An item from Religion News Service that appeared in the In Brief column on the Sept. 25 Religion Page incorrectly said that Rachel's Tomb is in Israel. The tomb is in the West Bank. (Published 10/6/04)

Target Drops Bracelets

Target Corp. has stopped selling bracelets made popular by pop icon Madonna and other celebrities after a Jewish group said the item commercialized a sacred tradition.

The International Society for Sephardic Progress, a Florida-based advocacy group for Jews of Spanish descent, protested when Target began selling a string bracelet called "Kabbalah Red String."

The string is believed to ward off evil. It originates in Israel, where it is wrapped around the tomb of the biblical matriarch Rachel, spiritual protector and mother figure to adherents of Jewish mystical philosophy. The string is cut into pieces and sent to the United States to be sold under the auspices of the Kabbalah Centre, a Los Angeles-based organization.

Controversial in Orthodox Jewish circles for teaching that Kabbalah is not a Jewish philosophy but available to all people, the Kabbalah Centre sells a length of red string that makes eight to 10 bracelets for $26. Adherents wear the bracelets until they fall off, a period of time they believe depends on the amount of evil the person is exposed to.

The society wrote to Target in early August, asking the company to halt sales of the product. Target responded with a letter that stated the string had been removed from the stores and Web site and is no longer advertised or offered for sale.

Company officials did not respond to a request for comment, but the society celebrated the decision. "The Jewish people should not allow the corporate exploitation of their religion," Shelomo Alfassa, the society's executive director, said in a statement.

In an interview, the Kabbalah Centre co-director, Rabbi Michael Berg, said the commercial aspect of the center's work is not a detriment to the ideals of the Kabbalah because the sales benefit the nonprofit organization and its programs, including free after-school spirituality programs for children in a dozen cities.

-- Religion News Service

Against Gay Marriage

A Baptist church accused of using its tax-exempt pulpit to endorse President Bush gave its backing to a ban on gay marriage in a nationally televised service Sunday.

Evangelical leaders, led by Focus on the Family's James Dobson, used First Baptist Church in Springdale, Ark., to urge support for a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage.

About 3,000 churchgoers in Springdale and an estimated 1 million television viewers across the country heard U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) promise that the amendment battle will be won.

"If Christian people are awake and involved, we can change this country," Dobson said.

The speakers also expressed support for the Rev. Ronnie Floyd, the church's pastor, whose Fourth of July sermon provoked a complaint to the Federal Elections Commission from Americans United for Separation of Church and State. The group said Floyd's talk amounted to a Bush endorsement.

Floyd mentioned no candidates, but used pictures of Bush and his Democratic opponent, Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.) to illustrate his points. IRS rules on tax exemptions forbid pulpit endorsements.

-- Associated Press

Union Victory Hailed

The National Council of Churches has applauded an agreement unionizing foreign farmworkers who pick cucumbers pickled by Mt. Olive Pickle Co., which the council had boycotted in protest of previous treatment of the workers.

The Farm Labor Organizing Committee, the North Carolina Growers Association and the Mount Olive, N.C.-based pickle company reached an agreement last week that permits the workers to join the union and receive union benefits. The company will increase what it pays for cucumbers and give a financial incentive to growers who compensate farmworkers.

"This agreement represents the kind of mutual benefit that we hope will become an example for all of American industry, pointing toward a new era where profits are measured not only in share values, but in human values as well," the Rev. Bob Edgar, general secretary of the New York-based ecumenical body, said in a statement.

Benefits include improved pay, grievance procedures and bereavement leave when a close relative dies in another country.

In 2003, the National Council of Churches voted to endorse the consumer boycott that the union started in 1999. More than 300 groups endorsed the boycott, including the General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church and the United Church of Christ. Also supporting the boycott were Catholic bishops in Raleigh, N.C., and other dioceses.

-- Religion News Service