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

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