The Mystery of a Polish Yeshiva’s Found Jewish Books

Soon after its founding in 1930 by Rabbi Meir Shapira, the Lublin yeshiva became one of the largest such institutions in the world. It also contained a massive library of religious texts, which was long thought to have been burned during World War II. But books bearing the library’s stamp periodically surface at auctions and used-book sales. Piotr Nazaruk explores the library’s history, and tries to solve the mystery of its fate:

This library would not have existed—and certainly could not have been completed so quickly—had it not been for generous donors from all over Poland and abroad. Rabbi Benjamin Gut of the Chasam Sopher synagogue in New York, donated as many as 4,000 volumes and $1,000 dollars to the library. Special committees established throughout Poland sent thousands of books to Lublin, including priceless old prints and manuscripts, which they collected from institutions and private donors. . . . Although by the end of the 1930s the yeshiva probably had not managed to collect the planned 100,000 volumes, it had become one of the largest and most valuable Jewish religious libraries in Poland at that time.

I had a hard time accepting the widespread, but very poorly attested, [account of the library’s books being] destroyed. In fact, the only information about the burning of these books comes from February 1940, when the Nazi youth magazine Die Deutsche Jugend-Zeitung reportedly published a virulent and boastful note about the yeshiva library being thrown out of the building and burned in a fire that lasted twenty hours. Although the note from Die Deutsche Jugend-Zeitung is cited by many researchers, no one seems to have seen this newspaper in person.

The Nazis destroyed Jewish and non-Jewish books and relics, but just as often—especially when the items had considerable value—they looted them. [In fact], the head of the German Staatsbibliothek (state library) in Lublin, Wasyl Kutschabsky—hired Aron Lebwohl, a rabbi and graduate of the yeshiva, to catalog the yeshiva’s collection as late as April 1941.

Read more at Teatr NN

More about: Holocaust, Polish Jewry, Rare books

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