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Seventeen Centuries of Synagogue Architecture, in Miniature

Nov. 18 2015

At the time of its founding (in 1973), the Yeshiva University Museum commissioned ten hand-made scale models of historic synagogues, ranging from a 3rd-century Syrian synagogue to the 19th-century Tempio Israelitico in Florence, Italy. The museum has put the miniatures on display once more—for the first time in almost 30 years. Diane Bolz writes:

The synagogues selected for the exhibition were chosen for their historical and architectural significance. Also important was the quality and availability of documentation essential to producing archaeologically and historically accurate reconstructions. In addition, the buildings had to exhibit . . . “a unifying idea”—a significant symbolic feature or specific architectural characteristic that distinguished that synagogue. . . .

The models are accompanied by an impressive array of original objects associated with each synagogue, including a bronze incense shovel from the era of the Second Temple that has links to the decorations in the [6th-century] Beit Alpha synagogue; a Torah scroll used in Amsterdam’s Spanish-Portuguese synagogue, which may date from before the time of the expulsion of Jews from Spain; and a large-scale brass Hanukkah lamp and silver Torah shield that echo the furnishings of the 17th-century Zabludow synagogue in Poland. Other artifacts, drawings, paintings, manuscripts, photographs, and maps . . . bring to life the cultures that produced these synagogues and the thematic elements that connect them.

Read more at Moment

More about: Architecture, Arts & Culture, Museums, Synagogues

Israel Agreed Not to Retaliate During the Persian Gulf War—and Paid a Price for It

Feb. 19 2018

During the Persian Gulf War of 1991, Saddam Hussein fired 39 Scud missiles at Israel, killing one person and causing extensive property damage. Under intense pressure from the first Bush administration to sit still—ostensibly because Israeli involvement in the war could lead Arab states to abandon the White House’s anti-Iraq coalition—Jerusalem refrained from retaliating. Moshe Arens, who was the Israeli defense minister at the time, comments on the decision in light of information recently made public:

[W]hat was George H.W. Bush thinking [in urging Israel not to respond]? His secretary of state, James Baker, had accompanied the U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Charles (Chas) Freeman, on a visit to King Fahd in Riyadh on November 2, 1990, two-and-a-half months before the beginning of the war, to obtain the king’s approval for additional deployment of U.S. troops in his kingdom in preparation for the attack on Iraq.

He was told by the king that although they would not welcome Israeli participation in the war, he understood that Israel could not stand idly by if it were attacked by Iraq. If Israel were to defend itself, the Saudi armed forces would still fight on America’s side, the king told Baker. So much for the danger to the coalition if Israel were to respond to the Scud attacks. Israel was not informed of this Saudi position.

So why was President Bush so intent on keeping Israel out of the war? It seems that he took the position, so dominant in the American foreign-policy establishment, that America’s primary interest in the Middle East was the maintenance of good relations with the Arab world, and that the Arab world attached great importance to the Palestinian problem, and that as long as that problem was not resolved Israel remained an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship. If Israel were to appear as an ally of the U.S. in the war against Iraq, that was likely to damage the image the U.S. was trying to project to the Arabs.

In fact, immediately upon the conclusion of the war against Saddam Hussein, Baker launched a diplomatic effort that culminated in the Madrid Conference in the hope that it would lead to a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It didn’t. . . .

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: George H. W. Bush, Israel & Zionism, Israeli history, Peace Process, Persian Gulf War, US-Israel relations