Aish HaTorah

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Aish HaTorah is an Orthodox Jewish interest group, headquartered in Jerusalem near the Western Wall. It describes itself as apolitical, with "Jewish educational centers in 35 branches on five continents" and a significant Web presence.[1], although it is associated with a number of organizations supporting policies of the State of Israel. The group was founded in 1974 by American-born rabbi Noah Weinberger in 1974, who was concerned with fighting assimilation and answering the question, "Why be Jewish?"[2] Weinberger died in 2009. Like the Chabad-Lubavitch organization, he was concerned with fighting Jewish assimilation, but unlike Chabad, "Aish principally relies not on the warmth and charisma of its emissaries but on presenting a rational, cogent argument for God's existence and the unique mission of the Jewish people." [3]

Message

Its name translates as "Fire of Torah;" their website quotes Elie Weisel as saying : "Aish HaTorah means to me the passion of teaching, the passion of learning. The study of Torah, the source of Jewish values, is the way to Jewish survival." They continue that "Aish's educational philosophy is that Judaism is not all or nothing; it is a journey where every step counts, to be pursued according to one's own pace and interest. Mitzvot (commandments) are not rituals, but opportunities for personal growth, to be studied and understood. We learn the Torah's wisdom to enrich our own lives, and to share these ideas with all humanity."

Media-related activities

AishHatorah sponsors IsraelActivism.com and Hasbara Fellowships for travel and education in Israel. Speakers for this organization offer campus lectures in:[4]

  • Communicating Effectively for Israel
  • Answering the Most Difficult Questions about Israel
  • Israel Update: Current Events and Trends
  • Defeating anti-Israel Propaganda and Speakers
  • Building Your Israel Group and Future Leadership
  • Dealing With Media Bias
  • Engaging the Unengaged on Your Campus
  • Role Playing: How to Have Meaningful Conversations and Win Debates
  • How to Table, Run Successful Events, and Build Coalitions
  • Screening of "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West" (small fee)
  • Screening of "Relentless: The Struggle for Peace in Israel"

They provided the initial funding for HonestReporting.

"Obsession"

USA Today reported that the Council on American Islamic Relations asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate the associated Clarion Fund's tax-exempt status, for involvement in the production and distribution of the film "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," distributed as a DVD in newspaper inserts.

CAIR, in the article, said "'Independent observers have suggested that the distribution of the DVD was an obvious attempt by the Clarion Fund to participate in campaign activities and intervene in the 2008 presidential election,'" The article continued, "The film was distributed after the Labor Day start of the election season, and 95% of the papers that carried the DVD were in swing states. CAIR has asked the IRS to strip the Clarion Fund of its tax-exempt status if it finds evidence of wrongdoing."[5] Investigation by the Tampa/St. Petersburg Times [6] said the Clarion Fund's address was the same as that of the fundraising arm of Aish HaTorah. The group that produced the film, HonestReporting, had the same address on its 2006 tax return; the Times also said HonestReporting had been taken over by Media Watch International. Brigitte Gabriel, Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson appear in the film. [7]

Aish has denied direct involvement with Obsession, but there are many connections to it. Jeffrey Goldberg, a writer with The Atlantic generally considered strongly pro-Israel, watched a 12-minute version of the film, "but it was enough for to understand that it is the work of hysterics. One of my favorite hysterics, the Jerusalem Post's Caroline Glick, is featured prominently, pieces of the sky falling about her head as she rants about the End of Days." He called AishHatorah "the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today. Its operatives flourish in the radical belt of Jewish settlements just south of Nablus, in the northern West Bank, and their outposts across the world propagandize on behalf of a particularly sterile, sexist and revanchist brand of Judaism. Which is amusing, of course, because "Obsession" is meant to expose a particularly sterile, sexist and racist brand of Islam."[8]

Russia

It has an active program both in Russia, with television broadcasts, seminars and a college, as well as a program to assist Russian immigrants in Israel. [2]

References

  1. About Us, AishHaTorah
  2. 2.0 2.1 Aish HaTorah, Jewish Virtual Library
  3. Ben Harris (February 6, 2009), Rabbi Noah Weinberg, founder of Aish HaTorah, dies
  4. Activism Training, IsraelActivism.com: the official site of Hasbara Fellowships
  5. "Muslim group asks IRS to investigate 'Obsession' DVDs", USA Today, 2 October 2008
  6. Meg Laughlin (26 September 2008), "Senders of Islam movie 'Obsession' tied to Jewish charity", Tampa Bay Times
  7. Sarah Posner (October 30, 2008), "Jerusalem - Aish HaTorah Takes On New Initiative To Fight Muslim Extremist", Jewish Week
  8. Jeffrey Goldberg (27 Oct 2008), "The Jewish Extremists Behind "Obsession"", The Atlantic