How Transliterated Hebrew Shaped American Jewry

Apart from some who have spent their lives exclusively in ḥaredi communities, most American Jews have encountered Hebrew or Aramaic prayers transliterated into the Latin alphabet for the benefit of the English-speaking reader. Jenna Weissman Joselit traces the origins of this practice—an inversion of the much older and more widespread Jewish habit of rendering the vernacular in Hebrew characters—to a work published in 1908:

The Hebrew Hymnal for School and Home . . . was compiled and edited jointly by Mathilde Schechter and Lewis Isaacs, with a helping hand from Henrietta Szold. Widely advertised in the Anglo-Jewish press, the 67-page collection was touted as “just the book that has been wanted for some time. It is not too long, it confines itself to the best known Jewish hymns . . . and is clearly printed and moderate in price.”

Its “get-up,” as much as its selection of tunes, made the Hebrew Hymnal particularly attractive to the American Jewish public, “meet[ing] its approval.” For the very first time, or so it was proudly maintained, transliteration loomed large on the page, side by side with musical notations, Hebrew text, and an English translation. By making the melody and the lyrics accessible, explained its compilers, this volume “sounds the echo of joy and sorrow, in jubilation and wailing, in merry and plaintive, yes, heart-breaking tunes, [of] these Jewish folk-songs of the centuries gone by.”

Thanks to its newfound association with both song and Jewish tradition (all those “echoes”), transliteration now acquired a new lease on life. . . . Once heralded as a boon, it didn’t take long before transliteration migrated once again, this time from the hymnal to the siddur, where it was linked to those moments in the prayer service when the congregation—especially its female members, whose access to formal Hebrew training left a lot to be desired—sang out to God.

The linguistic equivalent of having your cake and eating it, too, transliteration made it possible for legions of American Jews to experience Hebrew without having to learn it. Of a piece with so much else that was characteristic of the American Jewish experience, this practice similarly celebrated—and prioritized—emotion at the expense of literacy, feeling Jewish at the expense of cultural immersion.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Jewish History, American Judaism, Hebrew, Siddur

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas