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April 18, 2014 / 18 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Spain’

Where Persecuted Jews May Go: In Memoriam, Benzion Netanyahu (1910-2012)

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

Throughout history political systems have come to an end when citizens of countries lose faith in them. The state of Israel has not had to face this situation in the extreme, but it has been challenged by so-called “post-Zionism.” Among the themes derogatory towards Israel are that Zionism — the movement of Jewish self-determination which led to the establishment of the state of Israel — is a colonial enterprise; that a Jewish state is by nature undemocratic; that it is basically immoral as it was founded on the domination, or even the ouster — by force and other means — of another people; that the creation of Israel caused a catastrophe for Palestinian Arabs; that Israeli occupation of disputed territory is a violation of human rights; that Israel is an imperialistic power and a threat to world peace.

This criticism is deficient in many respects. It is a quaintly insular view of Israel — a country in a world of globalization and complex interdependence, confronted by continual hatred so that it must always be prepared to defend itself. Its proponents are singularly naïve in their expectations of a perfect social and politically egalitarian, secular society, and are guilty of prejudice against devout religious believers in a way they are not toward followers of other faiths. Moreover, these critics misunderstand Zionism, a word coined by Nathan Birnbaum in 1891, which in fact includes a pluralistic variety of approaches.

What particular aspects of the different views of Zionism are unacceptable to the critics? Do they want to eliminate the state of Israel? Proponents of Zionism saw that Jews in the Diaspora had been excluded from world history, and so believed it was necessary to establish a state for the Jewish people as a national unit. The Israeli Declaration of Independence speaks of “the natural right of the Jewish people to be masters of their own fate like other nations.” Advocates varied about the solution: “territorialists” wanted any suitable areas including Uganda where persecuted Jews might go; others demanded a state in Palestine or Eretz Israel [the Biblical Land of Israel]; practical Zionists proposed settlements; others urged a solution by political and diplomatic means; socialists disputed with the political right; nationalists disagreed with internationalists, and the religious coexisted with the free-thinkers.

The post-Zionists argue that Zionism is a colonialist concept essentially founded on injustice towards the local Arabs, and that the differences in Israel now in status, income, and rights between Jews and Israeli Arabs means that the state is therefore undemocratic. The logical conclusion for these critics would be that Israel would be more democratic if it were less Jewish. Herzl and many others would have disagreed with this conclusion. He wrote in his diary in1895 that Jewish settlement would bring immediate benefits to the land, and that “we shall respectfully tolerate persons of other faiths and protect their property, their honor, and their freedom with the harshest means of coercion.”

The fundamental external reality — which seems to escape those who challenge the legitimacy of Israel — is that many Arab countries and Palestinians, having warred and engaged in constant hostility, still refuse to recognize Israel’s legitimacy. Necessarily, security is vital; the problem is to what extent should this interfere with Arab claims to the land and rights? The present mainstream view is that a secure Israel is better than a territorially extended one.

Certainly a variety of opinions exist within Israel on the nature of the economy and the free market, on the cultural identities that make up the mosaic of its society, and on the inequalities both within the Jewish community and between Jews and non-Jews. But to conclude that Zionism is a colonialist or racist movement is to go far beyond rational analysis, and to touch on the periphery of antisemitism.

Although attitudes toward the Arabs in the territory differ, there has never been any official policy to expel them from the territory. In spite of this, Israel’s critics persist in the allegation that Zionism has promoted this view. They are mistaken in this belief as they are in their aversion to the exercise of Israeli power to defend itself, while at the same time shirking any realistic alternative proposals.

The main assertions of critics are that Israel is too nationalistic — that it should no longer be a Jewish state but rather a democratic one, implying an incompatibility between the two; and that Israel should end its occupation of captured territory, even as it stands threatened by many countries that have repeatedly announced they would like to displace it. These critics also conveniently ignore the continual Arab rejection of any compromise solution to the conflict and their repeated rejection of all partition proposals and resolutions. Post-Zionism tends to become anti-Zionism — the denial that Israel has a legitimate right to exist but comfortable with the right to exist of other newly-created states, such as Moldova, or Bangladesh.

Benzion Netanyahu, Father of Prime Minister Benjamin, Dies at 102

Monday, April 30th, 2012

Benzion Netanyahu, the father of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Entebbe rescue hero Yoni Netanyahu, died Monday at his Jerusalem home at the age of 102. The elder Netanyahu was visited by his son Benjamin for the last time on Sunday at the family home on 4 Haportzim Street.  He will be laid to rest on Monday at 5pm at Jerusalem’s Har Menuchot Cemetery.

Benzion Netanyahu served as secretary to Revisionist Zionist proponent and Beitar leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky, served as editor for the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, and served as professor emeritus at Cornell University.

Born in Warsaw on March 25, 1910 as Benzion Milikovsky, he and his family immigrated to Israel in 1920.  In 1944, he married Tzila Segal, with whom he had three sons: Yonatan, born 1946, a former commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal who was killed in the 1976 Operation Entebbe rescue of 102 Israeli and other hostages, Benjamin, born 1949, and Ido, born 1952, a radiologist, author, and playwright.

Working as the secretary of Zionist icon Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Netanyahu maintained a belief in Jewish sovereignty over the Greater Land of Israel, including parts of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt.  He was one of the signers of a petition against the United Nations Partition Plan for Palestine in 1947.

Benzion’s strong Zionist values were a major part of Benjamin’s upbringing.  The prime minister’s father imparted on him the importance of protecting Jewish heritage sites such as Hebron.  He advocated a tough stance in the region, and predicted that threats to world peace would emerge from parts of the Muslim world harboring violence, terror, nuclear power, and oil.

According to a report in Haaretz, Prime Minister Netanyahu stated that his father predicted a Muslim attack on the Twin Towers in New York, as well as the rise of tyrannical Islamic regimes which would make efforts to attain nuclear weapons.

In his last interview with Channel 2 news – at the age of 99, Benzion stated that his powerful son does not support a Palestinian state.  “He supports the kind of (diplomatic) conditions they (the Palestinians) would never in the world accept,” Benzion said.  “That’s what I heard from him.  Not from me – he put forth the conditions.  These conditions – they will never be accepted, not even one of them.”

“No, No, Herzl and Landau did not toil in order to build a Palestinian state,” Benzion told the reporter.  “This land is a land of the Jews, not a land of the Arabs.  There is no room here for Arabs, there will not be, and they will never negotiate to terms (which would create a Palestinian state).”

Moreover, Benzion believed that Arab citizens are a threat to the fabric of Israel, and that they would conflict with the Jews by nature.  ”The tendency to conflict is in the essence of the Arab.  He is an enemy by essence… His existence is one of perpetual war,” Benzion is quoted by the Associated Press as telling Maariv in 2009. “The Arab citizens’ goal is to destroy us. They don’t deny that they want to destroy us.”

Benzion was a strong opponent of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from the Jewish communities in Gaza known as Gush Katif.  The forced expulsion of Jewish residents who wanted to remain in the area was a “crime against humanity”, according to Benzion.

As an academic, Netanyahu specialized in Medieval Spanish Jewry.  In his controversial book on the subject, he rejected the theory that the Spanish Inquisition was a result of Jewish isolationism or separatism, saying Spanish Jews were interested in assimilating into Christian society and Spanish culture, and were forced into being Marranos when their efforts to shed their Jewishness did not afford them full acceptance.

Italy: ‘Mosques Springing Up like Mushrooms’

Monday, April 2nd, 2012

More than 250 mosques across Italy have reached an agreement to create a new umbrella organization, the Italian Islamic Confederation (CII). The CII will be controlled by Morocco, and will compete with an existing Muslim umbrella organization, the Union of Islamic Communities and Organizations in Italy (UCOII).

The UCOII, which is estimated to control 60% of the mosques in Italy, is closely tied to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Since its founding in 1990, the UCOII has used its virtual monopoly over the mosques in Italy to spread its Islamist ideology over the 1.5 million Muslims in the country. The UCOII has also worked to become the main interlocutor between the Muslim community and the Italian state.

But the Italian government has ruled out reaching an agreement with the UCOII because of its links to the Muslim Brotherhood. “There can be no accords with those like the UCOII, who de facto deny the existence of the state of Israel and hold ambiguous positions on terrorism at the national and local level,” according to Andrea Ronchi, Italy’s former Minister for Community Policy.

After it came to light that the majority of the mosques in Italy are controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni called for a moratorium on the building of new mosques until a new national law could be written to regulate the phenomenon.

According to Manes Bernardini, a politician with the Northern League in Bologna, “Mosques are springing up like mushrooms, and mayors can do nothing about it because there is no national law to regulate the proliferation of these structures.”

In this context, the creation of the CII on March 22 is an attempt by the Moroccan government to establish a new Muslim umbrella organization that would represent a more “moderate” face of Islam vis-à-vis the Italian government.

CII’s founding document states that it “respects the holiness of life” and “rejects every form of violence.” The document also says the CII “respects the principles of moderation, tolerance and respect towards others,” and will “promote and defend the rights of Muslim women in Italy.”

The primary motive behind the creation of the CII, which is being run by a Moroccan named Fihri Wahid, appears to be an effort to persuade the Italian government to approve and subsidize the construction of more mosques in the country. CII’s founding document states: “Creating the best conditions in order to guarantee dignity and freedom of worship, underlining the importance that places of worship reflect the creative genius and the splendor of Italian culture towards the prospect of integration and dialogue with the other religions present in the country.”

According to Hassan Abouyoub, the Moroccan Ambassador to Italy, the establishment of the CII is “an historic achievement. It will finally allow the Muslim population in Italy to have a new voice.” Abouyoub added: “The mosques which are taking part in this new confederation are only of the Maliki tradition, which respect a moderate Islam.”

The Maliki tradition refers to a school of Islamic Sharia law that is practiced in Morocco and other parts of North Africa. In fact, the “moderate” Maliki school of Islam is the official state religion in Morocco, where Christians are frequently harassed and often expelled from the country without due process, allegedly for proselytizing.

With the creation of the CII, Morocco is attempting to export to Italy a religious control strategy that is working very well in neighboring Spain, where the Moroccan government has been using an umbrella organization called the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Entities (FEERI), to exert control over the religious and cultural beliefs and practices of the nearly one million Moroccan immigrants who reside in Spain.

According to a leaked secret report prepared by Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI), excerpts of which have been published by the Madrid-based El País newspaper, the Moroccan government is aggressively implementing “a strategy of great magnitude” that involves establishing a parallel Muslim society in Spain by discouraging Moroccans from integrating into their host country, and by encouraging them instead to live an Islamic lifestyle isolated from Spanish society.

The document also states that Rabat is financing the construction of hundreds of mosques in Spain whose imams are directly appointed by the Moroccan government. Moreover, the North African country is attempting to impose Muslim religious instruction in Spanish public schools, and is pressuring Moroccan families to remove their children from those schools that fail to comply.

A separate CNI report about financing Jihad in Spain provides other examples of how the Moroccan government is using Islam for political ends. For example, in November 2008, “the Moroccan Minister of Islamic Affairs organized and paid for a meeting in Marrakesh which was attended by a considerable number of imams and leaders of the Islamic communities in Spain,” according to the CNI.

My Machberes

Friday, January 20th, 2012

Madrid's vice mayor with Rabbi Elyakum Schlesinger and Jules (Yitzchok) Fleischer.

Jews And Spain

Jewish history in Spain dates back more than 2,000 years. Jewish scholarship began to flourish there beginning in the 8th century. Spanish rulers, whether Christian or Muslim, valued their Jewish subjects and, with fluctuations, generally granted them wide tolerance. Torah scholarship was valued and codification of Jewish law began there. Sadly, the Edict of Expulsion of 1492 brought an end to Jewish communal life in Spain.

Today, Jewish communities, which were bolstered in the 1970s by a considerable influx of Argentinian Jews, mainly Ashkenazim, are multiplying in Spain.

The Jewish Cemetery of Toledo

Efforts to contain defilement at the Jewish cemetery in Toledo have achieved notable success. Dating back more than 700 years, the Jewish cemetery there, like cemeteries in other Spanish cities, are snapshots of the Golden Era of Jewry prior to the expulsion of 1492 and the subsequent inquisitions. Several hundred such cemeteries are known to exist, none of which has had a new interment since those times.

When the municipality of Toledo decided to expand the facility of a school constructed in the 1980s, human bones were unearthed during construction. Upon further examination and investigation, the ground was determined to be that of a Jewish cemetery. Experts further ascertained that several leading Torah scholars were interred in that cemetery.

A number of international campaigns focused on convincing the local Spanish municipality, as well as the federal Spanish government, of the unique sanctified character of Jewish cemeteries. Violating a Jewish cemetery is sacrilege. Unless a grave is in physical danger, re-interment is never a consideration.

Some of the campaigns overlapped and actually hampered communications with Spanish governmental officials. What should have been campaigns of education and negotiation sometimes lapsed into condemnations and confrontations. Denouncing potentially cooperative officials, whether at the local or federal level, is counter-productive. Receptive Spanish officials suddenly found themselves being publicly vilified.

The Committee for the Preservation of Jewish Cemeteries in Europe (CPJCE) is the international organization led by the widely respected London rosh yeshiva Rabbi Elyakum Schlesinger. Beginning in the summer of 2008, when the defiled cemetery was determined to be Jewish, CPJCE began its outreach to Spanish governmental representatives in Spain, England, Israel, and the United States.

In December of that year, the Jewish federation of Spain, consisting of 13 traditional and Orthodox congregations and operating three Jewish day schools, contacted CPJCE by letter, asking for help in the matter of the Jewish cemetery in Toledo. Using its decades-long diplomatic connections, PJCE established a dialogue with parties both in the local government as well as on the federal level.

L-R: Rabbi Sholom Eliezer Teitelbaum, Hon. Fernando Villalonga, and Rabbi Gershon Tannenbaum.

Bones unearthed from graves in the cemetery were placed into sealed containers for later disposition. A noted historian and cemetery expert from Israel came to Toledo to study the situation. The historian is also a greatly respected architect. The building efforts were put on hold until a mutually satisfactory agreement could be reached by all parties.

The Jewish cemetery, because it had not been used for more than 600 years, was not on any register of sensitive sites. Further, some in the local municipality insisted that the school’s immediate need for more space superseded what many considered an unimportant, old, out-of-service, undocumented burial ground. The historian-architect who determined that it was, indeed, an important old Jewish community cemetery, submitted a redesign of the school expansion that would not be desecrating the cemetery.

The architectural redesign was acceptable; however it had an additional cost of $1.3 million, which the local underfunded municipality could not possibly provide. After protracted negotiations, the Spanish federal government announced it was willing to underwrite half of the additional cost.

Meetings In New York

A New York Congressman arranged for a meeting between representatives of UJCare of Williamsburg, the Hon. Jules (Yitzchok) Fleischer, member of the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, and Spain’s then-Ambassador to the United States to meet in May 2009 with Rabbi Aaron Teitelbaum, Satmar Rebbe, at his study in Kiryas Yoel.

The then-Spanish Ambassador, Fernando Villalonga, advised the Satmar Rebbe that the Spanish government was developing an agreement with municipalities on a protocol to follow should similar issues arise in the future. Villalonga also told the Rebbe that the Spanish federal government was in the process of returning all remains from the Toledo cemetery for reburial before the end of June 2009.

Rabbi Elyakum Schlesinger was in Brooklyn at that time and met at Beis Medrash Vayoel Moshe in Williamsburg with a number of rabbis involved in the negotiation process, and favorably reviewed a report by Rabbi Moshe Hershaft, a London member of CPJCE, stating that he had personally visited the Toledo cemetery and inspected and approved the designated places in the cemetery where reburial of the exhumed bones would be re-interred; visited the safeguarded bones that were being kept in sealed containers in an honored and secure storeroom under guard; and received a certificate of authority to remove and re-inter the bones.

Anusim/Crypto Jewish Conference Scheduled

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

On January 2, 1492 the queen and king of Spain, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon, signed the Edict of Expulsion of the Jews. It is estimated that 300,000 Jews lived in the country and only one third managed to get out and continue practicing their faith.

One hundred thousand crossed the border to Portugal, where they considered to being safe, but only five years later they were forcibly converted to Christianity. One hundred thousand others were unable to leave Spain either took their faith underground or adopted the Catholic faith. The Church called them New Christians, but many of these New Christians were not so observant of their forced new faith, practicing their true Jewish beliefs secretly and within their homes.

Caminos de Israel is organizing its second annual Anusim and Crypto Jewish Conference, with experts in the field and Orthodox rabbis participating, on Sunday, February 12, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the Marriot Dadeland in Miami. This year’s special speaker is a woman from Cuba who has traced her family’s Jewish ancestry all the way back to the 1400.

Due to limited seating, organizers ask that reservations be made in advance. Reservation in advance is $20 per person (at the door it’s $25 per person).

You can e-mail your reservation request to Loscaminosdeisrael@yahoo.com and you will receive a PayPal-secured link to make your reservation. If you wish to make your reservation over the phone, call 786-306-8211.

For more information, or to schedule this type of event in your synagogue or community, call Rabbi Moshe Otero at 786-306-8211.

The Super-Tasting Women

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

There are two popular wine-related beliefs making the rounds these days, both of which deserve to be put to rest because they are nothing more than pure and unadulterated nonsense. The first of these would have us believe that men are better qualified to taste wine than women, and the second that some wines are more appropriate for men and others for women.


At least since the 1950s, it has been well demonstrated that the ability to taste wines (or for that matter any other food or beverage) is determined almost entirely by the number of taste buds on the tongues and the density of scent receptors in the nostrils. Thirty years passed with no major research into the question of taste, but starting in the mid-1990s, largely because major food producers were interested in determining to whom they should direct their advertising campaigns, interest in the subject revived in Europe and North America – and several major research studies were undertaken. At Cornell University, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Grenoble, biologists came up with two sets of findings. The first, that had been more or less known by people in the food and wine industry for a hundred or more years, was that people fall into three broad categories – non-tasters, normal tasters and super-tasters; that is to say, people with limited ability, normal ability and extra-ordinary ability to discern the flavors and aromas in foods and beverages.


What amazed the researchers (who were mostly males) and the wine-tasting public (especially the male chauvinists among that group) was the second finding: nearly 80 percent of super-tasters are women and not men. Simply stated, women have a genetic proclivity toward having a greater number of taste buds and a greater concentration of scent receptors. That makes them better qualified than the majority of men to taste wines. It is thus far more than mere coincidence that those women who write about food and wine rank very high indeed among the most highly respected people who write about such things in order to make their living.


As to wines that are “appropriate” for women, all I can do is chuckle quietly. While it is true that some wines are described as “masculine” and others as “feminine,” even a quick glance at that terminology shows that the descriptors used are taken from misguided beliefs and stereotypes about what men and women are supposed to be like. Wines that are said to be masculine, for example, are described in terms of being aggressive, muscular, deep, flinty, strong, forward, coarse, and even vulgar. Those said to be feminine are soft, gentle, subtle, sensual, caressing, warm, and even “sexy.”


On one hand these terms (except perhaps the last) can honestly be used when describing wines. On the other hand, however, stating that men tend to favor wines described as masculine and women those that are feminine is an obvious error. Many recent market analyses in France and the United States have shown that women and men have precisely the same partiality to deep, young and aggressive wines than they do to soft, subtle and caressing white wines.


* * *


Following, as promised in last month’s column, are reviews of quality wines from Italy and France, none of which will set us back a small fortune and all of which are thoroughly enjoyable under the right circumstances. Keep in mind that these wines, all of which are readily available at better wine shops and online wine sites in the greater metropolitan New York area, are all meant to be consumed now or in the next year or so.




Sara Bee, Moscato, Puglia, n.v.: A rich and lively aperitif or dessert wine. Light golden straw in color, generously frizzante, showing pear, apple and dried apricot fruits on a lightly honeyed and spicy background. Medium-bodied with generous sweetness in fine balance with lively acidity. Served lightly chilled and do not be the least bit embarrassed to do as the Italians do by adding an ice cube or two to your glass. $6. Score: 88.


Bartenura, Chianti, Ovadia Estates, Tuscany, 2009: Ruby to garnet in color, medium-bodied with soft tannins and an appealing berry-black-cherry personality. Not complex but easy to drink. Drink now. $14. Score: 85.


Bartenura, Pinot Grigio, Veneto, 2010: Golden straw in color, light- to medium-bodied and nicely dry. On the nose and palate, citrus, green apples and notes of tropical fruits. Clean, fresh and refreshing. A pleasant quaffer. Drink now. $11. Score: 85.


Borgo Reale, Maturo, Puglia, 2009: A medium-bodied blend of 55 percent Primitivo and 45 percent Negromaro grapes, dark garnet in color with gently caressing tannins and a spicy and red fruit nose. Opens in the glass to reveal red and black berries, cassis and earthy minerals, those followed by notes of licorice. Drink now. Score: 85.


Borgo Reale, Pinot Grigio, Puglia, 2010: A virtual twin to the 2009 release. Light golden straw, light- to medium-bodied, with citrus, mango and papaya fruits highlighted by good acidity. A good quaffer. Drink now. $12. Score: 85.


S’forno, Cabernet Sauvignon, Veneto, 2007: Medium-dark royal purple, medium-bodied with somewhat chunky tannins and showing a basic blackberry and black cherry personality. One- dimensional, but an acceptable entry-level red. Drink now. $16. Score: 85.




Capçanes, Peraj Petita, Montsant, Catalunya, 2008: Garnet toward royal purple, medium- to full-bodied, with gently gripping tannins and spicy wood needing a bit of time to settle in. On the nose and palate blackberries, currants, freshly cut herbs and notes of earthy minerals, all leading to a long, chocolate rich finish. Drink now-2014. $19. Score: 90.


Elvi, Ness, Ribera del Jucar, 2008: Very nice indeed. A blend of Tempranilo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Bobal grapes showing medium- to full-bodied with gently caressing tannins and generous aromas and flavors of blackcurrants, blackberries and figs. Drink now. $15. Score: 87.


Elvi, Classico, Ribera del Jucar, 2008: A blend of 88 percent Tempranillo and 12 percent Merlot, showing garnet-red toward royal purple, medium-bodied, softly tannic and very gently oaked. On the nose and palate blackberries, plums, wild berries and earth minerals. Drink now. $12. Score: 85.


En Fuego, Tempranillo, Spain, 2009: Medium-bodied, with soft, gently gripping tannins and opening in the glass to reveal a cherry-berry personality, the fruits overlaid with notes of freshly picked mushrooms. Drink now. $10. Score: 85.


Ramón Cardova, Rioja, 2009: A straightforward Rioja, made from Tempranillo grapes, showing dark ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied, with soft tannins and generous acidity. Opens in the glass to show aromas and flavors of cherries and red and black berries. Drink now. $20. Score: 84.


Real Imperial, Chardonnay do Cariñena, Cariñena 2009: Not to be embarrassed if you have never heard of the winegrowing region of Cariñena, for, despite being one of the oldest wine-producing regions in Europe, this is a sub-area of the region of Aragón in Northern Spain – and the wines are not well known outside of Spain. A not complex but very pleasant little Chardonnay, showing medium-bodied, with pear, melon and citrus flavors. A pleasant quaffer. Drink now. $13. Score: 85.


Senorio de Aldaz, Cabernet Sauvignon-Tempranillo, Navarra, Spain, 2009: Medium-bodied, gently tannic blend of equally parts of Tempranillo and Cabernet Sauvignon. On the nose and palate blackberries, blueberries and spring flowers and from mid-palate on a note of black licorice. Drink now. $11. Score: 85.


Sentieri Ebraici, Spumante Brut, Gioia, 2008: With a strawberry, raspberry and mineral character, a fresh, pleasant and fruity sparkling wine. Drink now. $10. Score: 85.

S’forno, Monastrell Dulce, Spain, 2005: A sweet red made entirely from late-harvested Monastrell grapes. Dark ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied, showing flavors and aromas of raspberries, figs and honeycomb, and, on the long finish, notes of apricot pits. Good acidity here but primarily for those who enjoy their reds on the generously sweet side. Drink now. $9. Score: 84.

Terrenal, Cabernet Sauvignon, Carinena, Spain, 2010: Ruby toward garnet, medium-bodied, with soft tannins, a not-at-all complex wine but one that makes for easy quaffing. Aromas and flavors of crushed blackberries and cassis are matched nicely by hints of freshly cut herbs and green olives. Drink now. $8. Score: 84.


Daniel Rogov is a premier kosher wine critic and the author of two annual books, “Rogov’s Guide to Israeli Wines” and “Rogov’s Guide to Kosher Wines.” He can be reached by e-mail at drogov@cheerful.com, and his books can be ordered at www.danielrogov.com.

Reverend Abraham de Sola: Scholar Extraordinaire

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

(All quotes are from “History and Biographical Gazetteer of Montreal to the Year 1892″ by John Douglas Borthwick, John Lovell & Son, Montr?al [Quebec], 1892, pages 465-469.)

The name de Sola appears prominently in the annals of Spanish Jewish history. The de Solas may have settled in Andalusia (in southern Spain) as early as the sixth century.

They held various offices under the Saracenic Caliphs at Toledo and Cordova, and afterwards when they removed to Navarre they were received with like favor by the Gothic Princes. From their estate in this province, their surname had its origin. A particularly distinguished member of the family was Don Bartolomeu de Sola, who, in reward for his services, was ennobled, and, after being a Minister of State, held for a while the position of Viceroy of Navarre.

During the 14th Century another de Sola distinguished himself fighting under the Infante of Aragon, and figured conspicuously in the Spanish Wars of that period. During the succeeding centuries the family continued to hold an illustrious place, owing to the large number of eminent scholars, physicians and statesmen it produced.

The de Solas, like all Jews living in Spain, were negatively affected by persecution at the hand of the Catholic Church during the 14th and 15th centuries. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, most of the family fled to Holland, though a branch of the family settled in Portugal. These family members were forcibly converted to Catholicism in 1497 and yet managed to live as secret Jews (Marranos). In 1749 they managed to leave Portugal (which, strangely enough, persecuted secret Jews and yet did not let them immigrate). They settled in England where they could finally practice Judaism openly.

Abraham de Sola, a descendent of the de Solas who had settled in England, was born on September 18, 1825.

His father, David Aaron de Sola, was Senior Minister of the Portuguese Jews of London and was eminent as a Hebrew author, having produced among many other works an elegant translation of the Jewish Forms of Prayer, also, in conjunction with Dr. Raphall, an edition of Genesis, very valuable to Biblical students on account of its commentaries and copious notes, and the first English translation of Eighteen Treatises of the Mishna. His mother was the daughter of Dr. Raphael Meldola, Chief Rabbi of the Spanish-Jewish congregations of Britain. The Meldolas had given eminent Chief Rabbis to Europe for twelve generations.

Abraham de Sola received careful tuition [instruction] in all the usual branches of a liberal education. He became early engrossed in the study of Oriental languages and literature and of theology, and continued to devote his attention to those subjects until he acquired that profound knowledge of them which subsequently won him so prominent a place among scholars.

In 1846 Reverend de Sola was offered the position of spiritual leader of Congregation Shearith Israel, the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue in Montreal, Canada. He arrived in that city in early 1847 at the age of 21. In 1852 he married Esther Joseph, whose father was one of the earliest Jewish settlers in Montreal.

His able pulpit discourses soon attracted attention. Dr. de Sola’s abilities, however, were not destined to be confined exclusively to his official duties. Before leaving London he had been associated in the editorial work of a Hebrew journal, The Voice of Jacob, and soon after his arrival in Canada he delivered a course of lectures on Jewish history before the Mercantile Literary Association. In 1848, he published his “Notes on the Jews of Persia Under Mohammed Shah, and also “A History of the Jews of Persia.” Within the same year there appeared his important work on “Scripture Zoology.” Soon afterwards he published his “Lectures on the Mosaic Cosmogony [origin of the universe].” This was followed by his “Cosmography [Description of the Universe] of [R. Abraham] Peritsol,” a work displaying such erudition that it gained a wide circulation in Europe, and was reprinted there in several languages.

His next work, “A Commentary upon Samuel Hannagid’s Introduction to the Talmud” was a book which deservedly attracted much attention, owing to the light which it threw upon an interesting portion of rabbinical literature, and to its depth of Talmudic knowledge. In 1853 he published, conjointly with the Rev. J.J. Lyons of New York a work on the Jewish Calendar System, chiefly valuable on account of its excellent prefatory treatise upon the Jewish system of calculating time.

De Sola’s mastery of Semitic languages attracted the attention of scholars at McGill University. In 1853, after having served as a lecturer for several years, he was appointed professor of Hebrew and Oriental Literature at this institution, a position he held until his death. In 1858, in recognition of his extraordinary scholastic accomplishments, McGill conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.

Reverend de Sola’s interests were not limited to Semitics and rabbinics.

[His] wide range of studies had made him very popular both as a public lecturer and as a contributor to various literary papers. The themes of some of these were afterwards much amplified by him, and republished in their elaborated and completed form. At comparatively short intervals he gave to the public his works on “Scripture Botany,” “Sinaitic Inscriptions,” “Hebrew Numismatics,” “The Ancient Hebrews as Promoters of the Arts and Sciences,” “The Rise and Progress of the Great Hebrew Colleges,” and “Philological Studies in Hebrew and the Aramaic Languages.” Turning his attention again to Jewish History, he, in 1869, wrote his interesting “Life of Shabethai Tsevi, the False Messiah.” The following year he completed his “History of the Jews of Poland,” and in 1871 he published his “History of the Jews of France.”

Reverend de Sola maintained an almost frenetic pace of academic activity in addition to his pastoral duties at Congregation Shearith Israel. He accepted the chair of Hebrew at the Montreal Presbyterian College and later an appointment as a lecturer in Spanish Literature at McGill.

Dr. de Sola frequently lectured in the United States. In 1872 he was invited by the administration of President Ulysses S. Grant to deliver the opening prayer of the United States Congress. This was the first time someone who was not a citizen of the United States nor a Christian was given this honor. It was also particularly significant given that relations between Britain and the U.S. had lately been particularly strained. The choice of Dr. de Sola, who was a resident of Canada and a citizen of the British Empire, marked a move by the U.S. at rapprochement with England.

His incessant involvement in a myriad of activities eventually took its toll on his health. He was forced to take a year off from his activities and spent that year in Europe recuperating from his failing health. Dr. de Sola was visiting his sister in New York when he passed away on June 5, 1882. His body was brought to Montreal where he was interred.


Dr. Yitzchok Levine served as a professor in the Department of Mathematical Sciences at Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, New Jersey before retiring in 2008. He now teaches as an adjunct at Stevens. Glimpses Into American Jewish History appears the first week of each month. Dr. Levine can be contacted at llevine@stevens.edu.

Yael And Sisera In Art And Propaganda

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

The Art of Power: Royal Armor and Portraits from Imperial Spain

Through November 1, 2009

The National Gallery of Art

4th and Constitution Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.




When charged by the Prophetess Deborah, in Judges to free the Jews from the tyranny of Sisera, general of the Canaanite king Jacin’s army, Barak the son of Abinoam famously responded with the biblical equivalent of “I’m right behind you.” Deborah agreed to accompany Barak to Kedesh but told him Sisera would die by a woman’s hand. Barak accepted the terms, and Sisera was eventually lured into Yael’s tent, where she fed him milk to make him drowsy and drove a tent peg through his head.


Rather than treating the assassination as obscene (literally “off stage” in Greek drama), Judges 4:21 is intentionally gruesome. Not only did Sisera get pegged, Yael also hammered the nail right through the general’s head and the tip became lodged in the ground. Yet, the narrative is short on other details, allowing for many different artistic depictions of the story.



Heterogeneous suit of armor of Charles V. Desiderius Helmschmid. C. 1543.



The first illustration of Judges 4 of which I’m aware is a watercolor by Pietro Cavallini dated to the 13th-14th centuries. The work is at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, whose website calls the work “Jael and Tisseran” – though the work contains an inscription, “Jael and Siserah (Tiseran).” In the piece, Sisera lies in a courtyard with his head resting on a pillow as Yael holds a peg to his head and readies the hammer. An older woman, of Cavallini’s invention, covers Sisera with a cloth, and the general raises his arms defensively, semi-aware of his fate. Perhaps Cavallini included the extra-biblical woman because he thought the lowly wife of Heber the Kenite needed an accomplice to manage a political assassination, or maybe the woman is Sisera’s mother, who worries in Judges 5:28 that her son’s chariot is delayed.


Several other 15th century pieces treat the scene a bit differently. A c. 1430 miniature by the Netherlandish Master of Otto van Moerdrecht shows Sisera, clad in ochre, lying in a bed covered by a bright red blanket in a house with a black-and-white checkerboard floor. Yael, dressed in deep blue, stands behind the sleeping general and leans over him, holding a nail to his head and raising the hammer. An illumination from the 15th-century German manuscript “Speculum humanae salvationis” (Mirror of Human Salvation) shows Sisera lying outdoors on a grassy slope bearing a shield with a cheveron (v-shape).



Pedro N??ez del Valle. “Jael and Sisera.” C. 1630. Oil on canvas. 48 13/16 x 52 3/8 in. National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin.



The several dozen other works that precede Pedro N??ez del Valle’s 1630 “Jael and Sisera,” currently on exhibit at the National Gallery, feature other oddities. Some have pillars, some show large pegs and others small nails, one shows Sisera in bed with a wine goblet, and in some Sisera wears a crown. A late 14th century manuscript juxtaposes Yael and Sisera with Judith and the beheaded Holofernes, and Sisera’s shield is decorated with a human face. Medieval artists tended to depict with Yael posing with the hammer, about to strike the general, or the aftermath of the assassination. In a 1481 wood cut, one unknown artist somehow figured Yael would manage to drive the peg through the side of Sisera’s helmet!


What is unique about Pedro N??ez del Valle’s work though is its function not only as biblical interpretation, but also as political propaganda. The National Gallery exhibit, in an unprecedented fashion, matches Spanish imperial portraits with the corresponding suits of armor, so viewers can actually see the armor and the paintings depicting the armor side by side. Needless to say, this ingenious curatorial decision helps collapse the several thousand years that have passed since the works were created.


In N??ez del Valle’s work, the curators notice that Sisera wears armor of the Roman-pagan style (Image Two). Sisera’s breastplate features a head of medusa and his armor and shin guards evoke a suit of armor presented to Phillip II as a gift. Barak’s armor, meanwhile, is in the Spanish style, so N??ez del Valle has literally cast the good guys (Spain) in the heroic pose (Barak’s), and the bad guys (Romans, pagans) as Sisera’s corpse.




Roman-style armor of Guiobaldo della Rovere, Duke of Urbino, presented as a gift to Phillip II. Bartolomeo Campi, 1546.



Writing in the catalog, Carmen Garcia-Frias Checa quotes a scholar who argues the painting features “a parallel between the theme of Jael as liberator of the people of Israel from Canaanite oppression and the allegory of Spain as the great succorer of the Catholic faith against heretics.”


The Catholic reference might be a plausible (albeit symbolic) read of the work, but Garcia-Frias Checa should have also discussed another work on Yael and Sisera that shows Sisera in Roman-style armor. Dirck Volkertsz Coornhert’s 1551 engraving shows a rather muscular Yael about to hammer the nail into Sisera’s head. Sisera, who lies on a bed, wears the same armor with the same medusa and leg guards, and he lies in virtually the same position (though inverted) as he does in N??ez del Valle’s work. Whether N??ez del Valle would have been familiar with Coornhert’s engraving is debatable, but the engraving does show that not only was Roman-style armor used in biblical scenes nearly a century before N??ez del Valle, but they were even used in interpretations of the Yael and Sisera story. N??ez del Valle might have introduced the Barak figure in Spanish armor, but Sisera’s pagan attire was already an artistic tradition.


Dirck Volkertsz Coornhert, after Maarten van Heemskerck. “Jael Slaying Sisera.” From “The Power of Women,” 1551. Engraving and etching.


If Garcia-Frias Checa is right, Spain would be presented not as the victor per se, but as the male leader showing up to take credit after the heroine had done all the dirty work. Yael still holds the murder weapon in her hand, and the peg is clearly visible piercing Sisera’s skull. Perhaps this is reading the scene too literally, but one would expect that N??ez del Valle could have picked a better narrative to illustrate the might of the Catholic Church, if that was his aim, like David and Goliath or Samson killing a Philistine.


Either way, that the Catholic Church would identify itself with a Jewish general like Barak less than 150 years after expelling the Jews from Spain is surely noteworthy, even if it is just a symbolic comparison. For that, we can thank the National Gallery for its brilliant curatorial decision to examine both the paintings and the armor.


Menachem Wecker welcomes comments at mwecker@gmail.com. He is a painter and writer, residing in Washington, D.C.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/arts//2009/09/02/

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