Category Archives: History

RUN IN AT THE WALL Part 3

BLOG 361 August 14, 2017

            Hey! Before we go any further … got a special word for you. After today I’ll be in Alaska up there close to the Arctic Circle and hiking through Denali National Park. Sorry, there will not be a blog next week. I’ll finish the summer in one of the most beautiful and restful places in the world.

Now on to today!

My last two blogs on the Western Wall in Jerusalem turned out to be somewhat prophetic. Now, we have a different and dangerous new chapter. For the second time in under a month, terrorist carried out a deadly attack in Jerusalem’s Old City. The Arab assailants were shot in the Temple Mount complex.

In the exchange of gunfire, two Arabs killed two Israeli policemen.  The police report states that the attackers came from the Temple Mount and shot the Israeli’s next to the Lion Gate before returning to the Temple Mount where they were killed by the police. The terrorists used knives, a submachine gun as well as hand guns.

The two police officers killed were Kamil Shinaan and Haiel Stawi who are now remembered as patriots. Prime Minister Netanyahu and other government officials publically mourned the killing of these two men.  They are being remembered in numerous expressions of the media.

Muslims call such attacks part of a holy war that grants the martyrs a free pass to heaven with all the benefits. For them, getting killed is a worthwhile objective. A deadly mindset indeed!

In response, Prime Minister Netanyahu convened a security briefing and a re-evaluation of security. The government will consider harsher measures in protecting the entry gates into the Old City. The incident is far from over. Since October 2015, an undeclared war has gone on between Arabs and Israelis that also hit some tourists during the wave of violence. At least 280 Palestinians have been killed. The Israel Defense Force has seized approximately 150 firearms and raided 20 workshops.  More than 500 illegal weapons were seized.

A couple of years ago, I was in Jerusalem during one of these outbreaks at the Temple Mount. Young men ran out of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and assaulted non-Muslim tourists and then ran back inside. As I was walking through the Jewish sector, I came upon a squad of around 50 young women fully dressed in uniforms and carrying rifles. They were hiding in an archeological site.  I stopped and asked their leader what they were doing.

“If these thugs come out again,” she said. “We’re here to stop them.”

“Your troops are ready to shoot? To Kill?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” the leader said.

I walked away knowing that the Israeli response to these attacks would be more than adequate. A squad of young women could stop the terrorists.

See you on August 21!

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Filed under Christians, History, Israel, middle east

A SECOND LOOK AT THE PAST

BLOG 357 July 17, 2017

            Taking a breather from the turmoil of politics and war in the Middle East, a little side trip through the archaeological discoveries of recent days can prove interesting. Interest in archaeology was piqued many years ago with the discovery of the Qumran Dead Sea Scroll. Decades ago, I met Khalil Eskander Shahin, called Kando, the middle man, in the sale of this find at a shop he ran in what is today East Jerusalem. One of the clay jars was on display in his souvenir shop. I vividly remember standing in awe, staring at this clay vessel that went back beyond 2,000 years, and housing the priceless finds once hidden inside this container.

Archaeological finds put us in touch with the past like little else. They bring the stories of history books to life. We wonder what famous person from the past must have touched the same object we are looking at.

Here’s several recent finds you will find significant.

Reaching w-a-a-y back in time, Israeli researchers have just discovered that the land was inhabited by Neanderthals over 60,000 years ago. Contrary to previous opinion, they did not live in caves and weren’t really cavemen at all. Not that some did not live in caves, but the conclusion is now considered an overstatement because they lived in the open fields around what is today the Ein-Qashsish area on the bands of the Kishon River in northern Israel. The remains of a Neanderthal from between 15 to 22 years of age revealed he suffered an injury that caused limping.

On another trail, researchers at Tel Aviv University discovered a ground-breaking discovery  on the back of a pottery shard that dates back to 600 BCE, the eve of the Kingdom of Judah’s destruction by Nebuchadnezzar. The inscription begins with a blessing by Yahweh and then discusses money transfers. The original vessel came from a military outpost and fortress at the Southern border of the ancient Kingdom of Judah probably populated by 20 to 30 soldiers. The use of contemporary multi-spectral imaging techniques has opened to new fields of discovery. More insights will be forthcoming.

From a different front, on the eve of the jubilee commemoration of the Six Day War, (see Blog 356), the Israel Antiquities Authority unveiled relics from the battle for Jerusalem on the eve of the Second Temple destruction 2,000 years ago. Stone ballista balls and well-preserved arrowheads had been uncovered. These finds came from the last battle between the Romans and the Jewish rebels. The final showdown was recorded by historian Flavius Josephus. These artifacts and additional discoveries came from what was once a main street in the Second Temple period and will provide new information and insights on how the Old City was structured.

Another discovery in a cave on the cliff west of Qumran has revealed additional pottery shards, fragments of rope, and olive and date pits, but no more biblical scrolls were found. However, an ancient scroll was uncovered, but it had nothing on it and the parchment was completely blank. The empty scroll currently remains a mystery and puzzle to be solved. Surely, more will be discovered.

Stay tuned. More to come.

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July 17, 2017 · 9:37 am

NEW DISCOVERIES IN ISRAEL

BLOG 349 May 8, 2017

Taking a break from the constant news of war and political chaos in the Middle East, a new find occurred while engineers for the Beit Shemesh Water Corporation were completing a new water line for Jerusalem. You’ll find this interesting.

The company hit the jackpot!

One of the enduring contributions of the Roman Era was the construction of highways crisis-crossing the empire. Before the Romans became the dominant military force in the then known world, most countries were covered only by trails that were improvised at best. Moreover, these winding roads were often beset by raiders and thieves. So, when Joseph took Mary to Bethlehem, the trip was no easy matter.

Upgrading trails into highways allowed the Roman Armies to maintain control of the many countries and areas they dominated. Their forces could move quickly and efficiently. Consequently, they maintained a system of travel that allowed the army to strike quickly. Moreover, the roads also allowed for transportation of the main stables of the citizens, such as wine, oil, and grains. This highway system united people in a new and effective manner.

Such was the case with the “Emperors Road” which connected Beit Gurvin (then Eleutheropolis) and Jerusalem. [We’re coming to the new water line construction]. The Emperor Hadrian (Around 130 CE) had misled the Jews which created the Bar Kochba revolt that killed many Jews and large numbers of Roman soldiers. The Emperors Road highway was completed during this struggle. Today that route is Highway 375.

During work on the new waterline, ancient pavement stones were uncovered. In the cracks between these slabs were uncovered ancient coins as well as a milestone bearing the name of Hadrian. One of the coins was from the period when Pontius Pilate was perfect of Judea. Another coin was minted around 41 CE when Agrippa I was king. These coins bear witness to the facts of history and one of the most contentious times in what today we call ancient history.

Hard to believe those coins are 2,000 years old!

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Filed under Bible Lands, History, Israel, middle east

UPDATING ARMENIAN GENOCIDE

BLOG 348 May 1, 2017

            Some years ago, I was researching my genealogical background and spent time in the Armenian Sector of the old city of Jerusalem where I became acquainted with a number of friends. April 24, (this past week) commemorated the day the Turks started rounding-up Armenian high ranking citizens living in Istanbul. The horror story grows from there.

This experience from the past is now on the big screen. THE PROMISE tells the story of the Ottoman Turks attempt to wipe out the Armenians, living in the easternmost part of present day Turkey. The movie is powerful, factual, and will touch your heart. The account is based on a true story.

I recommend the film because so few contemporaries understand what happened to 1.5 million Armenians who were systematically murdered by the collapsing Ottoman Turkish Empire as World War I began. The Turks claim they feared the Armenians would join the Russians and were traitors to Turkey. Though not true, the idea is still promoted in the Turkish school system. The Turkish government has denied their official role in murdering the Armenians and to this day refuse to admit what they did. Even two years ago, when Pope Frances called the killings genocide, the Turkish government screamed and said there was no such proof.

There is.

A Turkish historian at Clark University, Taner Akcam has recently found “the smoking gun.” Taner’s academic interest has been in genocide and how it was used in World War I. By rummaging through boxes of documents stored in the Armenian Library in Jerusalem, he found a 1915 telegram from an official in the Turkish city of Erzurum sent in a secret code asking for details on the killings of Armenians. The deciphered telegram helped convict an official. Akcam believes what he has found the path that will allow many other documents to be uncovered, further verifying the past. As Turkey prepared to size their country, in 1922, Armenian leadership shipped 24 boxes of court records to England to keep them from being confiscated. In turn, those documents were sent to the Armenian Library in Jerusalem where Akcam did research. History professor at the City College of New York and an expert on the Armenian genocide, Eric Weitz called Taner Akcam the “Sherlock Holmes of Armenian genocide.”

Many countries such as France, Germany, and Greece have acknowledged what Turkey did. Of course, the Turks scream each time their role in the killings is proclaimed. The United States has not officially recognized Turkey’s brutal acts. President Obama used the term genocide when he was a candidate, but not while in office. Dozens of congressional leaders signed a letter asking President Trump to publically recognize the systematic murders. They doubt if he will do so.

Akcam recognizes that the past is never pasted in the Middle East. Reports of diplomats, missionaries, and journalist who witnessed these events have long existed, but are ignored by Turkish officials. Will the government officials now change their minds? Akcam doesn’t expect that to happen, but he believes that human rights can only be established by acknowledging the path.

Let’s hope that just re-elected Turkish leader Erdogan will wake up. If not, the rest of the world is certainly coming out of the shadows and remembering the past for what it was.

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Filed under History, middle east, Muslims, Turkey

ANCIENT TREASURES IN A SPACE-AGE WAR

BLOG 289 February 8, 2016

Not a new story – but still troubling! ISIS continues to commit cultural genocide. Destruction of the heritage of the past in such places as Syria’s Aleppo and Mosul has destroyed mosques, minarets and Christian monasteries (See Blog 287). The world understands the importance of historic memory. ISIS doesn’t.

Currently, another treasure has surfaced from the history of the Syrian Christians. First excavated in l932, scholars found a picture of a third-century baptistery that may be the first depiction ever discovered of the Virgin Mary, the mother of Jesus. The discovery occurred in Deir ez-Zor that is now the ruins of Dura-Europos that was once the eastern frontier of the Roman Empire. The house had once been buried to provide a fortress against invaders in 250 CE. The coverage provided important and rich treasures for our time and the future.

The early house-church was buried in the middle of the third century in eastern Syria where images of Jesus, Peter, and David were also discovered. Surrounding the baptistery was a well-preserved procession of women. To one side is a faded but still discernable picture of a woman leaning over a well and drawing water. The woman is looking over her shoulder and seems to be surprised by something happening behind her. What?

These pictures now hang in the Yale University Art Gallery. Officials first thought the painting to be a scene of Jesus encountering the Samaria women at the well that is described in John’s Gospel (Jn. 4) However, in this biblical story the Samaritan woman was conversing with Jesus. This is not the case in this picture. The picture is far more like the setting of the Annunciation when the angel visited the Virgin Mary saying, “Hail, you are highly favored, the Lord is with you, blessed are you among women.” Eastern Orthodoxy always placed great importance on the story of Mary at the well and so it would have been a natural for an inclusion in a baptistery scene.

Archival photographs suggest more secrets may be revealed in the picture. Previously hidden lines now seem to say that this scene depicts the moment when the incarnation began. If so, then this depiction is one if the most important treasures from the past. Such an image is even more important than a museum piece. The heritage of an ancient people and their religion tells us much after yesterday.

The current Syrian Civil War puts such a heritage in danger. Secretary of State John Kerry once noted that ISIS not only beheads individuals but is shredding the heritage of a whole civilization. Some of the worst damage beyond Aleppo has been at Mosul. An 8,000 year history is tied to Mosul that connects Jews, Christians, and Muslims and is where the city of biblical Nineveh once stood.

Important history indeed!

 

 

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A HARD LOOK INSIDE ISRAELI POLITICS

BLOG 251 May 4, 2015

The common assumption in the West is that whatever the Prime Minister of Israel says reflects the opinion of the rest of the government. Because Israel is a democratic entity, the generals seldom disagree with the Prime Minister in public. If Netanyahu is opposed to negotiations with IRAN (NOT Israel as previously posted) , so are the generals.

This is not so.

The current disagreement over negotiations with Iran is a case in point.

The recent heated exchange in the media between Netanyahu’s speech to Congress confronting Obama’s position went off like a July 4th fireworks display but  soon subsided. The last ten days have seen little  in the media as it appears everyone has stepped back and carefully (hopefully) are assessing the actual terms of the agreement. This interim is an opportunity to notice an impasortant dynamic operating in the Israeli government.

The military and the Prime Minister are not on the same page.

In the last two years of his term, Obama will probably face growing hostility and opposition from many quarters. The politicians will provide an ample number of Obama haters and the Israeli-lovers will jump on the band wagon. There are ample reasons to be critical of many of Obama’s decision but the issue with Israel is far more complex that it is currently being portrayed.

For example, a group of American senators recently planned to meet with Mossad chief Tamir Pardo. Netanyahu knew Pardo supported the nuclear talks and canceled the meeting. When foreign affairs committee chair Bob Corker, threatened to return to the USA, Netanyahu rescinded and the meeting was held.  What the committee discovered was that Pardo didn’t agree with the Prime Minister and contented that imposing new sanctions would hurt the negotiations. As significant a leader as the head of Israel’s version of the CIA was opposed to Netanyahu’s viewpoint.

Key leaders like the ex-military intelligence chief Yalin, ex-IDF chief of staff Shaul Mofaz, and ex-Mossad chief Efraim Halvey urged Netanyahu to back off and to work with Obama. They insisted he stop trying to scuttle the still unfinished nuclear deal. They believed Israel could not get a better deal than what was currently on the table.

And what followed? In a rare spirit of compromise, on April 14, Corker’s committee took a position that allowed Obama’s negotiations to go forward. The effect was that it split the Netanyahu-Congress alliance and sided with the Obama-Mossad position. The logic was simple. If negotiations failed, Iran would immediately go after a bomb. A US strike would only slow them down by maybe 3 years at best. The Lausanne agreement buys a decade and possibly two to stop Iran’s nuclear pursuits. A much better deal!

The point is that Netanyahu’s end around run at Congress failed at home in Israel. It helped re-elect him but revealed that his own military disagreed with his actions.

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HOLOCAUST REMEMBERANCE

BLOG 237 January 27, 2015

Across the world, Jews and Gentiles paused on Tuesday to observe International Holocaust Remembrance Day and the 70th year date of the liberation of Auschwitz. I have been to both Dachau Concentration Camp and Auschwitz. I know well what these death camps were like.

My visit to Auschwitz came in January. When I stood out on the assembly ground in the freezing weather, I wondered how anyone could have survived these conditions. The Jews who stood there for hours and went to the gas chambers had committed no crime. They had done nothing wrong – they were just Jews.

My books The Pastors Barracks and the Bitter Road to Dachau chronicles the story of Christian Reiger, a Reformed Christian German Pastor, who was sentenced to Dachau for nothing more than speaking out against The Third Reich and the Nazis. From my time spent listening to Christian, I leaned a first hand story of his five year struggle to survive. More than one third of all Polish Roman Catholic priests died in Dachau. By the time he was released, Christian had lost 100 pounds.

Another story comes from Israel. Marta Wise was a 10-year-old Slovakian Jew in Auschwitz when she heard the sound of soldiers marching toward the death camp. Marta assumed they were Germans, but soon saw the red stars on their uniforms that said they were Russians. Only by their intervention was she saved. Marta has a black and white photo taken by the Russians showing her standing with a group of children in their rags behind a barbed wire fence. By the time the picture was taken Marta weighted only 37 pounds.

Marta and her sister Eva survived but they still cannot understand how they did so. Today at age 80, she lives in Jerusalem. The number A-2702 remains tattooed on her arm.

Survivors Max and Rose Schindler, 85-years-old, took an hour and a half bus trip from Krakow to Auschwitz. They said Kaddish and prayed for their murdered loved one who died in the camp. While praying, some survivor cried out, “I don’t want to come here anymore!”

Rose had come for one final visit to remember her parents and four siblings who died there. She remembered that among those who died were gypsies, homosexuals, and others who were caught under the heel of the Nazi boot. Rose reflected that the only ones who could tell the entire story of Auschwitz were silenced by the crematoria. So, she must do her best to relate the story that only a survivor can.

I will never forget walking through the grass in a field behind the crematorium. I looked down and thought the ground seemed strange. When I kicked the grass aside, I realized I was standing on white ash.

Let us remember so that the world will never forget that it may never happen again.

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Filed under History, Israel, Judism, middle east, War

ANTI-SEMITISM: ALIVE AND WELL

            One of the most poignant books of recent years was Tatiana De Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key. The movie version cut like a scalpel, revealing the events of July 16, 1942 when the French police herded every Jew they could find into Velodrome d’Hiver and later shipped them off to death camps. Sarah’s Key is the story of one who escaped and how her life unfolded decades later. The story is a gripping depictions of anti-Semitism.          Seventy years later prejudice has not subsided.

Noted scholar Alvin H. Rosenfeld recently spoke at the University of Oklahoma about the continuing struggle. Rosenfeld is professor of Jewish Studies at Indiana University as well as the author numerous books and articles. He detailed:

«  The FBI thwarting several Muslim converts attempt to bomb two Jewish synagogues in New York,

«  An 88-year old white supremacist and Holocaust denier killing a security guard at

the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., in 2000,

«  Jewish hatred being globalized across the world through the Internet by  the pressing of a computer key.

Rosenfeld’s list goes one and on. Today we face escalating European anti-Semitic hate crimes, terrorism, and attempts to criminalize Jewish religious rites that have been practiced for thousands of years. In Cologne, Germany a judge declared circumcision illegal and brought charges against a rabbi for performing a bries, a circumcision, on an infant. In Toulouse, France three children and their rabbi were shot while anti-Semitic attacks rose 40% in France. Even the American Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) voted to boycott Israeli products from “Palestinian Land” even though there is no Palestinian state with defined borders.

The left-wing in Europe continues to characterize Israel as an imperialist power in the on-going struggle with the Palestinians. Philosopher and author John Paul Sartre described the conflict not to be between Jews and Palestinians but those advocating peace on both side and their rejectionists. He understood that Europe’s left-wing always ignored and failed to comprehend this fact.

To hopefully reverse this tide of hate, the City Council of Paris will commemorate the Velodrome d’Hiver event and the young Parisian victims among the 1,500,000 children exterminated by the Nazis. A few of the children came from substantial income homes, but the majority were from modest backgrounds. The mayor of Paris noted in opening the exhibition that half of the Jewish children deported from France were Parisian. The fact is that only 200 came back. The mayor concluded his remarks by saying they wished to honor the memories of these children.

The children who survived in France were hidden by righteous gentiles. The separation from their parents, changing of identities, being brought up outside of their faith, and living in fear took an overwhelming toll. By 1945, there were 10,000 Jewish orphans in France who could not find their parents. The cost of anti-Semitism continues with many of them to this day.

We do well to remember this history lest it be repeated. We cannot allow the assaults of prejudice against any race, any religion, any nation to go unchallenged. The path to a better future leads through a briar patch of angry words and aggressive actions that must be countered by resistance.

Sarah’s Key reminds us that this very hour is the time to make a difference. 

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Filed under History, Judism, Violence, World

BOOKS YOU’LL LOVE: THE STORY BEHIND THE STORIES

                                                        THE ASSASSINS

 

Obviously, my novel is about the battle between good and evil.

 

Novelist have been struggling with this topic for centuries because it is one of the most basic fundamental issues effecting all of humanity. We read about the conflict because we have all been there. It’s our story, our experience. And we keep reading because we’re never sure which side is going to win.

The Assassins begins with a completely evil design. Vladimir Putin intends to have the top American leaders killed and sends out three henchmen to do them in. None of these men is particularly bright, but they all know about murder that they are quit willing to commit. Will evil triumph under these circumstances? The reader keeps turning the pages to find out.

Friedrich Nietzsche lived in the last half of the nineteenth century and was a major philosopher whose impact has not been diminished by time. He appears to have had a deep distrust of words in conveying and describing evil. Our time has seen so much mayhem and murder, I often wonder if we haven’t been moved existentially closer to Nietzsche’s point of view.  Not that we wrestle intellectually with the problem of evil, but that we have become so adjusted to assassination, revolutions, war, and the possibility of nuclear explosions that we no longer are able to find the words that convey the draconian nature of the ongoing situation with which we live.

 

Perhaps, a novel remains one of the best tools to walk us inside the terrors of human manipulation and deceit. The Assassins is of course fiction, but look at the parallels with the murder of Alexander Litvinenko who was poisoned in London. Litvenenko, a FSB agent (formerly called the KGB) got crossways with Vladimir Putin and fled the country to avoid being killed. In London, he remained a harsh critic of Putin’s role in encouraging corruption. A close friend of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, he knew she was investigating his charges against Putin. The female journalist was then shot to death in Moscow. Sound a little familiar?

Can words adequately convey the force of evil in such a situation? Friedrich Nietzsche said no.  The will to power remains too strong. His solution was to create an entirely new language. I’m afraid Nietzsche got too close to the edge, but he does press us to recognize how powerful evil is in the world around us.

Personally, I find novels by Daniel Silva do an adequate job of forcing anyone to recognize the reality of evil. Hopefully, The Assassins does the same thing. While such a story is fiction, by its very nature it forces us to look into the non-fiction world with greater perspective and a more adequate grasp of the power of evil.

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Filed under Faith, History, middle east, Peace, Prayer, Stories, World

Compulsory Conscription For Israel’s Ultra-Orthodox

 

 

Israel’s Plesner Report recommended 80% of the ultra-Orthodox should serve in Israel’s military  or face criminal sanctions if they don’t. The report would reduce the length of service to 24 months where regular citizens now serve for three years. The aim of this report is to replace the old so-called Tal Law.

When the country began, David Ben-Gurion exempted the haredi at the urging of an advisor. The reasoning was based on religious grounds and had to do with the group’s study of the Bible. It has existed as a source of tension within Israel ever since.

Of course, the Haredi politicians reacted with outrage, calling the document evil and malicious. However, representatives of the Plesner group noted that national service was a religious concept and a Torah commandment. Torah does not oppose military service if a religious lifestyle is accommodated. However, the debate is far from ended, but definitely moving in the direction of compulsory conscription for the haredi.

 

Several years ago, I was walking through the Jewish sector of the Old City. A disturbance had erupted on the Temple Mount caused by Moslem boys throwing rocks at tourists. As I passed by an archeological sight, I saw at least a hundred girls in military uniforms with rifles sitting in the enclosure. Aged 18 to 20, the young women were ready to charge the Temple Mount if the disruption continued. Seeing women armed and ready to shoot stops one in their tracks. Of course, women have always served in Israel, but not without tensions.

Shani Boianjiu wrote in The New York Time about her experience in the military when the secular Jewish world encounters the ultra-Orthodox. She described an incident where she made the mistake of “touching” a soldier during a training exercise. Her job was to teach combat soldiers how to use their personal weapons. During the boot camp exercise, Shani’s task was to make sure that soldiers didn’t fall off balance. The squadding position could be awkward unless the soldiers were positioned correctly. Recognizing an error, she lightly kicked a soldier to expose how unbalanced he was. The man didn’t move. From behind, she put her hands on his shoulders. The man suddenly began screaming, “I observe touch.” Even though Shani was the man’s superior officer and trainer, she had violated a religious rule the military observed.

In her article, Shani Boianjiu, who is secular, described the tension in the military that ancient religious rules often create. One of these statues is that a women cannot touch a weapon in a man’s presence. Once while trying to demonstrate a grenade launcher, as soon as she actually put a finger on the weapon, her trainees disappeared. Their was no problem in being instructed by a women or having her point at the weapon. However, once she picked it up, the ultra-Orthodox soldiers cleared out. Why? While she never could get the point, it had to do with an ancient saying about women and instruments of war not mixing.

One of the major reasons these religious Jews feel they should be exempted from military serve is because of women working as military personnel. Currently, women compose about 30% of the IDF. Another one of these strange rules is that ultra-religious men are not allowed to hear women sing. Shani concluded that the tolerance of Israel’s leaders for religious needs at the expense of others is deeply unfair.

The struggle goes on and must soon come to some resolute as the old Tal Law has now run out. Prime Minister Netanyahu must make a major decision. Soon.

 

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