A Medieval Scroll of Esther Comes to Israel

On the holiday of Purim, which begins on Thursday night this year, the book of Esther is traditionally read from a handwritten scroll. One of the oldest such scrolls extant has recently been in acquired by the National Library of Israel, where it can be viewed online:

Scholars have determined that the . . . scroll was written by a scribe in the Iberian Peninsula around 1465, prior to the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions at the end of the 15th century. These conclusions are based on both stylistic and scientific evidence, including Carbon-14 dating.

The megillah is written in brown ink on leather in an elegant, characteristic Sephardi script, which resembles that of a Torah scroll. The first panel, before the text of the book of Esther, includes the traditional blessings recited before and after the reading of the megillah, and attests to the ritual use of this scroll in a pre-expulsion Iberian Jewish community.

According to experts, there are very few extant Esther scrolls from the medieval period in general, and from the 15th century in particular. Torah scrolls and Esther scrolls from pre-expulsion Spain and Portugal are even rarer, with only a small handful known to exist.

Read more at Librarians

More about: Esther, Purim, Rare books, Spanish Expulsion

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship