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Nachman Sudak, Chabad's Emissary in Britain, Dies at 78

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 17:50

Rabbi Nachman Sudak, the chief emissary for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the United Kingdom, has died.

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Op-Ed: The Rebbe’s big idea

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 17:47

(Wikimedia Commons)

NEW YORK (JTA) — Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe, was inarguably the most well-known rabbi since Moses Maimonides.

Hundreds of prominent rabbinic figures have lived in the intervening 800 years since Maimonides died. But how many can be named before an audience of Jews from the United States, Israel, France or the former Soviet Union — the four largest Jewish communities in the world today — and be so widely recognized, without the speaker needing to add several sentences explaining who the person was?

The Rebbe died 20 years ago this month, but he remains to this day well-known among Jews of all denominations. And beyond. Visitors to Morocco have long reported seeing two pictures hanging in Moroccan Jewish homes, one of the Moroccan king and one of the Rebbe. Just a few days ago, I saw a picture of the Rebbe in my local barbershop; the owner is from Uzbekistan.

But, of course, the Rebbe’s significance goes well beyond his name being widely known and his face being widely recognized. What matters far more is the influence he continues to exert. Several factors in particular account for the Rebbe’s extraordinary impact: first, his innovative ideas on how to reach Jews (later non-Jews as well), along with the army of emissaries he nurtured to carry out his ideas and his vision, eventually in well over a thousand cities.

In addition to his innovative campaigns to reach out both to communities and to individuals (such as through the tefillin campaign and the Shabbat candle-lighting campaign), perhaps the foremost idea the Rebbe preached was the love of every Jew. This idea may sound neither innovative nor revolutionary. After all, “Love your neighbor as yourself” — the basis of the Golden Rule — is the Torah’s most famous verse (Leviticus 19:18), and two of Judaism’s best-known rabbis, Hillel and Akiva, regarded it as Judaism’s most fundamental law.

With such emphasis on the centrality of love of neighbor, it would seem that interpersonal love was always a uniformly treasured and practiced part of Judaism. Only it wasn’t. The Talmud attributes the first-century Roman destruction of Judea and the Temple in Jerusalem, perhaps the greatest catastrophe in Jewish life prior to the Holocaust, to “sinat chinam,” causeless hatred, inside the Jewish community — a hatred that made it impossible for the Jews to unify and fight as one force against their Roman oppressors. Internal conflicts, often serious, have long characterized Jewish communal life.

The Rebbe intuited that while all Jews are familiar with the commandment “Love your neighbor as yourself,” it seems that virtually everyone, even some otherwise very great figures, have reasons and rationales to justify why it doesn’t apply to those with whom they disagree.

The Rebbe therefore modeled a new pattern, one of non-judgmental love for all Jews. Some critics of Chabad suspected that this well-known predilection of the Rebbe was a tactic intended to augment financial support for the movement or to stimulate goodwill for Chabad. But they were wrong. This love represented what the Rebbe really felt.

Israel’s former chief rabbi, Israel Meir Lau, has recalled a meeting he had as a young man with the Rebbe. Lau proudly explained his involvement in “kiruv rechokim,” bringing back to Judaism lost Jews who had strayed far away. The Rebbe immediately corrected this inherently judgmental language: “We cannot label anyone as being ‘far.’ Who are we to determine who is far and who is near? They are all close to God.”

The belief in the brotherhood of all Jews, not just those who live like you, led to another remarkable innovation: the Rebbe’s willingness to send his followers out into the world. For the first time in Jewish history, a campaign was launched to reach every Jewish community and every Jew in the world.

The Lubavitch movement now has Chabad houses in 48 American states (only Mississippi and South Dakota are without permanent Chabad representation) and in some 80 countries, run by over 4,000 Chabad couples. The “shluchim” (emissaries), as these couples are known, go to countries as Jewishly remote as the Congo and Cambodia and to cities with small Jewish communities like Jackson Hole, Wyo. And, of course, there are the Chabad Passover seders, the most famous of which, in Kathmandu, drew 1,100 participants in 2012, the large majority of them young Israeli backpackers trekking through Nepal.

It is for this reasons such as this, I presume, that Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the immediate past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, referring, among other things, to Chabad’s outreach, once declared: “It is hard for me to say this but I will say it nonetheless: We must follow the example of Chabad.” It is the Rebbe’s legacy that today there are few leaders of any Jewish denomination who would disagree with this advice.

(Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of the new book “Rebbe: The Life and Teachings of Menachem M. Schneerson, the Most Influential Rabbi in Modern History.”)

Limmud FSU expanding to Australia, Canada

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 16:37

(JTA) — Limmud FSU, a Jewish educational conference aimed at Jews from the former Soviet Union, is expanding to Australia and Canada.

The organization will hold conferences to serve the sizable Russian-speaking Jewish communities in the two countries in October in Canada and in March in Australia, according to a statement issued Monday.

The expansion will be funded in large part by the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, a non-profit that raises money primarily from evangelical Christians to support Jewish activities around the world, according to the statement.

Russian-speaking Jews comprise nearly 25 percent of the 120,000 Jews living in Australia. It is estimated that between 60,000 and 70,000 Russian Jews live in Canada. Of those, 70 percent live in the greater Toronto area, according to Limmud.

Limmud FSU has held events in Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Israel and the United States.

The expansion announcement was made over the weekend in Jerusalem at a Limmud FSU Global Leadership Summit.

Rabbi Nachman Sudak, head of Chabad U.K., dies

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 15:20

(JTA) — Rabbi Nachman Sudak, the chief emissary for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in the United Kingdom, has died.

Sudak died Sunday in London; he was 78.

Directed personally by the Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson, to move to London in 1959, Sudak lived there for the rest of his life, according to Chabad.org, developing and overseeing a network of Chabad-led institutions throughout the country that now includes 11 campus centers, 25 Chabad houses and 14 schools.

“Rabbi Nachman Sudak guided the destiny of Chabad in Britain for more than 50 years, turning it from a marginal presence to one that affected tens of thousands of lives and changed the entire tone of Anglo-Jewry,” said Emeritus Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, according to the Jewish Chronicle.

Sudak was born in the USSR band before immigrating with his family to British Mandate Palestine and then in 1954 to Brooklyn, according to Chabad. In 1959, he was married in London to Fradel Shemtov, whose father oversaw the Chabad network in the United Kingdom at the time.

In 2001, Queen Elizabeth conferred on Sudak the Order of the British Empire. Sudak, in turn, presented the queen with a mezuzah.

Sudak also served on the boards of several major governing bodies of Chabad, including its umbrella organization, Agudas Chassidei Chabad, and its educational arm.

Sudak is survived by his wife and nine children, including his son Rabbi Bentzi Suda, the chief executive of Chabad Lubavitch U.K.

2 Men Point 'Gun' at Police Guarding Paris Synagogue

Mon, 06/16/2014 - 09:41

Two men pointed what looked like firearms at police stationed outside a Paris synagogue in part of a weekend string of anti-Semitic incidents in and near the French capital.

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Over 25,000 Gather at Western Wall To Pray for Kidnapped Teens

Sun, 06/15/2014 - 17:54

Over 25,000 Jews gathered at the Western Wall on Sunday to pray for the safe return of three teens kidnapped in the West Bank.

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Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz calls for prayers for teens’ return

Sun, 06/15/2014 - 13:36

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Talmud scholar Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz, founder of the yeshiva high school attended by two of the three kidnapped Israeli teens, called on Jews to recite psalms and pray for their safe return.

Steinsaltz in a statement issued Sunday called the kidnapping of students from the Yeshivat Mekor Chaim, located in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, “a shocking, painful and frightening event.”

“In a time and place that had seemed to us quiet and serene, we have been thrown into an event that we can do nothing to resolve,” he said.

The teens, including one dual Israeli-American citizen, have been missing since Thursday night. They were last seen trying to get rides home from Gush Etzion, a bloc of settlements located south of Jerusalem.

They were identified Saturday as Gilad Shaar, 16, from Talmon; Eyal Yifrach, 19, from Elad; and Naftali Frenkel, 16, from Nof Ayalon, who is also an American citizen. Shaar and Frenkel are the Mekor Chaim students.

Steinsaltz expressed gratitude to the Israel Defense Forces for its efforts to return the teens to their families, and frustration that he and other concerned Israelis are not able to assist.

“All we have left now is to turn to our Father in Heaven and plead,” Steinsaltz said.

“What we can do, ­ and this has been the Jewish way from time immemorial, ­ is to add more holiness and learn more Torah,” he said. “Furthermore, we Jews have always been accustomed to reciting the Psalms, and we certainly ought to do more of this, especially two psalms that seem to me most relevant: Psalms 142 and 143, chapters that literally deal with our plight.  We pray also for the safety of those we are working toward their rescue.”

Krakow's New Chief Rabbi: All Non-Jews Dislike Jews

Sun, 06/15/2014 - 10:37

Several Polish rabbis and Jewish lay leaders criticized Krakow’s new chief rabbi for saying all non-Jews do not like Jews — a statement he was recorded making in an interview and then denied uttering.

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Sweden Vows To Bar Neo-Nazis From Schools

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 19:10

Swedish neo-Nazi activists will not gain access to schools, the country’s education minister said amid a public debate on a far-right party’s request to expose pupils to its materials.

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Eight Palestinians arrested after Temple Mount clash

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 15:53

(JTA) — Eight Palestinians were arrested after rioting on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

Masked Palestinians began throwing stones at Israeli police by the Mughrabi Bridge Friday after prayers at Al-Aksa mosque.

“Police quickly responded and entered the Temple Mount using non-lethal stun grenades to disperse the crowd,” Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told The Jerusalem Post.

No injuries were reported.

NewsBits: Was Synagogue Worker Too Jewish?

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 15:23
Ellen Gastwirth is suing her former employer, Temple Judea of Manhasset, Long Island, NY in Brooklyn’s federal-court. She was the director of education at the liberal synagoguere, but believes that she was fired by th synagogue’s new rabbi because she was considered too Sabbath observant and Orthodox. She claims that Rabbi Todd Chizner was incredulous […]

Swedish education minister vows to keep neo-Nazi party out of schools

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 13:12

(JTA) — Swedish neo-Nazi activists will not gain access to schools, the country’s education minister said amid a public debate on a far-right party’s request to expose pupils to its materials.

Minister Jan Bjorklund said on June 11 that “we all agree, that to let pure Nazi parties meet with our young people will not happen,” during an interview for Sveriges Radio.

Last month the Simon Wiesenthal Center joined other groups in appealing to the Swedish education ministry to block the participation of Svenskarnas Parti, which is widely viewed as a neo-Nazi movement, in a school civics program that teaches youths about the local political system.

The issue became a major point of contention in Sweden after the Swedish government’s National Agency for Education reportedly decided last month to approve the application of the party –- which has no lawmakers in parliament –- to participate.

In a letter to the minister, Shimon Samuels, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s director for international relations, urged Bjorklund to “prevent the Nazification of Sweden’s school system” and block the party’s access to schools where it would “endanger immigrant, Muslim, Roma, homosexual and Jewish students” with its “racist platform and discourse.”

On Friday, Bjorklund convened a meeting between political party representatives, Sweden’s parliamentary ombudsman and the country’s chancellor of justice to discuss way to block the party from schools, Elin Boberg, a ministry spokesperson, told JTA.

The minister, she said, “announced that the government will appoint a commission on political parties’ access to the school.”

The commission is to lead an “inquiry is to conduct an analysis of the rules and regulations schools should approach when it comes to inviting political parties to schools. It should be considered whether the school should be able to limit the number of political parties that the school receives for objective reasons, such as to apply to those portions which are still represented in parliament.”

She added: “Time does not permit law changes for 2014 elections. The inquiry will be added shortly and headed by a lawyer.”

Dhammakaya Temple

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 12:02

The Wat Phra Dhammakaya, north of Bangkok, Thailand, is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and one of the fastest growing groups within Buddhism. As many as one million followers can participate in corporate meditation in the temple courtyard. But Dhammakaya also has its critics, who question the motives of its leaders and ask whether nirvana is for sale at this temple unlike any other. “People often think Dhammakaya only cares about donations or cares about getting people to the temple, but that is just an impression based on outer appearances,” says Phra Sandr, a Buddhist monk from the Netherlands. “When people come here for a while they notice that there is a very important core where people are learning to practice character.”

The post Dhammakaya Temple appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Upanayanam

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 12:01

We visited a Hindu religious coming-of-age ceremony for nine-year-old Rushil Ramakrishnan at the Hindu Temple in Adelphi, Maryland. Also known as the “sacred thread” ceremony, it is typically performed for boys between the ages of 8 and 16 and traditionally marks the start of their formal education. Dr. Siva Subramanian, a neonatologist at Georgetown University Hospital and a founder of Sri Siva Vishnu Temple as well as other Hindu associations in the metropolitan Washington, DC area, presided over the two-day ceremony. He explains the meaning and significance of its elaborate rituals and Sanskrit chants.

View more pictures by photographer Sam Pinczuk:

The post Upanayanam appeared first on Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

4,000 Moscow Jews Fete Russia Chief Rabbi Berel Lazar on 50th Birthday

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 10:12

Approximately 4,000 Jews attended Moscow’s first “Festival of Judaism” which organizers planned as a celebration of the 50th birthday of Chief Russian Rabbi Berel Lazar.

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Russian Jewish Students Get Shavuot Do-Over Test Date

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 09:46

Russia’s education ministry has agreed to provide Jewish students an alternative date for a matriculation exam which took place on the Shavuot holiday.

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Thousands celebrate Moscow festival honoring chief rabbi

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 08:40

(JTA) – Approximately 4,000 Jews attended Moscow’s first “Festival of Judaism” which organizers planned as a celebration of the 50th birthday of Chief Russian Rabbi Berel Lazar.

The festival was held on June 8, two days after Lazar’s birthday, at the Jewish Museum And Tolerance Center in Moscow and featured 50 stations where staff and volunteers presented visitors with explanations about elements of the Jewish faith including teffilin, kashrut and scripture, Museum Chairman Rabbi Boruch Gorin told JTA.

“This was the first time we organized an event of this sort, which we planned as a way to celebrate rabbi Lazar’s 50th birthday, but we hope to make it an annual event,” he said. Gorin, who is a Chabad rabbi, added that Moscow has few Jewish events of the scale seen at the museum during the festival, with the exception of  the Jewish Agency’s Jerusalem Day celebrations and Lag B’Omer events.

The event was advertised on Russian Jewish  media, social media and news sites “and this obviously generated a large turnout and a predominantly-Jewish crowd,” Gorin said.

Russian Jewish pupils get alternative date for matriculation test

Fri, 06/13/2014 - 08:31

(JTA) — Russia’s education ministry has agreed to provide Jewish students an alternative date for a matriculation exam which took place on the Shavuot holiday.

The concession was announced last week in a letter addressed to Berel Lazar, a chief rabbi of Russia.

“Students and graduates unable to take the Unified State Exam for religious reasons may be tested on June 16,” read a letter that Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science  sent last week to Lazar.

Boruch Gorin, a senior advisor to Lazar, chairman of Moscow’s Jewish museum and editor-in-chief of the Jewish L’Chaim paper, said that the ministry had agreed in the past not to schedule state exams on the summer holiday of Shavuot, which fell this year on June 3-5 “but they seem to have forgotten this year.”

Education ministry officials initially declined Lazar’s request for an alternative date, saying that “providing an alternative date would be illegal because of the secular nature of the education system,” Gorin said. “So Rabbi Lazar brought up the matter several weeks ago during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who asked the ministry to nonetheless make the change nonetheless. Earlier this month we received confirmation an alternative date would be provided.”

Citing the Russian constitution, the ministry letter also said that the ministry “places an emphasis on the secular character of the state education as a matter of policy.”

The matriculation exam is a general test combining question on various subjects “and without it, graduates cannot get accepted to universities so it’s fairly crucial.”

Observant Jews are not allowed under Orthodox Jewish religious laws to work on Shabbat and on important Jewish holidays, including Shavuot.

Russia has a Jewish population of approximately 360,000 Jews, most of whom are not observant.