For Over 200 Years, Rabbis Crowdfunded Their Books

July 27 2022

In order to convince publishers to produce their works, Jewish writers in traditional milieux would roam from town to town collecting the names of people who pledged in advance to buy the books. As a token of appreciation, those names were then published in the books themselves. Elli Fischer explains what this practice can teach about Jewish history:

Between the late 18th and mid-20th centuries, several thousand Jewish books were published with lists of pre-subscribers (or prenumeranten), in a practice similar to today’s crowdfunding campaigns. Though the lists are generally organized alphabetically, either by name or by place, sometimes the order is geographical. By plotting such lists on a map, it is possible to reconstruct the journeys that authors or their agents took as they sold subscriptions to their books.

Fischer notes one of the most remarkable of these journeys:

Eliezer Ashkenazi was born in Poland in the early 19th century, but in 1845, his home was Tunis, and he was on his way back to Europe to publish a manuscript he found in North Africa. He had become a collector, dealer, copyist, and publisher of such manuscripts, and he returned to Europe several times, and by several different routes, writing on one occasion of his travels to Gibraltar by way of Morocco, and on another occasion of his return to North Africa from the port of Marseille.

As can be seen from Ashkenazi’s introduction to the first work he published, Sefer Zikaron (Livorno, 1845), by an early 16th-century Spanish refugee rabbi who found his way to Tunis, Ashkenazi viewed himself as a cultural bridge between the different lands of his travels.

“The dry heat of Africa did not stop me,” wrote Ashkenazi, “and the ice of Ashkenaz did not deter me.”

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More about: Books, Jewish history, North African Jewry, Rabbis

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror