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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.

Read more at Haaretz

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

 

Why a Humanitarian Crisis in Gaza Is Unlikely

Feb. 16 2018

High-ranking figures in the IDF, along with some Israeli and foreign officials, have been warning that economic troubles combined with severely deficient public works could lead to an outbreak of starvation or epidemic in the Gaza Strip; their warnings have been taken up and amplified in sensationalist stories in Western media. Hillel Frisch is skeptical:

The most important factor behind real humanitarian crises—mass hunger and contagious disease—is first and foremost the breakdown of law and order, and violence between warring militias and gangs. This is what occurred in Darfur, Somalia, and the Central African Republic. In such situations, the first to leave are the relief agencies. Then local medical staffs evacuate, along with local government officials and anyone professional who can make it out of the bedlam. The destitute are left to fend for themselves. Hospitals, dispensaries, schools, and local government offices are soon abandoned or become scenes of grisly shootouts and reprisals.

Nothing could be farther from such a reality than Gaza. Hamas, which is the main source of [misleading reports] of an imminent humanitarian crisis, rules Gaza with an iron fist. Few developed democracies in the world can boast the low homicide rates prevailing in the Strip. Nor have there been reports of any closings of hospitals, municipal governments, schools, universities, colleges, or dispensaries. . . .

Nor have there been news items announcing the departure of any foreign relief agencies or the closure of any human-rights organizations in the area. Nor is there any evidence that the World Health Organization (WHO), which rigorously monitors the world to prevent the outbreak of contagious disease, is seriously looking at Gaza. And that is for good reason. The WHO knows, as do hundreds of medical personnel in Israeli hospitals who liaise with their colleagues in Gaza, that the hospital system in Gaza is of a high caliber, certainly by the standards of the developing world. . . .

Hamas, [of course], wants more trucks entering Gaza to increase tax revenues to pay for its 30,000-strong militia and public security force, and to increase the prospects of smuggling arms for the benefit of its missile stockpiles and tunnel-building efforts. How Israel should react is equally obvious. You want more humanitarian aid? . . . Free the two mentally disabled Israelis who found their way into Gaza and are imprisoned by Hamas.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy