A Storied Jewish Archive, Now Digitized, Will Remain in Russia

Nov. 15 2017

Founded in the 19th century by a wealthy Russian Jewish family with close ties to the tsars, the Günzburg collection is one of the world’s most impressive troves of Judaica. The Russian State Library in Moscow has just concluded an agreement with the National Library of Israel to digitize it and make it available to the public, as Ofer Aderet writes:

The Günzburg collection is a rich and unique collection of books and manuscripts that contains over 14,000 items, including thousands of rare Hebrew books as well as manuscripts in Hebrew and many other languages. It includes medieval works in science, philosophy, and Jewish studies, midrashim, copies of the writings of Moses Maimonides and the [13th-century Catalan talmudist and communal leader] Shlomo ibn Aderet, biblical commentaries, books of Hebrew grammar and halakhah, medieval poetry, and kabbalistic and medical texts. . . .

In 1917 a contract between the B’nai B’rith Library [the precursor to the National Library] and the Russian authorities was signed for the purchase of the collection. Half a million gold rubles were transferred to the Russians (about $15 million according to today’s gold value) through donations by Russian Zionists.

The books had already been placed in cartons in preparation for their dispatch to Palestine, but delivery was delayed due to World War I. With the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution the books were seized, nationalized, and transferred to the Lenin State Library in Moscow. Albert Einstein, Chaim Weizmann, and later Benjamin Netanyahu tried in vain to persuade the Russians to return the collection. . . .

The digitization project was funded by the Peri Foundation, headed by Ziyavudin Magomedov, a Russian Muslim billionaire businessman from Dagestan, who is active in cultural preservation.

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Read more at Haaretz

More about: History & Ideas, Jewish archives, Middle Ages, Russian Jewry

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America