Temple University condemns, but does not punish, Marc Lamont Hill over alleged anti-Semitic comments

Temple University's Board of Trustees formally announced its "disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement" Tuesday with professor and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill over remarks he made last month that critics said called for the destruction of Israel. However, the board declined to take further action against Hill, saying that he "was not speaking on behalf of … Continue reading “Temple University condemns, but does not punish, Marc Lamont Hill over alleged anti-Semitic comments”

Temple University's Board of Trustees formally announced its "disappointment, displeasure, and disagreement" Tuesday with professor and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill over remarks he made last month that critics said called for the destruction of Israel.

However, the board declined to take further action against Hill, saying that he "was not speaking on behalf of or representing the University" at the Nov. 28 International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People event at the United Nations.

"We recognize that Professor Hill’s comments are his own, that his speech as a private individual is entitled to the same Constitutional protection of any other citizen, and that he has through subsequent statements expressly rejected anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence," the board said in a statement.

During his speech, Hill referred to "a free Palestine from the river to the sea," a phrase often used by Hamas and other groups advocating the end of the Jewish state. At another point in his remarks, Hill poured himself some water and told participants that he just got off a flight from “Palestine” and that “I was boycotting the Israeli water so I was unable to quench my thirst.”

Hill claimed on Twitter that his use of the phrase "was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza."

"I support Palestinian freedom. I support Palestinian self-determination," Hill said in another tweet, adding: "I do not support anti-Semitism, killing Jewish people, or any of the other things attributed to my speech. I have spent my life fighting these things."

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However, the board of trustees noted in its statement that "from the river to the sea" is "used by anti-Israel terror groups and widely perceived as language that threatens the existence of the State of Israel."

CNN cut ties with Hill the day after his remarks but did not give a specific reason for his dismissal.

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A Temple alum, Hill joined the university's faculty last year as a professor of media studies and urban education. He previously taught at Morehouse College in Atlanta and Columbia University in New York City.

Orthodox Jew embraces unorthodox job as full-time Santa

His job may seem unorthodox to some, but for Rick Rosenthal, being Santa is just who he is.

The 66-year-old Jewish man from Atlanta, Georgia, better known as “Santa Rick,” stands out in his orthodox community with his beard white as snow, classic red suit, and jolly personality.

“I’m Santa all the time now,” Rosenthal said. “My whole orthodox neighborhood calls me Santa. I’m always in red. I wear a red shirt to shul. You know you’re looking at Santa, not a rabbi.”

To Rosenthal, Santa is not a religious figure but he is spiritual.

“Being Santa is truly a humbling experience and an honor because everybody loves you, everybody trusts you, everybody knows you, and you are universally accepted for two reasons: Santa is one of the most recognized faces in the world, the other is Jesus, and he is the most photographed person in the world – ahead of queens and presidents,” he said. “Because you’re Santa you have a unique opportunity because Santa is the one guy that makes everybody feel better.”

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Rick Rosenthal, or "Santa Rick," is an Orthodox Jew who says it’s no secret he’s also a full-time Santa. (J Rosa Photography)

Being Orthodox and Santa does have its limits, though.

“I don’t drive on Sabbath, and every once in a while Christmas Eve is on Shabbos,” he explained. “I’ve walked to jobs on Sabbath…I’m really doing a mitzvah. I’m not getting paid. I don’t get paid on Sabbath.”

And it doesn’t come without criticism but Rosenthal said it falls in line with Judaism the same way orthodox doctors and other professions have exceptions and he believes it’s his way of making the world a better place as a light unto the world.

“For the naysayers, I say they should look inward and consider what their agenda is and then look out and see the light,” he said. “They should ask themselves ‘Why do I feel this way?’ I talk about hope and inspiration and toys.”

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Rick Rosenthal views his job as a Santa as bringing light to the world. (J Rosa Photography)

Rosenthal started dressing up as a Santa when he was a teenager, 50 years ago, because he thought it would be fun and cute.

“I had a horrible designer beard because back in the 60s those beards looked like a run-over opossum,” he said.

But it all changed for him seven years ago after both his parents died. His beard grew in white, and he was at the checkout at Home Depot. It was spring – not Christmastime – and a little boy saw him as Santa.

“His reaction was so strong that I realized at that point that I’m just going to be Santa all year round,” Rosenthal said. “It was a life-changing experience.”

Today he runs a school, the Northern Lights Santa Academy, in Atlanta, where they train people to be the jolly old fellow, Mrs. Claus, or elves.

The Northern Lights Santa Academy class of September 2018. (Nick Cardello)

“America grew up with a guy in a red suit – that’s not what Santa is anymore – but Santa today is professionally trained and educated, and rather than as a prop…he’s engaging and entertaining and magical because Santa can do anything because he’s Santa.”

Rosenthal’s academy is the only school that offers a special needs workshop and has more instructors than any other school as well as bringing in experts from the field, including lawyers, professional storytellers, and a rocket scientist, who actually explained how Santa gets around the world in one day.

The first thing they learn is how to look like Santa. Next, they learn how to talk like Santa.

Rick Rosenthal, better known as "Santa Rick," said the role of Santa has changed over the years from a man in a red suit to a professionally educated and trained vocation. (J Rosa Photography)

“Santa has to talk in a way that people can understand him whether they’re four or 94 – if he’s not believable then he’s not Santa. It doesn’t mean you have to believe what I say – I can explain how reindeer fly in a logical way – but if it’s not believable it’s not Santa,” he said. “The truth of the matter is little children and senior citizens know that Santa’s real – it’s the middle-aged people that get confused but that’s ok, you don’t have to be a believer, you just have to stay on the nice list rather than the naughty list, to get your presents.”

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Largest pro-Israel group membership swells to 5 million thanks to Evangelicals

The largest pro-Israel organization in the United States just got even bigger.

Christians United for Israel, led by Pastor John Hagee, now boasts 5 million members strong.

“CUFI's growth is a direct result of the widespread support Israel enjoys amongst the tens of millions of Evangelicals in America,” Hagee told Fox News. “With God's blessing, and the hardwork of our lean but dedicated staff, we have been able to reach one million new members just in the past 10 months.”

Hagee, the pastor of Cornerstone Church, a megachurch in San Antonio, and the founder of CUFI, believes Christians and Jews are “spiritual brothers” and the relationship, mandated by God and conscience, carries eternal significance.

“I believe that the relationship between Christians and Jews is stronger than at any point in history and grows stronger every day,” Hagee said. “This relationship is vital – we worship the same God and share the same values. If a line has to be drawn, let it be drawn around Christians and Jews together.”

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump are joined by Holocaust survivors, as they attend a Hanukkah reception, Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018, in the East Room of the White House in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Last night, Hagee, who was chosen to give the closing blessing at the opening the of U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, celebrated Hanukkah at the White House with President Trump, whom he calls a “true friend to Israel,” alongside several Jewish leaders.

“As the story of Hanukkah tells us, the answer to darkness is light,” Hagee said, "Israel is a light unto the nations, and CUFI now has five million people in America amplifying that light.”

The pro-Israel organization is currently going after Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) for holding the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Authorization Act, a bill that provides military aid to Israel, and the Combatting BDS Act, which would penalize countries and companies that boycott doing business with Israel, a move that has received criticism from both sides of the aisle.

U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley received the "Defender of Israel Award" Monday night at the 13th annual Christians United for Israel D.C. summit. (USUN)

“As rockets rain down on our ally Israel, will Rand Paul stand with Israel, or will he stand in the way?” read ads in Kentucky from CUFI’s Action Fund.

While CUFI is focused on the threats posed by Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and other terrorist organizations, Hagee said, “the biggest challenge we face here in America is the ignorance that enables anti-Semitism to hide in plain sight.”

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He added: “BDS and so-called anti-Zionism are nothing more than anti-Semitism masquerading as legitimate political movements. We will continue to fight this anti-Semitism every day and at every turn.”

Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

Rabbi Abraham Cooper: Hanukkah’s triumph of faith over evil — an inspirational lesson for all Americans

Many Americans seem to think they know everything there is to know about Hanukkah. They know that the Jewish people’s Festival of Lights coincides with the tsunami of lights and good cheer they experience leading up to Christmas and New Year’s. They know that Jewish kids, minus the tree, also get gifts – eight nights of gifts!

But here is the real story: the Jewish Festival of Lights recalls the improbable victory of a small band of Jews in the land of Israel during the second century BCE against a Syrian-Greek king who had outlawed all public Jewish rituals, including circumcision and the learning of sacred texts – and who even installed a statue of Zeus defiling the Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

Against all odds, led by a fearless Judah Maccabee, the faithful defeated one of the mightiest armies on earth, drove the Greeks from the land, reclaimed the Holy Temple in Jerusalem and rededicated it to the service of God – and they did all of this with only one small jar of undefiled oil. The oil lasted for eight days. Hence Chag Ha’urim – the Festival of Lights.

Through 2,000 years of bitter exile, Jews scattered to the four corners of the world – even during the Nazi Holocaust and in the depths of the Siberian Soviet Gulag – have lighted the menorah to bring a flicker of hope, even in our darkest hours, that Jewish destiny, like the Maccabees of old, would somehow prevail.

Indeed, still in 2018, we Jews need reassurance and inspiration. In Europe, anti-Semitism is so severe that many Jews no longer wear a kippah or Star of David in the streets of Paris, Copenhagen, London, Stockholm, or Berlin, for fear of harassment or violent attack.

Just days ago, a Jewish fraternity’s Hanukkah Menorah was desecrated at Penn State University by anti-Semites. Indeed, Jewish students across the United States who dare to express their solidarity with the reborn Jewish State are subject to intimidation by extremists and campus thought police who slander Israel as an Apartheid State.

In the wake of the Pittsburg Synagogue massacre, Jews need to rekindle their solidarity with each other and reboot our faith in a better future.

Meanwhile, Jewish children living adjacent to Gaza have had to run for shelter day and night as thousands of rockets target them with deadly missiles, and explosive-laden balloons, sometimes filled with toys and with lights affixed to them, have torched crops, forests and nature preserves. Their simple prayer: eight days of quiet.

Israelis still have to send their 18-year-old boys and girls to defend a nation one-twentieth the size of California from terrorists and an implacable Iranian regime – a regime whose Supreme Leader labels Israel a ”cancer” and whose soldiers and Hezbollah lackeys threaten Israel’s north with more missiles than 27-member states of NATO possess.

Our Rabbis have insisted that Hanukkah lights must be visible to the public. They debate (of course) over this as to who the target audience is: Fellow Jews or our gentile neighbors?

In 2018, the answer is both:

In the wake of the Pittsburg Synagogue massacre, the specter of religious Jews being beaten up on New York streets, the extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic campaigns on campuses and online, Jews need to rekindle their solidarity with each other and reboot our faith in a better future.

Jews from Tel Aviv to Toronto to Tokyo to Trenton rekindle the light to push back against the lie of “occupation” of the Holy Land. Judah Maccabee’s heroism is but one amazing chapter in the unbreakable 3,500-year love affair Jews have with the land of Israel.

We also light for our fellow Americans, our wonderful neighbors, who overwhelmingly stand with us against history’s oldest hate, who hold sacred so many of the values that have sustained us in good times and bad.

And this year our Hanukkah lights also send a message both new and old to the anti-Semites: It is the forces of faith and decency—not you– who will prevail!

To our fellow Jews and fellow Americans, accept our Hanukkah blessings. Enjoy the light and warmth of freedom and faith!

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz: Hanukkah is not just a Festival of Lights, but a Festival of Miracles

Jewish survval from ancient times through today is a miracle.

From the time of the 10 plagues in Egypt and the splitting of the Red Sea, to the recent attack by Hamas on Israel – in which the terror group fired more than 500 rockets into tiny Israel with only one Israeli fatality – each one is a miracle.

This year, Jews around the world will celebrate Hanukkah from Sunday at sundown until Dec. 10 at sundown. While the holiday is widely known as the Festival of Lights, it is really the Festival of Miracles. During these eight days, we acknowledge God’s supernatural role in our lives and in the world.

Many people assume that the gift-giving holidays of Hanukkah and Christmas are similar. True, Hanukkah starts on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev and Christmas on the 25th of December, but the similarities between these two holidays start and end there.

While Christmas marks the birth of Jesus, Hanukkah commemorates the victory of the Maccabees over the Greeks and the rededication of the holy Temple in Jerusalem.

To appreciate Hanukkah, a little history is in order:

When King Antiochus IV of Greece reigned over Jerusalem (215 to 174 BCE) he was brutal and barbarous. To unify his empire, he forced the people to renounce their religions and abandon their cultures.

Specifically, the king sought to eradicate anything having to do with the Jewish faith. Shabbat observance, Torah study and keeping kosher were forbidden under penalty of death. The wicked king even removed the Jewish high priest from his post and defiled the holy Temple with Greek idols.

However, a small and greatly outnumbered group of Jews – followers of the righteous Matityahu and his sons, including Simon the Wise and Judah the Strong – united in a fight against the Greeks and in defense of God’s Torah.

Judah was called a Maccabee. The word is an acronym for the Hebrew words Mi Kamocha Ba’eilim Hashem – “Who is like you, O God” – because Judah was committed to fighting to the death out of faith in and love of God.

When King Antiochus learned about the Maccabees, he sent a large military force to wipe them out. Though the king’s army vastly outnumbered the Maccabees in numbers and weapons, with God’s help the small group of Maccabees defeated their powerful adversary and returned to Jerusalem to liberate it.

The Maccabees entered the Temple and cleared it of idols and built a new altar, which was dedicated on the 25th of Kislev in the year 139 BCE.

However, the Maccabees found only enough holy oil to rekindle the golden menorah in the center of the Temple for one day. By a miracle of God that oil burned for eight days.

As such, at the heart of the modern Festival of Lights is the eight-night candle-lighting ceremony, during which Jews recite special blessings. In addition, we add the Hallel prayer and Al HaNissim both in our daily worship and during the recitation of Grace after Meals. This prayer offers thanks to God for “delivering the strong into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few and the wicked into the hands of the righteous.”

This year, Jews around the world will celebrate Hanukkah from Sunday at sundown until Dec. 10 at sundown. While the holiday is widely known as the Festival of Lights, it is really the Festival of Miracles.

Indeed, the modern return of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel was also a victory of a few over many. And, like the ancient battle against the Greeks, the Israeli army has experienced many great miracles.

Take Israel’s War of Independence. On May 4, 1948, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion declared independence and the modern state of Israel. Then, just 12 hours after declaring independence, eight Arab armies attacked the infant Jewish nation. But little Israel, with only a small amount of weapons, fought and won.

In 1967, against seemingly insurmountable opposition, Israel likewise won in battle, tripling its territory and reuniting Jerusalem under the Israeli flag – for the first time since the Maccabees controlled the city – in the miraculous Six-Day War.

It’s no exaggeration that the very existence of Israel, a tiny Jewish state surrounded by neighbors intent on our destruction, is a miracle. Jewish people are in Israel because of God, who has always had a plan for His land and His people.

And the miracles continue.

Today the Jews have returned to their ancient and everlasting homeland. The once desolate land is fertile and green again, and Israel, the stalwart of democracy in the Middle East, is a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship.

It’s no wonder former Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion used to say, “In Israel, in order to be a realist, you must believe in miracles.”

Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the editor of The Israel Bible, the first study Bible edited by Jews for Christians and dedicated to highlighting the land and the people of Israel. He is the CEO of Israel365.

Boy, 9, in Hasidic Jewish clothing beaten in apparent unprovoked attack in Brooklyn

A 9-year-old boy dressed in Hasidic Jewish clothing was beaten in an apparently unprovoked attack in Brooklyn on Sunday night, and police are now investigating the assault as a hate crime.

NYPD said the boy was walking home in Williamsburg when a man – described as a black teenager – approached him and repeatedly punched him in the face.

The suspect, who fled the scene, reportedly did not say a word to the victim during the attack.

The boy refused medical attention at the scene and is expected to be OK, police said.

Police released a surveillance video of the suspect.

The suspect was described as a male, between the ages of 14 to 18. He was approximately 5 feet 6 inches tall and was last seen wearing a gray hoodie with a black patch on the sleeve.

The incident follows several similar anti-Semitic attacks around New York City in the last several months.

In October, a teenager was arrested for viciously attacking a Jewish man in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights less than an hour after he was released from police custody for an unrelated shoplifting incident.

Days earlier, a New York City cab driver was caught on video beating a Jewish man in the middle of an intersection. The victim, Lipa Schwartz, reportedly told local officials the alleged attacker yelled the words “Allah” and “Israel” while pummeling him.

Earlier this month, 26-year-old James Polite was arrested for allegedly vandalizing a historic New York City synagogue with anti-Semitic graffiti just days after the deadly mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

On Wednesday, a Jewish professor and Holocaust scholar at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in New York said two swastikas and an anti-Semitic slur were spray-painted on the walls outside her office.

“I was in shock,” Elizabeth Midlarsky, professor of psychology and education, told the Columbia Daily Spector. “I stopped for a moment because I couldn’t believe was I was seeing.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. in 2017, up from 1,267 in 2016 across the United States.

Jews make up only about 2 percent of the U.S. population, but in annual FBI data, they repeatedly account for more than half of the Americans targeted by hate crimes committed due to religious bias.

In New York, police have seen a notable uptick in anti-Semitic hate crimes with 159 being reported as of Nov. 4. It is up from 130 in 2017.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

Hasidic leaders sharply limit members’ web, smartphone use: ‘It’s like we’re in North Korea’

This is the second of a three-part series on insular enclaves of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the struggles they face and the controversies that follow them.

The father of five was summoned to a meeting with leaders of his ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect in Kiryas Joel, N.Y., a village of some 22,000 about 50 miles north of New York City.

The Satmar Hasidic leaders, a council known as the Vaad — wanted him to understand they knew he was on the internet, even though he was posting messages under a fictitious name.

The point: No matter what he did, the Vaad was on top of it. The father got a warning familiar to many in Hasidic communities: If you do not abide by the rules governing nearly every facet of your life, your children will be denied enrollment in our private Jewish schools (yeshivas).

Within this deeply religious community, families send children to yeshivas, where they are taught traditional religious texts. Yeshiva expulsion – virtual excommunication – would bring intense shame to a Hasidic family.

“It’s the Vaad. They don't let you have smartphones, computers, laptops, DVD players," said the man, a Kiryas Joel resident who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "I wasn't even saying anything bad on social media. I was asking a question. But you are not to question anything" concerning Hasidism.

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In many Hasidic enclaves, such as this one in Brooklyn, signs warning about smartphones and the Internet are common. (Benjamin Nazario)

Many Hasidic communities, though not all, are highly insular, determined to shut out as much of the outside world and its perceived deviancy as possible. Education at yeshivas emphasizes the Torah and other religious teachings, particularly for boys, who are being prepared for possible futures as rabbis. This faith-centric instruction doesn't leave vast amounts of time for math and English.

For the rabbis, who can wield enormous influence over the smallest details of followers' lives — including such intimate matters as the use of contraceptives, which is nearly always prohibited — technology is a threat: It enables personal connections and access to views and information from non-Hasidic sources.

Five years ago, a rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, sponsored a seminal event for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at Citi Field stadium in New York that drew tens of thousands of people. Speakers emphasized the “filth” and “evil” of the internet.

The spokesman for the event, Rabbi Eytan Kobre, told reporters at the time that the internet and smartphones posed “the most difficult spiritual challenge” for Orthodox Jews, not just those who are Hasidic.

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Watch: Community in Conflict: Hasidic Jews & Education

Kobre, who is not Hasidic, told Fox News in a recent interview that quite simply, to Orthodox Jews, there is no need to surf the Internet or explore a marketplace of ideas, because the truth is right there in the Torah.

Kobre said that technology is “doing damage to relationships, privacy, human dignity, the ability to succeed in school and at work.”

Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sects typically see technology and electronics as doorways to destructive behavior and forbid their practitioners from having such things as television, smartphones, and computers. (AP)

“The environment of the digital age is far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in their history,” said Kobre, who writes about the issue for Mishpacha magazine, a leading publications for Orthodox Jews worldwide.

As a result, many Hasidic communities have developed rules specifically banning the possession of electronic devices, making exceptions only under special circumstances – like, say, needing these tools in order to run a business. Even then, use is tightly restricted and closely monitored.

Take smartphones, for instance: These handhelds are allowed for men as long as they are inspected by rabbis and registered by what some call, with sarcasm that is considered a major act of insubordination, the "technology police" or "thought police."

Women are allowed to have “basic” or flip phones, but not smartphones.

The Vaad deactivates web browsers and installs filters on phones to inhibit access to such things as Google, YouTube, many Wikipedia pages and porn websites, among other content.

"It's like we're in North Korea or China," said the Kiryas Joel resident, who has a second phone that Vaad enforcers do not know about.

On at least one occasion, in 2015, rabbis from Kiryas Joel sent parents a contract to sign, declaring that their phones “are in accordance to the rules of the community and yeshiva,” and adding, “We also confirm that we do not possess in our home another cellphone/smartphone, except for the ones mentioned above.”

Another nearly-all Hasidic town, New Square, N.Y., makes parents vow to obey bans on technology in writing when they register their children for school.

Hasidic communities' tech limitations are not just in small towns like Kiryas Joel and New Square that are situated far from big cities, though.

In Brooklyn, for instance, posters blamed "mothers with smartphones" for teens who have strayed from Hasidic life.

Of the more than a dozen Hasidic rabbis and yeshiva officials Fox News reached out to for comment, none responded. One man,  working at a front booth at a small building in Kiryas Joel where smartphones and other gadgets are checked for compliance with the restrictions, took a message from a Fox News team that made a personal visit. But there was no subsequent call or email message.

Orthodox leaders outside the Hasidic enclaves have defended the consequences that schools impose.

“They consider technology to be an area of danger which requires limits and standards,” Kobre, the rabbi, said of the school leaders. “If we just limit the availability of technology for students, and say, ‘You can’t have a smartphone but your folks can have them,’ what are we really saying? Do as we say, not as we do? It would be educationally inappropriate. It would backfire.

"We have to have the appropriate home environment, otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for failure and hypocrisy.”

He rejected any suggestion that enforcing standards –whether they be about dress codes or having a television set or the internet — are oppressive. Critics, he said, seem to want "educational anarchy."

Another rabbi who is Orthodox but not Hasidic said avoiding temptations that lurk on the internet is best accomplished by not wading into the technology pool at all.

“It’s not easy for us, it’s a sacrifice,” said the rabbi, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’re holding on tight; we have to have the moral courage" to steer clear of tech.

“Whatever I don’t want to do, I’m going to leave out of my arm’s reach, I’m going to remove the temptation,” he said. “As far as our community leaders, they feel an enormous responsibility to use the wisdom that they have, and which guided Orthodox Jews for thousands of years, to see through this infatuation with this untested medium.”

Nuftuli Moster, who grew up as one of 17 children in a Hasidic home in Brooklyn and now advocates for more secular studies in Hasidic schools, said the perceived overreach by community leaders stuns even him.

"I myself am taken aback," Moster said, adding that he gets calls from parents who have received letters, delivered to them by their children, informing them that having internet access on their computer, or a telephone without the filter, puts the youngsters' yeshiva enrollment at risk.

"They force you to use their filtering system. They make it challenging for parents, they have a grip on them when it comes to the children and schools. Parents say the [leaders] sent them a letter that said they don't have a filter on their phone.”

"Parents ask me: 'How do they know? What do I do?'"

Moster, who founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) six years ago to push for more secular studies in yeshivas, said: "It's ridiculous how far they go with it. They know how to manipulate people and force them to do what they want."

Technology’s numerous and alternative sources of information threaten the nearly absolute power that rabbis and the Vaad are accustomed to having, experts say.

“The internet poses an unprecedented challenge,” said Samuel Heilman, chairman of Jewish studies at Queens College in New York and author of "Who Will Lead Us? The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America.”

“But this is violated all the time,"  he added. "It’s like the three staircases in the Jewish play ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ where one staircase was just for show but went nowhere.”

Heilman said that many Hasidic people have a rabbi-approved phone "for show," but also an unfiltered one they regularly use. He also said he has often seen Hasidic men in public libraries going on the internet or reading books that are forbidden by their religious leaders.

“When I walked in, they quickly look at me to make sure I am not someone spying on them.”

For Kobre, an ordinary ride a few days ago on a New York City train summed up the perils of technology.

The rabbi stood in the crush of humanity on the packed train and looked around him.

“Every single person, without exception, whether they were sitting down or standing, was looking down at their devices,” Kobre recalled. “For me it was a scene out of a horror movie, a zombie movie. What could they possibly be looking at that is more important than their own thoughts, about their families, their life goals?”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.

How a museum became a beacon of reconciliation in America’s most divided city

For 2,000 years, the Bible has been the greatest source of division between Christians and Jews. In fact, our bitter history is full of biblically-driven religious intolerance and persecution. However, in America’s arguably most divided city – Washington D.C. – there is a place that serves as a model for respect and reconciliation: the Museum of the Bible, which opened one year ago, in November, 2017.

How could such a museum, founded and funded primarily by Evangelical Christians in an era when church-state issues frequently concern the extent of government, play such a role?

One would assume that such a museum would be an immediate turn-off to the Jewish community and our long memory. After all, Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism that since its inception has claimed that their New Testament has replaced our Old Testament.

During the medieval period, Jews were dragged to churches for forced debates with church officials over the proper interpretation of the Bible. Jews were always the losers at these staged debates, with severe repercussions of forced conversion or death. Things didn’t get better in the modern era, which witnessed the terrible culmination of centuries of European Christian anti-Semitism in the Holocaust.

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Three weeks ago Saturday, a far-right white supremacist entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire. He yelled, “All Jews must die,” and killed 11 people –making it the deadliest attack against Jews in American history.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, when I took my own Israeli children to Washington on a recent visit to the United States, I felt a strong contrast between the Museum of the Bible and the museum we visited almost directly across the street: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Holocaust museum reminds us of the power of hate. Museum of the Bible offers hope that ancient rivalries can be overcome.

Rather than water down the Christian or Jewish narratives, Museum of the Bible presents both with passion and authenticity. Exhibits such as the “World of Jesus of Nazareth” transport visitors to a 1st-century village and “Washington Revelations” highlight biblical references found throughout D.C. The lesson is clear that the Christian Bible, which emerged from an ancient village in Israel, has shaped this modern American city.

When it comes to presenting the Jewish Bible, the museum has gone to great lengths to honor Judaism, including amassing one of the greatest collections of Judaica and presenting those artifacts with reverence and respect.

From their extensive collection of ancient codices and rare Bibles, the real achievement of Museum of the Bible can best be told through two of its ancient Torah Scrolls.

The Museum has an 800-year-old Sephardic Torah Scroll written in Spain during the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry before that glorious era ended with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. This extremely rare Torah Scroll from the 13th century must have been carried by Jewish refugees under grueling conditions on their sorrowful march from their homes in Spain. Carrying whatever possessions they could on their backs, including such a heavy parchment, bears witness to the faithful dedication of the Torah’s ancient Sephardic guardians who did everything in their ability to preserve it.

Another antique Torah Scroll comes from this same time period but from the other side of the Jewish world. The museum also features one of the oldest, most complete Ashkenazi Torah Scrolls from 13th century Germany. This was also a period mixed with great Jewish cultural expansion and severe religious persecution. While boasting some of the most important rabbinic sages whose works are still studied today by Torah students and scholars alike, the Jews of 13th century Eastern Europe were the victims of crusades and massacres. The Museum’s Ashkenazic Torah Scroll, like its Sephardic one, likely saw its fair share of close calls and harrowing moments.

Modern Jews are the descendants of these Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Both communities survived for centuries under hostile conditions and extreme persecution, while producing great luminaries and Torah sages. The museum’s two Torah Scrolls silently testify to the heroic efforts made by individuals and communities of Jews in order to preserve the physical words of the Torah Scrolls and their spiritual messages for future generations.

By honoring both the Jewish and Christian narratives and unique claims to the Book of Books under one roof, the Museum of the Bible is demonstrating that we are in a unique moment in history. The Bible, which has for generations been the greatest source of division between Jews and Christians, is now becoming a primary source of unity.

The Bible says that in the end of days, the world will be at peace and ancient rivalries will be reconciled.  All of humanity will come together in common cause and shared values stemming from a newfound appreciation for the Bible. Isaiah 2:3 teaches that all the nations will stream as one towards the mountain of the Lord, “from Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem.”

The Bible, which from then until today has been cherished by Jews and Christians, promised a time like the one we are seeing today.

If a museum can reverse ancient religious rivalries and create a beacon of reconciliation in the heart of Washington D.C., we can have hope for greater unity and respect in politics and all realms of life.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the editor of The Israel Bible, the first study Bible edited by Jews for Christians and dedicated to highlighting the land and the people of Israel. He is the CEO of Israel365.

Hasidic leaders sharply limit members’ web, smartphone use: ‘It’s like we’re in North Korea’

This is the second of a three-part series on insular enclaves of ultra-Orthodox Jews, the struggles they face and the controversies that follow them.

The father of five was summoned to a meeting with leaders of his ultra-orthodox Hasidic Jewish sect in Kiryas Joel, N.Y., a village of some 22,000 about 50 miles north of New York City.

The Satmar Hasidic leaders, a council known as the Vaad — wanted him to understand they knew he was on the internet, even though he was posting messages under a fictitious name.

The point: No matter what he did, the Vaad was on top of it. The father got a warning familiar to many in Hasidic communities: If you do not abide by the rules governing nearly every facet of your life, your children will be denied enrollment in our private Jewish schools (yeshivas).

Within this deeply religious community, families send children to yeshivas, where they are taught traditional religious texts. Yeshiva expulsion – virtual excommunication – would bring intense shame to a Hasidic family.

“It’s the Vaad. They don't let you have smartphones, computers, laptops, DVD players," said the man, a Kiryas Joel resident who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals. "I wasn't even saying anything bad on social media. I was asking a question. But you are not to question anything" concerning Hasidism.

PART 1: INSULAR HASIDIC JEWS STRUGGLE TO PRESERVE CUSTOMS AS LEGAL AND SOCIAL PRESSURES BUILD

In many Hasidic enclaves, such as this one in Brooklyn, signs warning about smartphones and the Internet are common. (Benjamin Nazario)

Many Hasidic communities, though not all, are highly insular, determined to shut out as much of the outside world and its perceived deviancy as possible. Education at yeshivas emphasizes the Torah and other religious teachings, particularly for boys, who are being prepared for possible futures as rabbis. This faith-centric instruction doesn't leave vast amounts of time for math and English.

For the rabbis, who can wield enormous influence over the smallest details of followers' lives — including such intimate matters as the use of contraceptives, which is nearly always prohibited — technology is a threat: It enables personal connections and access to views and information from non-Hasidic sources.

Five years ago, a rabbinical group, Ichud Hakehillos Letohar Hamachane, sponsored a seminal event for ultra-Orthodox Jewish men at Citi Field stadium in New York that drew tens of thousands of people. Speakers emphasized the “filth” and “evil” of the internet.

The spokesman for the event, Rabbi Eytan Kobre, told reporters at the time that the internet and smartphones posed “the most difficult spiritual challenge” for Orthodox Jews, not just those who are Hasidic.

Video

Watch: Community in Conflict: Hasidic Jews & Education

Kobre, who is not Hasidic, told Fox News in a recent interview that quite simply, to Orthodox Jews, there is no need to surf the Internet or explore a marketplace of ideas, because the truth is right there in the Torah.

Kobre said that technology is “doing damage to relationships, privacy, human dignity, the ability to succeed in school and at work.”

Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic sects typically see technology and electronics as doorways to destructive behavior and forbid their practitioners from having such things as television, smartphones, and computers. (AP)

“The environment of the digital age is far more conducive to addiction than anything humans have experienced in their history,” said Kobre, who writes about the issue for Mishpacha magazine, a leading publications for Orthodox Jews worldwide.

As a result, many Hasidic communities have developed rules specifically banning the possession of electronic devices, making exceptions only under special circumstances – like, say, needing these tools in order to run a business. Even then, use is tightly restricted and closely monitored.

Take smartphones, for instance: These handhelds are allowed for men as long as they are inspected by rabbis and registered by what some call, with sarcasm that is considered a major act of insubordination, the "technology police" or "thought police."

Women are allowed to have “basic” or flip phones, but not smartphones.

The Vaad deactivates web browsers and installs filters on phones to inhibit access to such things as Google, YouTube, many Wikipedia pages and porn websites, among other content.

"It's like we're in North Korea or China," said the Kiryas Joel resident, who has a second phone that Vaad enforcers do not know about.

On at least one occasion, in 2015, rabbis from Kiryas Joel sent parents a contract to sign, declaring that their phones “are in accordance to the rules of the community and yeshiva,” and adding, “We also confirm that we do not possess in our home another cellphone/smartphone, except for the ones mentioned above.”

Another nearly-all Hasidic town, New Square, N.Y., makes parents vow to obey bans on technology in writing when they register their children for school.

Hasidic communities' tech limitations are not just in small towns like Kiryas Joel and New Square that are situated far from big cities, though.

In Brooklyn, for instance, posters blamed "mothers with smartphones" for teens who have strayed from Hasidic life.

Of the more than a dozen Hasidic rabbis and yeshiva officials Fox News reached out to for comment, none responded. One man,  working at a front booth at a small building in Kiryas Joel where smartphones and other gadgets are checked for compliance with the restrictions, took a message from a Fox News team that made a personal visit. But there was no subsequent call or email message.

Orthodox leaders outside the Hasidic enclaves have defended the consequences that schools impose.

“They consider technology to be an area of danger which requires limits and standards,” Kobre, the rabbi, said of the school leaders. “If we just limit the availability of technology for students, and say, ‘You can’t have a smartphone but your folks can have them,’ what are we really saying? Do as we say, not as we do? It would be educationally inappropriate. It would backfire.

"We have to have the appropriate home environment, otherwise we’re setting ourselves up for failure and hypocrisy.”

He rejected any suggestion that enforcing standards –whether they be about dress codes or having a television set or the internet — are oppressive. Critics, he said, seem to want "educational anarchy."

Another rabbi who is Orthodox but not Hasidic said avoiding temptations that lurk on the internet is best accomplished by not wading into the technology pool at all.

“It’s not easy for us, it’s a sacrifice,” said the rabbi, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “We’re holding on tight; we have to have the moral courage" to steer clear of tech.

“Whatever I don’t want to do, I’m going to leave out of my arm’s reach, I’m going to remove the temptation,” he said. “As far as our community leaders, they feel an enormous responsibility to use the wisdom that they have, and which guided Orthodox Jews for thousands of years, to see through this infatuation with this untested medium.”

Nuftuli Moster, who grew up as one of 17 children in a Hasidic home in Brooklyn and now advocates for more secular studies in Hasidic schools, said the perceived overreach by community leaders stuns even him.

"I myself am taken aback," Moster said, adding that he gets calls from parents who have received letters, delivered to them by their children, informing them that having internet access on their computer, or a telephone without the filter, puts the youngsters' yeshiva enrollment at risk.

"They force you to use their filtering system. They make it challenging for parents, they have a grip on them when it comes to the children and schools. Parents say the [leaders] sent them a letter that said they don't have a filter on their phone.”

"Parents ask me: 'How do they know? What do I do?'"

Moster, who founded Young Advocates for Fair Education (YAFFED) six years ago to push for more secular studies in yeshivas, said: "It's ridiculous how far they go with it. They know how to manipulate people and force them to do what they want."

Technology’s numerous and alternative sources of information threaten the nearly absolute power that rabbis and the Vaad are accustomed to having, experts say.

“The internet poses an unprecedented challenge,” said Samuel Heilman, chairman of Jewish studies at Queens College in New York and author of "Who Will Lead Us? The Story of Five Hasidic Dynasties in America.”

“But this is violated all the time,"  he added. "It’s like the three staircases in the Jewish play ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ where one staircase was just for show but went nowhere.”

Heilman said that many Hasidic people have a rabbi-approved phone "for show," but also an unfiltered one they regularly use. He also said he has often seen Hasidic men in public libraries going on the internet or reading books that are forbidden by their religious leaders.

“When I walked in, they quickly look at me to make sure I am not someone spying on them.”

For Kobre, an ordinary ride a few days ago on a New York City train summed up the perils of technology.

The rabbi stood in the crush of humanity on the packed train and looked around him.

“Every single person, without exception, whether they were sitting down or standing, was looking down at their devices,” Kobre recalled. “For me it was a scene out of a horror movie, a zombie movie. What could they possibly be looking at that is more important than their own thoughts, about their families, their life goals?”

Elizabeth Llorente is Senior Reporter for FoxNews.com, and can be reached at Elizabeth.Llorente@Foxnews.com. Follow her on Twitter @Liz_Llorente.

How a museum became a beacon of reconciliation in America’s most divided city

For 2,000 years, the Bible has been the greatest source of division between Christians and Jews. In fact, our bitter history is full of biblically-driven religious intolerance and persecution. However, in America’s arguably most divided city – Washington D.C. – there is a place that serves as a model for respect and reconciliation: the Museum of the Bible, which opened one year ago, in November, 2017.

How could such a museum, founded and funded primarily by Evangelical Christians in an era when church-state issues frequently concern the extent of government, play such a role?

One would assume that such a museum would be an immediate turn-off to the Jewish community and our long memory. After all, Christianity is an offshoot of Judaism that since its inception has claimed that their New Testament has replaced our Old Testament.

During the medieval period, Jews were dragged to churches for forced debates with church officials over the proper interpretation of the Bible. Jews were always the losers at these staged debates, with severe repercussions of forced conversion or death. Things didn’t get better in the modern era, which witnessed the terrible culmination of centuries of European Christian anti-Semitism in the Holocaust.

Video

Three weeks ago Saturday, a far-right white supremacist entered a Pittsburgh synagogue and opened fire. He yelled, “All Jews must die,” and killed 11 people –making it the deadliest attack against Jews in American history.

As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, when I took my own Israeli children to Washington on a recent visit to the United States, I felt a strong contrast between the Museum of the Bible and the museum we visited almost directly across the street: the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. The Holocaust museum reminds us of the power of hate. Museum of the Bible offers hope that ancient rivalries can be overcome.

Rather than water down the Christian or Jewish narratives, Museum of the Bible presents both with passion and authenticity. Exhibits such as the “World of Jesus of Nazareth” transport visitors to a 1st-century village and “Washington Revelations” highlight biblical references found throughout D.C. The lesson is clear that the Christian Bible, which emerged from an ancient village in Israel, has shaped this modern American city.

When it comes to presenting the Jewish Bible, the museum has gone to great lengths to honor Judaism, including amassing one of the greatest collections of Judaica and presenting those artifacts with reverence and respect.

From their extensive collection of ancient codices and rare Bibles, the real achievement of Museum of the Bible can best be told through two of its ancient Torah Scrolls.

The Museum has an 800-year-old Sephardic Torah Scroll written in Spain during the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry before that glorious era ended with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. This extremely rare Torah Scroll from the 13th century must have been carried by Jewish refugees under grueling conditions on their sorrowful march from their homes in Spain. Carrying whatever possessions they could on their backs, including such a heavy parchment, bears witness to the faithful dedication of the Torah’s ancient Sephardic guardians who did everything in their ability to preserve it.

Another antique Torah Scroll comes from this same time period but from the other side of the Jewish world. The museum also features one of the oldest, most complete Ashkenazi Torah Scrolls from 13th century Germany. This was also a period mixed with great Jewish cultural expansion and severe religious persecution. While boasting some of the most important rabbinic sages whose works are still studied today by Torah students and scholars alike, the Jews of 13th century Eastern Europe were the victims of crusades and massacres. The Museum’s Ashkenazic Torah Scroll, like its Sephardic one, likely saw its fair share of close calls and harrowing moments.

Modern Jews are the descendants of these Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews. Both communities survived for centuries under hostile conditions and extreme persecution, while producing great luminaries and Torah sages. The museum’s two Torah Scrolls silently testify to the heroic efforts made by individuals and communities of Jews in order to preserve the physical words of the Torah Scrolls and their spiritual messages for future generations.

By honoring both the Jewish and Christian narratives and unique claims to the Book of Books under one roof, the Museum of the Bible is demonstrating that we are in a unique moment in history. The Bible, which has for generations been the greatest source of division between Jews and Christians, is now becoming a primary source of unity.

The Bible says that in the end of days, the world will be at peace and ancient rivalries will be reconciled.  All of humanity will come together in common cause and shared values stemming from a newfound appreciation for the Bible. Isaiah 2:3 teaches that all the nations will stream as one towards the mountain of the Lord, “from Zion shall come forth Torah and the word of God from Jerusalem.”

The Bible, which from then until today has been cherished by Jews and Christians, promised a time like the one we are seeing today.

If a museum can reverse ancient religious rivalries and create a beacon of reconciliation in the heart of Washington D.C., we can have hope for greater unity and respect in politics and all realms of life.

Rabbi Tuly Weisz is the editor of The Israel Bible, the first study Bible edited by Jews for Christians and dedicated to highlighting the land and the people of Israel. He is the CEO of Israel365.