The Jewish Converts of Antiquity

In his 2003 article “Conversion to Judaism in Classical Antiquity,” published in Hebrew Union College Annual, the classicist Louis Feldman analyzed the striking increase in the number of Jews between 586 BCE and the 1st century CE. He concluded that this was likely due to widespread, voluntary conversion to Judaism. In searching for clues as to the reasons behind this apparent trend, Pinchas Landis examines the legends of famous converts from antiquity, in both the Talmud and historical sources.

At the beginning of the first Jewish-Roman War in 66 CE, Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, known simply as Nero, was the emperor of Rome. It was he who sent Vespasian to put down the Jewish Revolt—the same Vespasian who, together with his son Titus, eventually conquered the country and destroyed the Second Temple.

Roman history records that, in 68 CE, a rebellion was mounted against Nero in Rome. He was declared a public enemy and sentenced to death by the Roman Senate in absentia. When Nero learned of his fate, he committed suicide.

Jewish [sources] tell a different story. The Talmud teaches that Nero came to Jerusalem during the war. In an attempt to see if fate would be on his side, he shot arrows in all four directions. All landed facing Jerusalem. In an attempt to explore further, he asked a Jewish child what verse in the Jewish Bible he was learning. The child responded by quoting the book of Ezekiel: “And I will lay My vengeance upon Edom by the hand of My people Israel.” [In talmudic literature, Edom is taken a stand-in for Rome.]

Nero concluded that “The Holy One, Blessed be He, wishes to destroy his Temple, and to wipe His hands with that man (referring to himself).” Nero then fled, and was so inspired by the pseudo-prophecy that he received that he converted to Judaism. The great Rabbi Meir, upon whose teaching much of the Mishnah is based, is said to be descended from him.

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Read more at Aish.com

More about: ancient Judaism, Ancient Rome, Conversion

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism