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Germans Make Kosher 'Simcha' Beer


German brewers have begun making kosher beer for Jews, according to the European Jewish Press. "Simcha", a white pilsner beer, has an alcohol content of 4.9 percent. It sports a Star of David on its blue and gold label. The barley and hops for the beer are grown organically in Bavaria; the yeast used to ferment it is made at the brewery and the water comes from local springs. The beer is produced in accordance with Jewish dietary rules and under supervision of a Berlin rabbi, but is not suitable for Passover. A halaal, alcohol-free version for Muslims, is available as well.

Israel Rejects Hamas Truce Offer

By Robert Berger (VOA-Jerusalem)

Israel has rejected a ceasefire offer from the Islamic terrorist group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Hamas offered Israel the truce a day after 13 Palestinian militants, including two top commanders, were killed in a wave of Israeli air strikes in Gaza. Israel launched the raids in response to daily Palestinian rocket attacks.

Hamas official Ghazi Hamad said the ball is in Israel's court. He told Israel Radio that it takes two parties to make a truce, and Israel should take the first step. He said if Israel stops incursions, assassinations and air strikes, the Palestinians would halt rocket attacks.

But after months of rocket fire on its border communities, Israel is no hurry for a truce, especially after inflicting serious damage on terrorits in the latest air strikes.

Israeli parliamentarian Ephraim Sneh is a former general in the Labor Party, which is part of the coalition government. He said a truce, or "hudna" as it is called in Arabic, would benefit Hamas, but not Israel. "A hudna is [a] trap for Israel," he said, "and it is a timeout for Hamas to become stronger, to receive more arms, more money, more explosives, and it is nothing that Israel should endorse."

Tensions between Israel and Hamas have increased since the group seized power in Gaza six months ago, when it routed the forces of the rival Fatah faction led by western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. He seeks a negotiated peace with Israel, while Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize the Jewish state.

Despite the power struggle with Hamas, Abbas' West Bank government said it supports a truce in Gaza. Palestinian officials said a ceasefire would improve the atmosphere at peace talks, which resumed a week ago after a seven-year break.

Arabs Desecrate Grave of Biblical Prime Minister Joshua


Jewish worshippers Tuesday were stunned to find Arabs had desecrated the graves of the biblical Joshua, Caleb and Nun (Joshua's father). Joshua served as the Jewish Nation's Prime Minister from the year 2488 until 2516 on the Hebrew calendar (1272 BCE - 1300 BCE).

Members of the One Shechem organization that organizes visits to the graves arrived in the village of Timnat (Kifl) Haress, near Ariel in Samaria, to prepare for a special prayer gathering, discovered that Arab vandals had desecrated the village's Jewish tombs. The tombs of Yehoshua (Joshua) ben Nun, Nun, and Calev (Caleb) ben Yefuneh were covered with garbage and feces – both human and animal, and anti-Semitic and Nazi slogans and symbols had been painted in the area.

Nevertheless, worshippers gathered at the tombs Tuesday night for special prayers on the tenth of Tevet, the day Kaddish and other prayers are recited for those whose date of death is unknown, such as Calev ben Yefuneh. Organizers had cleaned up the damage and attendees reported a positive experience.

Organizers reported that a wide array of Jews – hareidi, national religious and traditional – took part in the visit and prayers. They also praised the cooperation of security forces, particularly the Efraim Division of the IDF.

The One Shechem organization issued a call to the public to do everything in their power to preserve the holy sites in Samaria, including Joseph's Tomb in Shechem and to fight for the right of Jews to visit and worship there freely.

Israel Worried about Hamas Hajjis

By Israel Faxx News Services

Israel believes that hundreds of Palestinians who left on the pretext of a pilgrimage will receive military training in Iran.

Israel Radio quoted an unidentified senior defense official saying Wednesday that some 1,400 Palestinians who left the Gaza Strip recently as part of an exodus for this week's hajj in Mecca do not have the required entry permits from Saudi authorities.

Israeli intelligence believes that as many as half of these supposed hajjis are in fact Hamas members headed for Iran, where they will receive military training to be put to use in Gaza, the defense official said.

Saudi Arabia issued 1,200 hajj permits to the Palestinian Authority, and Israel approved those allowed to go on the pilgrimage. Gazans who received permits left for Mecca via Israel and Egypt.

But Hamas, in a show of defiance, assembled its own roster of hundreds of hajjis, who left via Egyptian territory, to the disapproval of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

New Patriot Anti-Aircraft System Passes Test With Flying Colors


A new, improved Patriot anti-aircraft missile system passed its tests with flying colors Tuesday at an IDF base in southern Israel. The trial evaluated the improvements made to the missiles' operational system with the aim of widening its range and accuracy.

IDF officials and representatives of the semi-governmental Rafael Advanced Defense Systems firm watched as an improved Patriot missile, dubbed the "Yahalom" ("diamond" in Hebrew), was fired at a mock jet in a simulation of an operational mission, successfully intercepting the target.

Anti-Aircraft Forces Commander Brig. Gen. Danny Milo expressed the IDF's satisfaction with the system's performance, saying the successful test means Israel's defense abilities vis-à-vis the "relevant threats" have improved.

The Patriot system, originally designed as an anti-aircraft system, was used by Israel as an anti-missile defense in 1991 during the Gulf War between the United States and Iraq. The Jewish State became a proxy target in the conflict, with Iraq firing surface-to-surface missiles at strategic Israeli targets. Subsequent evaluations found that the Patriots had provided a very incomplete defense against the missiles fired from Iraq.

A senior military source was quoted by Ha'aretz as saying the improved Patriot system can be put into action immediately, based on its successful performance.

Israel is slated to receive a PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) missile system from the US, according to media reports. According to a statement on the website of Lockheed Martin, a US-based defense industry firm, the PAC-3 is "a small, highly agile, kinetic kill interceptor for defense against tactical ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and air-breathing threats. The PAC-3TM Missile destroys its targets by direct, body-to-body impact." It also has 16 launch pods, as opposed to the four-pod batteries Israel currently owns.

Privileging Equality Rights over Religious Freedom

By Daniel Cere (National Post)

The master of one-liners, Henny Youngman, once quipped, "Why do Jewish divorces cost so much? They're worth it." Last week, the Supreme Court of Canada cranked out a watershed legal judgment demonstrating that a refusal to grant a Jewish divorce also can prove costly.

In Bruker vs. Marcovitz, the court knocked a few holes through the wall of separation between religious and civil law. According to Jewish law, only the husband has the right to grant a religious divorce (get) to his wife. In some cases, when a marriage has been effectively terminated and a civil divorce has been granted, the husband can still refuse to grant his wife a religious divorce. In the eyes of Jewish law, she remains married to her "ex-husband." The ex-wife is left in a state of bondage, a "chained woman" (agunah) who cannot remarry within the Jewish community. Control of the get offers possibilities for nasty parting shots by resentful ex-husbands.

Some jurisdictions have established special arrangements to try to deal with this problem. For example, New York State has passed get laws that require the granting of a religious divorce before proceeding to civil divorce. In Canada, there have been few legal remedies for an aggrieved ex-wife-- until now.

Stephanie Bruker is a Jewish woman whose marriage ended in civil divorce in 1980. For 15 years, her ex-husband refused to grant her a get. He relented only when Bruker was nearly 47 and beyond child-bearing years. She decided to sue for damages. Last Friday, the Supreme Court of Canada overturned the judgment of Quebec's Court of Appeal and decided in Bruker's favor. Jewish men refusing to grant a get should be put on notice. From this point onwards, they are targets for legal action.

The court rejected the husband's argument that his religious freedom would be violated if he was penalized for not granting a purely "religious" divorce. The judges argued that infringements on religious freedom can be "significantly outweighed" by "the public's interest in protecting fundamental values such as equality rights and autonomous choice in marriage and divorce."

The judgment may provide some relief for Jewish women who feel trapped by the internal logic of Jewish divorce law. In the long run, however, the arguments advanced to reach this result could weaken the protection afforded to religion.

First, as the dissenting judges warned, there are dangers in giving the courts a green light to use their coercive authority to meddle in religious affairs. Two of the justices argued that the Supreme Court should have stayed out of this religious debate and let Jewish law struggle to resolve its own internal issues.

They warned that the courts were being transformed from a shield to protect religious freedom into a sword to coerce particular religious undertakings -- in this case, the granting of a Jewish divorce.

Second, this judgment signals that gender equality may be crystallizing into a trump right in relation to religious freedom. The Supreme Court of Canada seems to be drifting towards the construction of an implicit hierarchy of rights, with gender equality at the pinnacle.

A healthy dose of suspicion should greet proposals to elevate "gender equality" as a leviathan right ruling over other basic rights. For many, such equality should bleach out all reference to sex difference in law and public policy. Yet, many faiths -- including not only Judaism, but also Islam and Catholicism -- retain a strong affirmation of the significance of sex difference.

If our highest court is willing to wade in on the issue of the Jewish get, one wonders whether this signals that judicial activism is now ready to take on religion.

(Daniel Cere is assistant professor of religion, ethics, and public policy at McGill University.)

Catholic Leader Rejects Israel's Jewish Identity


Israel's identity as a Jewish state discriminates against non-Jews, its top Roman Catholic clergyman said in a pre-Christmas address on Wednesday in Jerusalem.

"If there's a state of one religion, other religions are naturally discriminated against," Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah told reporters at the annual press conference he holds in Jerusalem before Christmas. In his address, which he read in Arabic and English, Sabbah said Israel should abandon its Jewish character in favor of a "political, normal state for Christians, Muslims and Jews."

Sabbah denounced Israel's demand to be recognized as a Jewish state by the Palestinians and said "God made this land for all three of us, so a suitable state is one who can adapt itself to the vocation of this land.

"This land cannot be exclusive for anyone," he said, adding that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had unleashed "forces of evil" across the Middle East and that it was Israel's obligation, as to end the warring. "The one who will decide is Israel. If Israel decides for peace, there will be peace… Until now, there has been no peace, simply because there has been no willingness to make it."

Sabbah expressed hope for peace in the Holy Land and urged both sides to shun violence, whether "carried out by the state or by extremists."

Arye Mekel, a spokesman for Israel's foreign ministry, said Israel provides full religious freedom to people of all faiths. "We reject his claim that other religions are not enjoying equal rights in Israel." Israel has long pointed out that other countries call themselves Islamic republics and are not criticized.

Sabbah, who has been the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem since 1987, is the first Palestinian to hold the post and is frequently critical of Israel. He also lashed out at Israel for visa restrictions he said were unfair to Christian clergy.

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