Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews protested in Israel Thursday against a court order to desegregate a religious school and force Jewish girls of European and Middle Eastern descent to study together.
Demonstrations were held in Jerusalem and Bnei Brak, a Tel Aviv suburb with a large population of religious Jews, before some 80 Ashkenazi parents, Jews of European origin, were to report to jail for defying the Supreme Court ruling.
Israel's ultra-Orthodox minority has long been at odds with the Jewish state's highest judicial authority over edicts which some devout Jews say interfere with their religious lifestyle.
The Ashkenazi parents resisting their daughters' integration with Sephardi, or Middle Eastern, students at a girls' religious school in the Jewish settlement of Immanuel in the occupied West Bank, deny the court's allegations of racism.
In a move that may literally take the breath away from many of the world's Orthodox Jews, a group of Israel's top rabbis recently ruled that riding in what for decades have been designated as "Shabbat (Sabbath) elevators," is against Jewish law. This decision -- already been opposed by other leading rabbis -- could force many Jews who live in apartment buildings to sweat their way up staircases once a week.
The Jewish Sabbath, or Shabbat, is meant to be a day of rest. Observant Jews refrain from working, traveling in vehicles, spending money and from using electricity.
Although thousands of Israelis participated in Jerusalem’s 8th annual gay pride parade, which went off without a hitch, some signs of tension were visible. The parade ended with a small concert organized at a city centre park, which had been surrounded with high fences covered in black mesh.
Despite the cheerful singing and colourful banners, many participants who attend both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’s gay pride parades, say the Israeli parade in Jerusalem, a holy city for the religious, is markedly different from a similar parade in the secular coastal metropolis of Tel Aviv, held a couple of weeks ago.
For years Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel have been trying to break the monopoly of the ultra-Orthodox Rabbinic Court, which is the sole authority for Jewish ceremonies like weddings and conversions. That's an especially big responsiblity in a country where there is no civil marriage, essentially forcing all Jewish Israelis to seek an Orthodox rabbi when they wish to wed -- or go abroad.
On the last day of his Holy Land pilgrimage, Pope Benedict visited the Greek Orthodox and Armenian Apostolic partriarchates, prayed in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and delivered a farewell address that touched on the main political points of his trip.
Here are some excerpts from his speeches:
ECUMENISM: "I pray that our gathering today will give new impetus to the work of theological dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Churches, adding to the recent fruits of study documents and other joint initiatives. Of particular joy for our Churches has been the participation of the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, His Holiness Bartholomew I, at the recent Synod of Bishops in Rome dedicated to the theme: The Word of God in the Life and Mission of the Church. The warm welcome he received and his moving intervention were sincere expressions of the deep spiritual joy that arises from the extent to which communion is already present between our Churches. Such ecumenical experience bears clear witness to the link between the unity of the Church and her mission."