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The Messiah Comes From the East

Sephardic rabbi predicts Sephardic savior

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Rabbi Ovadia.(Ynet.com)

Moses Maimonides famously believed that the Messiah will come, “though he may tarry.” But Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel’s ultra-religious Shas political party, has gone the Rambam one better: the Messiah, it turns out, not only will come, but will be Sephardic. “We cannot determine that we were correct until the Messiah comes and will make us one people,” Yosef told his weekly Saturday night class. “Only the Messiah can do this.… When Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will rise up in the revival of the dead, what will they say? They will start to say they were from Halabim, from Aleppo.” (Yosef, who once was Israel’s Chief Sephardi Rabbi, himself hails from Basra, Iraq.) Once the Messiah comes, Yosef went on to predict, Ashkenazim will adopt Sephardic customs—which is good news for those who have always wanted to eat rice during Passover.

Rabbi Ovadia: Messiah Will Rule Sephardic-Style [Ynet]

Today on Tablet

Talmud for sale, hear the music, vote Democratic

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Today in Tablet Magazine, Allison Hoffman reports on 85-year-old Jack Lunzer’s efforts to sell his extensive collection of Judaica, including a flawless copy of the first-ever printed Talmud, to the Library of Congress. The weekly Vox Tablet podcast features Israeli-born world-music musician and educator Oran Etkin. Columnist Seth Lipsky considers Norman Podhoretz’s new Why Are Jews Liberals? in light of his own political trajectory. Why Do Jews Read The Scroll? Find out, all day, here at The Scroll.

Daybreak: Secret Meetings

Plus Iranian uranium and two Gaza operations

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• Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu went to an undisclosed location for a few hours Monday, and a new report has it that he was in Russia engaging in secret talks over Iranian arms deals. His office says he didn’t leave the country. [ynet]
• Speaking of covert diplomacy, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s current trip to Africa, nominally humanitarian, is really intended to help increase defense exports and to initiate cooperation on intelligence against Muslim extremists. [Haaretz]
• A U.S. diplomat reported that Iran very nearly or already has enough low-enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb. [AP]
• The B’Tselem organization released a new report finding that of nearly 1,400 Palestinans killed during last January’s Gaza incursion, the majority were noncombatants. The Israeli army’s numbers are lower, and of a less unfavorable proportion. [Haaretz]
• Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert testified in front of a state commission that, strategically, “there was no way around” the 2005 Gaza evacuation spearheaded by Ariel Sharon. [JPost]

Sundown: U.S. Jews Agree That Nuclear Iran Is Bad

Plus Ehud Barak backs settlement freeze, Gilad Shalit writes home, and more

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• In advance of Thursday’s National Jewish Leadership Advocacy Day on Iran in Washington, D.C., major organizations affiliated with the Reform, Reconstructionist, Conservative, and Orthodox movements together called on American Jews to highlight the urgency of the Iranian nuclear question. [JTA]
• Even though the government he serves in just approved the construction of over 450 new houses in the West Bank, Defense Minister Ehud Barak called a settlement freeze a “national necessity”. [Haaretz]
• Several prominent members of the Israeli left and center are planning a campaign to buttress Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declared support for a two-state solution (and, one suspects, to hold him to it). [ynet]
• The first letter soldier Gilad Shalit wrote since his 2006 capture was obtained by Yediot Ahronot. Only a month in, he reported, “My health is deteriorating daily.” [ynet]
• And if you’re in New York tomorrow night, consider watching Tablet Magazine deputy editor Gabriel Sanders interview Zoë Heller, whose novel, The Believers, depicts a contemporary New York City Jewish family in decline. [Museum of Jewish Heritage]

Ad Calls Non-Israeli Jews ‘Lost’

And the Diaspora is just a bit offended

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The group Masa (the word is Hebrew for “Journey”), which runs study-in-Israel programs for Diaspora Jews, has a new ad running on Israeli TV urging viewers to tell non-Israeli Jews about their organization. If these benighted souls do not visit Israel, you see, they may be “lost” and “assimilated” and perhaps, the ad ever-so-subtly hints, sent somewhere ominous on trains. You can watch it below:

The Forward’s J.J. Goldberg translates the Hebrew as: “More than 50% of young Jews overseas are assimilating and we are losing them. Do you know a young Jew overseas? Call Project Masa, and together we will strengthen the tie to Israel so we won’t lose him. Masa—a year in Israel, a love for a lifetime.” Goldberg hypothesizes—no doubt correctly—that “assimilating” is code for intermarrying, and that the 50 percent figure comes from an infamous 1990 study finding such a rate (later proved to be inflated). And he sensibly observes, “From a practical point of view, the issue in America is no longer how to fight intermarriage. That horse is out of the barn. The question now is how to draw the new Jews to Judaism.”

On top of the ad’s practical idiocy, there is its odious message: that Jews who do not find Israel have disappeared altogether. The spot recalls nothing so much as the old Catholic doctrine (which the Church, to its credit, has repudiated) that good Christians have an obligation to try to convert Jews as an act of mercy. Did we mention that Masa gets half of its budget from the Israeli government?

‘Lost’ In Plain Sight [J.J. Goldberg]

Freeze That Settlement?

Three opinions (but only one Jew) in today’s op-ed pages

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Jimmy Carter with Desmond Tutu and others in the West Bank village of Bilin last month.(Abbas Momani/AFP/Getty Images)

As we noted earlier today, the 455 new houses Israel is building in the West Bank will be located in settlements likely to end up in Israel proper even should a separate Palestinian state emerge. However, the announcement of new building has prompted a broader and provocative discussion of the importance (or unimportance) of a settlement freeze—something President Obama has called for—and specifically its relation to economic growth in the Palestinian territories.

The anti-settlement cause was buttressed by a prominent (if unsurprising) voice: Jimmy Carter. The former president, who a few years ago published Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, reported Sunday on a trip he took to the territories with a few other former world leaders, whom he refers to (somewhat creepily, no?) as “the Elders.” “We found a growing sense of concern and despair among those who observe, as we did, that settlement expansion is continuing apace,” he relates. He calls a settlement freeze “key.” This earned him the ire of prominent neoconservative writer and former Bush adviser Elliott Abrams, who chastised Carter and cited the West Bank’s predicted 7 percent rise in GDP (“a rate of growth that would be far in excess of ours—or Israel’s”) as evidence that Palestinian society is, with Israel’s conscious help, actually beginning to thrive. Also today, this time on the International Herald Tribune’s opinion page, Zahi Kouri, who runs the West Bank’s Palestinian National Beverage Co. (which appears to be a Coca-Cola bottler), credits that 7 percent growth rate not to Israeli benevolence but to “Palestinian reforms undertaken in spite of the obstacles Israel continues to place in the way of Palestinian development.” Like Carter, he deems a settlement freeze “a crucial first step to salvaging the two-state solution.”

Actually, a crucial first step would be knowing whose facts to believe. But in a world where everyone has an opinion, perhaps that’s asking too much.

The Elders’ View of the Middle East [WP]

What Carter Missed in the Middle East
[WP]
The West Bank’s Deceptive Growth [NYT]

Egypt Restores Synagogues, Secretly

Word leaks thanks to changed political calculus

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Restoration work at the Cairo synagogue where Moses Maimonides once worked and studied.(NYTimes.com)

When Egypt’s antiquities department two weeks ago announced plans to restore a medieval synagogue, many immediately smelled a ploy: Farouk Hosny, the country’s minister of culture—who last year made an incendiary comment about burning Israeli books—is angling for the position of Unesco director general, and so Egypt, conspiracy theorist argued, was trying to make nice with the Jews. Yesterday, though, the New York Times told a more nuanced version of the story. Egypt has “slowly, quietly been working to restore its synagogues for several years,” the paper reported, but has been keeping the efforts secret because of widespread anti-Semitism among the populace. “This was such a reverse of what we experienced in Eastern Europe, where governments don’t do much but want to present the picture they are doing things,” said an American Jewish Committee director quoted in the article. “In Egypt they were doing things but, ‘Shhh, don’t let anybody know!’” Now that the government’s promoting Hosny for the Unesco job, though, looking good to international observers has trumped the cause of not infuriating its own citizens.

Private Motive for Egypt’s Public Embrace of a Jewish Past

L.A. JCC Shooter Renounces Racism

Says it makes him happier not to hate.

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Buford O’Neal Furrow Jr., who stormed a JCC in the Los Angeles suburb of Granada Hills a decade ago, has now apologized, and claims he’s broken with his white supremacist past. In a letter responding to a request for an interview from the Los Angeles Daily News, Furrow, who is serving a life sentence without possibility of parole, wrote that he has thrown away his “racist books, literature, etc.” At the time of the shootings, he insisted that the attack—in which he wounded five people, including three children, and killed a Filipino postal worker—was intended as “a wakeup call to America to kill Jews.” Today, Furrow, an Olympia, Washington, native who had a long involvement with the Aryan Nation extremist group, claims “a life based on hate is no life at all.” “I now publicly renounce all bias toward anyone based on race, creed, color, sexual orientation and am a much happier person,” he wrote.

Which is nice for him, but maybe not enough for the victims. One refused to be interviewed by the paper, and the father of Josh Stepakoff, then a 6-year-old camper who was shot in the thigh and back, said he didn’t think the apology was sincere. “This doesn’t change what he did,” Alan Stepakoff said. Relatives of the postal worker, Joseph Ileto, agreed, but were more magnanimous. “It still hurts that our brother and son was taken from us, and a letter won’t make up for that,” Ismael Ileto told the paper. But, he added, “It gives us some type of hope that people are able to rehabilitate themselves.”

JCC Shooter Furrow Renounces Past Beliefs [LADN]

Apple to Introduce a Tablet?

Get your own name, Jobs!

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Apple, the computer-maker-turned-cult, is holding another one of its product unveilings tomorrow. As per usual with such spectacles, executives are tight-lipped, bloggers are hysterical, and the rumor mill runs furiously. Some believe Apple will announce a fancy new iPod; others claim that the Beatles’ catalogue is finally coming to iTunes, Apple’s online music store. But there’s another rumor, and one we at Tablet Magazinefind troubling: Apple, whisper some techno-soothsayers, will soon introduce a new product, a cross between an iPod and a laptop computer, a flat-screened beauty designed for watching movies on the go and speedily surfing the web. The product’s alleged name? Tablet.

We’re a little bit flattered, of course. But we’re also concerned. Is the Internet big enough for both of us? We’ll soon see. And, by the way, have you heard about Jeffrey Goldberg’s biography of Judah Maccabee, forthcoming from Nextbook Press? We’re thinking we’ll call it the MacBook.

Apple Telegraphs iPods; Fans See Beatles, Tablets [AP]

Israel Approves Settlement Construction

Seen as a sop to right-wing parties

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A boy outside the biggest settlement, Maale Adumim, yesterday.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

In preparation for a forthcoming six-month freeze on settlement construction, Israel over the weekend authorized plans for 455 new houses to be built in the West Bank. It’s a move contrary to U.S. and Arab demands for a complete halt on settlement grown, but apparently it’s not contrary enough to further stall already long-stalled Arab-Israeli peace talks. For one thing, most of these houses are to be built near the 1967 lines in the settlements of Har Gilo, Givat Zeev, Maale Adumim, Kedar and Alon Shvut—territories which all sides, either tacitly or explicitly, concede are going to wind up under Israel’s control. For another, this license for construction is seen in Israel as an emollient to the far-right parties that participate in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition government. Indeed, the Jerusalem Post leads this morning with an article that Avigdor Lieberman’s Israel Beiteinu party has no plans to topple the current administration in protest over the freeze. Lieberman himself, the foreign minister, is not really involved in the multilateral talks (although he is meeting with U.S. envoy George Mitchell next week) and is happy so long as Israel is allowed to build unfettered in the contested capital of Jerusalem.

Israel Tries to Placate Settlers by Allowing Some Construction Before Freeze [NYT]
Lieberman: Despite Settlement Freeze, Right Won’t Topple Gov’t [JPost]

Today on Tablet

L’affaire Dreyfus, Truman and Israel, Jews on Georgia’s mind

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Wesley Yang reviews a new history of the Dreyfus Affair that compares France’s treatment of Dreyfus to American treatment of the inmates at Guantánamo Bay. Adam Kirsch considers a new book tracing Harry Truman’s consequential decision to recognize the state of Israel. Pamela Renner reveals why the country of Georgia, for all its love of Jews, has only about 25 of them. Marjorie Ingall frets about instilling a healthy attitude toward food in her children. Josh Lambert looks at what Jewish-themed books are due out, as he does every week. And The Scroll will provide numerous updates on the important and the fun, as it does every day.

Daybreak: Gates Encourages Arab Arms Race

No ‘Intifada’ in NYC, ugly Croatian soccer chants

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• In an Al Jazeera interview, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates advised Arab governments to “strengthen their security capabilities” as a deterrent to Iran. [AFP]
• But when asked about America’s “double standard” toward Israel’s nuclear capability, Gates defended the U.S. posture. [JPost]
• A federal judge ruled free-speech protections did not prevent New York City from firing the principal of a public school designed to teach Arab culture after she defended “Intifada NYC” t-shirts. [Arutz Sheva]
• The Croatian national soccer team has been accused of using fascist slogans and songs, some about the Holocaust, to excite their fans before matches. [Haaretz]
• Russia denied a report that a cargo ship hijacked by pirates earlier this summer was carrying anti-aircraft missiles to Iran. [ynet]

Sundown: Madonna, a Rabbi, and Jesus Walk into a Tomb

Exodus to cable, kosher ovens, and a bar becomes a mitzvah

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• To cap off her visit to Israel, Madonna visited the tomb of revered kabbalist Rabbi Isaac Luria, which was worthwhile if only for this sentence: “Madonna was accompanied in her visit by Rabbi Michael Berg, her own rabbi’s brother, as well as her partner Jesus.” (Also, check out these lively comments.) [Haaretz]
• GE has added a new feature to some of its ovens, sure to please the halachically-inclined: “Sabbath mode” allows the observant to have hot food on their day of rest without turning anything on or off. [Oregonian]
• In an article filled with the type of shticky humor that once characterized Jewish TV, the Baltimore Jewish Times investigates the fact that “today’s Jewish characters have fled from the networks and found a homeland on cable.” [BJT]
• Plans have been approved to transform a London pub into an ultra-Orthodox synagogue; supporters say the change will promote “safety and well-being,” while detractors submit that the 250-year-old bar was hardly “a backstreet boozer.” [Jewish Chronicle]
• A fascinating tale of a woman whose mother was Jewish, father was a Nazi, and baby carriage was a gift from Hitler’s mistress Eva Braun. [BBC]

Nuclear War of Words

Is the U.S. fibbing in its claims against Iran?

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In advance of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s forthcoming report on Iran’s nuclear program, Iranian ambassador to the IAEA, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, has drafted an 8-page letter to the agency’s outgoing head, Mohammed ElBaradei. In it, Soltanieh accuses the United States of relying on “fabricated, baseless and false” evidence to support its claim that Iran, in flagrant violation of international law, is still pursuing a nuclear weapons program while employing deceit and subterfuge to convince the rest of the world that it’s not. The Jerusalem Post quotes from the missive: “By interfering in the work of the IAEA and exerting various political pressures, the government of the United States attempted to spoil the cooperative spirit between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the IAEA.”

The agency has wanted the U.S. and other Western government to disclose more of their intelligence suggesting Iran has belligerent intentions (specifically, against Israel)—the mullahs, along with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have long insisted they want nuclear energy for civilian purposes only. Nevertheless, the forthcoming report is said to call for tougher penalties on Iran, which has failed to answer the IAEA’s outstanding questions.

Iran: US ‘forged’ documents to prove we are building bomb [J-Post]

New Solondz Film Tackles Pedophilia, Bar Mitzvahs

Reviews in from Venice Film Festival premiere

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Early reviews are in for Todd Solondz’s new film Life During Wartime, a semi-sequel to 1998’s Happiness and, it appears, the director’s most explicitly Jewish work yet. The dysfunctional Jordan family is still grappling with incest, pedophilia, and suicide, and now a bar mitzvah, too. “There’s a strong Jewish subtext in the film, with the Jordan sisters’ Judaism, latent in Happiness, now exploited for both comic and dramatic effect—the latter most obviously by exploring rabbinical concepts of repentance and forgiveness as Trish’s youngest son approaches his Bar Mitzvah,” writes Screen Daily.

Variety, which claims Solondz “may have made his best film” yet, praises the bar mitzvah boy, Timmy (played by Dylan Riley Snyder), as “the most compelling character this time around”; like Dawn Weiner, the relentlessly bullied middle school heroine of Solondz’s Welcome to the Dollhouse, he’s tormented at school after discovering that his pedophile father, whom he’d thought dead, is alive and has been released from prison. Timmy’s mom Trish, meanwhile, has taken up with an older man “after discovering that he, too, loves Israel,” says the Hollywood Reporter, in a review that heralds Solondz as “the true heir to Woody Allen.” The film premiered yesterday at the Venice Film Festival, where Solondz apparently couldn’t resist making a public comment about the “wonderful fascist building” his press conference was held in.

Life During Wartime [Screen Daily]
Life During Wartime [Variety]
Life During Wartime—Film Review [Hollywood Reporter]
Previously: Today I Am an Actor

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