The “Confession” of One of the New World’s First Rabbis

March 15 2018

Born to a converso family in Portugal, and raised as a Jew in Amsterdam, Isaac Aboab de Fonseca is best known to posterity for signing the rabbinic ban expelling Benedict Spinoza from the city’s Jewish community in 1656. But from 1642 to 1654 he served as the rabbi of the congregation in Recife, in Dutch Brazil. Most of Recife’s Jews were themselves from Portuguese converso families and had reverted to Judaism when northeastern Brazil came under Dutch rule. Oren Zweiter describes a remarkable work of Aboab’s:

[In] 1646, the Dutch colony was under siege by the Portuguese. The Jews of Recife were terrified at the prospect of Portuguese conquest, knowing that Portuguese victory would bring the Inquisition with it. To respond to the threat, Aboab composed a viduy, or confessional prayer, enumerating what he believed to be the community’s sins and beseeching God to spare them. He thereafter composed a second poem recounting the Jews’ suffering during the siege, as well as their rescue. . . .

At the very beginning of the poem, he depicted the Jewish residents of Brazil, himself included, as “dwellers in the shadows of the universe.” Brazil was on the fringes, in the shadows of the known world, far from any major center of Jewish life. Later in the poem, he makes a personal statement, claiming that, “For my sin, I have been tossed to a faraway land.”

For Aboab, the Americas were in the shadows, and the only reason that could explain his presence there was that it was a punishment of exile for sins he had committed. He was a young, rising star in the rabbinic world of Amsterdam, who was taken from the center of his community’s Jewish life and sent to the most remote place imaginable. Aboab’s sentiments reflect the feelings of later immigrant rabbis to the New World, whether from Germany, Lithuania, or Hungary. The Americas were far. The Americas were different. It was rabbinic exile.

Aside from his own personal feelings of exile, Aboab also . . . accused his community of forsaking God because of their material success: “My flesh stood up from fear of my adversaries, for from my wealth I forgot my Creator.” Aboab’s accusations of materialism, however, take on a clearer and harsher tone in the confession: “I have coveted . . . all of man’s pleasures at all times.”

Such laments, too, writes Zweiter, have been mainstay of rabbis in the Americas ever since.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Brazil, Conversos, History & Ideas, Inquisition, Latin America

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