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

The ICJ’s Vice-President Explains What’s Wrong with Its Recent Ruling against Israel

It should be obvious to anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of the Gaza war that Israel is not committing genocide there, or anything even remotely akin to it. In response to such spurious accusations, it’s often best to focus on the mockery they make of international law itself, or on how Israel can most effectively combat them. Still, it is also worth stopping to consider the legal case on its own terms. No one has done this quite so effectively, to my knowledge, as the Ugandan jurist Julia Sebutinde, who is the vice-president of the ICJ and the only one of its judges to rule unequivocally in Israel’s favor both in this case and in the previous one where it found accusations of genocide “plausible.”

Sebutinde begins by questioning the appropriateness of the court ruling on this issue at all:

Once again, South Africa has invited the Court to micromanage the conduct of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. Such hostilities are exclusively governed by the laws of war (international humanitarian law) and international human-rights law, areas where the Court lacks jurisdiction in this case.

The Court should also avoid trying to enforce its own orders. . . . Is the Court going to reaffirm its earlier provisional measures every time a party runs to it with allegations of a breach of its provisional measures? I should think not.

Sebutinde also emphasizes the absurdity of hearing this case after Israel has taken “multiple concrete actions” to alleviate the suffering of Gazan civilians since the ICJ’s last ruling. In fact, she points out, “the evidence actually shows a gradual improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since the Court’s order.” She brings much evidence in support of these points.

She concludes her dissent by highlighting the procedural irregularities of the case, including a complete failure to respect the basic rights of the accused:

I find it necessary to note my serious concerns regarding the manner in which South Africa’s request and incidental oral hearings were managed by the Court, resulting in Israel not having sufficient time to file its written observations on the request. In my view, the Court should have consented to Israel’s request to postpone the oral hearings to the following week to allow for Israel to have sufficient time to fully respond to South Africa’s request and engage counsel. Regrettably, as a result of the exceptionally abbreviated timeframe for the hearings, Israel could not be represented by its chosen counsel, who were unavailable on the dates scheduled by the Court.

It is also regrettable that Israel was required to respond to a question posed by a member of the Court over the Jewish Sabbath. The Court’s decisions in this respect bear upon the procedural equality between the parties and the good administration of justice by the Court.

Read more at International Court of Justice

More about: Gaza War 2023, ICC, International Law