(CNN) - U.S. officials Thursday denounced what one called a "grotesque" leaflet ordering Jews in one eastern Ukrainian city to register with a government office, but the Jewish community there dismissed it as a "provocation."
The fliers were handed out by masked men in front the main synagogue in Donetsk, where pro-Russian protesters have declared a "People's Republic," Jewish leaders there said. The document warned the city's Jews to register and document their property or face deportation, according to a CNN translation of one of the leaflets.
Geoffrey Pyatt, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, told CNN's "The Lead with Jake Tapper" that a respected Jewish leader in Ukraine showed him a photograph of one of the leaflets. He called the document "chilling."
And in Geneva, where diplomats held emergency talks on the Ukrainian crisis, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry called the leaflets "grotesque" and "beyond unacceptable."
But the Jewish community statement said relations between the Jews of Donetsk and their neighbors were amicable, and the self-proclaimed head of the "People's Republic," Denis Pushilin, denied any connection to the fliers.
Pushilin told CNN the handwriting on the flier wasn't his, and the title attached to his name was not one he uses. It wasn't clear who had distributed the leaflets, but the chief rabbi of nearby Dnipropetrovsk said, "Everything must be done to catch them."
"It's important for everyone to know its not true," said the rabbi, Shmuel Kaminezki. "The Jews of Donetsk will not do what the letter says."
The reports come as Ukraine's Western-backed interim government has been struggling to contain uprisings by pro-Russian political movements in several eastern cities, with both sides invoking the historical horror of Nazism in their disputes. Pyatt told CNN that radical groups may be trying to stir up historic fears or create a provocation to justify further violence.
"It's chilling. I was disgusted by these leaflets," Pyatt said. "Especially in Ukraine, a country that suffered so terribly under the Nazis, that was one of the sites of the worst violence of the Holocaust. To drag up this kind of rhetoric is almost beyond belief."
By Joel S. Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - Moses: the main character of the Torah, the paradigmatic law-giver and the star of multiple motion pictures.
As Passover rolls around again and Jews the world over retell the story of Moses’s big moment, it’s worth remembering that there are aspects of Moses that haven’t made it to the big screen or into public consciousness.
For example, here are five things you probably didn’t know about the Hebrew prophet.
1. Moses was probably Egyptian.
The most important piece of evidence for this is his name.
In the Bible, it is explained that his name is derived from the Hebrew word mashah, “to draw,” as in “to draw him from the waters of the Nile,” where he had been hidden as an infant.
Unfortunately, it is awfully hard to get from that verb to the name Moses, which would probably mean something like “the one who draws," which isn’t how the story goes.
Opinion by Joel S. Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - Most modern people tend to distinguish between the wrathful God of the Old Testament and the merciful God of the New Testament.
In our age, the merciful God reigns - or so we like to think.
But every so often, stories or books or natural disasters summon visions of a wrathful God, and nowhere is that more in evidence than in the biblical story of the Flood, now brutally depicted in Darren Aronofsky’s new film “Noah.”
With our notion of a God who loves us all individually, especially the little children, we struggle with a deity who would wipe out all of humanity. Surely there were many innocent people, children, who died in the Flood?
But let’s be clear: This is our problem, not the Bible’s.
(CNN) - At the American Israel Public Affairs Conference on Monday, Sen. John McCain of Arizona joked that, because of his close friendship with former Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman, he observed a lot of Judaism's Sabbath laws.
"I've had to go through all this all these years and I've gotten none of the benefits," McCain told the crowd. "So I'm announcing my conversion to Judaism."
He might've gone through with it, the senator said, but for one little thing...
Opinion by Joel Baden, special to CNN
(CNN) - It’s been a rough 2014 for the book of Genesis.
First a Noah’s Ark discovery raised a flood of questions, then there was the much-hyped debate over life’s origins between Bill Nye the Science Guy and creationist Ken Ham.
And now this: a scientific report establishing that camels, the basic mode of transportation for the biblical patriarchs, weren’t domesticated in Israel until hundreds of years after Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are said to have wandered the earth.
Using radiocarbon dating of camel bones that showed signs of having carried heavy loads, Israeli archaeologists have dated the earliest domesticated camels to the end of the 10th century BCE.
But according to the traditional biblical chronology, the patriarchs were schlepping around Canaan on camels over a millennium earlier, all the way back in 2100 BCE
Taken on its own, this may seem a rather minor problem.
After all, this is Genesis, in which some people live to be 900 years old (hello, Methuselah), all of humanity emerges from Babylon, and the Dead Sea is created from the backward glance of Lot’s wife. (Not to mention the six-day creation story and the stuffing of all land animals on a single boat.)
How important could camels really be?
Opinion by Joel Baden, Special to CNN
(CNN) – That faint humming sound you’ve heard recently is the scholarly world of the Bible and archaeology abuzz over the discovery of the oldest known Mesopotamian version of the famous Flood story.
A British scholar has found that a 4,000-year-old cuneiform tablet from what is now Iraq contains a story similar to the biblical account of Noah’s Ark.
The newly decoded cuneiform tells of a divinely sent flood and a sole survivor on an ark, who takes all the animals on board to preserve them. It even includes the famous phrase “two by two,” describing how the animals came onto the ark.
But there is one apparently major difference: The ark in this version is round.
We have known for well over a century that there are flood stories from the ancient Near East that long predate the biblical account (even the most conservative biblical scholars wouldn’t date any earlier than the ninth century B.C).
What’s really intriguing scholars is the description of the ark itself.
Opinion by Mark Schacter, special to CNN
(CNN) – I don’t believe in a divine presence, nor do I subscribe to any organized religion.
And that, perhaps oddly, is why I am drawn to the mystery of faith.
With the wonderment of an outsider, I try to understand the seemingly incomprehensible (to me, at least) pull that faith exerts over so many people's lives.
As a photographer approaching this mystery, I am confronted by what might seem like a contradiction: Photographs capture what can be seen, and yet faith is often invisible.
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Leon Gersten could not bear to watch “Schindler’s List,” the movie about Czech industrialist Oskar Schindler who saved 1,200 Jews from Nazi extermination camps. It was too painful for the Holocaust survivor, too close to reality.
But now, almost 70 years after his village in Poland was liberated by the Soviet army, Gersten is meeting the man who is the Oskar Schindler of his own life: Czeslaw Polziec.
Like Schindler, Polziec is Catholic. His family secretly sheltered Gersten in rural Poland for two years during World War II.
As though such a reunion between survivor and rescuer were not emotional enough, this one is taking place Wednesday on the eve of Hanukkah, which coincides this year with Thanksgiving. Two celebrations of gratitude.
By Daniel Burke, Belief Blog Co-editor
(CNN) - Break out the menurkeys and sweet potato latkes, people, it's time to celebrate Thanksgivukkah, a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.
A calendrical quirk brings the first day of Hanukkah and Thanksgiving together this Thursday for the first time since 1888. Scientists say the confluence won't occur again for another 70,000 years, give or take a millennium.
Dana Gitell, a 37-year-old marketing manager for a Jewish nonprofit in Massachusetts, is the mind behind the mashup "Thanksgivukkah."
(If you think that's a mouthful, her other ideas were "Thanksgiving-ukkah" and "Hanukkahgiving," both of which caused our spellchecker to sputter and die.)
But with the right portmanteau in place, the Thanksgivukkah idea caught fire faster than a deep-fried turkey.
By Jessica Ravitz, CNN
(CNN) - Of course Tevi Troy has heard the hubbub.
He knows full well that his onetime boss, former President George W. Bush, plans to speak Thursday at a Dallas fundraiser for the Messianic Jewish Bible Institute – a group dedicated to converting Jews to Christianity.
“I have yet to meet a Jewish person who hasn’t heard about this,” says Troy, who served as a Bush administration liaison to the Jewish community and was a former deputy secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The topic of conversion can prompt a visceral reaction for Jews whose darker times have been marred by persecution, expulsion and forced conversions. Millions have died for and because of their faith.
“There’s good historical reason for the Jewish discomfort,” Troy says. FULL POST
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.