The Italian Roots of Ashkenazi Jewry

Anyone who has looked carefully at a High Holy Day prayerbook that follows the Ashkenazi tradition will have noticed the presence of liturgical poems (piyyutim) written by a man named Kalonymos or his son, Meshullam. This oddly named pair were part of a dynasty of medieval scholars who traced their roots to Italy. If the prayerbook is annotated, an even closer look might reveal several works by other sacred poets from Italy, like Amittai ben Shephatiah of Oria. Tamar Marvin explains how migration from Italy shaped the earliest Ashkenazi communities.

The many-branched Kalonymos family . . . turns up in early medieval southern Italy, from where they immigrate around the second half of the 9h century to the Rhineland. This move is said to have occurred under charters of settlement granted by a Carolingian ruler. Some sources state explicitly that the Carolingian king responsible was Charlemagne (ca. 747–814), but this is likely a later emendation and the date is considered improbably early. Rather, the consensus suggests that the king in question was Charles II “the Bald,” the grandson of Charlemagne and son of Louis I “the Pious,” who granted two extant charters of settlement to Jews, probably from Italy, to live in the Rhineland. There are also many individuals with the name Kalonymos in Provence, which are probably, though there is not definitive evidence, from the same family.

According to one of the family’s most famous members, Rabbi Eleazar of Worms, one of his ancestors received esoteric teachings from a mysterious figure named Abu Aharon, who had fled Babylonia for Lombardy.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Italian Jewry, Jewish history, Piyyut


Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship