A Rare 18th-Century Hebrew Prayerbook Becomes the Star of an Auction

Susan and Martin Wilson, two retired schoolteachers from northern England, recently took an edition of a book from the Harry Potter series for appraisal. As an afterthought, they also inquired about a book in Hebrew that they had inherited from Susan’s uncle. Fine Books & Collections reports:

The book states it belonged to Abraham ben [son of] Meir Emden, and the date given is Thursday, the 13th of the Hebrew month of Shevat, 517 (i.e., 5517), which corresponds to February 3, 1757. Though hard to prove, it is possible Abraham was the son of Meir Emden whose father was the prominent German rabbi and talmudist Jacob Emden (1697–1776). Meir Emden (1717–1795) had been a rabbi and av beit din (senior jurist) in Konstantin in the Ukraine.

The manuscript contains Sabbath hymns, the prayer for the new moon, and Perek Shirah, an ancient hymn of praise in which every created thing—from the animate to the celestial—thanks God for its existence.

Featured on the decorated title page are Moses holding the Tablets of the Law, and Aaron, his brother, dressed in vestments of the high priest. This is a frequent motif in 18th-century Hebrew manuscripts and has its roots in the ornamented pages of earlier imprints from Amsterdam and other European printing centers. The animal, celestial, and vegetal illustrations enclosed within mauve and blue ink medallions are part of the Perek Shirah hymn. Several illustrations show families around a table celebrating the Sabbath.

The siddur sold at auction this month for over £70,000 (about $88,000).

Read more at Fine Books & Collections

More about: Rare books, Siddur

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood