News and Views

News and Views

Religious

The U.S. Justice Department announced the seizure of 17 funeral scrolls, manuscripts and community records that were looted from Eastern European Jewish communities annihilated in the Holocaust more than three-quarters of a century ago. The artifacts were found through a New York City auction house that offered them for sale. One item was a manuscript containing ancestry records for a Jewish community in the city now known as Cluj-Napoca in Romania apparently stolen from its original owners and not located until it surfaced in the Auction. — NBC News, 7/22/2021

A nationwide survey conducted by ADL (the AntiDefamation League) found that three-quarters of American Jews are more concerned about antisemitism in the U.S. and abroad, and 60 percent have personally witnessed antisemitism because of the conflict between Israel and Hamas in May. The poll also found that 40 percent of American Jews are more concerned about their personal safety than before. — ADL Southwest, 6/14/2021

Companies in the European Union can ban employees from wearing a headscarf under certain conditions, if they need to do so to project an image of neutrality to customers, the E.U.’s top court said. The Luxembourg-based E.U. Court of Justice (CJEU) was ruling on cases brought by two Muslim women in Germany who were suspended from their jobs for wearing a headscarf. The issue of the hijab, the traditional headscarf worn around the head and shoulders, has been divisive across Europe for years, underlining sharp differences over integrating Muslims. — NBC News, 7/18/2021

Pope Francis issued the most extensive revision to Catholic Church law in four decades, insisting that bishops take action against clerics who abuse minors and vulnerable adults, commit fraud or attempt to ordain women. The revision involves all of section six of the church’s Code of Canon Law, a seven-book code of about 1,750 articles. The revised section, involving about 90 articles concerning crime and punishment, incorporates many existing changes made to church law by Francis and his predecessor Benedict XVI and will take effect December 8. — Reuter’s, 6/1/2021

A 700-year-old illustrated and annotated Hebrew prayer book that provides a window into the lives and rituals of Jewish communities in medieval Europe is expected to fetch up to $6 million when it is sold at auction by Sotheby’s in October. The Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, created in southern Germany in late 13th or early 14th century, is one of fewer than 20 such prayer books believed to be in existence. Handwritten notes in the manuscript’s margins show that the mahzor travelled from the German region of Franconia to Alsace, Lake Constance, northern Italy and France. At Lake Constance, the community added prayers composed after people were killed in anti-Jewish violence during the Black Death. — The Guardian, 9/3/2021

Harvard University, originally founded with a mission to educate clergymen in order to minister to New England’s early Puritan colonists named atheist Greg Epstein as its new chief chaplain. Epstein, author of Good Without God: What a Billion Nonreligious People Do Believe, has been the university’s humanist chaplain since 2005. The 44-year-old, who was raised in a Jewish household, will coordinate the activities of more than 40 university chaplains, who lead the Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist and other religious communities on campus. — New York Times, 8/26/2021

Social

Danish statistician and economist Bjorn Lomborg noted: “Over the past hundred years, annual climate-related deaths have declined by more than 96%. In the 1920s, the death count from climate-related disasters was 485,000 on average every year. In the last full decade, 2010-2019, the average was 18,362 dead per year, or 96.2% lower. “More accurate forecasting of weather and advanced warning was a major factor in the decline of deaths. — Jewish Press, 7/29/2021

According to a 2020 survey, 52% of American adults prefer getting their news on digital platforms — be it an app, a website, a social media platform, or even a podcast. Among 11 social media sites asked about as a regular source of news, Facebook sits at the top, with about a third (36%) of Americans getting news there regularly. YouTube comes next, with 23% of U.S. adults regularly getting news there. Twitter serves as a regular news source for 15% of U.S. adults. More than one-third of Americans (35%) still get their news from television, 7% listen to the radio for updates, while another 5% read print publications to learn about the latest events. — Pew Research, 1/12/2021

Several COVID-19 vaccines under development in Israel hold out promise for their ability to protect against variants of the virus. US-based NRx Pharmaceuticals will receive a license for exclusive worldwide development, manufacturing and marketing rights to the novel BriLife coronavirus vaccine developed by the Defense Ministry’s Israel Institute for Biological Research (IIBR). BriLife is based on a previous, FDA-approved vaccine platform. Because it is a live-virus vaccine, NRx anticipates rapid and affordable industrial scale-up and manufacturing. BriLife presents the entire spike protein of the coronavirus to the body’s immune system, while mRNA vaccines present a small slice of the spike protein to the immune system. — JNS, 8/10/2021

Archaeologists excavating the remains of Guanzhuang — an ancient city in China’s eastern Henan Province — have discovered what they believe is the oldest-known coin mint, where miniature, shovel-shaped bronze coins were mass produced some 2,600 years ago. Their research, published in the journal Antiquity, gives weight to the idea that the first coins were minted not in Turkey or Greece, as long thought, but in China. — National Geographic, 8/5/2021

Hurricane Ida devastated the East Coast in late August and early September. Weather experts are hesitant to blame any single cause, but observed that in recent years rainfall has been more concentrated in intense single-day rainstorms as average temperatures have caused warmer air to hold more moisture. Nine of the top 10 years for extreme one-day precipitation events have occurred since 1996, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. — Wall Street Journal, 9/3/2021

Political

China is intensifying its crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong, as four former executives and journalists of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily appeared in court, charged with violating the national-security law by conspiring to collude with external forces. Apple Daily, founded by jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, was forced to cease publication in June after authorities seized its assets. — Wall Street Journal, 7/23/2021

The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has started to issue new disclosure requirements for Chinese companies seeking to list in New York as part of an effort to raise investor awareness of the risks involved. Some Chinese companies have started to receive detailed instructions from the SEC about greater disclosure of their use of offshore vehicles, known as variable interest entities, for IPOs (initial public offerings). There are implications for investors, and the risk that Chinese authorities will interfere with company operations. — Corporate Secretary, 8/27/2021

Poland’s Parliament passed a law that will effectively block any attempts by Holocaust survivors and their heirs to reclaim property taken during the war or seek financial compensation. The Polish law would invalidate claims on property confiscated more than 10 years ago and would also block attempts to sue for property confiscated more than 30 years ago — even throwing out pending legal proceedings from more than 30 years ago, once the new law is enacted. — Bridges for Peace, 8/12/2021

Egypt’s president held talks in Cairo with the King of Jordan and the president of the Palestinian Authority aimed at reviving the Middle East peace process and strengthening a ceasefire that halted the Israel-Hamas war. Egypt’s Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, King Abdullah II of Jordan and the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas discussed the elusive two-state solution to the conflict with Israel. The three leaders said the Palestinians have a right to an independent state, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israel staunchly opposes such a plan. — US News, 9/2/2021

Chinese authorities plan to propose new rules that would ban companies with large amounts of sensitive consumer data from going public in the US. Officials from China’s stock regulator have told some companies and international investors that the new rules would bar internet firms holding a lot of user-related data from listing abroad, the people said. The regulators said the rules target companies seeking foreign IPOs via units incorporated outside the country. — Wall Street Journal, 8/27/2021

Financial

The greatest wealth transfer in modern history has begun. Baby boomers and older Americans have spent decades accumulating enormous stockpiles of money. As of April, 2021, the Federal Reserve estimated that Americans age 70 and over had net worth of nearly $35 trillion. That mounts to 27 percent of all U.S. wealth, and is equal to 157 percent of U.S. Gross Domestic Product. At no time in modern history has so much wealth been in the hands of older people. — Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2021

The economic outlook is diverging for countries based largely on how well they are rolling out Covid-19 vaccinations, according to new forecasts released by the International Monetary Fund. Economic prospects are improving for advanced economies, where nearly 40% of the population has been vaccinated, despite challenges from new variants of the coronavirus, the IMF said. At the same time, far lower vaccination rates have left emerging and developing economies more vulnerable to additional waves of the pandemic and the associated economic fallout. Overall, the world economy is expected to expand 6% this year, the IMF said. Improved forecasts for advanced economies were offset by downgrades for emerging markets and low-income countries. — Wall Street Journal, 7/27/2021

Since the military seized power in a coup six months ago, Myanmar has been crippled by a cash shortage. To help prevent a run on the banks, randomly selected ATMs are stocked with cash daily, and withdrawals are capped at the equivalent of $120. With cash in short supply, depositors cannot withdraw their savings, customers cannot pay businesses, and businesses cannot pay their workers or creditors. Loans and debts go uncollected. The value of the kyat, Myanmar’s currency, has tumbled 20% against the dollar. Currency hoarding has become widespread, and many businesses will accept only cash. Observers warn the country is plunging into a full-blown financial crisis. — New York Times, 8/9/2021

Apple has reached a settlement with small app developers, agreeing to pay them $100 million and loosen App Store restrictions that prevented them from billing customers directly. The settlement would resolve a class-action lawsuit in which a group of app makers alleged Apple violated antitrust laws in the way it operates the App Store. In addition to establishing a $100 million fund for developers, Apple agreed to let app makers use information collected inside their apps to tell customers about payment options outside the App Store, circumventing Apple’s commission of up to 30%. — CFO Magazine, 8/27/2021

Israel and the Middle East

With approximately 500,000 people, the Jewish community in France is the largest in the world outside of Israel and the United States. About 1,370 French immigrants made aliyah in the first half of the year according to the Aliyah Ministry and the Jewish Agency. The pandemic year of 2020 saw a dramatic increase in the opening of new Aliyah files from France: 6,053 compared to 2,475 in 2019. The Jewish Agency’s Aliyah Global Call Center received more than 14,000 calls in 2020 from people interested in immigrating to Israel from France. Data shows that in the last decade, a record number of 39,592 people made aliyah from France. — Bridges for Peace, 7/22/2021

Flights are arriving in Israel during a record-breaking summer of Aliyah (return), with an expected arrival of 2,000 Olim (immigrants). This incredible spike comes as a result of the increase in Olim who applied for Aliyah during 2020. Over 14,000 Aliyah applications were opened last year. As of June 2021, over 1100 people have made Aliyah, with 2000 additional Olim expected over the summer months. In addition, over 4300 Aliyah applications have been submitted in 2021, already exceeding the total number of applications submitted in 2019 (the year before the Covid-19 pandemic). — Jewish Press, 7/29/2021

In July, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced the groundbreaking discovery of the eastern section of Jerusalem’s Iron Age wall. The wall, stretching along the eastern slope of the Kidron Valley, was uncovered in the City of David Archaeological Park, a short distance from the Temple Mount. Stamps, seals, and other objects found along the wall allowed the excavators to say that it was likely part of the fortifications built by King Hezekiah (Isaiah 22:9), as he prepared for the Assyrian invasion (c. 701 B.C.E.). This also would have been the very same wall that was ultimately destroyed during the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem about a century later (2 Kings 25:10). — Bible History Daily, 7/31/2021

It was billed as the first Iranian delegation to Israel since the fall of the shah 42 years earlier. Six Iranian Muslim dissidents, forced to leave their homeland decades ago and who made their way to the United States, came on a three-day solidarity mission to show support for the Jewish state. The delegation would like to see ties restored and spoke of an alliance going back millennia to Cyrus the Great (circa 590–530 [BC]), who allowed Jews exiled by the Babylonians to return to the Land of Israel. Delegation members talked of advancing a “Cyrus Accords,” a renewed friendship between the Iranian and Israeli peoples along the lines of the Abraham Accords, recently signed between Israel and four Muslim states. — Jewish News Syndicate,
7/26/2021

For the first time in two millennia, a long extinct variety of Judean date can be enjoyed once again. Using seeds dating back to the time of the Great Jewish Revolt (66–70 C.E.), researchers from the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel planted an experimental date grove at a nearby kibbutz in The grove began bearing fruit last year, producing a variety of date not tasted for millennia. In the 1960s, Yigael Yadin’s excavations at Masada uncovered several seeds buried and preserved at the time of the Roman conquest. Further excavation at Qumran uncovered dozens more seeds similarly preserved in the dry conditions of the Dead Sea. — Bible History Daily, 8/30/2021

The Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has shared the discovery of the wreck of a warship and the remains of a Greek funerary area dating back to the beginning of the fourth century BC, in the sunken city of Heracleion in Alexandria’s Abu Qir Bay. Finds of this type of ship are rare, with only one previous discovery dating to the same era. Hussein Abdel Baseer, director of the Antiquities Museum at Bibliotheca Alexandrina, said “This discovery is a major addition to Egyptian antiquities. It dates back to…before the founding of the city of Alexandria itself by Alexander the Great in 331 BC.” — Al Monitor, 7/25/2021

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