Maimonides in Manuscript

Feb. 12 2019

A new exhibit at the Israel Museum on the life and work of Moses Maimonides, the leading halakhist and Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages, displays fourteen rare manuscripts of his work. Describing the exhibit, Rhona Lewis begins with a copy of the sage’s great code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, with a note in his own hand vouching for its authenticity:

Owned by the University of Oxford, [this edition of the Mishneh Torah] is handwritten in ink on paper (1170-1180). Next come two volumes of [an earlier work, his] commentary on the Mishnah. . . . I linger over the sketches of the Temple and notice some handwritten notes in the margins. “By comparing the handwriting with documents that we have from the Cairo Genizah, we can be pretty sure . . . that these are Maimonides’ own notes,” [the curator Anna Nitza Caplan] tells me. “These two . . .volumes were brought to Syria in 1375 and remained in Maimonides’ family until the 15th century. Between 1630 and 1635, one volume was taken to Oxford. The [other] volume . . . became the property of the Israel National Library. Now, 400 years later, the two volumes are temporarily together,” says Caplan.

We move on to the first two volumes of the Mishneh Torah from northern Italy (ca. 1457). The manuscripts are richly illuminated, with six large painted panels decorated in precious pigments and gold leaf, as well as 41 smaller illustrations with gold lettering adorning the opening words of each chapter. The volumes were separated some 200 years ago. Volume 1 is now owned by the Vatican Library; Volume 2 is jointly owned by the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While illuminated siddurim, haggadot, and Hebrew Bibles aren’t that hard to come by, Maimonides’ works are unique in that they are scholarly texts meant for study. . . .

Caplan [also] points out a copy of the Mishneh Torah from Portugal at the end of the 15th century, about 20 years before the [forced conversion of the country’s Jews].

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More about: Halakhah, Moses Maimonides, Rare books, Religion & Holidays

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