The Pioneering Historian of Sephardi Jewry

In the 19th century, a group of German Jewish university students decided to apply the new methods of academic history and critical scholarship to the past of their own people, creating what they dubbed Wissenschaft des Judentums—Jewish studies. Although these groundbreaking scholars had tremendous regard for the accomplishments of medieval Spanish Jewry, they tended to downplay the history of Sephardim in the modern era. A Bosnian Jew named Moshe David Gaon (1889–1958) dedicated much of his life to remedying that situation, as Yoel Finkelman writes:

Central . . . to Gaon’s project was gathering and creating new sources of knowledge, and this meant reaching out to sources of information far and wide. His extensive archive reflects the work he did in creating a bibliography, particularly of important Ladino newspapers. It documents his groundbreaking work on the influential Ladino biblical commentary, Me’am Loez. Gaon published works of Sephardi Hebrew poetry, and he gathered biographies of influential Sephardi rabbis. His most important work is Yehudei ha-Mizraḥ b’Erets Yisrael (1928), a compendium of information on Sephardi Jewry in the Land of Israel. It remains an important reference work today, and it has been reprinted several times.

Gaon also kept his finger on the pulse of current events, asking colleagues for documentation of their own experiences in real time. When, in 1934, a man in the city of Basra in Iraq claimed to be the messiah, Gaon immediately brought his letter-writing skills to bear on documenting the event. Writing in the name of the Sephardi Community Council, Gaon insisted on getting as much information as possible about the man, his motivations, and the community’s response to his messianic pretentions.

Read more at The Librarians

More about: Bosnia, Iraqi Jewry, Jewish history, Messianism, Sephardim

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