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October 25, 2014 / 1 Heshvan, 5775
At a Glance

Posts Tagged ‘Holy Land’

Denying Israel’s Biblical And Historical Roots

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

There appears to be a newly energized effort underway to delegitimize any identification of the modern state of Israel with biblical Israel. This sort of thing has been around for a while but it was usually engaged in by Arab nations and hardcore  critics of Israel.

Thus it was disappointing, but not surprising, that in his September speech to the UN General Assembly, PA President Mahmoud Abbas referred to the Holy Land as the “land of Palestine, the land of the Prophet and the birthplace of Jesus.”

And UNESCO’s granting of full membership to the Palestinians is certain to stimulate ever-greater efforts by that body to undermine Israel’s cultural and historical connection to the Holy Land. A little over a year ago, UNESCO classified Kever Rachel as a mosque and “an integral part of the occupied Palestinian territories.” And the Palestinians, separate and apart from the negotiating process, are asking UNESCO to recognizing 20 sites – including Hebron, Jericho and Bethlehem – as “Palestinian World Heritage Sites.”

Particularly dismaying is the broad traction achieved by a new book, The Unmaking of Israel, from Israeli journalist and longtime settlement critic Gershom Gorenberg. Mr. Gorenberg’s thesis is that by keeping and settling territory it conquered in 1967, Israel has undermined both its status as a democracy and the rule of law. He says it has led to corrosive ties between state and synagogue, promoted religious extremism and distorted Judaism.

Absent from his analysis is any notion that Israel has biblical/historical ties to the lands it won in 1967. And the fact that Israel has been given no real opportunity over the years to accommodate the Arabs (other than by marching into the Mediterranean) seems to play no role in Mr. Gorenberg’s thinking.

Not surprisingly, the Gorenberg book has been well received in academic and intellectual circles. Also hardly a surprise, The New York Times this past Sunday saw fit to publish an op-ed piece by Mr. Gorenberg (titled “Israel’s Other Occupation”) which was basically a screed against Israeli policies within the so-called “green line,” accusing Israel of doing to its Arab citizens what it is allegedly doing to the Palestinians of the West Bank.

Another article meriting mention is political scientist Ronald R. Krebs’s “Israel’s Bunker Mentality: How the Occupation Is Destroying the Nation,” which appears in Foreign Affairs, the influential journal published by the Council on Foreign Relations. Mr. Krebs argues that Israel’s continuing presence in the territories has played a central role in transforming a country once brimming with optimism into an increasingly despondent and illiberal place.

Like Mr. Gorenberg, Mr. Krebs not only provides a distorted narrative about the facts on the ground, he seems quite oblivious to the realities foisted on Israel by the Arab world and totally unconcerned with Israel’s biblical/historical ties to the land.

We hope to see informed rejoinders to the likes of Messrs Gorenberg and Krebs, in both popular and intellectual media outlets, in the coming weeks.

The Power Of The Shofar

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

In my last column I wrote of that which we must do in response to the wake-up calls that have been knocking incessantly at our doors these past few months.

We all know that nothing in Jewish life happens by itself – our Torah teaches us that a man does not even stub his toe without it being declared in the Heavens above, so everything has its own message and its own significance.

In Jewish life, there are no random happenings. Every day has its own energy, so it is not by accident that the “messages” that have more recently called out to us have come specifically during this Rosh Hashanah season.

While I wrote in my article that, b’ezrat Hashem, I would try to spell out what these wake-up calls demand of us, I must also be totally realistic and concede that while many will agree that, yes, changes must be made, they are convinced, even as they say so, that it is too late for them. They are what they are and can no longer alter that.

But it is precisely because of this that the wake-up calls were sent to us specifically at this season. We are in the month of Elul, when the sound of the shofar summons us.

The shofar – a primitive instrument that to a stranger sounds like a lot of noise – has a magical power. It is capable of penetrating even the most dormant hearts and souls. Over the centuries we may have assimilated, we may have been lost in the melting pots of foreign cultures, but the magic call of the shofar has never lost its power to resuscitate us.

Therefore, before I write about what the wake-up calls demand of us, I would like us to focus on the shofar – which during this month of Elul is sounded every day in the synagogue, reminding us of the sanctity of our calling and our ability to change. Allow me to take you back to my earliest childhood, a time when the call of the shofar spoke to me for the very first time.

I recall standing next to my mother in synagogue as the shofar was sounded. A feeling of awe and trepidation descended on the congregation as the call of the shofar reverberated. Time stood still. No one moved, and though I was young, I was struck b the sanctity of it all.

Overnight, everything changed. Our synagogue became a wistful memory as the suffocating darkness of the Nazi concentration camp Bergen Belsen enveloped us. But even in that hell on earth, as Rosh Hashanah 1944 neared, we yearned to hear the ancient sound of the shofar and were prepared to make every sacrifice to see our dream fulfilled.

Through heroic efforts and at great risk and sacrifice, we managed to collect 200 cigarettes that we bartered for a shofar. Adjacent to our Hungarian compound was a Polish camp, and they somehow got wind of our treasure. When Rosh Hashanah came and we sounded the shofar, our brethren in the Polish camp crept close to the barbed wire fence separating us so that they too might hear its piercing cry.

Nazi guards came running and beat all of us mercilessly, but even as the truncheons fell on our heads, we cried out, “Baruch atah Hashem, Elokienu Melech Ha’olam, asher kiddishanu b’mitzvosav v’tzivanu l’shmoa kol shofar – Blessed art Thou L-rd our G-d, King of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to listen to the sound of the shofar.”

Many years later I was speaking in Israel in Neve Aliza, a village in Samaria. It was late summer, just before the Yomim Noraim, and I related the story of the shofar of Bergen Belsen. When I finished, a woman in the audience stood up. She had a handsome face and appeared to be a little older than I was.

“That shofar you spoke of,” she said. “I know exactly what you are talking about because, you see, my father was the rabbi in the Polish camp. You may not know this, but the shofar was smuggled into our camp and my father blew it there.”

I looked at her, dumbfounded. My eyes filled with tears. There were no words to express the awe that filled my heart.

“I have the shofar in my home,” she went on to say, and with that, she ran to her house and returned with it a few minutes later. We wept, we embraced, we reminisced, all the while clutching the shofar in our hands.

The miracle of that shofar left us breathless. The entire world had declared us dead. Hitler’s “final solution” had taken its toll. Millions of our people were gassed and burned in the crematoria, but the shofar triumphed over the flames. And G-d granted me the privilege of rediscovering it in Eretz Yisrael, in the ancient hills of Samaria. Who would have believed it – the shofar from Bergen Belsen in our Holy Land held by two women who were young children in the camps and who by every law of logic should have perished in the gas chambers.

After almost 2,000 years of wandering, oppression, torture and Holocaust, we returned to our land and the shofar accompanied us. Indeed, who would have believed it?

Now, if the shofar – an inanimate, primitive instrument – can survive the centuries without losing any of its powers, if it can continued to awaken dormant Jewish hearts and charge them with their mission, then surely, every Yiddishe neshamah is a powerhouse into which the shofar can be plugged to create a light that will illuminate the entire world with the Divine light of Torah.

So yes, we can change, because in each and every Yiddish neshamah exists a Divine light – a light that emanates from Sinai and can never be extinguished.

(To Be Continued)

In Loco Templum: Amsterdam’s Esnoga/Portuguese Synagogue

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

One of the aspects of the biblical construction narratives – both those about the Tabernacle in the wilderness in Exodus, and in 1 Kings about Solomon’s Temple in the Holy Land – that most troubled and confused me when I was young was the aesthetic status of the structures.

 

If the Tabernacle and Temple were based upon divine designs, I reasoned, they could not possibly be improved upon. Yet, having attended many art classes that included intimidating critiques which left no work unscathed, I could not imagine how the Temple design could possibly be so clever and original that critics and historians would put down their pencils and simply adore and worship.

 

 


Rear view of Esnoga

 

 

Of course, youth has a way of making one feel that one’s questions are unique, and this aesthetic controversy has been considered and analyzed enough times that the path need not be further trodden. But I could not help but be reminded of it reading The Esnoga: A Monument to Portuguese-Jewish Culture (1991, D’ARTS, Amsterdam), particularly David P. Cohen Paraira’s essay “A Jewel in the City: The architectural history of the Portuguese-Jewish Synagogue.”

 

In the outward slanted buttresses in the rear of the 17th century synagogue (image one), Cohen Paraira sees an echo of contemporary visions of Solomon’s Temple. For example, an illustration (image two) in a book by Rabbi Jacob Juda Leon – called ‘Templo’ for his obsession with the Temple – depicts similarly sloped supports in the rear of the Temple. The additions to the rear of the synagogue were added in 1773-1774 “on the basis of the model of the Temple made by Jacob Juda Leon Templo in 1642,” Cohen Paraira says.

 

In 1642, Leon (1602 – 1675) wrote the book Afbeeldinge vanden Tempel Salomonis (Illustrations of the Temple of Solomon), which would be translated into seven languages. Cohen Paraira credits the success of Leon’s book to its legibility, accessibility and illustrations, in sharp contrast to the more esoteric competing book by Jesuits Prado and Villalpando. Leon also had miniature models of the Tabernacle and Solomon’s Temple which he took on tour, and which, Cohen Paraira notes, resurfaced and commanded attention nearly a century after Leon’s death.

 

That the Spanish-Portuguese Sephardi community in Amsterdam went to great lengths to design the Esnoga based on Solomon’s Temple is indisputable.

 

 


Anonymous colored engraving of Solomon’s Temple according to Jacob Juda Leon Templo from Biblica Hebraica (published 1667). Jewish Historical Museum, Amsterdam

 

 

Just as Solomon’s Temple had two columns (named Jachin and Boaz, which the Catholic church later claimed to have recovered and reinstalled in St. Peter’s) at its entrance, Esnoga had pillars on the west side. The Temple had a separation between the courtyard, Holy section (Kodesh) and the Holy of Holies (Kodesh HaKedoshim); Esnoga’s interior design and its strategically placed railings mirrored the separation between Temple domains. Additionally, Esnoga’s 12 pillars might correspond to the 12 tribes of Israel, and its 72 windows might refer to a 72-letter divine name, Cohen Paraira suggests.

 

Furthermore, the iconographic representation of the Ten Commandments over the Ark – which feature much more extensive inscriptions than most arks do – reference Moses’ tablets, which were housed in the Holy of Holies. According to Cohen Paraira, the Ten Commandments at Esnoga is likely “the first example of an Ark with the tables of the law.” Although that is a tall claim, which might or might not be the case, it is interesting to note that Rembrandt, who lived in the Jewish quarter and who was friends with Menasseh ben Israel, seems to have worked from virtually the same type face and layout in his painting of Moses.

 

 


Interior of Esnoga. Photo: Menachem Wecker

 

 

This might explain why Rembrandt made the curious decision to include significant parts of the final commandment in his inscription, and why he skipped certain words – having run out of space, he tried his best to remain true to the Esnoga layout. It does not, however, explain his spelling errors.

 

However much the 17th century Spanish-Portuguese community sought to mimic Solomon’s Temple and its perfect architecture (though Cohen Paraira notes it also tried to imitate classical Greek and Roman models of symmetry), it would have probably surprised the founders and patrons to learn what transpired during the 250th anniversary of the synagogue.

 

The parnassim (synagogue trustees) hoped to add another pulpit to the synagogue, which would be styled exactly like the tevah (area where the chazzan led services). But the synagogue had been listed as a historic building, so the parnassim had to submit an application to the national historic monuments commission.

 

 


Interior of Esnoga. Photo: Menachem Wecker

 

 

The response was eerily evocative of my own question about perfect divine-inspired architecture. “Portuguese synagogue is a building of such beauty, in its lines, proportions and sober ornament,” the national historic monuments commission wrote, “that no change whatsoever which might be made to the interior could improve it.”

 

Electricity has yet to invade synagogue’s interior, which is lit solely by natural light and candles (1,000 of them, placed in the massive chandeliers), and even the dust in Esnoga is holy – or at least fulfills a holy mission. As my tour guide, Vera Querido, explained, the floor of the synagogue was covered with sand to absorb both sounds and dirt from people’s shoes.

 

The day I visited Esnoga it was painfully clear from the temperature in the room that the lack of insulation on the walls made them no match for the chilling Amsterdam winds. But although it is surely easier to worship and to focus on one’s prayers in a synagogue with a climate-controlled interior, there was an aspect of the atmosphere that made a strong impression on me.

 

The holiday of Sukkot is supposed to remind worshippers, who leave the comfort of their homes for the precariousness of the sukkah-hut, how fragile they truly are. That was precisely the same feeling one gets standing in Esnoga.

 

Not only does the massive scale of the interior make one feel small, and not only does the ripe old age of the structure command respect, but it feels like a time warp. I could almost see the distinguished ladies and gentlemen sitting in the pews, and perhaps even Rembrandt, sketchbook in hand, standing off in the corner in the shadows.


 


Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com.


 


This article is the fourth in a series on Jewish Amsterdam and The Hague, which is based on a trip sponsored by the Netherlands Board of Tourism & Conventions.

Have Artists Condemned The “Wayward Wife” To Oblivion? Richard McBee’s new Sotah series

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

At the risk of being crude, the narrative in Numbers 5 of the Sotah, the so-called “wayward wife,” ought to be a goldmine for biblical painters. It is hard to imagine a biblical punishment more vivid and aesthetically fertile than the adulterous woman’s belly bursting after she drinks the “bitter waters” into which the priest has erased the Divine Name – a violation of the third commandment so reprehensible it is clear how serious the Torah sees this issue. Forget the shyness of Esther before Ahasuerus, which has so fascinated artists for centuries. The Sotah is on trial for her life, literally exposed and alone in front of a host of men in the holy Temple. Numbers 5 devotes 21 verses to the Sotah; by comparison, Numbers 20 only gives 13 verses to Moses’ sin of striking the rock, which prevents him from entering the Holy Land.


But the only representation I knew of the episode (until recently) is disappointingly tame. There are no bloated bellies, and barely even an action shot. The miniature comes from a Christian book — a History Bible from Utrecht dated 1443, in the collection of The Hague. In the miniature, the suspected wife kneels before the priest, as another man – her jealous husband? – looks on. The priest hands the Sotah a golden vessel (though Numbers 5:17 prescribes earthenware), which surely holds the bitter waters with the Divine Name. Ironically, whereas Numbers 5: 18, where the priest uncovers the woman’s hair, is one of the sources for the practice of women modestly covering their hair, the miniaturist depicts the Sotah with a veil (or wimple) over her head.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sotah Exposed” (2009).

Marc Michael Epstein, professor of religion and Jewish Studies at Vassar College, shared another image with me from Christian Hebrew scholar Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s 1674 Latin translation of the Mishnaic tractate of Sotah. In the image, two groups of observers watch as three priests restrain a woman under an arch, adorned with the Hebrew inscription, “This is the gate of the Lord; pure women might pass through it” (a feminized adaptation of Psalms 118:20). On the floor in front of the woman, lie a jug and a piece of paper, presumably the cup of bitter waters and the scroll with the divine name. Through the gate, the temple is clearly visible. The woman’s hair is bare, and she is partially unclothed.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sotah Drinks the Bitter Waters” (2009).

Why have Jewish artists entirely neglected this important biblical episode, and why have Christian artists nearly avoided it altogether? It is hard to imagine that they were aware that the episode might never have been enacted. (See for example Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s article on Sotah at MyJewishLearning.com.) And even if Numbers 5 is meant to put forth a law that was never practiced, why should that have stopped artists?


I will save speculations about why artists avoided this narrative for other venues. Instead, it is worth examining a new series on the Sotah by Richard McBee, co-author of this column. In my opinion (and it is incumbent upon me to disclose that Richard has been a colleague and great friend for six years), McBee’s series is nothing short of revolutionary.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sin” (2009).

All images oil on canvas, 24 x 24, and courtesy of Richard McBee.

The four paintings (each 24 inches squared) in the series show the sin (here seclusion, not the actual obscene act), the exposure in the Temple (where the Mishnah in Sotah 1:5 says the woman is actually unclothed by the priest), the drinking of the waters and the woman’s return home with her husband after she is found to be innocent.


McBee sets the ancient narrative in a contemporary urban setting. The “Temple” where the Sotah is charged and tried becomes McBee’s own synagogue on the Lower East Side, and the Sotah and her husband’s apartment is part of a building that could be just about anywhere in a major city. The characters wear contemporary Orthodox and Chassidic garb – black hats, coats, shtreimels and dresses.


In the series, McBee manages to represent the narrative in an almost theatrical or cinematic manner, and it is easy to imagine his designs working for an operatic set. Although the palette is overwhelmingly dark and ominous – as is to be expected given the grave plot of the material – the divine presence, which is so apparent in the narrative, can be sensed in areas of intense light in each painting.


Although each of the four paintings merits careful examination, the final image, The Sotah Returns Home, is perhaps the most provocative. All the biblical narrative offers by way of resolution to the story is that if innocent, the woman, who nonetheless undergoes a humiliating public trial, is blessed with a son. “And the husband shall be clean from sin,” declares verse 31, “and the woman shall bear her sin.”


In McBee’s painting, the man and wife sit in opposite rooms in an apartment, the only lit room in an otherwise dark, cityscape at night. The woman sits on a bed in the dark, looking back over her shoulder at her husband. The man sits on a chair under a light, which passes through a curtain and shines a spotlight on the woman. The woman looks shy and helpless, while the man holds up his hand, as if explaining himself for his jealousy that subjected her to humiliation.

 


Richard McBee. “The Sotah Returns Home” (2009).

McBee’s painting overwhelms the viewer with the realization that life will never be the same for the man and woman, who will have to get to know each other all over again. Perhaps there is an occurrence of PTSD – post-traumatic Sotah disorder.


I’m not sure why artists have shied away from the Sotah as if she were the plague. Maybe the story is so intense that it is hard not to caricature it. Maybe Christian artists found new episodes in their scripture that conveyed the same messages, and they chose to represent those narratives rather than Numbers 5.


Either way, McBee’s series not only tackles a long-neglected motif, but also examines it through very modern eyes. When private sins are so regularly broadcast publically on the news and on YouTube, contemporary bible readers might be equipped in an unprecedented way to grasp the statement of Rabi Yochanan the son of B’rokah in Avot 4:5, “Whoever desecrates the divine name in private is punished publically.” McBee has the brilliant insight to realize the desecration and the public humiliation is not the end of the story. In many ways, the reconstruction and the rebuilding that must follow the calm after the storm is the most interesting element of the narrative.

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Have Artists Condemned The “Wayward Wife” To Oblivion? Richard McBee

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

At the risk of being crude, the narrative in Numbers 5 of the Sotah, the so-called “wayward wife,” ought to be a goldmine for biblical painters. It is hard to imagine a biblical punishment more vivid and aesthetically fertile than the adulterous woman’s belly bursting after she drinks the “bitter waters” into which the priest has erased the Divine Name – a violation of the third commandment so reprehensible it is clear how serious the Torah sees this issue. Forget the shyness of Esther before Ahasuerus, which has so fascinated artists for centuries. The Sotah is on trial for her life, literally exposed and alone in front of a host of men in the holy Temple. Numbers 5 devotes 21 verses to the Sotah; by comparison, Numbers 20 only gives 13 verses to Moses’ sin of striking the rock, which prevents him from entering the Holy Land.

But the only representation I knew of the episode (until recently) is disappointingly tame. There are no bloated bellies, and barely even an action shot. The miniature comes from a Christian book — a History Bible from Utrecht dated 1443, in the collection of The Hague. In the miniature, the suspected wife kneels before the priest, as another man – her jealous husband? – looks on. The priest hands the Sotah a golden vessel (though Numbers 5:17 prescribes earthenware), which surely holds the bitter waters with the Divine Name. Ironically, whereas Numbers 5: 18, where the priest uncovers the woman’s hair, is one of the sources for the practice of women modestly covering their hair, the miniaturist depicts the Sotah with a veil (or wimple) over her head.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sotah Exposed” (2009).

Marc Michael Epstein, professor of religion and Jewish Studies at Vassar College, shared another image with me from Christian Hebrew scholar Johann Christoph Wagenseil’s 1674 Latin translation of the Mishnaic tractate of Sotah. In the image, two groups of observers watch as three priests restrain a woman under an arch, adorned with the Hebrew inscription, “This is the gate of the Lord; pure women might pass through it” (a feminized adaptation of Psalms 118:20). On the floor in front of the woman, lie a jug and a piece of paper, presumably the cup of bitter waters and the scroll with the divine name. Through the gate, the temple is clearly visible. The woman’s hair is bare, and she is partially unclothed.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sotah Drinks the Bitter Waters” (2009).

Why have Jewish artists entirely neglected this important biblical episode, and why have Christian artists nearly avoided it altogether? It is hard to imagine that they were aware that the episode might never have been enacted. (See for example Ishay Rosen-Zvi’s article on Sotah at MyJewishLearning.com.) And even if Numbers 5 is meant to put forth a law that was never practiced, why should that have stopped artists?

I will save speculations about why artists avoided this narrative for other venues. Instead, it is worth examining a new series on the Sotah by Richard McBee, co-author of this column. In my opinion (and it is incumbent upon me to disclose that Richard has been a colleague and great friend for six years), McBee’s series is nothing short of revolutionary.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sin” (2009).

All images oil on canvas, 24 x 24, and courtesy of Richard McBee.

The four paintings (each 24 inches squared) in the series show the sin (here seclusion, not the actual obscene act), the exposure in the Temple (where the Mishnah in Sotah 1:5 says the woman is actually unclothed by the priest), the drinking of the waters and the woman’s return home with her husband after she is found to be innocent.

McBee sets the ancient narrative in a contemporary urban setting. The “Temple” where the Sotah is charged and tried becomes McBee’s own synagogue on the Lower East Side, and the Sotah and her husband’s apartment is part of a building that could be just about anywhere in a major city. The characters wear contemporary Orthodox and Chassidic garb – black hats, coats, shtreimels and dresses.

In the series, McBee manages to represent the narrative in an almost theatrical or cinematic manner, and it is easy to imagine his designs working for an operatic set. Although the palette is overwhelmingly dark and ominous – as is to be expected given the grave plot of the material – the divine presence, which is so apparent in the narrative, can be sensed in areas of intense light in each painting.

Although each of the four paintings merits careful examination, the final image, The Sotah Returns Home, is perhaps the most provocative. All the biblical narrative offers by way of resolution to the story is that if innocent, the woman, who nonetheless undergoes a humiliating public trial, is blessed with a son. “And the husband shall be clean from sin,” declares verse 31, “and the woman shall bear her sin.”

In McBee’s painting, the man and wife sit in opposite rooms in an apartment, the only lit room in an otherwise dark, cityscape at night. The woman sits on a bed in the dark, looking back over her shoulder at her husband. The man sits on a chair under a light, which passes through a curtain and shines a spotlight on the woman. The woman looks shy and helpless, while the man holds up his hand, as if explaining himself for his jealousy that subjected her to humiliation.

 

Richard McBee. “The Sotah Returns Home” (2009).

McBee’s painting overwhelms the viewer with the realization that life will never be the same for the man and woman, who will have to get to know each other all over again. Perhaps there is an occurrence of PTSD – post-traumatic Sotah disorder.

I’m not sure why artists have shied away from the Sotah as if she were the plague. Maybe the story is so intense that it is hard not to caricature it. Maybe Christian artists found new episodes in their scripture that conveyed the same messages, and they chose to represent those narratives rather than Numbers 5.

Either way, McBee’s series not only tackles a long-neglected motif, but also examines it through very modern eyes. When private sins are so regularly broadcast publically on the news and on YouTube, contemporary bible readers might be equipped in an unprecedented way to grasp the statement of Rabi Yochanan the son of B’rokah in Avot 4:5, “Whoever desecrates the divine name in private is punished publically.” McBee has the brilliant insight to realize the desecration and the public humiliation is not the end of the story. In many ways, the reconstruction and the rebuilding that must follow the calm after the storm is the most interesting element of the narrative.

Menachem Wecker, who blogs on faith and art for the Houston Chronicle at http://blogs.chron.com/iconia, welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He lives in Washington, D.C.

Khazars, Islamists, And A Jewish Enabler

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

             Islamist extremists have a problem. Traditional Islam explicitly acknowledges that the Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people. The Koran itself is extraordinarily clear about the status of the Land of Israel in Islam. While criticizing Jews for their supposed sinfulness, the Koran relates in Sura 5:21, that Moses (a revered teacher in Islam) tells the Jews to “enter into the Holy Land that Allah has assigned to you.”

 

Moses adds, according to the Koran: “O my people! Remember the bounty of God upon you when He bestowed prophets upon you, and made you kings and gave you that which had not been given to anyone before you among the nations. O my people! Enter the Holy Land which God has written for you, and do not turn tail, otherwise you will be losers.”
 
Elsewhere (Sura 17, 104) the Koran proclaims: “And thereafter We [Allah] said to the Children of Israel: ‘Dwell securely in the Promised Land. And when the last warning will come to pass, we will gather you together in a mingled crowd.
 
The legitimacy of Jewish claims to the Land of Israel is repeated in Sura 10:93-94: “We settled the Children of Israel in a beautiful dwelling-place [Israel]. If thou wert in doubt as to what We have revealed unto thee, then ask those who have been reading the Book from before thee.”
 
Sura 17:7 records the destruction of the First Jewish Temple by Babylon and the Second Temple by Rome, and Muhammad never contests the Bible’s claim that both temples were located in Jerusalem.
 
            Indeed, the return of the Jews to their homeland after centuries of exile can be seen as the fulfillment of Islamic prophecy. Sura 17:104 says: “And We said to the Children of Israel afterward, ‘Go live into this land (Israel). When the final prophecy comes to pass, We will summon you all in one group.
 
As noted by Prof. Khaleel Mohammed of the Department of Religious Studies at San Diego State University, the medieval exegetes of the Koran recognized Israel as belonging to the Jews, as their birthright given to them by God.
 
One would therefore think Islamofascists face a theological quandary in their attempts to conscript Islam for a genocidal jihad against Israel and the Jews. But they’ve have invented a solution. They claim the Jews are not really the Jews.
 
If modern Jews are really not Jews, then Israel is not a country of Jews, and so Israelis have no right to sovereignty in their own homeland as promised in the Koran.
 
The Islamofascists are recycling the old mythology about European Jews being nothing more than converted Khazars. And the new guru of the Jews-Not-Being-Jews hoax is a Tel Aviv University history professor named Shlomo Sand.
 
Yes, there was indeed a Kingdom of Turkic peoples called the Khazars living north of the Black Sea in the Dark Ages, and its ruling family and part of its population did convert to Judaism. The Khazar kingdom was largely destroyed by the expanding Russian kingdom in the 10th century, and anything remaining was destroyed in the Mongol invasions.
 
What actually became of the Jewish Khazars is unknown. Some may have integrated themselves into other Jewish communities in the Middle East, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.
 
Later, a myth was created about the Khazars being an important component of European Jewry. This myth was to a large extent the invention of the 1976 book The Thirteenth Tribe by Arthur Koestler, a writer better known for his lifelong battles against totalitarianism in all its forms. Koestler wrote his book largely in order to create sympathy for Jews and Israel, believing the Khazar story would serve as a basis for a fascination with Jewish history. In reality, there is little evidence of any significant Khazar blood among Western or Ashkenazi Jews.
 
Koestler’s public relations ploy backfired. In recent years, the Khazar myth has been hijacked by neo-Nazis and Islamofascists to invent a racialist argument against Jewish claims to the land of Israel. Lest the world dismiss this Khazar conspiracy nonsense as a form of mental illness, along comes Professor Sand, a hard-core leftist, to lead the charge against the Israeli “Khazars” and Jewish self-determination.
 
Sand recycles the mythology about Israeli Jews being converted Khazar interlopers in his book The Invention of the Jewish People, hailed as groundbreaking scholarship by neo-Nazis, jihadists, and anti-Semites of all stripes. Serious historians have dismissed it as pseudo-academic poppycock.
 

We have grown accustomed to the bizarre collaboration between Islamist fundamentalists and leftists. Even so, one cannot help but marvel at the spectacle of an Israeli left-wing professor devoting himself so passionately to propagating the myths favored by Islamic extremists – and by so doing granting them the means for ignoring the Koran itself.

 

  

Steven Plaut is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at steveneplaut@yahoo.com.

Controversy Abounds During Pope’s Visit To Israel

Wednesday, May 13th, 2009


JERUSALEM – Coming as a self-described “pilgrim of peace,” Pope Benedict XVI vowed to fight anti-Semitism and called for a Palestinian state in the moments after his arrival in Israel for a five-day visit.


But controversy marked the visit this week from the start, as the pope’s supposedly non-political trip abounded with politics and his hosts in Israel and the Palestinian Authority parsed his words with nearly Talmudic precision eyeing support for their positions.


On Monday, his first day in Israel, the pope was criticized for not being contrite enough about the Holocaust on behalf of the Catholic Church. Later he cut short an interfaith meeting of clergy after a Palestinian Muslim cleric launched a surprise attack on Israel during an impromptu address.


“I come, like so many others before me, to pray at the holy places, to pray especially for peace – peace here in the Holy Land, and peace throughout the world,” Benedict said Monday morning during a welcoming ceremony at Ben Gurion International Airport, where he was met by President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


Benedict would repeat that desire for peace and interfaith dialogue in every appearance in the early days of his trip, which the Vatican insisted is non-political.


But his visit to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial, sparked criticism by former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau and Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who greeted the pontiff at the museum.


“I am deeply grateful to God and to you for the opportunity to stand here in silence: a silence to remember, a silence to pray, a silence to hope,” the pope said.


The cry of those killed “echoes in our hearts. It is a cry raised against every act of injustice and violence. It is a perpetual reproach against the spilling of innocent blood.”


Following the visit, in which the pope did not enter the actual museum due to an exhibit that offers an unflattering portrayal of Pope Pius XII, who has been accused of being silent in the face of Nazi atrocities against the Jews during World War II, Lau criticized the pope’s speech in an interview on Israel’s Channel 1.


Lau, a survivor of Buchenwald who serves as the chairman of the Yad Vashem Council, lamented that while Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, in his address at the museum nine years ago offered a moving personal expression of grief, the current pope did not go that far, instead offering the Church’s “deep compassion” for those killed in the Holocaust.


“I personally missed hearing a tone of sharing the grief,” Lau said. “I missed hearing ‘I’m sorry, I apologize.’ “


Lau also pointed out that the pontiff, who is German by birth and was a member of the Hitler Youth, did not mention the Germans, or Nazis, as those who carried out the genocide, and used the word “killed” instead of “murdered” to describe how the Jews died.


And, he added, the pope never said that 6 million were killed, saying only “millions.”


Rivlin also criticized the pope.


“With all due respect to the Holy See, we cannot ignore the burden he bears, as a young German who joined the Hitler Youth and as a person who joined Hitler’s army, which was an instrument in the extermination,” he said Tuesday on Israel Radio.


Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi fired back Tuesday, noting that the pope has denounced the Nazis and spoken of his German heritage in previous speeches, including during a visit to the Auschwitz death camp, and used the six million figure during his remarks upon arriving in Israel.


Lombardi also said four times that the pope never served in the Hitler Youth, whose members were volunteers, but that he was forced to join anti-aircraft troops against Allied aerial raids near his hometown.


The pope stopped an interfaith conference in Jerusalem after the head of the Palestinian sharia court accused Israel of killing women and children and urged the pope “in the name of the one God to condemn these crimes and press the Israeli government to halt its aggression against the Palestinian people.”


“We hope that such an incident will not damage the mission of the pope aiming at promoting peace and also interreligious dialogue, as he has clearly affirmed in many occasions during this pilgrimage,” a papal spokesman said. “We hope also that interreligious dialogue in the Holy Land will not be compromised by this incident.”


During a brief visit Tuesday to the Western Wall, the pope placed a handwritten personal prayer between the stones of the wall asking God to “send your peace upon this Holy Land, upon the Middle East, upon the entire human family,” according to a text released by the Office of the Holy See.


Following his quiet reflection at the wall, the pope made a courtesy visit at the compound to the chief rabbis of Israel.  He had made a similar visit to the grand mufti of Jerusalem before his wall appearance.


The pope, who traveled with a 40-person staff and 70 reporters, and stayed at the papal nuncio’s residence in Jerusalem during his visit, was scheduled to visit a Palestinian refugee camp in Bethlehem on Wednesday and Nazareth on Thursday. He was to fly back to Rome Friday afternoon on a special El Al flight.


Upon the pope’s arrival, “Operation White Robe,” which included 80,000 police officers and security guards, went into effect to protect his safety.


The pope arrived in Israel after spending two days in Jordan, where he celebrated Mass before an estimated audience of 25,000 in a soccer stadium in Amman.


On Saturday he visited Mount Nebo, from where the Bible says Moses saw the Land of Israel. The pope said the site was a reminder of “the inseparable bond between the Church and the Jewish people.”


Benedict also visited the King Hussein bin Talal Mosque in Amman. He did not remove his shoes while visiting the mosque and engaged in silent reflection rather than prayer, according to reports. In a meeting there with Muslim leaders, the pope called for a “trilateral dialogue,” including the Church, to help bring Jews and Muslims together to discuss peace.


The pope and Peres together planted an olive tree at the president’s residence Monday afternoon, followed by a performance by a choir made up of Jewish and Arab girls joined by Israeli tenor Dudu Fisher, who sang “Bring Him Home” from the musical “Les Miserables” only minutes after the pope met with the family of kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.


“Old divisions have aged and diminished,” Peres told the pope. “So more than the need for another armored vehicle, we need a strong, inspiring spirit to instill both the conviction that peace is attainable, and the burning desire to pursue it.”


“Ties of reconciliation and understanding are now being woven between the Holy See and the Jewish people,” he added. “We cherish this process and your leadership. Our door is open to similar efforts with the Muslim world.”

(JTA)

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