First Read For Jan. 19



No Thanks to Trump Invite

Rabbi Ari Plost, spiritual leader of Congregation B’nai Abraham in Hagerstown, Md., near Washington, told the Washington Post why he “respectfully declined an invitation to represent the Jewish faith during the Inaugural Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral on Saturday.”

“There is a difference between tolerating someone who is different from you and seeing them as indispensable,” Rabbi Plost wrote. “I turned down the invitation … because I could not still serve as an authentic pastoral presence if I were to participate in a ceremony where my presence could appear callous to the many fears in my community. I choose to offer my prayer for our country with my own local community.”


First-daughter-to-be Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared Kushner have received rabbinic permission to travel by car on Friday evening following Donald Trump’s inauguration, according to the Jerusalem Post.

The Washington Post cites a Kol Barama radio interview with Mark Zell, chair of the Republican Party in Israel. Zell said the special permission was granted in order to protect the couple’s safety. Life-saving measures, such as the work of surgeons or soldiers, are permitted on Shabbat under the rule of pikuach nefesh, or protection of life, which overrides other commandments in the Torah.

Jared Kushner is Jewish, and Ivanka converted to Judaism.


Racing to Remember?

A marathon-like race past sites of Holocaust and Jewish remembrance in Rome will highlight events in Italy marking International Holocaust Memorial Day, JTA reports.

The “Run for Mem” — short for “Run for Remembrance: Looking Ahead” — will take place on Sunday, Jan. 22. International Holocaust Memorial Day is observed on Jan. 27, the anniversary of the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz, but in some countries, including Italy, events take place in the days or even weeks surrounding that date.

Sponsored by Italy’s main Jewish organizations, The Run for Mem will start and end in Rome’s historic Jewish ghetto, in a square now named for the Oct. 16, 1943 deportation of Roman Jews to Auschwitz. Billed as Europe’s first sport race past sites meant “to commemorate the Shoah and determine future direction,” the race has two routes — a 10-k for athletes and a 3.5-kilometer route for the general public. Both take participants past sites related to the Holocaust.


Is ‘Myth’ a Dirty Word in Israel?

Actor Morgan Freeman found out that it is, according to the Toronto Sun.

The Canadian paper reports that Freeman “was kicked out of a holy part of Israel after using a word which has been banned in the area. “The Dark Knight Rises” star landed in hot water when he uttered the word ‘myth’ while filming his documentary series ‘The Story of God in Jerusalem.’”

Freeman has been filming the show, which explores concepts of death and the afterlife through the lens of several different religions, since last year and he previously revealed he has begun thinking about the afterlife as he nears his 80th birthday in June.

“I have this curiosity about life, and one of the things that surrounds life is the idea of death, and what comes with the idea of death is what comes after that,” he said.  “And all of that is encapsulated in our ideas of God and religion.”

During the filming he uttered the word “myth,” he reportedly told The Talk show. “You’re in somebody’s religious place, don’t say myth. I said myth. (They said), ‘You, out’.”

I have this curiosity about life, and one of the things that surrounds life is the idea of death, and what comes with the idea of death is what comes after that,” he told Variety. “And all of that is encapsulated in our ideas of God and religion.”


Unearthing a Second-Century Amphitheater

Archaeologists from Haifa University have uncovered a large Roman amphitheater, dating to the Second Century, at Sussita near the Sea of Galilee, the ynetnews website reports. The forum was apparently used for religious ceremonies in the ancient city of Hippos.

Researchers consider the theater, a structure which generally served as the venue for the most popular public shows with seating to accommodate thousands of people, an expected yet highly anticipated discovery.

The find closely follows another second-century discovery, a bronze mask that depicts the god Pan, and the discovery of a monumental gate, known as “Pan’s Gate,” which likely represents the entrance to the theater and the accompanying bathhouse.

A small excavation revealed the foundations of several rows of seats, though the seats themselves have long since vanished.