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Newsdesk October 22, 2004

New Leader for Russian Body

The Russian Jewish Congress is likely to have a new president in an apparent attempt to restructure one of Russian Jewry’s leading organizations.

During a closed-door meeting Tuesday, the group’s leading donors approved Vladimir Slutsker to replace the current president, Yevgeny Satanovsky. A banker and member of Russian Parliament’s upper house, Slutsker is little known to the public. A newcomer to Jewish public life, he joined the Russian Jewish Congress leadership only this month by making a financial contribution of $250,000. Slutsker is believed to be close to Vladimir Ressin, the Jewish deputy mayor of Moscow, who has sought to overcome the existing split between the congress and its major rival, the Federation of Jewish Communities, the Chabad-run organization.

Russian Jewish Congress leaders still will have to vote on the choice of Slutsker.

Survivor Lawsuits Dismissed

A federal judge dismissed Holocaust-era lawsuits against a major Italian insurer, Assicurazioni Generali. Survivors and their heirs in New York, Wisconsin, Florida and California filed the 20 class-action lawsuits. U.S. District Judge Michael Mukasey ruled October 14 that the lawsuits are pre-empted by a federal policy of resolving Holocaust-era insurance claims voluntarily through a private commission.

Generali lawyers welcomed the dismissal and said they remain committed to paying all claims.

In earlier preliminary rulings, Mukasey had appeared to favor the survivors’ cases, but the legal playing field tilted last year when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a pro-survivor California law as unconstitutional meddling by a state in foreign affairs.

The American government, Generali and other European insurers have maintained all along that all claims should be submitted and resolved through The International Commission on Holocaust Era Insurance Claims.

Move To Annul Conversions

Israel’s Sephardic chief rabbi, Shlomo Amar, has instituted a new set of regulations that tighten the standards for converting to Judaism and grants rabbinic courts unprecedented authority to annul a conversion.

The rules were published last month in a government publication, but members of the prime minister’s task force on conversion, who have been pushing for liberal reforms, only learned about the new rules last week.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other government officials have argued that the conversion process needs to be eased for the sake of hundreds of thousands of Russian immigrants who are not currently considered Jewish by the chief rabbinate. Since religious authorities control all personal status issues in Israel, many Israeli citizens from the former Soviet Union cannot be married in Israel and are denied burial in Jewish cemeteries.

In order to help pave the way for reforms, the government had decided to remove the conversion system from the exclusive control of the rabbinic establishment. The new rules, however, grant total control to Amar and tighten the standards for conversion and the qualifications for sitting on a rabbinic court.

Justice Cites Jewish Heritage

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of two Jewish justices on the Supreme Court, spoke about the role that Judaism played in her life during a 10-minute speech Monday to a convention of women donors to the United Jewish Communities.

The Supreme Court justice, who, this term, will consider whether displaying the Ten Commandments violates church-state separation, described the large, silver mezuzah on her chambers’ doorpost, as well as the biblical injunction, “Justice, justice shall you pursue.”

Ginsburg said that both she and Justice Stephen Breyer are mindful of their Jewish heritage.

“I am a judge, born, raised and proud of being a Jew. The demand for justice runs throughout the Jewish tradition,” she said.

Gore: Israel Threatened

The Iraq war has endangered Israel, Al Gore said. “Our friends in the Middle East, including most prominently Israel, have been placed in greater danger because of the policy blunders and sheer incompetence with which the civilian Pentagon officials have conducted this war,” said the former vice president at an event in Washington, sponsored by MoveOn, a liberal political action committee. “The prestigious Jaffe think tank in Israel released a devastating indictment just last week of how this misadventure in Iraq has been a deadly distraction from the crucial war on terror.”

Rabbis Figth Curse on Sharon

Ultra-Orthodox and Conservative Jews are waging a spiritual battle over the well-being of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

In response to calls by ultra-Orthodox rabbis who are advocating “death rituals” to hasten the end of Sharon’s life, Conservative movement leaders this week called on followers throughout the world to offer a special prayer for the health and well-being of the Israeli leader during the Sabbath, on October 23.

The prayer composed by Conservative rabbis says in part: “May You protect Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, O Lord, so that no harm will come upon him. Inspire him to lead Israel in the paths of peace and tolerance.”

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