In Syracuse, an Ancient Jewish Community Is Revived

Feb. 15 2017

Once home to some of the oldest Jewish communities in Europe—which were eradicated five centuries ago—Sicily is now experiencing a rebirth of Judaism. S. D’I. and Erasmus describe what has occurred in one Sicilian city:

In 1492, Sicily’s once-flourishing Jewish community was expelled by the Spanish monarchs that held sway over the island; some fled to the nearby kingdom of Naples but they were soon driven out of that realm, too, and duly headed eastward to the comparative safety of Ottoman territory.

Small wonder, then, that among the 40,000 or so Jews who now live in Italy, only a handful are to be found anywhere south of Rome. In locations like the Giudecca (Jewish quarter) of Syracuse, an ancient Sicilian port, place-names and Hebrew inscriptions are among the few obvious reminders that the religion of ancient Israel was once practiced here. . . . Before [the expulsion of] 1492, the port had twelve synagogues and 5,000 Jews; that faith and culture have been undergoing a modest but determined local revival, as some long-dormant collective memories come to the surface.

Some people date the rebirth to the discovery in Syracuse in 1987 of a mikveh, a Jewish ritual bath, which may be among the oldest in Europe. That was one of things which inspired Stefano Di Mauro, an Orthodox Sephardi rabbi who had spent most of his life in America, to return to his native Sicily in 2007. Now the synagogue he founded, which is housed in a nondescript building but boasts a canopy, can count on crowds of 50 people or more at festivals and rites of passage. For more routine weekly services, the worshippers often number twelve to fifteen, just about satisfying the minyan or quorum of ten men. . . .

Many of the faithful tell remarkable stories about the way they embraced Judaism because of half-remembered family traditions. In Jewish terms, the community members seem mostly to be Bnei Anusim, the “children of the forced [converts]”: in other words, descendants of those who [in 1492] converted at least superficially to Christianity as a way to avoid expulsion.

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Read more at Economist

More about: Conversos, History & Ideas, Italian Jewry, Sicily

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter