The Homeland of the People of the Book

Dec. 23 2014

Jews have a reputation for taking books seriously, so it should come as no surprise that Israel is an interesting place for librarians. Where else can you find a national monument called “The Shrine of the Book”? The novelist Anne Roiphe reflects on her visit to Israel with a group sponsored by the Jewish Theological Seminary:

We were shown into a small room where under glass there was a brown-lined notebook with Kafka’s writing. He was learning Hebrew verbs. Nearby was a page of text from an S.Y. Agnon novel, a poem in his own handwriting by Yehuda Amichai, an original page from a Maimonides tract, and a page of notes from the novelist Ka-Tzetnik (whose testimony at the Eichmann trial was so crucial). The room was dark, the display cases lit with soft light, and I felt like a simple peasant girl viewing a saint’s bones. I had come close to some sacred place where writers write and the thoughts of man fall onto paper and we can reach each other over the centuries. Our story becomes communal through the work of individual minds. In the National Library I see the link between the prayer and the poem, through the codex, the historian, the map maker, the novelist, the holy and the profane united in an attempt to understand the fall of man.

To see the original pages is to believe in the existence of the writer as a biological fact. Be careful, I remind myself, don’t worship writers as if they were golden calves. Don’t worship golden calves as if they were writers. In the National Library of Israel I am tempted to worship everything I saw, including wooden chairs and research rooms.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Dead Sea Scrolls, Franz Kafka, Jewish archives, National Library of Israel, Rare books, Yad Vashem


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount