Not All Apostates from Judaism Were Swindlers, Shlimazls, and No-Goodniks

Oct. 18 2017

Reviewing Todd Endelman’s Leaving the Jewish Fold, a study of Jewish conversion to Christianity in the modern era, the late Elliott Horowitz takes issue with the author’s assessment that his subjects were typically “swindlers, thieves, drunkards, whores, schlemiels, shlimazls, nudniks, and no-goodniks.” Many did fall into such categories, writes Horowitz, but there were some of considerable talent and ability whom Endelman does not mention or to whom he gives short shrift. Horowitz notes some of them in his review.

Jerusalem’s first Anglican bishop, Michael Solomon Alexander (1799–1845), a native of Posen (now Poznań) in Prussian Poland . . . makes [a] brief appearance in [this] engagingly written and wide-ranging new book. . . . Alexander—originally Pollack—had received a sufficiently advanced Jewish education to serve, after arriving in England, as a cantor and ritual slaughterer in Norwich, Nottingham, and Plymouth in the early 1820s. . . .

Another fascinating figure who might have appeared in Endelman’s [chapter] “Converts of Conversion” is Ferdinand Christian Ewald, Alexander’s personal chaplain in Jerusalem. In his Journal of Missionary Labors in the City of Jerusalem, he wrote of the baptism, “at a special Hebrew service, [of] Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Benjamin, Isaac Hirsch, and Simon Fränkel.” . . .

Hirsch, later known as Paul Isaac Hershon (1817-1888), . . .  a native of Buczacz in Galicia, had arrived in Jerusalem by way of Constantinople and Beirut, perhaps as part of the wave of Jewish messianic expectation in 1840. After his baptism he stayed in Jerusalem, serving as superintendent of the London Society House of Industry, which provided vocational training to converts as well as potential converts. In 1859, Hershon retired to London, where he soon published Extracts from the Talmud, Being Specimens of Wit, Wisdom, and Learning, etc., of the Wise and Learned Rabbis. Twenty years later, A Talmudic Miscellany appeared. . . .

[Another convert], Isaac Edward Salkinson (1820-1883), was baptized in London in 1849 and ordained a decade later in Glasgow as a Presbyterian minister. After serving as a missionary in [the Austrian city of] Pressburg (now Slovakian Bratislava), Salkinson spent his final years in Vienna, where his friends included the great [Hebrew] writer and editor Peretz Smolenskin. Salkinson eventually won a place for himself in the annals of Hebrew literature through his pioneering translations of works by Milton and Shakespeare. His 1871 translation of Paradise Lost was later described by the Anglo-Jewish scholar Israel Abraham as “attaining almost absolute perfection.” Of his 1874 Othello, which appeared under the title Ithiel ha-Kushi, Smolenskin wrote, “Today we exact our revenge from the English! They took our Bible and made it their own. We, in return, have captured their Shakespeare. Is it not a sweet revenge?”

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Christianity, Conversion, History & Ideas, Jewish history, Peretz Smolenskin, William Shakespeare

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship