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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘England’

Europe’s Wrongheaded Austerity Policies

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012

Austerity — what governments are currently experiencing in Europe – can be a bad thing. It is a well-known basic economic theory that when politicians try to slash the government budget by taxing citizens rather than by cutting government expenditure, they only harm the economy, which results in less tax income and worsens the situation. In the early 1970s, economist Arthur Laffer visualized it by drawing a curve on a napkin, indicating that from a certain point on, higher taxes result in less government income. When taxes are raised even further, the economy begins to contract.

A typical example can currently be seen in the Netherlands. The country’s economy has not grown in the last three quarters. Pressured by the European Union, austerity policies were introduced in 2010. Last April, the government fell when the Freedom Party of Geert Wilders refused to back a new austerity package of €11.5 billion, of which only €4 billion was to come from cutting expenditures and €7.5 billion was expected to come from raising taxes. The new austerity round was nevertheless imposed by the EU, which insisted that the Netherlands trim its budget deficit to 3% of BBP in 2013. Geert Wilders was right to have refused to go along with the latest plans. Not only will the amount of €7.5 billion in new taxes in all likelihood not be reached, but the Dutch economy will be hampered even more.

Last January, Standard & Poor’s warned the Netherlands that its credit rating could be lowered if its growth kept declining. S&P warned that the Dutch austerity policies risked “becoming self-defeating, as domestic demands fall in line with consumers’ rising concerns about job security and disposable incomes, eroding national tax revenues.”

Geert Wilders’ party is expected to do well in next September’s general elections. The electorate agrees with his rejection of the austerity package. Like Mr. Wilders, it blames the EU authorities in Brussels for imposing these policies on the Netherlands.

The same phenomenon can be seen all over Europe, with electorates in revolt against EU-imposed austerity everywhere. The rising unpopularity of governments that are trying to cut back their deficits has worried the IMF. Earlier this month, IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said that the IMF is aware that fiscal austerity holds back growth and that the effects are worse in an economic downturn. This is, however, only a half-truth. As no one, not even the state, can indefinitely continue to spend more money than he receives, cutting government expenditure – hence austerity – is badly needed. The problem is that the austerity policies are targeting not the institution which is living beyond its means — namely the government — but the taxpayers. As Europeans are already suffering tax levels that are almost twice as high as those in the U.S., it is only natural that the voters are in revolt.

The irony is that the austerity policies of the past years have been imposed at the behest of the unelected liberal, leftist authorities in Brussels on center-right governments in the EU member states. The electorates are punishing their center-right governments by voting in center-left politicians who promise to end the austerity policies and “tax the rich” — a course that will make matters even worse.

The Dutch are lucky to have Geert Wilders; but the French, who lack an equivalent of Mr. Wilders, quite understandably voted President Nicolas Sarkozy out because they disagreed with his austerity policy. However, they voted the Socialist François Hollande in, who will undoubtedly only heighten the problem.

The same phenomenon can be witnessed in the United Kingdom. Two years ago, the Conservative David Cameron managed to oust Labour. Today, polls predict that if elections were to be held now, Labour would beat the Conservatives with a margin of 10%. David Cameron is fortunate that Labour leader Ed Miliband is unpopular or the margin might be even larger.

What did Cameron do wrong? He, too, made tax payers pay for austerity. One of the first things Mr. Cameron did was to raise Britain’s top tax rate to 50%. The result was that the tax revenue from Britain’s highest income group fell. Another thing Cameron did was to raise sales taxes. VAT – or Value Added Tax – rose from 17.5 to 20%, the highest level ever, as part of Cameron’s effort to bring down the country’s budget deficit.

Lockerbie Bomber Dies in Libya

Monday, May 21st, 2012

A former Libyan intelligence officer sentenced to life in prison for his role in bombing Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, has died in a Libyan prison.  He was 60.

Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi, was sentenced to life in prison for the December 21, 1988 bombing of the transatlantic flight from London to New York in which 270 people were killed – 259 on board and 11 people on the ground, including 189 Americans.

Megrahi was the only person convicted of the crime, though he maintained his innocence.  Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, another Libyan intelligence officer charged in the attack, was found not guilty.

Megrahi was diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer in 2009 and released home to Libya from Scottish prison on compassionate grounds, leading to international accusations that British and Scottish oil interests led to the release.

Vatican Rep Wants Alliance With Jews, Muslims, to Combat Gay Marriage

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

A Vatican representative has issued a call for the world’s foremost religions to unite to take a stand against gay marriage.

Archbishop Antonio Mennini, the “Apostolic Nuncio” (Vatican representative) to Great Britain has proposed enlisting the help of all Christian denominations, as well as Jews and Muslims, to oppose the proposition of legalizing gay marriage in England.

In an address to Catholic bishops from England and Wales, Mennini warned against political and cultural influences forcing reforms on religion, and suggested an alliance with Jews and Muslims in order to combat the immorality of homosexual marriage.

“It seems to me that, concerning the institution of marriage, and indeed the sanctity of human life, we have much in common with the position of the Jewish community, the Chief Rabbi and many of the more significant representatives of Islam,” the Archbishop said, according to a report in Britains’s Telegraph newspaper.

Local Quakers, Buddhists, and members of the Pagan Federation have already publicly supported the right of religious leaders to decline to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, although their position supports basic freedom of clergy members to reject or support the marriages.

Mennini’s comments come after a series of high-level discussions between Muslim and Jewish leaders and Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, who is investigating the possibility of legalizing gay marriage in the UK.

For now, English and Scottish Muslim groups, imams, and councils have opposed the plan to legalize gay marriage, as has the head of the Network of Sikh Organisations.

Liberal and Reform synagogues, on the other hand, have expressed support for same-sex marriages.  Rabbis in the main United Synagogues have come out against the proposal.  Soon-to-be-retired Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks has not come out publicly against the measure, but friend and advisor Rabbi Yitzchak Schochet of Mill Hill United Synagogue in north London called the potential legislation an “assault” on religious values.

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark told the Telegraph that while no official contact has yet been made between the Catholic Church and Jewish groups, “We will work with anyone who agrees with us that to redefine marriage is not a good thing for society and will lead to more confusion.”  He added that the Church of England is onboard with the Catholic Church’s position.

Ours Is To Question Why…

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

“And Aaron and his sons did all of these things that Hashem commanded through Moshe.” – Vayikra 8:36

After a long and detailed description of the avodah (service) to be done in the Mishkan, the parshah ends with statement that “Aaron and his sons did as they were told.”

Rashi seems to be bothered by the fact that this is obvious. Of course Aaron and his sons did what Hashem told them to do. Why does the Torah see fit to mention it? He answers that it is a statement of praise: they didn’t veer off to the right or to the left.

This Rashi is difficult to understand. It doesn’t seem like he answered his question. Of course Aaron didn’t veer off to the left or the right. This was the avodah in the Mishkan he was performing! The directives came straight from Hashem. Could he possibly think that he knew better than Hashem how to perform them? And if that wasn’t reason enough, the punishment for a kohen deviating in the service is death.

Imagine a man working with high voltage electrical equipment. He has been given clear safety instructions. Make sure the power is off before you switch on the transformer. Make sure you are wearing protective gloves and you are grounded. Wouldn’t we expect him to follow every nuance because of the danger involved?

So what type of praise is it that Aaron followed orders?

The answer to this question can be best understood with an example.

The story is told about an Englishman who visited a farm in Texas in the 1880s. As he approached the ranch, he saw a cowboy herding the cows. He approached and, using an expression common in England then, asked for the man’s boss by saying, “Is your master home?” The cowboy put both hands on his hips and proclaimed, “The son of a gun ain’t been born yet.”

This anecdote is illustrative of a very human trait: we don’t like to be bossed around. In fact, we hate it. I’ll gladly help you, I’ll do anything for you – but ask nicely. Boss me around and forget it. I’m out of here.

This isn’t just a quirk of human nature – it’s a direct outgrowth of man’s inherent greatness.

In the Image of Hashem

Chazal explain that when the Torah tells us Hashem created man in His image, this isn’t merely an expression. Man is both the reason for all of existence and the maintainer of it. Everything physical has a spiritual counterpart sustaining it. Hashem put man into the role of being the one who upholds the spiritual level of the world. His actions, deeds, and thoughts build the upper worlds and sustain the lower worlds. Our eyes may not be attuned to it, but man is the maintainer of physicality. He is more significant than we can ever imagine, more important than anything we can envision. He is a little creator.

While this greatness of soul allows man to reach dizzying heights, it also comes with a liability. It is very difficult for us to follow orders. Even if we know they’re right. Even if we know they’re good for us. Even if those orders are given by the greatest of all greats, by the Creator of the heavens and the earth. We don’t like taking orders. And as strange as it sounds, it is difficult for us to accept commands and directives.

Aaron was one of the greatest men who ever lived, and he had a high and lofty sprit. As such, it should have been very difficult for him to follow orders. For him to “do as he was told” should have been very hard. Nevertheless, it wasn’t. Because he was very humble, he was able to recognize his greatness and act in a bold and innovative manner when called for – yet accept that Hashem was in charge. As great as he was, he was but a servant in front of his Master. He had overcome one of the paramount challenges to man – recognizing his greatness while remaining humble.

Understanding this balance is critical for our growth. The Torah wasn’t given to robotic people who follow blindly without understanding. The Torah was given to us, and we are expected to ask questions. We are expected to delve into the reasoning behind things. We are obligated to strain our minds to understand whatever we can. And yet we are expected to yield to the superior wisdom of our Creator and humbly submit to His directives.

Our is to question why, and yet ours is to do or die.

The new Shmuz book “Stop Surviving and Start Living,” is available in stores, at www.TheShmuz.com, or by calling 866-613-TORAH (8672).

Dr. Pepper Not Kosher – In Israel

Tuesday, February 28th, 2012

According to Kipa.co.il, Israel’s Chief Rabbinate instructed kashrut supervisors to remove the popular American drink Dr. Pepper from store shelves, on the grounds that it is not being supervised in Israel nor in London.

The Chief Rabbinate claims that, based on data provided by the Badatz in London, it appears that products made in England and imported to Israel under the name “Dr Pepper” are are not kosher.

“The product has a kosher sticker on it marked Kosher KLBD (Badatz London), but it has not actually received  their approval and therefore presenting it as kosher under their supervision is a serious forgery,” says a special warning issued  by the Chief Rabbinate.

 

UPDATE: While we first heard about this story on Kipa, it was apparently Rafi Goldmeier, the blogger ‘Life in Israel‘ that broke the story. Thanks to Rafi’s father for the shout-out letting us know.

Yakima Congregation Reveres Ancient Torah Saved from the Holocaust

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Rabbi Moshe Druin, an expert in evaluating and repairing Torahs, visited from Miami Beach to inspect a 150-year-old Torah belonging to Temple Shalom on Browne Avenue, in Yakima, Wash.

Druin, a sopher or scribe, assessed the Yakima Torah for signs of wear and tear, and, according to the Yakima Herald-Republic, alternately enlightened, delighted and awed the congregation with his findings.

Not only does that Torah have a historical provenance, it’s a rare copy that will probably never be made in the same way again, Druin explained.

The congregation of 48 families was aware that their Torah had been rescued from what was once Czechoslovakia after World War II. Druin filled in the details:

During World War II, Jews in Nazi-occupied Prague sent messages around the countryside for fellow Jews to bring their family heirlooms and Torahs to be housed safely with the blessings of the Nazis, who were planning to create a museum of a lost race after they exterminated all the Jews.

In the 1950s, a London art dealer was visiting countries in communist Eastern Europe and discovered 1,681 scrolls, or Torahs, in a Czechoslovakian basement, the largest concentration in history.

“He flipped out,” Druin said.

The art dealer returned to England, gathered money and headed to Prague to buy back all the stashed Torahs. Later, after being held by a trust in England, many of those Torahs have been loaned out to synagogues around the world.

Temple Shalom’s was one of them.

“Take it out and commemorate it,” Druin told the congregation. “Keep the memory alive of the people it belonged to.”

Rabbi Moshe Druin: “How do you fence a stolen Torah”

Kate Middleton’s Favorite Designer Built on Hasidic Kapote

Monday, February 13th, 2012

The favorite clothing designer of Duchess Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William of England, built her success on the purchase of a Hasidic boy’s coat in a second hand store in Israel.

Katherine Hooker visited Israel a decade ago, and fell in love with a long black Hasidic kapote in a second hand store, according to the designer.  Soon after, she found a tailor in India who agreed to make her a copy.  When her friends became enamored of the garment, she made several duplicates, ultimately opening her own shop in London in 2004.  Some of her items sell for almost $2,000.

Middleton has become a fashion icon since her highly-publicized engagement and wedding to Prince William. She is particularly liked in the religious Jewish community, because of her tendency toward non-revealing attire.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/kate-middletons-favorite-designer-built-on-hasidic-kapote/2012/02/13/

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