The positive feedback we have received since the appearance of the first issue of the (renamed) Israel Studies Review last May has exceeded our expectations, and we are grateful to everyone who responded. Of course, we have built on the work of the previous Editorial Board and the support of the Association for Israel Studies. We are appreciative that the innovations we introduced, including the Forum section and the review essays of books published in a particular field in Hebrew, have received such approbation. We encourage all of our readers and friends to continue sending us more ideas for topics, sections, and issues to deal with.
Christianity and the Return of the Sacred
This article argues a case against the theory of the sacred put forward by the French anthropologist René Girard. In particular, Girard seems to have obliterated one of the tenets of Christian theology, namely, the doctrine of Christ's ascension, in accord with his critical reading of Paul's letter to the Hebrews, which contains a rare emphasis on Christ's departure from the world. This article adopts a 'neo-Hobbesian' perspective in understanding the return of the sacred and fosters a 'political theology of the empty tomb', where the doctrine of Christ's ascension is called upon to again play a major theological role as a workable antidote to the contemporary resurgence of the sacred.
A Ladino Commentary on the Bible
Alisa Meyuhas Ginio
The eighteenth century was a turning point in the cultural history of the Judeo-Spanish community in the Ottoman Empire. This turning point evolves the use of Ladino for rabbinical literature, until then mostly and regularly written in Hebrew. It was the initiative of Rabbi Ya'akov Khulí (Jerusalem, 1689-Kushta-Constantinople-Istanbul, 1732) to publish his commentary on the Bible entitled: Me'am Lo'ez (1st edition: Kushta-Istanbul, 1730) in Ladino, that inaugurated a new era for Ladino culture. Rabbi Ya'akov Khulí decided to take such a revolutionary step in view of the cultural gap existing, in his time and place, between the Hebrew-writing rabbinical élite on the one hand, and the rank and file of Judeo-Spanish speaking and Ladino-reading Sephardi public on the other hand. The author of the Me'am Lo'ez explained his intentions in the two introductions preceding his work: the first one in Hebrew, addressed to his fellow rabbinical sages and the second one in Ladino, addressed to the general public of readers in that language. Soon after its publication, the Me'am Lo'ez gained an unprecedented popularity that was to last for the next two hundred years. Even after the premature demise of Rabbi Ya'akov Khulí, other rabbinical scholars continued his project and published their commentaries on more books of the Hebrew Bible, following Rabbi Khulí's guidelines. Thanks to its Ladino language, the Me'am Lo'ez became known among Sephardi women as well. Although most of them could not read or write, they could understand what was being read aloud to them in Ladino. For Sephardi women, the Me'am Lo'ez thus became the gateway to Jewish tradition. The Me'am Lo'ez turned out to be the guiding authority for everyday life of the Sephardi communities in the Mediterranean basin. The teachings of the Me'am Lo'ez were the backbone of their cultural heritage with which they were to face the new trends of modernity arriving in the Ottoman Empire in the course of the nineteenth century.
My first day at Leo Baeck College, I arrived early, dressed soberly but impressively to demonstrate my serious intent. I was shown into a room where I sat with two other students among the drawings and misspelled Hebrew words of a West London Synagogue cheder class. Feeling frightfully shy, I did not introduce myself to my two colleagues, and they, being equally reticent did not introduce themselves to me. So there we sat and waited for some twenty minutes in total silence. Rabbi Albert Friedlander z'l finally came in, blinked, and asked what we were doing.
Liturgist as Correspondent
Eric L. Friedland
Rabbi John D. Rayner was prolific not only of learned articles and challenging sermons, but a frequent and engaging correspondent. It is through his multitudinous letters that we gain inestimable insight into the dynamic of his path-breaking liturgy-making, his raising of disciples in England and abroad, and his commitment to critical Jewish scholarship combined with utter religious honesty. His love of the Hebrew language, his devotion to family, and his irrepressible brand of humour, too, shone through his missives, both by airmail and by email.
Rachel Werczberger and Boaz Huss
On 17 June 2014, in the heart of the Etzion Bloc (Gush Etzion) in the West Bank, the site of the abduction of three Israeli teens by Palestinian terrorists the week before, an unusual event took place. Several Jewish-Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, a few rabbis, and a Muslim Sufi sheikh gathered in order to pray for the safe return of the kidnapped youths. The group prayed both in Hebrew and Arabic, reciting psalms and Quran-based Muslim prayers. “Our hearts are torn at this moment, and my heart goes out the mothers of these children,” said Sheikh Ibrahim Abu Al-Hawa, before reciting the first chapter of the Quran, the Fatiha. He continued, “There is a wall between our two nations, and we hope to remove the wall separating the hearts of humans” (Miller 2014). He concluded his speech by proclaiming “God is One” in Arabic and Hebrew, followed by the young Rabbi Yossi Froman (son of the late Rabbi Menachem Froman), who stood beside him.
When I began to study at the Leo Baeck College I was very much influenced by our lecturer in Bible Dr Ellen Littmann. In fact I owe to her my own interest in the Hebrew Bible. At her urging I went on to do doctoral studies so that I could eventually succeed her at the College. Bible was not her first field of study. Instead it was history and she belonged to that circle around Ismar Elbogen and Leo Baeck who were such significant figures at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums in Berlin and indeed for all of German Jewry before the war. She was brought to England from Israel by Rabbi Dr Van der Zyl the main architect in the creation of the College.
Shai Ginsburg, Rhetoric and Nation: The Formation of Hebrew National Culture, 1880–1990 Review by Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi
Anat Helman, Becoming Israeli: National Ideals & Everyday Life in the 1950s Review by Dafna Hirsch
Madelaine Adelman and Miriam Fendius Elman, eds., Jerusalem: Conflict and Cooperation in a Contested City Review by Shlomo Hasson
Adam Rovner, In the Shadow of Zion: Promised Lands Before Israel Review by Michael Brenner
Fran Markowitz, Stephen Sharot, and Moshe Shokeid, eds., Towards an Anthropology of Nation Building and Unbuilding in Israel Review by Russell Stone
Guy Ziv, Why Hawks Become Doves: Shimon Peres and Foreign Policy Change in Israel Review by Oded Haklai
R. Amy Elman, The European Union, Antisemitism, and the Politics of Denial Review by Alona Fisher
Rachel S. Harris, An Ideological Death: Suicide in Israeli Literature Review by Adia Mendelson-Maoz
David Ohana, The Origins of Israeli Mythology: Neither Canaanites Nor Crusaders Review by Ian S. Lustick
A Chief Rabbi at War
In office, from the 'New' rather than the 'Old' World, indeed the first ordinand of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, Joseph Herman Hertz moved among kings and grandees, ministering to two communities, different religiously, culturally and socially. One, an established 'West End' community, was assimilated and integrated; the other was a newer, larger, faster-growing, immigrant 'East End' community. He had to be a bridge between these two communities. Within a year of taking office, this American Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Empire was thrust into a world conflict that confronted him with tensions and challenges to his patriotism, his authority and his faith. Ultimately his period of office would be 'bracketed' by two world wars.
Midrashim were first published as printed texts in the sixteenth century, initially in Sephardi communities of the Ottoman Empire and later at the famous Hebrew presses of Venice. Vital evidence about the study of these new books is furnished by a heavily annotated copy of Midrash Rabba (Venice, 1545) in the Bodleian Library. Handwritten marginal and interlinear notes show that it was studied by Jewish scholars of the Ottoman Empire and later by the celebrated orientalist and Church of England clergyman Edward Pococke. These glosses provide unique evidence of the interaction of a Christian scholar with the notes of an earlier Jewish reader in deciphering linguistic obscurities in the midrash and resolving textual errors. They therefore shed new light on how early printed books of midrash were read in the decades following their publication and on the study of rabbinic Bible interpretation in the early modern period.