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Ballot is battleground for Israeli town torn by religion

By Maayan Lubell BEIT SHEMESH, Israel (Reuters) - When this Israeli town goes to the polls on Tuesday, the vote may decide more than a bitter mayoral race. Many see it as a bellwether for the strained secular-religious relations throughout the Jewish state. Municipal votes rarely raise passions in Israel, but this one - a rerun of an election last October - is different. Two courts ordered it after finding voter fraud in the original ballot that returned the ultra-Orthodox mayor to office.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews stage mass protest against Israeli draft law

By Crispian Balmer JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews held a mass prayer in Jerusalem on Sunday in protest at a bill that would cut their community's military exemptions and end a tradition upheld since Israel's foundation. Ultra-Orthodox leaders had called on their men, women and children to attend the protest against new legislation ending the wholesale army exemptions granted to seminary students, which is expected to pass in the coming weeks,

Israel cuts seminary funds, angers ultra-Orthodox Jews

By Maayan Lubell JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's Finance Ministry said on Wednesday it was cutting funds to seminary students exempt from compulsory military service, in the latest battle between the Jewish state's secular majority and an ultra-Orthodox minority. Seminary students, many of whom rely on state stipends, have for decades been excused from army service under blanket exemptions that have long stoked resentment in a country whose other Jewish citizens are called to duty at the age of 18.

Israeli court cancels mayoral vote in town divided by religion

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli court dealt a blow on Thursday to the ultra-Orthodox community's political hold over a town that has been a focus of national divisions between the Jewish state's secular majority and its religious minority. Citing voter fraud in Beit Shemesh, a town of 80,000, a court in nearby Jerusalem cancelled the result of an October mayoral election, won by the ultra-Orthodox incumbent Moshe Abutbul, and ordered a new ballot.

Poverty drives change among Israel's ultra-Orthodox Jews

By Maayan Lubell JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Better trained in wrestling with complex religious texts than in martial arts, the ultra-Orthodox Jewish youths drop to the floor to give their combat instructor a dozen push-ups. Black skullcaps slip off their heads and a pair of glasses goes flying across the room as the khaki-clad trainer barks out: "I will kick your ass if you do not keep time."

Some 700,000 attend funeral of revered Israeli rabbi

By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Some 700,000 mourners turned out on Monday for the funeral of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, an Iraqi-born sage who transformed an Israeli underclass of Sephardic Jews of Middle East heritage into a powerful political force. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the funeral for Yosef, who died on Monday aged 93, was the biggest ever held in the holy city.

Britain's new chief rabbi faces task of uniting Jewish community

By Belinda Goldsmith LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's new chief rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, who has vowed to remain traditional by barring women rabbis and same-sex marriage, was sworn in on Sunday to face the challenge of uniting the nation's polarized Jewish community. About 1,400 guests, including Britain's heir apparent Prince Charles, attended a ceremony at a north London synagogue as Mirvis replaced the respected Jonathan Sacks after 22 years as the leading spokesman for British Jews.

Ultra-Orthodox soldier attacked in Jerusalem

Israeli police on Tuesday rescued an ultra-Orthodox soldier who was attacked by a group of his coreligionists in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood, a spokesman said. "Police rescued an ultra-Orthodox soldier who had taken refuge inside a building in Mea Shearim after being attacked by dozens of haredim," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told AFP, using the Hebrew word for ultra-Orthodox Jews. The soldier had taken refuge inside a building in the middle of the ultra-Orthodox Mea Shearim neighbourhood after he was attacked by people throwing stones and called for help.

Israeli cabinet approves ultra-Orthodox conscription law

By Jeffrey Heller JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's cabinet approved a draft law on Sunday to abolish wholesale exemptions from military duty granted to Jewish seminary students, stoking ultra-Orthodox anger over the break with tradition. Many Israelis have long bridled over state privileges handed to the conservative believers or "Haredim" - a Hebrew term meaning "those who tremble before God".

Insight: Steeped in tradition, Israel's ultra-Orthodox face reform drive

By Crispian Balmer and Maayan Lubell JERUSALEM (Reuters) - A small rock lies on the desk of Dov Lipman. It was hurled at the member of parliament by a fellow ultra-Orthodox Jew and is a constant reminder of the deep divisions within Israel that Lipman says must be overcome. Lipman, who is a rabbi, was hit by the stone shortly after immigrating to Israel from the United States, eight years ago, when he stumbled into a riot over plans to dig up some ancient bones - something the protesters said was a desecration.
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