Mordecai Manuel Noah, the Book of Esther, and the Ambiguities of the Jewish Diaspora

Feb. 28 2020

Born in Philadelphia to a prominent Jewish family, Mordecai Manuel Noah (1785-1851) was a playwright, essayist, lawyer, and (briefly) the U.S. consul to Tunis. He also served as a New York City sheriff, founded several newspapers, corresponded with ex-presidents on the subject of Jewish rights, and, in 1825, embarked on a quixotic proto-Zionist project to create a Jewish colony on Grand Island—located in the Niagara River separating western New York from Canada. Considering Noah’s colorful career, Stuart Halpern compares him with his biblical namesake:

The first Jew to confront openly the challenges and opportunities of American freedom, Mordecai Manuel Noah, like the biblical Mordechai, attempted through his actions to make the case that Jews could be robed in the clothing of leaders, spokespeople, and guardians of their country—for the benefit of their Jewish brethren, and the benefit of all citizens of the realm. Whether that case was a convincing one, in the eyes of their respective Jewish communities or in the minds of the citizenry of their respective home countries, remains open to debate.

[To some], the ending of the book of Esther is . . . tinged with pessimism and even tragedy, [a] tale of Jews barely retaining their national identity. Unlike the book of Ruth, which concludes with a genealogy leading to the birth of King David, Esther ends without offering hope of a viable future for the Jews of Shushan, [the Persian capital where the book takes place]. Mordechai doesn’t leverage his political power to pave the way for a return of the Jews to Israel, where the Second Temple was already standing, but rather is absorbed into the economic and political machine that is the Persian empire.

Mordecai Manuel Noah sharpens the question raised by the biblical Mordechai: can there be viable Jewish continuity in the Diaspora, even in a country with the freedoms and protections of America? According to [some rabbis and scholars], the very purpose of the megillah [read on Purim] is a satirical one—to demonstrate that efforts to build vibrant Jewish life outside of Israel are quixotic. [In this reading], the notorious absence of God’s name in the megillah, reflective of the hiddenness of His presence outside of Israel, [is one of many] signs that there was as much of a promising future for Shushan’s Jews as there was the chance that a ceremony in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in upstate New York, [held by Noah to inaugurate his Grand Island project], would lead to the first Jewish homeland in 1,800 years.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, Esther, Mordecai, Zionism

 

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia