FaithWorld

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Reality of a grand Hasidic wedding

Jerusalem

By Ronen Zvulun

Coming back home at 5am sunrise, I was just beginning to digest the grand event I was lucky to witness and cover: the wedding of the grandson of one of the most influential spiritual leaders in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community.

GALLERY: ULTRA-ORTHODOX WEDDING EXTRAVAGANZA

The wedding, attended by some 25,000 people, was a massive event that was conducted like a military operation.

How do you take care of thousands of people, feed them, accommodate them, seat them and provide safety for the huge crowd? There was a 20-story stand that needed to hold thousands of dancing Hasidic men.

“One million plastic cups” bragged one of the ultra-Orthodox men who I was squeezed in next to. A team responsible for managing the event were running around, communicating through radio headsets. A control room overlooked every corner of the venue and a production company was responsible for the live coverage of the celebration, which was displayed on large screens placed throughout the neighborhood, giving people who couldn't make it into the venue itself an opportunity to witness the wedding.

The female guests sat some two kilometers (1.2 miles) away from the men in a separate hall, where they followed the men’s celebration on large screens.

Pope Benedict signals inter-faith alliance against legalising gay marriage

(Pope Benedict XVI attends Christmas greetings with the Roman curia at the Clementine hall at the Vatican December 21, 2012. REUTERS/Alessandra Tarantino)

The pope’s latest denunciation of gay marriage came in a Christmas address to Vatican officials in which he blended religion, philosophy, anthropology and sociology to illustrate the position of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Vatican has gone on the offensive in response to gains for gay marriage in the United States and Europe, using every possible opportunity to denounce it through papal speeches or editorials in its newspaper or on its radio station.

Israeli military enlisting frontline rabbis, critic warns creating against “God’s army”

(A Jewish rabbi instructs an Israeli Border Policeman to recite prayers as he prays in the neighborhood of Gilo on the outskirts of Jerusalem October 23, 2000./Peter Andrews)

The Israeli military is mustering battlefield rabbis in what it calls a campaign to promote religious values in its frontline ranks. The move, announced in the latest issue of the military’s official weekly magazine, Bamahane, drew fire on Monday from one of Israel’s most popular newspaper columnists, who cautioned against creating a “God’s Army.”

Under the plan, a reserve army rabbi will be assigned to every battalion in the military’s northern command, whose areas of responsibility include the Lebanese and Syrian borders. “The assimilation of religion into combat battalions is increasing,” said an article in Bamahane, which gave details of the program being implemented after a year-long pilot project.

Guestview: Ritual slaughter ban reflects fights over food and faith in the Netherlands

(A halal butcher in Geneva, August 23, 2010/Denis Balibouse)

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Martijn de Koning is a Dutch anthropologist in the Faculty of Religious Studies at Radboud University in Nijmegen. This is an shortened version of an analysis originally posted on his blog CLOSER.

By Martijn de Koning

The Dutch parliament has voted to ban ritual animal slaughter. In a proposal condemned by Muslim and Jewish organisations, the Party for the Animals wanted a complete ban on dhabiha and shechita — the ritual slaughtering by Muslims and Jews — in cases where the animals were not stunned before being killed. The ban will mostly affect orthodox Jews since all of the shechita slaughtering involves animals fully conscious, while in the case of dhabiba this is the case in only 25%-40%. In order to get this bill passed through the lower house of parliament (a second vote is necessary in the Senate), a compromise was established: Jewish and Muslim communities have a year to provide evidence that animals slaughtered by dhabiba and shechita (and not stunning them) do not experience more pain than those animals that are stunned before killing.

In the recent Dutch debates about ritual slaughter, food has become a field where people battle over political, religious, economic, social and animal welfare issues.  I do not think it is that speculative to say that the Animal Party has profitted from three major developments in Dutch society.

European Jewish groups vow to fight Dutch ritual slaughter ban

(A kosher food shop in Berlin's Mitte district November 3, 2008/Fabrizio Bensch)

Two leading Jewish organizations in Europe vowed on Wednesday to fight a looming ban on ritual animal slaughter in the Netherlands approved by the lower house of the Dutch parliament in a bid to protect animal rights.

The European Jewish Congress (EJC) announced it was considering taking legal action to block the ban, which it said violated the freedom of religion enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.

Israel’s army chief under fire about God reference in memorial rites

(An Israeli army rabbi (L) recites prayers as he leads the funeral procession for a soldier killed in southern Lebanon, 1 Feb 2000/Jim Hollander. )

The Israeli military is embroiled in a public battle over whether God ought to be mentioned at memorial rites for fallen soldiers. The ferocity of the debate, going to the heart of Israel’s secular and religious Jewish divide, prompted the intervention on Monday of a parliamentary panel that urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fractious cabinet to decide the issue.

The controversy is over whether Yizkor, the Hebrew prayer of remembrance, should begin at military ceremonies with the words “May God remember” or “May the people of Israel remember”. Military policy calls for the version mentioning God to be used, but enforcement has been patchy in an apparent nod to the sentiments of the Jewish state’s secular majority.

Israeli envoy to Vatican voices rare praise of wartime Pope Pius XII

(Pope Pius XII in an undated file photo/Osservatore Romano)

A leading Israeli official has praised Pope Pius XII for saving Jews during the Nazi occupation of Rome, a surprise twist in a long-standing controversy over the pontiff’s wartime role. The comments by Mordechay Lewy, the Israeli ambassador to the Vatican, were some of the warmest ever made by a Jewish official about Pius. Most have been very critical of his record.

Lewy, speaking at a ceremony on Thursday night to honor an Italian priest who helped Jews, said that Catholic convents and monasteries had opened their doors to save Jews in the days following a Nazi sweep of Rome’s Ghetto on October 16, 1943.

“There is reason to believe that this happened under the supervision of the highest Vatican officials, who were informed about what was going on,” he said in a speech. “So it would be a mistake to say that the Catholic Church, the Vatican and the pope himself opposed actions to save the Jews. To the contrary, the opposite is true,” he said.

In Kabul’s only synagogue, Afghan merchants open up shop

(An Afghan woman clad in burqa and her daughter walks past a restaurant built inside part of the only synagogue building in Kabul, June 1, 2011/Omar Sobhani)

A lattice of corrugated iron Star of Davids marks Afghanistan’s only working synagogue, a white-washed, two-storey building tucked into a sidestreet in the centre of Kabul. Kebabs, carpets and flowers are served and sold on the ground floor of the synagogue, which has been transformed into businesses over the last 18 months by the country’s sole remaining Jew, who lives upstairs in a small pink room.

Cafe manager Sayed Ahmad is unfazed by his small cafe’s history, where Kabul’s hundreds-strong Jewish community once gathered for prayers. Most fled to Israel and the United States amid the Soviet invasion of 1979. “Some of my customers know this is the synagogue and know about the Jew upstairs, but they don’t care and neither do I,” Ahmad told Reuters in his cafe, where bearded men on purple cushions puff on water pipes and eat traditional Afghan food.

Delhi’s last ten Jewish families guard an ancient heritage

(Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honorary secretary of the Judah Hyam Synagogue synagogue, poses with a shofar horn inside the synagogue in New Delhi May 20, 2011/B Mathur)

In the capital of one of the world’s most religiously-diverse countries, a rabbi who has never been ordained bends ancient customs, ensuring New Delhi’s ten Jewish families a place to worship. Unlike most synagogues, there is no separation of men and women as Jewish-born worshippers, converts and followers of other faiths chant Psalms in perfect Hebrew, with doors thrown open to all. The service leader never asks attendees what religion they follow, and envisions his daughter becoming India’s first female rabbi.

“Being a small community, we cannot be so rigid, so orthodox,” says Ezekiel Isaac Malekar, honorary secretary of the synagogue whose unpaid job of thirty years has overlooked religious convention to keep this tiny group together. “Our openness, our liberal approach is what allows us to survive. For reading the Torah, you must require ten men, a minyan. But I made radical changes, because why should we discriminate between women and men? I count the women.”

Jewish Lag BaOmer pilgrimage in Tunisia goes ahead, but muted

(People attend a Lag Ba-Omer celebration at El Ghiba synagogue in Djerba island May 21, 2011S/Anis Mili)

A small group of Jewish pilgrims gathered on an Tunisian island to visit one of Africa’s oldest synagogues but worries over continued unrest kept many away from the annual event. About 5,000 pilgrims from Tunisia and abroad usually travel each May to the El Ghriba synagogue on Djerba island in the south to mark Lag BaOmer, a holiday which follows Passover.

But this year less than 100 took part and organizers cancelled traditional celebrations because of security concerns and lack of participants  as the country struggles to restore order following the overthrow of Tunisia’s authoritarian ruler Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.