Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il Museum of the Jewish People Thu, 17 Sep 2020 10:12:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.2.2 https://www.bh.org.il/wp-content/uploads/cropped-favicon-512-32x32.png Beit Hatfutsot https://www.bh.org.il 32 32 Memories from The first Rosh Hashana of the State of Israel, 1948 https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/memories-first-rosh-hashana-state-israel-1948/ Thu, 17 Sep 2020 10:12:15 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=49078 If there was a Jewish years hit parade, 1948 would have undoubtedly made it to the top. 2000 years of yearning and hopes, poems and prayers, persecutions, golden ages, then the horrifying epilogue of the holocaust have passed – then on one crucial moment on 5 Iyyar 1948, one short great man got on a [...]

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If there was a Jewish years hit parade, 1948 would have undoubtedly made it to the top. 2000 years of yearning and hopes, poems and prayers, persecutions, golden ages, then the horrifying epilogue of the holocaust have passed – then on one crucial moment on 5 Iyyar 1948, one short great man got on a small stage in Tel Aviv Rothschild street and declared the foundation of the state of Israel.

By the time of the first Rosh Hashana, October 3rd 1948, the new state was just a baby – four and a half months old. Whereas other infants do not even roll over yet, the state had to stand, walk and sustain itself, no longer having the British babysitter on its side, and surrounded by enemies, who saw it as a foreign invader, a small unwelcome subsidiary of the great western colonial cooperation.

 

Policemen expecting Prime Minister Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv, 1948. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Policemen expecting Prime Minister Ben Gurion, Tel Aviv, 1948. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

The holiday took place during the second truce of the War of Independence. At that time, the Chizbatron ensemble released their heart moving song “Reut” (comradeship), that everybody loved, even though a few months earlier a civil war nearly broke on the shore of Tel Aviv over the Altalena affair; all the bold and the beautiful used to gather in the Mughrabi cinema and watch “He Walked Through the Fields”, while the new Olim preferred to laugh at some good old Hershel of Ostropol jokes at the “Ohel” theater.

In spite of the uncertainty, fear and ongoing war, the general atmosphere was optimistic, somewhat euphoric. The new year celebrations were launched with a most passionate speech by Ben Gurion to the nation, on the radio, “While still under British rule, and with its support, the Nazi’s allies among the Arabs wished to destroy and demolish us entirely. First by crowds of the Mufti’s robbers and criminals, then soldiers from surrounding states, and finally by regular forces from Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon – stormed through the county in order to destroy the state of Israel, put an end our eternal hopes, and terminate the enormous Zionist undertaking.”

November 2nd square and Mugrabi Movie Theater, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1948 Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

November 2nd square and Mugrabi Movie Theater, Tel Aviv, Israel, 1948 Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

After briefing through the atrocities, he carried on to heroism: “a young Israeli army, founded almost overnight by the blessed Hagana, organized and geared while already fighting battles – defeated the enemy and liberated the state territories, broke the way to sieged Jerusalem, liberated most of the eternal sacred capital and made Israel as proud among the nations as it was in the times of the Maccabees.”

In partly sieged Jerusalem the lifted spirit was blended with grief over the old city that was occupied by the Jordanians. “Haaretz” daily stated that “for the first time ever since the crusades, Rosh Hashana prayers were not held at the Western Wall, and chants could not be heard within the ancient walls of Jerusalem. However, the synagogues outside the walls were packed, including prayers who came from all across the country to stay in Jerusalem for the holiday. The agony over the fall of the old city was somewhat relieved by refugees from the Jewish quarter who settled in deserted villas and mansions of Katamon and Rehavia, from which the Arabs escaped. “Haaretz” also reported that in Adat Hamaaraviyim synagogue of Jews from Morocco, across from the Tower of David, worshippers had to lie down fearing the Arab snipers. In Yeshurun synagogue, the first modern orthodox one in Jerusalem, chief rabbi Herzog as well as the military governor Dov Yosef and other public leaders attended the holiday prayers. Before the Shofar blowing they cited a prayer for the wellbeing of the state, composed a few days earlier by the chief rabbis.

Haaretz front page, October 3 1948, Rosh Hashana eve

Haaretz front page, October 3 1948, Rosh Hashana eve

Yediot Aharonot daily chose this verse for the holiday issue front page, above the logo: “We shall come to Zion thou city and thou temple with eternal joy and praise”. There was also a selection of photos from Tashah (5709), including the declaration of the state on 5 Iyyar, with the description: Tashah was the year of Hebrew victory after 2000 years of defeat.

The celebrations in Tel Aviv, as described in “Haaretz”: crowds of women, men and children were filling the streets, greeting each other and paying family visits according to tradition. When evening came, dozens of synagogues were packed with worshipers, many of whom proudly dressed with Zahal uniform. Many Cafés held parties that night, arranged by Zahal for the thousands of soldiers who came to spend their holiday in Tel Aviv.

Soon enough, though, cheerfulness seemed to end, as on the second day of Rosh Hashana, Tel Aviv was alarmed by sirens, while people were leaving the prayer houses. Within minutes, the streets were empty. 25 minutes later it turned out it was a false alarm.

A view of the Jordanian territory from within the wall, Jerusalem, 1948. Leni Sonnenfeld. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

A view of the Jordanian territory from within the wall, Jerusalem, 1948. Leni Sonnenfeld. The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

The celebrations were resumed, under lovely autumn weather. The food inspector’s order to increase of the sugar rations from 750 gr. To 900 gr. made the day even happier! There were also some complaints regarding high prices of flowers due to high demand. Also, a plague of thefts was reported – it seems that this has become a yearly tradition ever since. One high profiled breaking happened in Michael Ben Gurion’s (David’s brother) Kiosk, from which 100 Israeli Pounds worth of cigarettes and chocolates were taken.

The festivals were not limited to Israel only. President of the United States, Harry Truman, sent greetings to the new Israeli president Chaim Weizmann, personally wishing him and all Israelis peace and prosperity in their country – which was in fact the first formal address from the U.S.A. to the state of Israel, thus recognizing it as a sovereign state.

Shana Tova to you all!

 

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Send a Shana Tova Card to Your Loved Ones! https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/send-shana-tova-card/ Mon, 14 Sep 2020 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.

  • 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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Was Poland ever ruled by a Jew? https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/poland-ever-ruled-jew/ Tue, 08 Sep 2020 09:22:00 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=48952 Jewish-Polish history definitely had its tragic moment – but over centuries of strange co-existence there were moments of optimism too. Included stories of the Jews who were “Rulers of Poland”. Prominent historian Konstanty Gebert explores a collection of historical facts and myths. Abraham Prochownik After the gory but just death of Prince Popiel (9th century [...]

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Jewish-Polish history definitely had its tragic moment – but over centuries of strange co-existence there were moments of optimism too. Included stories of the Jews who were “Rulers of Poland”. Prominent historian Konstanty Gebert explores a collection of historical facts and myths.

King Kazymierz the Great, grants privilege to the Jews of Poland, mid 14th century. Painting by Alexander Lesser (1814-1884). Photo from the Polish magazine ‘Zydzi Polsce Odrodzonej” (Jews in Renewed Poland). (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center)

Abraham Prochownik

After the gory but just death of Prince Popiel (9th century CE), eaten alive by mice after having poisoned his alleged rivals, Polish nobles assembled in Kruszwica to elect his successor. Unable to agree, they decided that whoever will be the first to cross the city gates next morning will be their ruler – and the first was none other than an itinerant Jewish trader, Abraham Prochownik. He, however, wisely declined the honor and, just as wisely, suggested the no less wise Prince Piast be elected, thus creating Poland’s first royal dynasty.

The Piasts were in fact Poland’s first rulers, as attested i.a. by reports send by Ibrahim [i.e. Abraham] ibn Jacob, a Jewish trader from Toledo, who visited the country in the 10th century CE.

Esther, mistress of King Casimir

The mediaeval chronicler Jan Długosz alleges that king Casimir the Great (14th century) took himself a Jewish lover, and was so besotted by her love that he granted Jews numerous privileges.

Since Długosz strongly disapproves of such tolerance of this “stinking element”, as he calls Jews, and no other historical evidence was found, one can suppose the story was to rationalize such unbecoming behavior by a Polish king.

The Statute granted to the Jews of Kalisz, Poland, by King Boleslav V – the “Pious” – in 1264. Illustration by Arthur Szyk, c1930. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Kalisz Landsmannschaft, Tel Aviv)

Saul Wahl

After the death of King Stefan Bathory (1586) the nobility could not decide on his successor. When the deadline for his election passed, Prince Mikołaj Radziwiłł “Sierotka” suggest that the elect an Interrex, or “Inter-king” until their decision is made, and suggested for that post a rich Jewish merchant, Saul Wahl, who had shown the Prince great help and heart during his Italian travels. Wahl was made Interrex, and passed decrees favorable to Jews, until he was dethroned by his duly elected successor.

An interregnum of one year in fact occurred after Bathory’s death, because two contenders had been elected; it ended with Sigismund Vasa the Third defeated Maximillian Hapsburg the Third and assumed the throne. A Jewish merchant named Saul is mentioned as a generous savior of Prince Radziwiłł in the latter’s memoirs, and the name Wahl does mean “elections” in German. Also, the Primate of the Catholic Church could by law become under certain conditions become Interrex. No mention of Interrex Saul Wahl exists in historical sources, however, and the story seems an improbable conflation of the previous two. 

Casimir III the Great, sarcophagus figure, in Wawel Cathedral, Kraków, Poland (Wikipedia)

Modern era

The fact that numerous prominent leaders of Communist Poland (1944-1989), especially in the immediate post-war years, were of Jewish origin, has fueled the popular antisemitic myth that Jews run the country, to its detriment. In fact, the number of Jews in Poland, and in power of any kind, systematically declined with the passage of time, and the last Jewish Communists were purged in an “anti-Zionist” campaign in 1968. The country’s current Jewish population is estimated at 8,000.

This notwithstanding, a Google query in Polish for “Jews rule Poland” produced this year over 900,000 results, and a 2010 survey showed that over 1/3 of the respondents believe that Jews “have too much influence on Polish political life”.

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Was Rembrandt “One of ours”? How The Dutch Genius Became a Jew of Honor https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/rembrandt-one-dutch-genius-became-jew-honor/ Mon, 13 Jul 2020 13:28:07 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47999 “Though Rembrandt was not Jewish, we must consider him as “a Jew of honor”, for his love and empathy towards the Jews”, the national poet Bialik wrote in 1932, in a preface he contributed to the Jewish painter Leonid Pasternak’s book on the art of Rembrandt. Bialik also noted that “this gifted genius has miraculously [...]

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“Though Rembrandt was not Jewish, we must consider him as “a Jew of honor”, for his love and empathy towards the Jews”, the national poet Bialik wrote in 1932, in a preface he contributed to the Jewish painter Leonid Pasternak’s book on the art of Rembrandt. Bialik also noted that “this gifted genius has miraculously grasped and seized the core of the Hebrew soul, like no other gentile painter has ever succeeded to do.”

Bialik was not the only admirer of the outstanding Dutch painter. He is the most mentioned artist in Hebrew literature, referred to in stories by Agnon; discussed as an inspirational figure by rabbi Kook; was the subject of poems by Schin Shalom; even the great author Ephraim Kishon used Rembrandt’s character in his satirical play Pull Out the Plug, the Water’s Boiling, a poignant satire on modern art, where Rembrandt was represented as the ultimate role model artist, unlike other petite pretenders of the 20th century.

Self-portrait at 34 by Rembrandt, 1640 (National Gallery, London)

So is there some elusive Jewish element in Rembrandt’s art, which made him such a wonder for key persons of the Hebrew culture? Why was he commemorated in the artists’ quarter in Tel Aviv, rather than, for example, Da Vinci, who has a negligible street after him by the Cameri theater, or Michelangelo, who was exiled out of Tel Aviv altogether, to Jaffa?

The Jews, being a battered degraded nation in exile, were always in want of some good old Hubris, therefore they tended to embrace geniuses who had not Jewish origins. Still the story of Rembrandt stands out, to the point that many actually insisted he was himself a Jew after all.

Portrait of a Couple as Isaac and Rebecca, known as ‘The Jewish bride’, 1662-1666 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

If we think of the 15th century as the century of the Spanish, and of the 18th century as French – then the 17th century undoubtedly belonged to the Dutch. The Dutch golden age was the result of unique circumstances that included prosperity – following the foundation of the Dutch East India Company, the first multinational corporation in history, that conquered the new world; the rise of a wealthy middle class of merchants and professionals; and a flow of immigrants from the Spanish low countries (today Belgium and Luxembourg) that brought a free protestant attitude, turning Amsterdam into a universal vibrant center of liberalism.

The 17th century was also the finest hour of the Jews of Amsterdam. Tens of thousands of them travelled there following their expulsion from Spain and Portugal, after centuries of severe identity issues, forced to act as catholic outdoors, and as Jewish indoors.

Rembrandt * Portrait of a man, presumably Dr. Ephraïm Bueno ca. 1647 (Rijksmuseum Amsterdam)

Amsterdam allowed them to rediscover and celebrate their Jewish identity. This exiting revelation led to a burst of and cultural prosperity and innovativeness. Numerous Hebrew printing houses were established, synagogues and religious institutes acted, while a middle Jewish class that led rich intellectual life thanks to their financial success was rising. The Jewish community was home of men such as Menashe Ben Israel, statesmen and founder of the first Jewish printing house; the outstanding preacher Issac Abuhab; the philosopher and famous heretic Spinoza; and the famous physician Efraim Bueno, to name just a few of the well-known Jews who lived in the “New Jerusalem”, as Amsterdam was then called.

Notably, all of these individuals were friends with one painter called Rembrandt. Ben Israel, Abuhab and Bueno, who was Rembrandt’s physician, even had their portrait painted by the brilliant master. In fact, Efraim Bueno’s portrait is considered to be one of Rembrandt’s greatest pieces.

“The Sacrifice of Isaac”, 1635 (hermitage museum, Saint Petersburg)

In 1639, at the peak of his glory and wealth, Rembrandt bought a splendor three stories house in the Jodenbuurt, the Jewish quarter of Amsterdam. Why would a Christian want to settle among the people who killed the savior? Perhaps this proves he was indeed a Jew? In fact, he bought the house when the place was still called Breestraat (broad street), as it was a central path in the city. It wasn’t until the 18th century, as Dr. Doron Lurie the art historian states, that street became the heart of the Jewish quarter. Only then did Breestraat became Juden Breestraat. Similarly, the couple painted in the famous “Jewish Bride” work was not Jewish, and the painting received its name years after painted.

According to Dr. Lurie, the main reason for the affiliation between Rembrandt and the Jews of Amsterdam was his obsession with the bible. Like many other prominent artists of that protestant pro biblical period, he fell in love with the biblical stories and painted many biblical scenes, such as the Sacrifice of Isaac in 1635; Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law is a 1659; Belshazzar’s Feast; Abraham Casting Out Hagar and Ishmael; and of course the four famous portraits of Samson.

“Moses Breaking the Tablets of the Law”, 1659 (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin)

Rembrandt, who was obsessive with accurate details believed that his Jewish neighbors in Amsterdam were the authentic representatives of the ancient Hebrew nation. Many a time he used his friends as models for various biblical scenes. Rembrandt believed that if he placed an odd hat or headpiece he was able to create get the most reliable biblical kings and prophets.

Ironically, not only the Jews considered Rembrandt one of them, but also their harshest enemies. Hitler and Goering apparently collected all of Rembrandt’s portraits, intending to display them after the war was over as a bizarre exhibit of a degenerated, extinct nation.

Though apparently Rembrandt was not Jewish, since his death as a poor lonely man in 1669, the belief that he is “one of us” kept on occupying our imagination and sympathy, just like his wonderful art.

Jews in the synagogue. Etching by Rembrandt 1648 (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

 

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Tikun Olam: The Story of Rabbi Allan Levine, a Civil Rights Activist https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/the-story-of-rabbi-allan-levine-a-civil-rights-activist/ Mon, 15 Jun 2020 11:44:55 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47882 Flames and confusion wrap America in the past three weeks. Flames – the result of a hideous murder followed by bloody riots in which hundreds of years of black discrimination, anger, and hate exploded like bursting steam; and confusion – didn’t a black man ended two terms as one of the most popular American presidents, [...]

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Flames and confusion wrap America in the past three weeks. Flames – the result of a hideous murder followed by bloody riots in which hundreds of years of black discrimination, anger, and hate exploded like bursting steam; and confusion – didn’t a black man ended two terms as one of the most popular American presidents, only four years ago? Didn’t a popular series about a black kid who ended up a legendary basketball star and an American icon admired by whites and blacks, ended only last month?

Amongst this riotous chaos, it seems that the forefathers’ promise for “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” for everyone is being silenced by toxic cries people slam at each other, while covering their faces with masks, not to protect them from the tear gas used by the police, but due to a deadly pandemic that threatens every one, totally regardless of how concentrated the melanin in their blood is.

What can we do then? We can look back to times when American reality seemed more explicit. When black was black, white was white, and racism was established, organized, and firmly fixed within the American soul. Well, perhaps not all souls, there were indeed a few exceptional righteous, one of which is our hero today: rabbi Eliahu Allan Levine.

RABBI ALLAN LEVINE’S mug shot, after being arrested for an anti-segregation protest in Mississippi in 1961. (photo credit: MDAH)

Rabbi Allan Levine’s mug shot, after being arrested for an anti-segregation protest in Mississippi in 1961. (photo credit: MDAH)

 

Born in 1932 in Montreal, Canada, rabbi Levine visited Israel in 1956, studied Hebrew in Jerusalem, then fell in love with Susan Marsh, who immigrated to Israel from Morocco. They married and settled in Rochester, New York, where after his ordain as a reform rabbi, Levine served as the rabbi of the Jewish congregation. After his death his son told that while watching TV. one day, he learnt about a most inspiring social project organized by activists from the civil rights movement, in order to fight racial discrimination against the blacks in the south of U.S.A.

Five years after Rosa Parks refused to rise from her seat in the front of bus number 2857 in Cleveland Avenue, Alabama, the American court ruled that racial segregation in public transportation was illegal. It was 1960, and the notorious Jim Crow laws that had been enforcing racist segregation in the south for almost a century, allowing segregation in the public sphere such as water fountains, restrooms and outdoor benches – were coming to a dramatic end. But the whites in the south weren’t going to give up without a fight. Although the law passed, in reality nothing seemed to change – segregation was alive and kicking harder than ever.

Rabbi Levine was watching a story about a project called the freedom rides. Black and white human rights activists were riding public interstate bus lines to the southern states, as a nonviolent protest against the racist segregation, in order to make sure that the court rule was being carried out. Levine decided to join the noble cause himself.

A mob of racists beats Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A. This picture was reclaimed by the FBI from a local journalist who also was beaten and whose camera was smashed.

A mob of racists beats Freedom Riders in Birmingham, Alabama, U.S.A. This picture was reclaimed by the FBI from a local journalist who also was beaten and whose camera was smashed.

His first freedom ride, with a mixed group of blacks and whites, was to the airport of Jacksonville, Florida, where they sat together in the segregated restaurants area for a few minutes, then were immediately arrested and imprisoned. The event echoed throughout the United States. After his release, Levine got a letter from James Farmer, one of the renowned leaders of the civil rights movement. Farmer thanked Levine for participating in the act, that joined the long history of the fight for equality for black people.

But even a thousand words worth less than one image – in this case, one of the most known photos of the blacks struggle for equality. On March 7th, 1965, 600 activists were marching from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama. As they reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, crossing the Alabama river, they encountered barricades of the state police. The cops attacked the activists brutally, using tear gas. 17 people were injured on what was to become “bloody Sunday” t.v. covered the events, featuring pictures of protesters thrown down to the ground, beaten and wounded.

The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965

The civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965 , Library of Congress

One of the photos shows a young woman called Amelia Boynton Robinson, laying on the road, unconscious, after being beaten by cops. Rabbi Allan Levine is caught on film helping her out, a kippah on his head and a cigar in his mouth. The photo was published in American media and was announced photo of the year of Life Magazine, and since then it is displayed annually on Martin Luther King day, commemorating the leader’s birthday. (see the image here)

Rabbi Levine carried on with his devoted activity and freedom rides, even though he had to make personal and professional sacrifices, as he had to be away from his congregation a lot, which they did not like at first. However, his son told later, after the struggle became successful, they were proud of him.

In 1971 Allan and Susan Levine came to Israel and were among the founders of the southern kibbutz of Yahel, the first reform kibbutz. They have 3 sons, one of whom was killed during his army service. Four years ago, rabbi Levine died at the age of 84.

We all are familiar with another famous photo, symbolizing Jewish contribution to the blacks struggle in America, picturing rabbi Joshua Heschel, side by side with Martin Luther king in a rally in Selma, Alabama, but few if any, heard of the humble rabbi Levine with his cigar and kippah, aiding Amelia Boynton Robinson in the photo shot not far from there, and became a black action icon. In today’s burning and confusing reality that splits America, let us remember him and the like of him as well.

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Got Milk: How the Dairy Companies Took Over Shavuot https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/got-milk-dairy-companies-took-shavuot/ Wed, 27 May 2020 13:46:59 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47847 In the early 1990s, when commercial t.v. was first introduced in Israel, we finally learnt why we celebrate Shavuot. Cool creative copywriters brain stormed in their fancy agencies and fabricated for us the following story: 4,000 years ago, while crossing the Sinai desert on their way to the promised land, the Children of Israel suffered [...]

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In the early 1990s, when commercial t.v. was first introduced in Israel, we finally learnt why we celebrate Shavuot. Cool creative copywriters brain stormed in their fancy agencies and fabricated for us the following story: 4,000 years ago, while crossing the Sinai desert on their way to the promised land, the Children of Israel suffered acute low levels of calcium, resulting in a variety of bones diseases, that made desert hiking almost impossible. God heard their cry and provided them with Manna, a substance made of wheat and honey, known for its curing qualities.

To his disappointment though, they went on complaining. Feed us with calcium containing milk! They demanded. The chosen people’s bitterness reached its peak in an event that commentators marked as the first consumers’ uprising ever – erecting the iconic golden calf, drifting milk drops. Picking up the subtle hint, the Lord sent Moses to Zin (phonetically close to Sinai), where, it was told, the patriotic Israeli dairy corporation called “Tnuva” was located. 40 days later Moses returned to the desert, mounting a flying chunk of Gouda cheese and carrying the requested goods – and the rest is cheestory.

And now for real: inasmuch as there is no real connection between the High Holidays and eating fish, or between Independence Day and Barbecue, there is no real connection between Shavuot – The Giving of the Torah holiday, and eating dairy products. As always, relentless consumerism, supported by cynical advertising spheres, appropriated this lovely holiday without batting an eyelid. We are all products, holidays included.

“Tenuva” milk car, Eretz Israel, 1946 Photo: Herbert Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

Indeed, there are a few popular references to Shavuot in relation to dairy foods. According to one, for example, the number 50 marks 50 days from Passover to Shavuot, while its numerical added value is in Hebrew: dairy. Well, so do hundreds of other words… another origin is explained as the acronym of the verse Numbers 28, 26: “in the day of the firstfruits, when ye bring a new meat offering unto the LORD, after your weeks be out”, which in Hebrew forms the word for milk. This is somewhat problematic, because firstfruits refer to plants, whereas milk is, well, not a plant, but the money growing on the metaphorical trees of the dairy companies is. The Mishna specifically determines that firstfruits only mean the seven species, that to our best knowledge do not include Parmesan cheese.

The most common grounds for enjoying dairy on Shavuot is that in Matan Torah, the giving of both written and oral law, all rules and restrictions regarding butchery and eating were introduced, therefore the children of Israel were not able to use their impure kitchenware for cooking for the holiday, so they had dairy dishes, that are easy and quick to prepare without having to use items that turned out to be not kosher. The chronological failure of this reason screams up loud: was the holiday of Matan Torah regulated on the very same day of the Torah giving?

Loading milk containers on a cart, Eretz Israel c.1946. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

One Hasidic tale with a feminist touch, goes about one smart assertive woman in a Jewish Shtetl, who happened to be the rabbi’s wife. She felt hated the idea of women not taking part in studying along with the men, so she went to the rabbi and elders, accompanied by a few fellow women, and demanded that women would be allowed to study Torah. The men naturally objected, therefore the women went on a strike and stopped cooking and washing.

It was Shavuot eve, and the town’s rich man ended his prayer and returned home he found no dinner on the table. Baffled, he stood at his window and saw the other men standing in their windows, dinnerless and amazed. All the wives were nowhere to be seen.

After a short investigation it was found out, that the rabbi’s wife provoked all the wives. The rabbi was embarrassed, then furious, and then he summoned all the town’s women and announced that should they not go straight and narrow, he shall cancel the Jewish polygamy prohibition. That scared the women and they rushed home to prepare dinner, however as it was almost sun set, they only had enough time to prepare a dairy meal before the holiday.

Kibbutz children during Shavuot festival, Israel, 1950s Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection)

A few more anecdotal interpretations regarding the milk in Shavuot were enough for the large dairy corporations to use the holiday for their annual balance sheets. The 1980s neo-liberalism, and commercial t.v. that came along a decade later, broadened the trend to that point that the equation milk=Shavuot became irrefutable.

It is our duty to fight this and stress the true sublime values of this holiday. First, we need to think how to recreate the firstfruits celebrations at the temple, that symbolized the deep affiliation between the nation and its county, and the farmers’ gratitude for the land’s yields. WE also need to learn from the story of Ruth about the welcoming of the foreign, thus encourage a reform in the existing conversion models. For Ruth, that Moabitess young woman who had every reason to turn her back on her mother in law, chose to stick with her, and her reward was to be the foremother of King David. We also need to remember that Shavuot is first and foremost the Torah Giving holiday, and whether you believe the Torah is divine or not, it is one of the most beautiful, powerful and wonderful texts in the history of humankind.

So instead of crying over spilled milk – let us focus on the true holiday’s values.

Either way, HAPPY SHAVUOT!

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Jews of the world unite: The Jewish question of Karl Marx https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/jews-world-unite-jewish-question-karl-marx/ Mon, 11 May 2020 10:20:26 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47802 Born in 1825, the German scholar Ferdinand Lassalle was a bright economist, advocate of the “Iron Law of Wages”, who was highly accomplished: one of the founders of the modern political party concept, of the leaders of the German labor movement, and founder of the SPD, the Social Democrat party in Germany. One unfortunate personal [...]

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Born in 1825, the German scholar Ferdinand Lassalle was a bright economist, advocate of the “Iron Law of Wages”, who was highly accomplished: one of the founders of the modern political party concept, of the leaders of the German labor movement, and founder of the SPD, the Social Democrat party in Germany.

One unfortunate personal detail got in his way, though: he was circumcised. And to be circumcised in 19th century Germany was unforgiveable.

Let us now “enjoy” this heartwarming description of Lassalle from 1862: “It is now clear, from both the shape of his head and the pattern of his hair growth, that he (Lassalle) either descends from the blacks who accompanied Moses in his escape from Egypt, or his mother or paternal grandmother blended with a negro… you see, you cannot expect anything special from this mixture of Jewish and German on the one hand, and one specific negro race on the other. That guy’s constant demands are also typical of the negroes.”

You may dismiss this as just another racist text, that was not uncommon in the Anti-Semite atmosphere in 19th century Germany. The real surprise hits us when we learn who wrote this description – no other than the worker’s prince, the defender of the poor, smasher of the bourgeoisie’s chains – Karl “Helevi” Marx.

Karl Marx, 1875, Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayal, WikiMedia

Karl Marx, 1875, Photo: John Jabez Edwin Mayal, WikiMedia

Karl Marx, born in Trier, then Prussia and now Germany, 202 years ago, was on his father’s side grandson of rabbi Shmuel son of Mordechai Halevi, who served as the chief rabbi of the town. On his mother’s side he was descendant of a Dutch dynasty of rabbis. Marx was a 100% Jew whose father, Herschl Halevi, was forced to convert in order to make a living as a lawyer, therefore he also changed his last name to Marx, and the rest is history.

We need to challenge then: how can a Jew, even a converted Jew, could produce such a hateful text against a fellow Jew?

Some might claim for the classic Jewish self-disgust, experienced by many Jews who converted, adopting also the Anti-Semitic consensus in their surrounding society. Others may argue that the strained rivalry between Marx and Lassalle regarding the interpretation of the proletarian revolution drove Marx to that malicious remark, and that Marx was in fact not a Jew hater, which settles with Marx’ restraint of religion in general, as well as the concept of national states.

Antisemitic caricature from 'Spasa Sveta', by Karel Relnik, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1926. "Saint Marx-friend of Baron Rothschild and leader of the poor Christians." (Bequest of Jiri Lauscher, Prague), Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

Antisemitic caricature from ‘Spasa Sveta’, by Karel Relnik, Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1926. “Saint Marx-friend of Baron Rothschild and leader of the poor Christians.” (Bequest of Jiri Lauscher, Prague), Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center

In an attempt to track back Marx’ true feelings regarding his Jewish origin, we read his “On the Jewish Question” from 1844, published as a reaction to processes of liberalization occurred in the Prussian areas, while one central public issue was whether or not the Jews should be granted full equal rights.

It’s hard not to twitch while reading extracts from this work, such as “What is the secular ritual of the Jew? The commerce. And the secular God? The capital. We perceive Judaism as a definite anti-social element.” And then he cruelly concludes: “The ultimate meaning of the emancipation of the Jews is the liberation of humanity from Judaism.”

Chilling as it may sound, what surprises us is that while Marx slanders the Jews, he urges the authorities to grant them full civil rights. How come?

In order to settle this contradiction, it is crucial to realize that at that time, what we consider an old caricature – the greedy Jewish moneylenders – was seen by most people as solid truth. The very word for Jew in everyday German use was judentum – which refers to commerce.

Marx’ supporters wished to acquit him from his critics’ accusation of Anti-Semitism. According to the eccentric genius, they said, the Jews were not to blame, but rather “Judaism” as a principle.

Bedroom of Karl Marx, with large cut-outs of Marx and his wife. While in exile, Marx wrote in this room "Das Kapital" in 1867. London, England 1936. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

Bedroom of Karl Marx, with large cut-outs of Marx and his wife. While in exile, Marx wrote in this room “Das Kapital” in 1867. London, England 1936. Photo: Leni Sonnenfeld. Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, Sonnenfeld collection

According to Marx, the expansion of secularization during the 19th century resulted in a dramatic change in the image of the Jews. After shedding their religious identity, the stereotype of greed and deceptiveness was all that was left. Because for centuries, tragically the Jews were pushed aside and forced to make their living only from the most despised moneylending occupations. That’s how Jewishness became the equivalent for greed. And by writing that “humanity must be liberated from Judaism”, his defenders assert, he meant not the Jews but the abstract concept of Jewishness, identified in his mind with the corrupting greed.

To support his claim, a most emphatic article towards Jews that Marx published in the New York Daily Tribune, while in exile in London (1854 c.) is often used: Marx was covering the Crimean War between the Ottoman and the Russian empires, and wrote about the Jews in Jerusalem: “Nothing compares to the misery and poverty of the Jews in Jerusalem, who reside in the Jewish quarter, between Mount Zion and Mount Moria, where all their synagogues are also situated. They are a constant target for Muslim oppression, Greek offensives and Latin persecutions. They only survive due to donation from the fellow Jews in Europe. They are not natives of Jerusalem, rather arrived from various places, drawn to the city for its religious magnetism. They suffer and pray, while looking up to Mount Moria, where the temple used to stand, daring not to approach it. They shed their tears on their destruction and exile. ”

So what was Marx’ real attitude towards the Jews? No doubt, the latter sympathetic extract about his suffering brothers, makes it even harder to single out one clear answer. Like it or not, this is what complex people are all about.

Karl Marx depicted as "the modern Moses", representing his book Das Kapital as the bible of social justice Postcard, France, 1906 Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Collection of Gerrard Benoit, Nice, France

Karl Marx depicted as “the modern Moses”, representing his book Das Kapital as the bible of social justice Postcard, France, 1906 Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of the Collection of Gerrard Benoit, Nice, France

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Family Names of the Jews of Egypt https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/family-names-jews-egypt/ Sun, 12 Apr 2020 14:34:57 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47738 The Jewish community of Egypt flourished from the mid-19th century through the 1950s. Egypt’s increasing integration into international trade, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal, attracted Jews from other parts of the world who settled in Egypt, manly in Cairo and Alexandria, alongside members of the veteran local Jewish community. Their arrival in [...]

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The Jewish community of Egypt flourished from the mid-19th century through the 1950s. Egypt’s increasing integration into international trade, particularly after the opening of the Suez Canal, attracted Jews from other parts of the world who settled in Egypt, manly in Cairo and Alexandria, alongside members of the veteran local Jewish community. Their arrival in Egypt coincides with the period when the use of surnames became widespread. An investigation into the meaning of the family names documented among the Jews of Egypt during modern times allows for a glimpse into the ancestry of their families and their country of origin before immigrating to Egypt.

A large group of names are typical to Sephardi Jews, descendants of those expulsed from Spain in 1492, who arrived in Egypt directly from the Iberian Peninsula or by the way of other countries in North Africa, the Balkans and Turkey. Names of Sephardi Jews in Egypt include Amarillo / Amarillio (“yellow”, in Spanish), meaning “blonde”, Moreno (“brown”, in Spanish), Ashkenazi, Farhi, Malka, Amiga (“friend”, in Spanish) and Aboaf. The meaning of the surname Madjar, documented in Egypt, is “Hungarian”. This family name is common among the Jews of Bulgaria, a country that welcomed some of the Jews who were expelled from Hungary in late medieval times. Carasso, a well-documented Sephardi name from Thessaloniki, Greece, is derived from Karasu (literarily “black water”, in Turkish), the name of a town in north western Turkey on the Black Sea coast.

Graduating photo at Moses de Cattaui school in Cairo, Egypt, 1938 – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Sami Shemtov, Israel

Agion / Aghion (“holy”, the equivalent of the Hebrew name Kadosh) is a Greek name. Beit Aghion (Aghion House), built in Jerusalem according to the plans of the architect Richard Kaufman from 1936-1938 for Edward Aghion, a wealthy merchant from Alexandria,  is known today in Hebrew as Beit Rosh HaMemshala and serves as the official residence of the Israeli prime minister. Other Greek names include Castoriano, which is derived from the name of Castoria, a town in northern Greece.

Many Jews of Italian origin lived in Egypt for generations. They can be identified by their names, many are derived from place names in Italy, such as Fiorentino (from Florence), Viterbo (from Viterbo, the name of a town in central Italy), Capua (from the name of a town in the Naples area), or from Italian terms, like Casuto (“married”, in Italian) or Procaccia (“postman”, in Italian).

Jewish families from Cairo visiting the Giza pyramids, Cairo, Egypt, 1914 – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot, courtesy of Aharon Meriems, Israel

A large group of family names were derived from Arabic, of them many are documented in other Jewish communities in Arab lands. They include names derived from occupations, such as Hakim (“doctor”), Najar (“carpenter”), Harari (“silk merchant”) and Saban (merchant or producer of  “soap”). The Israeli-American businessman Haim Saban was born in Alexandria in 1944.  In addition, some Hebrew names were translated into Arabic, like Abdullah, an equivalent of Ovadiah.  Other names are toponyms derived from places names in Egypt, such as Minio, from Minya, a city in Upper Egypt, or Cattaoui  (Qaṭṭāwī , in Arabic), the name of a distinguished Jewish family, derived from Catta, the name of their ancestral village just north of Cairo. Joseph Aslan Cattaui Pasha (1861-1942) served as Egypt’s minister of finance (1924), minister of communication (1925), member of the Senate (1927-1939) and President of the Jewish Community of Cairo (1924-1942).

A number of Jewish families from Aleppo in Syria settled in the land of the Pharaohs too. They are recognized by their names, among them Taouil (Tawil), which means “long” in Arabic, and Douek (a type of “jug”, in Arabic), both families of Cohanim. A distinguished bearer of the family name Douek was Rabbi Haim Moussa Douek (1905 – 1974), a native of the Turkish city of Gaziantep (Antep), who served as the last Chief Rabbi of Egypt.

Samoucha family, from the Hebrew samukh (“close”, “near”) the cantor, and Baghdadi family came to Egypt from Iraq. Harouch (“head”), Barchilon (from Barcelona), Alfassi (from Fez, Morocco) and Mograbi immigrated to Egypt from North Africa.

Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, Alexandria, Egypt 1994 Photo: Shlomo Taitz, Israel – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot

From the end of the 19th century, Ashkenazi families from Central and Eastern Europe also settled in Egypt. Their names include Farber (“painter”), Zuckerman (“sweet man”), Samuelson (“son of Samuel”), Goldenberg (“Golden Mountain”), Wechsler (“money changer”), Feldman (“peasant”) and more. These names were common in all Eastern and Central European Jewish communities. Despite this fact, some family names may reveal the family’s country of origin. Alteresco is a Jewish family name derived from the Yiddish alter, which means “old”, “mature” but also “respectable”, plus the typical Romanian suffix “-esco” which indicates that before settling in Egypt the family lived in Romania.

Names derived from Hebrew are shared by all. These family names include Hazzan, Dayan, Gabbay, Gaon, and Hasid. These names are derived from terms describing various functions within the Jewish community.

Prayer hall at Sha’ar Ha-Shamayim synagogue, Cairo, Egypt, 1979 Photo: Micha Bar-Am, Israel – The Oster Visual Documentation Center, Beit Hatfutsot

In addition, and like in other communities, the Jews of Egypt adopted surnames derived from the given name of one of the family’s ancestors, such as Elijah, Menashe or De Manasseh, Ben-Simon and Nachman. Double surnames were used only occasionally.  For example, some bearers of the family name Harari, which is quite common among the Jews of Egypt, adopted a second surname, such as Harari Sasson, Harari Agion or Harari Najar.

Since most of the Egyptian Jews are Francophones – many were educated at Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) institutions – the spelling of surnames appears usually in accordance to the rules of the French orthography regardless of the linguistic source of the names.

 

For a comprehensive list of Jewish family names in Cairo see Jacob Rosen-Koenigsbuch, Index of Jewish Surnames Found in 20th Century Cairo, Avotaynu Online, Dec. 2019

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Let’s Hear It From The Pharaohs: The Egyptian Story of Moses https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/lets-hear-it-from-the-pharaohs-the-egyptian-story-of-moses/ Tue, 07 Apr 2020 15:14:10 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47715 Hereby is an alternative narrative of the biblical story of the Exodus, based on historical and archaeological findings, as well as Egyptian anti Jewish literature regarding the origin of the Jewish nation and the character of Moses. This alternative story relies on Prof. Israel Knohl’s fascinating book How the Bible Was Born. The first author [...]

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Hereby is an alternative narrative of the biblical story of the Exodus, based on historical and archaeological findings, as well as Egyptian anti Jewish literature regarding the origin of the Jewish nation and the character of Moses. This alternative story relies on Prof. Israel Knohl’s fascinating book How the Bible Was Born.

The first author to offer us a glimpse on the Egyptian Exodus story is the Egyptian Greek historian Manetho, who lived in Alexandria in the Ptolemaic period in the 3rd century B.C.

Manetho reports that in the 17th century B.C., foreign invaders called the shepherds – Hyksos in Egyptian – came to Egypt and took hold of the throne. They burnt down Egyptian cities, destroyed idols, and shattered temples, performing “horrible hate crimes against all the country’s natives”. Then after a while the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt by one Pharaoh. At this stage of the text, Manetho reveals their real identity: “They left the land of Egypt with their families and possessions, and went through the desert to Syria however, fearing the Assyrian rulers, they established a city for themselves in the land then called Judea.”

Detail at the Beni Hasan cemetery site. Semite nomads on their way to Egypt, one named Avisa or Avisar, called Hyksos, "ruler of a foreign land" in ancient Egyptian.

Detail at the Beni Hasan cemetery site. Semite nomads on their way to Egypt, one named Avisa or Avisar, called Hyksos, “ruler of a foreign land” in ancient Egyptian.

Manetho’s text, which determines that the shepherds were the ancestors of the Jews, goes on and conveys yet another story. Centuries after the Hyksos were expelled from Egypt, the Egyptian ruler, Pharaoh Amenhotep, wished to seek the advice of the gods. His consultants told him the only way to approach the gods was to cleanse Egypt from the lepers that were living by the border. Amenhotep gathered all the lepers under his territory, and concentrated them in the abandoned city of Avaris, formerly capital of the Hyksos. The lepers upraised and rebelled against him, led by a leper priest called Osarseph, who founded for them a new, hostile religion, of which the main principles were denial of polytheism and the faith in a single god. According to some researchers, Osarseph drew his monotheistic ideas from Pharaoh Akhenaten, who ruled over Egypt in prior centuries.

Manetho reports that Osarseph sent messengers abroad in order to establish a military aid force, requesting also the help of the descendants of the Hyksos, the Judean shepherds, who came in masses to support him and the lepers. Together they formed a strong new force that took over Egypt. The new ruler Osarseph, leader of the lepers, then became king, who collected taxes, and preached against the Egyptian gods. So who was Osarseph? According to Manetho, after joining the Hyksos, Osarseph changed his name to Moses. Though he does refer to Moses as a fanatic hater and isolationist, Manetho also talks of Moses’ unique wisdom, courage, and what the Egyptians called a divine presence, a description that complies with Moses’ biblical description in Exodus, 11, 3: “the man Moses was very great in the land of Egypt, in the sight of Pharaoh’s servants, and in the sight of the people.”

A segment from the Harris Papyrus - British Museum, WikiMedia

A segment from the Harris Papyrus – British Museum, WikiMedia

Let us now discuss the Great Harris Papyrus – the longest known papyrus from Egypt (40 meters long), discovered in a grave near the state of Habu across from Luxor, on the west bank of the Nile. The Harris Papyrus speaks of a time in which Egypt was a deserted land, lacking solid leadership, until a man by the name of Irsu came to power. The literal meaning of his name is pretender, a man from outside the dynasty, who pretends to be king. Irsu was also a Kharru , that is, originated from either Canaan or across the Jordan river, territories called in Kharru Egyptian. These two titles imply that Irsu was not worthy of the throne. Reading onwards we learn that Irsu collected taxed, used to put down the Egyptian religion and prevented the worshipers from bringing their sacrifices to their temples. Then a turning point occurred: when the gods restored their mercy upon Egypt, they placed their son on the throne – Setnakhte, the founding Pharaoh of the 20th dynasty. Setnakhte fought the foreigner, got rid of him, and took the throne.

Another interesting finding, that supports the Harris Papyrus, is a tombstone discovered in Elephantine, dated back to the second year of ruling of Sethnakhte. It tells of Setnakhte, who rehabilitated Egypt after the era of the foreign ruler who broke the religious principles of the pharaohs.

The Exodus of the Children of Israel, painting by David Roberts, 1828

The Exodus of the Children of Israel, painting by David Roberts, 1828

According to the theory of Prof. Knohl, Irsu mentioned in the above sources, the one who despised the Egyptian religion and brought mercenaries from Canaan, was in fact our Moses. He supports his assumption by the fact that the queen who ruled before Setnakhte was Twosret, wife of the second Sethi who died in 1196 BC. The documents stated that her rule only lasted two or three years, after which a mysterious enigmatic event took place. An inner struggle broke in Egypt, that ended the 19th dynasty and brought to power a new one, founded by Setnakhte . This brings Knohl to conclude that the struggle was in fact the taking over by Moses and the lepers, joined by the shepherds on the Delta area.

Prof. Knohl dates the Exodus to the second year of the kingship of Pharaoh Setnakhte, around 1186 BC. He explains that Moses’ parents belonged to the descendants of Jacob, who came to Egypt during the famine. Moses grew up in the court under the protection of queen Twosret, who had no children of her own, and is possible the biblical Pharaoh’s daughter who adopted and raised Moses. After her death, Moses saw himself worthy for kingship and used the support of his people, the children of Jacob, who were enslaved in Egypy, for his conquest moves. He then brought additional backup from abroad – the shepherds from Canaan. In the struggle between the two forces, Moses and his men lost, deported from Egypt and went towards Canaan.

This is the Egyptian version then. The rest is history as the cliché goes, or rather – an alternative history. It’s up to you to choose. Happy Pesach!

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500 years ago: The first Jewish quarantine in Northern Italy https://www.bh.org.il/blog-items/500-years-ago-first-jewish-quarantine-northern-italy/ Mon, 30 Mar 2020 16:45:31 +0000 https://www.bh.org.il/?p=47642 Not only in these trying times, but in the 16th century, the Italian region was the site of a “fatal virus.” Catholic scholars knew the invader well. They “studied” it for 1,500 years, and knew how to identify it from more than two meters away. They heard the primal story for generations – from father [...]

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Not only in these trying times, but in the 16th century, the Italian region was the site of a “fatal virus.” Catholic scholars knew the invader well. They “studied” it for 1,500 years, and knew how to identify it from more than two meters away. They heard the primal story for generations – from father to son and mother to daughter: How the devious “plague” – the Jewish People – murdered their ancient Father and Savior and left him bleeding to death on the cross. The Christian leaders did not admit it, but in their hearts, they knew that they were a mutation of the same “virus.”

Jews had lived in Italy since the days of the Roman Empire. In the late Middle Ages, many of them began pouring into the Land of the Boot following their exile from France and continued oppression under various princedoms in Germany. Most of them journeyed east to Poland, where a mammoth Jewish civilization came into being. But some of them settled in Italy. Their numbers in Italy grew significantly in the early-16th century, following the exile from Spain in 1492. Tens of thousands of Spanish exiles settled in Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

Interior of the Great Ashkenazi Synagogue (Scuola Grande Tedesca) in Venice, built 1528-1529. This is one of six 16th century Venetian synagogues still in existence in the ghetto. Model (Beit Hatfutsot, old Permanent Exhibition)

On those days, Italy was not the sovereign nation that it is today. It was a region divided into city-states: Florence, Pisa, Genoa and the hero of our story on the Adriatic Sea, Venice.

On March 29, 1516, 504 years ago, the Doge of Venice issued an order to create the first Jewish ghetto in history. Jews had been permitted to enter the gates of the city during the day to do business, but were forced to leave at sunset. To facilitate containment of the “virus,” authorities allowed Jews to live in the city – as long as they remained on a remote island far from the city center. The island – the site of a former lead foundry – was called in Italian “Ghetto.” That has since become a generic name for a separate, walled-off neighborhood designated for a specific population.

We have no idea which Italian played the current role of the Israel Health Ministry’s Moshe Bar-Siman Tov, but we do have the orders issued by the captains of the “Catholic Health Ministry” to prevent the spread of the “virus”:

  1. Exit from the ghetto is only permitted when the morning bells ring in St. Mark’s Basilica and until midnight.
  2. Exit from and entry to the ghetto is permitted only through two gates and under the supervision of four Christian guards, whose salary will be paid from the Jewish community’s coffers.
  3. Jewish money-lenders are permitted to leave for the city during limited hours and while wearing a yellow patch on their cloaks. The yellow patch was later replaced with a yellow hat, and then with a red hat.
  4. The following trades are permitted to Jews: Physicians, moneylenders, merchants, and used-clothing sellers – known in local jargon as “strazzarioli.”

Plan of the Ghetto of Venice, 1516-1797. by Architect Sullam, 1930. (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, from Exhibition “The Ghettos in Italy: Venice-Rome,1979)

Historians differ as to whether closure of the ghetto created a relative severance of cultural relations between the Jews and the rest of the population. Some maintain that it was actually a stage in their acceptance in the fabric of European life. Either way, the first ghetto dwellers in history adhered to the biblical principal that “It is a people that shall dwell alone and not be reckoned among the nations” (Bamidbar 23:9) – and they were undaunted by the limits imposed on them. They quickly began to develop a unique and independent culture that marked superb achievement in rabbinic

literature and commentary. Newly clustered in the ghetto, they established synagogues known as “Scole” and each ethnicity founded its own house of worship.

The Jewish community exported many scholars and schools of thought. One of the Venice Ghetto’s best known and colorful characters was Rabbi Yehuda Yehuda Aryeh of Modena, who was active in the city in the first half of the 17th century. On one hand, the sage scholar and true intellectual wrote questions and answers and contemplative texts and composed plays and music. On the other, he was an avid dice player and gambler. The Katzenellenbogen family, the father Meir, the son Judah, and the grandson Saul Wahl, were also well-known – Wahl for a legend in which he was claimed to have been King of Poland for one night.

The Jewish Square (Piazza Giudea), Venice, Italy. Engraving 1747 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Roberto Milano collection, Italy)

But there is no doubt that the main contribution of all of Venice and of its ghetto were the city’s printing houses. The invention of modern printing, about 100 years prior, occurred in a canaled city that was ready and willing. One publishing house belonged to Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Antwerp. He established a Hebrew print house on the recommendation of a friend – a Jewish convert to Christianity – who persuaded him to target the “People of the Book.”

Daniel Bomberg’s publishing house earned its name in the pantheon of creation mainly for printing editions of the Babylonian Talmud that were the first to gather all of the Talmudic tractates. Bomberg’s innovation was in its layout of the Talmud, in which Rashi’s commentary and the Tsofot appear on the outer margins of the page.

Bomberg assembled a staff of learned and exacting sages to prepare and proofread the texts for printing. To this day, every edition of the Babylonian Talmud, whether traditional of progressive, follow the model established in Venice. One of the first editions of the Babylonian Talmud published by Bomberg sold at auction five years ago for the astronomical price of $11 million. Another edition will be part of the permanent exhibition at the Beit Hatfutsot Museum of the Jewish People, scheduled to open in October this year.

Menorah in the Venice Ghetto, Italy, 1972 (Beit Hatfutsot, the Oster Visual Documentation Center, courtesy of Dr. Morris Plust, U.S.A)

The Venice Ghetto was home to the city’s Jews for 281 years. In 1797, when Napoleon conquered the city, the ghetto was dismantled in response to its new ruler’s order. Jews became equal citizens and retained their status when Venice gained its independence in 1848.

Mussolini’s fascist regime and ally of Hitler reintroduced race laws in Italy in 1938. More than 200 of some 1,200 Venetian Jews failed to return from the concentration camps.

Some 450 Jews now live in in the city. Isolated again in these troubled times, this time they join the rest of the city’s and the nation’s residents in the battle against the CoronaVirus.

Translated by Varda Shpiegel

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