The Vacationing Rabbis of the Marienbad Spa

If you find a pre-World War II photograph of several European rabbis together, chances are high that they are either at a large wedding or at a resort of the kind once popular in the 19th and early 20th centuries—where people went to enjoy the putative health benefits of fresh air and “curative” waters. If the picture was taken at a resort, chances are high it was the Marienbad spa (now Mariánské Lázně in Czechoslovakia), a popular destination for Orthodox Jews from Central and Eastern Europe. David Leitner, whose ḥasidic great-grandfather founded the town’s Hotel National, has recently written a book about the spa and its role in rabbinic history. Matt Lebovic writes:

Surrounded by dozens of springs with high mineral content, Marienbad was where great Torah scholars from Poland rubbed elbows with Britain’s King Edward VII and Sigmund Freud. Festooned with elaborate fountains, promenades, and meeting halls, the town was perfect for conventions and conferences.

[W]hen Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands visited Marienbad, she witnessed thousands of people greet Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Spira at the train station. Requesting a meeting with the legendary scholar, the queen planned to tell Spira—known as the Munkatsher rebbe—about her inability to produce an heir. After uttering a few blessings during their meeting, the rebbe assured the queen that her line would continue. Within months, the queen was pregnant with Princess Juliana, heir to the throne. (Years later, as Nazi Germany took over Europe, Queen Wilhemina intervened to help 80 prominent rabbis acquire entry visas to the Netherlands.)

At the Hotel National, kosher food and running water in every room were standard. The entrance was flanked by signs displaying the various amenities, including a lift to upper floors and central heating. The hotel’s religious facilities included a mikveh (ritual bath) and a synagogue whose ceiling was painted dark blue. As a point of pride, the foyer displayed a poster with the images of 50 great Torah scholars who frequented the premises.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: East European Jewry, Hasidism, Netherlands, Rabbis


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus