Sources

eBay Outrage: Israeli Man Auctions Off Bits Of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall

Every year, thousands of tourists and pilgrims travel the world for a chance to stand – or kneel – in front of Jerusalem’s Wailing Wall. Now, thanks to the popular online auction site eBay, they can have the wall sent to them – or at least a piece of it.

Praying or collecting merchandise for an online auction? (Bertrand Hauger)
Praying or collecting merchandise for an online auction? (Bertrand Hauger)
Michael Borgstede

There's not much that doesn't find its way to eBay. Bidders can use the popular Internet site to buy a goat's skull, six-foot bullwhip, Barack Obama toilet paper or, for just $24.99, a piece of Jerusalem's Wailing Wall.

Much to the dismay of the Rabbi in charge of the holy site, an Israeli businessman has begun using eBay to sell laminated cards containing crumbled little bits purported to be from the Western Wall, a place of pilgrimage and prayer for Jews. The seller describes the merchandise as "Piece of Stone Soil From the Wailing Western Wall Kotel Jerusalem Jesus Israel."

The same seller is also offering stones of some two square centimeters, supposedly found on the ground in front of the Wall, for $4.99 each. Each stone is presented in an "elegant" display box.

Going…going…gone

Shmuel Rabinowitz, the rabbi who oversees the Wall, took exception to the offer and wrote a letter to eBay asking the site to take it down. The stones, he wrote, are in no way "blessed" as the vendor claims.

"Even if they are merely stones from the area around the Wall that were taken without permission, this constitutes fraud," Rabbi Rabinowitz wrote, adding that what is implied is "that they have some kind of merit and blessing, which isn't the case!" The rabbi accused the seller of violating not only the Torah but also the Israeli Antiquities Act.

As a kind of warning to seller and potential buyers of the stones, Rabbi Rabinowitz included an anecdote about a man who placed a small stone from the Wailing Wall under the pillow of his sick wife, hoping that it would lead to her healing. Instead, the woman died.

Although widely published in the Israeli and world press, the Rabbi's letter doesn't seem to have had much effect on the businessman or sales: in a week, he sold nine.

Read the original article in German

Photo - Bertrand Hauger

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Society

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum

-Analysis-

SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.


It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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