First Read For June 19



Jared Kushner headed to Israel for peace talks

Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son—in-law, is to travel to the Middle East this week to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials in an effort to advance peace efforts, the Times of Israel reports.

Kushner will travel along with special envoy Jason Greenblatt to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.  Kushner and Greenblatt have been tasked by Trump with relaunching the peace process and have indicated that the president would advance quickly on the matter.


Best-selling beer features Trump, swastika on label

A Mexican beer that depicts President Trump wearing a Nazi swastika has quickly sold out of its first batch, JTA reports. The label of the new Amigous Cerveza craft beer shows Trump dressed in traditional mariachi band attire, wearing a sombrero hat and a swastika belt buckle, Reuters first reported.

“We knew that a Trump label was going to be controversial, but it’s been selling extremely fast,” said Luis Enrique de la Reguera, chief executive of brewery Casa Cervecera Cru Cru. Launched in May, the beer — which misspells “amigo” to poke fun at a bad American pronunciation of the Spanish word for friend — surprised its creators.

Trump has sparked outrage in Mexico with his campaign vow to build a wall along the southern U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs, and to make Mexico pay for the construction.

Pope names two rabbis to Vatican panel

Two rabbis, one from Israel and one from Argentina, were appointed by Pope Francis to the Pontifical Academy of Life, which defends and promotes “the value of human life and the dignity of the person,” according to the Times of Israel. It is the first time rabbis have been invited to be members of the academy.

Israeli Rabbi Avraham Steinberg, who won the Israel Prize in 1999 for original rabbinic literature, and Argentinean rabbi Fernando Szlajen were designated as members of the institution that “exists for the promotion and defense of human life, especially regarding bioethics as it regards Christian morality.”

Israel freezes construction of 6,000 Jerusalem housing units

The Israel government has ordered a de facto construction freeze for 6,000 housing units in the capital, including in the contested neighborhoods of Gilo, Har Homa and Pisgat Zeev, the Jerusalem Post reports.

The report comes less than two months after Construction Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to construct 25,000 homes in Jerusalem, with 15,000 beyond the Green Line.

Haredi parties seek to cancel Western Wall agreement

Haredi Orthodox parties in Israel’s government coalition have proposed a resolution that would rescind a government decision to create an official egalitarian section at the Western Wall, JTA reports.The United Torah Judaism and Shas parties submitted the proposal, which would return to “status quo” at the Western Wall, to the Prime Minister’s Office in recent days.

The proposal was approved by the Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinowitz, and would keep in place the egalitarian prayer area erected at Robinson’s Arch, Army Radio reported. In a statement issued to the media on Sunday, the Women of the Wall called it “outrageous” that the government would consider the proposal, more than a year after approving an agreement for an egalitarian section governed by the liberal Jewish movements.

An agreement passed in January 2016 by the government for an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall was negotiated by the Reform and Conservative movements, the Women of the Wall organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Israeli government.

Rabbi Steinzeltz completes Torah translation

A new English translation of the Torah by Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz and the Koren publishing house has recently been completed and is scheduled to hit books stores in September 2018, according to the Jerusalem Post. The translation was conducted by a team of translators from the rabbi’s Shefa institutions who worked under Steinsaltz’s supervision, while the rabbi edited and proofread the text.

Rabbi Steinsaltz’s commentary on the Torah which came out in Hebrew last year was also translated into English for the new work.

Chief rabbi intervenes in UK homosexuality controversy

British Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has tried to defuse a “bitter row” in England’s Orthodox community over a senior rabbi’s recent comments about homosexuality, the Guardian reports. Rabbi Mirvis said he was concerned “about the public fallout from the dispute … which has been deeply divisive and damaging for our community” after Rabbi Joseph Dweck, from the Sephardic Beth Din, last month emphasized that sexual intercourse between men was forbidden by the Torah but questioned attitudes towards gay people. There should not be witch-hunts, he said, adding there were “plenty of skeletons in everybody’s closet.”

The comments were swiftly criticized by haredi rabbis who called Rabbi Dweck’s “false and misguided … corrupt from beginning to end”, and described Dweck as “dangerous” and “poisonous.”

A spokesperson for Rabbi Mirvis said he was working closely with Rabbi Dweck and the leadership of the Sephardi community to offer guidance.