Inside Israel and the Palestinian Territories
Israeli police said on Friday they were looking into allegations of sexual abuse against one of the country's most famous and politically influential rabbis, in a case that has triggered dramatic headlines this week.
Mordechai Elon -- known as "Rabbi Motti" by viewers of his popular TV show and by many young men in the West Bank settler movement -- has vehemently denied the accusations by a group of fellow rabbis who say their aim is to combat sexual harassment by authority figures.
But that has not stopped a wave of soul-searching, which has some parallels with recent turmoil in the Roman Catholic church. At issue is the power of charismatic clerics over young people in their care, as well as questions about the extent to which religious communities should regulate their own affairs without involving the Jewish state's secular authorities.
There have been a series of significant and highly publicised events recently in Vatican-Jewish relations.
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.
Far from the spotlight of peace talks and military conflicts, Israel is facing a different kind of land crisis: it is running out of space to bury its dead. Most Jewish cemeteries in major cities like Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Haifa, are filled beyond maximum capacity. Gravestones are packed together leaving little room for mourners to gather.
You can read about a new system of multi-tiered burial chambers being used in the Jewish state to solve the issue of land. It’s actually an ancient system, used thousands of years ago by Jewish sages, that was modernised by two Israeli architects and given approval by the country’s chief rabbis.
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.
Talk about a picture being worth 1,000 words. There's more than that behind this picture of Pope Benedict holding hands and singing a song for peace with leaders of other religions in Nazareth's Basilica of the Annunciation on Thursday. This might seem like an innocent gesture to most people who see it. To some Vatican correspondents following the pope on his Holy Land tour, it was an unprecedented step that spoke volumes about the evolution of his theological thinking.This sing-along started at an interfaith meeting when a rabbi began singing a song with the lyrics "Shalom, Salaam, Lord grant us peace." At some point, the 11 clerics on the stage stood up and held hands to sing the simple tune together. Never very spontaneous, Benedict looked a little hesitant but then joined in. It was something of a "kumbaya session" -- a "religious version of We Are The World," one colleague quipped -- but it was good-natured and well meant. The pope has been preaching interfaith cooperation at every stop on his tour and it seemed appropriate that it culminate in a show of unity among the religions in Galilee.But wait a minute. This is the same Joseph Ratzinger who, when he was a cardinal heading the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, frowned on Pope John Paul's pray-in with other religions at Assisi in 1986. He even declined to attend what became one of the landmark events of his predecessor's papacy. Catholics cannot pray together with other religions, he argued, because only Catholicism was the true faith and all others were flawed to greater or lesser extents. Praying together carried the risk of syncretism, or mixing religions.Over the years, Cardinal Ratzinger made several critical comments about other religions, especially Buddhism and Islam (although he is changing there as well). He drew a sharp line between Catholics and other Christians in the 2000 document Dominus Iesus that called Protestant denominations deficient and not proper churches. They felt slighted and several said so openly. The only faiths Ratzinger seemed interested in were Orthodox Christianity and Judaism (ironically, given the cool welcome he got in Israel -- but that's another story).Things change when a cardinal becomes a pope. Suddenly, he was no longer just the Vatican's doctrinal watchdog, he was the head of the world's largest church and its smallest country. He was a spiritual leader, a temporal head of state, a major diplomatic figure and one of the most prominent -- if not the most prominent -- spokesman for religion on the planet. That's a lot to juggle at the same time.
What kind of gift does a pope give when he visits the Holy Land? This morning, the Holy See Press Office distributed a few pictures of presents Pope Benedict has brought along. Take a look:
Mosaic of the Birth of Christ
This mosaic is a copy of part of the 13th-century mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major in Rome. It was produced by the Vatican Mosaic Studio in 2000. The pope was due to hand it over to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during his visit to Bethlehem on Wednesday.