Monday, April 20, 2015

Daesh (Islamic State) murders Ethiopian Christians in Libya

Today the New York Times reported on a video by Daesh (the Islamic State) allegedly of the murder of Ethiopian Christians in Libya.  
During the last five minutes of the half-hour video, the footage cuts back and forth between scenes in the southern desert and a beach along the coast, at one point displaying both with a split screen. Both settings were filmed with the same sophisticated camera angles and editing that has distinguished other Islamic State films from indigenous Libyan videos. 
Masked fighters lead a row of bound captives dressed in black into the desert and then shoot each of the prisoners in the back of the head. Another group of masked fighters leads a row of prisoners in orange jumpsuits along a beach and then beheads each of them with a long knife, placing the severed heads on the bodies lying on the sand as bloody surf washes over them. 
“You will not have safety even in your dreams, until you accept Islam,” declares a masked figure, speaking English with an American accent and pointing a revolver toward the camera. “To the nation of the cross: We are back again.”
In February of this year, Daesh murdered 21 Coptic Christians in Libya. When I was in the Old City of Jerusalem last month with a friend, we went up to the roof of the Holy Sepulcher, where the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate is located. A banner lamenting the deaths of the Coptic martyrs was strung across the way.


Saturday, April 11, 2015

Holy Fire in Jerusalem April 11, 2015

Today is the ceremony of the Holy Fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre - it's Holy Saturday according to the calendar of Orthodox Christians. Tomorrow is Easter.





Tuesday, April 07, 2015

At the seder table, and the Wise Son

This is another illustration from the same Haggadah, fol. 6 - the participants surrounding the Seder table. The same heimish Jewish faces are represented here.


This is an image of the wise son (from the section of the Four Sons), fol. 8v.



Cute Jewish men identified - the Five Rabbis in B'nai B'rak

My colleague, Stephen Clancy, Professor of Art History at Ithaca College, has identified the source of the image in the previous post. It is taken from MS London, British Library, Add. 14762, "Haggadah for Passover (the 'Ashkenazi Haggadah'), German rite with the commentary of Eleazar of Worms." It is dated to the third quarter of the 15th century, ca. 1460, from southern Germany. The scribe was Meir Jaffe, and the illustrator was Joel ben Simeon Feibush. This is fol. 7v.

The five men are at the bottom of the page. They illustrate the story of the five rabbis in B'nei B'rak, who stayed up all night studying until their disciples came in the morning and told them that it was time to recite the morning Sh'ma.
"A story about R. Eliezer and R. Joshua and R. Tarfon and R. Elazar ben Azariah and R. Akiba who were sitting in B'nai B'rak and were telling about the exodus from Egypt, all that night, until their students came and said to them, 'Our masters, the time has come for the morning recital of the Sh'ma.'"


Cute Jewish men in a medieval manuscript

This is one of my favorite depictions of Jewish men from a medieval manuscript, because they all look so haimish. This image is taken from the cover of Talya Fishman's recent book, Becoming the People of the Talmud: Oral Torah as Written Tradition in Medieval Jewish Cultures. I've searched for the image through Google Images, but I haven't found a source for it other than the cover of the book. I would love to know what manuscript it's from and what it's supposed to be depicting. Who are these five guys, and what book are they discussing? If any of my readers know, please let me know. 



Monday, April 06, 2015

Cats at the Seder

The Jewish Studies Library at Oxford has posted a charming article about depictions of cats at Pesach seders in medieval manuscripts. Here are some of these delightful images.

Forli Siddur, Italy, 1383 (London, British Library, MS Add. 26968, fol. 119v). 

Second Nuremberg Haggadah, Ashkenaz, 1460s
(Jerusalem, Schocken Library, MS 24087, fol. 3v)

From the Oxford Jewish Studies Library:
In some medieval miniatures of the Seder feast, feline creatures appear under the table at the feet of the celebrating family. 
What do these animals do at such an occasion? 
The Pesahim tractate of the Babylonian Talmud discusses at length what to do if a mouse runs into the searched house with a bread crumb in its mouth (bPes 10b). The question is if the house has to be searched again or not. 
In the Second Nuremberg Haggadah, the cat itself comments on its task: “Behold, I bite the mouse, lest he eat the grain” (הנני נושך בעכבר פן יאכל את הבר). Another image on the same folio depicts a man pouring the content of a bowl into a big vessel. The caption says: “One hides the leaven and the grain, lest the mouse drag it away.” Thus it seems that cats are “invited” to catch mice which might bring in some leavened bread crumbs to the searched and already ritually clean house.
Prayer book, Italian rite, 15th century (London, British Library, MS Or. 11924, fol. 153v)

Sister Haggadah, Catalonia (Barcelona), 2nd or 3rd quarter of the 14th century 
(London, British Library, MS Or. 2884, fol. 18r)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Medieval Maps of Jerusalem - Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Cloister of the Redeemer Church
Last Friday I visited the Old City with a friend, and one of the places I went was a small museum in the cloister of the Church of the Redeemer, the Lutheran Church that was built in the Muristan in the late 19th century. The church is built on the site of the 12th century Latin Church of Mary, and it's very close to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. In the museum, there was a facsimile of a map from a medieval manuscript of a pilgrim's visit to Jerusalem late in the 7th century (ca. 670). The pilgrim was Arculf, a Frankish bishop who had visited the holy places.




From the Encyclopedia Britannica (online), the entry on Arculf:
Arculf, (flourished 7th century, Germany), bishop who was the earliest Western Christian traveler and observer of importance in the Middle East after the rise of Islām. Although he most likely was connected with a monastery, some believe he was the bishop of Périgueux, Aquitaine. 
On his return from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land (c. 680),  Arculf was driven by storm to Scotland and so arrived at the Hebridean island of Iona, where he related his experiences to his host, Abbot St. Adamnan. Adamnan’s narrative of Arculf’s journey, De locis sanctis, came to the attention of the Venerable Bede, who inserted a brief summary of it in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People. Bede also wrote a separate and longer digest that endured throughout the Middle Ages as a popular guidebook to the Eastern holy places. 
Among the places Arculf visited were the sacred sites of Judaea, Samaria, and Galilee; Damascus and Tyre; and the Nile River and the volcanic Aeolian Islands (modern Eolie Islands). He drew plans of the churches of the Holy Sepulchre and of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, of the Ascension on Olivet, and of Jacob’s Well at Shechem. His records also include the first form of the story of St. George, patron saint of England.
This illustration is from a 9th century manuscript of De Locis Sanctis, Vienna, Austrian National Library codex 458, f. 4v. The circular area to the left is the Anastasis, the rotunda where the sepulchre itself is located. Outside the rotunda, to the right, is an enclosed rectangle which has the caption "Golgatha" above it - this is the traditionally accepted place of the crucifixion, according to Christian tradition.

Another illustration is found in a different manuscript.


I don't know which plan is original to Arculf or Adamnan, or closest to the original plan.

City of Jerusalem in the Madaba mosaic map. Damascus Gate and
the Church of the Holy Sepulchre are both marked.

My last photo is of the roof of the current-day Church of the Holy Sepulchre, where monks from Ethiopia live.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Election Day in Israel

It's just after 9 pm in Israel, and when the polls close at 10:00 pm, we'll get news about the exit polls. I'm starting to get nervous.

I went on a pleasant tiyul (walking trip) today with people from the Zion synagogue in Jerusalem. Some photos from today:

Menorah in front of the Knesset.

Rakefot (cyclamens) in the Valley of the Cross.

Courtyard of the Monastery of the Cross.

The all-seeing eye, above one of the doorways of the monastery.

Election posters for Isaac Herzog and the Zionist Camp.

Election posters for the Likud.

Binyamin Netanyahu in a Likud election poster.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The New York Times and Antisemitism Today

Whenever I see an article in the New York Times that mentions Israel or Jews in any way, and comments for the article are open, I feel dismay, because I know that many commenters will seize this opportunity to write antisemitic responses. The same is true of the Washington Post (I think it's worse there). Why do the Times, or the Post, or many other online publications not moderate the comment sections in an effective way to keep out antisemitism? (By the way, this is also true of the Forward, and of the English editions of Haaretz and Ynet - I really don't understand why they don't erase such comments). Often one can even see antisemitic remarks in comments on articles that have nothing to do with Israel or Jews.

It's clear (to me, at least), that the lack of moderation of antisemitic comments is an important way that antisemitism is being spread today. Vile ideas that should have buried with the Nazis are now published on the websites of respected, leading newspapers and magazines, with no criticism or condemnation ever coming from the writers or editors of these news sources. If David Duke or Louis Farrakhan wanted to publish an op-ed in the New York Times denouncing the Jews, the Times would never print it. Why do they let equivalent words remain in the comments sections?

This issue came up for me today because of a column by Roger Cohen (pictured left). It is not political. It has nothing to do with Israel or with the negotiations with Iran.

Roger Cohen writes movingly today about the book Where the Road From Auschwitz Ends. He ends his essay with these words:
Written with tender precision, “A Brief Stop on the Road From Auschwitz,” recently published in the United States, is the most powerful account I have read of the other death — the death after the camps, the death from damage that proves insuperable, the death that in this case comes 15 years later, in 1960, after electroshock treatment, in a Swedish lake beside a mental hospital. The project was indeed brief.
The entire essay is about David Rosenberg, the father of the author, Goran Rosenberg. Contemporary politics are not mentioned. Cohen says nothing about the state of Israel.

Yet among the 109 comments currently posted to the article, quite a few take the opportunity to attack Israel and Jews for not learning the lesson of the Holocaust. 

One writer says: 
A touching recount of the lingering wounds that must accompany such trauma. Perhaps someday an articulate Palestinian refugee will pen a book describing the enduring psychological and physical wounds the he or she suffered in Israeli prisons or in the aftermath of the cluster bombings of schools and hospitals, or in observing the intentional demolition of his family's home by Israeli soldiers whilst his parents were still inside.
Another writer castigates the United States, taking Sweden as an example to be followed (because it was neutral during WWII):
Death comes to us all, and is sometimes a merciful end to suffering. Nothing says we must all be so "heroic" and to slough off the worst torture humans can devise for us. 
Sweden was "neutral" in WWII, not because that's what they all wanted. Some, wealthy industrialists, supported Hitler the workers supported his enemies. Swedes opted for a course that would not tear their country apart irreparably. America could learn from that. BTW, it's Göran and Södertalje. Let's try to end America's disdain for foreign languages and our assumption that they don't matter.
Another writer complains that we always hear about the Jews at Auschwitz - how about the non-Jews? 
There are so many stories of Jews who were confined in Auschwitz. Such a terrible place for everyone confined there. And so many confined there were non-Jews whose stories have never been told. Why?
Another writer, thank goodness, recognizes the viciousness of such comments:
Reading the bitter denunciations of Israel, Mr. Netanyahu and Jews (yes, Jews) that appear each day in large numbers among reader comments in this newspaper, I can't help but think that the day when Holocaust memoirs, no matter how beautifully written or evocative of the damage done to the Jewish people during and after the Hitler-time, can have much, if any, real influence or impact is past.
This writer received the following response, from another person who thinks that Jews didn't learn the correct lesson from the Holocaust:
It is wrong for you and others to equate my condemnation of the practices of the State of Israel with antisemitism. I am not against Jews, or the existence of the State of Israel. I am against the barbaric treatment of the Palestinians by the State of Israel. It is easy and morally dishonest to brush aside the protests against the actions of the State of Israel as being anti-Jew. The Holocaust is no excuse to treat the Palestinians the way Israel does.
Another response is even more revolting. This author has failed to comprehend that the arrow of time points only one way:
The Holocaust will never be adequate justification for Israel's behavior, today. If fact, that behavior besmirches the very memory of that evil time.
Whatever the state of Israel does today cannot "besmirch" the memory of the Holocaust, since the state was founded after the Holocaust.

This writer is confused, and comes close to equating the crimes of the Nazis against the Jews with the actions of the IDF:
I am not Jewish, but the stories of the Holocaust move me to tears and anger. It doesn't matter how many stories of I've heard- each is different, yet each is painfully the same. I feel these same emotions for every story I hear of Palestinian suffering - lives lost, despair and brutality of the IDF. Mr. Netanyahu has it exactly wrong. By showing compassion towards their enemy will Israel keep the Holocaust flame lit. Mr. Netanyahu, himself, diminishes the Holocaust by using it as a defense for the murder of thousands of civilians who pose no real danger and whose only crime is being stuck in an open air prison and not being Jewish.
Another righteous soul writes:
From 1950 to 1962 I attended the Fieldston branch of the Ethical Culture Schools which was about 95% Jewish. We even had mandatory Ethics Class taught by a Holocaust Survivor. "Never Again" was a part of life. Being non Jewish and German on my fathers side I couldn't help but feel some guilt even though my father's family had left Germany over 80 years before the rise of Hitler. 
Reading this column I couldn't help but think about how years from now my children or grandchildren will be reading about the personal damage caused by the oppression and dehumanization of despised minority. It seems even worse to me that now it is the Jews "Mowing the grass" as they call dropping bombs on Gaza, and not even allowing students to leave to study in America, Israel's biggest supporter. 
I always thought "Never Again" was supposed to apply to all oppressed peoples. Obviously I was wrong, at least when we are talking about Israel.
He also belongs to the club of those who think that "the Jews" failed to learn the lesson of the Holocaust.

One response to him: "If rockets would be falling on your head or your relatives dying in suicide bombing attacks you would not be comparing Israel to Nazis. Thanks to people like you 'Never Again' will never work."

Another person is annoyed that the tour he took of Auschwitz did not devote enough attention to the death of Maximilian Kolbe:
The holocaust was a terrible thing but I was very disappointed when I visited Auschwitz with a tour group and there was not one mention of St. Maximilian Kolbe who volunteered to die in order to save a Jewish man with a family. The holocaust was horrific but it was not only Jews who were murdered even though they were the majority.

They had St. Koble's cell on display with his religious artifacts and I do think it should have been pointed out to our group. He was a courageous man who should have been honored.
Any sentence that starts out "The holocaust was a terrible thing but...." does not end in a good way. As a respondent commented, Jews were the overwhelming majority of those killed at Auschwitz.

A writer from France accuses Roger Cohen of writing about the Holocaust because Israel is once again in the news.
I have nothing against keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive, so that "never again" remains front and centre. But I do have a problem with the Holocaust memory being abused for political gain. It seems every time Israel gets itself into hot water, there is a surge in Holocaust writings in the press. Mr. Cohen should not confuse our pledge of "never again" with our acceptance of Israel's transgressions.
As I said before, Cohen didn't mention anything about Israel in his essay - this conspiracy exists only in the mind of the author. Fortunately, someone else responded: "Trust me, Mr. Cohen is not an apologist for Israel; this essay has nothing to do with Israel's 'being in hot water.' It is about the half-life left to most survivors."

Another commenter, bizarrely, seems to think that Cohen is opposed to the US negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Although he claims to be an avid reader of Cohen, he doesn't seem to have understood what he said.
I have been an avid reader of Mr. Cohen for quite a long time. But I was aware of the Holocaust before I read one of his column. In fact, as a Vietnam veteran. I actually witnessed a Holocaust many Americans wish to forget about or remain in denial about, namely, how we attempted to commit genocide against the Vietnamese during the Vietnam War. I'm still waiting for that column from Mr. Cohen. But Mr. Cohen fails the crucial test to me for being a true and credible public intellectual, that is, using a tragedy merely to manipulate the readers rather than guiding them on the search for the truth. And to be really blunt with you, I grew up in what can only be termed an anti-Semitic family of origin. So I have always been quite sensitive to that issue having grown up around that virus when I criticize one of Mr. Cohen's column. But we have to give - at least for now - diplomacy a chance in our negotiations with Iran. But what really disturbs me about Mr. Cohen's latest column really isn't what he wrote about, it's about what he avoids writing about. That was my main point. He's being intellectually dishonest. And that debases his currency as a public intellectual. But that is his choice.
Another writer thinks that Cohen wrote this column about a man who survived the Holocaust in order to deceive his readers about Israel. He accuses him of using the "Auschwitz card." This is among the most vile comments on this article.
This deeply biased commentary should not be left unrefuted. The Palestinians had no role in what Europeans did to the Jews among them, and owe no one anything. Indeed, they are the inhabitants and owners of Palestine and have been for thousands of years. European Jews forced their way onto the land, with the connivance of British imperialists and expelled the Palestinians at gunpoint or worse. They have ever right to our support in their fight to regain at least some of their land. At a minimum we should resist those among us who would give yet more weapons and money to help the Israelis in their oppression of Palestine.

Cohen knows this only too well and writes about it, but can not refrain from playing the Auschwitz card. Decent Americans should not be taken in by it.
And finally, another response (confused, badly written, and conspiracy theory ridden) that traffics in antisemitic tropes:
Why is the media not also conducting, distract our attention from contemporary genocides -out sourcing of US jobs, flood of immigrants used as the functional equivalent of US slaves etc, with almost daily rehashes of the "Second Holocaust" that the east European countries and Russia conducted before, during and after WWII that killed another 6 million Jews? Could it be, that again distraction is the fundamental Zionist part of the 1% reason for the continual avalanche of "never forgetting" the Nazis, while to "remember" the radical east European and Russian pogroms and gulag Holocaust would anger potential customers for high profit margin junk, and threaten access to all that now cheap East European labor. Seems it really is ALL ABOUT THE MONEY!
The Nazis killed 6 million Jews; there was no "Second Holocaust" by the Russians and Eastern European countries that killed another 6 million. What is the "fundamentalist Zionist part of the 1% reason, etc."? Why is the New York Times permitting the publication of such an insane piece of nonsense?

Saturday, March 07, 2015

"Walking while Jewish" in Europe

An article from the Daily Mail presents several instances of people "walking while Jewish" through various European cities - all men wearing kippot.

In Bradford and Manchester, British journalist Jonathan Kalmus encountered antisemitic jeers and insults, and one person followed him and took pictures of him.
He writes: "'You Jew' was the anti-Semitic scream which came from a passing car. My shaken wife tried to explain it away to my seven-year-old daughter as a very large sneeze. They were simply playing in a local park in Manchester a few weeks ago when the incident ripped through what should have been a peaceful and wholesome time for any mother and child. 
"'Fight the Jewish scum' and 'Jew, Jew, Jew... Run', were the more vicious threats hurled at me in the past few days, however, when I decided to secretly film and find out whether 'Jew-hatred' really is alive and kicking on British streets."
The article also reports on similar walks; in Paris, by Israeli journalist Zvika Klein, who was a victim of harassment, threats, and spitting; in Copenhagen, where Omar Shargawi, an award-winning Palestinian-Danish documentary maker, put on a kippah - for the most part he was not harassed except when someone shouted "F**k you little Jew"; in Rome Ben Katz was greeted in a friendly fashion by some people who said "Shalom" or "Shabbat Shalom" to him, but he was also cursed at by right-wing hoodlums; in Berlin Adam Goldman was undisturbed, except when some teenagers "turned their heads and pointed as if they couldn't get over the fact that there was a real living Jew standing close to them but that is just ignorant teenagers"; and finally in Stockholm, Simon Moser rode the subway and got no reaction whatsoever from people who saw him.

In Germany I've felt quite apprehensive about wear a star of David on a necklace, but perhaps I shouldn't be so nervous about it. It seems like I'd get a far more hostile response in other parts of Europe.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A visit to the Eshta'ol Forest - Cyclamens and Poppies


A couple of days ago, a friend and I went in search of a calm, natural place to spend a couple of hours, and we found the Eshta'ol Forest, next to Ta'oz, in the Judean foothills.


We first found a strange lookout tower, the Harel Lookout Point. It turns out that this tower was first constructed during the 1948 war. A sign nearby reads: "The building that served until 1948 as Beit Jit's school stood on this spot. During the work on the Burma Road, the site was a Seventh Brigade outpost that guarded the detour. Today it is the site of a lookout tower for KKL forest rangers and the starting point for a trip along the marked section of the Burma Road." The Burma Road was built as an alternative route to the regular road to Jerusalem, which was very dangerous to Jewish travel because Arab fighters regularly shot at and ambushed the Jewish convoys. Because the road was nearly blockaded, Jerusalem was cut off from supplies from other parts of the country. The Burma Road enabled convoys to reach the Jewish parts of Jerusalem. The second map below is taken from Wikipedia Commons and shows the state of fighting in the area on June 11, 1948. It also shows the area of the Burma Road ("Route de Birmanie") and where the Seventh Brigade was stationed.As you can see, almost all of the villages were inhabited by Palestinian Arabs,  The villages were conquered and destroyed by the Haganah during the the war.

We walked behind the lookout tower and found a short trail that went into the woods, and found a beautiful site - fields full of cyclamens (called rakafet in Hebrew) interspersed with the occasional red poppy. There were other pretty flowers as well, but I don't know what they're called.

















An Assyrian winged being

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Study: Anti-Semitism on the Rise at U.S. Colleges

Tablet Magazine reports on an interesting new survey on the experiences of Jewish students of antisemitism at American colleges.
A new study from the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law and Trinity College found that anti-Semitism is on the rise on U.S. college campuses. Their National Demographic Survey of American Jewish College Students polled 1,157 students about their campus experience, and found that 44 to 73 percent, with an average of 54 percent, reported experiencing anti-Semitism during the first six months of the 2013-2014 academic year.
The study found that anti-Semitism pervades all campuses, not just ones with strong anti-Israel activism or in parts of the country where Jews are a smaller minority.

There also appears to have been a shift in who is experiencing anti-Semitism on campus. While Orthodox men, who are visibly identifiable as Jewish, had previously been the most likely target of anti-Semitism, the study found that students who identify as Conservative or Reform were reporting incidents most often (as were participants in Jewish campus organizations).

Jewish women feel far more at risk on campus, with 59 percent (as opposed to 51 percent of men) reporting witnessing bigotry firsthand.

The rise of anti-Semitism internationally in the wake of last summer’s Gaza war has been much discussed. What’s interesting about this study is that it’s based on incidents from the 2013-2014 school year, before the war.
The report itself is available at Antisemitism Report (pdf).

One of the most interesting findings of the survey is that younger Jews report much more exposure to antisemitic incidents than older Jews.
According to the Pew Research Center’s 2013 Survey of U.S. Jews, anti-Semitism in the U.S. today is a problem mainly facing the younger generation of American Jews. Among Jews aged 18-29 years, 22% reported being called offensive names during 2012. By comparison, 6% of those ages 50-64 years and only 4% of those 65 or older said this happened to them in the past year.
When I started teaching I was surprised to discover that some of my Jewish students had encountered forms of antisemitism that I had only read about. They said that at home they had regularly heard people say "Jew (someone) down" (meaning to get something more cheaply), and some had had pennies thrown at them (same idea). At college, mezuzahs on doors had been ripped off, and swastikas had been scrawled on walls. A few reported hearing antisemitic expressions from friends of theirs. A few reported having been asked about whether they had horns. Given what I've heard from my students, I'm not surprised at this report.

Incidents like these do not end up in the FBI's statistics on hate crimes, since they don't rise to the level of crimes. But they do make Jewish students feel unsafe, and wondering where they will find the support they need.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Snow in Jerusalem

I've never been in Jerusalem for a really big snowstorm before, but now I have my own photos of today's snow in Jerusalem. These were taken in my yard (on Elazar ha-Modai St) and then along the way as I walked up and back Emek Refaim St to Super ha-Moshava. I tried to find an open cafe but the only one available was about to close. The report on the radio was that about 30 cm fell in Jerusalem, which is almost a foot of snow.