Not All Apostates from Judaism Were Swindlers, Shlimazls, and No-Goodniks

Oct. 18 2017

Reviewing Todd Endelman’s Leaving the Jewish Fold, a study of Jewish conversion to Christianity in the modern era, the late Elliott Horowitz takes issue with the author’s assessment that his subjects were typically “swindlers, thieves, drunkards, whores, schlemiels, shlimazls, nudniks, and no-goodniks.” Many did fall into such categories, writes Horowitz, but there were some of considerable talent and ability whom Endelman does not mention or to whom he gives short shrift. Horowitz notes some of them in his review.

Jerusalem’s first Anglican bishop, Michael Solomon Alexander (1799–1845), a native of Posen (now Poznań) in Prussian Poland . . . makes [a] brief appearance in [this] engagingly written and wide-ranging new book. . . . Alexander—originally Pollack—had received a sufficiently advanced Jewish education to serve, after arriving in England, as a cantor and ritual slaughterer in Norwich, Nottingham, and Plymouth in the early 1820s. . . .

Another fascinating figure who might have appeared in Endelman’s [chapter] “Converts of Conversion” is Ferdinand Christian Ewald, Alexander’s personal chaplain in Jerusalem. In his Journal of Missionary Labors in the City of Jerusalem, he wrote of the baptism, “at a special Hebrew service, [of] Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Benjamin, Isaac Hirsch, and Simon Fränkel.” . . .

Hirsch, later known as Paul Isaac Hershon (1817-1888), . . .  a native of Buczacz in Galicia, had arrived in Jerusalem by way of Constantinople and Beirut, perhaps as part of the wave of Jewish messianic expectation in 1840. After his baptism he stayed in Jerusalem, serving as superintendent of the London Society House of Industry, which provided vocational training to converts as well as potential converts. In 1859, Hershon retired to London, where he soon published Extracts from the Talmud, Being Specimens of Wit, Wisdom, and Learning, etc., of the Wise and Learned Rabbis. Twenty years later, A Talmudic Miscellany appeared. . . .

[Another convert], Isaac Edward Salkinson (1820-1883), was baptized in London in 1849 and ordained a decade later in Glasgow as a Presbyterian minister. After serving as a missionary in [the Austrian city of] Pressburg (now Slovakian Bratislava), Salkinson spent his final years in Vienna, where his friends included the great [Hebrew] writer and editor Peretz Smolenskin. Salkinson eventually won a place for himself in the annals of Hebrew literature through his pioneering translations of works by Milton and Shakespeare. His 1871 translation of Paradise Lost was later described by the Anglo-Jewish scholar Israel Abraham as “attaining almost absolute perfection.” Of his 1874 Othello, which appeared under the title Ithiel ha-Kushi, Smolenskin wrote, “Today we exact our revenge from the English! They took our Bible and made it their own. We, in return, have captured their Shakespeare. Is it not a sweet revenge?”

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More about: Christianity, Conversion, History & Ideas, Jewish history, Peretz Smolenskin, William Shakespeare

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East