How a Stained-Glass Window Caused Controversy for a 19th-Century New York Synagogue

On May 18, 1850, the Anshi Chesed synagogue on Manhattan’s Lower East Side moved into a grand, newly completed building that was then the largest Jewish house of worship in New York City. The new structure included a prominent stained-glass window depicting the Ten Commandments—and that, as Jenna Weissman Joselit writes, led to unexpected controversy:

As stunning as the building’s exterior turrets and as modern as its chandelier, [the window] floated right above the ark that contained the Torah scrolls, commanding the attention of those seated in the pews below. The window’s unusual shape also drew the eye. Instead of embedding the ten prescriptions within the rigid and customary geometry of two tablets, [the designer] had them marching freely within the circumference of a circle. These Ten Commandments were in the round. More like the spokes of a wheel than the flat inscriptions on a stele, each “Thou shalt” and “Thou shalt not” was housed within its own unit of glass. To heighten the effect, a series of ten petal-shaped panels occupied the center of the composition. . . .

Thrilled at first by the positive publicity [the window received], the members of Anshi Chesed soon changed their tune and, in the time-honored tradition of congregants everywhere, began to grumble and murmur darkly about their distinctively configured Ten Commandments window. The minutes of the synagogue, which dutifully record this and other instances of congregational dissension, contain scarcely a clue about the identity of the naysayers. . . . As momentum for [the window’s] displacement accelerated, Anshi Chesed’s lay leaders decided to quell further dissent within their ranks by forming a committee. The committee approach to problem-solving had recently become a regular feature of the congregation, . . . a testament to its newfound democratic ethos. . . . And now, dutifully drawing on the Hebrew words for the Ten Commandments, Anshi Chesed decided to constitute its very own “Committee on Aseres hadebros,” whose members set out to repair the situation.

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More about: American Jewish History, Lower East Side, Religion & Holidays, Synagogues, Ten Commandments

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror