While the idea of a divinely matched soul mate may be romantic, it poses significant theological problems—and many rabbinic sources reject it.
The European General Court recently issued a ruling removing Hamas from the EU list of terror organizations. EU diplomats insist that this ruling will not affect policy. But the ruling, writes Gerald Steinberg, points to the deep-seated problems in the EU’s conduct toward Israel, and its foreign policy in general:
Even a cursory examination of these EU policies [on Israel and the Palestinians] exposes the degree to which slogans and myths, as repeated by journalists and officials of non-govermental organizations (NGOs), form the basis for decisions on crucial issues of war and peace. And the NGO input is, in turn, recycled through ready-to-print press releases, and quoted by the government officials. The result is an EU echo chamber, easily manipulated and cut off from the real world. . . .
The failure of the EU to dedicate serious resources to the independent collection of data and analysis is endemic across many issues. Many of the EU’s policies regarding Israel and the conflict are made by cutting and pasting the publications and tracts of political advocacy groups, including on such complex and sensitive issues as Jerusalem, borders, human rights, Bedouin land claims in the Negev, and the status of other Israeli minority groups. The claims of these groups, in turn, are usually based on hearsay (“Palestinian eyewitness testimony”) . . ., media reports, and “the Internet.”
The UN Human Rights Council recently hosted an exhibit at its headquarters in Geneva with the sole purpose of defaming Israel and calling into question its right to exist. The exhibit, argues Anne Bayefsky, suggests that the UN means to turn the clock back farther than 1967, all the way to 1947:
The exhibit was entitled . . . “The Nakba: Exodus and Expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948.” The occasion was the annual UN Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. Solidarity Day marks the adoption by the General Assembly on November 29, 1947 of the resolution that approved the partitioning of Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state. The partition resolution was rejected by Arab states and celebrated by the Jewish people. Thus began the Arab war to deny Israel’s right to exist.
But in 2014, the UN has overtly jettisoned the usual diplomatic lie that the 1967 occupation is the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The exhibit focuses on the alleged crime of creating a Jewish state in 1948 and openly justifies the rejection of the partition resolution. . . . It turns out that the highly controversial exhibit has been circulating in churches and community centers in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland since April 2008. Sought-after hosts like the city of Düsseldorf and the city library in Freiburg have refused the exhibit, which has also been formally criticized by the mayor of Cologne.
The custom of parents giving their children coins on Hanukkah—known as Hanukkah gelt—is well-known today, but goes almost unmentioned in pre-20th-century sources. It seems that the practice evolved from an older custom of giving holiday charity, especially to rabbis and cantors. An even newer custom, writes David Golinkin, is giving presents instead of money:
[I]t was the Yiddish press that encouraged Jewish immigrants to buy Hanukkah “presents,” and the English word was quickly absorbed into Yiddish. By 1906, the [socialist Yiddish daily] Forverts advertised Hanukkah “presents” for sale and the religiously conservative Yiddishe Tageblatt urged Jewish parents to give gifts to their youngsters to increase their enthusiasm for the holiday. The Tageblatt‘s most faithful advertiser explained that Christmas and Hanukkah gifts go hand in hand. On the other hand, Forverts editor Abraham Cahan warned Jewish immigrants against buying too many gifts on the installment plan and the Tageblatt warned its readers “we do not want death from pleasure!” . . .
By the 1920s, the Yiddish press advertised Hanukkah “presents” including cars, waffle irons, Colgate products, ginger ale, Aunt Jemima pancake flour for latkes, and even stock shares!
The Babylonian Talmud contains a vast wealth of information about the Jewish society that, from the 3rd to 7th century, produced it, but historians have been confounded in their quest to find evidence outside the Talmud itself. The sole exception consists of inscriptions found on bowls containing “precise, technical formulations to bind demonic forces magically and prevent them from inflicting harm.” Scholars have now published the first of a projected multivolume series of annotated translations of these inscriptions. Meanwhile, Shai Secunda writes, the novelist Maggie Anton has released the first two volumes of a projected three-part work of historical fiction (free registration required):
By imagining the female relatives of prominent talmudic sages publicly producing magic bowls and other sorceries, Anton locates the magical arts at the very center of classical Jewish life. Unlike historical romances in which sex is breathlessly subversive and sorcery shocks, Anton keeps her sex scenes light and playful and marries traditional rabbinic piety with ancient sorcery. This is what makes [her novel] Rav Hisda’s Daughter so surprising and, one might argue, so compelling. The relentlessly undramatic nature of the series is its genius.
The resurfacing of the magic bowls in contemporary popular culture is a phenomenon worthy of note, not just for book-of-the-month clubs and avant-garde artists. Scholars ought to take heed. Anton is on to something. Rav Hisda’s Daughter raises fascinating questions about what [academic scholars of the Talmud] mean when speaking of “elite” in rabbinic culture, how rabbinic homes functioned simultaneously as both yeshivas and boisterous family estates, and how women and men actually interacted in these close spaces.
Set alongside the [the scholarly volume] Aramaic Bowl Spells, Anton’s forthrightly middlebrow novel proves to be an unexpected invitation to think about these questions. Most surprisingly, it suggests a way of re-conceiving the relationship between the Talmud and the magic bowls, and the lost Babylonian world that gave birth to Judaism.
A recently published collection of some 700 of Norman Mailer’s letters (selected out of many thousands) suggests that the famed author was the sort of person who always had something to prove. It also contains some scattered yet revealing discussions of Jewish identity, and how Mailer felt it shaped him as a writer. Adam Kirsch writes:
[I]t is in a 1960 letter to [Diana] Trilling that Mailer gives the other longest explanation of what Jewishness meant to him. As a writer, Mailer grants, he lacks “definition,” he is given to posturing and role-playing. Yet “it must be remembered,” he insists, “that he is a Jew and that being a major novelist is not a natural activity for a Jew.” (Note the passing insistence that what he is is a “major” novelist—a certainty that may, of course, conceal a deep insecurity.)
Mailer goes on to sketch an ambitious theory of the history of the novel, according to which the classic 19th-century novel was devoted to the “roots” of society: “the novel came into existence . . . as the avatar of society at the moment society developed roots too subtle for the historian to trace.” At this stage, however, the Jews of Western Europe were only recently emancipated; they had no deep social roots, and so they were unable to be either the heroes or the authors of novels. Major Jewish novelists could not emerge until after World War II, because by then “the 20th century had ripped up all the roots.” The Jew, in his homelessness and insecurity, was now a representative figure: “he never had the genteel security of relaxing in a habit . . . the Jew was always a bloody schizophrenic, his parlor manners greasy and his aspiration incandescent. . . . But now the world was schizophrenic. H-bombs and PTA committees. The Jew—those who were left—could be the first to swim the divided waters.”