Uncovering the Treasures of a Four-Century-Old Jewish Library

Located inside the Portuguese synagogue in Amsterdam, the Ets Haim library is the oldest Jewish library in continuous operation. Martin Rosenberg explains its history, and its current conservation efforts:

The over-400-year-old library was set up by conversos—Jews who had converted to Catholicism, often by force, and their descendants. After fleeing Catholic persecution on the Iberian Peninsula in the early 17th century, they founded the library to begin the process of familiarizing themselves with the basics of Judaism.

Ets Haim has a staggering 23,000 books, only half of which have been cataloged. Those uncatalogued works may not be fully on the radar of scholars worldwide eager to consider in depth how they can elucidate and advance our understanding of Jewish thought, prayer, history, and culture. [According to Emile Schrijver, the scholar responsible for the library], some “100 to 200 books are very rare—we don’t know if they exist elsewhere.”

The oldest book in Ets Haim is a handwritten Mishneh Torah dated to 1282, the oldest copy of the work and therefore believed to be the copy most true to Moses Maimonides’ original language and intent. The Mishneh Torah, a code of rabbinic Jewish law, was compiled by Maimonides in Egypt between 1170 and 1180 CE.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Conversos, Dutch Jewry, Libraries, Moses Maimonides, Rare books

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