Historic Texts Bear the Centuries-Old Marks of Past Mourners for Jerusalem

On the fast day of Tisha b’Av, which began last night and ends this evening, many synagogues have the custom of dimming the lights for the evening reading of the book of Lamentations; others adhere to an older custom of lighting candles. Menachem Wecker notes how this practice has left stains on historic books:

Chaim Louis Meiselman, [a Judaica librarian at the University of Pennsylvania, described] a holiday prayer book, a maḥzor, in the unique Roman rite that dates to 1718 or 1719 from the northern Italian city of Mantua. On the opening page of Lamentations in the book, which is part of the collection of University of Pennsylvania, one can see a stain from wax that dripped on the page from a candle, which a reader must have used to follow along with the text.

Reading by candlelight was associated with reading Lamentations on Tisha B’Av, Meiselman told JNS. “The synagogue lights are darkened at that point in the liturgy, and the reader or user then takes a candle and sits close to the book,” he said. “The room is otherwise dark.” Meiselman cited an illustration from a German book, belonging to a mohel, which dates to 1740 and is part of the Jewish Theological Seminary collection. In the drawing, three men sit on a synagogue floor. The candles have been removed from the chandelier above, and one of the men holds a candle.

The Penn librarian also has a maḥzor, which dates to 1734 and comes from Sulzbach am Main, Germany, in his personal collection. The book has many wax drippings on the page for Lamentations.

Read more at JNS

More about: Prayer books, Rare books, Tisha b'Av

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