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

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank