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Rabbinical Leaders: Greatest Threat to Jews is Assimilation


The 3-day annual Rabbinical Centre of Europe conference ended in Paris with many of the 300 rabbis declaring that the greatest threat to the Jewish existence in Europe is assimilation.

Former Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Israel Meir Lau said assimilation was "the greatest threat to the Jewish people today, more so than anti-Semitism and terrorism." He cited assimilation among secular Jews in America according to which, from 100 secular Jews in the first generation, only five are left in the fourth generation. This is the result of more than 70 percent assimilation in the US.

TIME: Netanyahu Offering Partial Golan Withdrawal


Aides to Prime Minister-designate Binyamin Netanyahu are suggesting a partial withdrawal from the Golan Heights in exchange for peace with Syria, TIME reported on Thursday. The magazine added that the proposal would likely be met with "derision" by the Syrian President Bashar Assad, who has demanded sovereignty over the entire strategic and water-rich area.

A basis of the recent Likud election campaign, guided by party chairman Netanyahu, was that Israel would not withdraw from the Golan Heights region, which was restored to the country in the Six-Day War in 1967.

Democratic Senator John Kerry, head of the powerful U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, recently spoke with Assad during a visit to Damascus and is actively campaigning for a thaw in relations with Syria. Evidence of a dramatic change in American policy was given by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who said in Jerusalem this week that two officials from the State Department and the White House, both of whom happen to be Jews, soon will visit Damascus.

In a speech at the Saban Center of the Brookings Institute, Kerry said that the Obama administration is prepared to give Syria financial incentives in order to facilitate a peace treaty with Israel, which Assad told him is dependent on an Israeli withdrawal from the Golan Heights.

Palestinian Shot Dead After Crash Israel Labels a Terrorist Attack

By VOA News &

A Palestinian driver was shot dead in Jerusalem after allegedly slamming his tractor into a police car and a bus. The killing happened as tensions flare over Israel's planned demolition of Arab homes in East Jerusalem and a spate of new violence in Gaza.

It was a scene of chaos on Jerusalem's busy Menachim Begin Highway in the moments after police said the Palestinian driver of a large construction vehicle smashed the front-end loader into a police car and a bus.

An Israeli cab driver told Israel Radio he pulled a gun and opened fire on the Palestinian. He said he saw a terrorist act, and saw the police car fly into the air. He said he got out of his car with his gun. He said he fired four shots and killed the man. Then, he said, a policeman came and "finished the man off."

Police and hospital officials said the man died from his wounds. The two officers inside the car sustained minor injuries. The terrorist who carried out attack was identified as 26-year-old east Jerusalem resident.

Police said they found a copy of the Muslim holy book, the Koran; open in the vehicle - something Israeli authorities in the past have associated with attacks by Muslim extremists. No one has claimed responsibility for the crash.

Officials are probing the circumstances surrounding the incident, but Israeli authorities quickly labeled it an act of terrorism. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat went on television shortly after and called it "an attack to murder innocent people."

He said he wants the authorities to take the harshest measures allowed by law against the attackers and those who helped them. He said he would push for the home of the attacker to be demolished immediately - a response Israeli authorities commonly give after terrorist attacks. It was the third incident in eight months involving a Palestinian construction worker in Israel.

Tensions remain high due to Israel's plans to demolish scores of Arab homes built without permits in East Jerusalem to make way for an archeological zone.

Eighty kilometers (49 miles) away from Jerusalem, in the Gaza Strip, a new round of Israeli air strikes killed at least two Palestinians. Israeli officials said those killed were members of the militant Islamic Jihad group who had fired an anti-tank missile across the border at Israeli soldiers.

In Jerusalem and across Israel, Police not taking any chances: Officials have decided to reinforce the police presence on Jerusalem's streets next week, in the wake of Thursday's terror attack.

As is the case every year, tens of thousands of dressed-up revelers are expected to hit the streets during the holidays. Jerusalem's municipal government is organizing several events to celebrate the holiday, including shows for the entire family, musical performances and a Hassidic puppet show.

Lieberman Demanding 'Full Autonomy' as Foreign Minister

By Ha'aretz

Avigdor Lieberman, who Thursday emerged as the most likely candidate to replace Tzipi Livni as Israel's foreign minister, intends to demand that Likud Chairman Binyamin Netanyahu grants him "full autonomy" in the new post, Ha'aretz has learned.

Lieberman, who heads the country's third largest party, Yisrael Beiteinu, met with prime minister-designate Netanyahu Thursday at the Knesset. Neither party leader divulged information about the meeting nor the issues discussed.

However, a source involved in talks between Yisrael Beiteinu and Likud said that "Lieberman wants to make sure that Netanyahu doesn't let another minister receive tasks that belong to the Foreign Ministry."

The source indicated that Lieberman is interested in establishing sole and independent responsibility in Netanyahu's future government over Foreign Ministry-related affairs, and will strive to have a clause to that effect incorporated into the coalition agreement between Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu.

"Lieberman wants to ensure that Netanyahu doesn't let Silvan Shalom handle negotiations with Syria in order to placate Shalom," the source said. Shalom, a former foreign minister for Likud is rumored to be highly interested in returning to his old post.

A laconic announcement released after the meeting said that the two strongest men in Israeli politics discussed "security and defense issues, and above all the need to pass the national budget for the years 2009 and 2010 in light of the financial crisis."

Relations between Lieberman and Netanyahu have reportedly become tenser than usual following Netanyahu's talks with Labor chairman Ehud Barak over Barak's possible inclusion in a future government. Labor has a nucleus of prominent members who said they will not accept their party's entry into a coalition with Lieberman, whom they accuse of racism against Arab Israelis.

Lieberman, for his part, was reportedly offended by Netanyahu's attempts to reach a deal with Barak. But prominent Labor members have harshly criticized Barak over the negotiations, saying Netanyahu's regional vision does not match Labor's.

With Kadima heading for the opposition benches and Labor's hard core leaning in the same direction, Lieberman is a crucial partner for Netanyahu if he is to form a coalition, as he was instructed to do by President Shimon Peres following the February 10 elections. Peres entrusted Netanyahu with the task instead of Kadima's Livni, based on a recommendation by Lieberman, whose party clinched 15 seats in parliament.

IDF Responds to Rabbi Who Disqualified Torah Scrolls


After a leading rabbi wrote this week that most IDF Torah scrolls are invalid for use because of a watermark, the IDF rebutted stating his facts were wrong.

Rabbi Yaakov Yosef, son of former Chief Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, caused a stir in the rabbinic and army worlds, ruling that a watermark on Torah scrolls in the IDF renders them unfit for use. The watermark is an imprint of the words "IDF property," designed to prevent theft.

The ruling was rendered just in time for Shabbat Zakhor, the Sabbath before Purim, when it is a biblical commandment to hear, from a Torah scroll, the edict to wipe out the name of the evil Amalek. Rabbi Yosef advised religious soldiers to ask to be excused this Sabbath so that they can hear the passage at their home synagogues. He added that they should make up their missed army duties during the week.

A day after the ruling was publicized, the IDF spokesman responded that the facts in the ruling are not correct. "The imprint is fashioned not out of ink or color, but rather by pressure [making a raised mark]," the response stated.

The spokesman, in conjunction with the Chief Rabbinate of the IDF, added that the new ruling "maligns the late Chief IDF Rabbis Shlomo Goren and Gad Navon, who were quite familiar with Jewish Law and formulated the solution."

Rabbi Yosef based his ruling on precedents set by his father Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef in his work Yechaveh Daat, and by the late Rabbi Ovadiah Hadaya in his work Yaskil Avdi. However, sources in the IDF Rabbinate say that the former citation deals with an ink imprint in between sentences, whereas the imprints in the current case do not involve ink and are placed on the margins of the parchment.

The current IDF ruling was formulated based on the instructions of the late Chief Rabbi Iser Yehuda Unterman, the late co-Dean of Merkaz HaRav Rabbi Sha'ul Yisraeli, and other leading rabbis.

Hebrew Date Leads to Acquittal


The Traffic Court in Nazareth acquitted a young man who drove four passengers - because he was 21 according to the Hebrew date.

The story began in September 2007, when Chaim Frankel was stopped by a policeman for a random check – and was found to be in violation of the law for carrying four passengers. The law states that drivers under age 21 may only carry up to two passengers.

Frankel told the policeman that he had actually turned 21 nearly two weeks earlier, and pointed to the Hebrew date as proof. The policeman told him that the Hebrew date was not germane, and gave him a court summons. But that was not all: In court, the police asked to revoke his license for three months!

Frankel explained, via his attorney, Roni Faloch, that he was not accustomed to using the Gregorian date. "In a Jewish state, it cannot be argued that the driver was not 21 years old on the day of the incident," Faloch said.

Judge Ilona Arieli, a daughter of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss, accepted the point, and acquitted Frankel of all charges.

Attorney Faloch, a hareidi Jew himself who also serves as the Deputy Chairman of the Transportation Committee of the Israel Bar Association, said he plans to recommend that the Bar take action in the direction of upgrading the status of the Hebrew date in Israeli law. So reported Yediot Acharonot.

Both the Hebrew and Gregorian dates are used on all official government communications and documents, including personal ID cards and birth and death certificates. The Knesset passed a law in 2007 requiring the Interior Ministry to ensure that the Hebrew date on birth and death certificates is registered not merely by correlating the Gregorian and Hebrew dates, but also while taking into consideration the fact that according to the Hebrew calendar, the new day begins at nightfall, and not at midnight.

Israeli-Arab in Eurovision: 'HaTikvah Upsets Me'


Israel's representative in the upcoming Eurovision contest is an Arab woman who is "upset" when HaTikvah is played. And Knesset member Dr. Michael Ben-Ari (National Union) believes she should be replaced.

Ben-Ari has written a letter on the matter to the Israel Broadcasting Authority, which is responsible for choosing the national representative in the international singing contest.

The Eurovision Song Contest is an annual competition held among active member countries of the European Broadcasting Union. Held each year in the country that won the previous year's contest, it will be held this coming spring in Moscow.

Israel's Arab woman singer, Mira Awad, was interviewed in the recent issue of the weekly newspaper Tel Aviv. "If they play the national anthem [HaTikvah], I will be very sad and upset," she said. "It will be very difficult for me, and I will even shed tears."

She explained that this is because "the theme is clear: The flag, anthem, and State – they are all Jewish symbols, and Israel, unfortunately, is not a state of all its citizens. Deep inside me, I do not feel that the State represents who I am," said the woman is supposed to represent Israel, "because this is a Jewish State in its essence, and I am not."

Ben-Ari wrote in his letter, "When one who is supposed to represent the State says about herself that the function entrusted to her causes her consternation, and that she does not see herself as representing the national anthem or flag, and even denies that the State of Israel should be the State of the Jewish People – this is an indication that it should reconsidered whether the woman is appropriate to represent us in that forum."

"On the other hand," the new MK continued, "there is no doubt that the consternation she feels at representing Israel is very small compared to the consternation it causes to the broad public in the State of Israel."

"I ask that you help alleviate the woman's consternation and consider a more worthy alternative to represent the Israeli public," wrote Ben-Ari. "There is no lack of army veteran singers for whom our flag and anthem are a source of pride, and they will be able to represent Israel with loyalty and without being `upset.' No other country would allow itself to send a musician whose approach to the anthem and flag is one of estrangement and scorn."

`Israel began taking part in the Eurovision contest in 1973 – when Ilanit sang "Ei Sham" – and has won the international competition three times. It won twice in a row, in 1978 and 1979, when Yizhar Cohen sang Abanibi and Milk and Honey performed Halleluy-ah, and again in 1998 when Dana International sang Diva.

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