Rabbi, wife redeem son in commemoration rite

A Redemption of the Firstborn Son ceremony, or Pidyon haBen, was held Sunday in Portland when Rabbi Mendel Shemtov and his wife, Shterna Sara, redeemed their son. The rabbi paid the kohen, or high priest, to buy the child. The ceremony commemorates the redemption of the Jewish nation from Egypt, where God saved his chosen “firstborn” nation.

The redemption sum designated by the Torah is five silver “shekels,” or roughly the value of 100 grams of pure silver. Other coins or items of equivalent value are acceptable, but paper money or tickets are not valid.

The kohen may retain the redemption money as one of 24 gifts the Torah assigned to be given by the people to the kohanim, or members of the priestly tribe.

The redemption is performed on the 31st day of an eligible newborn’s life and features a festive meal with a group of 10 or more men praying.

The kohen, Peter Lewis, is a longtime Maine resident, and Rabbi Shemtov is the son-in-law of Rabbi Moshe Wilansky of Portland.


Jewish group supports Muslims’ right to build

A Jewish civil rights group has filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of a Muslim congregation that claims its expansion project was unlawfully blocked.

The Anti-Defamation League said Wednesday it was intervening in the case to support the Islamic Center of North Fulton. The congregation claims the city of Alpharetta has illegally blocked its plan to construct a new worship center.

The city has rejected the application, saying that the congregation vowed it would not expand when the center was built in 1998.

The Interfaith Coalition on Mosques filed a similar court motion in federal court. The group contends that the rights of the Islamic Center should be protected under a law designed to safeguard the religious freedom of houses of worship involved in land disputes.


Russia un-bans Scientology books, church announces

The Church of Scientology says Russian authorities have lifted a ban on some of its publications.

According to a statement on the website of the organization’s Russian branch, 29 books and lectures by the movement’s founder, L. Ron Hubbard, were banned in late April after a court found them “extremist.” It said Tuesday that Russia’s Justice Ministry has dropped the publications from its list of extremist literature.

Ministry officials refused immediate comment, but an online list of extremist literature does not mention Scientology materials Tuesday evening.

Scientology has also struggled for acceptance in many European countries.


Potential GOP hopefuls admire strict abortion bill

A strict Ohio abortion bill is drawing support from potential Republican White House hopefuls and criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Anti-abortion group Faith2Action has led the push for the so-called Heartbeat Bill, which would outlaw abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat.

It said the measure is supported by four possible presidential contenders: former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Alabama Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Meanwhile, the Ohio ACLU is warning that the bill and other Ohio abortion proposals could make the state a target of costly lawsuits.

ANKARA, Turkey

Turkey conserving ancient church to please Armenia

Turkey has launched a project to conserve an ancient Armenian cathedral and church in what is seen as a gesture of reconciliation toward its neighbor.

Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a bitter dispute for decades over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Efforts to normalize relations have been dealt a setback by a conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan, which is a close Muslim ally of Turkey.

Turkey, however, said it is committed to improving ties with Armenia, and has already restored the 10th century Akdamar church, perched on a rocky island in Lake Van in eastern Turkey. It has also allowed once-yearly worship at the site.