In-person Hanukkah party planned at White House
WASHINGTON – The White House is throwing an in-person Hanukkah party, one of a series of recent events the Trump administration has held despite coronavirus concerns.
The reception will be held Dec. 9 in the afternoon, a day before the holiday’s first candle lighting, according to an invitation obtained by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
President Donald Trump has come under fire for holding a number of crowded events at the White House, including several that are believed to have spread the coronavirus.
Jewish staff held semi-formal Hanukkah parties during the Clinton administration, but George W. Bush was the first president to make them a formal event. President Barack Obama continued the tradition, increasing the parties to two per year to meet demand. Trump also has held two Hanukkah parties each year of his presidency.
Orthodox group asks Supreme Court to block COVID restrictions on synagogues
After several challenges to pandemic-induced restrictions on houses of worship citing religious liberty, an Orthodox Jewish advocacy group is taking its case to the U.S. Supreme Court in the hopes that the new conservative majority will rule in its favor.
Agudath Israel, an umbrella organization representing haredi Orthodox Jews, is challenging New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s limitations on houses of worship in “red zones,” areas with especially high COVID test positivity rates. Agudath Israel claims that they were implemented in a way that discriminated on the basis of religion.
Last month, a federal judge ruled against Agudath Israel’s request for an injunction against the red zone restrictions, saying the restrictions did not violate religious liberties.
Agudath Israel is appealing the case to the Supreme Court, which gained a jurist sympathetic to religious liberty arguments when Amy Coney Barrett was appointed. “Given the new make-up of the court, the plaintiffs think there are now enough justices interested in issuing emergency relief and providing broader constitutional guidance on what government is prohibited from doing even in the midst of a global pandemic,” Michael Helfand, associate dean for faculty and research at Pepperdine University’s Caruso School of Law, said in an email.
Agudath Israel claims that Cuomo did not provide specific numbers related to the COVID rates in the affected areas or scientific justification for the restrictions, and that some non-Jewish areas with higher positivity rates were not subject to the same restrictions.
“While we continue to emphasize safety in our communities, government cannot, under the guise of health, be allowed to have one set of rules for religious activities and another rulebook for secular activities,” said Avrohom Weinstock, Agudath Israel’s chief of staff.
Israeli agents assassinated al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, report says
Two Israeli agents on a motorcycle killed the second-in-command of al-Qaeda in Tehran, the New York Times reported.
Citing anonymous intelligence officials from an unidentified country or countries, the report said the killing of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah three months ago was done at the behest of the United States.
Abdullah, also known as Abu Muhammad al-Masri, is believed to have masterminded deadly attacks on two U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 that killed 224 and wounded hundreds.
Israel reportedly maintains a robust intelligence presence in Iran, its deadliest enemy. Israeli agents have been blamed for assassinations, sabotage and spiriting out of the country sensitive nuclear information.
Al-Qaeda and Iran have not reported Abdullah’s death and he remains on the U.S. Most Wanted List.