Blog – Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Mon, 22 Oct 2018 12:42:37 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.2 https://www.bh.org.il/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-512-32x32.png Blog – Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 Queen of the Desert: The Amazing Story of “Jewish Khaleesi” https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/queen-desert-amazing-story-jewish-khaleesi/ Sun, 14 Oct 2018 11:49:32 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=37273 A ruthless steadfast warrior, as well as a merciful leader who liberated thousands of slaves – this was Dihya al Kahina, a Jewish Berber Northern African woman. The Jewish Khaleesi, if you will, but unfortunately, not nearly as famous as that the Game of Thrones fictional character. Dihya al Kahina lived in Northern Africa at the end of the [...]

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A ruthless steadfast warrior, as well as a merciful leader who liberated thousands of slaves – this was Dihya al Kahina, a Jewish Berber Northern African woman. The Jewish Khaleesi, if you will, but unfortunately, not nearly as famous as that the Game of Thrones fictional character.

Dihya al Kahina lived in Northern Africa at the end of the 7th century. In Muslim sources she is described as “dark skinned with lots of hair and huge eyes”. Fascinated by her exotic image, historian Nahum Slouschz described her as “fair as a horse, strong as a wrestler, a true desert woman, healthy and fast on her feet, an excellent rider and a shooter who never misses”, and studied her character throughout Northern Africa. Slouschz asserted that Dihya meant “Jewess” and that “al Kahina” referred to the family of Kohanim (priests).

Born to a Jewish-Moorish-Berber tribe from today’s Mauritania, Dihya headed the resistance to the Muslim invaders of the Ummaya dynasty, who conquered the Maghreb towards the west during the 7th and 8th centuries. Her adventures are dated 687-697, when Hassan ben Naaman, military commander of the Khalif Abd Al Malech, was heading towards Carthage in order to occupy it. He had 45,000 soldiers under his command and was prepared to almost every scenario – except that of an army of Berber tribes headed by a woman battling against him.

Dihya offered peace but the Muslim commander would not accept, unless she acknowledged the authority of the Kahllif and adopted Islam, an ultimatum she rejected scornfully. According to Slouschz, she was descendent of a priestly family deported from Judea by Pharaoh Necho in the days of King Yoshiahu. She did not intend to enter the family history as a leader who caused yet another deportation of the dynasty, and certainly did not intend to convert to Islam. “I shall die in the religion I was born to”, she shortly answered the commander’s demands, and went on forging her steel sword.

Berber tribes from all over the Maghreb arrived to join al Kahina in her campaign, which they gloriously won after exhausting battles. Defeated and ashamed Hassan had to escape with what was left of his troops to Tripoli, where he had to face the Khalif and tell him of his defeat. Al Kahina chased Hassan’s troops all the way to Carthage, and then became the city’s ruler.

Inhabitants of Berber origin in the town of Amrus, Lybia, 1930's, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Pedazur Benattia, Israel

Inhabitants of Berber origin in the town of Amrus, Lybia, 1930’s, Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Pedazur Benattia, Israel

Owing to her “Officer and Gentlelady” ethics, she set free all the war prisoners she had captured, except for one: Haled ben Yazid, whom she adopted as her son, on top of her two other sons, one Berber and the other Greek. Apparently, Dihya was no innocent lass. Slouschz wrote she had three husbands forced to satisfy her intense needs, and that she was “addicted to the lusts of the flesh with all her youthful flaming temper”.

It took Hassan five years to recover from the losses caused in the battle with Dihya. In the second round, al Kahina got the lower hand, as Hassan had this time a much larger force. He managed to conquer Carthage and to defeat the Berber rebels. According to Eli Eshed, editor of “יקום תרבות” magazine, in addition to all her virtues, al Kahina also had the gift of foreseeing the future, therefore she knew she was going to be defeated and advised her sons to cross the lines and join the Muslims. She herself would not surrender, and used a scorched-earth policy, ordering her warriors to leave no crops, possessions, or livestock, wherever they retreated.

After her defeat, al Kahina took her own life by falling into a deep well. The Muslims pulled her body, severed the head and sent it to the Khalif. The well is called up until today “The Kahina Well”.

Dihya memorial in Khenchela, Algeria. Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Dihya memorial in Khenchela, Algeria. Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Naturally, not all researchers share Slouschz’s firm conclusions about Dihya al Kahina. Prof. Shlomo Sand, for example, claims that Dihya’s origin was not from the priests from Judea, but rather from a converted Berber tribe, which Sand refers to in his study “The Invention of the Jewish People” as nothing less than the genetic origin of the entire Northern African Jewry. Other studies doubt the historical authenticity of the character of the Jewish queen and commander, and claim she is merely a folk tale.

Whether history of tale, the stories of the bravery of Dihya al Kahina encouraged many peoples to claim part of the myth for themselves. The Muslims said that after her defeat she converted and used her as a classic Muslim role model. The Berbers considered her their own local hero, and even the French compared her to their national hero, Joan of Arc, who fought the English and similarly to Dihya was eventually conquered by her enemies.

The character of Dihya also inspired the members of the Jewish resistance in Algiers, under José Aboulker, whose mother, Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker, wrote a play about the Jewish heroine. Other literal works were composed after Kahina, for example Pierre Benoit’s “Atlantida”, about a queen heading a Berber lost tribe and turns her lovers into living statues. Dihya is also mentioned in an episode of the t.v. show “Xena: Warrior Princess”. It is disappointing that in Israel her story is hardly ever mentioned, with one exception: author Limor Sharir dedicated a few chapters in her book “Secrets of Marrekesh” to Dihya. But mostly she remained unknown. Will someone take the challenge we offer here, and turn her story into the literal or cinematic saga she deserves? We sure hope so.

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I have nothing to say, Just to show: Traces of a genocide https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/nothing-say-just-show-traces-genocide/ Thu, 04 Oct 2018 10:22:25 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=37067 Christian Herrmann   For years, whenever I find the time, I travel through Eastern Europe, photographing the traces of Jewish life. An analogue camera for black and white films and a digital camera are always with me, and I often also travel with dear friends who share my passion. I am frequently asked why I [...]

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Christian Herrmann

 

For years, whenever I find the time, I travel through Eastern Europe, photographing the traces of Jewish life. An analogue camera for black and white films and a digital camera are always with me, and I often also travel with dear friends who share my passion. I am frequently asked why I do this. The question is asked by Jews and non-Jews alike – both seem to be confused by it. It’s also what my friend Rachel Druck wanted to know when she asked me to write something for Beit Hatfutsot’s blog.

The question is well intended, but it irritates me every time: to me the “why” seems so obviously visible in the “what.” What I find and document in areas that are no longer on European maps – such as Bessarabia, Galicia, Podolia, or Bukovina – are ruined or abandoned synagogues, overgrown cemeteries, traces of mezuzot on door frames, gravestones in the pavement, and sometimes marked, sometimes unmarked, mass graves. They are the traces of a genocide. I believe that we should know our history – for our own sake.

Because of the “what” and because I want to focus attention on the images and their content, I have titled this post with a quote by Walter Benjamin, which was part of an essay about his collages: “I have nothing to say. Just to show.” My photos reflect a kaleidoscopic and collage-like echo of a destroyed world. There are different levels that one can discover: the beauty of a destroyed culture, the destructive rage of the German occupiers and their allies, Soviet indifference and denial of history, the presence of the people who today live with the traces of the past, and – after the implosion of communism – the attempts of organizations and individuals to save what can still be saved.

But I also chose Benjamin’s quote because I do not want to teach people how to deal with my pictures and what to feel about them. How a person reacts and what they feel depends on the individual. Some are repulsed, grief-stricken, angry, horrified, or indifferent. I don’t want to make a statement about what the “right“ emotion is. But one thing is common to all these feelings: uncertainty. In large parts of Eastern Europe we are on unfamiliar terrain. The door-frame from which the mezuzah was torn off has not been painted for 75 years. Where the Nazis paved streets with Jewish tombstones, there are only now attempts to recover them. There is no memorial on the mass grave in the forest. During my travels, I have always encountered old people who want to share their memories – for too long nobody has been interested in their stories. Here, the wounds left by the dictatorships of the 20th century strike us with full force. They are not domesticated by a culture of remembrance. No one has fenced in the evil, turned it into a museum, and left us with the illusion that everything happened a long time ago. No, it happened just a moment ago and we can’t escape from it.

Radekhiv, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Former Jewish shops and homes on the market square

Radekhiv was a typical shtetl in eastern Galicia. The well-preserved former Jewish homes on the marketplace reflect this. On the ground floor there was a shop, in the basement there a warehouse and the first floor was a family home. In Radekhiv there are no Jews left.

Radekhiv, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Trace of a mezuzah

Staryi Sambir, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Former synagogue

The synagogue in Staryi Sambir was used as a warehouse after the destruction of the Jewish population by the German occupiers. In 2017, volunteers installed a new roof to protect the building. That same year, for the first time in 75 years, a Jewish prayer was spoken in the abandoned building.

Probizhna, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Ruin of the Great Synagogue

The Great Synagogue of Probizhna was converted into a factory under Soviet rule. Today the building is in a state of decay.

Monastyryska, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Former collective farm

Monastyryska, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Former collective farm

In the 1980s the Jewish cemetery of Monastyryska was destroyed. The gravestones were used to build a pigsty at the local collective farm. Where the cement crumbles, the Hebrew characters are clearly visible.

Novoselytsia, Bessarabia, Ukraine, 2014 | Former synagogue

The synagogue of Novoselytsia was used as a club for a communist youth organization during Soviet times. The murals were hidden under wallpapers and colors. A few years ago, a local artisan bought the building in order to set up a workshop. The murals were discovered during the renovations. Today the synagogue, which is in danger of collapse, is owned by the Association of Jewish Organizations and Communities of Ukraine, which is looking for funds to preserve and restore the building.

Chișinău, Bessarabia, Republic of Moldova, 2016 | Wall made of Jewish tombstones at the Christian cemetery

The old Jewish cemetery of Chișinău was destroyed after World War II and the gravestones were used as building material. Two of the walls that were built using the gravestones can still be found in the city today at the Christian and the new Jewish cemetery. A third wall, which has not been preserved, was located south of the old town, near the bus station.

Mykolaiv, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Bulldozed site of a mass grave

The Christian and Jewish cemeteries of Mykolaiw are located right next to each other. While no burials have taken place at the Jewish cemetery since the German occupation, the Christian cemetery continues to grow. In order to make room for new graves, a sand pit, into which Jews were shot during the war, was leveled in the spring of 2017.

Trochenbrod, Volhynia, Ukraine, 2015 | Former centre of the destroyed town

Trochenbrod was an exclusively Jewish town in a sparsely populated area in Volhynia. After the murder of its population, the place completely disappeared from the map. Trochenbrod enjoys a literary afterlife in Jonathan Safran Foer’s popular novel Everything is Illuminated and its Hollywood adaptation.

Khyriv, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Destroyed Jewish cemetery, now a kindergarten and playground

Stryi, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Destroyed Jewish cemetery, now a builder‘s yard

Chernivtsi (Czernowitz), Bukovina, Ukraine, 2014 | Mortuary of the Jewish cemetery

At 11 hectares, the Jewish cemetery of Chernivtsi is one of the largest Jewish cemeteries in the territory of the former Soviet Union. For more than 10 years, civil society organizations from Ukraine and Europe have sought to preserve and maintain it. The former mortuary is one of the most prominent and distinguished buildings. It has been undergoing renovation since 2017.

Volochysk, Podolia, Ukraine, 2017 | Grindstone made from a tombstone at the Jewish cemetery

There are two possible explanations for this stone. It could be a grindstone; the re-use of Jewish gravestones as grindstones was extensively documented by the Polish photographer Łukasz Baksik in his book Matzevot for Everyday Use. But it could also be a grain mill from the 1947 starvation year, when private milling of grain was strictly prohibited. This theory is supported by the fact that there are two equally sized and shaped stones in Volochysk cemetery. Both were apparently returned to the cemetery by the descendants of the former owner.

Karczew, Masovia, Poland, 2017 | Jewish cemetery

The building of the Jewish cemetery of Karzcew on a sand dune was ill-advised from the start. Now that there is no Jewish community left, the tombstones threaten to sink completely in the sand.

Lviv, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Jewish tombstones discovered during road work

On Bravinok Street in Lviv, high-ranking SS and police officers were housed in confiscated Jewish mansions. For their pleasure, they forced inmates of Janowska concentration camp to pave thee street with tombstones of the city’s two ruined Jewish cemeteries. For several years, including in 2017 and 2018, tombstones have appeared during construction work. They were rescued by volunteers from the Lviv Volunteer Center and taken to the Jewish cemetery. Most of the tombstones are still under the asphalt.

Lviv, Galicia, Ukraine, 2017 | Sasha Nazar and volunteers from the Lviv Volunteer Center salvage Jewish tombstones from a backyard

After the end of the German occupation in Lviv, Jewish tombstones were still used as building material under Soviet rule. These tombstones were used to build basement stairs in the city center. Volunteers from the Lviv Volunteer Center salvaged them and took them to the Jewish cemetery.

 

Christian Herrmann (*1962) lives in Cologne and works for a non-profit organisation in Bonn. For years he has been travelling in search of traces of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The images are used for exhibitions and books. He documents his experiences in his blog “Vanished World“ an online archive that is constantly updated. In September 2018 his book In Fading Light. Traces of Jewish Life in the East of Europe was published by Lukas Verlag.

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Who Was “the Other”? The Wise Sage Who Became the Greatest Heretic https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/wise-sage-became-greatest-heretic/ Wed, 26 Sep 2018 06:49:38 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36941 Try to picture this: Shabbat morning, a synagogue in Bnei Brak, and the late rabbi Elazar Shach delivers his sermon to his listeners, in sheer atmosphere of silence and holy awe. Then suddenly, a loud defying horn sound from a nearby sport car is heard just outside the synagogue. Now which scene is more likely [...]

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Try to picture this: Shabbat morning, a synagogue in Bnei Brak, and the late rabbi Elazar Shach delivers his sermon to his listeners, in sheer atmosphere of silence and holy awe. Then suddenly, a loud defying horn sound from a nearby sport car is heard just outside the synagogue. Now which scene is more likely to take place?

The driver ends up leaving the neighborhood all beaten up, missing some teeth.

or

Rabbi Shach interrupts his sermon, steps out towards the car and him and the driver embark on a passionate Talmudic “pilpul” (debating), while the rabbi walks the man out of the neighborhood.

If you are even slightly realistic, you probably selected no. 1. But surprisingly, many years ago a situation described in option 2 actually took place. You can read about it in the Jerusalem Talmud, Tractate Ḥagigah, chapter 2.

Hall of Hewn Stones, inside Gerhard Schut model of the first temple, 17th century

Hall of Hewn Stones, inside Gerhard Schut model of the first temple, 17th century

It happened in Tiberias, on the Shabbat, in the first half of the second century A.C. Rabbi Meir, called in the Talmud “uprooting mountains and grinding them against each other”, was delivering his weekly speech in front of hundreds of followers. Suddenly a hustle. Apparently, a middle aged man arrived at the synagogue court riding a neighing horse. Then, Rabbi Meir ceased preaching, stepped down of his podium and went to the man. They debated over Torah issues, the man still sitting on his horse back, while all the congregation were looking at them with astonishment.

So who was that man, whom everybody expected to be shamefully kicked out of the synagogue for publicly desecrating the Sabbath, but instead received the highest possible honor from the most admired spiritual leader and teacher of his generation? That man was one of the greatest Tanaim, Rabbi Meir’s mentor and instructor, and a friend of Rabbi Akiva. His name was Elisha ben Abuyah, the renowned heretic, known in the Talmud as “other one”.

The Talmud praises the wisdom of Ben Abuyah. It is told that while he used to stand and preach Torah in the Hall of Hewn Stones inside the temple, all his disciples and friends used to listen and then come and kiss him on his head. He was included in “Pirkei Avot” – the textual Jewish hall of fame. He wasn’t some reckless wild person, but an influential wise figure, who renounced his faith following a profound spiritual crisis. Elisha Ben Abuyah was the first recorded Jewish heretic, long before other “others” such as Spinoza, Shlomo Maimon, and Uriel da Costa. (We’ll refer to the title “other” hereinafter).

The grave of rabbi Meir in Tiberias. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher, Creative Commons

The grave of rabbi Meir in Tiberias. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher, Creative Commons

The Gemara in Tractate Ḥagigah includes the story of the pardes (orchard): Four men entered pardes – Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher (Elisha ben Abuyah), and Rabbi Akiva. Ben Azzai looked and died; Ben Zoma looked and went mad; Acher destroyed the plants; Akiva entered in peace and departed in peace. The pardes is an allegory to the realm of divinity. Accept for rabbi Akiva, all three men paid a high price for entering the pardes.  What did Elisha see in the world of divinity, that caused him to perform a religion checkout and exit? In Hagiga 15, it is written that he saw the archangel Metatron (Enoch) sitting on a throne. Elisha knew that up there, no one but the Lord is entitled to sit on a throne, therefore he concluded that there were two authorities rather than one, thus lost his faith.

In Elisha’s time, Gnostic religions came to power. The Gnostic theology is based on a division of the world into two kingdoms: good and evil. Not only in our world does this duality stand, but also in the upper worlds.

Nabi Shu'ayb’s grave, traditionally identified with the biblical Jethro, close to Kfar Zeitim, where according to tradition Elisha ben Abuya is buried. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher, Pikiwiki Israel

Nabi Shu’ayb’s grave, traditionally identified with the biblical Jethro, close to Kfar Hitin, where according to tradition Elisha ben Abuya is buried. Photo: Dr. Avishai Teicher, Pikiwiki Israel

All through the Talmud, the character of Elisha is deeply concerned with the issue of evil. If God is omnipotent and gracious, how come there is evil in the world? In one of the Jerusalem Talmud legends, one day Elisha saw a father ordering his child to climb up a tree to perform “Shiluach Haken” commandment (sending away the mother bird from the nest before taking her young). As the boy went down the tree, a snake bit him and he died. Ben Abuyah wondered: the boy filled two important commandments at the same time: “Shiluach Haken” and “Honor thy father”, both are told to prolong the believer’s life, so how come the boy died? And his conclusion was unambiguous: he chose to smash Jewish monotheism altogether.

Interestingly, the sages – Chazal – did not censor the stories about Ben Abuyah. On the contrary, they highly respected him, as the story about Rabbi Meir honoring him at the synagogue implies. That indicated extraordinary openness and acceptance. Even the name they gave him: the other – indicated that his heresy did not derive from personal convenience but rather from deep thinking, from a whole “other” logic and moral perception about the existence of an evil divine force.

“The Other” captured the imagination of Jews throughout the centuries. Among American Jews he even became a cultural icon, as indicated by the success of the novel by Milton Steinberg As a Driven Leaf (1939), which immediately became a must read in every Jewish school in America.

We can only assume why American Jews were so sympathetic with Elisha. Is it possible, that they felt for the “real Jews” who were living in the Land of Israel, they too were considered “other”?

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Who by Fire? The Story of “Unetanneh Tokef” https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/fire-story-unetanneh-tokef/ Mon, 17 Sep 2018 08:44:11 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36905 This coming Yom Kippur, just like every year, during the Musaf prayer, the famous piyyut “Unetanneh Tokef“ will be once again sung and touch all hearts in Ashkenazi synagogues and in part of the Sephardi and Yemenite ones as well. The piyyut opens with the words “Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, [...]

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This coming Yom Kippur, just like every year, during the Musaf prayer, the famous piyyut “Unetanneh Tokef“ will be once again sung and touch all hearts in Ashkenazi synagogues and in part of the Sephardi and Yemenite ones as well. The piyyut opens with the words “Let us now relate the power of this day’s holiness, for it is awesome and frightening. On it Your Kingship will be exalted; Your throne will be firmed with kindness and You will sit upon it in truth”. It has been one of the most renowned texts in Jewish liturgy for centuries, which received the highest honor of being read and sung on Yom Kippur. The text is a description of how all people shall be judged for good or bad, and includes depictions of the various death punishments, while praising God’s greatness. In addition to the reverence filled text, there is also a unique historical story behind the composition and its circumstances.

Yom Kippur for Jewish soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War, Outside Metz, France, 1870. Painting by Hermann Junker (1838-1899), Frankfurt A/M, Germany. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. Nahum Tim Gidal

Yom Kippur for Jewish soldiers during the Franco-Prussian War, Outside Metz, France, 1870. Painting by Hermann Junker (1838-1899), Frankfurt A/M, Germany. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. Nahum Tim Gidal

The exact origin of the piyyut is obscure. There are several assumptions as to the identity of the author and the precise period of publicity. Yet based on manuscripts, the piyyut’s poetic style, and the fact it was among the findings of the Cairo Genizah, it is widely agreed that it was composed in the Land of Israel in the early medieval period. Some researchers attribute the poem to an Israeli poet called Yannai, however others disagree. Since the middle ages various psuedepigraphic were spread among Ashkenazi and Italian Jewry regarding the piyyut. These traditions were eventually fixed in the 13th century in the essay “Or Zarua” by rabbi Isaac ben Yehoshua. Rabbi Isaac attributed the piyyut to different time, place and author altogether. Usually, in order to create authenticity for a work, it is transferred to an earlier time, so as to give it the prestige of an ancient respected source. But the case of “Unetanneh Tokef” was quite reversed. It was attributed by rabbi Isaac to a later period than the actual composing time.

In his essay, rabbi Isaac unfolded a story delivered by rabbi Ephraim of Bonn in the 11th century, about rabbi Amnon of Mainz who was a friend of the local Christian ruler, who urged him again and again to convert to Christianity. Whether out of fear, courtesy, or sincere intentions, rabbi Amnon promised his friend he will consider it for three days. Then he felt deep remorse and suffered a lot. When the time came, he tried to avoid the bishop, who was surprised at his friend’s behavior, and soon sent people to force him in. Rabbi Amnon then begged his friend to cut off his tongue that made him utter the words he regretted so much. The furious bishop told him he would not cut his tongue, but rather his legs and arms. A horrible torture then begun, where Amnon’s limbs were amputated one by one, yet he refused to convert. Tortured and mutilated the miserable rabbi Amnon was taken to the synagogue, and just before breathing his last breath – he recited the entire piyyut “Unetanneh Tokef”. After his death, the martyr Amnon came to rabbi Kalonymus in his dream and taught him the piyyut test, ordering him to spread it among the Jews in his memory.

Various studies have shown that the basic story that appears in “Or Zarua”, about rabbi Amnon from Mainz, did appear in earlier manuscripts, and though had many adaptations and was added the elements of the Christian tortures, was indeed attributed to the 11th century rabbi. Historian Avraham Frenkel managed to draw the paths in which the piyyut arrived from the Land of Israel to Italy at an early stage, as the two communities had close ties. From Italy the text traveled north, to Ashkenaz (Germany), and various interpretations were added on top of it. At an early stage the piyyut was attributed to rabbi Amnon of Mainz, therefor it is possible that although living in Germany, he had Italian origins.

 Yom Kippur at the Dohanyi synagogue, Budapest, Hungary, 1979. Photo: Nathan Benn, Washington D.C. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Nathan Benn

Yom Kippur at the Dohanyi synagogue, Budapest, Hungary, 1979. Photo: Nathan Benn, Washington D.C. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Nathan Benn

The variety of stories about the piyyut teaches us a lot about the period in which it became popular. Written as a general text about the fate of man, it became identified with the harsh fate of Ashkenazi Jews in the middle ages. The story of rabbi Amnon resembles martyrs story, both Christian and Jewish that were very common since the 12th century, for example on how Jews during the first crusade would rather take their own lives and even to kill their children and not be converted by the Christian rioters. Some researchers claimed that rabbi Amnon was not a real man but a symbolic story about the hardships of the Jews. However, it is also possible that he was a real person, who once the piyyut arrived at Italy started to take credit for it.

The story of “Unetanneh Tokef” certainly did not come to an end in the middle ages. It became highly popular in central and eastern Europe, first read on the second day of Rosh HaShana, then on Yom Kippur – mainly among Ashkenazi Jews. Centuries later, in the state of Israel, the 1973 Yom Kippur war deeply affected Leonard Cohen, who came to sing to soldiers in the Sinai desert. Upon returning, still shook up by the harsh sights of the war, he wrote one of his most famous songs, “Who by Fire” based on “Unetanneh Tokef”. Cohen sang his version of the list of death forms. Unlike the original religious piyyut, in Cohen’s song, each verse ends with the words “and who shall I say is calling?”, wondering who is the entity calling – is it God? Does God exist? Following the Jewish tradition about “Unetanneh Tokef”, and the horrors of the Yom Kippur war – Cohen did not feel insignificant in front of God, but rather experienced feelings of anger and doubt.

Other posts: 

I’m Reade My Lord – A display in Memory of Leonard Cohen

Rosh Hashanah: The Politics and Theology Behind Jewish Time

 

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Yom Run: Baseballs’ immortal keepers of the Jewish high holiday https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/yom-run-baseballs-immortal-keepers-of-the-jewish-high-holiday/ Thu, 13 Sep 2018 13:21:58 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36825 More than half a century later, Sandy Koufax’s decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series between his Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins, still reverberate loudly and clearly among American Jews. The greatest pitcher of his day, enjoying a five-year dominant span unparalleled in Baseball history, decided to respect Yom [...]

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More than half a century later, Sandy Koufax’s decision not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series between his Los Angeles Dodgers and the Minnesota Twins, still reverberate loudly and clearly among American Jews. The greatest pitcher of his day, enjoying a five-year dominant span unparalleled in Baseball history, decided to respect Yom Kippur rather than play in the number one showpiece of American sports.

What amplified Koufax’s decision was that it was coupled by sporting greatness. He would in fact start Game 2 and lose, but then pitched a four-hit complete game shutout victory in Game 5, and set up a dramatic ending to this tale of sports and faith. On only two days rest he won Game 7 with another complete game shutout in Minneapolis and lead the Dodgers to a dramatic championship.

sandy koufax in action. There wasn’t a Jewish kid that didn’t get lift out of what he represented

Sandy Koufax in action. There wasn’t a Jewish kid that didn’t get lift out of what he represented

Bob Costas, legendary Sports broadcaster, recalled years later: “Every single Jewish kid I grew up with in New York revered Sandy Koufax, and thought that it was something very important, very significant, that he didn’t pitch on a high holiday… but then when he came back on two days rest to pitch (and win) Game 7… there wasn’t a Jewish kid that I knew that didn’t get lift out of what that represented.”

But what did it represent?

Koufax was not a religious man. He did not articulate his decision with high words of faith over sport but simply stated in a matter-of-factly way: “The club knows that I don’t work on that day”. These simple words spoke volumes to a generation of Jews often not afforded leave on their religious festivals from at best ignorant and often intolerant employers. Now America saw the famous Dodgers granting their most important employee his religious rights on a critical day. For Jews it represented confidence within American life. For non-Jews a sign of respect.

A year later Koufax would retire young, at age 31, and was the youngest player ever to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In her biography of Koufax “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy” author Jane Leavy writes: “By refusing to pitch that day, Koufax became inextricably linked with the American Jewish experience. He was the New Patriarch: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Sandy. A moral exemplar, and single too!”

Koufax was not the first Baseball superstar not to play a critical game on Yom Kippur. 31 years earlier, in 1934, Hank Greenberg, the great slugger of the Detroit Tigers, sat out a Yom Kippur game whilst his team engaged in a tight pennant race. These were much more difficult times for American Jews. Fueled by Henry Ford, Anti-Semitism was rampant in Michigan.

But Greenberg’s loyalty to his religion impressed many. Including Detroit’s popular and inspirational poet Edgar A. Guest, who devoted a poem to Greenberg that was printed on the front page of the Detroit Free Press.

The poem ends: 

Came Yom Kippur—holy feast day worldwide over to the Jew—

And Hank Greenberg to his teaching and the old tradition true

Spent the day among his people and he didn’t come to play.

Said Murphy to Mulrooney, “We shall lose the game today!

We shall miss him on the infield and shall miss him at the bat,

But he’s true to his religion—and I honor him for that!”

Hank Greenberg. As the first true Jewish American sporting icon, Greenberg understood his position as a symbol

Hank Greenberg. As the first true Jewish American sporting icon, Greenberg understood his position as a symbol

Greenberg encountered anti-Semitism at levels Koufax would never face. 1934 was his breakout season with 26 home runs and by 1938 he was threatening Babe Ruth’s legendary record of 60 home runs in a season. But he was halted on 58 and it was speculated that the American League had told pitchers to walk Greenberg (thus not affording him the opportunity to hit a home run) in order to prevent the record falling into the hands of Jew. Greenberg dismissed these theories as “Crazy”.

As the first true Jewish American sporting icon, Greenberg understood his position as a symbol to the general society. In 1941 he was rejected by the military for health reasons but asked for a re-examination in order to serve in WWII. He was the first Major League player to volunteer to the Army Air Force. He served 47 months – more than any other Baseball player in WWII and saw action in the Pacific Arena as a special service officer.

In 1945 he returned to Baseball and was still able to lead the American League in Home Runs in 1946. A year later he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. One of the club owners was music legend Bing Crosby. He recorded a song “Goodbye, Mr. Ball, Goodbye” with Greenberg and Groucho Marx to celebrate his arrival – and help pay his salary.

This was his final season and he would still make one last social stand. As a Jew he was one of the few players to openly welcome Jackie Robinson into the League as the first African-American player in the 20th century.

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Rosh Hashanah: The Politics and Theology Behind Jewish Time https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/rosh-hashanah-the-politics-and-theology-behind-jewish-time/ Thu, 06 Sep 2018 10:28:19 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36744 He who has control over time, has control over agendas. Therefore, it is not surprising that the greatest revolutions in history always sought an opportunity to change or replace the calendar in use: the leaders of the French revolution replaced the Gregorian calendar with a new one, in which each month had three weeks, ten [...]

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He who has control over time, has control over agendas. Therefore, it is not surprising that the greatest revolutions in history always sought an opportunity to change or replace the calendar in use: the leaders of the French revolution replaced the Gregorian calendar with a new one, in which each month had three weeks, ten days each. The Bolsheviks in the Russian revolutions made a similar attempt and formed a special calendar for workers, which had five days, each called after a color: yellow, pink, red, purple and green.

Well, that didn’t help them much. In 1806 Napoleon canceled the revolutionary calendar, which wasn’t in use anyway, while the leaders of the Soviet regime only needed one year to realize the workers’ calendar was not working for no one, and went back to use the traditional Gregorian system. The reason they failed, was that replacing the calendar was not based on solid cultural foundations, but rather an aggressive act of change for the cause of change itself.

Rosh Hashanah service in the synagogue in Shiraz, Iran 1973. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Rosh Hashanah service in the synagogue in Shiraz, Iran 1973. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

However, one case of calendar transition, based on a profound conflict over the meaning of time and its relation to man, was very successful. This is the story of the dramatic passionate conflict between the Sadducees and the Pharisees, the two central Jewish sections in the second temple period. They had differences of opinions as to “who controls time? Man or God?”

The detailed affair is presented by Rache Elior in her fascinating book “Memory and Oblivion: The Mystery of the Dead Sea Scrolls”.

Around 187 b.c., Antiochus IV became king of the Seleucid empire, that ruled over the Land of Israel. We all remember him as the villain in the story of Hanukkah – a persecutor who tried to force the Jews to convert to Hellenism, until the Maccabean Revolt. But what is less known is that within his efforts to re-educate the Jews, Antiochus demanded that the great priest, Onias III, replaced the Hebrew solar calendar and use the Babylonian lunar calendar, instead.

Rosh Hashana service at the Dohany street Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary, 1982 Photo: Gabor Hegyi. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Gabor Hegyi

Rosh Hashana service at the Dohany street Synagogue, Budapest, Hungary, 1982 Photo: Gabor Hegyi. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Gabor Hegyi

Onias, who was descendant of the Sadducee priestly dynasty, successors of the house of King David, and great priests for 9 centuries – firmly refused. The Sadducee calendar was derived from the biblical one, the solar calendar according to which the first month of the year was Nisan: “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year” (Exodus 12:2).

According to the Sadducee faith, as written in the book of Enoch, Enoch son of Jered, seventh generation from Adam, brought down from heaven the solar holy calendar given to him from the mouth of the angels. That calendar consisted of 364 days, in 4 quarters, each 91 days and 13 weeks long, a total of 52 weeks per year. The unit “week”, is an original Jewish concept. In the Sadducee calendar the dates of the Jewish holidays never changed. Sacred days, pilgrimage festivals, Shmita dates, tax collecting times, and fiftieth year jubilee – were all marked regularly and accurately. In order to preserve these times there were 24 hours’ priests shifts in the temple, of 24 senior priestly families that changed weekly. Each family served for two weeks in the temple, which added up to 48 weeks, and fours families served for another week.

Jewish soldiers at Rosh-Hashana prayer, Rangoon, Burma 1944. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Rabbi Moses Joffe, Israel

Jewish soldiers at Rosh-Hashana prayer, Rangoon, Burma 1944. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Rabbi Moses Joffe, Israel

The reason the Saducee priests hanged on to the regular solar system did not derive from punctuality or a mere dislike of changes. It was a deep belief that time does not belong to man. The origin of the word temple is from the Latin word “temp”, which means time. The temple was the house of God as well as the dwelling of time – the Greenwich of ancient times. This reflects a deterministic world view, according to which man does not control time, and man interfering in determining and regulating time – defies the sovereignty of God.

And yet at some point the Jews abandoned the solar calendar and adopted the lunar one. And also implied a dramatic change in the biblical order of the months, making Nisan the seventh month, and Tishrei – the first. The Mishna sages, the Pharisees, who after the destruction of the second temple became the religious authority in the Land of Israel, were responsible for this shift, after the tragic destruction and exile. The priests lost their power, no longer did they mediate between God and the people, and the new elite were the sages of the Mishna – Chazal.

Rosh Ha-Shanah in the synagogue in Veresvary street, in the old Jewish Quarter, Budapest, Hungary, 1981 Photo: Tamas Fener, Hungary. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Tamas Fener

Rosh Ha-Shanah in the synagogue in Veresvary street, in the old Jewish Quarter, Budapest, Hungary, 1981 Photo: Tamas Fener, Hungary. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Tamas Fener

The sages established a new religious alternative center in Yavne. They realized that in order to preserve the Jewish treasures that had to perform a radical spiritual and conceptual revolution – from the temple to the Beth Midrash. That also included invading into the divine territory of time. In order to strengthen their Halachic authority – unlike the priests – they adopted the lunar Babylonian calendar, according to which the new year starts with the month of Tishrei, which means “beginning” in Babylonian. This change was not only a demonstration of authority, but also reflected a subversive humanistic agenda. After the destruction, conceived as a divine back turning, the sages announced that the religious authority was handed from God to man. Each month, envoys were sent to watch the new moon and to determine the beginning of the month. Thus, the ownership on time was expropriated from God and delivered to man – and that is why the Hebrew calendar has survived for so many centuries.

Jewish women praying in the courtyard of the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Shiraz, Iran, 1973. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Jewish women praying in the courtyard of the synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, Shiraz, Iran, 1973. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Ironically, in the secular independent State of Israel, we celebrate the holy days according to the Hebrew, lunar calendar, representing Man’s control over time, while we mark the secular time using the solar, Gregorian calendar, representing Godly time.

SHANA TOVA!

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Send A Shana Tova Card to your Loved Ones! https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/send-shana-tova-card/ Thu, 30 Aug 2018 07:24:37 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=23130/ Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner and it’s time to send some virtual Shana Tova cards, the Jewish New Year greetings, to your loved ones, friends and family members, as it been done throughout history. We at Beit Hatfutsot have accumulated A dozen of historical greeting cards from different historical periods and all corners [...]

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Rosh Hashanah is just around the corner and it’s time to send some virtual Shana Tova cards, the Jewish New Year greetings, to your loved ones, friends and family members, as it been done throughout history.

We at Beit Hatfutsot have accumulated A dozen of historical greeting cards from different historical periods and all corners of the world for you to choose from.

Please note: Sharing your chosen card is possible only from desktop computers and not mobile devices!

  • There is A SHARE button on each Shana Tova.
  • Select the one you relate to the most and SHARE it with whoever you choose on social media.
  • Click the one you choose.
  • Choose “share on a friend’s timeline”.
  • Write the friend’s name and select the one you want from the list.
  • Write your greetings and wishes in “say something about this” space.
  • Click “post to Facebook” when you are done.
  • You can “send” as many cards as you like to as many friends and family members as you like.

All set! Have A Chag Sameach and happy new year!

1. USA

Mother and children New Year card Printed for Williamsburg Art Co., New York, USA, 1920s

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

2. Israel

New Year Greeting Card – Bicycle loaded with flowers. Postcard printed in Israel

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Zippi Harel, Israel

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Zippi Harel, Israel

3. Israel

New Year Card – Jerusalem, Eretz Israel, 1918

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, photo: J. Bendow, Jerusalem.

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, photo: J. Bendow, Jerusalem.

4. Libya 

‘Shana Tova’ – New Year Card, Tripoli, Libya, 1908  

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Tel-Aviv, I. Einhorn collection

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Tel-Aviv, I. Einhorn collection

5. Georgia (USSR)

The card was used as invitation to the housewarming of the Synagogue, Kulashi, Georgia (USSR), 1955

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shimon Hahiashvili, Israel

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Shimon Hahiashvili, Israel

6. USA

Man with the Zionist Flag, Scrap pictures for New Year, New York, USA 1906

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

7. Canada

Boy and girl with the Zionist flag, New Year greeting card sent to Glasgow, Scotland from Montreal, Canada, 1910

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

8. France

New Year Greeting Card, Paris, France, 1920’s. Published by Leon Speiser, Paris

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Tamara Avneri, Geneva

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Tamara Avneri, Geneva

9. Switzerland

New Year Greeting Card for the Jewish year 5689,  Switzerland, 1929

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Tamara Avneri, Geneva

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Tamara Avneri, Geneva

10. Poland

‘Shana Tova’ – Postcard, Poland 1920s

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Louis and Shoshana Shtraus, Israel

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Louis and Shoshana Shtraus, Israel

11. Poland

New Year card Printed in Germany for “Central” publishing house, Warsaw, Poland, c1920

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Hayim Shtayer, Haifa

12. Israel

Holocaust survivors (wearing prisoners uniform), on board the ship “Metrua”, hoisting the national flag as they arrive to Haifa Port, Eretz Israel, 1945

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Tel-Aviv, I. Einhorn collection

Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Tel-Aviv, I. Einhorn collection

 

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The Lynching of Leo Frank https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/lynching-leo-frank/ Wed, 29 Aug 2018 08:22:44 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36318 This week marks the 103rd anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish industrialist who was falsely accused of a terrible crime and whose violent murder shook American Jews’ sense of security in their new home. Frank was born in Paris, Texas but his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up. [...]

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This week marks the 103rd anniversary of the lynching of Leo Frank, a Jewish industrialist who was falsely accused of a terrible crime and whose violent murder shook American Jews’ sense of security in their new home.

Frank was born in Paris, Texas but his family moved to Brooklyn, New York, where he grew up. He eventually joined the family business working for the National Pencil Company. In 1907 Frank moved from New York to Georgia after he was promoted to co-owner and superintendent of the company’s factory in Atlanta.

Photo of the trial of Leo Frank, shot on July 28, 1913. Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, standing at left, is examining witness Newt Lee, at right. Leo Frank who is seated in the centre (Page 3 of Atlanta Journal July 29, 1913)

Photo of the trial of Leo Frank, shot on July 28, 1913. Prosecutor Hugh Dorsey, standing at left, is examining witness Newt Lee, at right. Leo Frank who is seated in the centre (Page 3 of Atlanta Journal July 29, 1913)

At the turn of the 20th century Atlanta was home to the largest Jewish community in the southern United States. Atlanta’s Jews were eager to integrate into the economic, social, and political life of the city, but also established a number of Jewish institutions. Although antisemitism was not a major issue, there was an awareness that they were somewhat separate from mainstream Atlanta society. Nonetheless, generally speaking the Jews of Atlanta felt secure in the city, and a sense of confidence about their place in society.

Frank became active in Atlanta’s Jewish community shortly after his arrival. In 1910 he married Lucille Selig, the daughter of wealthy Jewish industrialists. He also joined The Temple, the oldest Jewish institution in Atlanta, and was elected president of the Atlanta chapter of B’nai B’rith in 1912.

Leo Max Frank 1884–1915 (the George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress)

Leo Max Frank 1884–1915 (the George Grantham Bain collection at the Library of Congress)

For Frank, this was a time of promise. But for many in Atlanta, this period was one filled with economic uncertainty and social insecurity. For Atlanta, this was a time of transition, when the economy was in the process of shifting from one based on agriculture to industry. Because of this change, many people abandoned their traditional work as farmers and began arriving in Atlanta, often working long hours in factories for little pay. The new economic reality also caused a social shift; men were no longer able to be the sole providers for their families, and women and children were increasingly entering the workforce. This new situation left men feeling emasculated, and worried about the moral corruption that might take place in factories with men and women working together.

The social, economic, and religious tensions that had existed under the surface would explode after April 26, 1913. That day, thirteen-year old Mary Phagan, the daughter of tenant farmers who moved to Atlanta in order to take advantage of the city’s economic opportunities, stopped by the factory in order to pick up a check for the work she had done that week. According to Frank, he paid Phagan and she left. Then, in the middle of the night, Phagan’s body was found by the night watchman in the factory basement.

Though the night watchman initially fell under suspicion, Frank quickly became a person of interest in the case. The police noted that he seemed nervous when they took him to the factory to see the body. Frank had also called the night watchman at least once on the night of the murder, something he had never done before. Additionally, several of the factory’s employees began telling investigators that Frank “indulged in familiarities with the women in his employ.”

Mary Phagan as depicted in the Atlanta Journal. 28 April 1913 (Crop from copy Of Atlanta Journal)

Mary Phagan as depicted in the Atlanta Journal. 28 April 1913 (Crop from copy Of Atlanta Journal)

The police were also under quite a bit of pressure to find and convict the killer quickly. A number of murders had taken place in Atlanta during the previous months. The city was on edge and frustrated with the police force, which seemed unable to catch the killer. As a result, the police had a vested interest in moving quickly to put together whatever clues they could in order to prove that Frank was the killer. The prosecutor in the case, Hugh Dorsey, was also convinced of Frank’s guilt—and had higher political aspirations that motivated him to aggressively push for a conviction (in 1916 he would be elected governor of Georgia). Dorsey’s case revolved around the testimony of the factory’s janitor, Jim Conley. Conley had signed four different affidavits, each of which told a different story regarding what happened the day of the murder. Conley was extensively coached by Dorsey so that he would stick to one story, and so that his testimony would be seen as reliable, and testified that Frank called him to his office, confessed to the murder, paid him to dispose of the body, and dictated a murder note.

The trial began on July 28, 1913. Emotions ran high, and the atmosphere was one of anger and intimidation. Large and angry mobs inside the courtroom and standing outside chanted “Hang the Jew!” To many, Frank represented a way of fighting back against the changes taking place in Atlanta. In their eyes, Frank was a northerner, an industrialist, and a Jew who was imposing a new way of life on the south and preying on good southern Gentile girls. As one editorial put it: “When are the Northern Jews going to Let Up on Their Insane Attempt to Bulldoze the State of Georgia? WOMANHOOD MUST BE, AND SHALL BE PROTECTED; and we mean to have that understood by lascivious young Jews.” After less than four hours of debate, the jury found Frank guilty, and he was sentenced to death.

Ex-Gov. John Slaton and wife. 1915 June 30 (The Library of Congress @ Flickr Commons)

Ex-Gov. John Slaton and wife. 1915 June 30 (The Library of Congress @ Flickr Commons)

Frank’s execution was postponed as Frank and his lawyers worked on appealing his conviction. During this time, many of the witnesses who claimed that Frank had acted inappropriately with the factory’s women recanted their testimony. Evidence increasingly began pointing to Conley as the killer, and during the appeals process Conley’s lawyer told the trial judge that Conley had even confessed to the murder. Frank’s final appeal was to Governor John Slaton, who for nearly two weeks painstakingly went over all of the evidence. Eventually, on June 21, 1915 Slaton commuted Frank’s sentence to life imprisonment, stating “had I done otherwise, I would have felt like an assassin. As it was, I went six nights without sleep, but I would rather lose a few nights’ sleep than go forty years—if I live that long—with the blood of that man on my hands.”

This proved to be a deeply unpopular decision. Riots broke out and mobs vandalized Jewish homes and stores. Slaton received death threats; his term ended shortly thereafter, and he and his wife left the state for ten years. An inmate in the prison where Frank was being held slit Frank’s throat.

Lynching of Leo Frank, Cobb County, Georgia, on the morning of August 17, 1915. The man on the far right in the straw hat is Newton A. Morris (taken from the Kenneth G. Rogers Collection, Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, Georgia)

Lynching of Leo Frank, Cobb County, Georgia, on the morning of August 17, 1915 (taken from the Kenneth G. Rogers Collection, Atlanta History Center, Atlanta, Georgia)

On the night of August 16, 1915 a group of 25 men drove to the prison where Frank was recovering from the attack. They overpowered the guards, cut the phone lines, drained the gas from the police cars, and abducted Frank from the prison. Throughout the ride to Marietta Georgia, Phagan’s hometown, the men attempted to get Frank to confess. Instead, he simply requested that his wedding ring be sent back to his wife. At dawn the vigilantes hanged Frank, pointing him towards Phagan’s house. Although the locals knew who had carried out the lynching, none of those who were responsible were ever prosecuted. They began referring to themselves as the “Knights of Mary Phagan,” and a month after the lynching they gathered on Stone Mountain and revived the Ku Klux Klan.

The lynching of Leo Frank deeply shook the Jews of Atlanta, and American Jews as a whole. Southern Jews began retreating from public life. The sense of security that Jewish Americans felt, that they were no longer in the old country where they had to worry about pogroms, was shattered. Frank’s murder was the catalyst for the establishment of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), an organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism and other forms of hate.

"In Georgia" Antisemitic caricature, Published: Masses, Robert Minor August 6, 1915 (From the John and Selma Appel Collection, Michigan State University Museum)

“In Georgia” caricature, Published: Masses, Robert Minor August 6, 1915 (From the John and Selma Appel Collection, Michigan State University Museum)

Most historians agree that Frank was innocent. In 1982, eighty-three-year-old Alonzo Mann testified that as a boy, when he was working in Frank’s factory, he witnessed Jim Conley carrying Mary Phagan’s body to the factory’s basement, but he did not say anything at the time because Conley threatened to kill him if he told anyone what he saw. In 1986 the Georgia State Board of Pardons and Paroles issued Frank a pardon. It was not an exoneration, but it did acknowledge the state’s failure to protect Frank, thereby denying him the possibility of continuing to appeal his conviction, and it conceded the state’s failure to bring Frank’s killers to justice.

On August 23, 2018 a ceremony was held to rededicate the Georgia Historical Society marker that commemorates Leo Frank’s hanging. Justice may not have been served, but Leo Frank, and what his trial and murder meant to American Jewry, has not been forgotten among those who continue to fight against antisemitism, racism, and hatred.

 

Rachel Druck is the editor of the Communities Database at Beit Hatfutsot-The Museum of the Jewish People. Do you know of any Jewish historical figures who should be highlighted? Contact her at racheld@bh.org.il.

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Sacred Orgies: the Extremist Sabbatean Sect of Jacob Frank https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/sacred-orgies-extremist-sabbatean-sect-jacob-frank/ Thu, 23 Aug 2018 07:23:16 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36315 Surely, some concepts delivered by Judaism hit Jews back like a boomerang: God; the atom bomb; summer vacation, to name just a few, and also, the sociological concept of the excommunication. Such sanctions weren’t invented by the BDS movement, who simply adopted an old Jewish concept and used it against the Jews. The origin of the [...]

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Surely, some concepts delivered by Judaism hit Jews back like a boomerang: God; the atom bomb; summer vacation, to name just a few, and also, the sociological concept of the excommunication. Such sanctions weren’t invented by the BDS movement, who simply adopted an old Jewish concept and used it against the Jews.

The origin of the excommunication practice dates back to the middle ages, even to biblical times. It was mostly in use during the bitter war between the Hasidim and its opposers since the 18th century until the 19th century. That period saw a cruel conflict that’s been splitting the Jewish society for a whole century. Bans were published on renting houses, hiring or even talking to someone who was suspected to support Hasidim. The Gaon of Vilna, one of the greatest Jewish spiritual leaders ever, did not hesitate to incite against Hasidim, and to encourage violent acts against them such as burning their books.

Jacob Frank in Offenbach, 18th century. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Jacob Frank in Offenbach, 18th century. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Reading through the works of Prof. Gershom Scholem, the famous expert of Jewish Mysticism, we learn that the Hasidim did not just appear, but rather had a spiritual background of a former important large movement called the Sabbateans. Here is the story of a special ban called “double edge sword”. The ban was declared against 2,000 Jews in the city of Lvov in 1759, who were accused of belonging to the Frankist cult, an extreme sect of the Sabbateans.

The main concept in Sabbatean theology was relying on the concept that after Shabtai Zvi entered the Jewish arena, the messianic era has started. In this new world, everything was turned upside down: the old law was cancelled, all the “do not” laws became “do” laws, even strong prohibitions such as Incest. The Sabbatean used to bless each other with this (twisted) verse: “Blessed art thou, Lord, who cancels and allows the prohibitions.”

The story of the Frankist sect started with the founder and leader, Jacob Frank. Born in Podolia in 1726 to a wealthy family from the inner circle of the Sabbatean, when he was 12 years old he joined his father on a business journey to Thessaloniki. It is assumed that he was introduced to Sabbatean circles in Thessaloniki and was deeply affected by this encounter. Upon his return to Poland in 1755 he started to develop a severe megalomania, deeply convinced that he was the true successor of Shabtai Zvi.

Jacob Frank. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Jacob Frank. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Back in Poland he gathered a sect of believers, who were drawn by his charismatic personality, and announced him the heir of Shabtai Zvi. But he would not settle for that, and wished to form a new, improved, high intensity Sabbatean theology, based mainly on a gallery of mystical radical symbols that were about nothing but destruction and nihilism.

Frank addressed his followers: “I came not to elevate your spirits, but to humiliate you to the bottom of the abyss, where you can get no lower, and where no man can rise from by his own forces, but only God can pull him with his mighty hand from the depth.” By “abyss” he meant particularly sexual rituals that included sacred orgies with just a touch of incest. The sexual adventures reached the ears of the senior rabbis of Poland, after the Frankists held a rough sexual ceremony described by David Kahana in his “Book of Darkness”: on the 26th day of the month of Shvat in 1756, on a market day in the town of Lanzkron, Podolia, the people of the Frank sect gathered in the morning in an inn of one of their own, closed all the windows in secrecy, and took the rabbi’s wife, a beautiful and promiscuous woman, sat her down naked in a palanquin, placed a Torah crown upon her head and danced around her, playing instruments, falling on her and kissing her, while calling her “mezuzah”.

During the 18th century, other small Sabbatean groups were founded by the dozens and hundreds, and some entire communities turned Sabbatean. In order to defeat this threat, the rabbinical authorities declared a war against the Sabbateans, using whatever they could, including their strongest weapon – excommunication.

The death of Jacob Frank in 1790, Illustration from Wikipedia

The death of Jacob Frank in 1790, Illustration from Wikipedia

The main character behind the great excommunication in Lvov was rabbi Jacob Emden (Ya’avetz) who condemned and hated the Sabbateans and the likes – the most. Ya’avetz , whose three daughters were married to important rabbis who served in the Council of Four Lands (the highest leadership of the Jewry of Poland), convinced his sons in law to excommunicate a large group of 2,000 Jews whom he claimed were Frankists, though he did not know them, never met with them and could not even be certain that they were indeed members of the sect.

The ban declared that “we shall not rent a house to or from them; we shall not buy from them or sell to them; we shall not teach their children, nor bury them nor circumcise them”. In those days, excommunicated Jews were like fish outside the water: doomed to a slow agonizing death. Fearing starvation and freezing, the 2,000 Jews turned to the church seeking for help. The church agreed to give them a warm welcome, if they declare that the Talmud is full of lies and nonsense, and that the blood libels were true, and finally, that they convert to Christianity.

Eva Frank, Jacob Frank's daughter and successor, died in 1816. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Eva Frank, Jacob Frank’s daughter and successor, died in 1816. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Thus, 2,000 Jews forcibly converted and had to declare that their fellow Jews indeed used the blood of Christian children in order to make Matzot. One of the heads of the Frankists, rabbi Elisha Schor, of the famous Schors of Rohatin, bitterly said to rabbi Chaim Rapoport of the Lvov rabbinate: “Chaim, this is blood for blood. You allowed them to shed our blood, and we accuse you of using their blood”. Even the Baal Shem Tov sided with the Frankists and accused the rabbis for fabricating lies and legends.

Jacob Frank himself converted to Christianity in a festive ceremony in Warsaw, at the presence of the King of Poland. He then lived gloriously in his mansion until his death in 1790, succeeded by his daughter, Eva. Just like the excommunication practice, that still stands today, his ideology survived and went through a metamorphosis, then introduced again with the Sabbatean sect of the Donme, which is still active today in Turkey – the same place where the original Sabbatean movement was formed.

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Remember That We Suffered: “Crazy Ex” and Jewish Consciousness https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/remember-that-we-suffered-crazy-ex-and-jewish-consciousness/ Thu, 02 Aug 2018 10:22:00 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=36040 “Crazy Ex Girlfriend” is a series created by Rachel Bloom, a Jewish-American comedian and producer, famous for her clips on feminine sexuality, Judaism, women geeks, among other topics. The song Chanukah Honey is a nice example to start with. Bloom uses a Christmas carol and converts it hilariously (warning: the clip contains sexual references as well [...]

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“Crazy Ex Girlfriend” is a series created by Rachel Bloom, a Jewish-American comedian and producer, famous for her clips on feminine sexuality, Judaism, women geeks, among other topics. The song Chanukah Honey is a nice example to start with. Bloom uses a Christmas carol and converts it hilariously (warning: the clip contains sexual references as well as comparison between ritual articles and some private organs, so if that offends you, skip it):

The t.v. show first aired three years ago, and last week it was announced that shootings of the fourth and last season begun, and it’s going on air in October. In the show, Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, who’s a little bit like herself: a Jewish neurotic east coast Woody-Allen like 30 years old single woman, who has an excellent job in the best law firm and yet is so unhappy. In the beginning of the series she meets her teenage sweetheart, Josh Chan, an American of Philippine origin. She decides to quit her job and move to West Covina, California, a small suburb in the far periphery of Los Angeles – the ultimate opposite of New York. Along the series Rebecca has to deal with various difficulties, and it also includes great songs, which are the show’s main uniqueness and strength.

So what’s Jewish about “Crazy ex”? Well, what isn’t? Rebecca’s character, much like Bloom herself, is a Jewish girl, a fact that’s being stressed in every episode, especially the ones dealing with her family relationships. In the series, Rebecca is only Jewish on her mother’s side, whereas her father, who left when she was little, is a Catholic Irish. Since it is both comic and dramatic at the same time, the Jewish topics in the series are handled with Jewish humor as well, for example common stereotypes among Jews. And yet the show manages to form a meaningful insight about Jewish millennial identity. However, this is not a series about Jews, or at least – not only about Jews. First and foremost, it is a comic-dramatic show about womanhood, relationships, self-fulfillment, friendship, the absence of a father figure, and mother and daughter relationships, to name just a few.

Now let’s talk about the song Where’s the Bathroom, performed by Tovah Feldshuh, who plays Rebecca’s mother. In this episode Rebecca tries hard to please her mother, who is never satisfied, and to conceal from her that she gave up a good job and moved to a far up town just to be close to her teenage crush. The song compiles all the familiar stereotypes of the Jewish mother – babbling, taking over the conversation, never stops complaining, nagging, goes on and on about antisemitism, prays for a Jewish son in law, and grandchildren – all this 3 punch filled minutes of a delightful song.

At the end of this episode, after her mom drives her mad, Rebecca snaps at her and says she hates her because she’s half catholic. Mom says she loves her because she’s her daughter, and that she cares about her, and when Rebecca will have children she’ll understand. Rebecca replies she only wishes her children to be happy, and mom says “Happy? What’s happy? That’s a term for stupid people. I want you to survive! Our people are not about happy, we’re about survival. And that is why I am glad that you stood up to me because that means that when the Cossacks come, you can fight back.” This does not mean mother is senile or something, but rather reflects a significant state of mind. Though Rebecca’s mother represents the older generation, of Jews who carry the collective trauma of the Holocaust, for Naomi this is a real inner truth of the collective Jewish conscious. Indeed, we all know that Cossacks have nothing to do with West Covina, California, nor with the search of a lost love – this is absurdity at its best, but also an expression of the most profound collective Jewish anxiety.

Later on the show, Rebecca and her law firm decide to sue a large water corporation. Much to her surprise, the corporation is represented by her old firm in New York. To her greater surprise, the head of the opponent team turns out to be Rebecca’s Nemesis from childhood, Audra Levine, herself a Jewish-American with similar characteristics as Rebecca. The song JAP Battle describes the conflict between the two and includes numerous wits regarding the world of liberal Jewish Americans, for example puns like Sheket Bevaka-Shut the F**k Up, as well as lines implying a more complex situation, for example:

“We’re both cool with black people
‘Cause we’re liberals
Duh, progressive as hell
Though, of course, I support Israel”

These rhymed lines reflect some of the inner conflicts of American Jewry today: the affiliation to Israel, who is not considered the peak of liberalism, and the belonging of most Jews, especially New Yorkers such as Rebecca and Audra, to the liberal left in America.

The most direct and bald situation that Bloom created is found in the second season, in the episode when Rebecca and Josh go together to a Bar Mitzva of her relative from the east coast. Rebecca is moody about having to meet the family and the woman-rabbi of the synagogue, whereas Josh, who is Philippine-Catholic, is having a great time. She tries her best to prove to him how awful the whole situation is: “They made a 13-year-old boy say the Kaddish. That’s a prayer for the dead.”

The viewers realize that Rebecca has some unfinished business with her family, and she doesn’t even make an effort to reconcile with them. Then comes the perfect song Remember That We Suffered, in the Jewish Hora style. In the song, Naomi and the she-rabbi both remind Rebecca that we can celebrate – but should not forget that we suffered. Though Hitler and the holocaust are repeatedly mentioned – it is beyond funny. Think about it – Jews indeed mention their sufferings in every happy personal event, such as the Bar Mitzvah, the wedding, where they remember the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and it seems that every single moment of Jewish joy is mixed with a sad – sometime horrific – collective memory. This mixture actually constructs Jewish identity.

There’s plenty to go wild about, naturally. But Rachel Bloom, through Rebecca Bunch, gives us another alternative to cope with Jewish catastrophic day to day. There’s plenty to go wild about. There’s plenty to cry about. But there’s plenty to laugh about, too. To laugh with awareness, with an understanding that the future is not bright.

 

The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot presents: “Let There Be Laughter – Jewish Humor Around the World” – a first comprehensive exhibition, funny and interactive. CLICK HERE

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