The World’s Oldest Jewish Library

April 25 2017

In the 16th and 17th centuries, Jewish converts to Catholicism and their descendants began arriving in Amsterdam from Spain and Portugal and, taking advantage of local religious tolerance, returned to the religion of their forefathers. To facilitate their rediscovery of the Jewish tradition, they opened Biblioteca Ets Haim, which has become the oldest Jewish library in continuous operation:

Ets Haim was founded in 1616 to help the newcomers start living publicly as Jews again. Many had continued to practice their true religion in secret while living outwardly as Christians. Amassing the library allowed them to debate among themselves, after so long, what being Jewish meant.

In 1675, the library moved to the Esnoga, the Portuguese Synagogue complex. . . . The library holds, in total, nearly 30,000 printed works dating back to 1484 and more than 500 manuscripts dating back to 1282. The documents not only represent centuries of Jewish thought and scholarship, but also the community’s everyday life. . . .

In 1889, David Montezinos, the librarian at the time, donated his substantial private library (20,000 books, pamphlets, manuscripts, and illustrations) to Ets Haim after his wife died.

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Read more at Atlas Obscura

More about: Amsterdam, Conversos, History & Ideas, Sephardim

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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Read more at FDD

More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy