The Search for the Missing Samaritan Torahs

An ancient quasi-Jewish sect dating back to the early Second Temple period, the Samaritans are now a small community of about 800, divided between Samaria and the Tel Aviv suburb of Ḥolon. Their Torah scrolls, written in a unique variation of the Hebrew script, have long been of interest to antiquarians and scholars because of the numerous minor ways they differ from the standard Jewish version of the text. For several years, Daniel Estrin has been investigating the mysterious theft of two of the Samaritans’ most prized manuscripts:

Before dawn on March 21, 1995, someone broke into a synagogue in the West Bank city of Nablus.

The thief—maybe it was a band of thieves—crossed the carpeted sanctuary, pulled back a heavy velvet curtain, and opened a carved wooden ark. Inside were two handwritten copies of the Torah, the Five Books of Moses. One was a sheepskin scroll written around 1360 and kept in a slender copper case. The other was a codex, a thick book, probably from the 15th century and bound in a maroon leather cover. The thief or thieves snatched the manuscripts, escaped through the synagogue’s arched doorway, discarded the copper case in a stairwell, and vanished.

These were no ordinary texts. They were perhaps the most ancient Torahs stolen in the Holy Land since the Crusaders pillaged Jerusalem. . . .

Of the three-dozen old biblical manuscripts left in the community’s coffers, the Samaritans say one is the oldest in the world, written by Moses’ great-grandnephew. These manuscripts are the Samaritans’ most jealously guarded possessions, and collectors across the globe have gone to great lengths to get their hands on them.

It now seems that someone is selling piecemeal pages from the stolen manuscripts. The mystery remains unsolved; many Samaritans believe that only members of their own community could have perpetrated the theft, while others believe that it was committed by Palestinians.

Read more at NPR

More about: Manuscripts, Religion & Holidays, Samaritans, Torah

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