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White House Leaves Out Attacks in Israel on List of 78 `Underreported' Terrorist Acts

By JTA

No attacks in Israel were included on a list of 78 "underreported" terrorist attacks released by the White House. The list, which includes attacks around the world from September 2014 to December 2016, was released Monday after President Donald Trump spoke of the dangers of "radical Islamic terrorists" and said the media often did not want to report on terror attacks. "In many cases, the very, very dishonest press doesn't want to report it. They have their reasons, and you understand that," Trump said, according to The Washington Post.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer later clarified that the president believes terrorist attacks are "underreported" — not "unreported" — by the media. "He felt members of the media don't always cover some of those events to the extent that other events might get covered," Spicer said.

Some of the dozens of attacks on the White House list were widely covered in the media, such as a series of attacks in Paris in November 2015, and mass shootings in Orlando, Florida, and San Bernardino, California, in June 2016 and December 2015, respectively.

Attacks in Israel were omitted from the list, though over 350 terrorist attacks — including stabbings, shootings, vehicular ramming attacks and a bus bombing — have taken place since Sept. 13, 2015, according to a report released last month by Israel's Foreign Affairs Ministry.

Daniel Shapiro, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel, wrote on Twitter that the omission of attacks in Israel "is really hard to explain," adding that several attacks "were genuinely underreported."

Trump's comments hinting at a journalists' conspiracy to downplay terrorist attacks were widely derided by the media. "This appears to be a talking point that is in search of a set of facts that just doesn't exist," said Jim Acosta, senior White House correspondent for CNN. The Washington Post noted that the list didn't include attacks on non-Western victims. The White House did not respond to a request from JTA seeking comment.


Palestinians Seek International Action After Israel Legalizes Settlements

By VOA News

The Palestinian Authority is calling for the international community to punish Israel for a new law that legalizes thousands of Jewish homes built on Palestinian-owned land in the West Bank. The law passed Monday in the 120-member Knesset, Israel's parliament, by a vote of 60-52. Under the legislation, about 100 settlement outposts that were built without government approval are now legal under Israeli law.

The vote sparked outrage in the Palestinian Authority that rules parts of the West Bank, with officials accusing Israel of legalizing land theft in violation of international law. "Such a law signals the final annexation of the West Bank," said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi. "It also gives clear license to the settlers to embark on a land grab in the occupied West Bank with impunity."

PA officials say the next step is to take Israel to the International Criminal Court in The Hague on charges of war crimes. Until then, they are demanding action from the world powers. "It is imperative that the international community, including the United States and the European Union, assumes its moral, human and legal responsibilities and puts an end to Israel's lawlessness and its system of apartheid and ethnic cleansing," Ashrawi said.

"Accountability should include punitive measures and sanctions before it is too late. We plan to petition [Israel's Supreme Court] in the hope of canceling this law," said attorney Suhad Bishara of the Israeli Arab legal rights group Adalah.

Legal experts say the High Court is likely to overturn the law since it violates property rights in occupied territories that are not part of the State of Israel. Despite the legal challenges, the settlers and their supporters are declaring victory for Jewish claims to all of the biblical Land of Israel.

This law is about "the connection between the Jewish people and its land," said Cabinet Minister Ofir Akunis of the ruling Likud party. "This entire land is ours." Knesset member Moti Yogev of the hawkish Jewish Home party told Israel Radio that it is a "historic day" for Israeli democracy. He warned that if the Supreme Court overturns the law, it would be equivalent to a "dictatorship" overruling the democratically-elected parliament.

Comparing the Supreme Court to a dictatorship underscores how the charged issue of settlements is polarizing Israeli society. While supporters see the settlements as a national and even God-given right, opponents fear that Israel is losing its democratic and Jewish character by ruling over another people, while also facing growing international condemnation and isolation.

Nickolay Mladenov, the U.N. coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said the legislation imperils "the internationally-backed idea of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel as part of a negotiated peace deal. It will have a drastic legal consequence for Israel and for the nature of its democracy. It crosses a very, very thick red line."

The law is part of a major Israeli settlement expansion project since President Donald Trump took office last month, including plans to build more than 6,000 new homes in the West Bank and disputed East Jerusalem. Israel curbed construction under former President Barack Obama who saw the settlements as an obstacle to peace, but Israel believes Trump is more sympathetic.

While Trump's appointee of U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is known to be strongly pro-settlement, the president appears to be urging Israel not to go too far too fast.

In response to the Knesset vote, the White House referred to a statement it issued last week, "While we don't believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal." The settlement issue is likely to top the agenda when Trump holds his first meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the White House on February 15.

A spokesman for the Palestine Liberation Organization condemned it as "legalized theft," even if the bill contains provisions to compensate the Palestinians or give them other land in exchange. The law would impose Israeli law in a portion of the West Bank that is not officially part of Israel, but is under Israeli military and civilian rule.


Online Library Hopes to Make Talmud Sages Accessible

By JTA

For centuries, studying a page of the Talmud has come with a bevy of barriers to entry. Written mostly in Aramaic, the Talmud in its most commonly printed form also lacks punctuation or vowels, let alone translation. Its premier explanatory commentary, composed by the medieval sage Rashi, is usually printed in an obscure Hebrew typeface read almost exclusively by religious, learned Jews. Even then, scholars can still spend hours figuring out what the text means.

And that's not to mention the Talmud's size and cost: 37 full volumes, called tractates, that can take up an entire shelf of a library.

Helping students and readers crack these barriers and access what amounts to a library of Jewish law, ritual, folklore and moral guidance has been an ongoing endeavor. Milestones include the first (unfinished) attempt at an English translation by American publisher Michael Levi Rodkinson at the turn of the 20th century, an abridged version by Rabbi Chaim Tchernowitz in the 1920s, and "The Soncino Talmud on CD-ROM" from 1995.

Now, a website hopes to build on these earlier breakthroughs and break all the barriers at once. Sefaria, a website founded in 2012 that aims to put the seemingly infinite Jewish canon online for free, has published an acclaimed translation of the Talmud in English. The translation, which includes explanatory notes in relatively plain language, was started by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz in 1965 and is considered by many to be the best in its class.

The Steinsaltz edition of the Talmud has been in print for decades, in both modern Hebrew and English translation, and parts of it already exist on the internet. But this is the first time it's being put online in its entirety for free. The online edition is also free of copyright, meaning that anyone is allowed to repurpose it for teaching, literature or anything else.

"Ninety percent of the world's Jews speak Hebrew and English," said Daniel Septimus, Sefaria's executive director. "The Talmud is in Aramaic. It will now be online in Hebrew and English. From an accessibility point of view, it's a game changer."

Sefaria rolled out 22 tractates of the Steinsaltz English edition on Tuesday, and will be publishing the entire Hebrew translation over the course of 2017. The rest of the English edition, which is as yet unfinished, will be published online as it is completed.

Translations and explanations of the Talmud already exist online. A range of apps promises free translations that can be unreliable. ArtScroll, the Orthodox Jewish publishing giant, offers a digital version of its own complete English Talmud translation for $600. A comprehensive digital Jewish library published for decades by Israel's Bar-Ilan University is also available for purchase, but not with English translation.

Besides its edition being free, Sefaria's founders say its version of the Steinsaltz Talmud is better than competitors because it is untethered to the Talmud's classic printed form. Since the mid-15th century, the Talmud has been published with unpunctuated text in a column in the middle of the page, its commentaries wrapping around it.

Like all of Sefaria's texts, which range from the Bible to Hasidic texts and works of Jewish law, the Steinsaltz translation is published sentence by sentence in a mobile-friendly format, with the translation appearing below the original. The format also allows Sefaria to link between the Talmud's text and the myriad Jewish sources it references, from the Bible to rabbinic literature.

Click on a line of Aramaic, and a string of commentaries, verses or parallel rabbinic sources will pop up. An algorithm Sefaria uses, which just added 50,000 such links to the Talmud, is also reverse engineered: Click on a verse in the Bible and you will see where it's quoted in the Talmud or other books.

"This entire web of connections opens up to you just by clicking and touching," said Sefaria's co-founder and CTO, Brett Lockspeiser. "It's so clear that the structure of Jewish learning had this network-type experience. This sense of interconnectedness was already there and just needed to be brought out."

The project is the biggest step forward in Sefaria's larger goal of democratizing Jewish religious scholarship by making it digitized, free and intelligible to everyone. The site also has a tool for Jewish educators to create source sheets, or short study aids with quotations from a range of Jewish books. Users have already created 50,000 such sheets.

"We have no idea what kind of devices people are going to be learning Torah on in 10 years, but we know those devices will be chomping on digital data," Septimus said. "So having a database of these texts that's open, flexible, free for use and reuse is a good thing."

Another site which shares that goal, the Open Siddur Project, provides Jewish prayer text for free so people can put together their own prayer books. Its founder, Aharon Varady, said the modern-day emphasis on intellectual property clashes with the Jewish tradition of sharing knowledge openly and freely.

"It's the idea that Torah should be transferred without limitations," Varady said. "Copyright is an innovation with fairly different interests than that of a living culture that is growing by educators sharing material, by teachers making source sheets with others."



The site already offers thousands of books in open-source code, so anyone can use them, and hopes to add thousands more -- the entirety of Judaic literature. Lockspeiser, a former Google software engineer, said that compared to indexing billions of web pages, the Jewish canon is no tall order.

"People can't get into the Talmud because they don't know it's there," Lockspeiser said. "If it's not in English and you type in English words in the [online search] query, it's not going to come up. We're opening this up just in the sense that people will find it that didn't even know they were looking for it."


Will the Holy Temple Descend from Heaven?

By IsraelNationalNews.com

For the last three decades the Temple Institute in Jerusalem has focused on research and preparation for the Third Holy Temple. Now a newly released video series entitled "Holy Temple Myth Busters" will share some of its most complex research in easy to understand episodes that destroy ancient myths and pre-conceived notions pertaining to the religious requirements to re-build the Third Holy Temple.

The current episode deals with the commonly-held belief that the Temple will miraculously descend from heaven, somehow alleviating the Jewish people of their biblical requirement to build it.

Rabbi Chaim Richman, a co-founder of the organization and its International Director takes viewers on a seven-minute visual journey through the ages that blows this myth out of the water with tens of religious sources and historical precedents. The notion that the re-building of the Holy Temple is the sole responsibility of the Jewish people is the bedrock on which the Temple Institute was established, however these arguments have never been presented to the masses so eruditely in English and will likely be seen as controversial, making waves within the Orthodox Jewish world.

Richman commented: "The Holy Temple has become one of the most overly-mystified concepts within Judaism. While Torah scholars and yeshiva students diligently strive to understand every minutia of Torah knowledge, they seem to have relegated the Holy Temple to the world of the paranormal. Many prefer to ignore the subject entirely, despite the fact that fully one third of the Torah pertains to the Holy Temple, and clear instructions for its preparation and building are written in black and white."

"While nobody in their right mind looks to the sky, on the eve of Sukkot awaiting the miraculous descent of their Sukkah from the heavens, somehow this has become a widely held view of the arrival of the Third Holy Temple. This is why we have taken decades of research and presented it in a light and easy to understand seven-minute video that will rock the very foundations of the notion that the Holy Temple is beyond our human reach."



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