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?”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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


How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen