The Lost Hebrew Manuscripts Hidden in Christian Books

In the 16th and 17th centuries, bookbinders, printers, and notaries routinely used pages from discarded manuscripts to cover documents or to make bindings for new books. This procedure has led to the preservation of thousands of fragments of Jewish books and historical documents—which Simcha Emmanuel dubs the “European Genizah” by analogy to the trove of discarded manuscripts discovered in a Cairo synagogue. Although these fragments are sometimes found in Hebrew works, more often than not they are found in Gentile ones.

How did hundreds and thousands of Hebrew manuscripts come into the possession of Christian bookbinders? Rabbi Joseph Yuspa Hahn Nordlingen [1570–1637] writes: “most of the parchment books common nowadays came into Christian hands during persecutions.” A more explicit account is found in . . . a description of the pogrom against the Jews of Frankfurt in the year 1614. The author, an eyewitness to the pogrom, reports acts of plunder and clearly distinguishes between the fate of printed books—which were sentenced to destruction—and that of parchment manuscripts which were sold to the bookbinders.

This writer’s words are corroborated in full by non-Jewish sources, and documentation from Frankfurt in those years records, in detail, that many Hebrew manuscripts were stolen from the city’s Jews during the pogrom and sold to bookbinders.

In Jewish society as well, starting in the 16th century, printed editions began to replace manuscripts on bookshelves, and manuscripts whose time had come were pushed to the margins. It is therefore possible that due to the major decline in the value of manuscripts, some members of the Jewish community voluntarily sold the valuable parchment pages of their manuscripts to bookbinders of their own free will, as was the custom among their Christian neighbors.

While scholars have been aware of these scattered fragments for over a century only in recent years have they made progress in mining them, piecing together medieval rabbinic works that were long thought lost—among other discoveries.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Anti-Semitism, Jewish history, Manuscripts, Rare books

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood