Sicily Gets Its First Rabbi in Over 500 Years

Jews have likely been living in Sicily since before the destruction of the Second Temple, and a community flourished there until, in 1492, the Spanish monarchy—which then ruled the island—decreed that all Jews in their lands must convert to Catholicism or leave. Now, descendants of those Jews are attempting a revival. David I. Klein writes:

Rabbi Gilberto Ventura believes his synagogue has the most beautiful view in the world. Located in the tower of a century-old castle on the slopes of Mt. Etna in the eastern Sicilian city of Catania, the synagogue is wedged between a snow-capped volcano and the sun-kissed Mediterranean Sea.

The forty-nine-year-old Brazil-born rabbi also thinks his congregation is one of the most unique in the world. It’s made up mainly of Bnei Anusim—descendants of Jews forced to hide their religious practice and convert to Catholicism after . . . 1492. Before that infamous decree, Sicily was home to tens of thousands of Jews. The synagogue, which was first inaugurated last fall, is the result of decades of grassroots efforts by those descendants in Catania to find each other and forge a sense of community that had been lacking for centuries.

Hiring a full-time rabbi was the last piece of the puzzle. . . . Ventura, who is Orthodox, might be the island’s first permanent working rabbi in over 500 years, but it’s not his first time working with Bnei Anusim.

Although many of the synagogue’s members have undergone formal conversion to Judaism, the community is still trying to obtain recognition from Italian Jewry’s central body.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Inquisition, Italian Jewry, Sicily, Synagogues

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