The Beginnings of Sephardi Jewry

For many centuries, the term “Sephardi” has been applied to Jews whose ancestors fled Spain or Portugal in the 15th and 16th centuries, or to Jews from North Africa and the Middle East more generally. Tamar Marvin explains the origins of both the term and the community it denotes. The story begins with the biblical book of Obadiah, which refers to exiles from Jerusalem who settled in Sepharad—probably Sardis in what is now western Turkey. But Targum Jonathan, an Aramaic translation from the 1st- or 2nd-century long considered authoritative by Jews, renders the word as Espamia, i.e., Spain:

[Modern] Spain may have received colonists from Sardis, making the link an actual one, as some scholars have suggested. By the early Middle Ages, “Sepharad” was the common appellation among Jews for what we today call Spain. The verse from Obadiah served as a prooftext attesting to the nobility and antiquity of the Sephardi Jewish community, a central component of its self-understanding.

Centuries later, on the cusp of modernity when questions of lineage became supercharged in Spanish society, Sephardi Jews claimed to unearth, in the old Jewish cemetery of Morvedre (Murviedro, now Sagunto), the tombstone of Adoniram, the treasurer of King Solomon. Despite this dubious claim, Sephardi Jewry’s collective sense of its own antiquity is borne out by the probably small, but not insignificant, presence of Jews Iberia in late antiquity, possibly even earlier. Archaeological remains, chiefly grave markers in Latin and Hebrew, attest to Jewish presence in Roman Hispania.

While the Jewish population of medieval Spain had diverse origins, not all from this ancient community, the reality of the long-established history of Jews in Sepharad had a profound effect on the community and was one of many factors that made the eventual expulsion of Jews from all the Iberian kingdoms in 1492–97 so traumatic.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Jewish history, Obadiah, Sephardim


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