Researchers Discover the Census Records of One of the 18th Century’s Greatest Rabbis

After his ascension to the throne of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1764, Stanislaw Poniatowski—Poland’s last king and a former lover of Catherine the Great—enacted a series of reforms intended to modernize his country in the face of external threats and internal disorders. As part of these reforms, he organized the first national census that would include the Jewish population. Lithuanian archivists, combing through the census records, have recently found information about one of the foremost rabbis of the day. Yochai Ben-Ghedalia writes:

The census documents are scattered over the archives of all the various states whose territory was then part of the kingdom of Poland. . . . The Lithuanian State Historical Archives in Vilnius houses numerous censuses, including examples from the early 1760s, as well as later censuses, [including that] taken in Vilnius (then: Wilno) in 1765.

The census was arranged according to streets. A few pages are dedicated to one of the main streets of old Vilnius—Niemieckiej, now known as Vokiečių Street (both names mean “German Street”), an area highly populated by Jews at the time. On one of the pages dedicated to the right side of the street, we find one Eliasz Zelmanowiz, his wife Chana, his son Zelman, [and] his daughter Basia, as well as the servant Nachama. The name of the paternal head of the family, combined with the names of the other family members, reveals that we are dealing with Rabbi Elijah, son of Shlomo Zalman, better known as the Vilna Gaon.

The rabbi was forty-five years old at the time. He lived in Wilno and dedicated his life to the study of Torah, but did not serve in any official position in the community. Of his eight known children, only two are mentioned here. Some of them passed away as infants, others were not born yet, and two of the older girls may have been married at the time.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: Lithuania, Polish Jewry, Vilna Gaon

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia