The Rediscovery of an 11th-Century Volume of the Hebrew Bible in an Egyptian Synagogue

In 1905, Richard Gottheil—a leading scholar of Semitics and one of the early leaders of American Zionism—discovered a millennium-old manuscript of the Bible in a Karaite synagogue in Cairo. At 616-pages, this extremely rare codex includes only the Writings: the third section of the Hebrew Bible comprising Psalms, Job, Esther, and other books. The volume had not been seen since 1981, raising concerns that it had been lost. But the Israeli historian Yoram Meital recently rediscovered it, finding it on a shelf in the same synagogue. Amanda Borschel-Dan writes:

In a stroke of scholarly luck, the colophon, or book’s imprint, includes the name of the scribe, Zechariah ben Anan, and the person who commissioned it, as well as its date of completion. These are rare and important details . . . and show the provenance of the work as well as the wealth and philanthropy of the family who presumably donated the text to the local synagogue.

Based on notes left by ben Anan, we know it was completed in the Jewish year 4788, which corresponds to the Gregorian year 1028. Ben Anan’s notes [also include] his computations of how many verses he wrote, and that [the volume] was once part of a complete Hebrew Bible—the other two sections, [the Pentateuch and Prophets], are gone without a trace.

The manuscript Meital found not only holds the complete Writings but also twelve pages of Masoretic [scribal] notes on the trope, or the cantillation system according to which it is to be read, and the nikud, or vowel and pronunciation marks. This [latter] system of little dots and lines overlaid on the biblical text indicates how the ancient Hebrew words should sound, since Hebrew is written without vowels. The system was established by a group of Jewish scholars [known as the Masoretes] living in Tiberias near the Sea of Galilee circa 750–950 CE.

“It would be difficult to remain indifferent to the beauty of this manuscript,” wrote Meital.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Egypt, Hebrew Bible, Karaites, Masoretes


The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law