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The Revival of Etz Hayyim Synagogue

Georgia N. Gleoudi

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On the Greek island of Crete, a longstanding Jewish community had its presence since the first century b.c. The community had been flourishing throughout the centuries and had a prominent intellectual and commercial position in the life of the island. In two areas of the island, Irakleio and Chania, the Jewish community was especially active. In the town of Chania and until 1944, the Jewish community had two synagogues (one Sephardi and one in Romaniote style) and almost 300 persons.

Three impact events contributed to the death and life of the Jewish community and of the Etz Hayyim synagogue. But first of all, what is an impact event? The literary theorist Anne Fuchs has introduced the term “impact event”. Using this term, she discusses the topic of catastrophic immediacy, referring to the moments of rupture that challenge the psychic and cultural continuity of a group or nation.(Assmann A. 2015: pp.52–52) The first one was the annexation of the island of Crete in the Greek State. After 400 years under the dominance of the Ottoman Empire where religious minorities enjoyed the rights of autonomy, now religious minorities should acquire a less privileged status. In the era of nationalism, Jews would not fit in the national identity which was under formation. The building of a national identity required the religious element: a Christian Orthodox religious affiliation. Simultaneously, Jews would become the cultural and religious other which was excluded from the society and became a foreign element towards the religious and cultural homogeneity of the Greek society. A cultural pattern where Jews did not belong to the Greekness was created and still exists. Emotions of anger, hatred and hostility towards the Jewish community were the most usual and common behaviors of the majority of the local society. They behaved towards them, blaming them as traitors due to their different religious beliefs. At that time, the Jewish community began shrinking. Most of them moved to France, USA or Palestine in order to live without fear and to chase professional and commercial opportunities. The decline of the Jewish community had already started.

Until the Second World War, a small Cretan Jewish community was alive. Until 1944, Nazi had not tried to take the Jews of the island. However, in March 1944, they took all the Jews and almost destroyed the Jewish Quarter of the island. The next day, Jews were embarked on Tanais Ship in order to move to Athens and from there in the concentration camps. However, Tanais would never reach the final destination. A British submarine shrunk the ship and no one survived. The Jewish community was perished but not by the gas somewhere in Poland or Germany. The defining moment of the destruction of the Jewish community had two aspects: The first one had to deal with the emotions and the actions of the remaining local society. Locals saw the leaving of the Jewish community as an opportunity to take their residences and shops and start their own commercial life. Indeed, a testimonial from a local rich merchandiser reaffirmed this case “In 1954, the Municipality was ready to sell the Etz Hayyim synagogue for a few money. I was ready to buy it but in the end I became afraid. This was a worship place. Some worshipped their God here. I was afraid of the divine anger.” Until 1980, Synagogue became a place of shelter for poor and homeless families. Later in the decades of 1980 and 1990, Synagogue was just a garbage place. The second aspect had to deal with the emotions of the Jewish world in front of this event: Cretan Jews would never have the experience of Shoah. They became just the members of a violent attack but did not lose their lives in the gas chambers. For this reason, less attention was given in the bibliography and the researches for the fate of Cretan Jews and their stories. People started forgetting. Acts of forgetting are a necessary and constructive part of internal social transformations, they are however violently destructive when directed at an alien culture or a persecuted minority. (Assmann: 2008: p.98)

The third and very important impact event was the moment where a Jew, Mr Nikos Stavroulakis decided to restore the building in order to save a cultural monument. In 1995, Mr Stavroulakis managed to restore the building and create an interfaith community where people from all the religions would find a place to share their ideas and feelings. But first and foremost, this place belonged to the Jewish community where Shabbat and High Holidays are being celebrated with participants from all over the world and the religions. The local society did not welcome the restoration of the synagogue and the revival of the community. Local media wrote out articles where they refer to “invasion of Jews” and the Local Church had a hostile view on the whole matter. Shop keepers in the former Jewish Quarter were very suspicious. Media played a major role in the construction of a cultural pattern. Such cultural templates have an active part in the shaping and transmitting of an event(Assmann: 2015:p.58). Even the other Jewish communities in Greece, were not that supportive towards this initiative. However, Mr Stavroulakis would like to bring back memories and cultures and foster the cultural memory where Jews belonged there. In the first ten years, two fires destroyed the synagogue but with the help of international donors, the damages were fixed. It is worth mentioning that the responsible for the incidents were never identifies and the case never went to court. Today, one year after the death of Mr Stavroulakis, the Synagogue still expands. In the last two years, the Synagogue inaugurated a commemoration event for the victims of Tanais. Representatives from the Church and the Municipality are always present.

The revival of the synagogue came as a contributor to the cultural memory. Cultural memory is a form of collective memory, in the sense that it is shared by a number of people and that it conveys to these people a collective cultural identity.(Assmann J: 2008: P. 110)

Georgia Gleoudi is a graduate of "MA in Religious Roots in Europe: in Lund University and has a BA in International Relations and European Studies from Panteion University, Athens. She is interested in Religion and State relations, faith - based diplomacy and intercultural relations

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Hindu jihad (holy war): India Pakistan context

Amjed Jaaved

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There is a deluge of malevolent propaganda concerning Islamic Jihad.  But, the Hindu kinds of holy yuddha (crusades) are rarely focused.

Islamic jihad

The non-Muslim writers not only mistranslate the word jihad for qitaal (blood-shed), but also distort the true meaning of Quranic texts by quoting them out of context with ahadith (sayings about Holy Prophet Mohammad  life) or peculiar situations to which they relate. The Qur’an gives a clear instruction that there is no compulsion in religion (2: 256). It states that people will remain different (11: 118), they will always have different religions and ways and this is an unalterable fact (5:48). God tells the Prophet that most people will not believe ‘even if you are eager that they should’ (12: 103).  Quran enjoins wars are to be avoided (Quran 8:61, 47:35; Bukhari 56:112, 156:94:8 Sahih of Muslim).

For one thing, Islamic jihad (Al-Quran 25: 52) does not mean ‘Holy War’. That term does not exist in Arabic and its translation into Arabic sounds quite alien. Jihad is always described in the Qur’an as fi sabil l’illah. It can mean argumentation, financial help or actual fighting. The term, which is specifically used for fighting, is Qitaal (a compulsion when you are attacked and flushed out of your homes).

Hindu holy and unholy wars

There is too much of negative publicity about Islamic jihad (struggle).  But, there is little limelight on koota yuddha in India’s history. 

The Ramayanas and the Mahabharata wars elucidate various types of yuddha (wars).  In ancient India there were three schools of war.  Bhishma’s school of warfare belonged to dharma yuddha (ethical or just war). Two other schools, Brihaspati’s and Krishna’s school of warfare belonged to koota yuddha (all-out war) or maya yuddha (war by tricks or stratagems).

Bhishma stressed chivalry and ruled out surprise and deception.  But, Brihaspati recommended that the king should attack an enemy only if the enemy’s strength is one-third of his own (`Udyog Parva’). He suggested that the king should never trust the enemy or spare him, no matter how old or virtuous he may be.

Similarly, keynote of Krishna’s military philosophy was `end justifies the means’. He laid great stress on deception. `Truth may often have to be sacrificed in pursuit of victory’ (Karma Parva). He advocated use of force to defeat the enemy if he was superior in strength or capability (Shalya Parva). Opportunity once wasted never returns (`Shanti Parva’).

Even the enlightened Hindu and the military writers believe that India’s prosperity during various periods of history, for example during the Maurya and the Gupta periods, rose or fell pari passu with rise or fall of military leadership (Major General Rajendra Nath, Military Leadership in India: Vedic Period to Indo-Pak Wars.1990.Lancers Books). 

Since partition, the Hindu leaders have put a tab on their innate desire to expose their urge for koota yuddha with Pakistan because of political expediency.  India’s confidence-building measures did not contribute to solution of the Kashmir, or Sir Creek issues. They were dilly-dallying tactics to hold a plebiscite in disputed Kashmir. The Congress espoused the cause of secularism to avoid unfettering the polyglot, multi-religious multi-racial genie. 

To understand koota yuddha in a modern context, one should first understand popular meanings of the word `Hindu’, Hindustan (hindusthan, bharatvarsha), `Hinduism’ and Hindutva.  According to bulk of literature on the subject, `Hinduism’ is not a closely-knit or bounded faith or collection of doctrines.  It is a religion (mazhab, not i), or a way of life without a founder.  According to Encyclopaedia Britannica 1994-2001: “Hinduism is both a civilisation and a congregation of religions: it has neither a beginning nor a founder, nor a central authority, hierarchy nor organization.  Every attempt at a specific definition of Hinduism has proved unsatisfactory in one way or another…”. The ‘Hindu’ were persons inhabiting the Indus valley area and beyond.  The territory inhabited by them was Hindustan.  But, the communalistic Hindu calls the territory Hindusthan (the Hindu’s place).   The suffix ‘-stan’ being of non-Hindu origin is obnoxious to good sense of the communalists.  The communalists find Bharatvarsha more palatable.  This word originated from an ancient Hindu king Bharatvarsha.  The communalists’ outfits like Sangh Parivar use this name preferentially as it emphasises Vedic roots of the country and its original people.  Hindutva is controversially defined in Vinayak Damodar Savarkar in his book Hindutva, and adopted by Hedgewar as the basis of his ideology (An Indian parliamentary committee resurrected him as a hero by allowing his portrait to be hung in Indian parliament).  The RSS’s aims are a mix of cultural, religious and political objectives – To serve Hindu dharma (religion), sanskriti (culture) and rashtra (nation).  Sarvarkar distinguishes ‘Hinduism’ from ‘Hindutva’. He clarified that the `Hinduism’ was concerned with `relevance of life after death, the concept of God and the Universe’.  ‘Hindutva’, on the other hand, was ‘Hindus being a nation, bound by a common culture, a common history, a common language, a common country and a common religion’.  Koota yuddha is an article of faith with the Rashtriya Swayemsewak Sangha.  All its recruits, 10 years’ old and above, are obliged to take the following pratigya (oath): In the name of God and my ancestors. I hereby become a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh for the all-round progress of Bharatvarsh (ancient name of India) by strengthening the holy Hindu dharma (religion). Hindu sanskiti (culture and Hindu society). I shall do the Sangha work with all my heart to the best of my ability and that I shall be bound by this oath for the whole of my life.  Bharat Mata Ki Jai ! (Glory to Mother India!).

Following assassination of Gandhi by a former activist of the Sangh, the RSS was banned. To wriggle out of the ban and to appease Sardar Patel, the RSS, in 1948, dropped the term `rashtra’ from its manifesto. Be it noted that, before independence, the pledge included the term ‘Hindu rashtra’.  The expunction of the word `rashtra’ from the oath-text does not mean that the Sangh had renounced political dimensions of its thought or practice. 

The RSS’s genocidal role is a caricature of Preamble to The Constitution of India which states: “WE THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a [SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCATIC REPUBLIC] …”.  Besides, Article 15 of the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth.  Terrorism Research Centre, an American think-tank based in East Virginia, enlisted RSS among the world’s leading terrorist organisations.  It is significant to note that the Indian media is heavily tilted towards the RSS.  In fact the RSS has of late become the unofficial spokesman of the Indian government. 

Not only the RSS, but also Vishwa Hindu Parishad, and Indian political parties tacitly believe in koota yuddha.  Reason:  The minorities together are not more than one third of the Hindu population (read Brihaspati’s udyog parva principle justifying 2,800 years back merciless attack when one is numerically three times superior). Illustrations of koota yuddha are Gujarat carnage under prime minister Narendra Modi, then chief minister, burning of Christians’ alive, attack on Golden Temple, anti-sikh riots of 1984, killing of beef-eating minorities by cow guards (gao rakhshak), persecution of Kashmiri students in Indian states, and so on.  A crystal-clear manifestation of this mentality was ruling-BJP-supported then Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s 11-phase gaurav or papadshahi yatra (pride parade) in July 2002. Earlier, in June 2002, Bal Thackray had said, ‘Muslims can never be trusted.  They are like snakes’.

Wake-up call for Pakistan

History tells that only countries with a stable equilibrium between its centrifugal and centripetal forces stay afloat in comity of nations. At the time of Partition, it was predicted that both India and Pakistan would break up into ‘congeries of states’. The basis of this prediction was inability of the new republics to deal with myriad centrifugal forces gnawing into the body politic. In post-independence period, India was fortunate to have visionary leaders who tactfully muzzled centrifugal forces like insurgencies in East Punjab and eastern states, besides the Dravidian and Naxal Bari movements. Indian Union bowed to insurgents’ demands for creation of new states. And, insurgency leaders became chief ministers! India forgot yester years when they burnt to ashes copies of Indian constitution, uprooted rail tracks, immobilizing everyday life. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Nagaland and the East Punjab appeared to secede from the Union. India stayed united because of its resilience, we disintegrated.

Pakistan learnt nothing from East-Pakistan debacle (Asghar Khan, We’ve learnt nothing from history). India is now engaged against Pakistan in what Kautliya calls maya yuddha (war of tricks) or koota yuddha (all-out warfare). She is out to isolate Pakistan, get it dubbed as a terrorist state, and corner it by presence in Chahbahar and some Central Asian airbases (Aeini or Farkhor airbases in Tajikistan). Ibn-e-Khaldun says that it is asabia (nationalism) that enables a country to withstand challenges. Toynbee’s Challenge and Response Theory also reminds that if challenges are too heavy, a nation becomes apathetic to environment. Apathy leads to mental degradation, decay and extinction.

Pakistani leaders, including prime-ministers-weres and prime-ministers-to-be should take off their blinkers and try to understand how India, through koota yuddha, hands in glove with likeminded countries, is trying to wreck their economy and country.

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Ukraine: Religious Organizations Increasingly Violate Journalist Rights

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In early January 2019, an event remarkable for the Ukrainian faithful happened – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church was granted independence. Before that, there were three largest religious denominations in the country; two of them – the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Kyivan Patriarchate (UOC-KP) and the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church (UAOC) merged into the Orthodox Church of Ukraine (OCU) which received the “Tomos of Autocephaly” (a decree of independence) from the Ecumenical Patriarchate, first among equals in the Orthodox world.

Both of the Churches had been considered “uncanonical” i.e. unrecognized in Orthodoxy, and the only canonical Church on the territory of Ukraine was the Ukrainian Orthodox Church – Moscow Patriarchate (UOC-MP), which historically was in the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church. The UOC-MP stands against the autocephaly and doesn’t recognize the OCU and its hierarchs.

The Moscow Patriarchate’s close affiliation with Moscow influenced the attitude of many Ukrainians and the country’s authorities towards it after the 2014 events when Russia annexed the Crimea and supported armed uprisings in Eastern Ukraine. Since then, radical nationalists have been attempting to capture the churches of the Moscow Patriarchate, security services oppress its members, and the media accuse it of collaborating with Russian intelligence.

Moreover, past December the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) of Ukraine obliged the UOC-MP to mention its affiliation with the Russian Orthodox Church in its name. Also, the passage of the ‘church’ bill No. 4128 in January will significantly complicate life for all religious organizations.

The problem is that the more strained the relations between the authorities, OCU and UOC-MP are, the more cases of rights violations by all of the sides are documented. In particular, journalists’ oppression has intensified.

In January, Ukrainian media reported that a journalist was beaten before the UOC-MP assembly in Vinnytsia region. According to the local newspaper 33kanal, its journalists attempted to attend the meeting of metropolitans from three dioceses but the security refused to let them in. The newspaper correspondent Irina Zotova claimed that the security guards beat the photo correspondent and tried to smash their equipment.

On February 18, the Mass Media Institute wrote that on February 17, a group of the UOC-MP clergy and laity restricted Galyna Yeremytsa, a journalist of Chernovtsy.Online news site, from performing her duties. Yeremytsa was trying to film the Church’s supporters during their meeting at a parish, but the people “were screaming, pulling her clothes, demanded to stop the filming” and wrested the journalist’s license. After the incident, she appealed to the police, the case is being investigated now.

On the other hand, a news editor at the UA:Vinnytsia public channel was fired in January upon the pretext of “non-observance of journalistic standards”. Ukrainian media claim that the reason was the December story on the appointment of UOC-MP archbishop Varsonofy who replaced metropolitan Simeon after he joined the new Church. Discontent was caused by the fact that the OCU wasn’t mentioned in the report. Later, the channel apologized at its website noting that “the story doesn’t contain crucial information on metropolitan Simeon’s transfer to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and the facts that preceded the archbishop’s arrival in Vinnytsia”.

Such examples illustrate increased infringement of journalists’ rights. Unfortunately, such attitude to the media is common among all the sides of the Ukrainian church conflict. Primarily, it is caused by the attempts to restrict pluralism in the media and often to affect an objective coverage of an event.

This can be said not just of the religious sphere. As stated in the report of the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner of December 17, 2018 on Ukraine, from August 16 to November 15, 2018 there were documented 59 human rights violations in relation to freedom of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association, religion or belief, as well as the right to non-discrimination and equal protection under law. Moreover, highlighted were “increasingly bold and visible attacks against media professionals, civil society activists and those representing alternative social and political opinions”.

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Serious Drawbacks in Ukraine’s Adopted ‘Church’ Bill

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On January 17, Ukraine’s Verkhovna Rada (parliament) passed the bill No. 4128 on new amendments regarding the subordination (denomination) of religious organizations and the procedure of state registration of religious organizations with the status of legal entities. The relevant law No. 2673-VIII was signed by President Poroshenko on January 28 and came into force on January 31, 2019.

Though the bill was designed to simplify the process of changing the religious subordination of a religious community, it actually introduces a new, more complicated scheme of registration and reregistration for religious organizations of all confessions including Protestants.
So, reregistration becomes not just a long-lasting process full of red tape but also is rather expensive. Thus, according to Art. 15 of the Law of Ukraine “On State Registration of Legal Entities, Individual Entrepreneurs and Public Organizations”, the signature of every community member must be authenticated by a notary.

Moreover, the law No. 2673-VIII requires to submit a new charter of a religious community along with the list of the Assembly participants, which is an unjustified state interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations and infringes believers’ right on confidentiality of their religious views envisaged in Art. 4 of the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations”.

It’s worth noting that a request to submit the community members’ signatures contradicts European standards, for example Point 25 of the Guidelines on the Legal Personality of Religious or Belief Communities published in 2015 by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR):

Any procedure that provides religious or belief communities with access to legal personality status should not set burdensome requirements.68 Examples of burdensome requirements that are not justified under international law include, but are not limited to, the following: that the registration application be signed by all members of the religious organization and contain their full names, dates of birth and places of residence; that excessively detailed information be provided in the statute of the religious organization; that excessively high or unreasonable registration fees be paid; that the religious organization has an approved legal address; or that a religious association can only operate at the address identified in its registration documents. Such requirements would not appear to be necessary in a democratic society for the grounds enumerated in international human rights instruments. Also, religious or belief communities interested in obtaining legal personality status should not be confronted with unnecessary bureaucratic burdens or with lengthy or unpredictable waiting periods. Should the legal system for the acquisition of legal personality require certain registration-related documents, these documents should be issued by the authorities.

There is another unjustified burden for the religious activity of brotherhoods, missions, religious schools – they are required to submit documents confirming the right to own or use the property where they are registered. It is also impossible for newly formed religious communities to comply with the new demand (according to Art. 14 of the Law of Ukraine “On Freedom of Conscience and Religious Organizations”) to hand in a “properly authenticated copy of a document on the right of property or usage” since the community cannot obtain any property rights without becoming a legal entity first.

Another contradiction is that during reregistration, religious communities must produce “the original registration certificate of the religious organization’s charter” as such document is not determined by the Ukrainian legislation and cannot be issued or demanded.
As the adopted law No. 2673-VIII stipulates, one of the reasons for rejecting the documents for registration is “their non-compliance with the existing requirements”, but it is not stated by which acts these requirements are set. This enables the authorities to voluntary decide whether the submitted documents comply or not with the requirements and leads to corruption.

Moreover, according to the same law No. 2673-VIII, if the authorities decide to reject the registration documents without reviewing them or refuse to register the charter, they do not have to provide to the religious organization a written response with all remarks related to the papers and an explanation in what manner the legislation was not complied with.
Obviously, such an irresponsibility of the registration body paves the way for a biased revision of the submitted documents and increased corruption risks.

Shortly before the second reading in the Parliament, churches, religious and public organizations appealed to the deputies to correct the above-mentioned drawbacks but contrary to the Verkhovna Rada’s regulations, the lawmakers were not permitted to do so.

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