How the Vatican Acquired One of the World’s Most Impressive Collections of Hebrew Manuscripts

According to a widespread, persistent, and entirely unfounded legend, the menorah and other ritual objects from the Second Temple remain hidden in the secret archives of the Catholic Church in Rome. While the Vatican in fact possesses no such artifacts, it does posess an impressive trove of rare Hebrew manuscripts—including volumes of Talmud, ancient and medieval Bible commentaries, liturgical poetry, and much else. There is nothing secret about these texts, however: they were microfilmed for the use of the National Library of Israel in the 1950s, and Jewish researchers have had regular access to them since. Lawrence Schiffman describes the collection and explains its history:

Many of the manuscripts are beautifully illuminated, having been copied in the Middle Ages and during the Renaissance (i.e., from the 9th to the 16th century). The collection includes a manuscript that is probably the earliest Hebrew codex (bound book) in existence: a copy of the Sifra [a halakhic exegesis of Leviticus] dating from the end of the 9th century or the first half of the 10th. . . . There are well over 50 codices of biblical texts, excluding small fragments, among them a copy of the entire Tanakh written around 1100 in Italy. . . . No other collection includes as many copies of tractates of the Talmud as the Vatican Library.

Over the course of the 16th century, cardinals, bishops, and popes occasionally contributed various Hebrew books, which numbered 173 by the 1640s. A few manuscripts were transferred from the estates of converts or sold by Jewish vendors to Christian collectors. . . . In 1472, the city of Volterra was laid to waste by the forces of Count Federico of Urbino. Among the victims of the indiscriminate pillaging was the wealthy merchant Menahem ben Aharon Volterra, whose Hebrew manuscripts were secured by Federico himself for his personal library. In 1657, the collection of the dukes of Urbino became part of the Vatican Library.

[W]hile we can never be sure how the previous owners got their manuscripts, the Vatican did not pillage them from Jews. What we can say is that if these manuscripts had been in the hands of Jewish institutions, they would certainly have been stolen by the Nazis.

Read more at Ami Magazine

More about: Italian Jewry, Jewish-Catholic relations, Manuscripts, Rare books, Vatican

How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy