The Lost Library of the Jews of Singapore

While living in Singapore, an Israeli student named Mordy Miller made a surprising discovery perusing the shelves of the synagogue library. Shalem College reports:

The book he had picked up, he realized, was more than a hundred years old: printed in Baghdad—to which most Singaporean Jews, who arrived from their then-home in Calcutta in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, trace their lineage—it told the history of Singapore’s Jewish community, but from a religious standpoint.

“There’s lots of research about this community, but almost exclusively from an economic, political, or sociological point of view,” explains Miller, who is pursuing his doctoral thesis on Kabbalah and Israeli politics . . . at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. “This book, though, described the community’s unique religious traditions; so far as I knew, there was nothing else like it. I asked the synagogue’s rabbi if there might be any more, and when he said yes—I couldn’t resist.”

What happened next was a months-long “real” treasure hunt, Miller says, to boxes underneath stairwells and in the synagogue’s basement. The search—since titled the Singapore Genizah Project—eventually extended to the city’s other synagogue, too. In the end, Mordy and a team of community volunteers managed to unearth nearly 700 volumes—the world’s most authoritative collection on the city’s Jewish history.

Many of the oldest volumes are in Arabic written with Hebrew letters, or—more unusually—in Hebrew written with Arabic letters. One of the most popular books seems to have been the Zohar, reflecting the mystical text’s importance to Iraqi Jewry.

Read more at Shalem College

More about: Baghdad, East Asian Jewry, Indian Jewry, Rare books, Zohar

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus