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Religious

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What’s in the Dead Sea Scrolls? The scrolls, which date from the third century B.C.E. to the first century C.E., mostly contain Jewish religious texts.  About 40 percent of the manuscript fragments consist of texts from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).  Pseudepigraphal texts — that is, religious texts that did not make it into the Hebrew Bible — from the Second Temple period (c. 530 B.C.E.-70 C.E.) comprise another 30 percent. The final 30 percent consists of texts written by a sectarian group, whom many associate with the Essenes, an ancient Jewish religious sect; these texts talk about the group’s beliefs and rules. — Biblical Archaeology Review, 7/27/2018

China’s government is ratcheting up a crackdown on Christian congregations in Beijing and several provinces, destroying crosses, burning Bibles, shutting churches and ordering followers to sign papers renouncing their faith, according to pastors and a group that monitors religion in China. The campaign corresponds with a drive to “Sinicize” religion by demanding loyalty to the officially atheist Communist Party and eliminating any challenge to its power over people’s lives. Chinese law requires religious believers to worship only in congregations registered with the authorities, but many millions belong to so-called underground or house churches that defy government restrictions. — AP, 9/12/2018

Unknown to most Westerners, a global struggle is playing out within the politics of Eastern Orthodoxy, which commands about 300 million believers worldwide. That struggle pits the Russian state and the Russian Orthodox Church against Constantinople and its apparent support for an independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church. With its claim to 150 million members, the Russian Orthodox Church is by far the largest of the 14 mutually recognized Orthodox churches, and its leadership is highly conscious of the church’s imperial past and the fact that it is the only Orthodox church backed by considerable state power today. — First Things, 9/11/2018

The archbishop of Washington, D.C, who served as bishop of Pittsburgh, said in the letter to priests in the diocese that he will soon meet with the Pope to discuss his possible resignation. This followed the release of the systemic cover-up by bishops and other Catholic leaders cataloged in the landmark, 1,300-page Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August. The Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M. has condemned the Catholic Church for enabling such abuse and betraying many souls who looked to them for instruction, discernment and direction. — RNS, 9/11/2018

About 2,500 people from 60 countries attended the second World Hindu Congress near Chicago. The gathering was a historic event for Hindus, coming 125 years, nearly to the day, after a famed speech by Swami Vivekananda to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago. “That singular event, that singular act, changed the course of history and paved the way for Hindus to carry their traditions and values with confidence and pride as they traveled and settled in different corners of the world,” said Abhaya Asthana, president of Vishwa Hindu Parishad of America (VHPA) and coordinator of the 2018 Congress.  The Coalition for the Defense of the Constitution and Democracy also held a news conference in New York City prior to the Congress, protesting the involvement of participants from VHPA, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and other groups. The coalition claimed in a press release that those groups are “promoting the agenda of Hindutva fascism under the cover of ‘Hindu resurgence.’” RSS is as an “ideological, nationalist Hindu group” that helped Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party rise to power in India in 2014, Reuter’s reports. The country’s Muslims and other religious and caste minorities since have pointed to incidents of religious violence and discrimination. — RNS, 9/10/2018

Social

For many children — some as young as six years old — the video game “Fortnite” has become a social proving ground. More than 125 million people play it worldwide, according to its maker, mostly in a free mode pitting 100 combatants against each other until one person is left standing. Winning bestows bragging rights. Parents are more than willing to pay “coaches” who help their children train to play better. — Wall Street Journal, 8/1/2018

A doctor in Bangladesh has invented an artificial respirator out of a shampoo bottle and it’s saving thousands of children’s lives. Last year 920,000 children under the age of five died of pneumonia, mostly in poor countries without access to expensive medical care. It is particularly threatening to malnourished children. In Bangladesh, pneumonia causes 28% of infant mortality. Dr. Mohammod Jobayer Chisti was stifled by a too-expensive ventilator called a bubble-CPAP, which is employed to help premature babies breathe. So he decided to create his own, using a discarded shampoo bottle that contained leftover bubbles, an oxygen supply and some tubing.  And it worked. The hospital where he practices now deploys the device routinely and the number of children who die there from pneumonia has fallen by 75 percent. — The Economist, 9/7/2018

Political

Hackers working for Russia got inside the control rooms of U.S. electric utilities where they could
have caused blackouts, federal officials said. The Russian hackers, who worked for a shadowy state-sponsored group identified as Dragonfly or Energetic Bear, broke into supposedly secure networks owned by utilities with relative ease by first penetrating networks of key vendors who had trusted relationships with power companies, said officials at the Department of Homeland Security. — Wall Street Journal, 7/24/2018

The catalog of despair in the Middle East today is difficult to fathom. The Syrian civil war has become one of the greatest human catastrophes in history, killing at least half a million civilians and displacing more than ten million. Iraq has made remarkable progress in defeating the Islamic State or ISIS, but that success has come at a great cost to those who live in the liberated areas. The civil war in Yemen has resulted in the largest outbreak of cholera in human history and left 8.4 million people on the brink of starvation. Libya remains a catastrophically failed state. Even states that avoided collapse are struggling. Egypt is still suffering from the consequences of its 2013 military coup, as stifling repression prevents political progress, suppresses tourism, fuels insurgency, and drives popular discontent.  Bahrain continues to simmer after 2011’s bloody sectarian crackdown, with no solutions to offer beyond repression of the political opposition.  Relatively successful states, such as Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia, are grappling with massive economic problems, discontented youth, and unstable neighbors. In almost every country, the economic and political problems that drove the region toward popular uprising in 2011 are more intense today than they were seven years ago. — Foreign Affairs, Sept/Oct 2018

The national protest movement building in Iran decries the social, political and economic injustices of life under the Islamic Republic. From its inception, the regime has sought to subvert Iran by transforming it from a nation into a cause. It changed the centuries-old flag. It discourages or prevents the teaching of literature and history. It denies people the right to gather for special occasions at the tombs of their heroes, such as Cyrus the Great. Under its caste-like system of religious and gender apartheid, it assigns each Iranian a particular legal and social status, with women and religious minorities occupying second, third or lower degrees of citizenship.— Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2018

A large military drill ready to be launched by Russia in the east Mediterranean Sea ahead of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad’s planned phased offensive to regain Idlib will affect certain aviation routes in Israel, including Ben Gurion Airport, Sde Dov Airport and the Tel Aviv area. Dozens of warships and aircraft are taking part in the drill which will see the Russian army conduct naval and maritime maneuvers in the area. Moscow issued a statement saying that, “The exercise is meant to improve naval communication.” However, critics suspicious of Russia’s intentions say that Moscow is attempting to establish its presence in the Middle East in the wake of Assad’s reclaiming the last rebel-held enclave in the war-torn country. — Ynetnews , 9/4/2018

Financial

To fund a 70-nation infrastructure, China has been extending loans in opaque deals often contingent on using Chinese contractors. Pakistan’s first metro, the Orange Line, is among the first projects in China’s $62 billion plan for that country. As a result, Pakistan’s external debt and the money it needs to borrow yearly have increased sharply, now comprising 30 percent of Gross Domestic Product.  China’s global plan called the “Belt and Road Initiative” has been likened to the U.S. Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after World War II.  China aims to open new trade routes, generate business for Chinese companies and expand its strategic influence. — Wall Street Journal, 7/23/2018

IMF data show that Turkey’s foreign-exchange reserves are ill-equipped to service its debt. Turkey’s official foreign-exchange reserves stand at around $100 billion, but that figure could be inflated. Uncertainty over the long-term health of the Turkish economy has seen investors scramble for protection across a range of markets — not just selling the lira. Analysts warn [of] … the economic policies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, mainly Turkey’s runaway inflation, its souring relationship with the U.S. and its large foreign-currency debt that is due to mature over the next 12 months. — Wall Street Journal, 8/16/2018

It’s a sign of the times in the trucking industry, where a “perfect storm” of economic conditions and
a changing workforce has left companies scrambling to find enough drivers. Recruitment bonuses,
hefty pay hikes and better working conditions are part of the landscape for companies trying to lure drivers to an industry that is seeing baby boomer retirements and a dwindling number of young people interested in a career with long hours and long distances. And for consumers, that means getting ready to pay more for any number of goods because “about 95 percent of everything we consume comes on a truck,” said Johnny Johnson, managing director
of the New Mexico Trucking Association. — AP, 8/2/2018

Israel

A high-level delegation from Moscow touched down in Israel for a surprise visit. With the Syrian
Civil War heading towards a dramatic and bloody close, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly
dispatched his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chief of Staff Valery Gerasimov to the Jewish state to discuss the terms of Iranian military entrenchment in Syria with the Israeli powers that be. Moments after the meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) chief Gadi Eizenkot and the Russian delegation came to an end, a senior Israeli official shared that Jerusalem turned down a Russian proposal to keep Iran and its proxies in Syria 100 kilometers (62 miles) from Israel’s northern border on the Golan Heights. This was the latest in a string of meetings between Israel and Russia to discuss the scenario of a postwar Syria. Jerusalem has looked to Moscow to help prevent the area from becoming an Iranian stronghold. — Bridges for Peace, 7/24/2018

Syrian regime forces regained control of the whole border area with Israel in the Golan Heights for the first time in seven years, sealing its military victory in the strategic southern territories, after ISIS-linked militants gave up their last pocket of territory in the area. According to state media and opposition-linked war monitoring groups, the ISIS-affiliated organization, known as the Khaled bin Al-Waleed Army, was driven out of the last major villages it still held near the Golan Heights, in an area called the Yarmouk Basin. The military victory in the area means that forces loyal to the Assad regime now fully control the province of Daraa, where the rebellion broke out in 2011. — Israel Project, 7/31/2018

The targets of the first known operational launch of the David’s Sling air defense system were a pair of Syrian surface-to-surface missiles carrying approximately a half ton of explosives, according to the military’s initial investigation. Israeli authorities said they initially feared the missiles were headed for Israel. The two David’s Sling interceptor missiles were launched as a precautionary measure when the system calculated that the Syrian projectiles might be on track to strike northern Israel. After a period of time, however, the air defense battery’s computers determined that the Syrian missiles were going to fall short and did not pose a danger to Israel. At that point, one of the interceptor missiles was ordered to self-destruct, doing so over northern Israel, in the southern Golan Heights. — Times of Israel, 7/23/2018

With rhetoric between the United States and Iran soaring, the Iranians are threatening to block key
shipping lines — and Israel is now on record as threatening to militarily fight back if Iran carries
through. “If Iran tries to block the Bab-el-Mandeb, I am convinced that it will find itself facing a determined international coalition to prevent this. This coalition would also include the State of Israel and all its arms,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, referring to the waterway known as the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, a key artery for international oil shipping. The Iranians have focused their threats on the closer and more significant Strait of Hormuz that links the Persian Gulf with the rest of the world. Houthi rebels in Yemen have already attacked Saudi oil tankers in
the Bab-el-Mandeb, through which 5 million barrels of oil are shipped per day. The passageway is critical for Israel, as it links the Red Sea coast in Israel’s south to the Indian Ocean and is, therefore, the naval gateway for Asian trade with the Jewish state. — Mideast Update, 8/1/2018

A private Israeli hospital in Haifa will start implementing IceCure Medical Ltd’s tumor freezing technology within the next few months for eliminating benign breast tumors and cancerous kidney tumors by freezing them without the need for surgery, Globes reported. The medical device company was founded in 2006 and uses the ProSense system developed at the Elisha Private Hospital in Haifa. Commercial distribution in Israel will be carried out by Duke Medical Solutions. The procedure lasts 20-40 minutes, without surgery or hospitalization, and allows for a quick return to the day-to-day activities of the patient. The procedure joins the “successful commercial treatment that has already been performed with our technology in Japan, the US, Hong Kong and Europe for various indications including breast, lung, bone, kidney and liver cancers,” said IceCure’s CEO Eyal Shamir. — The Israel Project, 8/17/2018

A pioneering scheme at the Technion University in Haifa aims to draw young ultra-Orthodox, or Haredi, Jews from largely closed communities into mainstream education and then into the workforce. The numbers are still tiny — about 60 out of a total student population of 10,000. “But the idea is to bring the number to 200 within five years, and to 400 within 10 years,” said Prof Boaz Golani, a vice-president of the university. “Engaging the Haredi community is important for Israel. Having a civil society where entire segments live in their own world and with little interaction with others is not healthy. It’s a recipe for tension and animosity.”  In 2017 the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Israel rose above one million for the first time, accounting for 12% of the population. By 2065 they are expected to make up a third of Israel’s population. — The Guardian, 9/12/2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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