News and Views

Jan/Feb 2016

V Religious

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The Aleppo Codex, the oldest Hebrew Bible that has survived to modern times, was created by scribes called Masoretes in Tiberias, Israel around 930 AD. As such, the Aleppo Codex is considered to be the most authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible. The Aleppo Codex is not complete, however, as almost 200 pages went missing between 1947 and 1957. While the Aleppo Codex is the oldest Hebrew Bible, the Leningrad Codex is the oldest complete Hebrew Bible. The Leningrad Codex dates to 1008 AD. The scribe who penned the Leningrad Codex actually identified himself in two colophons (an inscription containing the title, the scribe’s or printer’s name, and the date and place of composition) at the beginning and end of the text as Samuel ben Jacob, or Samuel son of Jacob. The colophons also identify the place written (Cairo), the person who commissioned it (Mevorak son of Nathaniel)as well as further sale and donation details. — Bible History Daily, 11/2/2015
Where did Jesus turn water into wine? Where is Cana of Galilee? There are at least five candidates for Cana in the Bible, but, according to archaeologist Tom McCollough, only one site offers the most compelling evidence. Nine miles from Nazareth lies the site of Khirbet Cana (or Khirbet Qana, “the ruins of Cana”) in lower Galilee. Archaeological work has revealed that Khirbet Cana was a modest, well-connected Jewish village in the Hellenistic and Roman periods (323 BC-324 AD). Khirbet Cana’s Jewish identity has been confirmed by the discovery of a Roman-period synagogue, several miqva’ot (Jewish ritual baths), six Maccabean coins and an ostracon incised with Hebrew letters. — Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2015

South Koreans are rapidly losing trust in religion, but those who do keep faith tend to support Catholicism. In a survey of 1200 South Koreans 16 and older, the Jogye Order Institute for the Study of Buddhism and Society indicated respondents’ levels of trust in religion dropped to 11.8 percent from last year’s 25 percent. The survey showed 38.9 percent of respondents favored Catholicism as the most trusted religion, compared with 32.8 percent for Buddhism and 10.2 percent for Protestantism. Although South Korea is not widely regarded as a Catholic country, approximately 5 million South Koreans — 10 percent of the population — are Catholic. But experts say the religion tends to be disproportionately represented throughout South Korea’s social hierarchy, with those in elite classes more likely to support it. — International Business Times, 10/28/2015

Almost 80 percent of India’s population of 1.2 billion is Hindu, and many Hindus avoid beef because they believe cows are sacred. Eating beef and slaughtering cows are banned in many states and always have been hot-button political issues in the country. But the mob killing last month of a man wrongly suspected of eating beef has prompted a national debate and calls for tolerance from India’s civil and political leaders, as beef-related clashes have escalated. — Washington Post, 10/28/2015

H Social

Gangs with Russian ties are driving a thriving black market in nuclear materials in Eastern Europe, often with the explicit intent of connecting sellers to Middle Eastern extremist groups. Authorities working with the FBI have interrupted four attempts by gangs shopping radioactive material in Moldova. — Associated Press, 10/7/2015
Humankind is marking an off-the-planet pinnacle in November: the 15th anniversary of continuous residency at the International Space Station. The U.S., Russian and Japanese crew plans a special dinner. Commander Scott Kelly, who is on a yearlong mission, says the biggest benefit of the orbiting lab is furthering long-term exploration goals. He and his crewmates consider the space station a bridge or Khirbet Cana (“the ruins of Cana”) test bed for the technology needed to travel to Mars. Since the first permanent crew moved in on November 2, 2000, 220 people have come and gone, representing 17 countries. — AP, 11/2/2015

China said it would allow all married couples to have two children, signaling the end after 35 years to its unpopular “one-child” policy that has been blamed for skewing the gender balance, forcing women into unwanted abortions and bringing about a rapidly aging workforce. Many rural families and some urban ones already were able to have two children.  The move may not spur a huge baby boom, however, in part because fertility rates are believed to be declining even without the policy’s enforcement. — AP, 11/1/2015

Austria, a strong critic of fences built to cope with Europe’s migrant influx, announced it is joining other nations that have either already erected border barriers or are planning to do so. Slovenia, the main entry point into Austria, also said it was ready to build a fence, while Hungary has been championing the success of its razor-wire border fences with Serbia and Croatia and plans another one with Romania.  Greece already erected a barbed wire fence three years ago on a section of its border to Turkey. — AP, 10/29/2015

The government’s insurance website is faster and easier to use, but the health care law is approaching limits. The reasons have to do with the structure of the complicated law, the effects of a major change introduced by the Supreme Court and political divisions likely to be magnified in an election year. Costs are going up on the private, taxpayer-subsidized coverage sold through exchanges, and many of the more than 10 million eligible uninsured Americans are younger people on tight budgets. — AP, 11/2/2015

G Political

The succession of three Middle Eastern leaders in as many days paying a visit to Moscow is seemingly the result of a visible increase of Russian military forces at a Kremlin-held base off the coast of Syria.  The last two months have seen contact between Putin and the king of Saudi Arabia, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud as well as the leaders of Egypt, Abu Dhabi and Jordan. The increased communication with Middle Eastern leaders comes in the wake of Putin’s statement last month that he planned to form a coalition of countries to stand against the Islamic State. — Moscow Times, 9/25/2015

Years later than planned, the Indian government has finally released census data on religious affiliation.  The number of Hindus in 2011 was reported to be 79.8 percent of the population, thereby falling under he psychologically significant 80 percent threshold for the first time. Simultaneously, the proportion of Muslims in the total Indian population rose to 14.2 percent (previously 13.4 percent). In absolute numbers, this means that on the closing date of the population census in 2011, there were 966 million Hindus and 172 million Muslims in India. —, 9/28/2015

Iran has begun decommissioning uranium enrichment centrifuges under the terms of the nuclear deal struck with six world powers in July. Under the July 14 agreement, Iran is to curb its nuclear program under United Nations supervision to ensure it cannot be used to make a nuclear weapon, in exchange for the removal of sanctions that have isolated Tehran and hobbled its economy. — Reuters, 11/2/2015

The chairman of the euro currency group says financially ailing Greece needs help dealing with the huge number of migrants arriving on its shores as they flee to Europe. Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a group of reporters in The Hague that “we need to do as much as we can to help Greece deal with that. It’s a major challenge, it’s a humanitarian challenge and it cannot be done by Greece on its own.” Discussing the broader implications of the crisis, Dijsselbloem said that the European Commission should take into account the financial impact when judging the budgets of the hardest hit nations, which do not have economies robust enough to absorb the costs. — AP, 11/2/2015

A watchdog group is warning in a new report that ever-growing, secret budgets and poor oversight of militaries in the Middle East make them incredibly susceptible to corruption. London-based Transparency International released the report which warns the 17 countries it reviewed even more vulnerable to extremist violence, as the Islamic State group and other militants feed on the discontent. — AP, 10/29/2015
The leaders of South Korea and Japan held their first formal summit in three and a half years Monday, a meeting that was almost entirely devoid of substance, but will nevertheless come as a relief to Washington, which has despaired about tensions between its two key Asian allies. The meeting between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in which they simply agreed to keep working to resolve their historical disputes, was hardly warm. The two met for a total of one hour and 40 minutes Monday morning, a post-script to a trilateral summit with China. There was no concluding lunch, no joint press conference, and no love lost. — Washington Post, 11/2/2015

$ Financial

The world is no longer at risk of running out of oil or gas for decades ahead with existing technology capable of unlocking so much that global reserves would almost double by 2050 despite booming consumption, oil major BP said. When taking into account all accessible forms of energy including nuclear, wind and solar, there are enough resources to meet 20 times what the world will need over that period, David Eyton, BP Group Head of Technology said. “Energy resources are plentiful. Concerns over running out of oil and gas have disappeared,” Eyton said. The halving of oil prices since last June has further dampened their appetite to explore for new resources. By applying these technologies, the global proved fossil fuel resources could increase from 2.9 trillion barrels of oil equivalent (boe) to 4.8 trillion boe by 2050, nearly double the projected 2.5 trillion boe required to meet global demand until 2050, BP said. — Reuters, 11/2/2015

Volkswagen AG’s top US executive said that the missions cheating was carried out by a few engineers in Germany without any formal decision by the company and conceded it could take years to retrofit 430,000 diesel vehicles. Testifying before a congressional committee in Washington, Michael Horn, the president and chief executive officer of Volkswagen of America, apologized and promised a full investigation. The Wolfsburg, Germany-based automaker will ultimately face costs and lost revenue from its damaged image of more than 35 billion euros ($39 billion), according to an estimate by Warburg Research. — Bloomberg, 10/8/2015

Since December 2013, Microsoft has been engaged in a pivotal battle with the U.S. government over e-mail stored on one of its company servers in Ireland. The government’s attorneys say the US simply wants evidence linked to a narcotics case. Microsoft says if it loses the case, the consequences will resound well beyond the fate of an alleged drug dealer. “At the core of this case is the protection of personal communications and the reach of US law,” says Craig Newman, head of privacy and data security at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler. He and others warn that a decision against Microsoft could affect civil liberties as well as the profits of the US cloud-computing industry, forecast to reach $98.6 billion in revenue this year, according to market-research firm Gartner. “The implications of what we do here are obviously broad,” said US Circuit Judge Gerard Lynch, one of the three justices presiding over the latest appeal, which opened in New York in early September. — Bloomberg, 10/8/2015

After the recession, millions of unemployed workers faced a wrenching dilemma: hold out for a job as good as the one they left, or take a lower-level position, often outside their field. A new study surprisingly concludes it’s better to wait, at least for mid-level workers. It found employers seeking office workers were more likely to call unemployed applicants with relevant experience than those with similar backgrounds who recently took a lower-level position. — USA Today, 11/2/2015

Y Israel

A recent survey conducted by Haaretz showed that 70 percent of Israeli Jews believe in God, as do 98 percent of Arab Israelis. Look around and you’ll see fewer and fewer atheists. There is no recent Israeli poll or study that doesn’t show the profound belief in God. Worthy of mention are the comprehensive periodical polls of the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center for Surveys and Avi Chai Foundation, which indicate that belief in God is becoming stronger. According to their latest poll, which was published in 2012 (with data from 2009), 80 percent of Israeli Jews believe in God. The new Haaretz survey also recognizes another issue — namely, the continual decline in identifying secularism with atheism. Almost half of those who define themselves as secular also declare that they believe in God. — Haaretz, 9/14/2015

The recent violent incidents on the Temple Mount and its surrounding areas, which occurred in part because of the decision by some Jews to go up to the holy site, have sharply divided the national religious Jews and the ultra-Orthodox community. While ultra-Orthodox Jews cite halacha (Jewish law) to explain their resolute opposition to visiting the site, parts of the religious Zionist community support going up to the Temple Mount for nationalist reasons. What the bitter argument over the Temple Mount reveals is that when dealing with existential issues surrounding the Jewish presence in the Land of Israel, there are still deep ideological differences between the ultra-Orthodox and religious nationalist communities. — Al Monitor, 9/25/2015

Drilling that began more than a year ago has exposed a huge find of billions of barrels of oil, but it is too early to know if the black gold can be extracted at a price that would make the oil commercially viable.  The drilling is in the southern Golan Heights, far away from the northern border but several miles from the eastern border. Syria has claimed the entire Golan since it lost the strategic and water-rich area in the Six-Day War in 1967. If oil can be extracted, it will be a huge bonanza for Israel and an enormous reason for whoever rules in Syria, or for Hezbollah that is fighting with Assad’s forces and is based in Lebanon, to launch a war on Israel. Israel uses approximately 270,000 barrels a day. Billions of barrels of oil would satisfy the country’s need for a long time. — Jewish Press, 10/7/2015
The Jewish state has developed a close relationship with Azerbaijan as that country is wooed by Western governments seeking an alternative to Russia as a source of energy imports. Israel is one such customer and in return sells large quantities of sophisticated weaponry to Azerbaijan, partly in exchange for oil. Much of the oil Israel purchases — about 40% — travels through the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline, which runs overland from Baku, the country’s capital on the Caspian Sea, through Georgia, and ends in Turkey. Israel recognized Azerbaijan shortly after it declared independence in 1991. Equally important to Israel is Azerbaijan’s southern border with Iran, a country with no love lost for Baku, despite both countries’ populations being predominantly Shi’ite Muslim. This makes Israel and Azerbaijan natural allies since both countries see Iran as an existential threat. — Jerusalem Post, 11/2/2015

According to foreign reports, on October 30 the Israeli air force attacked Syrian army and Hezbollah targets on Syrian territory. Russians are regularly striking rebel targets throughout Syria. Some of these strikes take place in the Syrian Golan Heights, not far from the Israeli border. One of the attacks almost reached the border zone; it took place in the Daraa region, about six miles from the border between Israel and Syria. Russia is using these airstrikes to test Israel’s nerves. — Al Monitor, 11/2/2015

With the stagnation and hopelessness in regard to a two-state solution and the current violent outbreak linking Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza to Israeli Arabs, one can say that the binational state is now here, or rather one state in which two nationalities clash. Without a border delineating two states, the West Bank has turned binational; Israel has, as well, and so has Jerusalem. The most dangerous aspect of this deterioration is the political identification and connection of many Israeli Arabs with Palestinian independence-fighting movements: Fatah, Hamas, the Islamic movements, etc.  The basic allegiance of Israeli Arabs with Israel, including their participation in the electoral process and their at least partial integration in the economy and in academic life, was one of Israel’s biggest accomplishments.— Al Monitor, 11/2/2015


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