JBuzz News March 7, 2014: Ukrainian Jews Seek To Emigrate to Israel Amid Uncertainty

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Ukrainian Jews Seek To Emigrate Amid Uncertainty

Source: Jewish Daily Forward, 3-7-14

The Jewish Agency for Israel has seen a spike in Ukrainians looking to immigrate to Israel as turmoil roils their country. Marina Steiman, a Jewish Agency official in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, declined to give numbers, but she said the agency….READ MORE

JBuzz News June 19, 2013: Giovanni Palatucci: Italian Praised for Saving Jews Is Now Seen as Nazi Collaborator

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Italian Praised for Saving Jews Is Now Seen as Nazi Collaborator

Source: NYT, 6-19-13

Information about Giovanni Palatucci, celebrated for saving Jews, is being removed from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in light of evidence that the tales may be untrue….READ MORE

 

JBuzz News August 25, 2012: Jews: A religious group, people or race?

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Jews: A religious group, people or race?

Source: Jerusalem Post, 8-25-12

Now, Prof. Harry Ostrer has produced a 264-page, English-language volume melding together science, history and biography to better understand the complex subject….READ MORE

JBuzz News July 18, 2012: Michael Brenner: Is Brit Ban The Gravest Threat to European Jews Since 1945?

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Is this the gravest threat to European Jews since 1945?

Source: Salon (blog), 7-18-12

For Michael Brenner, a professor of Jewish history and culture at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich and himself the son of two Holocaust survivors, the decision is déja-vu all over again….READ MORE

JBuzz News July 16, 2012: In 1930s, Blacks told Jews: ‘We Shall Overcome’

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In 1930s, blacks told Jews: ‘We shall overcome’

Source: Haaretz, 7-16-12

The civil rights pin belonging to Joyce Ladner, a black student who studied under a Jewish professor in exile during World War II….READ MORE

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

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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.

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

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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

Amy-Jill Levine: Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament

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Source: NYT, 11-25-11

Christopher Berkey for The New York Times

Amy-Jill Levine of Vanderbilt is a New Testament scholar….

And she is not alone. The book she has just edited with a Brandeis University professor, Marc Zvi Brettler, “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” (Oxford University Press), is an unusual scholarly experiment: an edition of the Christian holy book edited entirely by Jews. The volume includes notes and explanatory essays by 50 leading Jewish scholars, including Susannah Heschel, a historian and the daughter of the theologian Abraham Joshua Heschel; the Talmudist Daniel Boyarin; and Shaye J. D. Cohen, who teaches ancient Judaism at Harvard….

Jewish scholars have typically been involved only with editions of the Old Testament, which Jews call the Hebrew Bible or, using a Hebrew acronym, the Tanakh. Of course, many curious Jews and Christians consult all sorts of editions, without regard to editor. But among scholars, Christians produce editions of both sacred books, while Jewish editors generally consult only the book that is sacred to them. What’s been left out is a Jewish perspective on the New Testament — a book Jews do not consider holy but which, given its influence and literary excellence, no Jew should ignore.

So what does this New Testament include that a Christian volume might not? Consider Matthew 2, when the wise men, or magi, herald Jesus’s birth. In this edition, Aaron M. Gale, who has edited the Book of Matthew, writes in a footnote that “early Jewish readers may have regarded these Persian astrologers not as wise but as foolish or evil.” He is relying on the first-century Jewish philosopher Philo, who at one point calls Balaam, who in the Book of Numbers talks with a donkey, a “magos.”

Because the rationalist Philo uses the Greek word “magos” derisively — less a wise man than a donkey-whisperer — we might infer that at least some educated Jewish readers, like Philo, took a dim view of magi. This context helps explain some Jewish skepticism toward the Gospel of Matthew, but it could also attest to how charismatic Jesus must have been, to overcome such skepticism.

This volume is thus for anybody interested in a Bible more attuned to Jewish sources. But it is of special interest to Jews who “may believe that any annotated New Testament is aimed at persuasion, if not conversion,” Drs. Levine and Brettler write in their preface. “This volume, edited and written by Jewish scholars, should not raise that suspicion.”…READ MORE

A version of this article appeared in print on November 26, 2011, on page A13 of the New York edition with the headline: Focusing on the Jewish Story of the New Testament.

Allan Nadler: Imaginary vampires, imagined Jews

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Source: Jerusalem Post, Jewish Daily Ideas, 7-17-11

The practice of depicting Jews as drinkers of blood has been common for centuries.

The writer is a professor of religious studies and director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University. This article was first published by Jewish Ideas Daily (www.jewishideasdaily.com), and is reprinted with permission.

Eighteen ninety seven was a watershed year in Jewish history. The first Zionist Congress convened in a grand hotel in Basel, Switzerland. With much less pomp, the Yiddisher Arbeter Bund, the Jewish Labor Movement, was clandestinely founded in a Vilna basement (socialist movements being illegal under Tsarist rule).

In New York, Der Forverts, the world’s largest-circulation and longest-running Yiddish newspaper, began publication.

Meanwhile, in Odessa, the Hebrew-language Ha- Shahar, the first and most influential Zionist journal, was founded under the editorship of Ahad Ha’am. And now, thanks to Blood Will Tell, an engaging and insightful new study by Sara Libby Robinson, Jewish historians may consider adding a surprising entry to this list of 1897 events: the publication of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

While never explicitly identified as a Jew, the figure of Dracula – and vampires more generally – encompassed an array of anti-Semitic stereotypes: rootless, of East European origin, dark-complected, and lusting after the money/blood of others. Assessing a wide range of themes in which blood and vampirism were evoked in late-19thcentury European “scientific” thought (Social Darwinism and criminology in particular), Robinson argues that Stoker’s depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain.

DRACULA’S FEATURES are “stereotypically Jewish… [his] nose is hooked, he has bushy eyebrows, pointed ears, and sharp, ugly fingers.” As for his behavior, Robinson situates Dracula in the realm of fin-de-siècle national chauvinism, which viewed non-Anglo-Saxons – and Jews in particular – as dangerous interlopers, loyal only to their alien tribe. “Like many immigrants, Dracula has made great efforts to acculturate himself to his new country and to blend in with the rest of the population, through studying its language and customs… [his] greatest concern is whether his mastery of English and his pronunciation would brand him as a foreigner.” Likewise, Stoker mines anxieties over Jewish dual loyalty. The one identified person whose aid Dracula enlists in escaping Britain is a German Jew named Hildesheim, “with a nose like a sheep.”…READ MORE

German communities that murdered Jews in the Middle Ages were more likely to support the Nazis 600 years later

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Source: Slate, 6-1-11

If a century seems like a long time for a culture of racism to persist, consider the findings of a recent study on the persistence of anti-Semitism in Germany: Communities that murdered their Jewish populations during the 14th-century Black Death pogroms were more likely to demonstrate a violent hatred of Jews nearly 600 years later. A culture of intolerance can be very persistent indeed….

The authors of the new study, Nico Voigtländer of UCLA and Joachim Voth of the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Spain, examine the historical roots of the virulent anti-Semitism that found expression in Nazi-era Germany. In a sense, their analysis can be seen as providing a foundation for the highly controversial thesis put forth by former Harvard professor Daniel Goldhagen in Hitler’s Willing Executioners. Goldhagen argued that the German people exhibited a deeply rooted “eliminationist” anti-Semitism that had developed over centuries, which made them ready accomplices in carrying out Hitler’s Final Solution….READ MORE

Jews in the Civil War: Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Grey

Source: The Philadephia Jewish Voice, 5-13-11
To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, the National Museum of American Jewish History presented Jewish Soldiers in Blue & Gray,  a first-of-its-kind documentary that reveals the little-known struggles that faced Jewish-Americans both in battle and on the home front during the Civil War. This film reveals an unknown chapter in American history when allegiances during the War Between the States deeply split the Jewish community. It examines a time when approximately 10,000 Jewish soldiers fought on both sides; 7,000 Union and 3,000 Confederate. It exposes General Ulysses Grant’s controversial decision to expel all Jews from his territory, and tells the stories of President Lincoln’s Jewish doctor who serve as a spy in the South and how five Union Jewish soldiers received the Congressional Medal of Honor. It features commentary by noted historians, with Sam Waterston as the voice of Abraham Lincoln and narration by Oscar-nominated screenwriter John Milius (Apocalypse Now). This moving film allowed me to discover many surprising facts about American Jews during the Civil War…READ MORE

Annelise Orleck: Clouds Blur Triangle Shirtwaist Fire’s Meaning

Source: The NY Jewish Week, 3-10-11

As centennial of Triangle blaze nears, historians debate event’s Jewish character.

Burning topic: Was tragic fire a Jewish issue?

It is just weeks away from the 100th anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, New York City’s worst workplace disaster prior to Sept. 11. But instead of providing clarity, the time since the March 25, 1911 tragedy, and the array of commemorative events being held this month, has raised at least one befuddling question: to what extent was the fire a specifically Jewish event?

After all, the majority of the fire’s 146 victims were Jewish immigrant women, and it was Jewish organizations, from B’nai B’rith and The Yiddish Forward, to workers’ unions dominated by Jews, that brought the fire to public attention. But leading historians of the fire still disagree vehemently over how much the Jewish character of the event matters.

“Within the Jewish and Italian communities, it still does have a unique resonance,” said Annelise Orleck, a professor of 20th-century American history at Dartmouth who has written extensively about the fire. “But to the country and to the world at large, it [has been] less significant that the victims were Jewish and Italian than that they were young girls.”

The fire, set off by a match thoughtlessly tossed away, and exacerbated by the fact that the factory’s exits were locked, killed 146 mostly teenage women in less than 20 minutes. But factory deaths were common then, if not that numerous at one time, which has led scholars to believe that the most salient feature that forced the event into the national consciousness was the age and gender of the victims. “If they were just Jewish men, or grown men, it probably wouldn’t have had the impact it did,” Orleck said.

Many were girls barely 15 who had jumped to their deaths from the nine-story factory in Greenwich Village. A public funeral was held two weeks later, with several of the victims so badly burned they were impossible to identify. Nearly 400,000 New Yorkers joined in the public mourning ceremonies, which gave momentum to the slate of workers’ rights legislation that followed, from collective bargaining rights to safety codes and minimum wages….READ MORE

Jonathan D. Sarna: What the Civil War meant for American Jews, then and now

Source: The Forward, The Jewish Chronicle, 3-10-11

WALTHAM, Mass. — The 150th anniversary of the Civil War is upon us. April 12 is the anniversary of the firing on Fort Sumter, the war’s opening shot. From then, through the sesquicentennial anniversary on April 9, 2015 of Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Court House and five days later of Abraham Lincoln’s assassination, every major event in the “ordeal of the union” seems likely to be recounted, re-enacted, re-analyzed and, likely as not, verbally re-fought.

The American Jewish community, meanwhile, has expressed little interest in these commemorations. A few books, a play, a film and a forthcoming scholarly conference form the totality of the Jewish contribution to the sesquicentennial. When I suggested a talk on the Civil War and the Jews in one setting, the organizers questioned the relevance of the topic. Only a small minority of Jews, they observed, boast ancestors who participated in the Civil War. By the time most Jewish immigrants to America arrived, the war was but a distant memory.

Fifty years ago, for the Civil War centennial, the level of interest within the Jewish community seemed noticeably higher. New York’s Jewish Museum mounted a grand exhibit titled “The American Jew in the Civil War.” Fully 260 photographs, documents and objects appeared in the multi-gallery show. It was the largest display of Jewish Civil War memorabilia ever assembled….READ MORE: The Jewish Chronicle – What the Civil War meant for American Jews then and now

A Slave to History: Jews and Slavery in the Civil War South

Source: Jewish Exponent, 3-3-11

 

André Braugher (center) and André Holland (left) let freedom ring, as does Jay Wilkinson as the son of their erstwhile master in “The Whipping Man.”

Four questions? More like a score.

That’s what playwright Matthew Lopez has raised in “The Whipping Man,” his Civil War drama of uncivil behavior between peoples, now playing off-Broadway at the Manhattan Theater Club at New York City Center.

Of all those raised, possibly the key question is: Why is this play different from all others?

Because this one brings to the seder table two slaves who have adopted their master’s Jewish faith, even as the owner’s son has lost his.

In putting out the chair for Elijah, Lopez has also pulled out the chair from under audience’s expectations as “The Whipping Man” gives a whuppin’ to prosaically produced plays.

As rallying cry, the South will rise again begs debate; but what made a New York Hispanic non-Jewish writer with no real professional theatrical background rise to the occasion of such a complex, if arcane, topic as Jews, slaves and internecine infernos?

In a way, argues Lopez, he’s just a slave to history. “I’m an American history geek,” says the 33-year-old with a thirst for Civil War arcana — and a big fan of the movie “Glory” — whose research revealed that some slaves owned by Jews took the religion as their own.

He’s made a matzah meal out of it. But then, Lopez owns up to just following history forged by other writers: “The maxim goes, ‘Write what you know.’ ”

But who knew the rites and rituals of Judaism could be played out — as they are nightly — in such compelling fashion, with the end of the Civil War, the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln and the start of Passover rolled into an historical/theatrical troika that actually occurred in April 1865?

A number of regional theaters did, staging the work — which actually started out in life as a 20-minute playlet — before the Manhattan Theater Club took the drama, as well as the young University of South Florida graduate and erstwhile actor, under its wing, pushing him from the stage wings into the spotlight.

Sharing center stage for audience attention is another of Lopez’s luminous conceits and questions: “How does it affect an individual to suddenly be free?” he asks in reference to the two slaves assayed by André Braugher and André Holland, free men ministering to the gangrenous leg of their owner’s son (Jay Wilkinson), in the brave new and apocalyptic world of post-Appomattox.

This mix of the blues and grays colors the play in a spectrum of splashy debates, cleverly conceived; indeed, this unchained melody of free verse has a Hebraic lilt to it.

“Pockets of our history,” says the playwright of the epiphany that is the existence of black Jewish slaves, “yield some fascinating results.”

Truth Is Stranger …
And, yes, says Lopez with a laugh, he does understand that the tableaux of the two André characters sitting down for their seder and hewing to the Haggadah “does seem unbelievable,” even as the ritual’s parallels in African-Americans’ own exodus are sketched out clearly.

But Lopez did get the hechsher of one major historian: Philadelphia native Jonathan Sarna, chief curator for the National Museum of American Jewish History, on Independence Mall here, as well as the Joseph H. & Belle R. Braun Professor of American Jewish History at Brandeis University.

The professor’s imprimatur impressed the playwright of his own slavish devotion: “I felt, ‘Oh, my God! I did my homework correctly.’ ”

Gold star, says Sarna, who was asked by the Manhattan Theater Club for historical advice about the script’s accuracy. As for Torah-spouting slaves adhering to kashrut — as the freed characters do in “The Whipping Man” — it’s all, indeed, kosher.

Only in America?

“More so in the Caribbean,” notes Sarna. Not that such Jewish adherents were common in the States, “but it’s plausible. I can think of cases where it occurred, usually as products of liaisons” between Jewish masters and female slaves.

Historical Embarrassment?
As for the nettlesome injection into the play of the moral minefield manifested by Jews owning slaves — a case of hide the afikomen and the historical embarrassment?

Replies Sarna: “It’s a very real issue: Any Jew in the South who could afford one, had one.”

Let these people go: Two types of audiences have helped sustain the see-worthy play by Lopez (whose next project, “Tio Pepe,” about a Puerto Rican family, hits closer to home): Black and Jewish theatergoers, says Lopez, not only have been showing up in droves for “The Whipping Man,” “they are taking the play home with them,” where the debate and the dialogue rage from the page to the stage to the cages rattled over dinner tables.

“People are taking home a sense of ownership.”

And some would like to take home the playwright.

“I’m going to a seder,” says Lopez of accepting the invitation from one of his producers and her family for next month’s celebration of Passover. “If I wouldn’t, I’d feel guilty.”

Gee.

Maybe he is Jewish after all.

 

Nicholas de Lange: Bible discovery reveals links with Jewish scholars

Source: Cambridge University News, 12-30-10

Experts at Cambridge University have made a major discovery about the history of the Bible.

Researchers have been studying ancient biblical manuscripts in the University Library, and have found that a version of the Bible written in Greek was used by Jewish people for centuries longer than originally thought.

The documents, known as the Cairo Genizah manuscripts, were discovered in an old synagogue in Egypt and were brought to Cambridge at the end of the 19th century.

They have now been brought together digitally and posted online, enabling scholars worldwide to analyse them for the first time.

Prof Nicholas de Lange, professor of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at Cambridge University, has been leading a three-year study into the ancient fragments.

He said: “The translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek is said to be one of the most lasting achievements of the Jewish civilization – without it, Christianity might not have spread as quickly and as successfully as it did.

“It was thought that the Jews, for some reason, gave up using Greek translations and chose to use the original Hebrew for public reading in synagogue and for private study, until modern times when pressure to use the vernacular led to its introduction in many synagogues.”

Prof de Lange’s research has discovered that some of the manuscripts contain passages from the Bible in Greek, written in Hebrew letters. The fragments date from 1,000 years after the original translation into Greek – showing that use of the Greek text was still alive in Greek-speaking synagogues in the Byzantine Empire, the Greek-speaking eastern part of the Roman Empire.

Prof de Lange said the research offered a rare glimpse of Byzantine Jewish life and culture, and also illustrated the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and Christian biblical scholars in the Middle Ages.

He said: “This is a very exciting discovery for me because it confirms a hunch I had when studying Genizah fragments 30 years ago.”

Timothy Naftali: On Tapes, Nixon Rails About Jews with Henry Kissinger

Source: NYT, 12-10-10

Oliver Atkins/National Archives

President Richard M. Nixon at his desk in the Oval Office, where a secret taping system had been installed.

Richard M. Nixon made disparaging remarks about Jews, blacks, Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans in a series of extended conversations with top aides and his personal secretary, recorded in the Oval Office 16 months before he resigned as president….

These tapes, made in February and March 1973, reflect a critical period in Nixon’s presidency — the final months before it was “devoured by Watergate,” said Timothy Naftali, the executive director of the Nixon Library.

Mr. Naftali said that there were now only 400 hours of tapes left to released, and that those would cover the final months before the tape system was shut down in July 1973 after Alexander Butterfield, who was a deputy assistant to Nixon, confirmed its existence to the Watergate committee.

Mr. Naftali said he intended to have those tapes — actually, given changing technologies since Nixon’s time, CDs, and available for listening online at the library’s Web site — released by 2012.

An indication of Nixon’s complex relationship with Jews came the afternoon Golda Meir, the Israeli prime minister, came to visit on March 1, 1973. The tapes capture Meir offering warm and effusive thanks to Nixon for the way he had treated her and Israel.

But moments after she left, Nixon and Mr. Kissinger were brutally dismissive in response to requests that the United States press the Soviet Union to permit Jews to emigrate and escape persecution there.

“The emigration of Jews from the Soviet Union is not an objective of American foreign policy,” Mr. Kissinger said. “And if they put Jews into gas chambers in the Soviet Union, it is not an American concern. Maybe a humanitarian concern.”

“I know,” Nixon responded. “We can’t blow up the world because of it.”

In his discussion with Ms. Woods, Nixon laid down clear rules about who would be permitted to attend the state dinner for Meir — he called it “the Jewish dinner” — after learning that the White House was being besieged with requests to attend.

“I don’t want any Jew at that dinner who didn’t support us in that campaign,” he said. “Is that clear? No Jew who did not support us.”

Nixon listed many of his top Jewish advisers — among them, Mr. Kissinger and William Safire, who went on to become a columnist at The New York Times — and argued that they shared a common trait, of needing to compensate for an inferiority complex.

“What it is, is it’s the insecurity,” he said. “It’s the latent insecurity. Most Jewish people are insecure. And that’s why they have to prove things.”…READ MORE

Joseph Michelson: July 4th, history and the Jews

Source: JWeekly, 6-29-10

July 4th is almost upon us. Israel is celebrating its 62nd year of existence.

All American Jews and Americans, should recognize this shining moment of historical success of our mutually beneficial survival. The world is convulsing with terrorist warfare, lives are shattered, blood and tears fill so many streets … and yet in the quiet corners of our minds, we should be so thankful that our brave fathers and mothers struggled to land on these blessed shores for as long as this nation has existed.

Jewish history and world history (our Western civilization) have enjoyed such an interesting dancing partnership together! There were times we refused to accept the dance with our partner, and there were more times when we were rejected for the dance. But this is the strange path of Jewish growing-up in the Western world.

When our culture was in its infancy – as ancient Israel – we had a profound identity crisis. We escaped Egypt and were given the overwhelming responsibility to accept the 10 commandments, protect them and give them to the world. Who were we then? An ethnic group who had lived separately in Egypt (Goshen), suddenly freed with such an immense responsibility thrust upon us? Were we just a bunch of tribes? Moses had to keep the “union” together. And accept the law for them, and lead them to the border of the land of milk and honey.

Just like Abraham Lincoln, who had to hold the Union together, and more than that, teach the warring Union to be peaceful again, understanding with each other, and moreover, to perceive the truth that all men should be seen with dignity and equality by each other, and that the blasphemous concept of slavery should be proclaimed unjust. Shades of Passover? Interestingly, Judah Benjamin, Secretary of State of the Confederacy, two years prior to Lincoln, tried to propose an Emancipation Proclamation for the South, in exchange for conscription of “freed” slaves into an overwhelmingly outnumbered army! Sadly, his Southern compatriots felt him foolish. Echoes of Passover ringing into the music of the dance?

Perhaps the pinnacle of combined Jewish and American cooperation comes with the “Manhattan Project,” when America gathered the most learned, wise collection of scientists into one congregation in New Mexico to develop the atomic bomb, ahead of the competing Germans. We collected this assembly of refugees – all escaping Hitler, from Germany, Hungary, Italy, Denmark, almost all Jewish – to establish the “de-facto” end to World War II. Many of these scientists – all famous – would have been annihilated by Hitler in concentration camps: Albert Einstein, Neils Bohr, Leo Szilard, Edward Teller, Hans Bethe, John Von Neumann, Enrico Fermi, etc. Many later won Nobel prizes.

They all found home in America.

Einstein’s theory of relativity, which led to the Manhattan project, was based upon Albert Abraham Michelson’s calculations of the speed of light (the first American to win a Nobel Prize, in physics, in 1907). Einstein was not allowed to participate in the Manhattan Project because J. Edgar Hoover did not trust him as a “Pacifist Jew.”

But his letter to the president, composed with Leo Szilard, who first envisioned a “chain reaction” trigger to such a bomb, with Eugene Wigner (both Jewish, émigré Hungarian physicists who worked in Los Alamos on the bomb) signaled Franklin Delano Roosevelt into action to establish this project.

Coincidentally, Roosevelt read their letter in the presence of his economic advisor, Alexander Sachs – who reminded FDR that this sounded like the offer Napoleon had by an American scientist to build sail-less steam boats, to cross the English channel and invade England! “Rubbish,” Napoleon had responded. Sachs emphasized the profound fear expressed by these scientists in their letter to him. If FDR didn’t listen to these scientists, he would be like Napoleon not listening to his advisors. FDR nodded and assented. The Manhattan Project was on its way. But J. Robert Oppenheimer, an American, was selected as the head scientist of this strange international but now American group of researchers.

In our history, we seem to have reached young adulthood, and we have matured with our marriage to America. Judaism’s adolescence may be seen in the Middle Ages – where viewed as “nerds,” the Jews were isolated, ignored, persecuted, but used where they could be of service to a largely illiterate, ignorant mass of people.

The education of the Jews could be used by the nobility to maintain their money, and, hence power, over the masses, and communicate between societies of different languages.

Today, we have emerged, perhaps into the young adulthood of Judaism, and married (to America), where as in most marriages, the spouses are more full and more powerful together, than each separately. America has been so kind to us, allowing us, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” in the achievement of our goals. And as George Washington wrote to the Touro Synagogue, our new nation would” give to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” (letter to “The Hebrew Congregation in Newport,” 1790)

As stated, history dances in the circles of themes. As God promised Abraham, an elderly man, whose wife was ninety years old, and they both still fervently hoped for children… God blessed them with only one son: Isaac. But God ironically said to Abraham: “Your progeny shall number like the stars in the heavens (Genesis 22:17); and they shall be as a light among the nations…”(Isaiah 42:6).

We are living, as we have always, as a light among the nations. We gave society the 10 commandments and numerous artistic and scientific contributions.

So, what is so unusual about our sojourn with America? It is, in terms of historical significance, perhaps the most beneficent, generous, and happy marriage we, as a people, have ever had! How do we know? Look at what America says about us:

• John Adams, second president of the United States, in an 1808 letter criticizing the depiction of Jews by the French Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire: “How is it possible [that he] should represent the Hebrews in such a contemptible light? They are the most glorious nation that ever inhabited this Earth. The Romans and their Empire were but a Bauble in comparison of the Jews. They have given religion to three quarters of the Globe and have influenced the affairs of Mankind more, and more happily, than any other Nation, ancient or modern.”

• Better still … Mark Twain: “The Jews are peculiarly and conspicuously the world’s intellectual aristocracy.” (Mark Twain’s Notebook, 1879)

“If the statistics are right, the Jews constitute but one percent of the human race. It suggests a nebulous dim puff of star-dust lost in the blaze of the Milky Way. Properly the Jew ought hardly to be heard of; but he is heard of, has always been heard of. He is as prominent on the planet as any other people, and his commercial importance is extravagantly out of proportion to the smallness of his bulk. His contributions to the world’s list of great names in literature, science, art, music, finance, medicine, and abstruse learning are also away out of proportion to the weakness of his numbers.

“He has made a marvelous fight in this world, in all the ages; and has done it with his hands tied behind him. He could be vain of himself, and be excused for it. The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then faded to dream-stuff and passed away; the Greek and the Roman followed, and made a vast noise, and they are gone; other peoples have sprung up and held their torch high for a time, but it burned out, and they sit in twilight now, or have vanished.

The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts, no slowing of his energies, no dulling of his alert and aggressive mind. All things are mortal but the Jew; all other forces pass, but he remains. What is the secret of his immortality?” (Mark Twain; “Concerning the Jews” Harper’s Magazine, March, 1898)

We must not take our “Light-hood” lightheartedly, but seriously. Why have we survived? What is the secret of our immortality …so far?

Jews have proven that we can withstand almost any amount of persecution. Throughout our history, Judaism has survived countless incidents of unspeakable prejudice and harassment.

Frederich Neitzche (not Jewish) said: “A human being can survive any how , as long as he has the proper why.”

A person can tolerate any circumstance life sends his way, if only he understands that there is some meaning to that experience. For the last 2,000 years the Jewish people have gone through enormous amounts of persecution, hatred – ultimately leading to genocide. And through it all most Jewish people remained steadfastly Jewish. And the reason must be that they understood that it was worth it. They understood the meaning of Jewish culture, and they were willing to pay the price. America has allowed its Jews to be openly Jewish and American.

American culture and Jewish culture share so many common threads…

The founding of “Hollywood,” replete with all of its Jewish founders, entrepreneurs, writers, directors, actors, producers, lyricists, etc. has allowed America to trumpet its successes to the world, And the rest of the world copies our Hollywood.

What of numerical examples? Nobel Prizes are awarded by the Nobel Foundation of Sweden to men and women who have rendered the greatest services to humankind. Between 1901 and 2005, more than 750 Nobel prizes were awarded. Of these, at least 158 are Jews (21 percent). Yet, we only account for just less than 3 percent of the U.S. population, and 0.5 percent of the world population.

Where did this amazing story of success and achievement begin?

For American Jews, with the first shipload of Jews who arrived in New Amsterdam, escaping the Spanish Inquisition, which swept up to us from Brazil to clean the carpet of heretics.

Where does our Jewish American history take us?

Hopefully it should give us encouragement to further our goals of improving our fragile world as both Americans and Jews, stimulated by the courage, compassion and intelligence of those who have come before us – who made our moment in time freer, healthier, happier and more fulfilled than we could have been otherwise. It is the obligation we must accept for our children, and for their children.

God to Abraham: your descendants will be a light unto the nations… (Isaiah 6)

Albert Abraham Michelson measured the speed of light (Nobel 1907)

Albert Einstein: “I always wanted to ride on a light beam…” (Nobel 1921)

Let’s all jump on an American light beam now and see where it takes us.

Dr. Richard Hull publishes latest book on Jews in African history

Dr. Richard Hull Historian Publishes latest book on Jews in African history Jews and Judaism in African History

Source: Straus News, 5-22-09

Professor Richard W. Hull, Ph.D., recently authored his latest book, “Jews and Judaism in African History,” available in paperback and hardcover at Baby Grand Bookstore in downtown Warwick. Photo by Roger Gavan

Warwick resident Richard W. Hull, Ph.D., recently announced the publication of his latest book, “Jews and Judaism in African History.”

Many Warwick residents know Hull as the town’s official historian and author of several books on local history. However, for many years Hull has served as professor of African history at New York University where he received four awards for teaching excellence. He was also the recipient of the Orange County Revered Citizen Award, a United Nations Distinguished Citizen Award, and a Fulbright Fellowship.

In recent years Professor Hull has taught a graduate seminar at NYU on “Jews in Africa since Classical Antiquity.”

His latest book, “Jews and Judaism in African History,” is a concise yet comprehensive study of the contributions of Africans of Jewish ancestry to the development of the continent, from antiquity to the present.

Hull’s research project began some 15 years ago and took him to numerous libraries in England, Morocco, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“I realized that although Jews were a minority, they played significant roles in African history hugely disproportionate to their numbers,” said Hull. “I decided to write this book because Jews have been largely left out of the major works in African history despite their significance.”

His narrative begins with the Israelites in ancient Egypt and North Africa and later explores the foundations of the Beth Israel communities of Ethiopia and the “lost tribe” of Lemba in southern Africa.

Hull also examines the role of Jews and conversos in the launching of the Atlantic slave trade along with the Jewish intelligentsia of early Morocco. Another chapter is devoted to Jews in South Africa and their participation in that county’s economic and cultural development.

“Jews and Judaism in African History,” is published by Markus Wiener Publishers of Princeton. It is available in paperback and hardcover at Baby Grand Bookstore in downtown Warwick.

Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

GUESTVIEW: Reflections on Jewish-Muslim Engagement

Source: Reuters, 5-19-09

The author, Rabbi Burton L. Visotzky, is a professor Midrash and Interreligious Studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York and author of the novel A Delightful Compendium of Consolation.

sheikh-and-rabbi-2

(Photo: Muslim sheikh and Jewish rabbi address interfaith meeting in Brussels, 4 Jan 2005/Thierry Roge)

Jewish-Muslim engagement in an international context is inevitably more than interreligious dialogue. Muslim representatives, for the most part, do not come from countries that have a separation of mosque and state. Practically speaking, these dialogues are a form of second-tier diplomacy. In the United States, this is made apparent by fact the State Department sponsors Muslim visitors through its Foreign Leadership Visitor Program.

Under the aegis of the State Department, the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS, where I teach) has welcomed imams from Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Imam Shamsi Ali of the 96th Street Mosque in New York has brought the heads of the Indonesian Muslim community to visit JTS. I have been privileged to visit Muslim colleagues in Cairo (2004), in Doha (2005) and Madrid (2008), the latter for the first Saudi Arabian interreligious dialogue, sponsored by King Abdullah and hosted by Spain’s King Juan Carlos.

abdullah-and-visotzky-2As a representative of Judaism at these dialogues, I am often called upon to represent and/or defend the state of Israel. It has been my personal practice as a rabbi participating in such international dialogues to contact the Israeli Foreign Ministry either directly or indirectly in advance of my participation, so that I have the opportunity to hear their views on these conferences (which may not have invited any Israeli representatives). This sometimes leads me to feeling conflicted personally, when our views may diverge.

(Photo: Rabbi Visotzky and King Abdullah in Madrid, July 2009)

Jews reacted to September 11th and its aftermath in complicated ways. I recall giving a public address in lower Manhattan on the first anniversary of the tragedy in which I suggested “we all live in Jerusalem now.” To me, the horror America experienced echoed the terror Israelis know daily. As a Jewish American, it is important to me to represent and advance Israel. On the other hand, my own dismay at the Israeli government’s overreaction in Gaza earlier this year and my personal disapproval of the impediments that the “settler movement” has created to a two-state solution have been a part of what pushes me to participate in international Jewish-Muslim dialogue. I do so in order to help, in whatever small way I am able, to move Israel and the Palestinians toward a mutually agreeable accord. I am, however, not naïve about the apparent intractability of the problem and the chasm between the narratives on each side in the dispute.

I also believe there is a genuine Jewish imperative for dialogue with our Muslim colleagues. From a religious perspective, we share much in common. For the past five years, I have represented the JTS in a variety of dialogue and social-action projects with the Muslim community in the U.S. as well as abroad. Locally, we joined with members of New York City’s 96th Street Mosque for dialogue, exchanged mosque and synagogue visits and worked side-by-side in a soup kitchen run by a local Presbyterian Church.

New York Islamic Cultural Center, 23 April 2008/Tom HeneghanNationally, JTS has joined with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) on a number of projects, including matching Conservative synagogues with local mosques for dialogue. We have also surveyed the 1,200 Conservative Rabbis in the United States both to see what Jewish-Muslim projects they are engaged in and to encourage other congregations to participate.

(Photo: New York Islamic Cultural Center, 23 April 2008/Tom Heneghan)

Personally, as an American who disagrees with Bush-era policies, I want to demonstrate that there are U.S. citizens who are respectful of and eager to dialogue with Islam, despite that administration’s Manichaean world-view. One hopes that the more open face of the Obama administration toward the Muslim world is a harbinger for more productive dialogue and encounter.

Of late, there has been a marked increase on the part of Muslim, particularly Arab Muslim moderate countries, for interreligious engagement. This can be attributed to the horrific events of September 11th, to a reaction to the Bush declarations against so-called “Islamo-fascism” and the perceived “clash of civilizations,” and as a response to Islamic extremism. It may also be a reaction to the influences of radical Islamic elements in Iran. But we must recognize that the move toward interreligious dialogue is also a genuine Islamic sentiment toward engagement with the “other,” particularly “religions of the Book.”

In the end, it is incumbent upon Islam to deal with its violent religious radicals, much as it is equally incumbent upon Judaism to deal with its violent religious radicals. For those of us who consider ourselves moderates or progressives, it is a religious obligation to continue the Jewish-Muslim engagement on the local, national, and international levels.

(For a fuller account of the JTS participation in Jewish-Muslim engagement, see the inaugural issue of The Journal of InterReligious Dialogue, www.irdialogue.org )

PBS Looks At Stalin’s Jews In The Bronx “At Home In Utopia”

Source: NY Jewish Week, 5-6-09

Media Watch: PBS Looks At Stalin’s Jews In The Bronx:

Everyone agrees that the German-American Bund in the 1930s was horrendous, even if they weren’t violent like in the fatherland. The New York bundists were harassed into oblivion at the beginning of the war. Nevertheless, their parading of the swastika through Manhattan’s Upper East Side in 1939 still sends chills through the witnesses still among us….

Jews love ideas. To Stalin, ideas were a crime. “We don’t allow our enemies to have guns,” he said, “why should we allow them to have ideas?”
Nevertheless, the leading “Stalin-American Bundists” were Jews, athiest Yiddishists to be more exact. They even supported the Hitler-Stalin Pact that led to the evisceration of Jewish Poland. But whereas German-American Bundists are reviled in 2009, the Yiddishist-Stalinists, rather than being reviled, are consistently romanticized by the media as cuddly sweethearts, messianists, a quaint Yiddish folktale told to the clarinets of klezmer.

The latest whitewash is the new, well-crafted documentary, “At Home In Utopia,” the story of a cooperative housing experiment in the Bronx known as “the Coops,” as in “loops.” The Coops, highly advanced in its architectural design and cultural opportunities, particularly appealing for residents coming out of Dickensian tenements, were founded by the Yiddishist-Stalinists of the United Workers Cooperative Colony. They were the most “progressive” of the four predominantly Jewish workers’ cooperatives that rushed, like Oklahoma Sooners, into the vacant lots of the Bronx that were suddenly made accessible by the new elevated subway lines.  The film, by Michal Goldman with Ellen Brooks, premiered last week on PBS and is being repeated in the days ahead on the different PBS outlets. (Excerpts and more information can be found here….