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

Spain’s Anti-Israel Agenda

What interest does Madrid have in the creation of a Palestinian state? Elliott Abrams raised this question a few days ago, when discussing ongoing Spanish efforts to block the transfer of arms to Israel. He points to multiple opinion surveys suggesting that Spain is among Europe’s most anti-Semitic countries:

The point of including that information here is to explain the obvious: Spain’s anti-Israel extremism is not based in fancy international political analyses, but instead reflects both the extreme views of hard-left parties in the governing coalition and a very traditional Spanish anti-Semitism. Spain’s government lacks the moral standing to lecture the state of Israel on how to defend itself against terrorist murderers. Its effort to deprive Israel of the means of defense is deeply immoral. Every effort should be made to prevent these views from further infecting the politics and foreign policy of the European Union and its member states.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, Palestinian statehood, Spain