religious people in this city.”

The closure order, which faces a court hearing Sept. 16, was part of a compromise that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat recently struck with ultra-Orthodox city council members who threatened to block a movie multiplex from opening on the Sabbath in a secular part of the city unless the convenience stores were shut on the Sabbath.

Israeli Christian Schools Strike to Protest Cuts in Public Funding

Image via Michele Chabin/RNS

Israel’s 47 Christian schools are entering the second week of an open-ended strike to protest ongoing cuts in government allocations, which they attribute to government discrimination against minority religious groups.

The schools, 40 of them Catholic, teach 33,000 Christian and Muslim Arab students in central and northern Israel.

Officials from various Christian denominations called the strike on Aug. 31, after nearly two years of negotiations with the Ministry of Education failed to convince the government to reinstate the funding it has withdrawn from the country’s semi-private schools during the past six years.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.