The Marriage Contracts of the Jews of Corfu, and Their Unicorns

Oct. 19 2022

Currently on display at Columbia University’s Butler Library are a number of illuminated marriage contracts (k’tubot), alongside prayer books and other documents, produced by or pertaining to the Jews of the Greek island of Corfu (known in ancient times as Corcyra). Cathryn Prince describes some of the artwork found on these artifacts, and their historical backdrop:

When Abraham Shaptei wed Esther Kiridi on a Wednesday evening in 1820 on the island of Corfu, they displayed their richly illustrated k’tubah . . . for their guests to admire. Now, more than 200 years later, it’s not the abundance of gold leaf or the intricate vegetal tendrils that draws one’s eye. It’s the unicorn.

“People are very surprised to see the unicorn. The unicorn is Christian, but unicorns do show up in Jewish art; in the margins of Hebrew manuscripts and texts, on silver. Most often it’s a unicorn confronting a lion as a symbol of Jewish messianic hopes,” said Sharon Liberman Mintz, curator of Jewish art at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. Yet, unicorns, the zodiac, and endless love knots feature prominently on the ten k’tubot displayed in The Jews of Corfu: Between the Adriatic and the Ionian.

Forty miles long, Corfu lies between the Adriatic and Ionian Seas. From the 12th century through 1944, when the Nazis sent 1,800 Corfu Jews to Auschwitz, two distinct, albeit small, Jewish communities called it home.  The first to settle there were the Romaniote, or Greek-speaking Jews, from Byzantium. The Italian-speaking Jews arrived in the late 14th century when the republic of Venice seized control of the island.

Over the next few centuries, hundreds of Jews fleeing persecution in Europe found refuge on the island.

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Read more at Forward

More about: Jewish art, Jewish history, Manuscripts, Romaniote Jewry

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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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror