A Medieval German Jew Visits Eastern Europe and Iraq

Two weeks ago, I recommended an article by Tamar Marvin about the great medieval Jewish travel writer Benjamin of Tudela. Marvin has since followed up with a piece about the less renowned, but no less fascinating, adventurer Petahiah of Regensburg, who seems to have recounted his journeys to a distinguished German rabbi who then transformed them into a book:

Around the year 1175, Petahiah, who was a person of means, departed from Prague on a journey to pray at the graves of notable Jews, particularly biblical figures, in the East. He traveled overland through Poland and Kievan Rus’ [roughly comprising parts of today’s Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia] down through the Crimea into Tartary, Khazaria [by then a small kingdom in the Russian Caucasus], Ukraine (which Petahiah called Kedar), Armenia, and Kurdistan. These locations, for which we have relatively few Jewish sources and are of great historical interest, are not treated in any detail in the account.

Rather, the narrative of Petahiah’s travels concentrates on his experiences in Babylonia (Iraq) and in the Land of Israel, including his visiting of graves and holy sites as well as remarks about contemporary Jewish communities. He seems to have returned to Europe by sea, sailing to Greece and then proceeding by land back to Prague, eventually reaching Regensburg.

Of particular interest is his description of the tomb of Ezekiel, located in al-Kifl, some 70 miles south of Baghdad. Petahiah appreciatively recounts local Muslims’ folklore about the tomb, and their customs for respecting it.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Iraqi Jewry, Jewish history, Middle Ages

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy