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Conservative rabbis endorse use of electric cars on Shabbat, but divisions over driving remain

(JTA) — When rabbis from the Conservative movement got together to decide whether it is permissible to drive electric cars on Shabbat, their conclusion might have been obvious.

After all, the Conservative movement famously adopted an opinion in 1950 saying that driving to synagogue on Shabbat is acceptable for Jews who have no other way to get there. And in 2012, the movement adopted an opinion saying that the use of electricity in activities that are permitted on Shabbat is acceptable according to Jewish law or halacha.

And yet the ultimate vote to permit the use of electric cars on Shabbat was deeply divided, with just 10 members of the movement’s 25-rabbi Committee on Jewish Law and Standards voting in favor and six voting against. Five rabbis abstained from voting. (All 25 rabbis need not attend a vote; six or more votes are needed to approve a  paper.)

What’s more, the committee adopted a second, competing opinion, known as a responsum, outright rejecting the use of electric cars on Shabbat — by a very similar margin.

Two rabbis, including one of the committee’s co-chairs, voted for both papers, even though the responsa came to different conclusions.

“Both of these responsa articulate the preference for walking to and from the synagogue on Shabbat, and the more of us Jews who can do that, the better, not only for halakhic reasons, but also for creating a close-knit community on Shabbat,” Rabbi Elliot Dorff wrote to explain why he voted for both positions. “That said, Jewish law must be applied to the realities that Jews face.”

It’s not unusual for the committee, whose rulings guide the movement’s rabbis, to adopt competing opinions, as it did, for example, when ruling in 2006 on inclusion for gay and lesbian Jews.

The groundwork for the split rulings, published on Wednesday, was laid in a footnote to the 2012 ruling on electricity. “Those who accept the 1950 CJLS minority position permitting people to drive to synagogue in a gas powered car would be justified extending this permission to electric cars,” the opinion’s author, Rabbi Danny Nevins, wrote — implying that at least some in the movement rejected the 1950 decision.

Before the 1950 responsum, Orthodox and Conservative groups agreed that driving was prohibited on Shabbat, citing halacha, or Jewish law, that forbids a host of activities on the day of rest, including lighting a fire and traveling a long distance from one’s home. The 1950 responsum was a landmark in American Judaism because it effectively sanctioned the choices of many Jews who had moved to suburbs where walking to synagogue was all but impossible. In fact, the responsum did not say that driving to synagogue was halachically sound, only that it was a concession worth making to facilitate the public and communal observance of Shabbat.

Nearly 75 years later, the leniency reflects the practices of most Conservative congregants in the United States, but Conservative rabbis and institutions largely have not accepted it. The Jewish Theological Seminary, the movement’s flagship seminary, bars rabbinical students from traveling by car on Shabbat, for example, and the Conservative movement in Israel rejected the position fully.

The challenges to the use of cars on Shabbat according to Jewish law are extensive: One might travel beyond the borders of one’s community, for example, or be tempted to perform repairs, both prohibited on Shabbat. But the biggest obstacle for the cars that most American Jews were driving in 1950 and today is that gas-combustion engines create fire in the course of ignition.

The rise of the electric car offers a widely accessible way to drive without creating fire. Concerns about driving too far or needing repairs still apply, write the authors of the paper making the case for electric cars on Shabbat, but by sticking close to home and driving only for Shabbat-related reasons, Jews can use electric cars without violating Shabbat.

That paper was written by two rabbis with recent experience in U.S. pulpits, David Fine of Temple Israel in Ridgewood, New Jersey, and Barry Leff, who divides his time between Israel and the United States and recently completed an interim stint at a synagogue in Birmingham, Alabama.

“For those who drive to the synagogue on Shabbat, driving an all-electric car is preferable to driving a conventional car,” they write. But they add, “When possible, we encourage walking or riding a bicycle as they are at a slower pace and more conducive to the spirit of Shabbat.” (Looking ahead, they also note that self-driving cars are permitted, saying, “The more that can be taken out of direct human hands, the more the spirit of Shabbat is constructed and preserved. If the technology and capability of an autonomous driving car is available and safe and able to transport one to synagogue, then all the better.”)

The paper rejecting driving on Shabbat altogether was written by two rabbis who do not work in synagogues: Marcus Mordecai Schwartz, who heads the study center at JTS, and Chaim Weiner, the head of Masorti Europe, the movement’s network of European congregations. They say they wanted to make sure that Conservative Jews who hold more traditional views about Jewish law — and who never accepted the 1950 ruling on Shabbat driving — could see their values in the movement’s legal literature.

“Some may think that we are attempting to exclude the less strictly-observant members of our communities,” they write. “Nothing could be further from our aim.”

Practically speaking, the impact of the legal opinions about electric cars is limited. Conservative congregants mostly drive to synagogue when they go — though the number of Jews affiliating with those synagogues is down sharply in recent decades, according to survey data. Few rely on the movement’s legal rulings to guide their daily activities.

But the rulings are influential among the movement’s rabbinic corps. And they can offer broad and needed messages, according to Rabbi Pamela Barmash, a professor at Washington University in St. Louis who chairs the CJLS with Dorff.

Barmash voted for the anti-driving opinion and abstained from voting on the one permitting electric cars on Shabbat. She said she wanted both positions to be available to Conservative Jews who are thinking about how to observe Shabbat.

“What is inspiring this is to emphasize the centrality of Shabbat to our lives as Jews, to our synagogue communities, and our personal relationships with God,” she said. “Restoring Shabbat and emphasizing Shabbat as so central is all the more urgent in the 21st century.”

The post Conservative rabbis endorse use of electric cars on Shabbat, but divisions over driving remain appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Treasure Trove: A 1905 postcard from Basel recalls the many Zionist groups and supporters in Toronto

“Greetings from the Seventh Zionist Congress to our friends in Toronto” reads the top message on this postcard sent from the 1905 Congress in Basel, the first held after the death of Theodor Herzl. The image was painted by Carl Josef Pollack and depicts Herzl standing among his fellow Jews awaiting entrance to the Land of […]

The post Treasure Trove: A 1905 postcard from Basel recalls the many Zionist groups and supporters in Toronto appeared first on The Canadian Jewish News.

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‘Arteries of Capitalism’: Anti-Zionist Groups Planning Major ‘Blockade’ of Ports Around the World

Pro-Hamas demonstrators marching in Munich, Germany. Photo: Reuters/Alexander Pohl

Far-left anti-Israel activists are launching a mass demonstration to block the “arteries of capitalism” on Monday by staging a blockade of commercial shipping ports across the world in protest of Western support for the Jewish state.

“We will identify and blockade major choke points in the economy, focusing on points of production and circulation with the aim of causing the most economic impact,” A15, the group planning the action, announced in a statement. “There is a sense in the streets in this recent and unprecedented movement for Palestine that escalation has become necessary: there is a need to shift from symbolic actions to those that cause pain to the economy.”

A15 is calling on members in cities such as New York, Dublin, Sydney, Ho Chi Minh, Genoa, London, and others to participate in the act, which could endanger billions of dollars in shipping. The group is also sharing information about police arrest, bail, and other legal information, possibly suggesting that its members are prepared to behave unlawfully.

“As Yemen is bombed to secure global trade and billions of dollars are sent to the Zionist war machine, we must recognize that the global economy is complicit in genocide and together we will coordinate to disrupt and blockage economic logistical hubs and the flow of capital,” the group continued.

Another anti-Zionist group, which goes by “Within Our Lifetime,” has vowed to join the demonstration and will participate by amassing on Wall Street in an attempt to bring trading on the New York Stock Exchange to a halt. Nerdeen Kiswani, a former City University of New York student who once threatened to set a person’s sweater on fire while he was wearing it, will lead the effort.

Police in Victoria, Australia are on high alert, according to a report this weel by The Sydney Morning Herald. On Monday, the city will activate its State Police Operations Center, an action which is reserved for emergencies and will require diverting resources from other cities in the state. One likely target of the group, the Port of Melbourne, processes over 8,000 containers per day and adds $11 billion to national gross domestic product (GDP).

Anti-Zionist protesters have protested at the Port of Melbourne before. In January, they attempted to prevent the docking container ship at Webb Dock because its owner, ZIM shipping firm, is an Israeli company.

The New York City area has been the site of similar demonstrations. In 2021, a group called “Block the Boat” protested the unloading of a container ship owned by ZIM at the Port of New York/New Jersey, two days after another Israeli ship was reportedly blocked from unloading in Oakland.

Since the Hamas terror group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, attempted disruptions of shipping have occurred in many major American cities. Most recently, a group amassed at San Francisco’s Piers 30/32 to condemn the leaving of USNS Harvey Milk, believing that it was en route to the Middle East.

US Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) addressed the protesters, according to a local CBS affiliate, telling them that President Joe Biden agrees with their message.

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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Biden Pressure on Israel Partly Due to Concerns Over 2024 Election, Says Israeli Lawmaker, Former UN Ambassador

US President Joe Biden, left, pauses during a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, to discuss the war between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, Oct. 18, 2023. Photo: Miriam Alster/Pool via REUTERS

Israeli politician and former Ambassador Danny Danon attributed US President Joe Biden’s increasingly critical posture toward Israel’s war on the Hamas terrorist group to domestic political concerns and the upcoming presidential election in a wide-ranging interview with The Algemeiner.

Danon, a current member of the Israeli parliament for the Likud party and former ambassador to the United Nations, spoke with The Algemeiner to discuss the ongoing war against the Hamas , potential escalation in northern Israel with the Hezbollah terrorist organization, and the evolving politics of the US-Israel relationship.

Asked about Biden’s pressure on Israel not to enter Rafah — the last Hamas stronghold in Gaza — and to agree to a ceasefire, Danon said, “You know, a ceasefire without us bringing the hostages back and defeating Hamas, it means that Israel will lose this war.”

“I don’t think that President Biden and other allies of Israel are actually supporting the stand of Israel losing the war,” he continued, arguing that “they have other interests in moving forward because of the election in the US and international pressure, but we have a different timeline.”

When asked to clarify if he believed the upcoming presidential election in the US was fueling Biden’s current policy toward Israel — especially in the form of public and private pressure — Danon reiterated that he believes “it’s a combination of the election and also international pressure.”

In several US states, activists have been campaigning for voters not to support Biden in the Democratic primary due to his overall support for Israel. In Michigan, for example, a key battleground state and home to America’s largest Arab population, a campaign to vote “uncommitted” during the state’s primary rather than for Biden gained significant support. Some prominent observers have suggested that the Biden administration’s changing position on Israel and the war in Gaza may be influenced by domestic political fears of losing electoral support from anti-Israel voters.

Meanwhile, amid escalating tensions on Israel’s northern front with Hezbollah, which wields significant political and military influence across Lebanon, Danon made it clear that Israel would remove the threat of Hezbollah on its border one way or another.

Since Hamas’ Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, “tens of thousands of Israelis have been evacuated from the northern communities” due to the rockets launched by Hezbollah on a nearly daily basis, he explained. In total, more than 2,000 rockets, along with many more anti-tank guided missiles and drones, have been launched into Israeli territory since the war began.

“They … have to be able to go back to their homes. In order for them to go back, we … have to push Hezbollah away from the border,” he said. “So that’s the end game.”

How that may happen in practice remains uncertain: “One option is to have negotiations and to prevent the conflict,” he said. “And the second option is to have a limited conflict. And the third option is to have a full war with Hezbollah.”

Regardless, he added, in the end Hezbollah “will not be on the fence and they will not threaten our communities.”

The interview took place prior to last week’s airstrike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus, Syria last week that Iranian officials have attributed to Israel.

the Israeli strike in Syria that killed two commanders in Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — putting Israel on high alert for the prospect of a direct Iranian attack on Israeli territory. The strike killed seven members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), a US-designated terrorist organization, including two senior commanders.

Israel has neither confirmed nor denied involvement in the incident. However, Israel has been bracing for a retaliatory strike amid a flurry of public threats from Iran to attack Israel.

Another important issue that has captured the attention of the citizens of Israel and the entire Jewish world is the continued captivity of more than 130 people in Gaza who Hamas terrorists kidnapped during their Oct. 7 rampage. Liberated captives testified to surviving sexual assault, torture, and starvation.

“When you deal with the [sic] irrational enemy like Hamas, it’s very challenging [to negotiate a deal],” Danon said. “I think we should apply more force, more military force, and that will encourage Hamas to negotiate another agreement that will release more hostages.”

Some of the more than 250 hostages seized on Oct. 7 were released as part of a temporary Israel-Hamas truce in November.

Pushed on why there has not been another agreement since then, he explained, “The challenges that we are facing are not easy. Both the one that requires the defeat of Hamas, you know, we pay a very heavy toll every day, more and more soldiers are paying the price of their lives in order to achieve this goal.”

“And also the hostages,” he added. “It’s very hard for them, the conditions are unbearable, and we are aware of the ongoing atrocities. So it is hard, but I think it’s a challenge for us to be determined. And I think at the end of the day, despite the difficulty, we are determined to win this war, and we will win this war.”

Some Israelis have criticized the government for prioritizing military victory and politics over the return of the hostages. One family member of a hostage said at a rally recently that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “concern for coalition stability outweighs his clear duty to bring our loved ones home … We were told to sit still, we were told to travel the world, but after six months, the hostages are still in Gaza! This is a complete and deliberate failure!”

Nevertheless, Danon is singularly focused on winning the war against Hamas and bringing home the hostages. 

“I think the enemy underestimated the strength of the people of Israel, and they will realize that we are a strong nation and that’s why we will defeat them,” Danon concluded, underscoring the way in which this war has, in many ways, brought Israelis together in an unprecedented way.

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