The Talmud is a pillar of Jewish law, containing dialectical opinions from thousands of rabbis debating law, philosophy, history, theology, and myriad other topics. By displaying argumentation by many minds, a page of Talmud enshrines dissent.
Unfortunately, the Talmudic spirit has been almost entirely absent from the Middle East. Except for Israel, the region has suffered for decades from autocratic regimes that rule by force – repressing freedom of the press, political rights, and dissent. The marketplace of ideas is desolate: the 2002 Arab Human Development Report claimed that only about 330 books are annually translated into Arabic. Estimates for 2010 improved but are still under 3,000 books annually for about 400 million people. The figures for books written in Arabic were not much better. According to Kitab – a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and the Frankfurt Book Fair – an estimated 5,910 books were written in Arabic and published across the Arab world in 2008 (more recent statistics could not be found). Israel, with fewer than eight million people, in 2011 translated about 700 books into Hebrew and produced another 5,600 homegrown books.
The Arab Spring was supposed to usher in an era of greater freedom. Instead, autocratic and corrupt secular rule has been supplanted with Islamist regimes no more liberal than the ones they replaced. If Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's greatest diplomatic achievement during his first seven months in office was to host an Iranian president for the first time since Islamists revolutionized Iran into a brutal theocracy in 1979, Egyptians should be worried. more >>
Some foreign policy realists are urging caution when assessing the impact of the visit of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Egypt. The visit, the first by an Iranian leader since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, is an indication of the way the Muslim Brotherhood government of Egypt has warmed up toward a country that Hosni Mubarak spurned as a threat to stability.
But, as the New York Times reports, analysts believe Egypt's continuing need for aid from both the United States and moderate Arab regimes that fear Iran as much as the Americans, will prevent a full restoration of diplomatic relations. But whether or not the two countries go that far or not, the symbolism of the embrace of Ahmadinejad by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi (who visited Tehran last August) illustrates the way the Brotherhood's ascendancy has fractured American foreign policy objectives in the region. The willingness of Egypt to embrace Iran in this manner undermines U.S. efforts to isolate Tehran and sends the world the message not to take President Obama's threats about stopping Iran's nuclear program seriously. It is also a reminder that the two countries have something in common besides Islam: leaders who engage in anti-Semitic hate speech.
Coming as it did on the eve of the resumption of the West's latest negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, the Ahmadinejad visit brings home the fact that despite all the tough talk heard in Washington, Iran has not been isolated by the diplomatic strategy pursued by President Obama and recently departed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The assumption that the Iranians have been brought to their knees by sanctions and deprived of allies is given the lie by Ahmadinejad's warm reception in Cairo. more >>
A court in Israel has granted divorce to a same-sex couple, even though such marriages are not recognized by law in the Jewish state.
While gay couples can host marriage ceremonies, legally there is no provision for same-sex marriage in Israel, Reuters reported. A court in Tel Aviv, however, determined that the marriage between former Israeli lawmaker Uzi Even, 72, and his partner of 23 years, Amit Kama, 52, "should be ended."
"The irony is that while this is the beginning of a civil revolution, it's based on divorce rather than marriage," Kama, a senior lecturer in communications in the Emek Yizrael College, shared with Reuters. more >>
A bishop from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has sent a letter to Congress warning against cutting aid to the Palestinian Territories.
Bishop Richard E. Pates, chairman of the USCCB's Committee on International Justice and Peace, sent the letter on Monday in response to consideration from Congress to cut aid after the U.N. vote.
"The Palestinian Authority and President Abbas' Fatah party have renounced violence and committed themselves, as has Israel, to a two-state solution," wrote Pates. "We ask you to resist efforts to cut off needed humanitarian and development assistance to Palestinians as they build capacity for a future state." more >>
Many Jewish-American groups have expressed concern and disappointment over the United Nation's vote to overwhelmingly approve a statehood bid for the Palestinian Territories.
In response to the United Nations General Assembly's vote on Thursday to grant Palestine an elevated status in the global body, various organizations believed this would hinder peace for the Holy Land. The Washington DC-based Jewish Council for Public Affairs released a statement, calling it the "wrong way to Palestinian statehood."
"We would like to be congratulating and warmly welcoming UN recognition of a Palestinian state; not just as a non-member observer state, but as a full member of the world body," said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. more >>
A well-respected, powerful Islamic cleric of the Gaza Strip recently issued a fatwa, or religious edict, which ruled it a "sin" to disobey the Israel-Hamas cease-fire agreement brokered by Egypt last week.
"Honoring the truce, which was sponsored by our Egyptian brethren, is the duty of each and every one of us. Violating it shall constitute a sin," Suleiman al-Daya, an Islamic cleric reportedly respected by Hamas forces, wrote in a fatwa issued Saturday, Nov. 24.
The truce, or cease-fire, was reached on Nov. 21 after eight days of deadly fighting between Israel and the Palestinian militant group Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip. The fighting reportedly claimed 145 lives. more >>