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

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times