January 14, 2008


(JTA) Israel and the Palestinian Authority began negotiating over "core" peace obstacles.

Negotiators for both sides met Monday for the first round of talks tackling so-called "core issues" such as Jerusalem, borders and refugees that have stymied past peace efforts.

The new diplomatic drive was launched last week ahead of President Bush's visit to the region, during which he outlined his hope of clinching an Israeli-Palestinian accord within a year.

According to media reports, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas already are close to an informal agreement, but both leaders face serious domestic challenges.

Olmert's coalition government includes right-wing parties that have threatened to block any attempt to cede areas of Jerusalem to a future Palestine. One party, Yisrael Beiteinu, said Sunday it would bolt the coalition should there be progress in the discussions of the "core issues."

Abbas, whose authority has been reduced to the West Bank since Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in June, would have a hard time winning popular support for an accord that requires Palestinian refugees be resettled in the future Palestine rather than return to land in Israel.


(JTA) A Chabad rabbi's threat against Ehud Olmert is deepening the rift between messianist and non-messianst Lubavitchers.

According to the Forward, Chabad's Israeli leadership appears ready to publicly distance itself from a messianic element within the movement, an about-face from the many years of efforts to downplay divisions in the fervently Orthodox movement, as required by a Brooklyn-based rabbinical court.

Rabbi Dov Wolpe, a popular leader of the messianic wing of Chabad, which believes that the late Lubavitcher rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson is the messiah, said Jan. 2 that if Israel were properly run, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would be “hanged from the gallows” along with Israeli Vice Premier Haim Ramon, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Defense Minister Ehud Barak. His remarks were broadcast on Israeli television news.

"This is not Lubavitch," Moni Ender, a Chabad spokesman in Israel, told the Forward. "Rabbi Wolpe is talking by himself. We have nothing to do with him. He makes dirt for Chabad.”

Some U.S. Chabad leaders also had strong words for Wolpe. His statements did not appear in mainstream Chabad communications.

Incitement to violence by rabbis has become the ultimate taboo in Israel, since such rabbinical injunctions were blamed for Yitzhak Rabin’s 1995 assassination.

Chabad is the only major Chasidic group whose members serve in the Israeli army; its rabbis are also regarded as informal chaplains. It is the threat to this activity that could force Chabad to declare the messianists separate from the movement, Ender told the Forward.


(JTA) The use of a yellow Star of David to protest Germany's new smoking ban has the country's Jewish leaders upset.

A company based in northwest Germany sold T-shirts featuring the word "smoker" in a yellow star.

Using the symbol is "brainless, brazen and tasteless," Dieter Graumann, vice president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, told the DPA press agency.

The Web site selling the shirt was promptly shut down. The seller, Dennis Kramer, said the announcement on his site that 1,000 shirts had been sold already was "just an advertising ploy" and that no shirts had actually been sold.

Kramer told the DPA that he "wanted to show that smokers are being discriminated against in bars." He said he never thought it would arouse the ire of the Central Council of Jews.

Nazis forced Jews in Germany and occupied countries to wear a yellow star in public as part of a systematic policy of humilation and extermination.

The smoking ban went into effect on Jan. 1 in restaurants and bars in most German states.

The local state prosecutor's office reportedly is looking into whether there is cause for charges to be filed against Kramer.


(JTA) A Berlin day school is planning a major expansion.

Rabbi Yehudah Teichtal, who directs the city's Chabad, told JTA Thursday that the Talmud Torah Or Avner will add on an elementary school building and a sports facility.

Its kindergarten opened with eight students in 2004. Now 100 students from kindergarten to fifth grade attend the school, which is housed in a former Gestapo building.

"Our goal is not to have them full right away, but to reach every single Jew," he said, adding that buidings are the "hardware," and "we will fill them with the software -- we will fill them with life."

Berlin officials have approved the architectural design, but because the city owns the property, a lifetime lease must be signed before construction begins, Teichtal said. No construction date has been set.

Funding will come from private donations, Teichtal said, like Chabad's Szloma Albam House-Rohr Centre, a synagogue and educational complex that was dedicated several months ago.

An estimated 120,000 Jews -- about 12,000 in Berlin -- are registered members of the German-Jewish community. More than two-thirds of German Jews came to the country in the last 18 years from the former Soviet Union. Jewish leaders suggest that another 100,000 Russian-speaking Jews remain unaffiliated.

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