A Scholar of Jewish History Recounts Spending Tisha b’Av in Spain, the Scene of Centuries of Jewish Hopes and Catastrophes

The late Frank Talmage, a scholar of Jewish history, recounts spending Tisha b’Av (observed this Saturday night and Sunday) in northern Spain: the scene of centuries of Jewish hopes, achievement, and catastrophe. Visiting the cathedral of Tortosa, he is overcome by emotion (1981):

There would be no crowds in the cathedral. . . . There was only silence and solitude and a baptismal font. I fixated on the baptismal font. How many Jews had been dragged to this font and how many had just given up the struggle and gone of their own accord? Hebrew writers of the period referred to the waters of baptism as “the iniquitous waters” (Psalm 124:5), and many were the Jews who had been inundated by them.

Suddenly and quite unexpectedly, I too was inundated by a flood of water, not from the font, but from my own eyes. Clearly . . . a torrent of emotion of which I was not consciously aware had been welling up within me waiting to burst forth at this moment. No memorial to the destruction of Jewry, however theatrical and however pretentious, could have the effect on me that that simple understated baptismal font had.

Traditionally, Anglo-Saxon males do not know how to cry—with the result that, on the odd occasion that they do, they may not know how to stop. I wept a b’khiyyah l’dorot, a weeping of generations—not so much a wail of lamentation as a cry of frustration at having been hounded and importuned and cajoled for decade after decade and century after century by those who shrieked, “Do not be what you are but be what we want you to be!” or, indeed, “Do not be at all.”

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More about: Catalonia, Medieval Spain, Sephardim, Tisha b'Av

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

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More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship