JBuzz News August 30, 2013: A Prayer of Atonement

JBUZZ NEWS: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

A Prayer of Atonement

Source: Huffington Post, 8-30-13

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement, Jewish congregations around the world confess their communal transgressions….READ MORE

Advertisements

JBuzz Op-eds March 23, 2013: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: 13 things you need to know for Passover 2013

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

13 things you need to know for Passover 2013

1. When does Passover 2013 begin and how long does it last?

2. What is Passover all about, and is it the same as Pesach?

3. Why is Passover the Most Celebrated Jewish holiday in America?

4. What’s a “Passover Seder”?

5. Why is Wine So Prominently Featured at the Seder Meal?

6. What is Matza?

7. Why Eat Bitter Herbs in the Midst of Celebrating Freedom?

8. Is Passover Only for Jews?

9. Was the Last Supper a Seder?

10. How are Passover and Easter related?

11. Passover and Our Founding Fathers

12. Moses Was A Hero to the Pilgrims

13. What the Word Egypt Really Means and Why It Matters for All of Us….READ MORE

JBuzz News February 10, 2013: Alexander H. Joffe: BDS and the Jewish Studies Trap on Brooklyn College’s Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Event

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

For more on the controversy over Brooklyn College’s Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) Event see complete news coverage on Israel Advocacy 101

Alexander H. Joffe: BDS and the Jewish Studies Trap

Source: The Algemeiner, 2-8-13

The recent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) event at Brooklyn College featuring professional Palestinian Omar Barghouti and celebrity anti-Israel academic Judith Butler was true to form. A dual purpose was served. For one, students and staff were treated to calls for the destruction of Israel, conducted in a quasi-academic setting, with the implicit endorsement of the institution. Second, as always, trap was sprung on opponents of such campus abuses. Having successfully planned the event and represented it as an intellectual exploration of the one state solution, in which Israel is made extinct, the inevitable complaints regarding its one-sidedness and borderline antisemitism were met with the usual howls of censorship and demands for academic freedom. Politicians became involved on both sides. City Council members were opposed to the campus and tax dollars supporting an anti-Israel recruitment rally. Mayor Bloomberg then came out in favor, and with characteristic tact and insight, condemned the event’s content and scolded the presumably close-minded opponents, wittily telling them to apply to school in North Korea….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-ed May 21, 2012: Dovid Katz: An Open Letter to Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

An Open Letter to Yale History Professor Timothy Snyder

Source: Algemeiner, 5-21-12

Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University, the author of the famous (and controversial) book “Bloodlands” was brought to Lithuania last week for a symposium on the Holocaust attended also by the director of YIVO in New York. In the course of the same week, the Lithuanian government repatriated, reburied with full honors and held a series of events honoring the 1941 Nazi-puppet prime minister who signed off on the German order for all Jews in Kaunas (Kovno) to be forced into a ghetto.

Dear Tim,

Greetings, and sorry we missed each other in Vilnius this time. I write in the context of our ongoing and respectful conversation, which started in the Guardian (thanks to Matt Seaton, and prominently including Efraim Zuroff) back in 2010 (I, II, III, IV); continuing through our meeting at Yale, the Aftermath Conference in Melbourne, Australia, in 2011 (thanks to Mark Baker, and with participation of Jan Gross and Patrick Desbois), and more recently, via my review of your book Bloodlands (along with Alexander Prusin’s The Lands Between), in East European Jewish Affairs.

In that review, I dealt with a number of areas of disagreement that are on the table concerning the Holocaust in Eastern Europe and the efforts underway to use state funds to downgrade it in a number of countries, particularly the Baltics.

But these debates are inherently separate from the troubling issue on which I’m addressing you today: the ongoing instrumentalization and abuse of your important work by well-oiled government-financed ultra-nationalist and often antisemitic forces in Eastern Europe who have (wrongly) found in your work the ammunition for a discernible slide in the direction of the Double Genocide movement, which reached its zenith with the 2008 Prague Declaration (critiques here), and in the direction of positing the sort of “complexity” that is regularly invoked, particularly here in the Baltics, as euphemism for what is now called Holocaust Obfuscation.

There is, alas, in nationalist and antisemitic circles in some East European states a movement to sanitize or actually glorify local Holocaust collaborators and perpetrators (who were after all, usually quite reliably “anti-Soviet” and “anti-Russian”). In Lithuania alone, this effort has gone hand in hand with a tragic effort to concurrently blame the victims by trying to criminalize, in the absence of any evidence, Holocaust survivors who are alive because they joined the anti-Nazi resistance. Not one of these kangaroo cases has yet led to a public apology, not even to 90 year old Dr. Rachel Margolis in Rechovot, who still dreams of one last visit to her native Vilna.

As reported in DefendingHistory.com last September, a foreign-ministry hosted event in Vilnius in September 2011 included a speech by a leading local historian in which he claimed (wrongly) that your book offers support for the condemnation of Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis. In May 2011, a historian speaking on Lithuanian radio boasted that “It’s not all hopeless” because of Bloodlands.

Even before that, in late 2010, a far-right film production cited you as an expert consultant in a project to glorify the Lithuanian Activist Front (LAF) perpetrators who unleashed murder and mutilation of Jewish civilians in dozens of Lithuanian towns before the Nazis even arrived (and who announced their intentions before the war even started). (I trust you withdrew from that project, and offer my belated congratulations for so doing).

But that episode somehow connects with this week. The same ultranationalist filmmakers recently announced their premiere on Sunday 20 May 2012 in Kaunas of a new “documentary” (promo clip here) adulating Juozas Ambrazevičius (later Brazaitis), the 1941 Nazi puppet “prime minister” in Kaunas who signed off on orders for the setting up of a concentration camp for Jews, and the requirement that “all the Jews of Kaunas” be moved within four weeks to a ghetto.

The new film premiered yesterday in Kaunas as the grand finale of four days of Lithuanian government financed events (May 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th) focused on the reburial with full honors and the elaborate honoring of the World War II Nazi puppet prime minister.

What do these events have to do with you, or with the director of Yivo from New York who joined you? Directly speaking – absolutely nothing. In fact, people in the Jewish community here in Vilnius feel certain that when you (and he) accepted the invitations for the May 2012 symposium and related events here in Lithuania that you had no idea your presence would coincide with the long-planned glorification of a major Holocaust collaborator.

But when such things happen, it becomes necessary to react, if not by postponing one’s trip then by speaking out unambiguously with moral clarity.

Events featuring a Yale historian and the head of Yivo, coming at the same time as the state-sponsored events to honor the collaborator, have been used, first:  to deflect foreign and diplomatic attention from the Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis outrage, which has drawn protests this past week from B’nai B’rith, the Wiesenthal Center, an international petition, and critically, the remnant Jewish Community of Lithuania; second: to use your appearance to legitimize those events. After all, if a Yale professor and the head of Yivo are happy to appear the same week about the Holocaust and not come out publicly and firmly against the concurrent glorification of the collaborator, well, then it can’t be such a big deal…

It was sad that neither of you publicly condemned the Ambrazevičius-Brazaitis events during your symposium on the Holocaust in Lithuania. However, it did come up in an interviewer’s question to yourself.

According to the interview published on 15min.lt on 18 May 2012 (and for the sake of the Almighty, please do tell us if they misquoted you), your answer to the question about the repatriation, honoring and reburial of the Nazi puppet prime minister underway during your visit was as follows:

“I am going to choose my words very carefully here. I think before you rebury anyone, you should think very very hard and probably wait a very very long time because once you rebury somebody once, you can’t rebury them again.”
Is that really all you have to say to Lithuanian society, during your visit here, regarding the latest in a litany of government sponsored events to honor collaborators and perpetrators of the Lithuanian Holocaust and not seldom to use your own name and book as artillery?

During this past week, very courageous Lithuanian citizens (who remain here and may even have to face this or that consequence in their careers) have raised their proud voices in dignified protest. They include the members of parliament Vytenis Povilas Andriukaitis and Algirdas Sysas; member of the European Parliament Leonidas Donskis; political scientist  Darius Udrys; former editor of the Jewish newspaper here, Milan Chersonski; dozens of Lithuanian citizens who have signed Krystyna Anna Steiger’s petition; and, not least, the small remnant Jewish community itself, which issued a bold statement in partnership with the Jewish museum.

As a famous professor soon returning to Yale, would it be too much respectfully to ask you to reconsider your public reaction to the week’s events. You can phrase this much more eloquently and elegantly. Here is just a first thought:

“There are certainly many historical complexities, but as a true friend of Lithuania, I have to tell you frankly that state financing of the honoring of a Nazi-puppet prime minister on whose watch the mass murder of Lithuanian Jewry got underway, one who actually signed orders separating out for persecution and worse those citizens who were Jewish, is the worst possible message your government could be sending. It is a tragic mistake, and if I had known it would coincide with my visit, I would have asked to come some other week out of respect for the victims of the Holocaust. As someone who passionately shares your cause of educating the West about Stalinist crimes, I have to tell you that this sort of thing undermines that noble effort through and through.”

Wishing you, as ever, the best of everything,

Dovid

Dovid Katz was visiting professor in Judaic studies at Yale in 1989-1999. From 1999 to 2010 he was professor of Yiddish language, literature and culture at Vilnius University, Lithuania. He is based in Vilnius, where he edits wwwDefendingHistory.com. His personal website is http://www.dovidkatz.net.

JBuzz Feature May 20, 2012: Was Christopher Columbus secretly a Jew?

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Was Columbus secretly a Jew?

Source: CNN, 5-20-12
Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
Christopher Columbus bids farewell to his son Diego at Palos, Spain, before embarking on his first voyage on August 3, 1492.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Sunday marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus
  • Charles Garcia: Columbus was a Marrano, or a Jew who feigned to be a Catholic
  • He says that during Columbus’ lifetime, Jews became the target of religious persecution
  • Garcia: Columbus’ voyage was motivated by a desire to find a safe haven for Jews

Today marks the 508th anniversary of the death of Christopher Columbus….

Recently, a number of Spanish scholars, such as Jose Erugo, Celso Garcia de la Riega, Otero Sanchez and Nicholas Dias Perez, have concluded that Columbus was a Marrano, whose survival depended upon the suppression of all evidence of his Jewish background in face of the brutal, systematic ethnic cleansing.

Columbus, who was known in Spain as Cristóbal Colón and didn’t speak Italian, signed his last will and testament on May 19, 1506, and made five curious — and revealing — provisions….

The evidence seem to bear out a far more complicated picture of the man for whom our nation now celebrates a national holiday and has named its capital.

As we witness bloodshed the world over in the name of religious freedom, it is valuable to take another look at the man who sailed the seas in search of such freedoms — landing in a place that would eventually come to hold such an ideal at its very core….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-eds May 1, 2012: Steven Windmueller: A Perfect Firestorm For Anti-Semitism

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

A Perfect Firestorm For Anti-Semitism

Steven Windmueller

Steven Windmueller

The story of world Jewry covering the past six decades must be defined as one of achievement and recognition. American Jews have achieved extraordinary success and influence, and Israel, despite threats to its existence, has flourished as a democracy, and absorbed and resettled millions of Jews. Yet, as the world marks the 80th anniversary of the rise of Nazism, the status of Jews in the world seems to be seriously eroding.

During this period international politics was influenced by the powerful motif of memory. The images of past atrocities that tarnished the 20th century created a baseline for moral action. Over time, though, the power and integrity of this historical record has seemingly faded.

Earl Raab, a prominent social scientist and communal professional, once posited that two factors aligned together could create a serious threat to the Jewish people. An unstable economy and a growing set of tensions between Jerusalem and Washington would present, according to Raab, the “perfect firestorm” for potentially accelerating anti-Semitism and in creating a destabilizing environment for Jews in this nation and beyond. Both factors seem to be in play at this time….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-ed April 6, 2012: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: 8 things you need to know about Passover 2012

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

8 things you need to know about Passover 2012

Source: Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, Fox News, 4-6-12

Passover is the holiday which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the next stage in the unfolding biblical story of the Children of Israel. In 2012 it begins on Friday night, April 6.

Here are eight things you may want to know about it:

1.What is Passover and is it the same as Pesach?

Passover and Pesach are the same thing. One is simply English and the other is Hebrew. In either case, it is the holiday which celebrates the Exodus from Egypt and the next stage in the unfolding biblical story of the Children of Israel.

After centuries of slavery, Passover celebrates the passage into freedom for an entire people. The specific “passing over” for which the holiday is named refers to the way in which God passed over, or protected, the homes of the Israelites during the night they prepared to leave Egypt, as the last of the Ten Plagues was being visited upon the Egyptians.

2.When does Passover begin and how long does it last?

Passover 2012 begins at sundown on Friday, April 6. That is the date according to the Gregorian calendar. According to the Jewish calendar, Passover always begins on the 15th of Nissan, which is, according to the Hebrew Bible, the first month in the ancient Israelite calendar.

The holiday lasts for 7 days in Israel and 8 days everywhere else, reflecting a long-held custom honoring the fact that maintaining an accurate liturgical calendar far from Israel, where Jewish religious authority was centered in ancient times, was not so simple before people had modern communication technology.

3.What’s the deal with Matzah?

Matzah is the flat, cracker-like, unleavened bread which has become the central symbol of Passover, especially since the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, and the end of the Paschal sacrifice.

The Bible specifically commands eating Matzah on the first night of Passover, and prohibits all leavened products the entire week of the holiday.

Like most great and durable symbols, Matzah invites multiple, and even contradictory interpretations. Sometimes referred to as “bread of poverty”, Matzah recalls the food that the Israelites ate when they were slaves. It also recalls the rapid liberation of the Israelites, which happened so fast that they did not even have time to allow the bread for the journey to rise before setting out from Egypt.

4.What does the word Egypt mean and how can knowing that help you?

Egypt, is not “Egypt” in the Bible. In the original Hebrew, it is called “Mitzrayim”, which means tight places, or in narrow straights. To be in Mitzrayim/Egypt is not simply to be a slave in a story from long ago.

It is the paradigmatic experience of being stuck between a rock and a hard place – an experience which virtually all people have at some point in their lives. Passover reminds all people that while getting jammed up can, and likely will, happen to each of us, there is always the possibility of redemption and release.

Whoever you are, and whatever faith you follow, Passover invites us to take stock of where we are stuck, and seek the help we need to get un-stuck.

5.Why is Passover the most widely celebrated ritual among American Jews?

American Jews, not to mention increasing numbers of others, celebrate Passover because it just works.

To put it simply, Passover is about freedom, family, and food. At least that is how it works for most people, and what more could one ask for in a holiday?

But it’s more than that.

Nowhere, and at no time, in 3,000 years of Jewish history have Jews known the kind of centuries-long freedom and security which are the American Jewish experience. The Passover story of freedom — of the journey from oppression to opportunity — is also the American story at its best, not just for Jews but for all people, and it rings deeply true when it is told at Seder tables across this nation. It makes perfect sense that this holiday has “won,” at least for now.

6.How is Passover celebrated, or, What’s a Seder?

Seder is the Hebrew word for ‘order’ and it refers to the carefully ordered Passover dinner party/symposium, typically held at home, which brings people together to experience the move from slavery to freedom in story, song, and conversation – especially the raising of questions about what it means to go free and to be free.

The evening is anchored by rituals including drinking, over the course of the evening, four cups of wine recalling the four times when the Israelites are described as being redeemed, eating the Matzah, and also bitter herbs, meant to evoke the bitterness of slavery. Those bitter herbs are dipped in a bit of sweet apple or date relish, reminding those gathered of the sweetness that can be found at even the most difficult of times, and of the promise of even greater sweetness to come.

7.Was the Last Supper a Seder?

The Last Supper is often explained, based on readings of the Gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, as having been a Passover Seder. Certainly the time of year at which Jesus came to Jerusalem fits, and the communal meal at which he gathered his disciples is suggestive of something like a Seder, with ritualized eating, drinking and teaching through conversation. Of course, those are also regular features of any classically Jewish meal of religious import. Also, according to the Book of John, the Last Supper was the day before Passover. Scholars can continue to fight this out, but one thing is clear: both the Last Supper and the Seder point to power of celebrating ones most deeply held values in the presence of those about whom we care, in the context of a freely offered table.

8.How are Passover and Easter related?

While the tradition of calculating the date of Easter based on the date of Passover ended many centuries ago, the holidays share some very deep truths of which all people can avail themselves. Who doesn’t need to be reminded that however dark and cold the winter has been, the promise of spring — of rebirth and renewal is always there? Whether discovered in the story of a nation that goes from freedom to slavery and back to freedom again, or in the story of one who lives, dies and is born again, we must all locate how to celebrate that life holds more possibility and potential than we first imagine — that there is reason for hope, and that in celebrating triumphs of hope from the past, we can unleash new stories of hope in the present and in the future.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of “You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism,” and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

JBuzz Op-eds March 7, 2012: Brad Hirschfield: Purim celebrates the good and bad in all of us

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Brad Hirschfield: Purim celebrates the good and bad in all of us

Source: WaPo, 3-6-12

Purim 2012 begins at sundown this Wednesday, March 7, and all I can say is thank you God! Of course that’s a bit ironic because despite the fact that both this holiday and its story appear in the Hebrew Bible, God is never mentioned. That’s right, among other reasons to love this holiday is that from its very inception, and to this very day, it could be shared by believers and non-believers alike.

Why is that so important? Maybe it’s the fact that each day brings new stories in which faith and/or faithlessness are used by politicians and their proxies to vilify those who don’t share their beliefs. Perhaps it’s because the language of who is evil and who is good are being used more and more to describe conflicts both at home and abroad. Perhaps it’s simply that I cling to the notion that we don’t have to demean those with whom we have genuine disagreements, or even those with whom we may need to do battle – cultural or physical.


Schoolchildren wear costumes during a parade ahead of the Jewish holiday of Purim outside the Bialik Rogozin school in south Tel Aviv March 6, 2012. At Bialik Rogozin, children of migrant workers and refugees from 48 states are educated alongside native Israelis. (NIR ELIAS – REUTERS)

Whatever the reasons, and it’s actually a combination of all of the above, Purim reminds us of a key insight –one which doesn’t shrink from difference, or even the need to fight existential foes –and it all comes down to knowing that we are one. Even in a world where people speak of good guys and bad guys, sometimes appropriately so, those same people are part of a single human family. Truly knowing that fact should change how we battle, when we battle, how long we battle, etc., whether with words or with weapons….READ MORE

JBuzz Op-eds February 28, 2012: Jonathan D. Sarna: General Ulysses S. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jonathan D. Sarna: Gen. Grant’s Uncivil War Against The Jews

Source: NY Jewish Week, 2-28-12

Ulysses S. Grant.
Ulysses S. Grant.

The surprising tale of how he turned into ‘America’s Haman.’

Purim serves as an appropriate moment to recall a man known for a time as “America’s Haman.” That Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s story ended very differently than the story of Haman in the Book of Esther reminds us how America itself is different, and how often it has surprised Jews for the better.

On Dec. 17, 1862, as the Civil War entered its second winter, Gen. Ulysses S. Grant issued the most Haman-like order in American history: “The Jews, as a class violating every regulation of trade established by the Treasury Department and also department orders, are hereby expelled from the department within twenty-four hours from the receipt of this order.” Known as General Orders No. 11, the document blamed “Jews, as a class” for the widespread smuggling and cotton speculation that affected the area under Grant’s command. It required them to leave a vast war zone stretching from northern Mississippi to Cairo, Ill., and from the Mississippi River to the Tennessee River.

Less than 72 hours after the order was issued, Grant’s forces at Holly Springs, Miss., were raided, knocking out rail and telegraph lines and disrupting lines of communication for weeks. As a result, news of General Orders No. 11 spread slowly, and did not reach company commanders and army headquarters in Washington in a timely fashion. Many Jews who might otherwise have been banished were spared.

A copy of General Orders No. 11 finally reached Paducah, Ky. — a city occupied by Grant’s forces — 11 days after it was issued. Cesar Kaskel, a staunch union supporter, as well as all the other known Jews in the city, were handed papers ordering them “to leave the city of Paducah, Kentucky, within twenty-four hours.” As they prepared to abandon their homes, Kaskel and several other Jews dashed off a telegram to President Abraham Lincoln describing their plight.

Lincoln, in all likelihood, never saw that telegram. He was busy preparing to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. The irony of his freeing the slaves while Grant was expelling the Jews was not lost on contemporaries. Some Jewish leaders feared that Jews would replace blacks as the nation’s stigmatized minority.

Kaskel decided to appeal to Abraham Lincoln in person. Paul Revere-like, he sped down to Washington, spreading news of General Orders No. 11 wherever he went. With help from a friendly congressman, he obtained an immediate interview with the president, who turned out to have no knowledge whatsoever of the order, for it had not reached Washington. According to an oft-quoted report, he resorted to biblical imagery in his interview with Kaskel, a reminder of how many 19th-century Americans linked Jews to Ancient Israel, and America to the Promised Land:

“And so,” Lincoln is said to have drawled, “the children of Israel were driven from the happy land of Canaan?”

“Yes,” Kaskel responded, “and that is why we have come unto Father Abraham’s bosom, asking protection.”

“And this protection,” Lincoln declared “they shall have at once.”

General-in-Chief of the Army Henry Halleck, ordered by Lincoln to countermand General Orders No. 11, chose his words carefully.  “If such an order has been issued,” his telegram read, “it will be immediately revoked.”

In a follow-up meeting with Jewish leaders, Lincoln reaffirmed that he knew “of no distinction between Jew and Gentile. To condemn a class,” he emphatically declared, “is, to say the least, to wrong the good with the bad. I do not like to hear a class or nationality condemned on account of a few sinners.”…READ MORE

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: The 411 on Hanukkah and Why It Matters for Jews and for America

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield: The 411 on Hanukkah and Why It Matters for Jews and for America

Source: Fox News, 12-20-11

What is Hanukkah and does it really matter? What if you’re not Jewish? Does it still matter? The answer is yes to all of the above. First some basic information.

Hanukkah 2011 begins on the 25th of the Hebrew month of Kislev, which corresponds, this year to sundown on the evening of December 20th. Why does the holiday begin then – not at midnight? Because in the Jewish calendar, the day begins at sundown.

It’s actually pretty cool to imagine that something is beginning when most people think its ending. It’s about asserting new possibilities when others may not see them. It’s related to Christmas too, but more on that below.

What is the story of Hanukkah? The story of Hanukkah is that of a four-year war in the land of Israel, which lasted from 167 BCE – 163 BCE. Some accounts portray a battle between oppressed Jews and the imperialist descendants of Alexander the Great, when the latter became increasingly harsh with those living under their rule. Other accounts tell of what was essentially a civil war between those Jews who collaborated with their Pagan masters and those who did not. Either way, the holiday story culminates in the re-taking of the Jerusalem Temple and the re-establishment of its sacred service.

Why is Hanukkah eight days long? Hanukkah lasts eight days for two reasons, one well-known, and the other much less so. According the better known story, the holiday lasts eight days in honor of the eight days that oil, which should have lasted only one day, continued to burn in the newly re-dedicated Jerusalem Temple’s menorah (sanctuary candelabrum).

According to a lesser known account in the Book of Maccabees (part of the Apocrypha — writings which are part of the biblical canon for Catholics, but not for Jews and Protestants), when the Temple was taken back by the Jews, they celebrated the eight day holiday of Sukkot (Tabernacles), which they had not been able to observe when Pagans controlled the institution. There is a good possibility that was the basis for declaring the new holiday of Hanukkah as an eight day festival….READ MORE

Rabbi Yaakov T. Rapoport: Dual theme is reflected in Hanukkah; often repeated prayer reflects the meaning

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Rabbi Yaakov T. Rapoport: Dual theme is reflected in this holiday; often repeated prayer reflects the meaning

Source: Syracuse Post Standard, 12-20-11

Rabbi Yaakov Rapoport, director of Chabad-Lubavitch of Central New York in Syracuse.

Hanukkah occurred after the conclusion of the Hebrew Bible during the period of the Second Temple, approximately 200 BC. It being called A “minor” holiday means that it is not part the five books of Moses and does not have the Biblical restrictions of the Sabbath and other Holy Days. “Minor” does not mean that it is unimportant.

The emphasis of Hanukkah is on the Jews recapturing the Holy Temple, which the Syrian Greeks had desecrated, and the miracle of finding just one vial of oil sealed with the seal of the high priest, and the oil burning miraculously for eight days, until new oil could be procured. Even so, the rabbis and Jewish tradition have made strong reference to the battles that were waged against the Syrian Greeks, as we see in original Hebrew sources.

Maimonides — the greatest codifier of all of Jewish Law — in his laws of Hanukkah states clearly that the festive meals that are eaten during Hanukkah are to commemorate the battles won.

Also in the ancient Al Hanissim prayer, written shortly after the Hanukkah Miracle, that is recited four to five times a day during Hanukkah , we read, “In the days of Matityahu, the son of Yochanancq the high priest, the Hasmonean and his sons, when the wicked Hellenic government rose up against your people Israel to make them forget your Torah, and violate your will … You waged their battles, You delivered the mighty into the hands of the weak, the many into the hands of the few … the wicked into the hands of the righteous. You made a great and holy name for yourself in your world and effected a great deliverance and redemption.” It is only after this lengthy description of the battles, does the prayer continue to describe the miracle of the oil….READ MORE

Zachary Braiterman: Hanukkah moves Jewish people today with the universal civic ideals of freedom, identity and citizenship, SU professor says

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Zachary Braiterman: Hanukkah moves Jewish people today with the universal civic ideals of freedom, identity and citizenship, SU professor says

Source: Syracuse Post Standard, 12-20-11

zach.jpg
David Lassman / The Post-Standard Syracuse University associate professor Zachary Braiterman, a member of the Religion Department, poses at the Hall of Languages.

Zachary Braiterman is an associate professor at Syracuse University in the Department of Religion. His research interests are in the areas of modern Jewish thought and culture; medieval Jewish philosophy; classical Jewish sources and art history. Hanukkah begins at sunset today and The Post-Standard asked him to write about the history and meaning of the holiday and how it plays out today.

Funny things have happened to the holiday of Hannukah.

With no basis in Hebrew scripture, Hanukah was once a minor festival that became a big deal in America. It is an eight day festival celebrated by the lighting of candles of a special menorah or candelabrum, holiday parties at home and in the synagogue, the eating of fried potato pancakes with sour cream or apple sauce, and a game played with the famous spinning dreidel top. From modern Israel comes the custom of eating sugary, jelly doughnuts. In America, lavish gifts are given to assuage Jewish children for Christmas.

The basic storyline chronicles ancient Judean politics. Soon after the death of Alexander the Great, ancient Judea was ruled by a Greek imperial state based in modern day Syria. According to the story, the emperor Antiochos turned the Temple in Jerusalem into a pagan shrine and proscribed the practice of Judaism. Under the leadership of Judah Maccabee, the Jews rebelled against Greek rule, retook the Temple, and rededicated it to the service of God.

In the twentieth century, historians began to shed new light on these events. Historians no longer view the Maccabean revolt as simply a struggle between Jewish monotheism versus Greek paganism. In this newer version, the Syrian Greeks exploited a conflict within ancient Jewish society between those Jews who sought to resist Greek culture versus those Jews who sought to assimilate or accommodate it. With the Temple service now secure thanks to the revolt, the successors to the Maccabees became active promoters of the very Greek culture against which the Maccabees rebelled.

In this historical light, Hanukah actually celebrates the conclusion of a civil war in ancient Judea. Indeed, civil strife fueled by palace and Temple politics marked the entire period following liberation from Greek rule. But no one today really remembers any of this, at least not practically….READ MORE

Jon D. Levenson: The Meaning of Hanukkah

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Jon D. Levenson: The Meaning of Hanukkah

A celebration of religious freedom, the holiday fits well with the American political tradition.

Source: WSJ, 12-16-11

The eight-day festival of Hanukkah, which Jews world-wide will begin celebrating Tuesday night, is one of the better known of the Jewish holidays but also one of the less important.

The emphasis placed on it now is mostly due to timing: Hanukkah offers Jews an opportunity for celebration and commercialization comparable to what their Christian neighbors experience at Christmas, and it gives Christians the opportunity to include Jews in their holiday greetings and parties. What’s more, the observances associated with Hanukkah are few, relatively undemanding, and even appealing to children.

The story of Hanukkah also fits the political culture of the United States. Its underlying narrative recalls that of the Pilgrims: A persecuted religious minority, at great cost, breaks free of their oppressors. It wasn’t separatist Protestants seeking freedom from the Church of England in 1620, but Jews in the land of Israel triumphing over their Hellenistic overlord in 167–164 B.C., reclaiming and purifying their holiest site, the Jerusalem Temple.

Examined too casually, the stories of Plymouth Colony and Hanukkah seem to show heroes fighting for universal religious freedom. But the heroes of the Jewish story fought not only against a foreign persecutor. They also fought against fellow Jews who—perhaps more attracted to the cosmopolitan and sophisticated Greek culture than to the ways of their ancestors—cooperated with their rulers.

The revolt begins, in fact, when the patriarch of the Maccabees (as the family that led the campaign came to be known) kills a fellow Jew who was in the act of obeying the king’s decree to perform a sacrifice forbidden in the Torah. The Maccabean hero also kills the king’s officer and tears down the illicit altar. These were blows struck for Jewish traditionalism, and arguably for Jewish survival and authenticity, but not for religious freedom.

Over time, the stories of the persecutions that led to this war came to serve as models of Jewish faithfulness under excruciating persecution. In the most memorable instance, seven brothers and their mother all choose, successively, to die at the hands of their torturers rather than to yield to the demand to eat pork as a public disavowal of the God of Israel and his commandments.

To the martyrs, breaking faith with God is worse than death. In one version, their deaths are interpreted as “an atoning sacrifice” through which God sustained the Jewish people in their travail….READ MORE

Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

 

Jonathan D. Sarna: American Jewry’s Data Problem

There’s been no national census of Jews since 2001 and none is planned for the indefinite future.

Source: WSJ, 12-2-11

Do we need a new nationwide count of America’s Jews?

It has been 10 years since anyone conducted a census of American Jewry—and no major organization has plans to conduct another one soon. (The official U.S. Census can’t ask questions about religion.) This means that the Jewish community may indefinitely lack the kind of data required for communal planning—how many Jews there are, where they live, whom they are marrying, what Jewish religious movements they adhere to and so forth.

Gathering such data is no easy task. Whereas many Christian churches calculate membership as the sum of all those they have baptized or who have made public declarations of their faith, Jews see themselves as a people embracing religious and nonreligious members alike. Thus life-cycle ceremonies and synagogue membership are insufficient proxies for membership in the Jewish community.

When the United Jewish Communities (now known as the Jewish Federations of North America) surveyed the nation in 2001, the organization pegged the Jewish population at 5.2 million. But the $6 million effort was fraught with problems: Data were lost, the response rate was low, the design was controversial, and the results contradicted those of other studies. One prominent researcher, the late Gary Tobin, characterized the survey as “utter nonsense,” while some others charged its organizers with manipulating population and intermarriage figures in order to raise more money….READ MORE

Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

Moshe Sokolow: Thanksgiving: A Jewish Holiday After All

Source: Jewish Ideas Daily, 11-23-11

Thanksgiving

In 1789, in response to a resolution offered by Congressman Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, President George Washington issued a proclamation recommending that Thursday November 26th of that year “be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation.”

In New York City, Congregation Shearith Israel convened a celebration on that day at which its minister, Gershom Mendes Seixas, embraced the occasion: “As we are made equal partakers of every benefit that results from this good government; for which we cannot sufficiently adore the God of our fathers who hath manifested his care over us in this particular instance; neither can we demonstrate our sense of His benign goodness, for His favourable interposition in behalf of the inhabitants of this land.”

While the celebrations at that venerable Orthodox synagogue continue unabated to this day, other American Jewish appreciations of Thanksgiving have ranged from the skeptical to the outright antagonistic. In an essay entitled “Is Thanksgiving Kosher?” Atlanta’s Rabbi Michael Broyde examines three rabbis’ halakhic positions on the subject: that of Yitzhak Hutner, who ruled Thanksgiving a Gentile holiday and forbade any recognition of it; that of Joseph B. Soloveitchik, who regarded it as a secular holiday and permitted its celebration (particularly by eating turkey), and that of Moshe Feinstein, who permitted turkey but prohibited any other celebration because of reservations over the recognition of even secular holidays.

Newly presented historical information, however, may swing the annual autumnal pendulum back in favor of participation in what now appears to have begun as a holiday with both a patent Jewish theme and associated rituals. In his recent book, Making Haste From Babylon, Nick Bunker reveals an item of particular significance for both Jewish observers and critics of Thanksgiving….READ MORE

Puritans

And from this Psalme, and this verse of it, the Hebrues have this Canon; Foure must confess (unto God) The sick, when he is healed; the prisoner when he is released out of bonds; they that goe down to sea, when they are come up (to land); and wayfaring men, when they are come to the inhabited land. And they must make confession before ten men, and two of them wise men, Psal. 107. 32. And the manner of confessing and blessing is thus; He standeth among them and blesseth the Lord, the King eternal, that bounteously rewardeth good things unto sinners, etc. Maimony in Misn. Treat. Of Blessings, chap. 10, sect. 8.

Moshe Sokolow, professor of Jewish education at the Azrieli Graduate School of Yeshiva University, is the author of Studies in the Weekly Parashah Based on the Lessons of Nehama Leibowitz (2008).

Tevi Troy: The White House’s Advice for Your Rabbi

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

JEWISH ACADEMIC & UNIVERSITY NEWS

President presses: Preach politics from the pulpit

Source: WSJ, 9-23-11

The Jewish High Holidays are upon us, so naturally it’s time for the White House to feed political talking points to rabbis.

As has become its annual practice, the Obama administration on Thursday convened a conference call with several hundred rabbis and Jewish leaders. According to a participant on the call, President Obama promoted his jobs bill—noting that those who have been more blessed should pay their fair share—and briefed the rabbis on U.S. efforts to counter the push for a declaration of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations.

I was on another such call recently, the purpose of which—according to the Jewish rabbinical group that invited me—was to help listeners “understand the current state of the economy; learn about the impact of the proposed budget cuts on the poor and disenfranchised; consider the consequences of the increasing gap between the rich and poor in America; and, glean homiletic and textual background to help prepare their High Holiday sermons on this timely topic.”

The agenda of the call organizers was clear. Two speakers, one of whom was a (non-Jewish) Democratic senator, spoke of our country’s need for “raising revenue,” the new code phrase for tax increases. When I suggested that we separate politics from spirituality, a third participant pushed back, saying “the Torah is a political document.” A curious assertion in a crowd that would quickly denounce any invocation of the Bible in political discussions.

Of course the Obama administration didn’t invent the politicized sermon. In the Conservative temple in which I was raised, the joke (not an original one) was that the rabbi would take homiletic guidance from the New York Times editorial page. In his memoir, former Nixon speechwriter William Safire told of his displeasure with a Yom Kippur sermon in which the rabbi warned “not to let our country be divided and polarized by those who use the technique of alliteration”—referring to Vice President Spiro Agnew’s critique of “nattering nabobs of negativism.”

Related Video

Tevi Troy on political sermonizing in synagogues.

So President Obama is taking advantage of an existing proclivity toward political sermonizing. Other presidents have acted similarly, hosting calls around holidays or meeting with Jewish leaders before the White House Hanukkah party, as George W. Bush did. But Mr. Obama has innovated, as by focusing on a specific issue or two with rabbis before the High Holidays each year.

In 2010, according to the New York Post, he “asked a conference call of about 600 rabbis to preach his Mideast peace plan from the pulpit.” In 2009, he invited a group of 1,000 rabbis to discuss his health-care plan and then preach about it afterward. Some certainly delivered. Rabbi Amy Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, Va., for example, gave a Yom Kippur sermon that year entitled “The Jewish Understanding of Health Care: A Moral Imperative,” declaring that “working towards health care for all, however that might be accomplished, is a Jewish mandate.”

Political sermonizing is a mistake for many reasons. First, the Holy Days are supposed to bring forth a universal message about the unity of the Jewish people, the importance of our shared religious tradition, and the need to rededicate ourselves to observance of the Torah in the year to come.

Then there’s the risk of alienating part of the congregation. Even if you know that 70%-80% of your synagogue votes one way—and public opinion polls suggest that this may be the case in Conservative and Reform synagogues—why risk alienating the other 20%-30%? In many (or most) communities, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are the only time certain congregants set foot in synagogue that year. Why risk driving them away with a message that could offend?

Furthermore, while it may appear easy to find support for left-wing political positions in the Torah and rabbinical sources, the truth is that the Jewish tradition doesn’t give much guidance on the optimum level of marginal tax rates, Medicare restructuring, or food-stamp funding. To claim otherwise is to give false guidance.

The passages read aloud on the High Holidays each year are filled with the most important problems of the human condition, including Jonah’s attempt to shirk his responsibilities, Hannah’s desperate plea for a child, and God’s testing of Abraham’s faith with the binding of Isaac. All of these stories still resonate today, and skillful speakers can use them to guide congregants.

The mandate of religious leaders is to convey to their communities spiritual encouragement and the wisdom of the ages. For the other stuff, there’s cable news.

Mr. Troy, a senior fellow at Hudson Institute and former deputy secretary of health and human services, was a White House Jewish liaison under George W. Bush.

The American Debate: Again, false GOP hopes for Jewish support

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZ

JBuzz_banner

Source: PA Inquirer, 7-17-11

Some things never change. Birds fly south for the winter, the sun rises in the morning, and conservatives persist in believing that Jewish voters will desert the Democratic Party and embrace the GOP.

Yeah, right. And the Beatles will reunite.

Republicans have predicted a mass Jewish Democratic exodus in every election cycle since the ’90s, claiming every time that it’s really going to happen. And I can understand why they would want it to happen. While Jews account for, at most, only 4 percent of the electorate, they are disproportionately concentrated in big swing states such as Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Florida.

Now the old Republican story line has been dusted off, yet again, in the wake of President Obama’s May 19 suggestion that Israel’s prewar 1967 lines should be the basis for peace talks with the Palestinians. Which means that this time, the long-anticipated exodus is really, really, really going to happen.

Supposedly, Jewish voters now realize that Obama is a threat to Israel, making the GOP their natural home. Mitt Romney stokes this notion by claiming that Obama “has thrown Israel under a bus.” Michele Bachmann said Obama had “betrayed” Israel, and Tim Pawlenty said that “Obama’s insistence on a return to the 1967 borders is a mistaken and very dangerous demand.” Republicans have also excitedly circulated a news story, on the Politico website, that says “many” Jewish Democrats have reached “a tipping point” with Obama….

But it’s never enough. Republicans are excited about a new poll that suggests only 43 percent of Jews will vote to reelect Obama. It turns out that the questions were skewed, by the cosponsoring Republican firm. To wit: “Considering what President Obama has proposed for Israel just over a year before his 2012 reelection campaign – a return to the 1967 borders, dividing Jerusalem, and allowing the right of return for Palestinian Arabs to Israel – how concerned would you be about President Obama’s policies toward Israel if he were reelected and did not have to worry about another election?”

Actually, Obama has opposed a Palestinian “right of return” since 2008. The questioners simply switched his stance, in the hopes of ginning up that Jewish Republican trend.

Alan M. Dershowitz: Yale’s Distressing Decision To Shut Down Its “Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism”

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZJBuzz_banner

At a time of increasing—and increasingly complex—anti-Semitism throughout the world, Yale University has decided to shut down the Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism, YIISA. Founded in 2006, YIISA is headed by a distinguished scholar, Charles Small, with an international reputation for serious interdisciplinary research. The precipitous decision to close YIISA, made without even a semblance of due process and transparency, could not have come at a worse time. Nor could it have sent a worse message.

I recently returned from a trip abroad—England, Norway, South Africa, among other countries—where I experienced the changing face and growing acceptability of anti-Semitism. Sometimes it hid behind the facade of anti-Zionism, but increasingly the hatred was directed against Jews, Judaism, Jewish culture, the Jewish people and the very concept of a Jewish State (by people who favor the existence of many Muslim States).

In England, a prominent and popular Jazz musician rails against the Jewish people, denies the Holocaust and apologizes to the Nazis for having once compared the Jewish state to Nazi Germany, since in his view Israel is far worse. In Norway, a prominent professor openly criticizes the Jewish people as a group and Jewish culture as a collective deviation. In Johannesburg, the university severs its ties with an Israeli university, while in Cape Town a newspaper headline welcomes me with the following words, “Dershowitz is not welcome here” and an excuse is found to cancel a scheduled lecture by me at the university.

Throughout my visits to European capitals, I hear concern from Jewish students who are terrified about speaking out, wearing yarmulkes, Stars of David or anything else that identifies them as Jews.

In the United States, and particularly at American universities, matters are not nearly as bad. There are of course some exceptions, such as at several campuses at the University of California where Muslim students have tried to censor pro-Israel speakers and have been treated as heroes for doing so, while those who support pro-Israel speakers are treated as pariahs. The same is true at some Canadian universities as well.

One university that has been a model of tolerance, up until now, has been Yale, where Jewish and pro-Israel students feel empowered and comfortable, as do Muslim and anti-Israel students. Perhaps this is why the Yale Administration had no hesitancy in dropping YIISA. It can easily defend itself against charges of bias by saying, “Some of my best organizations are Jewish!” But this is no excuse….READ MORE

Henry Srebrnik: Canadian Jewish Congress Future Uncertain

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZJBuzz_banner

Courtesy Canadian Jewish Congress Charities Committee National Archives, Montreal

Canadian Jewish Congress Plenary Assembly, Montreal, March 1919

The Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), the once-proud and venerable “parliament of Canadian Jewry,” has become a shadow of its former self.

Soon it will become just another agency under the aegis of a yet-unnamed organization that will supervise most of the country’s national Jewish organizations.

Originally created in 1919, the CJC soon became moribund. Only with the rise of new threats of fascism and anti-Semitism at home and abroad after 1933, was the Congress again reconstituted.

Congress became a permanent institution, an “umbrella” comprising a large number of affiliated Jewish organizations, and a pinnacle in Canadian Jewish political development. From 1939 to 1962 its national president and most powerful figure was Samuel Bronfman.

In the 1930s, the CJC was concerned mainly with monitoring the rise of various anti-Semitic and pro-fascist movements, and attempting, unsuccessfully, to facilitate the entry into Canada of Jewish refugees escaping Europe.

Following the Second World War, the Congress dealt with the tragedy of the Holocaust, and was focused on lifting the barriers to immigration by the European survivors.

It also welcomed, and provided support for, the new state of Israel.

The “golden age” of Congress was probably between the 1950s and 1970s, when it championed human rights and social justice, and was instrumental in lobbying governments to abolish discriminatory laws in employment, housing, and other impediments to the full participation of Jews in Canadian life.

It also monitored and fought, after much prodding by Holocaust survivors, the resurgence of neo-Nazism in the mid-1960s, and it later applied pressure on the Canadian government to prosecute war criminals living in the country.

At the time, as historian Gerald Tulchinsky has remarked, it “effectively embraced Jewish organizations of nearly all political and social stripes in the country and was recognized as the voice of the entire community.”

By the 1960s, though, Jewish federations were becoming established in the major Jewish centres; they not only provided services and raised funds for domestic and Israel programs, but also assumed direction for community planning.

They solidified their position in the 1970s, as all funding decisions regarding community money came under their control – including the operating budget of Congress.

The federations became the crucial link between Canadian Jews and their governments on matters relating to their communities.

Since Congress had always viewed itself as the focus for community policy-making, its dominant role began to diminish.

So by the turn of the 21st century, the Canadian Jewish Congress was definitely no longer “the only game in town.”

It co-existed, sometimes uneasily, with a number of municipal Federations and other Jewish organizations.

The Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA), founded in 2004, became the principal advocacy, oversight and co-coordinating body for the Congress, the Canada-Israel Committee, the Quebec-Israel Committee, National Jewish Campus Life, and the University Outreach Committee.

This year the CIJA has formally incorporated these groups, including Congress, to create one advocacy organization.

The new, as yet unnamed, agency “will continue the work of all the agencies that it is succeeding or that are being folded into it, including the whole range of traditional Congress activities,” Shimon Fogel, the CEO of the CIJA, has stated.

Fogel said the Canadian Jewish Congress leaders were involved in the process.

“This isn’t a hostile takeover.”

Maybe not, but the Congress, despite its glorious past, still faces an uncertain future.

Henry Srebrnik is a professor of political studies at UPEI.

Caroline Glick: Yale, Jews and double-standards

JBUZZ: ISRAEL/JEWISH CULTURAL BUZZJBuzz_banner

Last week Yale University announced its decision to close down its institute for the study of anti-Semitism. The move has been widely criticized as politically motivated. For its part, the university claims that the move was the result of purely academic considerations.While not clear-cut, an analysis of the story lends to the conclusion that politics were in all likelihood the decisive factor in the decision. And the implications of Yale’s move for the scholarly inquiry into anti-Semitism are deeply troubling.The Yale Initiative for the Interdisciplinary Study of Anti-Semitism (YIISA) was founded in 2006. Its purpose was to provide a scholarly approach to the study of contemporary and historical anti- Semitism. It was attached to Yale’s Institution of Social and Policy Studies. It was fully funded from private contributions. Yale did not in any way subsidize its activities from the university’s budget.

Since its inception, under the peripatetic leadership of its Executive Director Dr. Charles Small, YIISA organized seminars and conferences that brought leading scholars from all over the world to Yale to discuss anti-Semitism in an academic setting. Its conferences and publications produced cutting edge research. These included a groundbreaking statistical study published by Small and Prof. Edward Kaplan from Yale’s School of Management that demonstrated a direct correlation between anti-Israel sentiment and anti- Jewish sentiment….READ MORE

Gil Troy: Dueling diplomacy: Bibi’s boo-boo triggered Barack’s backlash

By Gil Troy, Jerusalem Post, 5-24-11

In the latest diplomatic slap down pitting the President of the United States against the Prime Minister of Israel, Israel lost – as did both leaders. Barack Obama looked like an amateurish bungler, roiling a region which needs calm while once again pouring cement onto three Palestinian positions which need softening– the 1967 borders, the “right” of return and the continuing refusal to negotiate. Binyamin Netanyahu may have looked less foolish – and looked less petulant in their dueling White House soliloquies – but he did more harm. This debacle was avoidable, but Bibi’s boo-boo triggered Barack’s backlash.

Watching Obama’s State Department speech was like reading a bad undergraduate paper. The first part, regarding the Arab spring, was too vague. The second part, on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was too specific. Obama seemed unprepared. He did not sound ready to articulate an Obama Doctrine that can guide American action as the Arab world changes. Beyond endorsing democracy and peace, Obama neither explained his previous reactions nor offered clear guidelines for future actions. Meanwhile Obama’s Dictate for Israeli-Palestinian progress felt rushed, not properly previewed to prevent squabbles, struggles, then backpedals. The brouhaha over his endorsing 1967 borders with swaps, and the fear he fed the Palestinian delusion that the “right” of return is achievable, were both avoidable. But, like a harried undergraduate producing a pointless paper just to be on time, Obama had his own deadline. He hurried to pre-empt Netanyahu’s Address to a Joint Session of Congress.

The Republican Speaker of the House must be delighted with the trap he sprang on the Democratic president – using Bibi as bait. John Boehner drew the President into this mess, which probably alienated more Democratic donors, forced Obama to massage his Thursday remarks on Sunday, and sparked a distracting firestorm which can only damage the President.

When Republican leaders invited him to address Congress, Netanyahu probably considered this a great coup. Bibi would have one of the world’s greatest stage sets to show off his oratorical talents, while outmaneuvering Obama and fellow Israel-skeptics before pro-Israel Republicans.

But Netanyahu overlooked the defining rule of gravity in Israel-America relations – in any confrontation between the President and the Prime Minister, Israel loses. With the United States the superpower and Israel the lonely little guy, Israel’s dependence on American friendship is too great. An Israeli Prime Minster may succeed in tweaking a particular policy, but only by draining the reservoir of presidential goodwill. So when, as happened Thursday, an Israeli Prime Minister yells at the American Secretary of State, just before a major presidential address, Israel loses. When the Prime Minister denounces presidential proposals before visiting the President, Israel loses. When the President stews as the Prime Minister lectures him, albeit eloquently and indirectly, Israel loses. And when the President sits at a joint press appearance, with his hand placed protectively over his body and under his chin, telegraphing mistrust of the Prime Minister, Israel loses.

Once Obama said what he said, Bibi had to say what he said. But Obama said what he said because Bibi was going to say what he wanted to say to Congress. With a president like Obama, who instinctively blames Israel as the obstacle to peace, the less attention he pays to the region, the better. Netanyahu made his ritualistic visit to AIPAC a big deal by accepting the Congressional invitation. Predictably, the New York Times headline “OBAMA PRESSES ISRAEL TO MAKE ‘HARD CHOICES’,” resulted.

Not all exchanges hurt Israel. Obama disapproved of delegitimizing Israel and said the Palestinians must explain how to work for peace while working with Hamas, whose charter advocates Israel’s destruction. And there is value in the vigorous debate that erupted about what peace can look like, and how to use history as a helpful guideline, not an incendiary device.

Barack Obama believes that to support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, he must free Israelis from today’s status quo prison, reinforced by comfortable complacency and existential fears. That goal explains why he focuses on the millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control, yearning for real statehood and full civil liberties. But as America’s most pro-Palestinian president since Jimmy Carter, Obama also must free the Palestinians from their nostalgic prison reinforced by lingering longings and deadly hatreds. He must tell them that time does not stand still, that they must dream more about their future state rather than deliriously demanding or violently planning a return to 1967 or 1947. Yet, somehow, Obama’s finger points more easily and wags more vigorously at Israeli caution than Palestinian obstructionism, rejectionism, and violence.

The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that borders shifted and populations moved, particularly in historic Palestine. Only fools or fanatics claim that borders were ever perma-marked. We cannot undo history. We must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and some history, but not too much. And being realistic entails dealing with the current president effectively. In assessing this week’s errors, hopefully Bibi Netanyahu will learn that not to provoke the President, and that scoring debating points only goes so far.

When Israelis and Americans squabble, Palestinian rejectionists rejoice. This spring’s great outrages are not Obama’s proposals or Netanyahu’s hesitations, but Fatah’s new friend in Hamas, Egypt’s new unreliability as a peace partner, Iran’s continuing rush to nuclear power, and the Arab world’s continuing war against Israel’s existence, aided by the left’s useful idiots. These common enemies, along with enduring common values, should keep America’s President and Israel’s Prime Minister cooperating, whatever tactical quibbles may arise.

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University and a Shalom Hartman Research Fellow in Jerusalem. The author of “Why I Am a Zionist: Israel, Jewish Identity and the Challenges of Today,” his latest book is “The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.”

giltroy@gmail.com

Tevi Troy: Bibi 4, Obama 1

Cliff May is right about the Netanyahu speech. It was a strong speech, and Congress warmly, even rapturously received Netanyahu, with 30 standing ovations by my count sitting in the House Gallery. The recent disagreement with the White House over President Obama’s Thursday speech if anything made the congressional welcome even friendlier than it would have been otherwise.

Netanyahu’s speech was the capstone on the complex five-act play that took place in Washington this past week, one in which Netanyahu scored a decisive 4–1 victory. Act One took place last Thursday, in the form of Obama’s speech at the State Department. If Obama was expecting huzzahs from the Arab world for his speech, he certainly didn’t get them, and the president himself seemed to have been caught by surprise by the strong negative reaction from the pro-Israel side. Still, the Obama speech hit Netanyahu & Co. hard, and has to be seen as a loss for Netanyahu.

But Obama inexplicably chose to give the speech on the eve of Netanyahu’s visit to Washington, which gave Netanyahu an opportunity to reply at their joint press appearance on Friday. In the tense, on-camera exchange of views, Netanyahu seemed to take Obama on a visit to Hebrew school, telling him the basic realities of existence in the tough neighborhood of the Middle East.

On Sunday, Obama spoke to the pro-Israel group AIPAC, and while he did not quite walk back his remarks, he clearly tailored them to avoid restating his most controversial points in order to forestall the very real possibility that he would be booed. He was not, but the cheers were not quite at the level that a president who won almost 80 percent of the Jewish vote would expect. Furthermore, the fact that he appeared to have softened things for the AIPAC audience was a sign of weakness in his apparent effort to stage a confrontation with Israel.

Monday night, both Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker John Boehner gave forceful pro-Israel remarks to 12,000 people at AIPAC, and Politico characterized Reid’s speech as an intraparty “rebuke” to the president. The two speeches constituted a bipartisan statement that Obama is out of step with both parties and with both houses of Congress on this issue.

And then this morning came Netanyahu’s impressive speech to a joint assembly of Congress. Unlike Obama, he did not wiggle or waver, but instead gave a powerful defense of Israel as a vibrant democracy and steadfast ally of the U.S. Even an interruption from a Jewish, pro-Palestinian protester gave Netanyahu a chance to shine, as he noted that such protests are allowed in free countries like Israel or the U.S., in contrast to what he called the “farcical parliaments in Tehran or Tripoli.” The ad-lib earned him another one of his many standing ovations.

All of this should have been fairly predictable to the Obama administration when they started this process last week. They knew Netanyahu was coming; that Obama would have to speak to a potentially skeptical if not hostile crowd at AIPAC; and that Netanyahu would likely hit it out of the park in front of the friendly audience in Congress. The only potentially unpredictable element was the Reid speech, as the Senate majority leader might have had some hesitation about rebuking his party’s leader. But even without Reid’s reproach, the events were not aligned in President Obama’s favor as he embarked upon this course of action with last Thursday’s speech. There was no action-forcing event dictating that he give that kind of speech right before Netanyahu’s arrival. Presumably his own State Department would have invited him whenever he wanted to appear.

The policy Obama laid out last Thursday remains worrisome. But the lack of strategic sense that led him to give the speech when he did is truly baffling

Gil Troy: Obama Offered Two Speeches in One — Neither Worked

By Gil Troy

Despite the talk about “Obama’s Mideast speech” Thursday, I actually heard two separate addresses. In the first, President Barack Obama offered vague nostrums about the “Arab spring,” best summarized in three words:  Democracy is good. Obama transitioned awkwardly to the second speech, about Israelis and Palestinians, saying: “Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.” In this section, the professorial president turned from airy abstractions to problematic particulars. Although it was impossible to predict America’s next move in the Arab world from the speech’s first part, we now know exactly how an Israel-Palestine peace treaty would look if Obama could dictate it and those annoying people who live there would just follow.

Sophisticated cinema buffs will have identified the inspiration for the “Democracy is good” quotation – that frat house classic, “Animal House.” In the fictitious campus where the movie’s hijinks occur, the founder’s statue features the empty motto “Knowledge is good.” Of course it is, and so is democracy – for many of the reasons Obama identified. But I defy anyone, based on that speech, to explain why Obama abandoned Hosni Mubarak in Egypt rather quickly, attacked Muhammar Qaddafi very definitively, and dithered with Bashar al-Assad, only abandoning him quite recently. Moreover, can anyone predict Obama’s next move based on this speech or identify just what principles will guide him?

Having failed the tests of consistency and retroactivity, Obama’s words also lacked clarity. The biggest conundrum he faces as various Arab allies face popular revolts, and as other Arab countries potentially face Islamist revolts, is how he balances America’s interest and ideals. Obama identified “core interests,” including “countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.” He endorsed finding “mutual interests and mutual respect.” But how to balance all those factors is difficult. I have no idea how to do that, which is why I am happy not to be president. But, as a voter, I have no idea how Obama plans to do it either.

Finally, and surprisingly, Obama’s words lacked legs. Not one phrase seems likely to resonate. And judging by the Franklin Roosevelt majestic, memorable, “four freedoms” standard, Obama’s “universal rights” are mushy and forgettable.  Compare Roosevelt: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, freedom from fear – with Obama – “And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.” The “Yes We Can” poet of 2008, has become the technocratic cataloguer of 2011, forgetting basic rules like the power of parallelism in rhetoric.

Not surprisingly, Obama’s more specific and pointed Israel-Palestine peace plan has attracted the most attention – and controversy. Here, by being too specific, Obama once again complicated future negotiations. As President of the United States, dealing with understandably nervous allies in an explosive region, he had a moral obligation to reconcile his proposal with his predecessor’s plans, acknowledging if he was deviating from an earlier consensus while upholding commitments earlier Presidents have made.

Yet, in discussing Hamas, Obama ignored the conditions the Quartet of the European Union, the United States, Russia and the United Nations embraced – requiring the Palestinian government to recognize Israel, renounce violence and honor past agreements.  Asking Palestinians to find a “credible answer to the question … How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist” is a start – but lacks the specifics Obama’s predecessor and allies endorsed.

Even more problematic was his call for “the borders of Israel and Palestine” to “be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps.” These words not only seem to contradict George W. Bush’s vow to Ariel Sharon based on decades of American policy, but the deification of 1967 boundaries lacks historical nuance in a region obsessed with nuance and history.

The logical starting point in advocating a two-state solution comes by acknowledging that in the region particular borders shifted and populations moved. Anyone who talks about people frozen in place for centuries or borders as if they were permamarked on a map is either a fool or a fanatic. Bible-based Israelis must admit that the boundaries of  Biblical land of Israel, varied, just as passionate Palestinians must admit that the boundaries of Palestine-Israel in the twentieth-century alone shifted repeatedly.

We cannot undo history and we must move forward, from 2011, trying to minimize disruptions to populations while maximizing satisfaction on both sides. Rather than trying to freeze one random moment in historical time, demography and the current status quo should be our guides, tempered by sensitivity, creativity, and a touch but not too much historicity. Obama’s overlooked line about the “growing number of Palestinians [who] live west of the Jordan River,” explains why each of the two clashing people should have a state. Peace will work if it passes the test of what Obama called populism, working logically for many people today, not at some random point from the past.

Obama did speak beautifully about “a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.” Alas, this speech did not do enough to buttress the forces of hope over hate, and by feeding the 1967 obsession, Obama himself was too shackled to one unhelpful perspective on the past.

Alan M. Dershowitz: Civil Libertarians and Academics Who Support Censors

Source: Hudson New York, 5-13-11

Should students who conspire to “shut down” an invited speaker with whom they disagree be prosecuted for the misdemeanor of conspiracy to disturb a meeting? That is the question roiling the University of California. The facts are not really in dispute. Israel’s Ambassador to the United States—a moderate academic named Michael Oren—was invited to present a talk at the University of California at Irvine, a hotbed of radical Islamic hate speech against Israel. The Muslim Student Union organized an effort, in the words of one of its leaders, to “shut down” Oren’s speech—that is to prevent Oren from expressing his views and to stop the audience who came to hear him from listening to them. Here is the way the Dean of the law school, who opposes any criminal prosecution, described what happened.

“The Muslim Student Union orchestrated a concerted effort to disrupt the speech. One student after another stood and shouted so that the ambassador could not be heard. Each student was taken away only to be replaced by another doing the same thing.”

The dean’s description is something of an understatement —as anyone can see by watching a video of the event, available online. This was more than a “concerted effort to disrupt the speech. It was a concerted effort to stop it completely—to “shut [it] down.”

Ultimately, that effort failed and Oren managed to deliver his speech, after many long and sustained disruptions, but if the Muslim Student Union had gotten its way, Oren would have been shut down completely. The University, which is a state institution, had a constitutional obligation to protect the First Amendment rights of Oren’s audience to hear what he had to say, and the state prosecutor has a legal obligation to deter future conspiracies to censor controversial speakers, by criminally prosecuting those students who conspired to deny other students their First Amendment rights.

While dissenting students have the right to express disapproval of a speaker’s views by episodic booing, heckling or holding signs, they have no right to conspire to shut down a speaker, which is what the Muslim Student Union students did in this case. One would think that this distinction should be clear to all civil libertarians, academics and others who claim to care about freedom of speech on campus.

It is shocking therefore to see who has lined up behind the students who set out to censor Ambassador Oren. Two prominent leaders of the American Civil Liberties have joined with radical Muslims and other extremists in an effort to pressure the local District Attorney to drop misdemeanor charges against 11 student censors….READ MORE

RENÉE LEVINE MELAMMED: His/Her Story: A 16th-century Judaizer from Castile

This conversa, her husband and four children lived in the village of Cogolludo in Castile, where they worked, interacted with neighbors.

Source: The Jerusalem Post Magazine, 5-13-11

[illustrative]
Photo by: Courtesy María López was a conversa of Jewish origin who witnessed the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Her parents and grandparents had lived and died as Jews, but López, already a mother herself in 1492, chose to be baptized rather than leave her native soil.

She was fated to die as a convicted Judaizer, an unfaithful Catholic whose soul was lost to the church because of her heretical activities.

This conversa, her husband and four children lived in the village of Cogolludo in Castile, where they worked and interacted with their neighbors.

However, in 1516, their lives were to be drastically changed. As soon as ample suspicion and corroborating evidence existed regarding a New Christian’s fidelity to Catholicism, the Holy Tribunal considered it its duty to prosecute the alleged heretic. Thus López was arrested and imprisoned in September.

The prosecutor listed nine counts in the accusation, which was based on six different witness testimonies. López was accused of not eating pork or pork products, of removing fat from meat and of washing it vigorously in order to remove the blood, of removing the sciatic nerve from the leg of meat, of preparing Sabbath stew, of refraining from eating fish without scales, such as eel and octopus, as well as rabbit and the like, and of eating meat on Friday and on other days forbidden by the Church…

López never confessed, but the tribunal was convinced of her guilt; she was subjected to torture on November 24, 1518, but continued to insist on her innocence. Despite her claim that she was a good Christian, she was found guilty and sentenced to death at the auto-da-fé in Toledo on November 30.

When I first read the court proceedings, I wondered if she might have been a serious convert to Catholicism. Though the intricacies of the trial (see my article, “María López,” in Women in the Inquisition, ed. Mary E.

Giles, Baltimore, 1999) are confusing, López remained strong and unbending throughout. However, when her husband was later arrested, he chose an alternate path and confessed. His confession clearly attests to the Jewishness of his wife’s lifestyle and secret observances. The Inquisition had not erred this time.

The writer is a professor of Jewish history and dean at the Schechter Institute, academic editor of the journal NASHIM and the author of numerous articles and books on Jewish women.