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April 1, 2015 / 12 Nisan, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Tel Aviv University’

Broader Lessons from Genetic Studies of the Ashkenazi Jewish Population

Sunday, August 12th, 2012

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the influential paper published by a Mount Sinai physician, Dr. Burrill Crohn, and his colleagues that for the first time characterized a disease associated with severe inflammation of the intestine. Patients with what was later named Crohn’s disease develop diarrhea, fever, stomach pain, and often lose weight. Crohn’s is now classified as an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks its own healthy tissue in the gastrointestinal tract, causing chronic inflammation. It affects young individuals, and, even though it is not curable, it can be treated and controlled by medications and surgery.

Epidemiology and origination of Crohn’s Disease

Crohn’s is considered to be a complex disease with both genetic and environmental risk factors. There is extensive evidence to support the role of genetics in the development of Crohn’s disease. Having a relative with Crohn’s disease is the greatest risk factor for other family members. Also, studies of twins have shown that identical twins, who share almost 100% of their genetic information, were more likely to both have the disease than fraternal twins.  The differences in the prevalence of Crohn’s in various racial and ethnic groups further indicate that genetic factors contribute to the risk, even though shared cultural factors, such as diet and lifestyle, might also explain these differences. Specifically, the prevalence of Crohn’s disease in European countries ranges between 1 and 12 per 100,000 individuals, whereas this disease was until recently virtually unknown in the developing countries.

The major genetic risk for Crohn’s disease identified so far is conferred by 3 rare mutations in the NOD2 gene. NOD2 plays an important role in the immune system, as it enables immune cells to recognize bacterial molecules and stimulates an immune reaction. While the frequency of these mutations ranges between 1% and 4.5% in the general population, about 40% of Crohn’s disease patients carry at least one copy. This translates to a 2 to 4-fold risk of developing the disease in carriers of one copy and a 10 to 40-fold risk in those who carry multiple copies of these mutations. Recent advances in the field of genetics have allowed identification of an additional 160 genetic variants associated with Crohn’s disease in individuals of European ancestry. However,  a sharp increase in the occurrence of the disease in children of immigrants from the developing countries who move to Western countries, as well as the well- established effect of smoking on Crohn’s disease risk, suggest a prominent role for environmental factors as well, most likely diet and lifestyle.

Crohn’s Disease in the Ashkenazi Jewish Population

Interestingly, Jews of European descent (Ashkenazim) have a 4 to 7-fold increased risk of developing Crohn’s disease compared to non-Jewish Europeans. Genetic risks alone could not explain why the prevalence of Crohn’s disease is so much higher in Ashkenazim than in surrounding populations. To investigate this phenomenon, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine have recently conducted the largest study which compared 1,878 Ashkenazi Jews with Crohn’s disease to 4,469 Jews without the disease, using DNA samples to evaluate their genetic make-up. They discovered five new genetic risk regions associated with Crohn’s disease in Ashkenazim. Armed with this new information, they can begin to pinpoint additional causal genetic mutations, discover the nature of the malfunctions they create,  and hopefully eventually develop new treatment approaches. That study also demonstrates the value of genetic studies in isolated populations, like Ashkenazi Jews.

 

The Role of Commensal Bacteria in Crohn’s Disease Risk

One possible explanation for the origination of Crohn’s disease is the hygiene hypothesis which suggests that a lack of early childhood exposure to infectious agents causes the immune system to wrongfully recognize its own non-pathogenic microorganisms as imminent risks and to act against them, causing substantial damage. This notion is particularly interesting in light of accumulating evidence suggesting that the identity and relative abundance of members of bacterial communities, or microbiota, normally residing in the human body and referred to as “commensal”, or non-harmful, bacteria, can be associated with different disease states. Microbial cells that live on (skin, eyes) and inside the human body (digestive system) may outnumber the quantity of human cells by 10-fold. This means that we may be carrying more bacterial genes than our own. Some commensal bacteria are essential for our health and provide a wide range of metabolic functions that the human body lacks. They help break down, absorb and store nutrients that otherwise cannot be digested, fight pathogenic bacteria, and play an important role in the development of the immune system.

$100,000 in Gold Found in Israel Crusader Fortress

Sunday, July 8th, 2012

One of the largest-ever gold caches located in Israel was discovered by Tel Aviv University and the Nature and Parks Authority in a dig in the Apollonia National Park near Herzliya.

400 grams of gold – 108 gold coins minted around the year 1,000 in Egypt and valued at over $100,000 – was found last week in  by a TAU student in a potsherd under the tiles of one room of a Crusader fortress conquered by the Mamluks.

The find is part of a three-year excavation in which hundreds of arrow heads and catapult stones have been found, evidence of the mighty battle between the Crusaders and the Mamluks.

Rare glass utensils and Italian shards have also been found.

The coastal fortress and adjacent city were part of the Knights Hospitaller’s most important strongholds.  In 1265, Mamluk Sultan Baybars attacked the city and captured it in a 40 day siege.

Researchers believe the gold was hidden by a Crusader leader, in hopes that the fortress would be ultimately be retaken from the Muslim invaders and the treasure restored to its Christian owners.

Securing Our Future Through Historic Jewish Communities

Thursday, May 31st, 2012

Since becoming the first ordained rabbi in Jamaica in thirty-three years, I have been working tirelessly with my community to build a Jewish future on this tropical island. Every Jewish community wants to survive and indeed thrive, but there is a particular importance to the preservation and development of the world’s small, history-rich Jewish communities.

As I see it, our collective Jewish future depends on it.

Before I explain my reasoning, let’s briefly review the momentous – but often overlooked – history of our community in Kingston, Jamaica.

The Jewish community of Jamaica traces its origin to Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, who came to the Caribbean in order to escape from the Inquisition. In most cases they originated from parts of Spain that bordered on Portugal. When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella issued an expulsion decree on March 30, 1492, the Jewish community was given exactly four months to liquidate their affairs and leave the country. Those who fled to Portugal were forcibly converted in 1497. Because the Inquisition was not introduced in Portugal for several decades, many Jews in Portugal continued to practice their religion quietly.

In 1536 the Inquisition reached Portugal and Conversos began to leave. The Portuguese held their first auto-da-fe in 1540. This obviously frightened our ancestors, who made discreet attempts to plan their escape. Slowly, Portuguese Jews made their way to a number of cities that had or developed Converso communities. Amsterdam was the largest of these communities. From Amsterdam, they pursued business opportunities in the Caribbean, settling in Port Royal or later, Spanish Town and Kingston. We can trace our current community back to Neveh Shalom Synagogue, which was founded in 1704, but our roots go back even further.

There are similar communities throughout the Caribbean and Central America, including Willemstad, Curacao; St. Thomas, Virgin Islands; and Suriname. Each of these communities still conduct services on a regular basis. Preserving these and other historic Jewish communities is critical for a number of reasons.

First, the fact that the Jews were the original Diaspora needs to be emphasized at a time when various other communities are discovering their own Diasporas. This can help build strong bonds between various national groups, allowing us to share common experiences with those who may not have obvious connections to the Jewish people. This would, of course, promote tolerance, which is always “good news for the Jews.”

Second, the experiences of the Jewish people in virtually every corner of the globe over the course of hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of years is part of the narrative that needs to be told to those who are legitimately asking questions about Jewish existence and Jewish history.

Whether in Israel or in various parts of the Diaspora, we need to be able to explain to skeptics that we have survived seemingly unending persecution and numerous expulsions and have nevertheless maintained our commitment to our people and our religion.

This narrative needs to be preserved and enhanced in actual living terms, and not just through books and museum exhibits. We must be able to tell the story of our peoplehood and be able to demonstrate living examples of that history.

Finally, when individuals travel the world looking for adventure and existential meaning, it is important that we “surprise” them with Jewish history and living, breathing Jewish tradition. Visitors are beside themselves when they discover that the Caribbean island they are exploring not only had a historic Jewish community but has living indigenous Jews who continue to gather together for communal events.

In my short time here, I have met and interacted with numerous individuals and groups who come searching for the Jamaican Jewish community in an effort to discover their own Jewish identities. Some of those who seek us out come away with a new perspective on life and a revitalized commitment to their Jewish observance. In a way, we are like a living exhibit from the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv.

Over the past seventy years there has been a dramatic contraction of the Jewish Diaspora. From a large and diverse population spread out among most of the countries of the world, we have concentrated ourselves in a handful of countries, living mostly in a couple of dozen large urban regions. This is quite an unfortunate demographic trend.

Stop Funding Tel Aviv University

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

One of Israel’s leading universities seems to have lost its way.

In a move that is as incomprehensible as it is shameful, Tel Aviv University (TAU) agreed to allow a student group to hold a ceremony commemorating “Nakba Day,” when Palestinians bemoan the establishment of the state of Israel.

The event included the reading of Palestinian poetry, a moment of silence and the recitation of an alternative version of the Yizkor prayer Jews traditionally say in memory of their loved ones.

In case their intent was unclear, the organizers of this anti-Israel hatefest went out of their way to elucidate the reasons behind it, with one telling Haaretz in no uncertain terms that Israelis need to realize that, “We’re talking about a disaster that must be known on a human level.”

Another student involved in planning the event said she saw it as a way “to remember the tragedy and great loss that befell the people who were here before ’48.”

Have these people lost their minds? What on earth would prompt Jewish students at an Israeli institution of higher education to lament the founding of their own country?

Clearly, something is very wrong at Tel Aviv University. Though ostensibly a Zionist institution, its administration ignored the pleas of various public figures and permitted this outrage to go forward.

Indeed, for an institution whose website states that it has “a deep commitment to Israeli society and the Jewish people,” it is hard to fathom what would prompt university officials to sign off on such nonsense.

After all, this has nothing to do with the boundaries of free speech or the fundamental right to criticize one’s government. It is about delegitimizing Israel and attempting to undermine its very existence.

Promoting Nakba Day is a crucial political goal of the Palestinians. Giving it a platform not only fosters a false narrative of history, but it also plays directly into the hands of those who wish to dismantle the Jewish state.

At a time when Israel is facing existential threats from its neighbors, there can be no excuse for allowing the publicly funded grounds of an Israeli university campus to serve as a staging area for assaults on its continued survival.

Clearly, university administrators have lost sight of one of the essential purposes of education. As the 18th-century political philosopher Baron de Montesquieu pointed out, the promotion of love for one’s country “ought to be the principal business of education.”

This is so patently obvious that it should not even need to be stated.

Then again, given some of the radical faculty that populates various departments at Tel Aviv University, it should hardly come as a surprise that this basic idea has been all but overlooked.

As Dr. Steven Plaut and the IsraCampus organization have been documenting for years, various TAU departments have become hothouses for anti-Israel hotheads.

These range from a professor who denies that the Jews are a nation to another who has referred to the residents of Judea and Samaria as “Jewish Cossacks.”

Yet another TAU instructor justified a Palestinian grenade attack on Israeli soldiers as a legitimate act of resistance while others have affirmed their support for efforts to boycott the Jewish state.

If you find this hard to believe, just go to the IsraCampus website (www.isracampus.org.il) and see for yourself how various anti-Zionist and Marxist loons have been indoctrinating Israel’s younger generation at TAU with toxic views. Anyone concerned for the future of Israel should be concerned by what is happening on campuses such as Tel Aviv University.

A growing cadre of Israeli academics are preaching extremist far-left views and turning the hallowed halls of higher education into profane pillars of puerile Palestinian propaganda.

There is no reason why the Israeli taxpayer, or pro-Israel Diaspora Jews, should continue to generously fund TAU even as it serves to undercut the values they hold dear.

For all their talk of principle, college administrators can be swayed if enough pressure is applied. And that is what needs to be done in order to restore some sanity, and Zionist commitment, to Israeli academia.

So the next time you reach for your checkbook and consider making a donation to Tel Aviv University, do yourself and the Jewish people a favor: stop and think whether your money is truly going to a good cause. In the current environment, chances are it isn’t.

Ancient Biblical Gardens “Bloom” Again

Sunday, February 19th, 2012

According to livescience.com, a newly discovered 7th century B.C. palace garden near Jerusalem could reveal details about how royals liked to let loose in ancient times.

Researchers from Tel Aviv University and Germany’s Heidelberg University uncovered the royal garden at the site of Ramat Rachel, a kibbutz (communal farm) in Israel, and are leading the first full-scale excavation of this type of archaeological site in Israel.

“We have uncovered a very rare find,” archaeologist Oded Lipschits of Tel Aviv University said.

The garden was a massive and lush green space royals would use to relax. Such pleasure spots were once the ultimate symbol of power, according to the researchers.

Title: God’s Favorite Prayers

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

Title: God’s Favorite Prayers

Author: Tzvee Zahavy

Publisher: Talmudic Books


 

            God’s Favorite Prayers, by Tzvee Zahavy, makes for fascinating reading. It is an intelligent, sometimes amusing, and always highly readable essay addressed first and foremost to those who know “everything” – those so familiar with the prayers that they don’t really need a siddur to follow the service.

            At the same time the book can also serve as an appetizer, a first introduction to the synagogue and its most significant prayers, for those from outside shul life – people who have not been inside an Orthodox synagogue since their bar mitzvah.


It is livened by autobiographical reminiscences that include how shul felt for the author, as the son of the rabbi of what was then Zichron Ephraim and later the Park East Synagogue. The combination of growing up as the rabbi’s son of one of the most prestigious Orthodox congregations in New York City, and the intellectual honing provided by being part of academe for many years, prepared Zahavy well for writing this unique presentation of Jewish prayer as practiced in the synagogue.


Indeed, his background and credentials make him eminently qualified for this undertaking. He received his B.A. and M.A. degrees, as well as rabbinic ordination, from Yeshiva University, where he spent four years studying with Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. He then earned a Ph.D. in religious studies from Brown University, and went on to pursue an academic career at the University of Minnesota, where he was a professor of Jewish Studies and was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award.


In God’s Favorite Prayers, Zahavy describes the prayer service as it is encountered in real-life synagogues, defining it as a series of discrete and somewhat diverse elements that have their own internal coherence. At the same time, it somehow synchronizes and creates a rewarding whole.


The major thrust of the book is what, lacking any better term, I call the psycho-emotional dimension – not the literal meaning of the prayers but rather the impact that their recitation should or could have on regular synagogue goers. It is particularly successful in evoking a renewed spiritual dimension, respecting texts whose essence sometimes tends to fade through their constant use.


The prayers are categorized typologically, a separate chapter being devoted to each of the following: The Performer’s Prayers; The Mystic’s Prayers; The Scribe’s Prayers; The Priest’s Prayers; The Meditator’s Prayers; and The Celebrity’s Prayers. The chapter headings are not intended to indicate either their authorship or their history, both of which Zahavy considers to be largely unknown and, in any event, irrelevant for his purpose.


Following these chapters is one on the Kiddush, both as a special blessing recited several times during the Sabbath or holiday and as the social event held in many synagogues immediately following the Sabbath morning service.


The book closes with a short epilogue portraying the emotional experience accompanying the blowing of the shofar, particularly, but not only, at the close of the Yom Kippur service.


While the book will ring a bell for regular synagogue attendees in all countries, it will have particular resonance for those used to the American experience. An especially noteworthy example: particularly American is the endeavor to be respectful of women vis-à-vis the synagogue experience.


Zahavy has succeeded in relating to women and addressing them “at eye level” as real and active participants in the prayer experience, without “moving the curtain aside” or giving them an active part in the pageantry of the prayer service that in Orthodox Judaism is considered to be an exclusive male domain. He somehow manages to provide his women readers with a feeling of inclusiveness,without their intruding into the traditional male domain of the synagogue service.


He achieves this primarily by choosing women as the archetypes in several of the chapters. He not only uses the biblical Hannah to introduce his discussion of The Mystic’s Prayers. He doesn’t hesitate to introduce a contemporary woman in the ensuing narrative to illustrate his point. So too Zahavy places a lady at the center of his description in his chapter on meditation.


An important insight that in and of itself makes the book worthwhile is its illustration of one of the major axioms of the nature of Jewish prayer – that it is the one who prays who, in the last analysis, determines the content of the prayer that is recited. While the words of the prayers provide the common denominator that make it possible for communal prayer to take place, it is the individual prayer of each of us (and even our own prayer at different times) that provides the common and virtually timeless text with contemporary and personal meaning.


While I too have taught prayer in university classes, and hopefully was interesting and informative, this book is entirely different. While I concentrated on content and sources, Zahavy’s aim here is to re-evoke dimensions of meaning in texts whose familiarity has caused their sharp meaning to fade. For all these and other reasons, the book is an enjoyable read and well worth the time doing so.


Dr. Naomi G. Cohen taught for many years at Tel Aviv University and Haifa University, and is a senior research fellow at Haifa University. She has published extensively on Jewish liturgy and on Philo Judaeus, including Philo’s Scriptures: Citations from the Prophets and Writings. She is married to Rav She’ar Yashuv Cohen, former Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Haifa.

Meretz Professor Knows Treason When He Sees It

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

      Prof. Amnon Rubinstein is an interesting guy. These days he is the closest thing to a leftist patriot in Israel, and I say that as someone who maintains that in Israel “leftist patriot” is generally an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms.
 
      Rubinstein was one of the founders of Tel Aviv University Law School and its first dean. In the 1970’s he was one of the founders and leaders of the old Shinui party, not to be confused with the centrist Orthodox-baiting party with the same name run years later by Yosef “Tommy” Lapid. That older Shinui party merged with others, including some Marxists from Mapam, to form the Meretz party in 1992.
 
      Meretz, of course, was a left-wing capitulationist party that in large part was responsible for creating (with its Labor coalition partners) the entire Oslo debacle. Within Meretz, Rubinstein and his faction formed a remarkable freer-market cadre, one fighting internally against the Marxists over economic and social issues. Indeed, Rubinstein’s Meretz faction was the closest thing in Israel back then to advocates of true market economics.
 
      Altogether Rubinstein sat in the Knesset for 25 years. He served for a while as minister of education, and as such promoted experiments in public school choice and vouchers. He was one of the senior professors in Israel who jabbed their fingers in the eye of the country’s Ivory Cartel, the Council on Higher Education, defying it in setting up the first private-sector law school and university in Israel, the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center, where Rubinstein continues to teach.
 
      While I am not suggesting that Rubinstein be granted moral clemency for his personal role in imposing the Oslo fiasco on the country, he nevertheless is a combative Zionist. He is one of the few people in Israel for whom “leftist Zionism” really still exists. And he has been one of the leading crusaders in Israel against Israel’s Academic Fifth Column.
 
      While Rubinstein still holds to many of his dovish positions, he despises “Post-Zionists” and New Historians, people like Ilan Pappe, Oren Yiftachel, Neve Gordon, and their ilk. Rubinstein regards such people as traitors and often says so. He writes a weekly column in Maariv in which attacks on academic extremists are a recurring and frequent theme. He and Maariv deputy editor Ben-Dror Yemini, who is also left of center, have emerged as the two best commentators on Israeli academic sedition in the Israeli mainstream media.
 
      Rubinstein is particularly effective because he himself is a bona fide member of the Oslo Left – hence, when he attacks academic radicals his criticism is all the more devastating. Curmudgeons such as myself are understood to be anti-Oslo and anti-Left regarding just about everything, and so no criticism by us can make any impression on the left-wing anti-Zionist radicals. But Rubinstein and Yemini draw blood every time they attack, and they are critics whom the Post-Zionists cannot ignore and dismiss.
 
      On January 12, Yemini devoted an entire page in Maariv to a pro-terror “academic” event held at Tel Aviv University, sponsored by its law school. Yemini began his column by pointing out that “rights discourse” is today little more than a weapon used by Israel’s enemies and the enemies of human freedom. He mocked “progressives” who rationalize the murderous behavior of terrorists as part of “understanding the Other” and being sensitive.
 
      He noted that a few weeks before, a group of leftist anti-Zionists on the faculty of Tel Aviv University had conducted an “academic conference” dedicated to the idea that imprisoned Palestinian mass murderers and terrorists are in fact “political prisoners,” deserving of sympathy and support. A Palestinian who blows up a pregnant mother with her toddlers is nothing more than a political protester in the minds of such people.
 
      Restrictions on the misuse of academic freedom, wrote Yemini, should be no different from restrictions on Holocaust denial. That is because Holocaust denial is not an academic or a scholarly theory but merely a political weapon of hate. But so is “academizing” terror and mass murder. A conference like the pro-terror one held at Tel Aviv University law school is, according to Yemeni, little more than an attempt at promoting an anti-Semitic agenda. He asked rhetorically why Tel Aviv University does not conduct a Holocaust denial conference in the name of “academic freedom” or one for those who advocate genocide against Jews.
 
      Yemini’s column was followed in Maariv a week later by an even more devastating attack on the Tel Aviv University Left written by Rubinstein, who began his column by noting that, initially, every participant at the conference was a leftist, mostly of the openly radical and anti-Israel variety, but when public criticism was triggered once the event was advertised, a few token non-extremists were added as speakers.
 
      Nevertheless, there was nothing at all academic about the conference, wrote Rubinstein. No research, no scholarship, no real debate – simply anti-Israel political advocacy. It was an event more befitting a beer hall than a university, he added. It was simply an example of anti-Israel political indoctrination of the sort that takes place every week on Israeli campuses.
 
      Campus conferences sponsored by the social sciences departments, complained Rubinstein, almost never allow any expression of the points of view held by the vast majority of Israelis (meaning Zionism and patriotism).
 
      At the Tel Aviv University conference, Rubinstein noted, the speaker who received the greatest applause was Tali Fahima, a Jewish woman recently released from prison who had assisted her Palestinian boyfriend in planning terror attacks. Another featured speaker at the event was a Palestinian terrorist who had been imprisoned for his crimes (which included throwing a Molotov cocktail at a civilian bus) by Israel for 27 years.
 
      Rubinstein pointed out that the people who run TAU law school never even considered balancing the presence of terrorists with victims of Palestinian terror. At Tel Aviv University, murderers and terrorists of Jews are entitled to “civil rights” – but not Jewish civilians.
 
      The law school is hardly the only campus center at Tel Aviv University in which anti-Israel sedition and “Post-Zionism” dominate. There are entire departments where nearly every faculty member is a radical leftist. For more information on sedition and radicalism at Tel Aviv University, go to the website www.israel-academia-monitor.com, operated by Israel Academia Monitor, the Israeli counterpart to the U.S.-based Campus Watch operated by Dr. Daniel Pipes.
 

      Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at Haifa University. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at stevenplaut@yahoo.com.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/meretz-professor-knows-treason-when-he-sees-it/2007/01/31/

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