Eastern Europe’s First Great Rabbi

In the 11th and 12th centuries, the center of gravity of Ashkenazi intellectual life was in northeastern France and the Rhineland, although it would gradually move eastward over the course of the subsequent centuries. But Rabbi Isaac ben Moses, who became one of the great medieval experts on Jewish law, was born around 1180 in the German frontier province of Bohemia, and later settled in Vienna—a city almost as distant from the Ashkenazi heartland. He is better known by the name of his major work Or Zaru’a, taken from the verse from the book of Psalms, “Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart.” Tamar Marvin tells his story:

To its Jewish denizens, Bohemia was known by the unflattering moniker “the land of Canaan,” and so the Or Zaru’a terms his Slavic glosses l’shon Canaan, “the Canaanite language.” Bohemia was indeed something of a hinterland in the 12th century, with its best and brightest finding their way to Regensburg and Prague. It seems that Rabbi Isaac suffered from economic straits and possibly other misfortunates in his younger years; in any case, he was impelled to travel widely, his peregrinations taking him to a wide swathe of the medieval Ashkenazi world.

And it’s this that makes Rabbi Isaac such an important tradent of Ashkenazi traditions, [i.e.], one who is responsible for preserving and handing on the oral tradition. Isaac Or Zaru’a went everywhere, talked to everyone, and wrote it all down. Isaac sought his first teachers in Prague, [the Bohemian capital], and Regensburg [in nearby Bavaria], . . . and from there to Speyer, possibly Cologne, and Würzburg, followed by Paris and Coucy in France, acquiring teachers in each locale.

This unusually large and broad set of mentors gave Rabbi Isaac grounding in the full array of Ashkenazi learning. From the margins he burst onto the very center of cultural life. The fruit of these many wanderings and years of learning coalesced in Isaac’s magnum opus, the Or Zaru’a. It wasn’t just a belletristic (and comforting) name; Isaac had in him the touch of a poet.

Isaac’s most famous student, Meir of Rothenberg, is perhaps the premier figure in medieval Jewish jurisprudence, whose rulings have an enduring influence on contemporary practice.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Halakhah, Jewish history, Middle Ages, Rabbis

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law