Religion

You Can Now Read The Whole Talmud Online – For Free

Given that it’s is one if not the most essential Jewish texts, the Talmud can be surprisingly hard to come by. But not anymore: The Jewish start-up Sefaria just released a free digital version into the public domain.

The William Davidson Talmud is an edition of the Babylonian Talmud with parallel translations into English and Modern Hebrew.

The interactive online version of the text is also interlinked to major commentaries, biblical citations, Midrash, Kabbalah, Halakhah, and an ever-growing library of Jewish texts.

And you can also use it beyond Sefaria’s website. The Talmud was published with a Creative Commons non-commercial license, which means that it is part of the public domain and everyone can use and re-use it, as long as you don’t make money from it.

“The Talmud will now belong to, and be freely accessible by, all people in the two languages spoken by 90% of world Jewry,” Sefaria co-founder Joshua Foer told the Forward.

“Experts we’ve talked to believe this is the most significant work of intellectual property ever transferred into the creative commons philanthropically,” he added.

The whole project was years in the making.

Sefaria is a non profit that was started in 2011 by author, Joshua Foer, and Google alum Brett Lockspeiser, with a mission of putting the entire Jewish canon online. (The name Sefaria is a play on the Hebrew word for library, sifria.)

The two childhood friends had lost touch for many years, but reconnected over a “shared frustration” that the Talmud and other important Jewish texts were not accessible online.

“At that point, if you were to google the English Talmud, you would find pdfs from the Soncino edition published in England, you would get an anti-Semitic website and you would get a partial 1918 translation,” Foer told the Forward. “That by itself was kind off pathetic.”

So they quickly got to work, and have since amassed almost 1,600 Jewish texts and commentaries that are all available online.

“But we always knew the linchpin of the whole project would be whether we could get an English translation of the Talmud,” Foer said.

Currently, there exist only three English translations in the world. After years of negotiations Sefaria (with a grant from the William Davidson Foundation) bought the rights to one of them – from Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz.

Steinsaltz, a rabbi from Israel, spent 45 years of his life translating the Talmud from Ancient Aramaic to modern Hebrew and English.

He was only 27 when the project began, and finished in 2010, after releasing a new section of the translation approximately once per year.

“I did it because it is necessary,” Steinsaltz told Israel’s Army Radio in 2010. “The Talmud is the spine of our culture … I wanted to restore to the Jewish people their heritage.”

As of now, Sefaria published 22 Talmud tractates in English (Berakhot to Bava Batra) online. The Modern Hebrew translations will start appearing online later this year, and the remaining English tractates will follow as soon as their are finished.

“We think that the Talmud is not just the life blood of the Jewish people, but one of the great works of Western civilization that has basically been inaccessible to a large number of people,” Foer told the Forward.

His co-founder, Brett Lockspeiser, who runs Sefaria’s technological operations, called the online release “fantastic.”

“It’s a real accomplishment for us, and the Jewish people in the world to now be able to access this,” Lockspeiser told the Forward.

All the texts on Sefaria are not only texts, they are also interconnected data with lots of fancy features and visualization tools.

“The Jewish canon is not really a collection of books on a book shelf, it’s like this gigantic un-ending conversation,” Foer told the Forward. “We wanted to return that text to the original modality of being fully interconnected and in conversation with each other.”

“And in doing in way, that you can take the conversation form text to text to text, from commentator to commentator to commentator,” Foer said.

A team of 15 engineers works daily to create new ways to create these interconnections – for example to show the connections between Tanakh and Talmud or to highlight all the times that text is being repeated in the Jewish canon.

Users can create their own source sheets to collect and connect texts, sort of like a Torah mixtape. So far 60,000 users created sheets – many of them students.

If possible, all the texts on Sefaria have a public domain license.

“For the Jewish people, our texts are our collective inheritance,” said Sefaria CEO Daniel Septimus. “They belong to everyone and Sefaria wants them to be available to everyone,”

 

7 Things to Consider Before Choosing Sides in the Middle East Conflict

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Are you “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine”? It isn’t even noon yet as I write this, and I’ve already been accused of being both.

These terms intrigue me because they directly speak to the doggedly tribal nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You don’t hear of too many other countries being universally spoken of this way. Why these two? Both Israelis and Palestinians are complex, with diverse histories and cultures, and two incredibly similar (if divisive) religions. To come down completely on the side of one or the other doesn’t seem rational to me.

It is telling that most Muslims around the world support Palestinians, and most Jews support Israel. This, of course, is natural — but it’s also problematic. It means that this is not about who’s right or wrong as much as which tribe or nation you are loyal to. It means that Palestinian supporters would be just as ardently pro-Israel if they were born in Israeli or Jewish families, and vice versa. It means that the principles that guide most people’s view of this conflict are largely accidents of birth — that however we intellectualize and analyze the components of the Middle East mess, it remains, at its core, a tribal conflict.

By definition, tribal conflicts thrive and survive when people take sides. Choosing sides in these kinds of conflicts fuels them further and deepens the polarization. And worst of all, you get blood on your hands.

So before picking a side in this latest Israeli-Palestine conflict, consider these 7 questions:

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1. Why is everything so much worse when there are Jews involved?

Over 700 people have died in Gaza as of this writing. Muslims have woken up around the world. But is it really because of the numbers?

Bashar al-Assad has killed over 180,000 Syrians, mostly Muslim, in two years — more than the number killed in Palestine in two decades. Thousands of Muslims in Iraq and Syria have been killed by ISIS in the last two months. Tens of thousands have been killed by the Taliban. Half a million black Muslims were killed by Arab Muslims in Sudan. The list goes on.

But Gaza makes Muslims around the world, both Sunni and Shia, speak up in a way they never do otherwise. Up-to-date death counts and horrific pictures of the mangled corpses of Gazan children flood their social media timelines every day. If it was just about the numbers, wouldn’t the other conflicts take precedence? What is it about then?

If I were Assad or ISIS right now, I’d be thanking God I’m not Jewish.

Amazingly, many of the graphic images of dead children attributed to Israeli bombardment that are circulating online are from Syria, based on a BBC report. Many of the pictures you’re seeing are of children killed by Assad, who is supported by Iran, which also funds Hezbollah and Hamas. What could be more exploitative of dead children than attributing the pictures of innocents killed by your own supporters to your enemy simply because you weren’t paying enough attention when your own were killing your own?

This doesn’t, by any means, excuse the recklessness, negligence, and sometimesoutright cruelty of Israeli forces. But it clearly points to the likelihood that the Muslim world’s opposition to Israel isn’t just about the number of dead.

Here is a question for those who grew up in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority countries like I did: if Israel withdrew from the occupied territories tomorrow, all in one go — and went back to the 1967 borders — and gave the Palestinians East Jerusalem — do you honestly think Hamas wouldn’t find something else to pick a fight about? Do you honestly think that this has absolutely nothing to do with the fact that they are Jews? Do you recall what you watched and heard on public TV growing up in Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Egypt?

Yes, there’s an unfair and illegal occupation there, and yes, it’s a human rights disaster. But it is also true that much of the other side is deeply driven by anti-Semitism. Anyone who has lived in the Arab/Muslim world for more than a few years knows that. It isn’t always a clean, one-or-the-other blame split in these situations like your Chomskys and Greenwalds would have you believe. It’s both.

***

2. Why does everyone keep saying this is not a religious conflict?

There are three pervasive myths that are widely circulated about the “roots” of the Middle East conflict:

Myth 1: Judaism has nothing to do with Zionism.
Myth 2: Islam has nothing to do with Jihadism or anti-Semitism.
Myth 3: This conflict has nothing to do with religion.

To the “I oppose Zionism, not Judaism!” crowd, is it mere coincidence that this passage from the Old Testament (emphasis added) describes so accurately what’s happening today?

“I will establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, and from the desert to the Euphrates River. I will give into your hands the people who live in the land, and you will drive them out before you. Do not make a covenant with them or with their gods.” – Exodus 23:31-32

Or this one?

“See, I have given you this land. Go in and take possession of the land the Lord swore he would give to your fathers — to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob — and to their descendants after them.” – Deuteronomy 1:8

There’s more: Genesis 15:18-21, and Numbers 34 for more detail on the borders. Zionism is not the “politicization” or “distortion” of Judaism. It is the revival of it.

And to the “This is not about Islam, it’s about politics!” crowd, is this verse from the Quran (emphasis added) meaningless?

“O you who have believed, do not take the Jews and the Christians as allies. They are [in fact] allies of one another. And whoever is an ally to them among you—then indeed, he is [one] of them. Indeed, Allah guides not the wrongdoing people.” – Quran, 5:51

What about the numerous verses and hadith quoted in Hamas’ charter? And the famous hadith of the Gharqad tree explicitly commanding Muslims to kill Jews?

Please tell me — in light of these passages written centuries and millennia before the creation of Israel or the occupation — how can anyone conclude that religion isn’t at the root of this, or at least a key driving factor? You may roll your eyes at these verses, but they are taken very seriously by many of the players in this conflict, on both sides. Shouldn’t they be acknowledged and addressed? When is the last time you heard a good rational, secular argument supporting settlement expansion in the West Bank?

Denying religion’s role seems to be a way to be able to criticize the politics while remaining apologetically “respectful” of people’s beliefs for fear of “offending” them. But is this apologism and “respect” for inhuman ideas worth the deaths of human beings?

People have all kinds of beliefs — from insisting the Earth is flat to denying the Holocaust. You may respect their right to hold these beliefs, but you’re not obligated to respect the beliefs themselves. It’s 2014, and religions don’t need to be “respected” any more than any other political ideology or philosophical thought system. Human beings have rights. Ideas don’t. The oft-cited politics/religion dichotomy in Abrahamic religions is false and misleading. All of the Abrahamic religions are inherently political.

***

3. Why would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?

This is the single most important issue that gets everyone riled up, and rightfully so.

Again, there is no justification for innocent Gazans dying. And there’s no excuse for Israel’s negligence in incidents like the killing of four children on a Gazan beach. But let’s back up and think about this for a minute.

Why on Earth would Israel deliberately want to kill civilians?

When civilians die, Israel looks like a monster. It draws the ire of even its closest allies. Horrific images of injured and dead innocents flood the media. Ever-growing anti-Israel protests are held everywhere from Norway to New York. And the relatively low number of Israeli casualties (we’ll get to that in a bit) repeatedly draws allegations of a “disproportionate” response. Most importantly, civilian deaths help Hamas immensely.

How can any of this possibly ever be in Israel’s interest?

If Israel wanted to kill civilians, it is terrible at it. ISIS killed more civilians in two days (700 plus) than Israel has in two weeks. Imagine if ISIS or Hamas had Israel’s weapons, army, air force, US support, and nuclear arsenal. Their enemies would’ve been annihilated long ago. If Israel truly wanted to destroy Gaza, it could do so within a day, right from the air. Why carry out a more painful, expensive ground incursion that risks the lives of its soldiers?

***

4. Does Hamas really use its own civilians as human shields?

Ask Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas how he feels about Hamas’ tactics.

“What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?” he asks. “I don’t like trading in Palestinian blood.”

It isn’t just speculation anymore that Hamas puts its civilians in the line of fire.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri plainly admitted on Gazan national TV that thehuman shield strategy has proven “very effective.”

The UN relief organization UNRWA issued a furious condemnation of Hamas after discovering hidden rockets in not one, but two children’s schools in Gaza last week.

Hamas fires thousands of rockets into Israel, rarely killing any civilians or causing any serious damage. It launches them from densely populated areas, including hospitals and schools.

Why launch rockets without causing any real damage to the other side, inviting great damage to your own people, then putting your own civilians in the line of fire when the response comes? Even when the IDF warns civilians to evacuate their homes before a strike, why does Hamas tell them to stay put?

Because Hamas knows its cause is helped when Gazans die. If there is one thing that helps Hamas most — one thing that gives it any legitimacy — it is dead civilians. Rockets in schools. Hamas exploits the deaths of its children to gain the world’s sympathy. It uses them as a weapon.

You don’t have to like what Israel is doing to abhor Hamas. Arguably, Israel and Fatah are morally equivalent. Both have a lot of right on their side. Hamas, on the other hand, doesn’t have a shred of it.

***

5. Why are people asking for Israel to end the “occupation” in Gaza?

Because they have short memories.

In 2005, Israel ended the occupation in Gaza. It pulled out every last Israeli soldier. It dismantled every last settlement. Many Israeli settlers who refused to leave wereforcefully evicted from their homes, kicking and screaming.

This was a unilateral move by Israel, part of a disengagement plan intended toreduce friction between Israelis and Palestinians. It wasn’t perfect — Israel was still to control Gaza’s borders, coastline, and airspace — but considering the history of the region, it was a pretty significant first step.

After the evacuation, Israel opened up border crossings to facilitate commerce. The Palestinians were also given 3,000 greenhouses which had already been producing fruit and flowers for export for many years.

But Hamas chose not to invest in schools, trade, or infrastructure. Instead, it built an extensive network of tunnels to house thousands upon thousands of rockets and weapons, including newer, sophisticated ones from Iran and Syria. All the greenhouses were destroyed.

Hamas did not build any bomb shelters for its people. It did, however, build a fewfor its leaders to hide out in during airstrikes. Civilians are not given access to these shelters for precisely the same reason Hamas tells them to stay home when the bombs come.

Gaza was given a great opportunity in 2005 that Hamas squandered by transforming it into an anti-Israel weapons store instead of a thriving Palestinian state that, with time, may have served as a model for the future of the West Bank as well. If Fatah needed yet another reason to abhor Hamas, here it was.

***

6. Why are there so many more casualties in Gaza than in Israel?

The reason fewer Israeli civilians die is not because there are fewer rockets raining down on them. It’s because they are better protected by their government.

When Hamas’ missiles head towards Israel, sirens go off, the Iron Dome goes into effect, and civilians are rushed into bomb shelters. When Israeli missiles head towards Gaza, Hamas tells civilians to stay in their homes and face them.

While Israel’s government urges its civilians to get away from rockets targeted at them, Gaza’s government urges its civilians to get in front of missiles not targeted at them.

The popular explanation for this is that Hamas is poor and lacks the resources to protect its people like Israel does. The real reason, however, seems to have more to do with disordered priorities than deficient resources (see #5). This is about will, not ability. All those rockets, missiles, and tunnels aren’t cheap to build or acquire. But they are priorities. And it’s not like Palestinians don’t have a handful of oil-rich neighbors to help them the way Israel has the US.

The problem is, if civilian casualties in Gaza drop, Hamas loses the only weapon it has in its incredibly effective PR war. It is in Israel’s national interest to protect its civilians and minimize the deaths of those in Gaza. It is in Hamas’ interest to do exactly the opposite on both fronts.

***

7. If Hamas is so bad, why isn’t everyone pro-Israel in this conflict?

Because Israel’s flaws, while smaller in number, are massive in impact.

Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are oftenreckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

To be fair, these kinds of things do happen on both sides. They are an inevitable consequence of multiple generations raised to hate the other over the course of 65 plus years. To hold Israel up to a higher standard would mean approaching the Palestinians with the racism of lowered expectations.

However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims — it needs to do much more to show it isn’t the same as the worst of its neighbors.

Israel is leading itself towards increasing international isolation and national suicide because of two things: 1. The occupation; and 2. Settlement expansion.

Settlement expansion is simply incomprehensible. No one really understands the point of it. Virtually every US administration — from Nixon to Bush to Obama — hasunequivocally opposed it. There is no justification for it except a Biblical one (see #2), which makes it slightly more difficult to see Israel’s motives as purely secular.

The occupation is more complicated. The late Christopher Hitchens was right when he said this about Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories:

“In order for Israel to become part of the alliance against whatever we want to call it, religious barbarism, theocratic, possibly thermonuclear theocratic or nuclear theocratic aggression, it can’t, it’ll have to dispense with the occupation. It’s as simple as that.

It can be, you can think of it as a kind of European style, Western style country if you want, but it can’t govern other people against their will. It can’t continue to steal their land in the way that it does every day.And it’s unbelievably irresponsible of Israelis, knowing the position of the United States and its allies are in around the world, to continue to behave in this unconscionable way. And I’m afraid I know too much about the history of the conflict to think of Israel as just a tiny, little island surrounded by a sea of ravening wolves and so on. I mean, I know quite a lot about how that state was founded, and the amount of violence and dispossession that involved. And I’m a prisoner of that knowledge. I can’t un-know it.”

As seen with Gaza in 2005, unilateral disengagement is probably easier to talk about than actually carry out. But if it Israel doesn’t work harder towards a two-state (maybe three-state, thanks to Hamas) solution, it will eventually have to make that ugly choice between being a Jewish-majority state or a democracy.

It’s still too early to call Israel an apartheid state, but when John Kerry said Israelcould end up as one in the future, he wasn’t completely off the mark. It’s simple math. There are only a limited number of ways a bi-national Jewish state with a non-Jewish majority population can retain its Jewish identity. And none of them are pretty.

***

Let’s face it, the land belongs to both of them now. Israel was carved out of Palestine for Jews with help from the British in the late 1940s just like my own birthplace of Pakistan was carved out of India for Muslims around the same time. The process was painful, and displaced millions in both instances. But it’s been almost 70 years. There are now at least two or three generations of Israelis who were born and raised in this land, to whom it really is a home, and who are often held accountable and made to pay for for historical atrocities that are no fault of their own. They are programmed to oppose “the other” just as Palestinian children are. At its very core, this is a tribal religious conflict that will never be resolved unless people stop choosing sides.

So you really don’t have to choose between being “pro-Israel” or “pro-Palestine.” If you support secularism, democracy, and a two-state solution — and you oppose Hamas, settlement expansion, and the occupation — you can be both.

If they keep asking you to pick a side after all of that, tell them you’re going with hummus.

TO THE STUDENTS FOR JUSTICE IN PALESTINE, A LETTER FROM AN ANGRY BLACK WOMAN

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A protest led by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Maryland, College Park in 2009. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post/Getty Images)

The student organization Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is prominent on many college campuses, preaching a mantra of “Freeing Palestine.” It masquerades as though it were a civil rights group when it is not. Indeed, as an African-American, I am highly insulted that my people’s legacy is being pilfered for such a repugnant agenda. It is thus high time to expose its agenda and lay bare some of the fallacies they peddle.

• If you seek to promulgate the legacy of early Islamic colonialists who raped and pillaged the Middle East, subjugated the indigenous peoples living in the region, and foisted upon them a life of persecution and degradation—you do not get to claim the title of “Freedom Fighter.”

• If you support a racist doctrine of Arab supremacism and wish (as a corollary of that doctrine) to destroy the Jewish state, you do not get to claim that the prejudices you peddle are forms of legitimate “resistance.”

• If your heroes are clerics who sit in Gaza plotting the genocide of a people; who place their children on rooftops in the hopes they will get blown to bits; who heap praises upon their fellow gang members when they succeed in murdering Jewish school boys and bombing places of activity where Jews congregate—you do not get to claim that you are some Apollonian advocate of human virtue. You are not.

• If your activities include grieving over the woefully incompetent performance by Hamas rocketeers and the subsequent millions of Jewish souls who are still alive—whose children were not murdered by their rockets; whose limbs were not torn from them; and whose disembowelment did not come into fruition—you do not get to claim that you stand for justice. You profess to be irreproachable. You are categorically not.

• If your idea of a righteous cause entails targeting and intimidating Jewish students on campus, arrogating their history of exile-and-return and fashioning it in your own likeness you do not get to claim that you do so in the name of civil liberty and freedom of expression.

• You do not get to champion regimes that murder, torture, and persecute their own people, deliberately keep them impoverished, and embezzle billions of dollar from them—and claim you are “pro-Arab.” You are not.

• You do not get to champion a system wherein Jews are barred from purchasing land, traveling in certain areas, and living out such an existence merely because they are Jews—and claim that you are promoting equality for all. You do not get to enable that system by pushing a boycott of Jewish owned businesses, shops, and entities—and then claim that you are “against apartheid.” That is evil.

• You do not get to justify the calculated and deliberate bombings, beatings, and lynchings of Jewish men, women, and children by referring to such heinous occurrences as part of a noble “uprising” of the oppressed—that is racism. It is evil.

• You do not get to pretend as though you and Rosa Parks would have been great buddies in the 1960s. Rosa Parks was a real Freedom Fighter. Rosa Parks was a Zionist.

Coretta Scott King was a Zionist.

A. Phillip Randolph was a Zionist.

Bayard Rustin was a Zionist.

Count Basie was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was a Zionist.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a Zionist.

Indeed, they and many more men and women signed a letter in 1975 that stated: “We condemn the anti-Jewish blacklist. We have fought too long and too hard to root out discrimination from our land to sit idly while foreign interests import bigotry to America. Having suffered so greatly from such prejudice, we consider most repugnant the efforts by Arab states to use the economic power of their newly-acquired oil wealth to boycott business firms that deal with Israel or that have Jewish owners, directors, or executives, and to impose anti-Jewish preconditions for investments in this country.”

You see, my people have always been Zionists because my people have always stood for the freedom of the oppressed. So, you most certainly do not get to culturally appropriate my people’s history for your own. You do not have the right to invoke mypeople’s struggle for your shoddy purposes and you do not get to feign victimhood in our name. You do not have the right to slander my people’s good name and link your cause to that of Dr. King’s. Our two causes are diametrically opposed to each other.

Your cause is the antithesis of freedom. It has cost hundreds of thousands of lives of both Arabs and Jews. It has separated these peoples, and has fomented animosity between them. It has led to heartache, torment, death and destruction.

It is of course your prerogative to continue to utilize platitudes for your cause. You are entirely within your rights to chant words like “equality” “justice” and “freedom fighter.”

You can keep using those words for as long as you like. But I do not think you know what they mean.

***

Ultra-Orthodox Jews Experiencing ‘Spiritual Meltdown of Historic Proportions, and Turning to Jesus.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks down from a rooftop at a mass prayer in Jerusalem March 2, 2014.

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man looks down from a rooftop at a mass prayer in Jerusalem March 2, 2014

Analysis from a news portal on the Messianic Jewish community in Israel has claimed that some in the Ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, who are often opposed to Jewish people turning to Jesus Christ, are experiencing a “spiritual meltdown of historic proportions” and are reexamining their beliefs.

“It would appear that the haredi community is quietly experiencing a spiritual meltdown of historic proportions. These people, who literally spend all their waking hours in Torah learning, are so starved for the real Word of the LORD that hundreds are willing to read ‘forbidden’ material in order to find Him,” Kehila News reported, reflecting on a Hebrew-language article published earlier in June on MyNet, the city of Petach Tikva’s news site.

Kehila News said that the article serves as a warning to citizens in the city to “beware of the propaganda” being distributed by Messianic groups, which is a common complaint by the haredi against Jesus-believing Jewish people.

The news portal argued that in part, the article is nothing special, as it makes the same accusations against the Messianic community as it does every year, namely that Jesus followers are practicing deceit by embracing Jewish customs, that their leaders are motivated by lucrative salaries, that they recruit new believers through entrapment, and indoctrinate minors to leave the Jewish faith.

Christians and Jewish followers of Christ are often accused of such actions by the haredi, which has also led to legislation seeking to supress religious freedom. In June 2015 it was announced that the Jerusalem Municipalityhas been obliged to consult with the city’s Rabbis before allowing Christians to host events in the city, fearful of gatherings that would see to convince Jews to follow Jesus.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews have protested Christian gatherings on many other occasions as well, including an instance in May 2014 where they grouped at the site of the Last Supper near Jerusalem ahead of Pope Francis’ visit at the time, arguing that the presence of Christians violates their beliefs.

Later, the MyNet article takes a turn, however, as it suggests that Messianic Jews might be good for the nation, and positioned that followers of Christ may have more to fear from the haredim than vice versa.

The article seemingly admits, Kehila News stated, that material about Jesus is drawing in hundreds of new adherents from the haredi community, which is supposed to be strongly opposed to missionary efforts.

The report argued that the admission is remarkable, as anti-missionary publications always dismiss Jews who turn to Jesus as people who have been alienated by their Jewish heritage, or who are ignorant of the Jewish Bible.

Kehila News added: “A few Israeli believers were asked by MyNet if they understood why the ultra-orthodox are so hostile toward us. Their answers focused on what the haredim think of us, ranging from the perception that they ‘sometimes come to accept us after they get to know us’ … to the conviction that ‘they are against us no matter what we do.'”

The news portal reflected that the “real reason” behind anti-missionary panic in Petach Tikva is that the “Messiah is so powerfully reaching those of our people who have lived all their lives ‘behind the Torah Curtain,'” that even the haredi are recognizing the truth now.
Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/ultra-orthodox-haredi-jews-spiritual-meltdown-turning-to-jesus-165448/#VRKrQLSOwJC5GKKr.99

Origins of ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Begin to Emerge

the Gospel of Jesus's Wife papyrus

Written in Coptic (an Egyptian language), the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, if authentic, suggests that some people in ancient times believed Jesus was married, apparently to Mary Magdalene.
Credit: Photo courtesy Harvard Divinity School

The truth may be finally emerging about the “Gospel of Jesus’s Wife,” a highly controversial papyrus suggesting that some people, in ancient times, believed Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene. New research on the papyrus’ ink points to the possibility that it is authentic, researchers say, while newly obtained documents may shed light on the origins of the business-card-sized fragment.

Debate about the credibility of the “gospel” began as soon as Harvard University professor Karen King reported her discovery of the papyrus in September 2012. Written in Coptic (an Egyptian language), the papyrus fragment contains a translated line that reads, “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …'” and also refers to a “Mary,” possibly Mary Magdalene.

King had tentatively dated the papyrus to the fourth century, saying it may be a copy of a gospel written in the second century in Greek. [Read Translation of Gospel of Jesus's Wife Papyrus]

Analysis of the papyrus, detailed last year in the Harvard Theological Review journal, suggested the papyrus dates back around 1,200 years (somewhere between the sixth and ninth centuries) while the ink is of a type that could have been created at that time. These findings have led King to support the text’s authenticity.

However over the past year many scholars have come to the conclusion that the papyrus is a modern-day forgery, though King and a few other researchers say they are not ready to concede this: “At this point, when discussions and research are ongoing, I think it is important, however difficult, to stay open regarding the possible dates of the inscription and other matters of interpretation,” wrote King in a letter recently published in the magazine Biblical Archaeological Review. King has not responded to several interview requests from Live Science.

Now, researchers at Columbia University are running new tests on the ink used on the papyrus. Initial tests published by the Columbia University team in 2014 indicated the ink could have been made in ancient times. Researchers are saying little until their report is published; however they did talk about one finding that could provide some support for its authenticity.

A gospel steeped in mystery

The current owner of the papyrus has insisted on remaining anonymous, claiming that he bought the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, along with other Coptic texts, in 1999 from a man named Hans-Ulrich Laukamp. This person, in turn, got it from Potsdam, in what was East Germany, in 1963, the owner said.

Laukamp died in 2002, and the claim that he owned the text has beenstrongly disputed: Rene Ernest, the man whom Laukamp and his wife Helga charged with representing their estate, said that Laukamp had no interest in antiquities, did not collect them and was living in West Berlin in 1963. Therefore, he couldn’t have crossed the Berlin Wall into Potsdam. Axel Herzsprung, a business partner of Laukamp’s, similarly said that Laukamp never had an interest in antiquities and never owned a papyrus. Laukamp has no children or living relatives who could verify these claims. [6 Archaeological Forgeries That Tried to Change History]

Over the past few months, new documents have been found that not only reconstruct Laukamp’s life in greater detail, but also provide a new way to check the anonymous owner’s story.

King reported in a 2014 Harvard Theological Review article that the anonymous owner “provided me with a photocopy of a contract for the sale of ‘6 Coptic papyrus fragments, one believed to be a Gospel’ from Hans-Ulrich Laukamp, dated Nov. 12, 1999, and signed by both parties.” King also notes that “a handwritten comment on the contract states, ‘Seller surrenders photocopies of correspondence in German. Papyri were acquired in 1963 by the seller in Potsdam (East Germany).'”

After searching public databases in Florida a Live Science reporter uncovered seven signatures signed by Laukamp between 1997 and 2001 on five notarized documents. Anyone can search these databases and download these documents. These signatures can be compared with the signature recording the sale of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife — providing another way to verify or disprove the story of how the “gospel” made its way to Harvard.

The signature of Hans-Ulrich Laukamp from September 1997.
The signature of Hans-Ulrich Laukamp from September 1997.

While Harvard University would have to work with forensic handwriting experts to verify the signature, the fact that these notarized documents exist, and are publicly available, presents the opportunity to see if Laukamp really did own the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife. Forensic handwriting analysis, while not always conclusive, has been used to determine if signatures made on documents or works of art are authentic or forged.

If Laukamp did own the papyrus, authentic or not, then the origins of the enigmatic text lie with him. The new Laukamp documents allow the story of his life between 1995 and 2002 to be told in some detail. However if Laukamp didn’t own the papyrus and the anonymous owner has not been truthful, then further doubt would be cast on the papyrus’ authenticity, and information leading to the identity, motives and techniques of the forgers could be found.

Authentic or forged?

One important find, which indicates the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a fake, was made last year by Christian Askeland, a research associate with the Institute for Septuagint and Biblical Research in Wuppertal, Germany. He examined a second Coptic papyrus containing part of the Gospel of John, which the anonymous owner of the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife had also given to Harvard. This text was likewise supposedly purchased from Laukamp, and radiocarbon testing of that papyrus similarly found that it dates back around 1,200 years. [See Images of the Ancient Gospel of Judas]

Askeland found that the text and line breaks— where one line of a text ends and another begins — are identical to those of another papyrus, published in a 1924 book. That second papyrus was written in a dialect of Coptic called Lycopolitan, which went extinct around 1,500 years ago. Askeland concluded that the John papyrus is a forgery. Furthermore, it shares other features with the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife, Askeland said, suggesting both are forgeries.

“The two Coptic fragments clearly shared the same ink, writing implement and scribal hand. The same artisan had created both essentially at the same time,” Askeland wrote in a paper recently published in the journal New Testament Studies.

King objected to this conclusion in her Biblical Archaeology Review letter, noting that the John fragment could have been copied in ancient times, long after Lycopolitan went extinct, from a text that had similar line breaks.

In addition, James Yardley, a senior research scientist at Columbia University, told Live Science that the new tests confirm that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife holds different ink than the John papyrus. This could undercut Askeland’s argument that the two papyri were written by the same person.

“In our first exploration, we did state that the inks used for the two documents of interest [the John papyrus and the Gospel of Jesus's Wife] were quite different. The more recent results do confirm this observation strongly,” Yardley told Live Science.

He added that until his new research is published in a peer-reviewed journal, he doesn’t want to say anything more publicly. And once it’s published, Askeland and other researchers will have a chance to respond.

Askeland’s find is far from the only argument that the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is a fake: A number of scholars have noted that the Coptic writing in the Gospel of Jesus’s Wife is similar to another early Christian text called the “Gospel of Thomas,” even including a modern-day typo made in a 2002 edition of the Gospel of Thomas that is available for free online. That typo indicates the forgers copied from this modern-day text. King disputed this assertion in 2014, saying that ancient scribes made grammatical errors similar to the modern-day typo.

King and communications staff at Harvard Divinity School have not responded to repeated requests for comment.

WESTBORO BAPTIST CHURCH TROLLED AND HUMILIATED

Westboro Baptist Church gets trolled and humiliated. I finally get a chance to really piss off the Westboro Baptist Church with Brick Stone!

Brick catches up with the WBC while in L.A. for the Oscars. After being turned away by police at 3 Santa Clarita churches, Brick finds them 

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Christian group to schools: Stop filling kids’ heads with dinosaurs

Technically Incorrect: Insisting that dinosaurs are a 19th century invention and caused one child to become ‘bestially-minded,’ Christians Against Dinosaurs posts its displeasure on a popular parenting site. But surely this is satire.

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Is the Ark To Salvation self-steering? I do hope so

There are few things more amusing than prehistoric views about prehistory.

I have been woken several times over the last couple of days with rumblings and tremblings about a group that has publicly questioned the very existence of dinosaurs and railed against the bestialization of our children by teaching them dinosaur lore in schools.

The group in question is called Christians Against Dinosaurs. Those of a coarsely waggish nature might suggest that Christians ought not be against dinosaurs, given some of the archaic beings that run certain of the Christian branches.

I cannot begin to debate that, as I’m too busy giggling at some of this group’s postings on the popular parenting site Mumsnet.

These people are for real! Can you believe it?!?

A classic was headlined: “I’m getting sick and tired of dinosaurs being forced on our children.” Its author, claiming to represent the Christians Against Dinosaurs Ministry, exclaimed: “I for one do not want my children being taught lies. Did you know that nobody had even heard of dinosaurs before the 1800s, when they were invented by curio-hungry Victorians?”

The poster goes on to explain that Darwin’s Theory of Evolution “entirely disproved dinosaurs.” Worse that that, though: “Dinosaurs are a very bad example for children. At my children’s school, several children were left in tears after one of their classmates (who had evidently been exposed to dinosaurs), became bestially-minded and ran around the classroom roaring and pretending to be a dinosaur. Then he bit three children on the face.”

This caused a furor. The Huffington Post revealed that the poster had been thrown off Mumsnet for this scientific heresy.

Being of sanguine mind and chilly heart, I tried to investigate this group further. It has a Facebook page, where more than 8,000 claim to be members. It has a Twitter feed, with a mere 194 followers.

And then there are the YouTube videos. The most pulsating is one in which a presenter attempts to convince the world that the first fossil ever found was much later than when the first “idea” of a dinosaur was conceived. She insisted that paleontologists were just tools of a system.

To many ears, this may seem like bilge, but bilge designed to entertain. To my eyes, the woman presenting her argument could barely keep a straight face.

So I contacted the Christians Against Dinosaurs Twitter feed and asked who was its leader and was this all a joke. I received this reply: “We do not have a leader, we are a collective.” I was told this is most definitely not a joke.

Unlike many Christian groups, this one doesn’t seem to talk about God very much. At least not in its video.

I was informed by the group, however, that its aim to “respect Jesus and see through the various dinosaur deceptions.” The woman presenting the video is Kristen Auclair, whose Facebook page claims that she lived in Southbridge, Mass.

A LinkedIn profile for the same name, city and similar profile picture says she’s a commercial insurance account executive. It makes no mention of her antipathy toward dinosaurs. So she’ll insure any old CEO, then.

I was encouraged to join the group to see what it was all about. I made a request, which was approved by someone called Kate (she asked me to withhold her last name.) She told me she is an actor in the UK.

I could not find her among Auclair’s list of Facebook friends. I did, however, find Brontosaurus Rex (seriously).

We all know this? How do we all know this? I wasn’t aware that all of us knew anything at all. That’s just one of the amusements of life.

Still, the group’s welcome message concludes that it’s “a nice group to celebrate Gods wisdom in denying the existing of dinosaurs!”

This nice group says it plans a protest at Ken Ham’s Creation Museum in Kentucky. The date is as yet undetermined. The announcement of the protest was made by Amy Pavlovich, whose Facebook pageclaims that “hearts are for sissies.” And Happy Valentine’s Day to you, madam.

I contacted both Kate and Auclair to ask for further details of their involvement in what to some might seem a joke (of one kind) and to others a joke (of another kind).

“I assure you we are serious about our beliefs,” Kate explained. “The core members all follow Jesus’ teachings but, as I’m sure you’ve seen, since the recent publicity we have been swamped by a larger than usual number of ‘trolling, and people who seem to have joined just to mock.”

How, though, did she get involved in all this? She told me: “I got involved through a family member who worked in the palaeontological field and, as they rose up the ranks and more and more dodgy goings on were revealed their suspicions were aroused and further research ensued.”

She claimed she is still learning. However, one thing she has learned is that “the Museum Industry Complex are ruthless.” But can she change minds? “We already have,” she said.

Auclair confirmed that she had a child and was in insurance sales. She told me that not too many people in Massachusetts share her beliefs.

About the group, she said: “I only hope that it serves as an outlet for others too afraid to speak out about their doubts in the field of paleontology. It is healthy to question the world around us and not just take the word of science as gospel.”

She added: “I personally think that the reaction thus far has been a little crazy. Lol. An influx of Reddit people has made the group a little tougher to handle. I know I’m just trying to get my bearings together to handle the onslaught of berating messages and absolute vitriol flying from these people.”

Welcome to the Web, Kristen.

So remember, kids, fossils are just fossils. They’re not bits of old dinosaurs. Unless, oh, they are. Either way children, please don’t be beastly.

Police investigate after windows of kosher restaurant is smashed in Edgware, north London

Shattered windows: Orli Cafe, in Hale Lane (Picture: @shomrimlondon)

Police are investigating after the windows of a kosher restaurant in north London were smashed.

It was initially suggested gun shots shattered the windows of Orli Cafe, in Hale Lane, Edgware, at 5.30pm this evening.

But a police spokesman confirmed a “projectile” was thrown at the window, possibly from a vehicle driving past.

Police said there have been four incidents of windows being smashed across Edgware and Barnet this evening, including one other building and two vehicles.

The attacks are “random” and it is unknown if there is anti-Semitic motive, police said.

A Met spokesman said: “There have been four incidents across Edgware and Barnet of windows being smashed by a projectile of some sort, some people think it is a marble. There is no obvious motive.

“We are trying to establish if it was a vehicle or vehicles.”

Nobody has been injured in the incidents.

Jewish charity Community Security Trust are also helping police with the investigation.

The charity tweeted:  “Initial investigation suggests firearm not used at Edgware kosher restaurant, may be linked to other non-antisemitic incident in area.”

Heaven – Do You Qualify? Not likely according to The Scriptures! Watch the video..

Find out if you will be going to heaven according to the bible!

Mike, a doctor, and Brandon, an app developer, both skeptics, collaborated to make the Android app, “The Atheist’s Ally”. https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.punch.back&hl=en

After further scriptural analysis they have now produced “Heaven – Do You Qualify”. The video allows you to assess your personal chances of getting to heaven.

If you like the video, please LIKE and SHARE :)

Enjoy!