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S&P Affirms Israel’s A+ Credit Rating

(JNS.org) The international financial services and credit ratings agency Standard & Poor’s on Friday affirmed Israel’s international credit rating as positive, giving it an A+ score. The agency’s economic forecast for the Jewish state defined the country’s economy as “stable” and projected it would grow by 3 percent between 2015 and 2018.

But the Israeli economy is not without its challenges, S&P said, naming a high debt ceiling as well as geopolitical factors and regional threats that may destabilize the Middle East, deter foreign investors, and curb growth potential.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, “Reaffirming Israel’s credit rating reflects the global community’s faith in Israel’s responsible and balanced fiscal policies over the years.”

Iran Outraged by Warming Ties Between Hamas and Saudi Arabia

(JNS.org) Iran canceled a planned visit to Tehran by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal due to the Palestinian terrorist organization’s new ties with Saudi Arabia, according to Arab media reports.

An Iranian official reportedly met with a Hamas delegation in an unnamed Arab country just days before Mashaal was due to make a visit to Tehran that would have included a meeting with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Iranian official informed the Hamas leaders of the unprecedented cancellation, but did not offer specific reasons for the move.

Reports said the official then spoke about Hamas’s improving relations with Saudi Arabia, noting that Tehran is not supportive of the budding friendship. The official added that in light of Iran’s uncompromising support of the Palestinians—in the economic, military and political spheres—the recent meetings between Mashaal and Saudi officials in Riyadh were viewed by Iran as a personal affront.

In interviews over the past few days, senior Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk has said that Hamas’s relationship with Iran is now virtually nonexistent.

Former Argentine President on Trial for Bombing Cover-up

(ynetnews.com) More than 21 years after a bomb ripped through a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires, ex-President Carlos Menem, a former top judge and several other officials went on trial Thursday for allegedly derailing the investigation into the South American nation’s worst terrorist attack.

Prosecutors have accused Iranian officials of being behind the 1994 bombing of the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, which caused the organization’s main building to collapse, killing 85 and leaving hundreds more injured amid the rubble. But no one has been convicted in the attack, which many Argentines believe has come to symbolize an inept and corrupt justice system that operates at the whims of politicians and can be bought off.

“After 21 years of no justice, deception and defrauding the families (of victims), we hope that the truth will emerge about everyone who plotted to cover up and derail the investigation,” said Olga Degtiar, whose son was killed in the blast.

The men on trial include two former prosecutors, a former top intelligence official, former police officers, a Jewish community leader and a mechanic who owned the truck carrying the explosives. The charges carry between three and 15 years.

Historic Torah Scroll Is Returning to the Western Wall

(ynetnews.com) It’s a picture which became one of the symbols of the Six Day War: Chief IDF Rabbi Shlomo Goren arriving at the Western Wall in Jerusalem with a Torah scroll and blowing a shofar. This week, 48 years later, the same scroll will leave the IDF chief of staff’s office for a historical reenactment in the Western Wall plaza. It will be the first reenactment of the Torah scroll’s arrival at the holy site, as part of an emotional ceremony which will include the arrival of 65 additional Torah scrolls from around the world in memory of the soldiers killed in Operation Protective Edge and in Israel’s wars. Rabbi Goren’s Torah scroll will be carried by three paratroopers, Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who will reenact the famous picture of Rabbi Goren.

The scroll was donated to the IDF at the time by the family of fallen soldier Baruch Shapira, who was killed in the War of Independence. When Goren retired from his position as chief IDF rabbi, he took the scroll with him. Several months ago, after a years-long battle, it was was returned to the IDF. Three months ago, it was placed at the entrance to the chief of staff’s bureau. The Torah scroll’s arrival at the Western Wall plaza will be reenacted on Wednesday in the presence of President Reuven Rivlin, Defense Minister Ya’alon, Chief of Staff Eisenkot, Israel’s chief rabbis, the Western Wall rabbi, bereaved families and the Shapira family. The event is being sponsored by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF) organization in the United States and Panama.

Canadian Israelis Launch Crowdfunding Campaign to Re-elect PM Harper

(JNS.org) A group of Canadians living in Israel has launched a crowdfunding campaign to help Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper win re-election this October.

“As Canadians, we believe Harper is good for Canada, he is good for the Jewish community, he is good for Israel and he is good for the world. We want to help him stay in office,” said the campaign’s leader, strategic consultant Dan Illouz.

The crowdfunding campaign (http://jewcer.com/harperisrael) hopes to raise $20,000. The group plans to use the funds to send 10 people to Canada just prior to the election to get out the vote for Harper in Canadian Jewish communities.

Under Harper’s leadership, Canada has been an outspoken supporter of Israel in international bodies such as the United Nations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in June that Israelis believe the Jewish state has “no better friend than Canada.”

Hillel CEO to Address J Street Campus Arm’s Summer Conference

(JNS.org) Hillel International CEO Eric Fingerhut will address the Summer Leadership Institute of J Street U, the campus arm of the controversial left-wing Jewish lobby, on Aug. 17 in Washington, DC.

Fingerhut “will speak to 120 national J Street U student leaders in attendance and discuss issues of mutual concern and importance to both organizations and the pro-Israel community on campus,” J Street U announced Thursday.

While J Street publicly claims to be opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, the organization has come under fire for co-sponsoring campus events with pro-BDS groups.

Hillel International spokesman Matthew Berger said Thursday, “All Hillel professionals value opportunities to speak to as many Jewish students as possible. Eric appreciates the invitation from J Street U and looks forward to meeting the students and engaging with them.”

Last March, Fingerhut dropped out of J Street’s national conference, prompting 500 students attending the conference to protest outside Hillel’s office.

In a recent op-ed for JNS.org, Charles Jacobs and Elliot Hamilton of Americans for Peace and Tolerance argued that J Street’s intense support of the Iran nuclear deal means that it is time to “evict” the group from the Jewish communal tent.

“Pro-Iran J Street—which is spending millions of dollars to promote a deal that threatens Jewish life, receiving significant sums of cash from anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sources to promote pro-Iran causes, and dangerously undermining the collective Jewish unity needed to block the deadly Iranian threat—should be drummed out of organized Jewish life,” they wrote.

Jewish Activist Sues PA, Jordan Over Temple Mount Restrictions

(JNS.org) Jewish activist Baruch Ben Yosef has filed a $262 million lawsuit in a Jerusalem court against the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan, claiming their restrictions on Jewish access to the Temple Mount violate Israeli law.

The lawsuit—citing an Israeli law prohibiting the limitation of entry to public spaces based on race, religion, nationality, sex, or political affiliation—alleges that the PA is responsible for “continuously inciting violence on the Temple Mount to eliminate or decrease Jewish visitors to the mountain,” the Times of Israel reported.

Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that Jordan’s claims of sovereignty over the Temple Mount are invalid due to Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War. During that war, Israel took control of the eastern half of Jerusalem from Jordan, but allowed the Temple Mount to be administered by the Jordanian-run Islamic Waqf.

Pharrell Williams Concerts in South Africa Face Disruption from BDS Activists

(JNS.org) Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement activists plan to disrupt concerts by American singer and producer Pharrell Williams in South Africa next month due to Williams’ promotional deal with the Woolworths retailer, which trades with Israel.

Williams is currently involved with Woolworths on its “Are You With Us?” campaign as its style director on several sustainability projects involving fashion.

“He is about to face the biggest backlash any artist has faced in South Africa in over 30 years, since the days of apartheid,” said Braam Hanekom, a BDS South Africa board member, Reuters reported.

Hanekom said protesters could block roads on concert nights and rally inside concert venues.

Representatives of Grand West Casino, the venue for Williams’s Cape Town concert, said they will not allow any protests on their property. Another concert will be held in Johannesburg. Williams himself has not yet addressed the BDS issue.

Israeli Archaeologists Uncover Second Temple-Era Mikvah with Puzzling Drawings

(JNS.org) Israeli archaeologists uncovered a Second Temple-era mikvah (ritual bath) in Jerusalem with puzzling drawings and inscriptions during the construction for two nursery schools.

According to the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), the walls of the mikvah were covered in ancient plaster and adorned with numerous wall paintings and inscriptions, written in both Aramaic and cursive Hebrew script. Among the paintings were a boat, palm trees, various plant species and possibly a menorah.

“Such a concentration of inscriptions and symbols from the Second Temple period at one archaeological site, and in such a state of preservation, is rare and unique and most intriguing,” said Royee Greenwald and Alexander Wiegmann, who directed the excavation for the IAA.

The archaeologists said they were puzzled by the paintings and inscriptions, unsure why they were painted inside of a ritual bath and who was responsible for them. They speculated the drawings could have been graffiti conveying a deep religious or spiritual message, or even a cry for help as a result of a traumatic event like the Second Temple’s destruction.

Israeli Man Wounded in Palestinian Stabbing Attack on Highway to Jerusalem

(JNS.org) An Israeli man was moderately wounded on Sunday evening when he was stabbed by a Palestinian terrorist at a gas station on a main highway near Jerusalem.

The assailant was shot and killed by IDF troops as he tried to flee the scene of the attack. The incident took place at a Dor Alon gas station west of Beit Horon on Route 443, one of the two main highways linking Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The Palestinian arrived at the gas station and began looking for an Israeli to target. He set his sights on a 26-year-old Israeli man who was fueling his vehicle, and stabbed him in the shoulder while shouting, “Allahu akbar!” (“God is greater!”)

Several other Israelis at the gas station tried to confront the terrorist, but he was able to get away from them and run toward the highway. Israeli soldiers rushed to the scene and shot the terrorist dead alongside the highway, some 165 feet from the gas station. The wounded Israeli man was transported to Shaare Tzedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Sunday’s incident was the latest in a string of Palestinian terrorist attacks in recent weeks. On Aug. 3, three Israelis were wounded when a firebomb was thrown at an Israeli vehicle near the Arab neighborhood of Beit Hanina in northern Jerusalem. Last Thursday, three Israeli soldiers were wounded when a Palestinian motorist intentionally rammed them with his vehicle at a junction on Route 60 near Shiloh in Samaria.

City’s First Jewish Center Dedicated in the Heart of Siberia

(chabad.org) The Siberian city of Abakan—a major center in what once was a fear-inspiring region where hundreds of thousands of Jews were exiled by Tsarist and Communist regimes, and many risked and lost their lives by observing Judaism in secret—saw the opening of a new chapter in its Jewish history last week with the inauguration of the city’s first Jewish center. With members of the small Jewish community, as well as government and rabbinic dignitaries in attendance, Chief Rabbi of Russia Berel Lazar affixed the main mezuzah to the new complex, which includes a synagogue, community center and study halls.

Chabad Rabbi Graduates U.S. Air Force Officer Training Course

(chabad.org) Rabbi Elie Estrin, co-director of the Rohr Chabad Jewish Student Center at the University of Washington in Seattle with his wife, Chaya, has just become the first bearded chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. Last week, Estrin completed five weeks of Officer Training School at the Maxwell Air Force base in Montgomery, Ala., during which he observed the Jewish holiday of Tisha B’Av, where he spent 25 hours fasting and praying. He received standard kosher MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) there, though specially ordered food was brought by Rabbi Yossi Posner, director of Chabad of Alabama in Birmingham, for a mandatory formal dinner.

Estrin comes to the Air Force with the rank of captain, considering his 11 years of service directing Chabad on campus in Washington. He has said that the road to the armed services was “a logical extension of his existing service to the Jewish community.” His promotion follows a 2014 directive of the Department of Defense that eased rules on beards and other displays of religious beliefs for military personnel in all branches of the armed forces. Chabad.org reported on Estrin last September when he officially became a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, though he could not perform duties until the course was completed.

New Ruling By Ma’ale Adumim Rabbi Forbids Correcting Torah Reader’s Mistakes in Synagogue

It is of utmost importance for people in the synagogue to hear every word of the Torah reading. Therefore, it has become customary for those in the synagogue to correct the reader if a word is mispronounced or accidently omitted. However, Rabbi Jonathan Raziel from Ma’ale Adumim, Israel, has published a new controversial view in his halachic journal, Techumin, published by the Modern Orthodox Tzomet Institute. According to Raziel, the prohibition against shaming people, a Torah-derived commandment, overrides the importance of hearing the Torah read, a rabbinic commandment.

Raziel’s logic is that “most authorities believe that the reading of the Torah, even on a Saturday morning, is a rabbinic commandment, and even those who believe it is a Torah-level commandment, concede that it refers to the minimal reading obligation and not the entire weekly portion. Also, all the authorities believe that the mitzvah of Torah reading on weekday mornings and Shabbat afternoon is rabbinic.” Raziel explained how teenagers who do not read well may be embarrassed from the corrections. “Extra care must be taken when the reader is a young person, who is more vulnerable than an adult, because of the possible consequences of a perceived insult,” said Raziel.

Raziel did admit that, according to Maimonides, “the worshipers might not fulfill the commandment of hearing the Torah.”

New Conversion Network Created for Jews from the Former Soviet Union

(Jpost.com) Israel—In a direct challenge to the authority of the Chief Rabbinate, a group of senior national-religious rabbis announced the formation of a new network of conversion courts that will work independently from the formal state conversion system.

The new courts are designed to increase the conversion rate among Israeli citizens who immigrated from the former Soviet Union (FSU) but who are not considered Jewish according to Jewish law. That group numbers approximately 330,000 people.

Rabbi Nahum Rabinovitch, dean of the Ma’ale Adumim Hesder Yeshiva, is to head the new conversion system. Several other senior rabbis from the national-religious sector are to serve as rabbinical judges on the court. In total, several dozen rabbis from across the country have agreed to participate.

The new network of conversion courts, to be called Giur K’Halacha (“Conversion according to Jewish law”), is a collaborative effort between several institutions that have advocated for conversion reform with the backing of the Jewish Agency, such as the Triguboff Institute, ITIM, and others.

The Chief Rabbinate, including its current heads Yitzhak Yosef (Sephardic Chief Rabbi) and David Lau (Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi), have bitterly opposed a law intended to broaden access to the state conversion system that was approved by the last government, and which was strongly backed by Stav, Riskin and others.

The rabbis of the Giur K’Halacha courts called on Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, who is responsible for conversions within the Chief Rabbinate, to back the new system, although there is little chance of this happening.

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