The Mystery of the Spanish Megillah of Amsterdam

Even in the most liberal Reform synagogues in the world today, in synagogues where prayers are spoken in English or French, Torah and Hebrew Bible scrolls always remain written and recited in Hebrew. So what explains the existence of a scroll of the book of Esther handwritten beautifully in Spanish in 1684?

The scroll, now in the collection of the National Library of Israel, is unique for not being written in Hebrew, Hillel Kuttler reiterates. Could it have been created for private study, without any intention to be read aloud on Purim, as the book of Esther usually is?

No, said Aliza Moreno, NLI’s Judaica specialist and coordinator for Latin America, who is sure that the Amsterdam megillah was written for the purpose of being read publicly.

The proof, she said, lies in the three complete blessings that appear before the megillah’s text begins. The first words of each, Bendito tu ANDR, meaning, “Blessed are You, our God, king of the universe,” is a standard opening for Jewish prayers. The megillah’s prayers are chanted only when the scroll is read publicly — and not, for example, when someone reads or studies it at school or at home.

The answer captures the history of Jewish migration and religious tradition:

Following the expulsions of the Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the late 15th century, some of those who had outwardly converted to Christianity and remained in Spain and Portugal, continued to practice Jewish customs in secret. Some of their descendants eventually settled in Amsterdam beginning about a century after the expulsion, where they were able to reconnect openly with the Judaism of their ancestors.

Because they couldn’t read Hebrew, for the first time in Jewish history, we see a pattern of communities translating multiple Hebrew texts into languages written in Latin script, Moreno said.

Read more at National Library of Israel

More about: Book of Esther, Hebrew Bible, Purim, Religion & Holidays

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship