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

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security