Jewish Houses of Worship, with and without Their Worshippers

While the recently published anthology Shul Going: 2500 Years of Impressions and Reflections on Visits to the Synagogue focuses mainly on what went on in synagogues, the coffee-table book Synagogues: Marvels of Judaism focuses on the buildings themselves. In his review, Stuart Halpern finds the latter “sumptuous” and “almost every image” therein to be “visually stunning.” The book’s text, however, reveals something more sobering:

It is genuinely exciting to learn of the spaces in which Jews of other times and places met and prayed, danced, and kibitzed. One reads elaborate descriptions of columns, arks, windows, and wall decorations with a rush of aesthetic excitement. And then comes what feels like an increasingly inevitable postscript: “Today only a tiny population of Jews still inhabit . . . ,” “Now a museum, the building was meticulously restored,” “Today, it occupies an important place in Jewish heritage tours,” “A white-pebbled plaza marks the outlines of the torched former synagogue,” “Today, little remains . . . following its desecration during the World War II and its subsequent conversion into a cinema,” “Despite a horrific terrorist bombing . . . ,” “The synagogue was converted into a mosque,” and so on.

More troubling still is the inability of some of the book’s authors to come to terms with the history they are describing:

The contribution on synagogues of the Middle East, North Africa, and India, coauthored by Mohammad Gharipour, an architecture professor at Morgan State University in Baltimore, and Max Fineblum, seemingly one of his students, raises this pattern to the level of egregious distortion. In their chapter’s opening line, we are told that in ancient times, early Jewish tribes inhabited the “arid ancient lands of Canaan, Phoenicia, and Palestine.” Israel and Judea, those Jewish kingdoms spanning around 1,000 years or so, seem to have gotten lost somewhere in the sands of time.

Unfortunately, there is more. In the description of Afghanistan’s Yu Aw Synagogue in Herat, in which “richly painted floral patterns inspired by Persian design . . . adorn the main sanctuary,” the authors admit that Afghanistan has not exactly been kind to the Jews, what with all of the state-sponsored pogroms and plundering. However, with anti-Semitism rising in the 1930s, “Herat was one of the few Afghan cities that did not banish Jews.” We then read that “the pressure to assimilate evaporated when Jews left the city in 1978.” Forced Exile = Evaporated Pressure is a nifty formula, but it misses something—human lives.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Afghanistan, Anti-Semitism, Synagogues

Terror Returns to Israel

Nov. 28 2022

On Wednesday, a double bombing in Jerusalem left two dead, and many others injured—an attack the likes of which has not been seen since 2016. In a Jenin hospital, meanwhile, armed Palestinians removed an Israeli who had been injured in a car accident, reportedly murdering him in the process, and held his body hostage for two days. All this comes as a year that has seen numerous stabbings, shootings, and other terrorist attacks is drawing to a close. Yaakov Lappin comments:

Unlike the individual or small groups of terrorists who, acting on radical ideology and incitement to violence, picked up a gun, a knife, or embarked on a car-ramming attack, this time a better organized terrorist cell detonated two bombs—apparently by remote control—at bus stops in the capital. Police and the Shin Bet have exhausted their immediate physical searches, and the hunt for the perpetrators will now move to the intelligence front.

It is too soon to know who, or which organization, conducted the attack, but it is possible to note that in recent years, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) has taken a lead in remote-control-bombing terrorism. Last week, a car bomb that likely contained explosives detonated by remote control was discovered by the Israel Defense Forces in Samaria, after it caught fire prematurely. In August 2019, a PFLP cell detonated a remote-control bomb in Dolev, seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem, killing a seventeen-year-old Israeli girl and seriously wounding her father and brother. Members of that terror cell were later arrested.

With the Palestinian Authority (PA) losing its grip in parts of Samaria to armed terror gangs, and the image of the PA at an all-time low among Palestinians, in no small part due to corruption, nepotism, and its violation of human rights . . . the current situation does not look promising.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Jerusalem, Palestinian terror