Rabbis Ban Smoking
A committee of the main union of Modern Orthodox rabbis has ruled that Jewish law prohibits the smoking of tobacco products.
The Halachah Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America issued a unanimous opinion on the issue, citing both religious and scientific sources. The decision, which calls on all Jews to avoid or quit smoking, was endorsed by several of the most influential rabbis at Yeshiva University’s affiliated seminary, including Herschel Schachter.
The committee has been mostly inactive since the 1993 death of one of its previous chairmen, Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, who was Modern Orthodoxy’s spiritual leader for much of the past century. But RCA leaders issued a statement along with the tobacco decision, promising that the committee “has been granted a mandate to tackle some of the major issues currently confronting the Orthodox community, including organ transplantation, time of death matters, and others. It will also address issues put to it by the Orthodox Union, in the RCA’s invigorated role as halachic authority to the Orthodox Union.”
PLO Waiver Extended
President Bush extended a waiver on a law that would shut down the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington. In a letter sent last Friday to Condoleezza Rice, America’s secretary of state, Bush extended the waiver for another six months. The United States House of Representatives passed a bill last month that would tighten restrictions on the president’s ability to impose such waivers. It has yet to be considered in conference with the Senate.
Apology for Dubai Remark
A Jewish senator apologized to an Arab American group for comparing Dubai to the devil. Senator Frank Lautenberg, a New Jersey Democrat, was among lawmakers who helped defeat a plan to hand management of six major American ports to a Dubai-owned company. “We wouldn’t transfer the title to the devil; we’re not going to transfer it to Dubai,” Lautenberg said earlier this year. He apologized in a letter to the Arab American Institute after meeting with its representatives.
Another Jewish lawmaker, New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, compared the proposed sale to dealing with skinheads. He has refused the institute’s calls on him to apologize.
Nicaraguan Candidate Dies
Nicaraguan presidential candidate Herty Lewites died late Sunday of an apparent heart attack. The son of a Jewish migrant, Lewites, 67, was the country’s best-known citizen of Jewish descent. A dissident from the leftist Sandinista movement that ruled the country from 1979 to 1990, Lewites headed the Sandinista Renewal Movement’s ticket for the November elections. He was running a distant third in the four-way race in early public opinion polls. Though his mother was not Jewish and he never sought links with the country’s tiny Jewish population, Sandinista supporters backhandedly referred to Lewites as “the Jew” and spread false rumors that claimed he was a practicing Jew with “Zionist tendencies” after he launched an unsuccessful bid to unseat Daniel Ortega, the Sandinista party chair and presidential candidate.
Survey: Jewish Pols OK
More American voters would vote for a Jewish presidential candidate than for a Muslim, Mormon or evangelical Christian one, according to a new poll. Fifteen percent of those questioned in the Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll said they would not vote for a Jewish candidate, as opposed to 54% who said they would not vote for a Muslim candidate, 37% who would not vote for a Mormon and 21% who would not pull the lever for an evangelical Christian. The poll of 1,321 adults, conducted in late June, has a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.
Poland To Mark Pogrom
Poland is scheduled to mark the biggest pogrom carried out after World War II. A monument will be unveiled Tuesday in Kielce where, on July 4, 1946, 42 Jews were killed by police and townspeople after a false rumor was spread that accused a Jewish man of kidnapping a Catholic Polish boy and drinking his blood. The foreign and interior ministers are expected to speak at the commemorative ceremonies.
Polish President Lech Kaczynski was slated to attend, but he may be unable to due to illness, according to media reports. The city of Kielce and the U.S. Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad are financing the memorial.
The pogrom is the subject of a recently released book by Princeton University historian Jan T. Gross.
Cossack Monument Eyed
The Ukrainian town of Uman is considering putting up a monument to Cossack leaders Ivan Gonta and Maksim Zaliznyak, who spearheaded an 18th-century anti-Polish uprising that led to the massacre of 20,000 Jews and Poles.
The town, home to the grave of the revered Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, attracts thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jewish pilgrims each year.
Some Jewish communal leaders fear that plans for the Cossack monument reflects a trend in contemporary Ukraine toward a view of history that sidelines the country’s ethnic minorities.
Among those pushing for the monument is Georgy Schokin, leader of the Ukrainian Conservative Party. Schokin is also president of MAUP, a Kiev-based private university whose leaders are known for anti-Zionist and antisemitic activities.
Edah Leader Moves On
Rabbi Saul Berman is joining the staff of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah, a liberal Orthodox rabbinical school that has feuded with Yeshiva University.
Berman, founder and leader of the liberal Orthodox organization Edah, recently announced that the organization would close its doors later this summer, nine years after it was launched. According to Berman, Edah has accomplished its mission of reversing what he has described as Y.U. and Modern Orthodoxy’s shift to the right. In his new post at Chovevei Torah, Berman will direct efforts to provide continuing education to the seminary’s graduates.
Chovevei Torah announced that it will be absorbing three significant projects initiated by Edah: its Web site, journal and audiovisual library.