A Most Remarkable Jewish Library

Over the course of his life, Rabbi David Oppenheim (1664-1736) collected thousands of books, manuscripts, and documents, which the historian Joshua Teplitsky has called “history’s most enduring and remarkable Jewish library.” Reviewing Prince of the Press, Teplitsky’s recent book about Oppenheim’s collection, Rachel L. Greenblatt writes:

[This] was an era of private libraries, collected by princes and nobles, and Oppenheim was Jewish nobility. He was born to a wealthy, learned merchant family in Worms, Germany, the heart of Central Europe’s Jewish settlement from medieval times. He chose to pursue the rabbinate, a career that culminated in Prague, where he presided as chief rabbi during the last twenty years of his life. His close family circles included leading “court Jews,” financiers whose proximity to the rulers of German principalities propelled them to great influence in their own communities as well. . . .

This combination of Judaic erudition, wealth, and extensive social and rabbinic networks perfectly positioned Oppenheim to buy expensive books, an activity he had already begun in earnest by his late teens. He purchased from local sellers, bought up small collections, had books sent to him, received them as gifts, and commissioned manuscript copies. As he gained influence, his contemporaries would offer him books in return for contacts or favors.

From 1703 on, Oppenheim housed his collection in Hanover, Germany, far from Prague, where censorship and Talmud-burnings threatened. . . .  Among the thought-provoking gems of Prince of the Press is Teplitsky’s observation that, while away from his collection, Oppenheim carried a codex catalog with him, a list that functioned in some sense as a virtual replication of its contents. . . .

Once collected, books and their contents also traveled outward—scholars visited to consult them in situ, used them as sources of legal precedent and interpretation for rabbinic courts, or discussed them in correspondence. Printing houses published some of the manuscripts, distributing them ever more widely.

After Oppenheim’s death, the collection remained in his family until 1829, when it was acquired by Oxford’s Bodleian Library, where it remains to this day.

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More about: Books, Czech Republic, History & Ideas, Jewish history, Oxford

European Aid to the Middle East Is Shaped by a Political Agenda

Feb. 18 2019

The EU’s European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations Unit dispenses millions of dollars in economic and humanitarian assistance to dozens of countries every year. Although it claims to operate on principles of strict neutrality, independent of any political motivation and giving priority to the neediest cases, a look at its activities in the Middle East suggests an entirely different approach, as Hillel Frisch writes:

[T]he Middle East is the overwhelming beneficiary of EU humanitarian aid—nearly 1 billion of just over 1.4 billion euros. . . . The bulk of the funds goes toward meeting the costs of assistance to Syrian refugees, followed by smaller sums to Iraq, Yemen, “Palestine,” and North Africa. Sub-Saharan Africa, by contrast, receives less than one-third of that amount. The problem with such allocations is that the overwhelming majority of people living in dire poverty reside in sub-Saharan Africa, India, and Bangladesh. . . . The Palestinians, who are richer on average than those living in the poorest states of the world, . . . receive over six euros per capita, while the populations of the poorest states receive less than one-eighth of that amount. . . .

Even less defensible is the EU’s claim to political neutrality. Its favoritism toward the Palestinians on this score is visible as soon as one enters terms into the general search function on the European Commission’s website. Enter “Palestine” and you get 20,737 results. Enter “Ethiopia” and you get almost the same figure, despite massive differences in population size (Ethiopia’s 100 million versus fewer than 5 million Palestinians), geographic expanse (Ethiopia is 50 times the size of “Palestine”), and degree of sheer suffering. The Syrian crisis, which is said to have led to the loss of a half-million lives, merits not many more site results than “Palestine.”

One of the foci of the website’s reports [on the Palestinians] is the plight of 35,000 Bedouin whom the EU assists, often in clear violation of the law, in Area C—the part of the West Bank under exclusive Israeli control. The hundreds of thousands of Bedouin in Sinai, however, the plight of whom is readily acknowledged even by Egyptian officials, gets no mention, even though Egypt is a recipient of EU aid. . . .

Clearly, the EU’s approach to aid allocation has nothing to do with impartiality, true social-welfare needs, or humanitarian considerations. [Instead], it favors allocations to Syrian refugees above Yemeni refugees because of the higher probability that Syrian refugees will find their way to Europe. . . . The recipients of European largesse who are next in line [to Syrians], in relative terms, are the Palestinians. [This particular policy] can be attributed primarily to the EU’s hostility toward Israel, its rightful historical claims, and its security needs.

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More about: Europe and Israel, European Union, Israel & Zionism, Palestinians