The Complex and Bloody History of a Medieval Manuscript

Around 200 CE, a group of rabbis produced a digest of legal opinions, together with some theological ones, known as the Mishnah. This was the first attempt (or the first attempt that survived) to put what these rabbis called the Oral Torah into writing. At some point, a parallel text, containing alternative opinions, was also put to parchment and given the name Tosefta—Aramaic for “addition.” Michael Satlow considers the oldest extant manuscript of the Tosefta, which once belonged to the Jewish community of the German city of Erfurt:

The Erfurt manuscript is the earliest and best witness to the Tosefta. Yet the Tosefta is itself a somewhat mysterious document. It reads much like the Mishnah, largely following its order. Some parts of it are identical to the Mishnah; others presuppose and comment on passages found in the Mishnah; and yet others seem to precede the Mishnah. While the Mishnah became the base text for two Talmuds (Palestinian and Babylonian), we do not know where, when, or why the Tosefta was redacted as a single document, nor how it was used.

That, though, is only preface to the story of our manuscript, which dates to the 12th century. The manuscript itself is hefty, heavy, and must have been expensive to produce. It is made of large parchment pages dotted with pinholes on the margin, to help the scribe keep a straight line. The scribe was also thrifty enough that when a page ripped, he stitched it back together rather than start a fresh one.

The Tosefta was one of fifteen extant Hebrew manuscripts used by the Erfurt Jewish community. Some of these manuscripts, such as an enormous Bible, are significant works, and there is a long, complex, and bloody history behind their survival. That story, with pogroms, property seizures, and ultimately the seizure of these manuscripts into Christian libraries, encapsulates the story of German Jews in the Middle Ages.

Read more at Then and Now

More about: Jewish history, Manuscripts, Mishnah

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