A Rare Volume of the Talmud Appeared at a White House Ceremony

Yesterday, Eric Lander was sworn in to his post as the White House science adviser using not a Bible but Pirkey Avot, the “Chapters of the Fathers”—a talmudic tractate devoted to ethical teachings, guidance for judges and scholars, the importance of Torah study, and other nonlegal topics. Of special interest is the particular edition selected, which was published in 1492 and belongs to the Library of Congress. Aviya Kushner writes:

The catalog entry, which can be viewed online, reads: “Chapters of the Fathers with commentary by Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides). Naples: Joshua ben Solomon Soncino, Iyar 11, 5252 May 8, 1492.” That year, 1492, was the year of the expulsion of all Jews from Spain, as well as the year Christopher Columbus set sail.

Europe in 1492 was home to two Ferdinands who shared a family connection and wielded immense power. In Spain, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella are forever connected with the Spanish Inquisition, in all its torture and horror; at the same time, the other Ferdinand, in Naples, accepted Jewish refugees [from Spain]. That story of tolerance at a time of danger moved Lander.

It’s hard not to be moved [as well] by the physical descriptions in the Library of Congress catalog entry, detailing what the text looks like. “This fragment is bound in 19th-century brown marbled boards with green and gilt end-papers of a Florentine design,” the catalog entry notes. “The paper is crisp and well-preserved. . . . There are no handwritten remarks or signs of censorship.”

Read more at Forward

More about: Civil religion, Jewish history, Rare books, Talmud


In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan