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January 20, 2017 / 22 Tevet, 5777

Posts Tagged ‘eretz’

Felix Bonfils’s Photographs Of Eretz Yisrael

Wednesday, August 17th, 2016

Travelogues and other reports written in the second half of the 19th century, most famously Mark Twain’s The Innocents Abroad, establish the presence of thriving Jewish communities throughout Eretz Yisrael, particularly in Jerusalem. See, for example, my Jewish Press article “Mark Twain, Eretz Yisrael, and the Jews (June 18, 2015) for a full discussion on this subject.

Charles Wilson, the leader of the 1865 Ordnance Survey of Jerusalem, reported that some 9,000 Jews lived in the city and, according to William Seward, who served as secretary of state under President Abraham Lincoln and visited Eretz Yisrael in 1871, Jews made up half of Jerusalem’s population of 16,000.

Starting in the mid-1800s, steamship travel opened up the Middle East to explorers, missionaries, travelers, and – most significantly for our purposes here –photographers.

If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, these path-breaking photographers produced images that exhibited the breadth of Jewish life in Eretz Yisrael perhaps better than any travelogue or written or oral account could. The photographic subjects included not only ancient Jewish populations in Jerusalem and other biblical cities, but also Jewish pioneers who were, even then, developing the land and building new Jewish settlements in the Galilee and along the Mediterranean coast. They also included photographs of important Jewish religious and historical sites, such as the Kotel Hamaaravi (the Western Wall), Kever Rachel (Rachel’s Tomb), and Migdal David (David’s Tower).

Felix Bonfils (1831-1885) was essentially unknown to the world until October 1971, when a group of students opposed to the war in Vietnam blew up a military research institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which resulted in the exposure of a long-forgotten attic in the adjacent Semitic Museum. Staff found boxes filled with 28,000 photos from the Levant, including more than 800 photos with the signature of “Bonfils.”

Bonfils’s photographs, which constitute important historical records of people, places, and buildings in the Middle East, are considered comparable in beauty and documentary value to the work of archaeologists. He took photographs in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Greece, and Turkey, but it is his prints of Eretz Yisrael that provide particularly valuable information to us about the land and people there toward the end of the nineteenth century. As he reported to the French Photographic Society in 1871, after his arrival in Beirut (1867), he had produced “15,000 prints and 9,000 stereoscopic views, principally pictures of Jerusalem and various panoramas.”

Bonfils deliberately selected his subjects in order to preserve a vast range of information for geographical, ethnographic, biblical, archeological, architectural, and historical studies. His work was particularly important in that it spanned many decades and encompassed the period when momentous changes were underway that would forever alter Middle Eastern landscapes and ways of life. As a result, he was able to record scenes that had remained unchanged for millennia and provide an important contrast reflecting advances in technology and changes in social values and traditions, and his work formed the most comprehensive visual anthologies of Near Eastern material and culture at the time.

I believe it is essential to point out that notwithstanding the phenomenal scope of this remarkable material, not a single one of Bonfils’s photographs depicted a “Palestinian” from whom Zionists and other Jews are supposed to have taken land pursuant to “occupation.” But I will leave a fuller discussion of that issue for another day.

Exhibited with this column are three of Bonfils’s most famous photographs. All are original vintage albumen prints on a thin sheet of paper with sepia color and slightly glossy surface, signed in the negative by Bonfils. The composition, mood, and lighting all suggest very ancient, historic, and holy landscapes.


This is a print of Kever Rachel in which Bonfils has captured the main road between Jerusalem and Bethlehem (the man and donkey are on this road); the domed building that was built over Rachel’s tomb; the old tree that has been at the site for hundreds of years; and, in the background, the village of Beit Jalla.



This print of Migdal David, which Bonfils titled Forteresse près de la porte de Jaffa à Jérusalem (see inscription at lower right), shows wooden shacks, animals, carts, and general trade outside the Jaffa Gate and the stone wall around Jerusalem.


This is among the most famous and well-recognized photographs of the Kotel. Like virtually all the photographs taken by Bonfils and others at the time, they were shot from ground level and therefore do not show the very tiny area within which Jews were permitted to pray at this sole surviving remnant of the Beit HaMikdash.

Bonfils, among the first European photographers to settle in the Middle East, established a studio in Lebanon in 1867. It became one of the most prolific commercial photographic studios of its time. While there were some 200 photographers in the Middle East during this period who shot and marketed photos, some quite good, few could match the breadth and quality of Bonfils’s work. As Gratien Charvet, founder of the Societe Saentifique et Litteraire, wrote in the introduction to Souvenirs d’Orient, Bonfils’ 1878 collection:

“The collection of photographs of the Orient’s principal sites, initiated, executed and completed by Monsieur F. Bonfils with unequaled perseverance, should be regarded as one of the most considerable achievements – picturesque, artistic and scientific – of our epoch.”

Bonfils made his negatives on glass plates, coated with a silver nitrate solution that had to be prepared on the spot – usually in a tent out of the Middle Eastern sun – and they were immediately exposed and developed; the actual prints were usually made later. Only 18 glass negatives are known to have survived; the rest were washed clean to make fresh negatives, or lost in troubled Beirut, or purposely smashed to provide lens makers with fresh “ground glass” during a shortage.

Saul Jay Singer

Eretz Israel Knesset Lobby: Keep IDF in Arab Cities

Sunday, April 17th, 2016

The co-chairmen of the Eretz Israel lobby in the Knesset, MKs Yoav Kisch (Likud) and Bezalel Smotrich (Habayit Hayehudi) on Sunday called on the cabinet not to adopt the proposal to withdraw the IDF from the Arab city centers in Judea and Samaria.

The two MKs said in a statement, “We mustn’t reward terrorism, and the days when we relinquished the security of Israeli citizens to the Palestinian Authority have long since ended. Instead of reducing our hold on the land we must present a formidable iron wall against our enemies. After half a year of PA supported terrorism, we must make sure that the clear result of the terror will be zero achievements to the enemy, and not the other way around. The message must be clear, the IDF will secure our citizens wherever it is needed.”

David Israel

‘You Murder the Children’: Rav Soloveitchik on Abortion

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

When one thinks of Modern Orthodoxy, Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik zt”l soon comes to mind for his leadership thereof. In our time, however, Modern Orthodoxy has become a vague term with problematic tendencies. As Rabbi Steven Pruzansky–who has numerous shiurim on Yeshiva University’s Torah website–recently wrote, “Too often, one finds in the Modern Orthodox world grievances of one sort or another against this or that aspect of Torah, as if Jews get to sit in judgment of God and His Torah.”

No issue might better crystallize the dissonance between Rav Soloveitchik’s Modern Orthodoxy and today’s than abortion. Let us consider the great man’s views.

During a shiur on Parashat Bo in 1975, Rav Soloveitchik stated that “to me it is something vulgar, this clamor of the liberals that abortion be permitted,” adding:

“I consider the society of today as insane…I read from the press that in Eretz Yisrael they permit abortions now! Sapir [probably Pinchas Sapir] comes to the US and asks that 60,000 boys and girls should leave the US and settle in Eretz Yisrael. When a child is born, it’s also immigration to Eretz Yisrael, and yet you murder the children.”

Rav Soloveitchik then predicted:

“And if you kill the fetus, a time will come when even infants will be killed…The mother will get frightened after the baby will be born…and the doctor will say her life depends upon the murder of the baby. And you have a word, mental hygiene, whatever you want you can subsume under mental hygiene…And there is now a tendency for rabbis in the US to march along with society, otherwise they’ll be looked upon as reactionaries.”

Similar remarks appear in Reflections of the Rav:

“If the dominant principle governing the logos [“thinking capacity”] is that abortion is morally permissible because only a mother has a right to decide whether she wishes to be a mother, then infants may similarly have their lives terminated after birth. What if the child interferes with the promising brilliant career of the mother?”

These words might be jarring for those who view Rav Soloveitchik as the mild-mannered author of philosophically oriented books like The Lonely Man of Faith. Equally if not more jarring might be Rav Soloveitchik’s statements on sexual morality, which I discussed a few months ago.

Specific to abortion, one might counter that Rav Soloveitchik permitted an unborn child with Tay-Sachs disease to be aborted through the sixth month, but this proves just the opposite, namely: 1) What does this narrow, tragic case indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s general view of abortion? 2) What does it indicate about Rav Soloveitchik’s view of abortion after the sixth month even in the case of Tay-Sachs? And vis-à-vis those who claim a woman’s absolute right to “terminate a pregnancy” at any point, I doubt such an attempt to (mis)represent Rav Soloveitchik as a “moderate” on abortion would be received agreeably. In this regard, one of Rav Soloveitchik’s sons-in-law, Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, shlita, has observed in the context of abortion:

“Even if we were to accept that indeed it is the woman’s own body, we totally reject the conception that she then can do with it as she pleases. This is a completely anti-halakhic perception [emphasis added]. It rests on a secular assumption that, as it were, ‘My Nile is my own; I made it for myself’ (Yechezkel 29:3), as if we are the source of our own existence and therefore the masters of our own being. This is assuredly not the case.”

Rav Lichtenstein summarizes the worldview of that anti-halakhic perception as follows:

“The essence of modern secular culture is the notion of human sovereignty; individual man is master over himself, and collective man is master over his collective… From a religious point of view, of course, eilu va-eilu divrei avoda zara—both approaches are idolatrous. Here one establishes individual man as an idol, and the one idolizes, in humanistic terms, humanity as a whole. The basis of any religious perception of human existence is the sense that man is not a master: neither a master over the world around him, nor a master over himself.”

Yes, Rav Soloveitchik earned a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Berlin (as likewise Rav Lichtenstein earned a Ph.D. in English literature from Harvard). Yes, Rav Soloveitchik enjoyed classical music (especially Bach). And first and foremost, Rav Soloveitchik was a Torah Jew for whom Halachah was not some intellectual game or cultural style, rather an all-encompassing conviction with profound social implications. Thus his denunciations of abortion, which derived from the same worldview as these remarks in 1953:

Menachem Ben-Mordechai

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/a-banner-raised-high/you-murder-the-children-rav-soloveitchik-on-abortion/2013/09/23/

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