FaithWorld

Tunisian unrest may dampen annual Jewish celebration on Djerba island

(The Great Room of El Ghriba synagogue, April 12, 2002/Mohammad Hammi)

Jewish pilgrims may not be able to hold their usual celebrations at one of Africa’s oldest synagogues this year because of renewed security concerns in Tunisia where the site is based.

Thousands of pilgrims travel each May to the El Ghriba synagogue on the island of Djerba to mark a holiday which follows Passover. They usually hold a vibrant festival filled with music and pageantry. But this year celebrations will be muted because of continued unrest in the country following the overthrow of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in January.

“It’s true that we have cancelled all the celebrations planned for this year but the pilgrimage will still take place next Friday at the synagogue,” organiser Perez Trabelsi told Reuters. “People that usually come are scared this year,” he said, saying he expected only a few hundred people.

A government source said the pilgrimage would be cancelled completely.

El Ghriba was the site of an al Qaeda attack in 2002 which killed 21 people. Another synagogue was set on fire by arsonists in the Tunisian city of Ghabes in February.

Mainly Muslim Tunisia has one of the largest Jewish communities in North Africa but until recently attacks have been rare.

San Francisco may vote on banning male circumcision

(A Jewish circumcsion, 18 November 2007/Chesdovi)

A group opposed to male circumcision said they have collected more than enough signatures to qualify a proposal to ban the practice in San Francisco as a ballot measure for November elections.

But legal experts said that even if it were approved by a majority of the city’s voters, such a measure would almost certainly face a legal challenge as an unconstitutional infringement on freedom of religion.

Circumcision is a ritual obligation for infant Jewish boys, and is also a common rite among Muslims, who account for the largest share of circumcised men worldwide.

German pope prays at World War II Nazi atrocity site in Rome

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(Pope Benedict XVI visits the Ardeatine Caves Memorial in Rome March 27, 2011/Grzegorz Galazka)

German-born Pope Benedict prayed on Sunday at the site where Nazis killed 335 Italian men and boys and denounced one of the worst atrocities of World War Two as “the most horrendous form of evil”. Benedict visited the Ardeatine Caves on Rome’s southern outskirts and prayed there together with Rome’s chief Rabbi Riccardo di Segni. Seventy-five of the victims were Jews.

In his brief comments at the haunting underground site, Benedict, who was a member of the Hitler Youth when membership was compulsory and later served a German anti-aircraft artillery, called it a “painful memorial of the most horrendous form of evil”.

Catholics & Jews discuss their future dialogue, possible Muslim trialogue

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(Collège des Bernardins, site of the ILC meeting in Paris, 2 March 2011/Tom Heneghan)

Jewish and Roman Catholic leaders reviewing their dialogue over the past four decades expressed concern on Wednesday that younger generations had little idea of the historic reconciliation that has taken place between them. The two faiths must keep this awareness alive at a time when the last survivors of the Holocaust are dying and both the Catholic and Jewish worlds are changing in significant ways, they said at the end of a four-day interfaith conference.

The International Catholic-Jewish Liaison Committee (ILC) met in Paris to discuss the future of the dialogue begun after the Catholic Church renounced its anti-Semitism and declared its respect for Judaism at the Second Vatican Council in 1965.

Extend Catholic-Jewish amity to Islam, Jewish official tells dialogue meeting

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(An art exhibition poster reading "coexist" using the Islamic crescent, Jewish David Star and Christian cross, in Jerusalem, May 13, 2001 /Reinhard Krause)

The historic reconciliation between Jews and Roman Catholics over the past 40 years should be extended to Muslims to deal with the challenges of the 21st century, a senior Jewish official has said. The regular dialogue the two faiths have maintained since the Catholic Church renounced anti-Semitism at the Second Vatican Council should be “a model for transformed relations with Islam,” Rabbi Richard Marker told the opening session of a meeting reviewing four decades of efforts to forge closer ties after 1,900 years of Christian anti-Semitism and to ask how the dialogue can progress in the future.

“Forty years in the histories of two great world religions is but a blink of an eye,” Marker, chairman of the International Jewish Committee for Interreligious Consultation, said on Sunday evening. “But 40 years of a relationship is a sign of its maturity.”

Timeline – Ups and downs in recent Catholic-Jewish relations

Senior officials from the Roman Catholic Church and international Jewish groups met on Monday in Paris to review relations after 40 years of sometimes difficult dialogue.

Following is a timeline of the ups and downs in Catholic-Jewish relations since the first papal visit to Israel.

1964 – Pope Paul VI is the first modern pope to visit the Holy Land. During the visit he avoids using the word Israel, which the Vatican did not recognise at the time.

Tunisia needs separation of mosque and state – religaffairs min

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(Tunisians march against Islamists and for interfaith harmony in Tunis, February 19, 2011. The protesters' T-shirts in Arabic read: "Tunisia secular", the sign on top reads: "Tunisia for all" and the sign on bottom left in French reads: "Terrorism is not Tunisia"/Zoubeir Souissi)

Tunisia’s revolution is unlikely to trigger Islamic militancy in the traditionally secular state, but Muslim leaders should avoid mixing religion with politics, the government’s minister of religious affairs said.

“After the January 14 revolution, the country experienced change on every level, including the religious sphere,” Aroussi Mizouri, minister of religious affairs in the caretaker government, told Reuters. “Today, there is no restriction on speech in the mosques. But they should not become platforms for political ideology,” he said in an interview this week. “We are counting on everyone to keep our society open and tolerant.”

Germany opens first Reform synagogue since WW2

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(Hameln, 21 November 2006/Marek Nocny)

Germany opened its first new Reform synagogue since the Holocaust on Sunday, marking a major step in the revival of Reform Judaism, which traces its roots to the country. The synagogue in the northern city of Hameln was built on the foundation of its predecessor, which was destroyed by the Nazis during the “Kristallnacht” pogrom in 1938. The congregation received financial backing for the synagogue primarily from local and state government.

“It’s incredible that, after the Shoah, in Germany a synagogue could be built with money that came from German political organizations,” the congregation’s president Rachel Dohme told Reuters.  The city’s reform congregation was founded in 1997 and has some 200 members, the majority of which are from the former Soviet Union.

Reform, or liberal, Judaism was pioneered in Germany by Israel Jacobson two centuries ago.

Israeli organ donations soar after soccer star dies

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(The Israeli flag-draped coffin of Avi Cohen is seen during a special public memorial service at a football stadium near Tel Aviv December 29, 2010/Nir Elias)

Organ donations in Israel rocketed in January after the death of an Israeli soccer star prompted a religious debate on brain death into the headlines.

Former Israel and Liverpool defender Avi Cohen sustained severe head injuries in a motorcycle crash in December. He was pronounced brain dead and put on a respirator. Cohen had signed an organ donor card, but his family refused to give away his organs. Newspaper reports said rabbis had appealed to the family not to donate. Cohen’s widow said the decision against donation was her own.

Muslims honor Jewish Holocaust victims at Auschwitz

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(Israeli Grand Rabbi Meir Lau speaks at the Victims Monument at Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland, February 1, 2011/Michal Lepecki)

Prominent Muslims joined Jews and Christians at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz on Tuesday in a gesture of interfaith solidarity designed to refute deniers of the Holocaust such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 200 dignitaries from across the Islamic world, from Israel, European countries and international organizations such as UNESCO took part in the visit, which included a tour of the site and prayers in Arabic, Yiddish, English and French.

“We must teach our young people in mosques, churches and synagogues about what happened here,” Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric told Reuters. “This awful place should stand as a reminder to all people that intolerance and lack of understanding between people can result in… such places as Auschwitz.”