Passover Seder and Its Story: An Exhibit

Curated by Miriam Krakowski FCRH’27

Since 2015, Fordham has been building a collection of rare Judaica that is housed in the Special Collections and Archives at the Walsh Family Library. The collection has now hundreds of items, from early Hebrew printed books through contemporary ephemera, and everything in between. Among the many items are over 150 haggadot. For this year’s Passover, Miriam Krakowski FCRH’27 curated an exhibit that explains all steps of the Passover seder through the haggadot in our collection. The exhibit will run until early May.


Part I: Passover Seder

The Passover seder is one of the most important nights of the Jewish year. Passover commemorates the redemption of the Jewish people from Egypt, as told in the Book of Exodus. The Seder, which in Hebrew means “order”, is a night of tradition, carefully structured around the guidebook called the Haggadah. The central idea of the night is inherent in the word Haggadah, which comes from the root word “to tell”. The Passover seder is a night that revolves around the retelling of the Passover story and the transmission of the tradition to a new generation. 

Over centuries, the Haggadah has been translated into many languages and presented in many different ways, reflecting times and places, yet the core, structure, and ideas have remained the same, even if sometimes, especially in more recent decades, the text may have been adjusted.

The Seder begins with an introduction to the structure of the night. The participants traditionally sing the 15 steps of the Seder before beginning. They then start the actual Seder with Kadesh, which is the blessing over the first cup of wine. Over the course of the night, four cups of wine will be drunk, each representing an aspect of redemption. Kadesh is followed by Urchatz, the washing of hands, Karpas, eating a vegetable dipped in saltwater, and Yachatz, the breaking of a matza to set aside for later in the Seder.

Top: Seder Hagadah shel Pesaḥ bi-leshon ha-ḳodesh uvi-leshon Italyano : ʻim kamah tsurot ʻal kol ha-otot ṿeha-moftim asher naʻasu la-avotenu be-Mitsrayim, ba-yam uva-midbar … ṿe-gam ba be-tokham pe. Tseli esh … ṿe-hu ḳitsur Zevaḥ Pesaḥ m.h. Rav Don Yitsḥaḳ Abravanel, z”l (Venice: Nella Stamparia Bragadina, 1695). Hebrew and Judeo Italian. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1695 1
Bottom: Seder Hagadah shel Pesaḥ bi-leshon ha-ḳodesh uvi-leshon Ashkenazim: ʻim kamah tsurot ʻal kol ha-otot ṿeha-moftim asher naʻasu la-avotenu be-Mitsrayim ba-yam u-va-midbar; … ve-gam bah be-tokhah perush Tseli esh ṿe-hu ḳitsur Zevaḥ Pesaḥ (Venice: Gerolimo Bragadino, 1663) Hebrew and Yiddish. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1663 1

These two haggadot, printed in Venice thirty-two years apart, both use a similar format and the same woodcuts, which became extremely popular and defined the iconographic language of the printed haggadot. The main difference between the two is the language of the explanation: one is in Judeo-Spanish and one is in Yiddish, reflecting the different communities that these haggadot were created for. The page that they are both open to is the introduction to the seder, illustrating through woodcuts and text each of the fifteen steps.

Part II: The Magid: The Main Part of the Seder

The main part of the seder is Magid, the actual retelling. Magid begins with the passage of ha-laḥma anyia: “this is the bread of affliction.” The Seder is a community celebration that includes family, friends, and those who do not have a place to celebrate Passover. In this passage, all who do not have a place to celebrate the seder are invited to come and join: 

This is the bread of affliction which fathers ate in the land of Egypt. Let all who are in want to come and eat. Let all who are needy come and celebrate the Passover. This year here; next year in the land of Israel. This year here, we are slaves; next year in the land of Israel, free men. 

Once all have been invited, the retelling begins with the asking of questions. The central theme of the Seder is the commandment of ve-higadita le-binkha to tell the children of the miracles of the exodus. Following this theme, the children begin the Seder with the asking of four questions, that are then answered over the course of the night. The questions, traditionally recited by the youngest child present, concern why this night is different from the other nights of the year, mah nishtanah ha-laylah.

Why is this night different from all other nights? On all other nights, we eat either leavened or unleavened bread; tonight only unleavened bread. On all other nights, we eat all kinds of herbs; tonight bitter herbs. On all other nights, we do not dip even once; tonight twice. On all other nights, we eat either sitting or leaning; tonight we all lean.

The children’s questions are answered in the next passage with the words ‘avadim hayinu, “we were slaves in Egypt”: 

We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but the Lord brought us out from there with a strong hand and an outstretched arm. And if the Holy One, blessed be he, had not brought our fathers out of Egypt, we, our children, and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt.

Top: Die Darmstädter Pessach-Haggadah, codex orientalis 8 der Landesbibliothek zu Darmstadt aus dem vierzehnten jahrhundert (Leipzig, K.W. Hiersemann, 1927-28). SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1927 1
Bottom: The Barcelona Haggadah (facsimile, original at the British Library, Add MS 14761). SPEC COLL LEACH 1992 2 FACSIMILE. Gift of Dr. James Leach

The Darmstadt Haggadah, a fourteenth-century haggadah from Germany, is opened to pages with the passages ha-laḥma anyia (This is the bread of affliction) and mah nishtanah ha-laylah (Why is this night different from other nights?).

The Barcelona Haggadah, an illuminated Passover compendium from mid-fourteenth-century Catalonia, is now held in the British Library. It is lavishly illustrated with color illuminations of figures and scenes depicting the exodus story, and Jewish cultural and religious life. The images shown here represent the paragraph of ‘avadim hayinu.

Part III: Setting the Stage for the Passover Story

This part focuses on the tradition of disseminating and contextualizing the Passover story. The text of the haggadah here emphasizes the centrality of the Passover story in Judaism and the importance of its transmission. It mentions rabbis and children discussing the meaning and details of the story.

Five Scholars Who Learned in Bnei Brak: This section stresses the importance of the night and of the retelling of the Passover story by telling of five scholars who were discussing, according to the Haggadah, “the Exodus from Egypt all night, until their disciples came and said to them, ‘Masters, the time has come to recite morning prayers.” Illustrated here by Sefer Abudarham (Venice, 1547)

Sefer Abudarham (Venice: Marco Antonio Giustiniani, 306 [1547]). SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1547 1
This 14th-century commentary on the siddur (prayerbook) includes a section with the commentary on the haggadah. The pages are open showing the commentaries on the previously discussed sections of the seder–ha-laḥma anyia, mah nishtanah ha-laylah, ‘avadim hayinu–and end, at the bottom left, begins the commentary on the section with the five scholars who studied the Passover story “their disciples came and said to them, ‘Masters, the time has come to recite morning prayers.” Fordham’s copy of the Sefer Abudarham was examined by several Christian censors, whose signatures are in the back of the book. You can read more about this in a three-part study: https://fordh.am/1lw

The Four Sons: four sons who ask questions about the Passover story. The sons are representative of four categories of people, and we discuss the way in which the story should be given over to them. These four sons are: the wise, the wicked, the innocent, and the one who does not even know enough to ask, as shown here in the haggadah published in 1765 in Fürth.

Miteḥilah ovedei avodah zarah hayu avoteinu: “In the beginning our forefathers were idol worshipers…”. Over the course of the Seder, the Passover story is retold multiple times, each time highlighting a different aspect of the redemption. Here, the story of the Jewish people’s descent into slavery and eventual redemption begins with the patriarch Abraham and recounts how he rejected his father’s teachings and idolatry and followed God. From him came Issac and Jacob, and Jacob’s sons went down to Egypt. In this way, the Passover story also becomes the telling of the birth of the Jewish people as a nation.

Seder ha-Hagadah shel Pesaḥ : ʻim tsiyurim (Triesti : Be-vet defus Y. Kohen, 624 [1863 or 1864]). SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1864 2
The illustrations in this haggadah were produced by lithography. The drawings are the work of the renowned artist K. Kirchmeyer and the printing with copper lithographic plates was done at the press of R. Yonah Cohen of Trieste. The passage shown here is the passage of Miteḥilah ovedei avodah zarah hayu avoteinu, “In the beginning, our forefathers were idol worshipers…”. The image pictured is the binding of Isaac by his father Abraham, a scene from the Book of Genesis that symbolizes Abraham’s absolute devotion to God.

PART IV: An Eternal Story

The next passage ve-hi she-’amdah, “and it is this that has stood,” brings the narrative of miraculous salvation from ancient Egypt into a larger, eternal storyline. 

This is the promise that stood firm for our fathers, and also for us. Because it is not just a single man that has risen up against us to destroy us. But in every generation, men rise up to destroy us. But the Holy One, blessed be he, has delivered us from their hands.

The haggadot on this shelf were all produced in the years directly following World War II, and they appropriately tie this passage to the horrors of the Holocaust. This Passover these passages resonate as well. Some of the non-traditional haggadot followed the structure of the seder even if they changed the specific content. In this section we can see Hagadah shel Pesaḥ le-yeladim (New York: Shilo Publishing House, 1945), in Hebrew and English (SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1945 2.) This children’s haggadah was printed in New York the same year as the end of World War II. The illustrations, drawn by Siegmund Forst, draw upon periods of Jewish persecution throughout history, but particularly focus on the Holocaust. This is particularly apparent in this image, placed next to the passage of ve-hi she-‘amdah.

Haggadah shel Pesah (Merḥavia: Kibbutz Ari, Ha-Shomer ha-ẓair, 1951). SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1951 2

This is an example of a secular, socialist haggadah issued in Merḥavia by Kibbutz Ari, a federation of 85 kibbutzim founded by a Zionist youth movement “Ha-Shomer Ha-air”. This is not a traditional haggadah, but rather incorporates passages and language from the haggadah into modern poetry. The page that this haggadah is opened to speaks of reminding each generation to see themselves as if they, not just their forefathers, were slaves in Egypt, as well as the passage of “vihi she’amdah” . The iconography here evokes the death camps during WWII: barbed wires, striped outfits, and freedom in Israel.  Another haggadah displayed alongside these is Hagadah shel Pesaḥ (Ḳibuts ha-artsi ha-shomer ha-tsaʻir, Ṿaʻadat ha-ḥagim, 1947) SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1947 2, which is another example of a non-traditional kibbutz haggadah, similarly portraying imagery from the Holocaust.

PART V: The Story of the Exodus

At this point of the seder discussed are the details of the Passover story, starting from the descent into Egypt and ending with the ten plagues and the actual exodus. Here, the exodus is told as a cohesive storyline, with explanations and additional information for each piece of the story. 

tze u-lemad, “Go and learn”: The Passover story is retold again, this time as it is told in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible. Each passage from the text is expounded upon and explained in full detail. 

The Makkot, or the ten plagues: The ten plagues are recounted. As each one is said, it is traditional for each member of the Seder to remove a drop of wine from their full glass. The common explanation for this custom is that we should not rejoice in the suffering of our enemies, and therefore our joy should be lessened somewhat.  The two illustrated haggadot, one from 1765, Amsterdam, and the other from 1813, Vienna, each show the makkot, the ten plagues. Note the proliferation of wine stains on this page, reflecting the custom of spilling wine from the cup while reciting each one of the plagues. 

Ma’aleh Bet Ḥorin : ṿe-hu seder hagadah shel Pesaḥ ‘im perushe’ … MaHaR”M Alshekh, Gevurot H’, ʻOlelot Efrayim u-pe’ Abravan’el … ṿe-dine seder shel Pesaḥ (Vienna: Anton Schmid, 1823). New acquisition. OCLC 74981976 (right)

This haggadah is open on the section tze u-lemad, “Go and learn”: The Passover story is retold again, this time as it is told in the Hebrew scriptures of the Bible. Each passage from the text is expounded upon and explained in full detail.
Ma’aleh Bet Ḥorin : ṿe-hu seder hagadah shel Pesaḥ ‘im perushe’ … MaHaR”M Alshekh, Gevurot H’, ʻOlelot Efrayim u-pe’ Abravan’el … ṿe-dine seder shel Pesaḥ (Vienna: A. Schmid, 1813). New acquisition, OCLC 19203920 (left)

This haggadah and the 1765 Amsterdam haggadah (not shown here) are open to the page showing the makkot, the ten plagues. Note the proliferation of wine stains on this page, reflecting the custom of spilling wine from the cup while reciting each one of the plagues.

The two haggadot from Vienna displayed here are new acquisitions. They capture a moment in Viennese Jewish history. Jews were expelled from Vienna in 1670 and, unofficially, allowed back in the eighteenth century. By 1795, a Hebrew press was established in Vienna, but not by Jews. The printer of these haggadot was Anton Schmid, a Christian printer of Hebrew books. Schmid began his career at the imperial printing house of Josef von Kurtzbeck, who was commissioned by Emperor Joseph II to establish a Hebrew printing press. Each copy printed by the press had to be deposited in the Imperial Library. In 1800, the emperor banned the importation of Hebrew books.

PART VI: Dayenu

One of the most important parts of the Passover seder and the haggadah is the prayer Dayenu. It expresses thanks God for all of the good that he did for the Jewish people in Egypt. It is structured as a series of events, and at each one we say that even if this was all that He had done for us, “dayenu” “it would have been enough.” The haggadot displayed here are open on the dayyenu prayer. They span centuries and geographies: a facsimile of medieval Ashkenazi haggadah known as the “bird’s head” haggadah because Jewish characters are depicted with bird’s heads, then is a haggadah from the World War II era, published in Casablanca, Morocco, and, finally, on the left, an American Braille haggadah.

The Birds Head Haggada of the Bezalel National Art Museum in Jerusalem (Jerusalem : L.A. Mayer Library for Beth David Salomons by Tarshish Books, 1965.) Facsimile. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1965 2
Hagadah shel Pesaḥ = Hagada de Pessah  (Casablanca: Bet misḥar sefarim ʻEts ḥayim Yosef Lugasi: [Imprimerie Idéale], [700], 1940). Hebrew and French. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1940 1
This haggadah was printed just before Casablanca became a waystation for French Jewish refugees, trying to escape occupied France. Morocco was under Vichy rule and many of the anti-Jewish laws were applied to Jews in Morocco at the time. The film “Casablanca” (1942) captures that moment.
The Haggadah for Passover (Hebrew Braille Committee of Boston, 1958) English and Hebrew Braille. Transcribed for Bernard I. Levine. This is a braille haggadah prepared by the Hebrew Braille Committee of Boston and previously owned by Bernard I. Levine. The haggadah has pencil and pen notes signaling new sections, presumably to aid seeing family members not familiar with Braille to find relevant pages.

PART VII: Passover in Practice

At this point in the seder, Magid begins to draw to a close. The last passages of Magid deal with Passover as a holiday, and the practical rituals that have been established to commemorate the exodus. The haggadah names three things that are central to Passover: Pesach, Matzah, and Maror. 

Pesach is the paschal lamb that was sacrificed while the Temple still stood in Jerusalem. This sacrificial lamb symbolized the lamb that the Israelites slaughtered  before the Exodus in Egypt (Exodus 12). Though the Temple was destroyed in 70 CE and the paschal lamb is no longer offered, it is still commemorated at the seder.

Matzah is unleavened bread, consisting only of flour and water and baked within eighteen minutes from when the flour was mixed with the water. On Passover it is forbidden to eat, or even to possess grain products that took longer to bake than eighteen minutes. The matzah traditionally represents the fact that when the Israelites left Egypt, they left in such a hurry that their bread did not have time to rise.  

Maror is the bitter herbs, eaten at the seder to commemorate the bitter years of slavery in Egypt. 

The haggadah continues to explain that it is incumbent upon every generation to see themselves as if it was they who were among those who exited from Egypt, and because of this Jews praise and thank God for the miracles that occurred. Passages of hallel, the prayer said on holidays to praise God, are recited and the second cup of wine is drunk, bringing Magid to a close. 

With Magid now over, the seder moves on to the actual meal. Everybody washes their hands, as is traditionally done before eating bread, and then the matzah is eaten. After the matzah, the maror, bitter herbs, are eaten, and then korech, a sandwich made of maror between two pieces of matzah. After these foods comes Shulchan Orech, literally translating into “a set table”, and at this point the actual meal is served. 

Four haggadot are shown here highlight the different parts.

The Haggadah of Passover / edited by David? for members of the Armed Forces of the United States.‬ (New York : National Jewish Welfare Board, 1945). Hebrew with English translation. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1945 8

This haggadah was created for United States armed forces near the end of World War II. It is filled with handwritten notes and instructions. It is open to the section of pesach, matza, and maror. 

The Prato Haggadah (Valencia, Spain : Patrimonio Ediciones, 2007) SPEC COLL JUDAICA 2007 1

This is the facsimile edition of the Prato Haggadah, an illuminated manuscript Haggadah produced in Spain approximately 1300, currently housed in the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary under the designation MS 9478. The original manuscript captures the process of manuscript production as it has incomplete illuminations, as can be seen on this page. The haggadah is open to the illustration showing the matza–incomplete but still magnificent example of medieval illuminations.

The Prato Haggadah (Valencia, Spain : Patrimonio Ediciones, 2007). Facsimile, SPEC COLL JUDAICA 2007 1

Haggadah shel Pesaḥ–Kol Yisrael ḥaverim: Paskhal’noe skazanye (Elizabeth, NJ, 1970). First edition. New acquisition. OCLC 21698420. 

This pocket-size edition of the Passover Haggadah was printed in Hebrew and Russian on opposite pages. Though Fordham’s copy is missing the cover, it was published by Rabbi Pinchas Mordechai Teitz (1908-1995) for “the American and Canadian tourist in Russia.” for bringing this Haggadah into the Soviet Union. Given that practicing Judaism was restricted within the Soviet Union, this haggadah was purposely small and unlabeled on the outside, designed to escape notice. The tiny volume also includes a calendar of Jewish holidays from 1970 until 1979.

The haggadah is open to the passage saying that every generation must see themselves as if they were saved from Egypt. 

Hagadah shel Pesaḥ … = Haggādā śela pesāha athava balhāṇḍaṇasaṇāceñ nirūpaṇa, The Institution of Passover (Puṇẽ : Mośe Yākoba Taḷakara va Āhārona Dāniyala Taḷakara, 1874). Hebrew and Marathi. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1874 1

This is the second edition of the haggadah that was printed in India. The illustrations that it is open to represent the next stages of the seder: Raḥatz, Motzi, Matzah, Maror, and Korech.

Hagadah shel Pesaḥ … = Haggādā śela pesāha athava balhāṇḍaṇasaṇāceñ nirūpaṇa, The Institution of Passover (Puṇẽ : Mośe Yākoba Taḷakara va Āhārona Dāniyala Taḷakara, 1874). Hebrew and Marathi. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1874 1

Part VIII: The Conclusion of the Seder

As the meal concludes, participants in the seder eat a final piece of matzah, the afikomen, that had been set aside earlier in seder by Yachatz. This stage of the seder is tzafon. It is traditional for the children to have stolen the afikomen at some point during the seder, and now they bring it out and bargain for prizes and treats, refusing to give it back otherwise. This custom is intended to keep the children awake throughout the long seder – with something to look forward to at the end of the seder, the children will be less likely to disappear. 

After tzafon comes barekh, the blessings said after meals. These passages are the same as the ones said after every meal, yearlong, but here there is an addition at the end. At the end of these blessings, the third cup of wine is drunk and the passage of shefokh ha-matkha is recited. Shefokh ha-matkha asks that God avenge Himself upon His enemies and upon those who stand against the Jewish people. 

The next stage of the seder is hallel, half of which was already recited at the end of Magid. Here, the passages praising God are completed, with some additions not said during the rest of the year. The final cup of wine is drunk, and the seder comes to an end with the passage of “Hasal Siddur pesach”

The Pesaḥ service is finished, as it was meant to be performed, in accordance with all its rules and laws. Just as we have been privileged to lay out its order, so may we be privileged to perform it [in the Temple]. Pure One, dwelling in Your heaven, raise up this people, too abundant to be counted. Soon, lead the shoots of [Israel’s] stock, redeemed, into Zion with great joy. 

The final line of the seder is le-shanah ha-ba’ah bi-yerushalayim, “next year in Jerusalem”, asking that next year the seder will be celebrated properly in the rebuilt Temple, with the coming of the Messiah. In modern times, the word “ha-benuyah,” “rebuilt” has been added to this line, acknowledging that though Jews have access to the city of Jerusalem, their prayers are still not fulfilled, as they still lack the Messiah and the rebuilt Temple.

Shown at the exhibit are three haggadot: Haggadah shel Pesah, (DP Camp, Fernwald/Föhrenwald, 1946) Hebrew, and some Yiddish. Illustrated; stained and worn (SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1946 11), Haggadah ereẓ-israelit (Tel Aviv: Sinai, 1948), Hebrew, with photos. (SPECIAL COLL JUDAICA 1948 1), and a facsimile of the Floersheim Haggadah, 1502 (Israel Museum, numbered limited edition), a new acquisition.

Haggadah shel Pesah, (DP Camp, Fernwald/Föhrenwald, 1946) Hebrew, and some Yiddish. Illustrated; stained and worn. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1946 11
This haggadah was published in the Displaced Persons Camp in Fernwald (Föhrenwald) in 1946, the first Passover since the end of World War II. Föhrenwald was the third largest Displaced Persons camp in the American zone. It was the last to close, in 1957. The cover shows a domestic scene of Passover seder (left), while inside the back cover is an image by Gustave Dore, with a text in Hebrew: “And he called to Moshe…and he said get up and leave.” Images within are indebted to early modern Haggadot, here the four sons and the ten plagues .The Haggadah’s wine stains show it was used for a Passover seder. The haggadah is open to the page with the section shefokh ha-matkha (“Pour forth thy wrath”), which must have been particularly meaningful in 1946.

This 1948 Haggadah ereẓ-israelit captures a very specific historical moment in time. It was published for Passover in 1948, which took place in late April. Israel declared independence in May 1948. Because the Haggadah was published before the declaration of independence by Israel, the copyright page, held by Sinai Publishing in Tel Aviv, states that the book was “Printed in Palestine”. The section shown at the exhibit asks that next year the seder should take place in a “rebuilt” Jerusalem, le-shanah ha-ba’ah bi-yerushalayim ha-benuyah. This is in contrast to earlier haggadot, including the Floersheim Haggadah, which merely ask for Jerusalem, without the word “rebuilt.”

PART VIII: Nirtza: After the Seder

Though the seder has officially ended, it does not disperse yet. Instead, the participants stay at the table, and sing numerous songs related to the themes of the night. Perhaps the most famous of these songs is Had Gadyah, “one goat”. This song is typically interpreted as representing the supremacy of God above all of creation.

The haggadot shown in this section all contain musical instructions accompanying the songs. Though there are many different tunes used for the passages, these haggadot represent the fact that this part of the seder, along with many other sections, are communally sung with all participants in the seder. Displayed here are haggadot from British Mandate Palestine, Sweden, and  Argentina: Haggadah ereẓ-israelit le-pesaḥ = Palestinian Haggadah (Tel Aviv, Palestine: Jacob Smilansky, 1938) in Hebrew and English. With photos (Palestine Publishing Co., Tel-Aviv , 1938) SPECIAL COLL JUDAICA 1938 1. Haggada: Seder ha-Hagadah le-lel shimurim : berättelse om Israels uttåg ur Egypten för de båda första påskaftnarna (Stockholm: Kungl. Boktryckeriet P. A. Norstedt & Soner, Offsettryck, 1934), SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1934 3; and Narración de la Pascua (Buenos Aires : Fundación para el fomento de la cultura Hebrea, 5706, 1946) Hebrew and Spanish. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1946 5.

The final case in the exhibit shows children’s haggadot. The Passover seder is centered around the commandment ve-higadita le-vinkha, “and you shall tell your children” (Exodus 13:8). This central theme is present throughout the seder. Engaging children is part of the seder and can be seen in the haggadot across centuries. In modern times, especially, haggadot designed for children have been published. Two such haggadot are shown here, one recent, from 2019, and one from 1937. 

Passover Haggadah graphic novel = הגדה של פסח / Jordan B. Gorfinkel, creator & writer ; Erez Zadok, artist ; David Olivestone, translator. First Hebrew/English edition. (Koren: Jerusalem, 2019) SPEC COLL JUDAICA 2019 5

This modern haggadah was created as a graphic novel, with imagery aimed at making the haggadah fun and relatable for children. The translations of the passages are seen in text bubbles, spoken by characters who appear throughout the haggadah. Images included are ancient Egyptians standing over workers in cubicles, adjacent to the passage noting that we would still be slaves if not for the miracles of the exodus, scenes from history next to the passage of ve-hi she-’amdah, and this page, which represents the requirement for every member of the seder to see themselves as if they were the one being redeemed. 

The Children’s Haggadah, translated by Isidore Wartski and Rev. Arthur Saul Super, edited by Dr. A. M. Silbermann, and illustrated and interactive by Erwin Singer. (London: Shapiro, Valentine, & Co, 1937). Hebrew and English. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1937 2

This Haggadah was written and designed for children, with the intention of making the Seder service accessible to younger participants. According to the translators, this was the first Haggadah written specifically for children. In preparing this edition, the editors, as they admit themselves, took some liberties with the Hebrew interpretations to make it easy for children to understand. Several fun illustrations for children include interactive flaps and tabs that move a Baby Moses down the river (below), and a moveable wheel of the ten plagues. These illustrations coupled with a straightforward English translation opposite the Hebrew text make this an engaging haggadah for Jewish children.


The exhibition would not have been possible without the generosity of Eugene Shvidler, whose gift to Fordham’s Jewish Studies program helped start Fordham’s Judaica collection. Over the years, Fordham’s trustees Henry S. Miller, Donna Smolens, Eileen Sudler, Dario Werthein, as well as members of the CJS advisory board, many anonymous donors and friends of the Center helped the collection grow and allowed us to create an internship program that supports student research and exhibit curation at the Walsh Library. We are grateful to the Director of Fordham Libraries, Linda Loschiavo, for her support and to Gabriela DiMeglio and Vivian Shen of the Special Collections and Archives for their tireless support of students’ work and their help with setting up the exhibits.

Knife/Paint/Word: Art by Deborah Ugoretz

A new exhibit “Knife/Paint/Word” at the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room at Fordham’s Walsh Family Library features the work of Deborah Ugoretz, a Brooklyn-based artist, whose expressive work deals with the exploration of feminism, her concern for and fascination with the diversity of the natural world, and social issues. The exhibit is accompanied by items from the Judaica collection in the Special Collections at the Walsh library, chosen and research by two undergraduate students Hannorah Ragusa and Elizabeth Rengifo-Vega. The manuscripts and printed books on display include one from Yemen, a recent acquisition, eighteenth-century books illustrating Jewish ceremonies, and medieval manuscript facsimiles that speak to the themes of Deborah Ugoretz’s art: the blessing of the New Moon, the story of Creation, and Lilith, the mythical primeval woman, traditionally imagined to have been the first, disobedient and rebellious wife of Adam.

The exhibit opened on February 8th and will be on view until May 20, 2024. On April 7th, there will be a papercutting workshop with Deborah Ugoretz at the O’Hare Special Collections. You can learn more and sign-up here.

The Artist’s Statement

I have two loves in my artistic life: working in cut paper and painting in acrylics.

I use the first to explore my fascination with negative and positive space. Because cut paper reveals the beauty and mysteries of what has been taken away, negative space is not empty or meaningless. It exists to support what it is possible for us to see. The act of cutting away is a process that reveals the graphic form of things, and illuminates the concept of balance through structure. In the way I work, line becomes thick, morphs into the armature that holds and unifies the work.

The ancient Kabbalists believed that it was possible to find meaning in the empty spaces around and within the letters of texts. The Japanese concept of Notan views the relationship of negative and positive space as reciprocal and necessary for harmony and balance. These two world views deeply influence my work.

The simplicity, flexibility and strength of paper enables me to transform it into multi-dimensional art with a limitless range of expression. I love the challenge of solving the problems inherent in working with paper and particularly the challenges of working in three dimensions. In my piece Sanctuary, inspired by Psalm 27, I depict fear, chaos and the promise of a place of security in three-dimensional form. Part of the pleasure of creating is the discovery of materials that enable me to bring my ideas into reality. The craft of building and forming becomes a way to express ideas.

Sanctuary

In my paintings, I work to engage the viewer in a celebration of the spectrum. Color is the way that the mysterious is revealed to the world. It is rather spiritual; if white light is invisible – in the same way that the LIFE FORCE is invisible- then it is through the spectrum that that spiritual force is revealed to us. My goal is to delve into the physical, tactile nature of painting as I develop themes that express my concern and fascination with the natural world.

Much of my work is born from the written word. I take texts — poems, prayers, ancient writings — and translate them into a visual language that infuses those words with deeper meaning because visual language touches me on a richer emotional and intellectual level. My painting, The Six Days of Creation based upon the Genesis story, uses my theory of color and finishes off the painting as a comment on the ravages of disposable culture. This is how I connect texts, my interpretations and social comment through art.

Deborah Ugoretz’s Six Days of Creation displayed at the Walsh Family Library with medieval Hebrew facsimiles showing the same story in writing or in image: the Sarajevo Haggadah, the North French Miscellany, and the Kennicott Bible.

About the Artist

Deborah Ugoretz is a Brooklyn-based artist, born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She holds a B.S. in fine art from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her expressive work deals with the exploration of feminism, her concern for and fascination with the diversity of the natural world, and social issues. Since 1978, Ugoretz has been a master cut paper artist and teacher. Her work was featured in the monograph In the Tradition of Our Ancestors – Papercutting (Folklife Program of the New Jersey State Council of the Arts, 2006) and the catalog of the exhibition “Slash! Paper Under the Knife,” held at the Museum of Art and Design in New York from 2009 2010. She has designed stained glass windows and synagogue art for the Russ Berrie Home for Jewish Life in Rockleigh, New Jersey, and other houses of worship. Other commissions include the Tenement Museum, University of Michigan, Jewish Theological Seminary, YIVO Institute of Jewish Research, and the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Ugoretz’s work has been exhibited at the Milwaukee Jewish Museum, the Monmouth Art Museum, the Hebrew Union College Institute of Religion Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Jewish Art, The Museum of Biblical Art, the UJA Federation Gallery, and others. Ugoretz is recognized by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts as a master cut-paper artist.

The exhibit has been made possible through the generosity of Fordham’s Trustees Henry S. Miller and Eileen Sudler, Mr. Eugene Shvidler, and Anonymous donors.

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professor Moshe Bernstein

Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is thriving on campus; last year, the Center celebrated its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university. 

This interview features Professor Moshe Bernstein, who taught Biblical Studies at Yeshiva University.  Professor Bernstein received his M.A. in Classical Languages from Fordham in 1968 and then his Ph.D. in Classics, also from Fordham University, in 1978, while also studying at Yeshiva University. He was the inaugural holder of the David A. and Fannie M. Denenberg Chair in Biblical Studies when he retired from Yeshiva University at the end of the 2022-23 academic year.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I just retired from Yeshiva University, where I taught for many years at both Yeshiva College and Stern College. I received my Ph.D. in Classics from Fordham in 1978, but at Yeshiva University I taught primarily Biblical Studies, some Second Temple intellectual history, including Dead Sea Scrolls, and Biblical Hebrew and Aramaic.

My research areas started out in Aramaic targumim (Aramaic translations of the Bible), about which I was going to write a never-finished second PhD thesis at Yeshiva.  But then someone suggested to me that the Dead Sea Scrolls would sell better, and I started working in that field. In 2012, I published a two-volume collection of my essays called Reading and Rereading Scripture at Qumran, which includes almost everything I wrote about the scrolls over a thirty-year period. I’ve also published a number of articles about Aramaic targum, and I’m currently working on Aramaic liturgical poetry of the Byzantine period, much of which remains in manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza and hasn’t been published. Now that I’ve stopped teaching, I can focus on editing and publishing my unpublished work in those areas. I’m currently also working on a book with one of my colleagues at Yeshiva which will present the literary texts in Aramaic from the Dead Sea Scrolls along with their translation into English on facing pages, in the fashion of the Loeb Classical Library in Latin and Greek.

Professor Moshe Bernstein

What about your family?

My maternal grandfather was a Hungarian immigrant who came to New York after World War I. His daughter, my mother, was a life-long educator, whose career culminated with many years as a teacher and guidance counselor in the NYC public school system. My father was a talmid muvhak (outstanding student) of Rav Moshe Soloveichick. He served as a congregational rabbi for some time after being ordained, but returned to YU as a faculty member around the time I was born.  He gave a shiur [a Talmud class] in the morning and then taught Jewish History, Hebrew, and Bible in the afternoon.  He climbed the ranks and eventually became a Rosh Yeshiva and subsequently taught at the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, primarily Semitic languages. He had many students who became scholars and rabbis. My wife is retired now, but she also started out as a Classicist and then eventually became an academic administrator most recently in the art school at Cooper Union.

You first came to Fordham as a student in the 1960s.  What brought you to Fordham, and what was it like at the time?

When I studied Classical Languages at Fordham, my professional goal was to be an academic Classicist. I was learning for semikha, rabbinic ordination, at RIETS and studying for a Masters in Semitic languages at Yeshiva University during the same period, but the twain never really met. It was an interesting choice that I made to come study at Fordham, but some of it had to do with which program in New York gave me the best fellowship. Because of my studies at Yeshiva, I was limited to NYC.

What courses did you take and what do you remember about your time on campus?

It was a regular Classics Department, and fairly laid back. There were many people with whom I really enjoyed studying. I remember studying with Father Richard Doyle, Father Edwin Quain, and Father William Grimaldi. I had a good number of courses with each of them. And then there were others along the way, with whom I studied various topics in Latin and Greek literature.  Father Herbert Musurillo was a Classicist as well as a student of the Church Fathers.  He gave me a copy of a Greek text that he edited by Gregory of Nazianzus. I took courses in Medieval Latin and paleography, and other things that I might not have studied in other departments, and those were both interesting and proved useful over the years.  I was fortunate to have a good background because of my teacher at Yeshiva, Louis H. Feldman, z”l.

The student body was heavily Catholic. Many of my classmates went on to be high school teachers. A few continued to get their Ph.D.s and have by now retired from their posts as well. The atmosphere was a regular academic atmosphere, except for the crucifixes on the walls, which came with the territory. My mother, z”l, was once asked, “aren’t you worried about Moshe going to Fordham?”  She said, “No, I’m worried that the nuns are going to start saying Mincha [Jewish afternoon prayers].”

What was the topic of your dissertation?

It took me a long time to finish my dissertation, which was typical in those days. I did a literary study of a Euripidean play, The Trojan Women. Some time later, when I was teaching Eichah [the biblical book of Lamentations] one year at Yeshiva, one of my students, an unusually well-read young freshman, raised his hand and said, “Could you comment on the similarities between Eichah and Euripides’ Trojan Women? I said, “You know, I’ve been waiting years for somebody to ask me that question.” I even had index cards someplace with notes on the comparison, because I had thought about it. You’re dealing with two literary works on the aftermath of war, so the parallels and similarities become obvious after a little thought. I spent 15 minutes talking about something I never thought I would be able to talk about only because of that well-read freshman at Yeshiva College.

The Cover Page of Professor Bernstein’s Fordham Dissertation (1978)

We recently inaugurated the Bronx Jewish History Project, a collection of oral histories and documentary sources about Jewish life in the Bronx in the long twentieth century. You grew up and lived in Washington Heights, but you came to Fordham’s campus for your studies.  What was the Bronx like at the time?

I got on the 38 bus at 181st St. and Amsterdam Avenue, took it to Fordham Road, then took the 12 or the 19 to Fordham. And that’s all I saw of the Bronx.

What do you remember about the Jesuit and Catholic character of Fordham, and how did it impact you as a Jewish student?

I was very much a commuter student during my graduate years; my mornings were devoted to Torah study at RIETS and my late afternoons to Latin and Greek. I think that I was the only Jew in the Classics department, but was never treated as a curiosity. The department accommodated my scheduling needs so that courses that I had to take were never scheduled on Friday afternoon or Saturday. I usually didn’t take any 3 PM classes, because Rav Soloveichik’s classes ended at 2:30 PM and it was too tight to make it to Fordham on time.  I was literally going from the Beit Midrash to the library at Fordham, but it was quite comfortable in that regard. It was a good place to be. They wanted me to feel okay.

Yeshiva University

I remember being worried because the last fall course that I had to take was scheduled at a time when I would need to miss the first three or four class sessions because of Jewish holidays. The instructor was a professor from Germany, and I was worried about how he would react to my repeated absences.  It turned out that he was a liberal post-World War II German, and we got along fine.

I distinctly remember, during the first summer that I attended Fordham, informing my instructors that I would be attending class on the fast day of Tisha be’Av, but would appreciate not being called on. I had gone to shul early in the morning but hadn’t finished reciting qinot (lamentation poems recited on Tisha be’Av), so between my two graduate courses, I finished reciting qinot on the lawn outside the library. 

Classes often began with a prayer, and I had an elderly German professor, an Augustinian monk, who still prayed in Latin. He had been born in the late 19th century, and by the time I had him as a student in the late 1960s he was no longer a youngster. He was a specialist in Greek and Roman religion, and one day he proudly wrote out for me a couple of words in block Hebrew script, to show me that he could read Hebrew. It was actually a very nice gesture. Life was a bit more formal back then, and I wore a jacket and tie to class. Once on a warm fall day, when I took off my wool blazer, I was gently told by my distinguished Jesuit instructor, “We do not do that here.”

For someone whose education had been almost exclusively in insular Orthodox Jewish institutions, the Classics department with its largely Catholic, and often clerical, student body, was a valuable exposure to the “outside” world that probably has benefited me considerably in later academic life. It was a great eye opener to work in the real world. Not that Fordham was so much the real world either, but it was a different world from the world of yeshiva and classical Jewish educational institutions. In that way, it prepared me for interacting with colleagues who had radically different backgrounds from mine. I suspect it smoothed out some rough edges and prepared me to go to SBL [the Society of Biblical Literature conference] and hang out with the rest of the crew there.

What did you do after you graduated?  Did you end up teaching Classics or Bible or both?

I taught Classics at the University of Illinois – Chicago for five years before completing my Ph.D. thesis (it was possible to get a job before finishing back then). By the time I finally completed my dissertation, the job market in classics had dried up and I came to realize that my strengths in Jewish Studies and Bible offered me a different point of entry into higher education. I then found myself back at Yeshiva University a couple of years later teaching Bible and Second Temple, while working on a Ph.D. in Bible that I never finished (although some of that research has been published).

I’ve taught a variety of courses in Bible, biblical interpretation, Second Temple intellectual history, Hebrew and Aramaic at Yeshiva over the last 40+ years. At the beginning of my YU career, I taught a few courses in Latin and Greek when Professor Feldman was overloaded and they needed someone to teach a course, but they were never a main component of my workload. I’ve certainly been able to take advantage of my training in Latin and Greek in my research in early biblical interpretation, but that is only loosely connected to my work at Fordham. If I have to look at a Septuagint or at Josephus or Philo or Jerome in the Vulgate, those are all things that are readily at hand for me.

A book of scholarly essays written in honor of Professor Bernstein

Once you’ve done work in literature in a language that isn’t your own, you can move far more easily from one language to another. So for me, moving from Latin or Greek poetry into biblical poetry felt natural and complementary. I remember when literary studies were just starting out in Biblical Studies, when Robert Alter published The Art of Biblical Narrative in 1979 and James Kugel published The Idea of Biblical Poetry in 1981. In a certain sense, I was a step ahead because I had been doing this stuff already in the field of Classics, and it was just a question of finding out what was going on currently in the field.  In many ways, my teaching was separate from my research, but when I taught Biblical Studies, I was able to draw on literary studies. It made teaching a lot of fun. 

You were a regular member of the Columbia Bible Seminar, alongside faculty members in the field from New York, including several Fordham professors.  How did you get involved in the seminar?

I forget who it was who realized that I was teaching Bible at YU and invited me. They tried to cast a wide net, and if you teach Bible and you’re in the New York Metropolitan area, you’re invited. I used to attend the seminars whenever I could, and ride back to Teaneck with Steve Garfinkel, who was the Associate Dean at the Jewish Theological Seminary. I spoke there on a number of occasions, usually about the Aramaic versions of the Bible or about biblical interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls, because the definition of what counts as Hebrew Bible in that seminar is very generous. It was another place where I got to belong to a community that was different from my own home base. That’s where I got to know Mary Callaway, a Protestant scholar who taught Hebrew Bible at Fordham for many years, because we would occasionally sit next to each other.

Did Fordham impact your later work?

My Fordham education perhaps had an indirect effect on my later scholarly career. The study of ancient texts in Greek and in Hebrew or Aramaic is very similar, once you get beneath the surface. Some of the specialized courses like Paleography and Textual Criticism, although they focused on Greek and Latin texts, were readily applicable to some of the textual material that I have studied, such as the Dead Sea Scrolls and later Aramaic texts as well. The training and methodology I received in reading Greek and Latin literary texts transferred easily to the study of ancient literature in other languages. And the intellectual discipline that Fordham’s program in classics demanded has certainly served me well in a variety of aspects of my work.

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

I admit that, based on my experience at Fordham more than a half century ago, I could not have imagined the program that you have developed. It gives me great pleasure to celebrate the creative leadership of your program and I look forward eagerly to learning about new initiatives.

Thank you, Professor Bernstein, for sharing these memories with us!

Resources on the War in Israel and Gaza

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex. In the aftermath of the brutal Hamas attack on Israeli communities and the ongoing war in Israel/Palestine, students and faculty have been asking for resources to help them understand the history of this conflict. Below are recent lectures, webinars, and panels addressing the current war as well as books, articles, and other materials that provide deeper historical context.

Reflections on thoughtful conversations in this difficult moment:

Oped in the NYTimes by Amaney Jamal and Keren Yarhi-Milo titled “The Discourse is Toxic. Universities Can Help” (Oct. 30)

Panel discussion at Princeton University (November 28), titled “The Current Israeli Palestinian Conflict: Constructive Campus Conversations,” with Amaney Jamal and Keren Yarhi-Milo, moderated by Chris Eisgruber

A conversation published in the Atlantic between Gal Beckerman and two writers Joshua Cohen, the author of The Netanyahus, and Ruby Namdar, the author Ruby Namdar, the author of The Ruined House, about the meaning of October 7th: “Two Jewish Writers, a Bottle of Whiskey, and a Post–October 7 Reality.”

Peter Cole, “Again on the Slaughter: A Response to the Israel-Hamas War” in Yale Review (November 2, 2023)

New Lecture Series about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:

We are currently hosting Hussein Ibish and David N. Myers for a four-part lecture series titled How Did We Get Here? A Deep Dive into the History of Israel and Palestine.”

Webinars and podcasts addressing the current moment:

October 8th Panel at 92ndY with Itamar Rabinovich, Richard Haass, Lihi Ben Shitrit, and Jodi Rudoren

October 9th Lecture with Ambassador Prof. Daniel Kurtzer, The Outbreak of War in Israel: A Geopolitical Update

October 12 Panel at Princeton, moderated by Razia Iqbal, featuring Daniel Kurtzer, Salam Fayyad, and Mona Yacoubian

October 12th Teach-in: War in Israel, Reflections from Brandeis Faculty, with Eva Bellin, Yuval Evri, Shai Feldman, Abdel Monem Said Aly, Jonathan D. Sarna, moderated by Alexander Kaye 

October 15th Conversation at Columbia University, “Israel at War: Live from Tel Aviv,” with Avi Shilon, moderated by Rebecca Kobrin

October 30th Conversation at Dartmouth College, “Hope Interrupted in Israel/Palestine,” with Mira Sucharov and Omar Dajani

A podcast interview from the Shalom Hartman Institute titled “Resilience and Ingenuity in Crisis” with Effie Shoham-Steiner, who was a Fordham-NYPL Fellow in 2022-2023, and who is involved in the Shomrim al Ha-Bait Ha-Meshutaf

Podcasts from the Luskin Center at UCLA:

Articles addressing the current moment:

In the aftermath of the Hamas massacre, Magda Teter published an article titled “Have We Scholars of Anti-Semitism Failed to Facilitate Empathy for Its Victims? What we can learn from scholars of anti-Black racism” on Public Seminar, and, via JTA, a longer version here.

In 2016-17, we hosted a series of events about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlighting groups working toward peace in our “In Dialogue” series. Among them was an event, titled “The Roadmap for A Shared Society, or How Jews and Arabs Can Live and Prosper Together,” with Yaniv Sagee and Mohammad Darawshe from Givat Haviva. Mohammad Darawshe’s cousin, Awad, was murdered by Hamas on October 7, 2023. Here is a recent New York Times article about him and those who have been working towards peace, “Peace, a Forgotten Word, Renews its Claim in the Holy Land.” Givat Haviva held a briefing by Michal Sella on October 12 about the current situation.

Rabbinic voices reflecting on the Hamas attack:

Rabbi Angela Buchdal’s sermon at Central Synagogue in Manhattan, “Israel at War: In the Beginning There Was The Word” (October 13).

Rabbi Sharon Brous at Ikar in Los Angeles, “We’ve Lost So Much. Let’s Not Lose Our Damn Minds” (October 14).

Rabbi Rachel Timoner at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn, “Shabbat B’reishit 5784 – Response to the Tragedy in Israel” (October 14).

Webinars related to the history of the conflict, Israel, and Zionism

In 2017-2018, David Myers and Hussein Ibish spoke at Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies in a series titled “A Different Take on Israel/Palestine: Shared Histories, Divergent Pathways.” The series was held before we began recording our events. These two scholars recorded a 2-hr mini-course and held a similar three-part series at the University of Scranton, available here:

Derek Penslar (Harvard) spoke at Fordham on Zionism: An Emotional State,” relating the history of Zionism through the lens of emotions and arguing that Zionism is a matrix of emotional states–bundles of feeling whose elements vary in volume, intensity, and durability across space and time–love, solidarity, fear, and hate.

Hollis Granoff Landauer spoke about “Kibbutz Haggadot in Mandatory Palestine.”

Amnon Reichman and Orit Avishai discussed the constitutional crisis in Israel in recent months.

You can watch recordings of additional events hosted by Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies related to Palestine/Israel here and about Jews in the Middle East and North African here.

Podcasts from the Crown Center for Middle East Studies at Brandeis University

Books about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict:

Resources about the history of antisemitism:

Books:

Lectures:

Banned! A History of Censorship

An exhibition at the Walsh Family Library. “Banned! A History of Censorship” was curated by Gabriella DiMeglio, Amy Levine-Kennedy, Hannorah Ragusa, and Magda Teter. On view until March 15, 2024.

Opening remarks by Magda Teter

Today, books, libraries, librarians, and writers are subject to attacks again. Recent bans of books across the United States targeting Black history, the Holocaust, and LGBTQ-themed books have dominated the news. We began working on this exhibit two years ago—before the most recent wave of bans. Since in its Judaica collection, Fordham holds a number of Hebrew books that were censored, banned, and expurgated from the sixteenth through the nineteenth centuries, we wanted to weave the story of censorship of Jewish books into the larger story of book censorship and book bans. In fact, some of the earliest examples of wholesale book burnings and censorship come from Christian Europe: the burning of Jewish books, with the burning of the Talmud, along with carts of Hebrew books, in Paris in 1242 perhaps most prominent.

This exhibit then explores the long history and practices of censorship, the methods to control and ban books and ideas, the resilience of censored works, and attempts to push back. Ultimately, censorship is about power. The power of ideas and the power to ban them. Ideas and books are banned when they are deemed threatening. While acts of censorship are about control and exercising power, they also demonstrate a sense of vulnerability of those who ban books. Authorities could ban books, but they could not destroy them or the ideas contained in them entirely. As the Talmud states, “the parchment burning, but its letters are flying to the heavens” (Talmud, AZ 18a).

As this exhibit demonstrates, cultural, religious, and moral values are never static. They change over time. If some of the books and ideas become acceptable, others might become abhorrent. Indeed, today some voices are heard complaining about universities not teaching major texts of “Western civilization,” we show that many of the books considered the core of the Big Books courses were originally banned across Europe–by both Protestant and Catholic authorities: Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, David Hume, Denis Diderot, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Stuart Mill, Immanuel Kant, and more. Major works of literature—cherished today—were also banned, among them Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables or Alexander Dumas’s Three Musketeers.

But as we explore the history of book banning and censorship, we also ask the viewers tough questions: Should all books and ideas be freely accessible? Are there or should there be limits of censorship or limits to access to knowledge? In 1942, to commemorate the anniversary of Nazi book burning, the New York Public Library hosted an exhibition about banned books and proudly noted that they had both the works of Karl Marx—burned by the Nazis—and Hitler’s Mein Kampf. This exhibit explores some of those themes and questions.

Because Fordham as a Catholic and Jesuit university was obliged to abide by the Index of Prohibited Books until its abolition in 1966, the exhibit also explores how Fordham dealt with books that were included in the Index. And what happened after the Index was abolished. It also touches upon the different roles Jesuits played in the history of book censorship as both those censoring and those who were censored.

I want to express my gratitude to the co-curators of the exhibit: Gabriella DiMeglio, Amy Levine-Kennedy, and Hannorah Ragusa FCRH’26. We are especially grateful to Linda Loschiavo, the Director of Fordham Libraries and Vivian Shen at the O’Hare Special Collection, who set up the exhibit with great care and attention to detail. Additional research has been provided by Samantha Sclafani FCLC’22 and Kevin Bogucki FCLC’23. The lecture series associated with the exhibit and student research have been made possible through the generosity of donors to the Center for Jewish Studies at Fordham.


Join us for two related events:

Sunday, November 12, 3 PM

A Tour of the Exhibit “Banned! A History of Censorship” with Andreea Badea, Goethe-University, Frankfurt

REGISTER


Sunday, December 3, 3PM

A Tour of the Exhibit “Banned! A History of Censorship” with Federica Francesconi, University of Albany

REGISTER


Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professor Alan Brill

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Professor Alan Brill, the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University. Professor Brill received his Ph.D. in Jewish mysticism from Fordham’s Theology Department, and is a leader in interfaith dialogue and research.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?

I am the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies at Seton Hall University, where I teach Jewish Studies in the Department of Religion and the Jewish-Christian Studies Graduate Program. My specialties include interfaith theology, Jewish mysticism, modern Jewish thought, and contemporary Jewish Orthodoxy. 

I have published several books, including Rabbi on the Ganges: A Jewish Hindu Encounter (Lexington, 2019); Judaism and World Religions: Christianity, Islam, and Eastern Religions (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Judaism and Other Religions: Models of Understanding (Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); and Thinking God: The Mysticism of Rabbi Zadok of Lublin (Yeshiva University Press, 2002).

I am director of a graduate MA program in Jewish-Christian Studies useful for many students who are teachers, clergy, or need to prepare for applying for a PhD. The program goes back to 1952, as the first program in Jewish-Christian reconciliation. 

Every year, I teach a course called “Encountering Other Religions,” based on my books on the topic. 

Beyond that, much of my time is spent in interfaith activities, especially on the global level, including in the UAE, Singapore, India, and Indonesia.  I have done interfaith work with Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Hindus, and Buddhists.  This interfaith work contributes to my teaching even on the undergraduate level in that Seton Hall is increasing its religious diversity with many Middle Eastern and Asian students. I like to quip that I may be the only person in the world who has taught at Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, and Hindu colleges and universities!

My latest article is entitled “A Jewish View of Contemporary Ideas of The Trinity,” which was published in the journal Modern Theology in April 2023. You cannot get more Fordham Theology Department than a Jewish view of Rahner and Moltmann on the Trinity. 

What brought you to Fordham?

I came to Fordham University because of Prof. Ewert Cousins, my doctoral advisor. I became part of the group that people nicknamed, somewhat critically by the others in the program, as  “Ewert youth.” 

I had been studying Jewish mysticism at Hebrew University with Moshe Idel and Rivka Shatz and wanted to finish my degree in the US. I went for a campus visit to Columbia University and one of the instructors, a professor of Islamic mysticism, told me in no uncertain terms that if I believe in mysticism and want to treat it with a phenomenological method then I had no choice but to go to Fordham University.  At the time, Moshe Idel, who had yet to release his book Kabbalah: New Perspectives, was becoming close to Bernard McGinn at the Divinity School at the University of Chicago and Ewert Cousins of Fordham University. That same month, there was an event dedicated to mysticism at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in which both Idel and Cousins spoke. I arranged to speak with Cousins at the end of the day after the event. 

Cousins’ presentation was about the psychological journey into the divine through mysticism, the mind’s ascent into the inter-divine structures culminating into a oneness with the divine. His was the only presentation to receive applause with an overwhelming ovation because his presentation was so unlike the other presentations, which were historical in orientation. I had my meeting with Cousins, where I told him about my interests. The meeting concluded with him inviting me to work with him and my feeling that he was going to be an ideal advisor.    

I applied to Fordham and received a distinguished graduate fellowship that did not require graduate assistantship work. So I went to Fordham.  Prof. Idel was my outside advisor, so I was the first person to do an actual Jewish Studies degree on a Jewish text in the Theology Department.

What do you remember about your time on campus? 

My courses were on the Rose Hill campus. It was before the new buildings or the renovation to the old building. I spent much of my time in the library in Duane, which was bursting at the seams. There were ad-hoc book shelves installed in odd places for the overflow and much had to be transferred to the basement of Keating Hall.  There were books shelved in the former confessional booths and naves on the first floor. Computers for data-bases were brand new and had to be placed on work tables together with their large dot-matrix printers.  

The central meeting place on campus was still the Rathskeller. Drinking age had only been raised in 1985 so the below ground Rathskeller was still the central meeting point and social spot on campus. They sold soft drinks, coffee, and light meals. I remember many an hour down there with fellow students. I don’t remember spending much time in Collins Hall where classes were held. 

I remember visiting classmates who lived on Arthur Ave in the midst of little Italy. I did not spend enough time there. 

I also saw Morningside Heights as an unofficial extension of the campus. Ewert Cousins taught each week one evening class at Columbia and had doctoral students at NYU, Columbia, and Union Theological Seminary. Therefore, the mysticism students, “the Ewert youth,” used to meet after his Columbia course at a cafe in Morningside Heights.  The group also included recent PhD graduates and junior professors in the field. 

The most vivid memories of my time at Fordham, etched into my mind, were the late 1980’s drug wars just outside the gate. It was NYC in its worst days. At the time, I lived in Washington Heights and the ride between the campus and the Heights passed through some of the worst drug neighborhoods. One could not avoid seeing crack deals, crimes committed, and SWAT teams making descents on buildings. In my youthful recklessness, I occasionally walked home where I could see the urban decay upclose in great detail. 

What was it like to be a Jewish student at Fordham, and in the Theology Department in particular?  

During my study in the Theology program, my social acceptance and comfort level were all due to the immense accomplishments of the Jewish-Christian encounter. I was accepted as an ordinary student along with the other non-Catholics, including Evangelicals, Mennonites, Greek Orthodox, and other Jewish students. In the Catholic climate, all priests were formally called Father even if they were first year graduate students. They showed me the same respect and always called me Rabbi. 

As the holder of one of the distinguished graduate fellowships, I was expected to show up for a variety of formal events including the reception and luncheon held for the superior general of the Society of Jesus.

They encouraged me to write my papers on parallel Jewish topics, for example if the topic was Aquinas, I wrote on Maimonides. 

How was Prof. Ewert Cousins as your professor?

My doctoral advisor Ewert Cousins garnered a cadre of students who listened eagerly to his intellectual and spiritual autobiography, which took leaps over the chasms between different spiritual worlds. For those seekers on the path of mysticism, his circle of students was the place to be. He was ever surprising in his connections to famous people and places he had been.

What made his class special was the fact that his own experiences were woven into the class. He was personally friendly with Raimundo Panikkar, for example. Cousins would come into class saying that Raimundo has a private set of keys for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which he used for a private mass in the middle of the night for Cousins. His spiritual autobiography included accounts of his time on an Indian reservation, study in Madras (Chennai) India, introducing Mother Teresa to the UN, and stories about theologians he had met in Rome.

In addition, he had regular field trips for his students. We visited Lex Hixon’s Tribeca Mosque for a private meeting with Lex about interfaith work followed by a dhikr ceremony. We visited the Jung library for a presentation on how to use their archetype library in our research into mysticism. He brought actual mystical practice and psychological spirituality into the program.

He was known outside of Fordham as the chief editorial consultant for the innovative Paulist Press series, The Classics of Western Spirituality, which forged new ground in interreligious encounters by having a Catholic press teach Jewish, Muslim, and Native American spirituality.  He was also the General Editor of the 25-volume series, World Spirituality: An Encyclopedic History of the Religious Quest (Crossroads). He saw spirituality as a journey to the inner dimension of the person wherein the ultimate reality is experienced.

Cousins was educated with a pre-Vatican II emphasis on studying the medieval classics in the original Latin and to be able to argue in a scholastic manner. It was a valuable complement to his teaching because he stressed going back to the original sources and knowing them from the inside.

Cousins had the most admirable quality of “willingness.” He was willing to serve on many doctoral committees with candidates undergoing what he called “A rite of passage” or a “transformation of consciousness.” Never soft, he was pushed back to reach the meaning in a mystical text or dissertation, a persistent inquirer into the inner and outer worlds of human nature in relation to God. He had a passionate and confident faith in the innate bridge between the human and divine. 

What were some of your other favorite courses and professors at Fordham?

I especially enjoyed Fr. James Kennan’s class on the new topic, at the time, of virtue ethics. The class was organized and focused, which allowed me to be fully conversant in the literature on virtue ethics. He was honest in the fact that there were limits on what he could say on sensitive theological topics if he wanted to continue to teach in Catholic institutions. 

John Heaney was just a mensch. He was easy to work with and his work was a nice complement to other courses. His work on the role of the psychic, paranormal, and psychological in faith commitment was useful in the study of mysticism. 

I greatly enjoyed the language intensives in French and German. They were very well done. The French instructor occasionally brought her young daughter to class. At one point toward the end of the semester, the French instructor came into class and said that her daughter likes my French chapeau. The daughter mistook my kippah for a chapeau. Everyone had a good laugh.   

You currently hold the Cooperman/Ross Endowed Chair for Jewish-Christian Studies in the Department of Religion at Seton Hall University, where you also serve as the Director of Graduate Studies.  What has your experience been teaching Jewish Studies and Jewish-Christian relations at a Catholic University?  In what ways has your experience at Seton Hall been similar and different from Fordham?

My experience at Fordham clearly prepared me well for my position at Seton Hall. They are very similar. Seton Hall sees Jewish-Christian reconciliation as part of its mission. The MA program in Jewish-Christian Studies is specifically unique for this purpose.  My experience has been a wonderful experience. I have not found anyone to be unwelcoming, and given the school’s location in New Jersey, my colleagues and students have already lived alongside and befriended many Jews. 

In 2008, you returned to Fordham to deliver the Gannon Lecture.  What did you speak about and what were your impressions?

I was invited by Prof. Terrence Tilly to give the lecture in consultation with the Development Office.  I spoke about “Is There Still a Mysticism to Mysticism After Modernity?” When I was at Fordham, mysticism was treated as deeply psychological and seen as reaching a mysterious core. The old approaches of treating mysticism as symbolism, ineffability, transitory or in Jundgian categories was on the wane. By the 21st century, we tended not to treat it in a variety of new approaches including meditation-contemplation with reproducible instructions, esotericism and kabbalistic theosophy, a metaphorical diary of inner experiences and somatic sensations, a spiritual holism with political claims, and a personal hermeneutic of older imagery.  The lecture had a phenomenal turnout with at least 100 people more than they expected.  They brought in Prof. Cousins, who was frail at the time, and introduced him before I spoke. He received a standing ovation. 

The Fordham Development Office did most of the orchestration and had me meet with donors before the event and then took us out for dinner afterwards at the kosher restaurant Levana across the street. 

You have also spent time researching and teaching in India and at Oxford University.  What did you do in both these places?

I received a Fulbright Senior Scholar Award to teach and research in India, at Banares Hindu University in Varanasi. I taught two courses, “Judaism” and “Introduction to the Study of Religion” in the MA program in philosophy and religion. I also gave lectures in the Sociology of Religion Department. For them, non-textual approaches to religion such as festivals or daily ritual observances, are studied under sociology not philosophy. My time in India produced my book Rabbi on The Ganges: A Jewish Hindu Encounter (Lexington, 2019), a work of comparative theology introducing Hinduism to a Jewish audience, but my Hindu readers love it as a translation of traditional ritual Hinduism into Western terms. 

I have been back to India since then. During my recent trip I spoke to experts in Tantra and Yoga about comparisons to Kabbalistic kavvanot – Jewish mystical prayer visualizations. I spoke at the Tantra Institute in New Delhi and in various Ashrams. The subsequent trip allowed me to confirm and refine my earlier observations. 

At Oxford University, I was part of a working group dedicated to Modern Orthodox Judaism.  I was working on a full length study of the history of the ideologies of Modern Orthodox Judaism from 1800-2000, situated within the broader question of “What is ‘Modern’ about Modern Orthodoxy?” I am comparing the trajectory of Jewish Orthodoxy over the last two hundred years with that of Catholicism and Protestantism. Most of that research is still awaiting my organizing it for publication. 

You have also spent time teaching in Indonesia. What did you do there?

In Indonesia, I taught a course at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Java on comparative mysticism. It was the university’s way to introduce them to Judaism as in continuity with their own mystical beliefs. Thanks to Fordham, I had the ability to teach in a comparative way, which led to my being chosen for the position. I also spoke about Judaism in various Muslim, Christian, and Hindu colleges around the country. Part of my goal there was to introduce Judaism to the largest Muslim country in the world. Personally, I learned much about South East Asian religion and its many differences from other forms of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. 

Since then, I was invited back for the R-20 summit, part of the G20 summit subsidiary events, in 2022 in Bali and Yogyakarta. I spoke on dealing with difficult texts as one of several exemplars to encourage the moderate Muslim community. I still maintain contacts in the region. 

From my journeys to Asia and writing about Hinduism from a traditional Jewish perspective, I have now become a contact person on topics in which Judaism meets an Asian religion. Therefore I receive many questions not just about Hinduism, but also about Jainism, Sikhism, Buddhism, and Shintoism. I have been on many panels on reclaiming the Swastika with Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists, where I represent the Jewish interlocutor. 

Currently, I am working on a book with the working title of “A Jewish Theology of Religious Diversity.”

Did Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic mission impact the work that you do, in the classroom, in your research, or in other contexts, and if so, how?

I found Fordham to support intellectual study in a religious dialogical context with attention to the spiritual and psychological. Its mission has definitely impacted my scholarship and teaching. But more than that, its method has influenced my scholarship. Catholic theological categories are integral to my teaching and writing on theological topics. Whereas much of modern Jewish thought was formulated against a Protestant background, my formulations start with Catholic theological categories. This is certainly true about mysticism but also on topics like revelation, prayer, and encountering other religions.  

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

Yes, it would be nice if Jewish Studies @ Fordham works with its connection to a premiere Theology Department in order to start a graduate program in Jewish Theology. Not the history of Jewish thought, rather a parallel track in Jewish Theology to the degree programs in Christian Theology. Require the same methodology courses for the Jewish track and bring in visiting scholars to help develop the program.  I am ready any time you call. 

Thank you, Professor Brill, for sharing your Fordham story with us!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Elisabeth Tetlow

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Elisabeth Tetlow, who studied Philosophy and Theology at Fordham in the late 1960s and reflects on her time on campus. Her daughter, Tania Tetlow, is now Fordham University’s president!

When did you arrive at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time? 

I was at Fordham from 1965 through 1970. It was the height of anti-Vietnam War protests in which we took an active part. Girls had just been accepted into Thomas More College, but the campus was far from co-ed. The faculty in my departments were primarily Jesuits. My fellow students were all Catholic and predominantly male.

What motivated you to study Theology, and ancient religion in particular? 

As an undergrad at Barnard, I had double majored in eastern and western religion. I was fortunate to have access to all the courses at Columbia, Union, and teachers from JTS and St. Vladimir’s Russian Orthodox Theological Seminary.  In the summers I worked in Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon for the World Council of Churches. I studied modern Hebrew and took Israeli folk dancing for P.E. Although the resources at Columbia were great, there were no courses or faculty who were Catholic. Upon graduation in 1964, there were no graduate programs in Catholic theology open to lay people or women in the US, so I went to Germany, where I studied theology for a year. But it was a pontifical program and they required 2 years of philosophy.  So I came to Fordham. The Fordham Philosophy Department was superb. After that I decided to stay at Fordham to study Theology.

Elisabeth Tetlow with her daughter and granddaughter.

Did your studies at Fordham include Hebrew Bible and ancient Judaism? 

Yes, I studied Hebrew language and Bible, but not Judaism. However, we gathered for seders every year at Passover. I spent the summer of 1969 in Jerusalem, doing dissertation research at the Ecole Biblique on Qumran influence on the Epistle to the Hebrews and working on the dig on the southwest corner of the Temple Mount under Benjamin Mazar of the Hebrew University. 

Was there a particular course or teacher who made a lasting impression on you? 

Raymond Brown who was actually at Union, but then Union was linked with the Theology Department at Fordham. And Joe Fitzmyer, SJ, for Aramaic and Qumran. Both great teachers, great scholars, and men of faith.

In addition to studying religion, theology, law, and philosophy, you also studied Semitic languages.  What languages did you study at Fordham? 

At Fordham, I studied Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic, and Arabic at Columbia.

What work did you do at Loyola University? 

I taught in the Religious Studies Department and I am still a scholar-in-residence in that department.

You’ve published several books, including two volumes on women, crime, and punishment in the ancient world.  What led you to this topic of research?  What did you discover in the process of writing this book? 

I think it was trying to put together Law and Ancient Studies.  I gained much knowledge and respect for Ancient Near Eastern civilizations and was impressed with the role of women as priests, high priests, and other offices. My first book was on “Women and Ministry in the New Testament” and the subject of women’s ordination is still a primary focus in my life. Some day it will happen.

In what ways did Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic missions impact the work you did while you were on campus and long after you left? 

On campus I ran the student retreat program and am still in touch with many of those former students.  It was very successful, but died after the New York Province kicked the Jesuit grad students out of Weigel Hall, the locus of all student ministry at the time. While at Fordham I began making annual retreats in the Spiritual Exercises and later did both 30-day and 19th annotation retreats.  This had a major formative influence on my life and work.  In 1980, I spent a year doing a gender-inclusive language translation of the Exercises, published by the College Theology Society and St. Joseph’s University.

On a Fordham University trip to Rome.

What advice do you have for current students at Fordham? 

Appreciate what you have at Fordham – it is a unique and wonderful time and place – and make lots of friends for the rest of your lives.

Thank you for sharing so many memories and such great advice with us!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman, who teaches courses related to Judaism and Theology in the Theology Department at Fordham University.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

I am a New Yorker, an ordained rabbi, and a member of the adjunct faculty at Fordham, teaching in the Theology Department.  I love teaching and am very invested in my students.

I am a proud member of the Contingent Faculty Union, and as one of the longest-standing adjuncts at Fordham, I teach two classes per semester.

Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman

I did my graduate work at the Jewish Theological Seminary on the Upper West Side.  My thesis examined how the two principal religious traditions in the Hebrew Bible – Priestly and Deuteronomic – engaged memory as an instrument for sustaining the covenant between God and Israel.  The Priestly tradition, I argued, sought to provide sensory vehicles for engaging God’s memory while the Deuteronomic tradition exhorted Israel to be ever mindful of its obligations to God.  

More recently, I have become interested in exploring the possibility of constructing a Jewish diasporic and anti-racist theology of liberation, and in how the Jewish concept of “love of neighbor” may intersect with the Kingian “Beloved Community.”

When did you begin teaching at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time?  

I began teaching at Fordham in 2008.  My sense then was that there tended to be a demographic difference between the students at Rose Hill (who tended to be traditional college age, and predominantly Catholic, many of whom attended Catholic schools before coming to Fordham) and the students at Lincoln Center (who were more diverse in terms of age, cultural background, and religious identity).  Now, the Lincoln Center cohort tends to be traditional college age like their Rose HIll counterparts, but remain more diverse in terms of cultural background and religious identity.  While once the majority of my students at Rose Hill were Catholic, now I often have classes with few to no Catholic students, and even a small number of people identifying as Christian.  

In my early years at Fordham, I often felt I was going a little rogue in my syllabi by including readings like Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow in a mandatory theology course. But in the last several years, the Theology Department has mandated that all Faith and Critical Reason classes include a unit that addresses racial justice issues — and in 2018, Michelle Alexander helped inaugurate the university’s First Year Experience for Theology students, in conversation with Dr. Bryan Massingale.

Poster for event featuring Michelle Alexander in conversation with Rev. Bryan Massingale

You teach several core courses in the Theology Department.  Can you tell us what they are and how you approach each one?

My training is in biblical studies – specifically the Hebrew Bible, but because of the universal requirement in the Core Curriculum for THEO 1000, I usually teach at least one section of “Faith and Critical Reason.”  In addition, I teach courses on various parts of the Hebrew Bible and, occasionally, a course on “Classic Jewish Texts.”  

Outside of Fordham, I am an anti-racism activist, particularly around the issues of mass incarceration and policing.  I hold the conviction that theology and religion are meaningless unless they are related to the social issues of our day, and I am transparent about this with my students.  I start each semester – no matter what course I am teaching – by telling my students I want them to leave my class more aware of the existence of incarcerated populations in our state and country and of their lived reality.  Over time, I have adopted an anti-racist hermeneutic in my teaching and regard that as a key feature of my pedagogy.

My section of “Faith and Critical Reasoning” exhibits a decided emphasis on social justice and marginalized perspectives.  The first half of the course is devoted to readings in theology. I begin with Tolstoy and Kant to engage in the relationship between faith on the one hand and reason on the other, and then move from the supposed objectivity of Kant to feminist theology, womanist theology, Kingian theology, Black Liberation theology, and queer theology. The second half of the course focuses on contemporary social justice issues, including systemic racism and incarceration, refugees, climate change, and human rights.

I make sure that my sacred texts class also include opportunities to talk about racism and mass incarceration by linking biblical and rabbinic material to contemporary concerns. For example, when teaching about the biblical laws of slavery, I include material on prison labor which is a constitutionally sanctioned form of slavery. I will often pair the study of the exodus with the use of that tradition in liberation struggles. Last semester, my course on Prophets concluded with a unit on contemporary or recent social justice activists. Students were asked to consider the extent to which they might be seen as prophet voices today. 

Many students encounter Jewish texts for the first time in your courses. What is that experience like for you as an instructor? Do any particularly surprising or moving moments come to mind?

That’s an interesting question.  Most students, including Jewish students, have little to no experience with Jewish ways of looking at the Bible or God. Most don’t realize that Judaism is not the same thing as biblical religion. They aren’t used to the idea that serious Jews are okay with challenging the Bible and God.  So there is a lot of framing required.  But at the end of the day, I think studying Jewish texts encourages students to get comfortable with wrestling with religious ideas and living with unresolved conflicts.

You’re both an academic and a rabbi.  Firstly, can you share more about what it’s like to combine those roles, and secondly, can you reflect on how your role as a rabbi impacts your work with Fordham students?

Since I don’t lead a congregation, my classroom is a big part of my rabbinate. I like to think my students get something special from my courses, especially with respect to thinking about incarcerated people. Because my rabbinate is also “in the streets,” and I talk about my activism, I hope my students come to see that they, too, can become active in political advocacy and protest.

Rabbi Dr. Barat Ellman speaking at an event.

You’re also active in several social justice causes, and you teach in the Bard Prison Initiative. What has that experience been like? What are some of the similarities and differences between teaching at Fordham and BPI?

I taught for BPI for three years, and have to say that it was a transformational experience.  The opportunity to get to know and work with incarcerated people opened my eyes to life in prison and jails and to the humanity of incarcerated people.  That invisibility serves to dehumanize incarcerated people and make them appear as entirely other to the non-incarcerated population.

As for similarities and differences in teaching for BPI and Fordham, once I am in the classroom, the experiences are pretty much alike.  The biggest difference is that prison education can often be disrupted in ways that don’t happen in a university.  Prisons go into lockdown.  Students are placed into solitary confinement and have to miss class.  I had two students for whom that happened once. One of them returned to class after a couple of weeks; the other – a really brilliant student and excellent writer – never came back.  Sometimes students are transferred to another facility and have to drop out of the program.  What is amazing to me is the deep commitment to their education on the part of BPI students.  A lot of my Fordham students could learn from that model.

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

It’s great that Jewish Studies is now part of Fordham’s curriculum.  I hope it can grow into a full fledged major.

Thank you, Barat, for sharing your teaching philosophy and activism with us in this interview!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, who teaches Jewish Law and other courses at Fordham Law School.

When did you start teaching at Fordham Law School and can you describe the sorts of courses you teach and the range of students who, over the years, have taken your courses?

I started teaching Jewish law at Fordham in the fall of 2007.  In the fall, I teach an adjunct course at Fordham Law School in comparative religious law – Jewish, Canon and Islamic.  The course focuses on developing models for comparing legal systems, as well as on the role of values/ethical norms in legal systems. I deliberately choose “hot” topics, like war, the environment, and economic regulation. The Jewish law course I taught between 2007-2010 drew primarily, but not exclusively, Jewish students; students in the comparative religious law course, by contrast, come from Christian and Jewish backgrounds.  Most students have an interest in subjects related to religion.

In addition, I am also the Jewish Scholar-in-Residence at the Institute for Law, Religion and Lawyer’s Work, which is guided by the role that mutual understanding and dialogue play in the practice of law. Jewish, Muslim, Christian and Hindu students participate by creating programming that includes everything from lectures and conferences to interreligious dialogue about working as religious lawyers.  

Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard delivering an opening prayer at the dedication ceremony for the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room at Walsh Library in October 2022

Does a particular moment at Fordham stand out for you?

Just a few memories: There was the very traditional Orthodox student who joined because he realized that he would probably play a leadership role in his community and would need to know how to interact with leaders of other faiths.

There were Muslim women, both Sunni and Shia, who created cross-cultural programming and at the same time helped guide incoming students through the challenges of wearing headscarves in professional practice.

There was the Wolf Law Lecture I gave on ambiguity in Jewish law that brought in a large range of lawyers, high school teachers, university faculty and students from the wider Jewish and Christian communities.  

These memories are just a few of the many experiences I have had that have shown me that Fordham is an environment that supports inter-religious dialogue, both academic, personal, and communal. My sense is that there is genuine respect for alternative faith traditions. There is also an academic commitment to intellectual breadth and rigorous standards. Even more important,  from my perspective, as a Jesuit school there is an educational commitment to fully developing the students—intellectually, psychologically, socially, and spiritually.   

Endy Moraes and Tsvi Blanchard at an event about workplace interfaith dialogue hosted by Fordham Law School’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work (photo credit: Lindsey Pelucacci)

You split your time between New York and Berlin, where, since 2011, you have been the Meyer Struckmann Professor of Jewish Law at the Law Faculty of Humboldt University.  Can you tell us more about that experience?

When I began teaching at Fordham in 2007, I had just completed my first semester of teaching Jewish law at Humboldt University zu Berlin. I continued teaching there yearly from April though the end of July, eventually becoming the Meyer-Struckman Professor of Jewish Law in 2011.  I teach one large introductory course as well as an advanced seminar that draws law students from other European countries besides Germany. In addition, my work there includes teaching two courses in the theology faculty—one in Bible and traditional Jewish commentary, and the other an advanced seminar connecting theology/religion to the functions of narrative and the social sciences.

Throughout your long career, you have taught in many different contexts, including at other Catholic institutions, secular institutions, and Jewish institutions.  In what ways (if any) has teaching at Fordham Law School differed from these other contexts?

I have mostly taught at secular universities: ten years at Washington University in St. Louis in Philosophy and Jewish Studies and some 14 years at Humboldt University in Berlin in the Law and Theology Faculties. But I also taught at Catholic – always Jesuit – universities: Theology at Loyola in Chicago and Law at Fordham. Both secular and Catholic universities valued teaching and research and shared a relatively open attitude to inquiry. They also had strong ethical values that informed teaching. For obvious reasons, religious commitment played a greater role in student life in the Jesuit colleges but, in my opinion, the focus on both secular and Catholic schools is on academic excellence in both teaching and research.

You have also served in various other positions throughout your career, not only in academia but also in psychology, social advocacy, and education.  Do these previous endeavors find their way into your work at Fordham, and if so how?

My work outside of academia impacts my understanding of teaching and my relationship with students. Over thirty years of practice as a psychologist I learned to appreciate the special value of relationships in supporting personal growth. My work has been in varied educational settings. I was the principal and also a teacher at an Orthodox Jewish high school.  I was a part time teacher and spiritual director at a rabbinical school. And, I spent years doing informal  “adult education” courses for Jewish leaders.

From these experiences, I have come to seek creating an educational experience that provides:

1. Growth in knowledge

2. Increased sophistication of thought process

3. The discovery of and commitment to personal educational and life goals

4.  A desire for lifelong learning in the subject area

5. The expansion of moral perception

6. A commitment to making a difference in society

7. A sense of one’s value as a person

At Fordham, I have tried to teach in a way that accomplishes these goals. My class aims to help students understand themselves as capable of enjoying serious intellectual inquiry in comparative law; it also invites them to assume responsibility for making a difference in the world.

There is also an interpersonal dimension. I encourage students to feel free to contact me with any questions and concerns about the course material and their own research. I keep saying, “You are not bothering me; that’s what I’m here for.” I make it clear that I always learn from my students.

Through your previous work at CLAL and with the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding, you have been an advocate for religious pluralism and diversity.  In 2007, you joined a delegation of bishops and rabbis for a meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Rome.  Can you tell us about that meeting?  

My approach invites openness to a variety of approaches to life, belief and law. For many years, personally and professionally, I have been actively working to foster mutual understanding between different religious paths; alternative approaches to understanding human life, different ethical, religious, and philosophical beliefs, and also differing forms or ways of life.  My primary focus has been on dialogue across boundaries. This commitment to serious cross-boundary dialogue has been a part of my work since the 1980’s and is an important element in my work at the Fordham Institute for Law, Religion and Lawyer’s Work. In general, the Fordham University that I know has a strong commitment to dialogue and mutual understanding between different religious and intellectual traditions.

A interfaith trip to Auschwitz with bishops and rabbis, including Rabbi Tsvi Blanchard, in 2007

Over the years, my participation in international Jewish- Catholic dialogue has brought me into serious relationships and contact with interesting, value-driven people. In addition to ongoing Catholic-Jewish dialogue, there were brief encounters with Pope Benedict and Pope Francis.

While I already knew and appreciated Benedict’s academic work, I was most struck by the loving and caring attention he paid to people with disabilities, even putting the high-power invited guests on hold until he finished encouraging disabled people. Francis was engaging, completely human and spiritual all at once. I met him with a group and yet he somehow managed to make each of us feel that he was talking to us individually. I left my meetings with both Benedict and Francis once more aware that no human tradition, mine included, has a monopoly on truth and spiritual seeking.

Thank you, Rabbi Blanchard, for sharing these memories and lessons with us!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Linda LoSchiavo

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Linda LoSchiavo, Director of Fordham Libraries, about her work building Fordham’s Holocaust and Jewish Studies Collections.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do at Fordham?

I am the Director of Libraries at Fordham University, which means I administer Walsh Library at Rose Hill, Quinn Library at Lincoln Center, and the Library at the Fordham Westchester campus.  My University Library Director’s responsibility runs the gamut from providing strategic vision and leadership for an amazing staff and distinguished collections, to budget management, space planning, and crisis management. My two Master’s degrees (M.S., Pratt Institute and M.A., Fordham) didn’t adequately prepare me for the myriad skills required for this position, but even during the craziest of days, my job is a joy.

Linda LoSchiavo at the Fordham Library

When did you arrive at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time?

My life at Fordham actually began when I was a freshman at Thomas More College, which was then Fordham’s women’s college. The war in Vietnam had escalated and Fordham did not escape the unrest that was roiling the campuses of colleges and universities. By the time I began my employment at the University in 1975, the campus turmoil had quieted down, Fordham, except for the dormitories, was fully coeducational (although men still heavily outnumbered women), and I began my position as a cataloger in the Keating Library Annex, located in the basement of Keating Hall, now the home of WFUV, Fordham’s radio station. The library resources at Rose Hill were not centrally located in Duane, which held the general Humanities book collection, and the Reference, Circulation, and Reserve departments. There were separate Biology, Chemistry, and Physics libraries scattered in various buildings on campus. The Technical Services departments (Acquisitions, Cataloging, Serials) as well as Government Documents, and collections of older monographs and back runs of periodicals were all in the Keating Library Annex. The library at Lincoln Center, located in the Lowenstein Building on West 60th Street, was a drab, leaky, crowded space.  There was no Westchester campus at that time.

A Class at Thomas More College
Duane Library, which served as Rose Hill’s main campus library and now serves as a classroom
Duane Library

Fordham’s Libraries – and libraries in general – have evolved significantly during your time at the university.  Can you share with us some of the biggest changes you’ve observed?

The greatest changes in the Fordham Library have been the technological advances that have shaped the way our libraries serve our users. When I began at Fordham, Catalogers were still typing catalog cards and staff were filing them in the large public catalog in Duane Library. In 1986 I assumed the position of Head of Retrospective Conversion and as such was responsible for the transfer of almost 1,000,000 bibliographic records from physical cards to electronic format. This conversion allowed us to have our full catalog available to our users on each campus in each library. We rapidly progressed from an automated library catalog to making electronic databases available through our online catalog.  Today we offer a myriad online services to our users: catalogs from across the world, hundreds of databases, collections of ebooks and ejournals, digital Interlibrary Loan systems, document delivery services, digital archives including photo and video files, an institutional repository, virtual Reference services, chat Reference, a library blog, various social media profiles, and more on the way. Our technological capabilities further exploded once we moved into Walsh Library in 1997 where we had an entire floor (the Lower level Electronic Information Center) devoted to digital and electronic services, something quite innovative at the time. The EIC includes various technologies for students as well as a fully operational video production studio. In the Fall of 2022 the LITE Center opened on the Lower Level. This Learning and Innovative Technology Center, designed for faculty and student use, contains various teaching and learning software, as well as podcasting rooms, and a Makerspace.  The Quinn Library at LC quickly outgrew its space and in 2016 we moved to 140 West 62nd Street, into the completely renovated former home of the Fordham Law Library. This afforded us greater space and greater variety in the services we could offer our users.

Staffing has also changed dramatically. Librarians continue to support faculty curriculum and teaching needs, and instruct students in research, but must also be technologically fluent, with solid IT skills and competencies. Reference services have expanded with the teaching of information literacy becoming an essential and critical component of a librarian’s job. 

Linda speaking at the dedication of the Henry S. Miller Judaica Research Room at Walsh Library in October 2022

The origins of Fordham’s Rosenblatt Holocaust Collection serve as a great example of the impact that an individual can have on a university’s intellectual life.  Can you tell us the story of how Fordham’s Holocaust collection originated and grew?

In 1982, Mr. Sidney Rosenblatt, a WWII vet and non-traditional age Fordham student, graduated with honors in History from FCLC. Sidney continued to audit history courses after he graduated and took a course with Professor Ed Bristow which covered the Holocaust in Europe. Assigned to do a paper, Sidney was disappointed by the University Library’s holdings in this area. He was an avid library user, so he decided to provide his alma mater with a comprehensive collection on the Holocaust. “Before I’m through I hope [Fordham University] will have the best collection of Holocaust materials of any college.” Sidney was a born bibliographer and he worked with me, my staff, and particular vendors in this field, to acquire those volumes and items of the most intrinsic value for a Holocaust collection. What began 30 years ago in 1992 with approximately 200 books, has now reached more than 11,000 volumes, in more than 9 languages and includes archival videos and Holocaust artifacts. Based on size alone, the Rosenblatt Holocaust Collection is among the top 25 Holocaust collections in the world. 

I remained close to both Sidney and his wife Minna, who owned Minna Rosenblatt Antiques on Madison Ave, adjacent to the (then) Whitney Museum. She was one of the world’s foremost experts in Tiffany glass and when she died much of the collection was auctioned at Christie’s. (See Fordham catalog: Important Tiffany and art glass from the Minna Rosenblatt Gallery SPEC COLL 2003 6)

Linda LoSchiavo with Sidney Rosenblatt and Edward Bristow

Is there a particular moment or book that stands out for you in Fordham’s current Jewish Studies collection?

The Fordham University Library has encouraged and nurtured Jewish Studies, even “before Jewish Studies” by its comprehensive collection building in all areas of the Humanities. However, I think the book that stands out for me in our current Jewish Studies collection is the Barcelona Haggadah, an illuminated Passover compendium from 14th century Catalonia in facsimile. This exquisite volume, the gift of an extremely generous donor, was the first Jewish text to be added to our facsimile collection. Prior to this, Fordham’s facsimile collection was heavily Roman Catholic.

A page from the Barcelona Haggadah

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

Having worked with Magda Teter for the past five years, I have no doubt that Fordham’s Jewish Studies program will grow to be one of the finest in the United States. Magda provides vision, leadership, and a seemingly unstoppable momentum.  She is a wonderful partner and a generous collaborator.

Thank you, Linda, for sharing these reflections with us!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professor Daniel Soyer

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Daniel Soyer, Professor of History at Fordham University, whose research and teaching focuses on Jews in New York.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and the work that you do?

I am a historian of American Jewry, and especially of Yiddish-speaking immigrants from Eastern Europe who arrived in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries – and especially in New York City, which then became the greatest Jewish metropolis of all time. From that starting point, I have also written on New York politics, which, of course, had a strong ethnic component. My training was in US immigration history, and I teach that at Fordham, along with courses in American urban history, the history of New York City, and modern Jewish history.

My scholarly interests, I guess, are also very personal. I was born in New York and grew up in Queens. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for over forty years now, commuting to the Bronx since 1997. I’m interested in my own urban surroundings, and in my own background as an American Jew. I love living in the midst of the history I study.

My friend, the late artist Yonia Fain, used to say that when he was sitting in a room with one other person, he always felt that there was a third person present – and that third person was History. Yonia lived through many of the cataclysmic events of the 20th century. My own life has been much, much less dramatic, and much, much less traumatic, but I also have the feeling of being made up of history, even if that history is that of gradual social and cultural processes.

Daniel Soyer (photo credit: Patrick Verel)

When did you start teaching at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time? 

I started teaching at Fordham in 1997. My impression is that Fordham was then in transition from being an essentially local (maybe regional) and parochial (in the narrowest sense) institution to one that had wider horizons both organizationally and intellectually.

Your area of research is American Jewish history, and the history of Jews in New York in particular.  Most recently, you published Left of Center: The Liberal Party of New York and the Rise and Fall of American Social Democracy (2021), and you edited two books: The Jewish Metropolis: New York from the 17th to the 21st Centuries (2021) and Jewish New York: The Remarkable Story of a City and a People (2017).  Your earlier work included studies of Jewish immigration to New York, Jewish immigrant associations, the stories of Eastern European immigrants to America, capitalism, socialism, and globalization. How did you become interested in the history of Jews in New York, and what are some of the contributions to scholarship that you are most proud of?

One correction: I was a co-author of Jewish New York: The Remarkable Story of a City and a People, which itself is a one-volume version of the three-volume City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York (2012), of which I co-wrote with Annie Polland the middle volume, The Emerging Metropolis: New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920. It’s a complicated citation!

I started graduate school at NYU with the goal of getting an MA in History and training as an archivist. I was interested in Jewish history, and especially in Eastern Europe. But the action in the History Department seemed to be in American history, and so I shifted my focus in that direction, to look at Eastern European Jews as they arrived and got settled in the US. In a course she offered at the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, Dr. Jenna Weissman Joselit suggested that someone do research in the fantastic collection of records of the landsmanshaftn (Jewish immigrant hometown societies) that YIVO had recently amassed. I said, “I’ll do that.” That became not only my MA thesis and PhD dissertation, but also my first book.

Some things I’m proud of:

  • The book on landsmanshaftn, which shows how the immigrants Americanized on their own terms;
  • In the collection of immigrant autobiographies that I edited and translated with Jocelyn Cohen, bringing to light the stories of “ordinary” people’s lives as they themselves saw them;
  • Showing the continued connections between immigrant Jews in the US and the “old country” through travel and travel writing, and the ways in which those connections influenced political attitudes;
  • Raising the historical profile of the anti-Communist left, which I think has been neglected in the historiography.

What are you currently working on?

I have finally decided to drop the pretense, and get to the point. I am writing a history of my own family in the context of modern Jewish history, or maybe it’s a history of the modern Jewish experience through the lens of one family from the Russian Pale of Settlement to the US and Israel. Hopefully, this will not be a narrow genealogy, but an exploration of the tremendous transformations in Jewish life that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries, including the rise of modern cultural, political and religious movements; mass migrations; integration; genocide; the revival of Jewish sovereignty; and revolutions in the ways Jewish identities were constructed.

One thing that working on this project has done is bring me back to my original interest in Russian Jewish history. I’m trying to excavate the life of my great-grandfather, Abraham Soyer, as he grew up in a traditional milieu in a Russian shtetl, moved his family to “deep Russia,” emigrated to the US, and became involved in the revival of Hebrew as a modern literary language.

A drawing of Abraham Soyer by his son, Raphael Soyer
(“Untitled,” c. 1925, Jewish Museum)

Your family has deep roots in the Bronx.  Your grandfather, Moses, and his twin brother, Raphael, were both well-known artists.  Can you tell us more about your family’s story and how your personal history intersects with your research?

My great-grandparents Avrom and Beyle were raising their six children in the provincial Russian city of Borisoglebsk, where Avrom was a Hebrew teacher to the small Jewish community there. When he lost his permit to live outside of the Pale of Settlement, he and Beyle chose to emigrate. The oldest children, twins Moses and Raphael, were twelve. They first went to Philadelphia, where they had family (an example of “chain migration”), but soon moved to New York, where prospects for a teacher of Hebrew and Hebrew Bible were better. They settled in the Bronx, where Moses, Raphael, and their siblings grew up. As you mention, Moses and Raphael became painters, as did their younger brother Isaac.

Moses Soyer, “Three Brothers” (Brooklyn Museum)

Everyone else – brother Israel, and sisters Rebecca and Fannie, became teachers. New York City became their new homeland, whether they were centered in the Bronx, the Upper West Side of Manhattan (including Lincoln Square – see Raphael’s painting, “Farewell to Lincoln Square”), or in Bohemian Greenwich Village. 

Raphael Soyer’s “Farewell to Lincoln Square” (1959)

I should also mention that my mother grew up in the Bronx, where she attended Taft High School. Her father was a prominent local dentist and her mother was a school teacher. They lived on and around the Grand Concourse, which is where prominent Bronx dentists and such tended to live.

My mother’s grandparents all immigrated to New York in the 1880s and 1890s, so my roots in the city go back well over a century – of continuous residence! I feel fortunate to have that personal connection to a place that is also such a fertile field for historical research.

Rebecca teaching Moses to dance in Raphael Soyer’s “Dancing Lesson” (Jewish Museum)
A letter from Moses Soyer to his grandson Daniel Soyer (Smithsonian Archives of American Art)

One of the dominant themes in your work is immigration.  How does working at a university founded by immigrants, in a city of immigrants, impact the research and teaching that you do?

One of the purposes of studying history is to enable one to see one’s surroundings in four dimensions – in time as well as in space. Even though my research is on the immigrant wave of a century ago, it gives me some perspective on the immigrant city I live and work in now. And vice versa, observing the living immigrant city informs my perspective on the past.

Teaching immigration history, urban history, and Jewish history in New York City is great. The students can go outside and see how what they are studying looks in real life. They can do this on their own, of course, but in all my classes I also assign activities that involve finding traces of the past in today’s city. We also always go on at least one field trip together, something like a walking tour of a neighborhood like the South Bronx, Washington Heights, Harlem, the Lower East Side, or Jackson Heights.

What Jewish Studies courses do you typically teach on campus, and what inspired you to teach them?

I teach “HIST 1851: Jews in the Modern World,” a survey of modern Jewish history that is one of the choices among the History Department’s “Understanding Historical Change” courses that students must take as part of the Core Curriculum. Students also have a chance to write papers on Jewish themes in my NYC and immigration history classes.

In the coming year, I hope to offer a course in American Jewish history. This would be the first time that I would be teaching it, though it has been offered before by one of our visiting fellows, Dr. Ayelet Brinn.

Honestly, I offer these courses because I’m interested in them. But I hope that the students are also, and I’m sure that they can get something out of them which will help them understand their world better.

Daniel Soyer (right) leading a group of Fordham alumni on a walking tour of the Lower East Side

In what ways has Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic missions impacted the work that you do, in the classroom and beyond?

As a Jesuit and Catholic university, Fordham takes seriously the humanities in general, and history in particular, and this has been a great encouragement in my teaching and research. Certainly, teaching at a Catholic institution has made me think more seriously about the role of religion (as opposed to just ethnicity), religious diversity, and, unfortunately, sometimes religious bigotry, in American history and culture, something that I think many American historians, with their secular(ist) training and personal inclinations neglect.

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

It turns out that Jewish Studies has existed at Fordham for some time. Not only were there colleagues who studied Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic Judaism, but also modern Hebrew literature, Jewish ethnography, antisemitism, the history of Israel, and Jewish history. But some of us never even got to teach in our research specialties. It took the arrival of Magda Teter as Shvidler Chair to bring Jewish Studies out from underground, introduce Fordham Jewish Studies scholars to each other, create a coherent framework for the study and teaching of the discipline, attract students, and make Jewish Studies visible on the campus and the community. Thanks to Dr. Teter and now also Dr. Kattan Gribetz for all the great programming, collaboration with other institutions, and nurturing of students for Jewish Studies at Fordham!

Thank you, Daniel, for such a moving and informative interview!

1941 Maxwell House Haggadah

by Joshua Eberle FCRH ’19 and GSE ’20

Fordham’s copy of the Haggadah Shel Pesah = Hagadah, Passover Seder Service / Compliments of Maxwell House Coffee, was published by Maxwell House Coffee and General Foods Corporation in 1941 in New York. The book was prepared by Joseph Jacobs Jewish Market a marketing firm that specialized in marketing to Jewish customers.[i] The English translation was done by an unknown translator.[ii]

Maxwell House Haggadah, 1941

The Maxwell House Haggadah began as part of a promotional plan by Maxwell House to sell their coffee to Jews as kosher for Passover.[iii] For years coffee beans were labeled as not kosher for Passover due to an old Ashkenazi tradition of categorizing coffee beans as legumes.[iv] Copies were given out at stores along with purchases of Maxwell House coffee products. The Maxwell House Haggadah has been published every year since 1932, except for two years during World War II when the United States was suffering from a paper shortage, most likely at the peak of America’s paper shortage around 1944.[v]

There have been very few changes to the Maxwell House Haggadah over the years in terms of content and format. The exceptions to this include the “Deluxe version” introduced in the 1960s, which contained an Ashkenazic transliteration for those who could not read Hebrew and a blue cover.[vi] Additional changes included the illustrations within the Haggadah being replaced by pictures of families observing Passover and a move away from the simple single colored covers in 2000,[vii] and an update to the English translation in 2011 making the Haggadah’s language more suitable to a modern audience and including the use of gender-neutral pronouns. The 2011 translation was by Henry Frisch, a high school English teacher from Teaneck, New Jersey.[viii]

         The Maxwell House Haggadah is a small book, approximately seven inches long by five inches wide. It has around sixty pages read from right to left like many traditional Jewish texts.[ix] The pages are formatted so that the Hebrew translation is on the right side of each page and the English translation is on the left side. The font only varies in size on occasion within the text: in the captions below the printed pictures, which are a smaller bolded font, and in the form of smaller text which is placed throughout the Haggadah to provide specific instructions for parts of the Seder in the English section and references to biblical verses in the Hebrew section.[x] Towards the end of the 1941 copy of the Maxwell House Haggadah there are some specific Passover recitations in smaller English and Hebrew fonts.

When the Maxwell House Haggadah’s were introduced they were intended to be unobtrusive regarding the advertisement for Maxwell House brand coffee products. Because of this all copies of the Maxwell House Haggadah include an advertisement page only on the back inside cover of the text.[xi] The front inside cover of the Maxwell House Haggadah includes an abridged 5-year calendar of the Jewish Holidays as well as a description of the origin of the pictures printed within the text.

Fordham University’s copy contains 15 printed pictures, which the book states are reproductions of Medieval paintings and woodcuts. The pictures depict various Biblical scenes from the book of Exodus and beyond. The original Haggadah printed in 1932 had fewer pictures that were reproductions of pictures from the 1695 Amsterdam Haggadah.[xii]

The first few pages of the Haggadah provide a brief introduction to the Passover holiday and its foundations in the book of Exodus.[xiii] They also contain a “thank you” from Maxwell House Coffee and General Foods Corporation that stresses Maxwell House Coffee’s friendly relationship with the Jewish community, stating that the company takes, “great pleasure in extending best wishes for a happy and joyous holiday.”

The Maxwell House Haggadot are mass produced and are printed on cheaper quality paper. The 1941 copy of the Maxwell House Haggadah found in the Fordham Library Special Collections has pages that have turned yellow due to age and a dull greenish-blue cover that has faded over the years.

The size and quality of the Maxwell House Haggadah show that this book was intended for individual use. The Maxwell House Haggadah is bi-lingual in Hebrew and English aimed to fulfill the needs of a Jewish-American audience. The Haggadah also contains directions to follow during the Passover Seder in the text, including directions on when to say specific prayers, directions on when to perform certain actions, such as breaking the matzo, and cues for when to read parts of the Haggadah suggests that it could be used even by those who knew little about the ritual. These books were made to be free and accessible to average Jewish-American families and were produced as part of an advertisement campaign to increase the sale of coffee around Passover. In fact that the books were handed out in bulk along with purchase of Maxwell House Coffee products.[xiv]

During its long history over fifty million copies Maxwell House Haggadot have been distributed turning the Maxwell House Haggadah into something of a cultural icon in the Jewish-American community.[xv] It is the most widely used Haggadah in the world and is only distributed in the United States. It has been issued to U.S. soldiers in every campaign since 1932.[xvi]  From 2009-2016 during the Obama Administration, a copy of the Maxwell House Haggadah was used for White House Passover Seders.[xvii]

The Maxwell House Haggadah has achieved great success because it was able to accomplish a major marketing goal of becoming a regular tradition for many Jewish-American families, many of whom make it a tradition to go out every year to pick up their new Haggadot.[xviii] It played a role in the Americanization of Jews.

         Maxwell House Coffee and General Foods Corporation have published several books over the decades. There have not been any other books targeted at specific religious or ethnic groups published by Maxwell House Coffee. Many of the books that have been published by these companies are cookbooks and books about proper storage of and enjoyment of coffee. However, some of the books published by these companies are a bit more random in their nature and are more like the Haggadah because they were created as promotional materials for the companies or made in collaboration with other companies. Two such books are the Maxwell House Viewers Guide to the 1988 Olympics Winter Games (1988) and A Field Guide to the Great Outdoors: Western States (1983), published with Rand McNally and Company.

Books published by Maxwell House and General Foods follow a similar style to the Haggadot. They are printed in smaller sizes and contain a small number of pages. These books published by these companies were meant to be read and owned by individual consumers for personal use rather than published for larger audiences in more grandiose settings. These two examples were printed after the original publication of the Maxwell House Haggadah so one can assume that the format and publication of the Haggadot since 1932 had an influence on the methods of printing and publication used for books that were published later.


Joshua Eberle graduated from Fordham College at Rose Hill in 2019 with a BA in Political Science and Government and 2020 with MA in Adolescent Social Studies Education. He wrote this essay in the fall of 2018 in Professor Magda Teter‘s class HIST1851: Jews in the Modern World. The book “You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover: A Jewish History through Used Books” with this essay and those by other students can be downloaded here.


Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professor Mary Callaway

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Mary Callaway, Professor of Hebrew Bible in Fordham’s Theology Department, a department she chaired for many years. Professor Callaway began her studies at St. John’s College in Annapolis and came to Union Theological Seminary for her doctorate, and then began teaching at Fordham in the late 1970s, while writing her dissertation. She has been on the faculty ever since, teaching Hebrew Bible, midrash, and other courses in the Theology Department and the Honors Program!

When did you arrive at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time?

I was writing my dissertation in 1977 when I received a call from the chair of Fordham’s Theology Department asking if I would teach a course in Hebrew reading, and one in “Judaism in the Hellenistic-Roman Period,” because the adjunct who had been covering those courses was suddenly not available. The department chair had called a notable Roman Catholic scholar of New Testament asking for names. The scholar, with whom I had worked, gave my name, assuring the Chair that even though I was female and Protestant I could do the job well! Within three years the department had a full-time position in Old Testament, and at the end of the search I was hired, the second woman and first non-Catholic in the department. All of the men but two were priests. There were about 80 graduate students, mostly clergy doing systematic theology, with about ten doing New Testament. Biblical studies meant learning to do exegesis using the original languages, on the 19th century German seminary model. It was rigorous, but from our perspective today, quite narrow. From the beginning, I felt welcome in the department and was mentored by senior scholars. Presidents O’Hare and McShane were always supportive, and appreciated my husband Jamie, who is an Episcopal priest.

In the early 80’s the undergraduate population was homogeneous, mostly white and Catholic. The core required 3 theology and 3 philosophy courses. The first two theology courses were somewhat similar to our two now, though the precursor to Faith and Critical Reason was more about faith than critical reason. The third course was chosen from an offering of contemporary subjects which included marriage, and “world religions,” and the students liked it best.

A short tale showcases the difference between then and now. In the first semester of my adjunct teaching I was pregnant with my first child, but not showing. For second semester, the chair had asked me to teach two sections of the undergrad core class “Tradition and Crisis in the Old Testament”; I have no idea what I was thinking when I agreed! Midway through the semester, at the beginning of spring break, Daniel was born by C-section. My husband and I paid a friend who was on sabbatical from his university to take my classes for the week after spring break, and then I was back in the classroom for the rest of the semester. Four years later, after I had been hired on a tenure-track line, I was pregnant with Hannah. I was done with Superwoman; this time I took a year off, with full support of the department. The university had no maternity policy, so they used disability for a semester. Over my years at Fordham, I have been so glad to see how different it has become for faculty in their child-bearing years.

Your area of teaching and research is the Hebrew Bible and midrash (biblical interpretation). What led you to this field?

Looking back, I can now see a clear pattern, repeated over the course of years. I was led to midrash in my years as an undergraduate at St. John’s College (Annapolis). With no departments or majors, and a set curriculum of “great books” for everyone, it was a campus alive with intellectual conversation. So it wasn’t unusual that there was an extra-curricular study group on Genesis, led by Simon Kaplan, a brilliant, elderly German Jewish scholar. In the course of a semester, meeting once a week, he barely got beyond the first few verses of Genesis 1 because there was so much to talk about! Why does the Torah begin with bet instead of aleph? Why is the first phrase ambiguous? This kind of rich texture, reading across centuries, and devotion to the text, was news to me, though I had grown up in a clergy house with knowledge of “Old Testament.”  The next step was an extra-curricular course in biblical Hebrew. By my senior year I knew that I had to go on to graduate study.

Graduate study in Bible in those days was relentlessly Protestant. Though Union Theological Seminary is across the street from the Jewish Theological Seminary, there was no formal connection between the schools. However, a fellow doctoral student at Union was Jewish, and offered to lead a study group in the basics of rabbinic commentaries. We would meet in the early evening, study for a few hours and then continue the conversation over Heinekens. Learning the basics of Hillel’s rules of interpretation was transformative, and allowed us to see how Jewish much of the New Testament is. Back in the late sixties, that was news. We called our sessions “the light to the gentiles.”

In addition to this life-changing enrichment of my graduate classes, I had the benefit of my mentor, Jim Sanders, who did his doctoral training at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati and had also studied in Israel. I remember a Hebrew reading class in which he explained that the Masoretic notes in the margin were there “to guard the text” against well-meaning scribes who might want to correct a problem. This was in direct contrast to the scholarly notes at the bottom of the page, which described how the ancient versions varied and often encouraged an emendation of the biblical text. So, it turned out that the page layout of the Hebrew Bible we were all using showcased a crucial difference between rabbinic tradition and modern critical scholarship. This dialogue between ancient and contemporary approaches was formative for me as a scholar. In a graduate program that was largely based on nineteenth and twentieth century Protestant German scholarship, I was most fortunate to be formed by these counter-voices.      

Your first book was titled Sing, O Barren One: A Study in Comparative Midrash. More recently, you published a book titled Jeremiah Through the Ages. Can you share what led you to write each of these books and what you hope readers learn from them?

My training emphasized the ancient Near Eastern origins of biblical traditions, which of course I found exciting, but my work with Jewish scholars had led me to see the Bible differently: not as the triumphant climax of ancient near eastern history, but rather as part of a long chain of living traditions. I wanted to argue that the process of reinterpreting ancient Near Eastern traditions that was so formative in ancient Israel continued in the work of the biblical authors, except that they were rewriting Israelite traditions. The dissertation was a case study in how this process worked. It traced the tradition of the barren women who bore important sons, first in the Tanakh, then in Second Temple literature, then in Philo’s idea of spiritual conception, in Luke (Mary’s virginity as a midrashic development), and finally in rabbinic midrashic tradition of the seven barren women. My thesis was simple, but radical for its time: some of the ways of thinking that shaped the texts of the Hebrew Bible are similar to the ways of thinking used by both Jews and Christians in antiquity to interpret those texts. In other words, biblical thinking was already midrashic thinking. More provocatively to Christian scholars: midrashic thinking is in many ways like biblical thinking.

Early in my career an entirely new field came into existence in biblical studies. Reception history was first known in English departments and only came to biblical studies in the 80’s. Its goal is to document and analyze the significance and effects of a given text, in politics, art, popular culture, and religion. It asks the question of what difference this text has made in the world. Jeremiah Through the Centuries (2020) came from a challenge by a dear friend from graduate school who was one of the editors of the Blackwell Bible Commentaries. The assignment was to write a commentary that picked up where traditional commentaries left off, exploring the ways that the biblical Jeremiah has been expanded and transformed from antiquity to the present. The question is how Jeremiah, both text and character, have left indelible marks on culture. I had published a few articles on Jeremiah in midrashic interpretation, and was intrigued by the project. Little did I know what I was in for! The scope of the project, the languages involved in the primary sources, delving into political controversies, art history and religious debates, deciphering old scripts, seemed to keep expanding. The initial task was to find significant reception for every chapter in Jeremiah, all 52 of them, but the final task was to cut back what I had found. Trips to libraries and museums in Paris, London and of course New York had yielded a trove of stories, art, devotional literature, political commentary and more. The greatest challenge of writing the book was resisting the rabbit holes that beckoned me to take a detour. My greatest pride is the illustrations, all 68 of them, from all over the world, including a 14th century Islamic picture of “Armia resurrecting a donkey,” and a Holbein cartoon of Erasmus as Jeremiah! One significant discovery was about Jeremiah’s so-called “Confessions” – his prayers and tirades against what God was asking of him. For nineteen centuries most exegetes criticized Jeremiah for his “blasphemous talk,” and warned readers that it was sinful. Then, in the blossoming of German Romanticism in the late 19th century, a German biblical scholar wrote that Jeremiah’s words were a commendable outpouring of genuine emotion and therefore commendable! Since then Jeremiah’s harsh words against God have been read approvingly as honest prayer. I find that some historical perspective about our ideas can help keep us humble.        

You teach in both the Theology Department and in the Honors Program.  What courses have you taught and what are some of your favorite texts or topics to teach? 

My signature undergraduate course has been “Introduction to the Old Testament.” I love taking students by surprise, beginning not with the Bible but the Mesopotamian creation story, to help them realize that Genesis 1 is a richer, more complicated text than they had imagined. They tend to have an idea of revelation as a form of magic, and I want to nudge them to the idea that God uses history and human culture as vehicles of revelation. One persistent question early in the course is, “Who taught the Israelites how to talk about God?” As the semester progresses, the question is what new ways Israelites developed to talk about their wild, peculiar God. One that surprises and deeply engages the students is the persistent motif of talking back to God, beginning with Abraham challenging God about the plan to destroy Sodom. Students are also fascinated by the idea of midrash, and the idea that Jews bring a sense of humor along with reverence to their Torah study. They always seem engaged when I diverge from the lesson plan to tell a midrash. Some of my happiest memories are of Jewish students describing how the semester of studying the Tanakh drew them back into their faith.

Another favorite is “Foundational Texts,” the first-year Honors course. It’s a seminar with twelve freshmen around a seminar table, reading only primary texts. The syllabus includes Homer, Greek tragedy, Virgil and the Bible, among others. It’s thrilling for me to watch these smart eighteen-year old scholars move from their black and white vision of reality to beginning to embrace the discomfiting color gray.

One of my favorite parts of graduate teaching has been the language classes, which meant intermediate Hebrew reading and biblical Aramaic. The Aramaic course was engaging for me because I pitched biblical Aramaic as a stage in linguistic development from Bible to Targum, so I was able to draw the students into a bit of early midrash.  My favorite language courses were on reading Hebrew narrative, when I tried to move students away from translating toward real reading, attending to the many subtle literary techniques of biblical narratives. 

It seems almost quaint now, but in the mid-eighties through the nineties I developed several graduate courses in literary criticism and the Hebrew Bible. Of many happy memories from those heady days one that stands out is co-mentoring a doctoral dissertation with Richard Gianonne in the English Department titled, “Telling Stories About God: Narrative Voice and Epistemology in the Hebrew Bible and in the Fiction of Flannery O’Connor, Graham Greene and Cynthia Ozick.” The student did a sophisticated literary analysis of the Court History (2 Sam 7-20); the mentoring and the defense, in the English Department, was one of my most intellectually engaging experiences at Fordham.

One high point of graduate teaching for me was a course I developed on the Akedah (Genesis 22). Twenty centuries of readers struggling with that sublimely horrifying text reveals, among other things, the rich world of ideas and stories that one short biblical text can generate. One surprise for my students was discovering how consistently those interpretations became attached to the biblical text, traveling with it through time as if written between the lines. In fact, they were written between the lines in the medieval Glossa Ordinaria and in the margins in the Mikraot Gedolot. We see this in the developing persona of Isaac as willing victim, which began in the persecutions of Antiochus, was adopted by early Christian writers, and persisted through the medieval pogroms into early modernity. A favorite memory was the class when students performed part of a medieval mystery play enacting an emotional dialogue between Abraham and Isaac.

The other favorite graduate course is the basic M.A. course in Old Testament, which always included a good number of Jesuit Scholastics and other adult learners. They began with the classic Christian idea that the “Old Testament” was the prologue, and I loved watching as they discovered the theological riches from ancient Israel, and were constantly correcting their own presuppositions about the Bible.

You are a beloved teacher across campus.  Students adore you, and many of them say that the course they took with you changed their lives. This is true of both current students as well as those you taught decades ago, who still remember your courses.  Can you share some of your secrets?

This is very generous!  My teaching has evolved over the years, and most of what I know I have learned from my students and colleagues. Teaching for me is a form of ministry, and the aim is to challenge as well as nurture. In my grad school days I often taught on Sunday mornings in my local Episcopal church, bringing some of the basic approaches of biblical scholarship to adults. Those experiences formed me as a teacher to be alert to where my students were intellectually and emotionally, and how far I could challenge them. A major joy of teaching at Fordham is its Jesuit identity, which has meant that a leitmotif of my classes is always what it means for people of faith to read the Bible critically. Just last semester a student in a course where we were reading the Bible along with Homer and Greek tragedy, asked, “Are we allowed to read the Bible this way?” Of course, every teacher loves it when a smart student mentions the elephant in the room!

In the early 90’s I became interested in the shift in educational theory that changed the focus in the classroom from the academic subject to the learner. I went to some conferences, read books, and secured a grant to engage an expert to help the department design a course in pedagogy for graduate students. The idea that we teach subjects rather than students is now the norm, but it was a major shift that happened well after my graduate education, which was based on the older European model. The move to a learner-centered theory of teaching was transformative for me. One effect was to break the fourth wall, allowing me to talk about what is going on in the class. Sometimes I would stop the class and say, “This isn’t working. What’s wrong?” and listen to what the students said. If the class bombed the midterm, we would have a conversation about it and I would offer a make-up on some of the essay questions. If a student submitted a sub-par paper, I encouraged a meeting to plan a rewrite. I tried to give lots of second chances, because so much learning happens when you revise your work. I always require a few sentences of metacognition, in which students reflect on what went wrong in the exam and what they had learned from the experience. Finally, a crucial part of teaching for me is being aware of how historical-critical study of the Bible might be affecting my students, and being real with them about it. Meeting with a student wrestling with the implications of the course on their faith has always been one of the most humbling yet exhilarating experiences for me.

Finally, I’m sure I benefit from my subject. Students expect a class in Bible to be pious and boring, so if it’s full of intriguing ancient Near Eastern parallels, some reception history, and humorous midrashim, they are pleasantly surprised.

You also served as Chair of the Theology Department, and many of the initiatives you spearheaded in that position, such as the end-of-year day-long retreat, remain mainstays of the department.  What are some of the things you’re most proud of from this period in your career?

Life is full of surprises, and we don’t know ahead of time what we’re going to be called to do. In retrospect, I can see that my job was to help change the culture of the department into a community of scholars and teachers. When I first came to Fordham, faculty meetings were tense and sometimes erupted in shouting matches. I was among a small group of “young Turks” who wanted to make things better in the department. It began with the small gesture of bringing cookies to the meetings (low blood sugar feeds irritability!). Then a group of us led by Joe Lienhard tightened and codified the procedures in the graduate program. When I was Chair I worked with Harry Nasuti to design a retreat day at Mitchell Farm, a bucolic set of houses and grounds in Mahopac, N.Y. owned by the Jesuits. Along with the conversations in small groups, we had an informal worship service and then cooked dinner together using outdoor grills. I think at Mitchell Farm the idea took hold that community is precious, but it doesn’t just happen; you have to work at it. Then for years the beloved department secretary, Edie Mauriello, hosted a beginning of the year party at her house, which also built community. Jamie and I took that over when Edie could no longer do it, and we had the space. It was a sit-down dinner where people could enjoy long conversations at round tables, and it lasted for hours. One of the things I’m most proud of –and grateful for – is that we are a department where people talk together and learn from each other, but can also disagree with one another and find common ground. I had lots of training growing up, as my mother was executive director of the YWCA, and she often had difficult board members. She taught me by example about building community.

Another significant part of the Department’s history that I’m proud of is the move from our cramped quarters in Collins Hall to Duane Library. In Collins we were on two floors and shared some common space with the Philosophy Department. About twenty years ago we were given the chance to move to the ground floor of the old library, which had been vacant for several years. We were originally given only part of the space, but Harry Nasuti and I pressed for the whole space, working with the head of the project, Joe Scaltro. Joe was surprised that I wanted a full kitchen, but I reminded him that images of food and feasting are common biblical tropes for the divine presence. I’m most proud of how much common space we have, and how our physical space facilitates conversations among students and faculty.

In what ways has Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic missions impacted the work that you do, in the classroom and in your research?

Teaching at a Jesuit university has been formative for me. The seminars on Ignatian pedagogy, the ethos of the campus, the discourses we use, and the presence of young Jesuit Scholastics together with seasoned elders have all shaped me as a teacher and scholar. For me the discipline of magis, the commitment to excellence, is enriched by the Ignatian freedom of finding God in all things. And of course cura personalis, which has shaped me to be more alert to how what’s happening in my classroom might be impacting my students’ lives.

One specific impact has been the habit of going on an 8-day silent retreat in the summer, at a Jesuit house on the coast of Massachusetts. There I was introduced to the Jesuit practices of recollecting the day, and of discernment of spirits. For years I had been walking across campus after class thinking how bad it was, and what an awful teacher I was. Then one day I stopped, probably struck by sight of the sun on the spectacular fall foliage, and had an Ignatian moment. What if, I thought, you think again about the class that just happened, and find in it a moment of grace instead of recrimination? It took me a few minutes of recollecting, but then I realized that a shy student had spoken for the first time that day. I could easily have missed that moment and what it meant for the student’s development. After that, I cultivated a habit of reviewing my class as I walked back to my office, naming the Ignatian moment of grace that had happened that day.

Mary Callaway, speaking with Father Nicholas Lombardi and Frank Hsu at the 2019 Convocation, when Mary received the Bene Merenti medal, celebrating 40 years of work at Fordham University.

You’re an active member of Columbia University’s Hebrew Bible Seminar.  Can you share more about that community and how it has enhanced your time at Fordham?

The seminar was started in 1968 by a group of faculty at Columbia, Union, JTS, Hebrew Union College, NYU, Yale and other schools within driving distance. It was an even mix of Jewish and Christian scholars of the Hebrew Bible who wanted to have dinner together, listen to a scholarly paper and have a lively conversation. I joined in 1980, the year I became full-time at Fordham. In those days it was very male and the discussion after the paper could become contentious and even heated. Senior scholars pressed young scholars hard, almost hazing them. One legend tells of a senior scholar who always fell asleep at the beginning of the paper and woke up just as it was finishing to ask an astute question! I saw it happen. Over the years the ethos changed and it became more hospitable, with richly productive conversation. Being part of the seminar has been formative for me as a scholar of Bible because I was immersed from the beginning in Jewish perspectives. The kinds of theological questions that my graduate training emphasized were here replaced by lively issues about ancient Near Eastern influences, particularly light shed on a biblical text by evidence from Akkadian or Ugaritic. Most humbling for me was the way my Jewish colleagues usually cited a biblical text in Hebrew without opening a Tanakh. In my early years I was the only person doing Hebrew Bible at Rose Hill, so this community has been formative for me as a scholar.

You’ll soon be retiring.  What are some of your favorite memories from your time at Fordham?

One memorable moment happened quite early in my teaching career, when a student somewhat aggressively challenged a point I had made. For a moment I froze, then some better angel prompted me to take it as an opportunity, allowing the class to see how my mind worked under pressure. There was a lively conversation, and real learning happened in that class.

Another memorable occasion is the commencement when I offered the invocation, standing on a wooden box. It was a formal but interactive prayer, based on the ancient Benedicite Dominum, in which I called on different majors and groups of students to “bless ye the Lord.” It turned out to be a very lively, noisy invocation. It was a risk, but after the noisy “Amen” Fr. McShane crossed the terrace and hugged me, joking that he hadn’t thought I was a Baptist!

In an ironic twist of history, some of my best memories are of faculty meetings, the very thing that horrified me when I started at Fordham. Whether at Mitchell Farm, or on a rainy Wednesday at a department meeting, being part of a group that can strongly disagree and keep working together to find a resolution for the common good is still thrilling for me.

What advice for the future do you have for current members of the Fordham family?

Treasure what is precious about Fordham, whatever that is for you, and work hard to preserve and strengthen it. Seek out people who have different perspectives and conversation partners who can challenge you. Cultivate the habit of Ignatian moments, stopping to reflect on what just happened, to say, “Wow!” or even to say a berakhah of gratitude.

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

I was of course thrilled when the program in Jewish Studies began, and have loved watching it grow from seed to a flowering tree in five short years. I have learned so much from exhibits and lectures! Especially impressive is the way the programs range through history, from antiquity to now. The richly diverse programs are teaching the whole Fordham community that Jewish history and culture are not niche interests, but are a wonderful part of the intellectual world that we all share. Mazel tov!

Thank you, Mary, for this amazing interview, with so much wisdom, joy, and humor!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Marc Yunis about his father Al Yunis

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Dr. Marc Yunis, whose father, Al (Alexander) Yunis, attended Fordham University as an undergraduate and law school student in the 1930s.  Al went on to a successful career as a lawyer but returned regularly to celebrate reunions at Fordham.  In the interview, Marc shares with us the stories he remembers his father telling about his days as a Jewish student at Fordham.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share some of your memories about your father, Al Yunis, and his time as a student at Fordham.  Can you tell us a bit about your father? 

My father was the first of his family to be born in the USA after they immigrated from Russia/Ukraine. He was raised in a traditional Jewish family. He’s the only one of eight siblings who continued past high school and went to college and law school. Following graduation from Fordham University Law School and passing the Bar Exam, he established his own law practice. He was an outstanding trial lawyer and practiced for 52 years in his own general law practice. He said he became a lawyer to give legal representation to “his people,” originally meaning immigrant Jews. Over the years the groups needing legal representation changed but he managed to still represent them. He was an excellent criminal defense attorney and able to represent clients in civil matters with equal skill and legal knowledge. He argued a case before the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, the highest court in New York State, and was successful. Except for his time in the US Army during World War II from 1943 to 1945 he practiced law his entire adult life.

When and how did your father end up studying at Fordham?  

My father actually finished high school at The Fashion Trades High School, the first vocational high school in NYC. The principal took an interest in my father and was instrumental in arranging his admission to Fordham. By the way, the reason he was at Fashion Trades High School was that he was expelled from Thomas Jefferson High School in Brownsville, Brooklyn after an altercation with a teacher who made disparaging remarks about Jewish immigrants. 

He was enrolled in a six year program, nights and summers to get a BA and LLB degree. He graduated in 1935, so he attended Fordham from 1929 to 1935, during the Great Depression.

Al Yunis’s graduation photo.

Your father received his undergraduate degree in Theology as one of – or perhaps the only – Jewish students in the Theology Department.  Do you remember how he described his experience in the department?  Did he share anything about his professors or classmates, or the subjects he studied?  Did he mention his relationship with the Jesuits on campus?

I don’t recall my father saying anything about his experience in the department. I do know that he always spoke highly of Jesuit professors. It was my understanding that most of the courses, not only in Theology, were taught by Jesuits. He always considered them to be rigorous academics and I know he sparred with them intellectually. He did write a paper for his Theology class demonstrating that the Trinity of Catholicism was illogical. 

Did he ever mention studying Jewish sources at Fordham, for example Tanakh / Hebrew Bible?   

He never mentioned any Hebrew sources to me but he was always an avid reader and user of the library so I would guess he had access to Jewish sources.

He received his LLB degree from the Fordham Law School at the end of his six years at Fordham. What were some of the memories he shared with you about his time at the law school? 

He was in a study group of four Jewish students who made notes on all the courses. They were type written on a typewriter that was missing the letter “g” key so there were spaces in words where a “g” would be. Many students wanted these notes for studying and the group would let them use them. One of the members of this study group was the number one student in the Law School class. My father kept these notes and my brother, also a lawyer, used them when he was in law school in about 1965.

Interestingly, he received his LLB in 1935 but he was 12 credits short for his BA. He passed the Bar Exam on his first try. He returned to Fordham in 1958 to complete the 12 credits needed for his BA and graduated in 1958. 

Alexander Yunis’s name listed as a student in the 1930s.

Your father was full of stories, and when he encountered injustice or antisemitism on campus he wasn’t shy about speaking up.  Is there a particular story that stands out?

My favorite story of my father’s time at Fordham concerns needing money for tuition.

As I mentioned, this was during the Great Depression and my father came from a poor family and paid his own way through college and law school at Fordham. One semester, he didn’t pay his tuition and he was told he could not take his final exams. He went to the Bursar and asked to be able to take the exams so as not to lose the entire semester. My father suggested that they could hold his grades and release them when he was able to pay the tuition. The Bursar told him that if he didn’t pay the tuition he could not take the exams.

My father walked to the well of the auditorium and asked his classmates to put money into his hat. He said anyone who wanted to be paid back should put an IOU into the hat as well.

He collected enough money and went to the Bursar with his tuition in nickels, dimes, quarters, and dollars. The Burar asked him how he got the money and my father told him that he begged his classmates to help. The Bursar told my father that he was an embarrassment and my father replied that it was the opposite and the Bursar should be embarrassed. After all, as a Catholic University, preaching faith, hope and charity, they gave him no hope, gave him no charity, and had no faith in him.

Did your father ever return to campus for alumni events or just for a visit?  If so, what was that experience like for him?  

My father returned often for annual reunions. He always requested a fruit platter as he couldn’t eat the meal at the dinners. When they changed the reunion to Friday night he stopped attending because of Shabbat.

A letter from William Michael Treanor, then the Dean of Fordham Law School, wishing Marc condolences after his father Al’s passing.

In what ways did he carry his Fordham experience with him later in life, and how did it impact your own life?

He was always very proud of his accomplishments at Fordham and grateful that he had the opportunity to attend. He often spoke fondly of his experiences both as an undergraduate and law school student at Fordham.

Interestingly, I started medical school at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium. I remembered the stories of my father, a proud Jew in a Catholic University who always was steadfastly Jewish, as I studied in a foreign country, in another Catholic University.

Five years ago, we established Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies.  The Fordham administration – including our previous president, Father Joseph McShane SJ, and provost, Stephen Freedman (of blessed memory), were instrumental in the early stages of the center, and Fordham’s current president, Tania Tetlow, has been supportive and enthusiastic from the moment she arrived on campus.  The university is becoming an increasingly attractive school for Jewish students of all backgrounds, because of the university’s respect of religious observance and the opportunities available to engage deeply with Judaism on campus.  What do you think your father would think of this transformation at Fordham?

I think my father would be astounded at the presence of Jewish Studies at Fordham. Keep in  mind that he was from an era when there was no Jewish Studies at any university. His focus was always on Jewish religious practice and belief as well as Jewish identity and I think he would be proud that Fordham has incorporated Judaism into its curriculum.

Thank you, Marc, for sharing these amazing stories and memories about your father and his time at Fordham with us!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Emilie Amar-Zifkin

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Emilie Amar-Zifkin, who graduated from Fordham College at Lincoln Center in 2013 and is now completing a doctorate in Medieval Judaism in the Religious Studies Department at Yale University. Next year, Emilie will join the Tanenbaum Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto, where she’ll be the Igor Kaplan Postdoctoral Fellow in Christian-Jewish Relations.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?

I graduated from Fordham College at Lincoln Center in 2013 with a double major in Theology and Theatre, and completed my MA in Jewish History at the University of Chicago Divinity School in 2015. Currently, I’m a 7th year PhD candidate at Yale University, where I’m writing my dissertation while also teaching – this semester, elementary Biblical Hebrew to undergraduates in Yale College. 

Emilie, FCLC ’13

What brought you to Fordham?  

Like any doctoral candidate in religion, I originally came to Fordham to study… stage management! I grew up in Montreal, which historically was in a very Catholic province, and I had about a decade of intensive music lessons from nuns under my belt, so the idea of going off to a Jesuit school in New York City to major in theatre didn’t really strike me as all that strange. 

When you came to campus, you were interested in theater.  What inspired you to major in Theology?

I don’t know that such an about-face couldn’t be the result of a series of happy accidents. The first ever class I went to, my first class as a Fordham undergraduate, was Fr. Thomas Scirghi’s “Faith and Critical Reason,” into which I had been randomly assigned. I truly didn’t know what to expect – the idea of faith and critical reason playing nicely with one another wasn’t a familiar notion to my 18-year-old self, who was impatient to get down to the scene shop. But Fr. Scirghi was such an inspiring, kind, challenging lecturer, and all of a sudden I was reading Freud and then the Bible, and learning what a sacrament was, and looking up more theology courses for the next semester. I think I realized at the end of that first day of class, though I didn’t say it out loud until much later, that I wouldn’t be graduating as (only) a theatre major.

Is there a particular course or professor (or both) you still remember?

I met Prof. Karina Hogan in the second semester of my freshman year, when she allowed me to take her “Women in the Bible” course despite my lack of prerequisites and general… freshman-ness. It was life-changing, in the sense that Prof. Hogan literally changed my life. She encouraged me to continue taking Theology courses, especially those focused on Judaism and the Hebrew Bible. Her mentorship during two Fordham undergraduate summer research grants allowed me to try my hand at academic research, which was key when applying to graduate schools – something that, somewhere along the line, had become my obvious, undeniable next step. Luckily, I knew some graduate students whom I could ask for advice: from my junior year onward, Prof. Hogan vouched for me so that I could take graduate-level Theology and Hebrew Bible courses at Rose Hill, along with a brilliant cohort of affable graduate students. One of the most memorable of these courses was the “Psalms in Hebrew” with Prof. Harry Nasuti, which prepared me well for the intense poetry-based work I would do in my first few years of graduate study. Prof. Hogan’s “Second Temple Judaism” seminar, which was my last class at Fordham, exposed me to texts that I didn’t know existed, and added bewildering nuance to the ones I thought I already knew. Being able to participate in classwork, discussions, and the original language reading group after class was indispensable preparation for graduate seminars. None of this would have been possible without Prof. Hogan, who had faith and saw a glimmer of critical reason in a confused freshman.

You studied Yiddish as a child.  Did you have an opportunity to incorporate Yiddish into your Fordham experience?

Amazingly, yes! The first of the undergraduate research grants was on the book of Esther as theatre and scripture, and one of the longest surviving traditions within Yiddish theatre is the Purimshpiel – a humorous, sometimes burlesque theatrical retelling of the Esther story where the heroes and villains of the present are cast and lampooned as the heroes and villains in the story. There’s one cycle of Purim poems by the Yiddish poet Itzik Manger written in 1936 that sets the story in contemporary Eastern Europe – I had worked on a production of it as part of a Yiddish theatre festival in Montreal the summer before I wrote the paper, so the history and imagery were still very fresh in my mind.

You are now completing a PhD in medieval Jewish-Christian interactions at Yale.  Can you tell us about your dissertation research?

My dissertation is called “Observing the Observers: Procession and Public Religion in Medieval Ashkenaz.” It brings sensory and performance studies into conversation with questions of urban space and identity formation, looking at Jewish-Christian interaction in public spaces. The project is divided into sections on space, seeing, and sound, and examines different instances of public Jewish-Christian relations, from huge royal and ecclesiastical processions to interactions between townspeople sharing space in the marketplace. The common thread, perhaps unsurprisingly, is fundamentally that of performance, that of the theatre of the everyday – I analyze the actors and the audience at the same time, recognizing that it’s not only seeing and hearing but also what was perceived to be seen and heard that is at the center of Jewish-Christian relations in Ashkenaz.

In what ways did Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic missions impact your experience of studying Judaism at Fordham, and the path you are currently pursuing in your academic career?

It’s safe to say that had I ended up anywhere but Fordham for my undergraduate theatre degree, the thought of pursuing an academic career in Religious Studies wouldn’t have even entered my mind. I loved, and still love, the fact that every Fordham undergraduate takes a Theology class – that everyone, regardless of their academic or religious background, confronts religious texts that they might never have read before… or that they know by heart, but only by rote. Fordham’s Catholic mission cites the “complementary roles of faith and reason in the pursuit of wisdom and learning,” and truly, as a freshman, I’m not sure I had any wisdom and learning, let alone any faith or much reason. Fordham as both a Catholic and a Jesuit institution helped me grow in all of those ways. 

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

There’s a traditional Jewish blessing for birthdays and anniversaries that wishes life and good health on the recipient “til 120.” I’m thrilled but not at all surprised at the sustained and flourishing growth of Jewish Studies at Fordham in just the last five years, and as a proud alumna, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Biz hundert un tsvantsik!

Thank you, Emilie, for such a happy interview about your studies at Fordham and the life path they set you on!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professors Jason Morris and Karina Martin Hogan

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Karina Martin Hogan, Associate Professor of Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism in Fordham’s Theology Department, in conversation with Jason Morris, Professor of Biology in Fordham’s Natural Sciences Department. 

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research?

Jason: My training and research to this point has been in the genetic regulation of development in worms and flies. In the past, I’ve worked on genes that control life span and life cycle decisions, egg production, and larval growth and behavior. I’m just starting to design a more student-centered approach where I will use my lab to help undergraduates develop their own research questions and help them learn the skills they need to begin their work on them.

Jason at work in his lab

Karina: My graduate training was primarily in the Bible, both Tanakh/Old Testament and New Testament, and only secondarily in the history of Judaism. Over the past 20 years, my research has shifted primarily to early Judaism, especially wisdom and apocalyptic literature of the Second Temple period. With my new project on the book of Ruth, I’m returning to my original interest in the Bible, and in particular feminist interpretation of the Bible, which is an interest I have mostly developed during the years since graduate school. 

Karina (far left) with students from her “Religion in NYC” course on a trip to Congregation Beit Simchat Torah in Spring 2023

When did you arrive at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time?

Jason: 2003. I loved Fordham right away. I really appreciate that it’s a place that tries to live its core values, especially a focus on a broad and deep undergraduate education in the arts and sciences and a respect for all faiths. My colleagues genuinely care about their students and their students’ learning, and I really appreciate that. And the students are a lot of fun to teach.

Jason Morris at a Fordham event to raise money for HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) for Syrian refugees in a pie-in-the-face event. “Hillel put up the money for the supplies, so I wrote their name on my Fordham shirt next to the HIAS sticker,” Jason remembers.

Karina: 2005. I loved the students at Fordham right away too, but it took a couple of years before I felt at home in the community of colleagues at the Lincoln Center campus and at Fordham in general. My department, Theology, was much more Rose Hill-focused at the time, with only a handful of faculty members at Lincoln Center. I was the only scholar of Judaism in the department. I didn’t realize at first that there were colleagues in other departments who worked on Judaism; I eventually met some of them through the Jewish Texts Reading Group.

Karina on a trip to Costa Rica with Fordham’s Honors Global Outreach

Both of you participate in the Jewish Texts Reading Group. How has being a part of that community shaped your time at Fordham? 

Jason: Some of my best, closest Fordham relationships have come out of this group, including with Anne and Karina. It’s rejuvenating to read some of the greatest, most provocative texts ever written with colleagues from so many different fields and different religious backgrounds, especially because we read those texts with particular attention to their meanings within the Jewish tradition. There’s always the danger when Jewish texts are studied in non-Jewish settings that it can feel like the texts are read with an eye toward appropriation. That doesn’t happen in this group. I also think it’s indicative of Fordham’s respect for non-Christian perspectives that this group has gotten so much support from the administration. 

Karina: I feel the same, that some of my closest friendships at Fordham grew out of the Jewish Texts group. That group provided the kind of intellectual community I was craving. I remember feeling a bit intimidated by the level of the conversation at first, so I was pretty quiet, but Anne and Jason drew me out. Eventually I realized that even though I wasn’t Jewish, I had credibility because I could read Hebrew and knew the Bible. And soon the group grew to include more people who weren’t Jewish but shared an appreciation for the Jewish tradition and for rigorous intellectual discussion, like Peggy and Peter Steinfels.

The two of you also learn together be-hevruta (as study partners).  How did you start doing so, and what have you learned together over the years?

Jason: I think we discovered we had a lot of interests in common right away, and we started reading together not too long after we met. Over the years, we’ve read some theology, some fiction, and even a bit of poetry, but mostly we’ve focused on Talmud. 

I realized very quickly that Karina is one of the most thoughtful and intellectually accomplished people I’ve met. In addition to her erudition and her skills in so many of the languages these texts are written in, Karina can hold these texts in great respect while also appreciating the humor of how bizarre (from a modern, American perspective) these texts can be. I come from a yeshiva background, and it’s really rare to find someone to study with who knows a lot about the theology and the history around these texts who also cares deeply about them, and who can also laugh when we encounter the student who hid under his teacher’s marital bed “to learn from him” or who has the same affection I do for Abbaye, who always quotes “mother” (his nurse) as a sage authority. 

Karina: Jason is my favorite person to talk to about whatever I’m reading, not only what we’re reading together. He reads more widely than anyone I know, and while I don’t even try to keep up with him, I always enjoy the books he recommends. And I loved listening to him talk about his novel as it was taking shape!

When we read Talmud or midrash together, apart from finding similar things humorous, we bring very different perspectives to the text. Jason is the least conventional thinker I know–he is constantly saying things that surprise me and open up meanings of the text that I hadn’t contemplated. And often these are theological points that I would never have thought of, despite being trained as a theologian! I actually think reading Talmud with a biologist has made me a better theologian.

Karina, you study Second Temple Judaism.  Can you tell us about your first book, on 4 Ezra, some of the themes you’ve explored in your research since then, and about your current project on the book of Ruth?

My first book, Theologies in Conflict in 4 Ezra, was only the beginning of my studies of 4 Ezra. I’m not finished with it yet, and probably never will be! I’m working on a commentary on the Latin version of 4 Ezra, which includes two Christian apocalyptic texts as bookends. I have also been working recently on a related apocalypse, 2 Baruch, and on the Wisdom of Solomon, a Hellenistic Jewish wisdom text with some apocalyptic features. My new project, as I mentioned earlier, is on feminist interpretations of the book of Ruth from around the world. I’m excited to be getting back to work on a book that is well known and loved by many Jewish and Christian readers of the Bible.

Jason, you teach in Biology in the Department of Natural Sciences (a department you even chaired), but you’ve also published a novel titled Thicker than Mud (2019), which explores themes related to Judaism and Jewish history. Can you share the premise of the work (without spoiling it for those who would like to read it!) and what inspired you to write this book?

Here’s the description from the back cover: 

Adam Drascher, a Jewish archaeology professor at a small Jesuit college in the Bronx, is at a standstill: Adam is in love with his former mentor, though he knows that relationship has no future, and though his tenure decision is approaching, Adam has little to show for his efforts studying the cult of the dead in ancient Israel. Everything changes for Adam when he discovers a tablet that sheds light on the Healers, shadowy underworld figures in Canaanite myth and in the Bible, on the same day that he loses his grandfather, the man who raised him. As Adam mourns for his grandfather and labors to interpret the text of the tablet, he unearths family secrets that test his loyalties and entangle him in the police investigation of an old family friend.

I worked on the book for many years, and so many threads came together to inspire me to write it. One of the most significant came out of my reflections on the burial of my grandfather. In the Jewish tradition, it is customary for the mourners literally to bury the dead, and I remember vividly my reluctance to hand the shovel over to the next person when I had taken my turn. I was very close to my grandfather and I really wanted to do that one last thing for him myself, to share that one last experience with him, in a way. I thought about what a person might be like who really wouldn’t be able to share that moment with other mourners, who really did claim that relationship all for himself. Another really significant thread came from my own Jewish studies in college. I took a couple of courses with Saul Olyan on the literature of the Babylonian Exile and on the Judean monarchy. One week, we discussed the Rephaim, the Healers from Canaanite mythology, and they captured my imagination. When I wanted a profession for Adam, I just knew that they would be the focus of his life’s work.

We all have unexpected professional experiences – for example, Jason, a biologist by training, ended up writing a novel about a Jewish archaeologist.  Karina, can you share an unexpected experience that you’ve had as a professor of ancient Judaism and what you learned from it? 

Karina: The most unexpected and funny experience I’ve ever had was when someone in Media Relations at Fordham recommended me to a producer who was making an episode about angels for a Catholic TV series called “Mysteries of the Church.” He wanted someone who could speak to the role of angels in the Bible, and I thought, sure, that should be easy. But I ended up having to meet the film crew at Woodlawn Cemetery, where there were many mortuary sculptures of angels on the graves of wealthy people from the 19th century. It was the middle of winter and I gave the whole interview inside a mausoleum, bundled up in my winter coat, scarf and gloves! I didn’t hear back from the producer after that so I assumed the series never got picked up, or my interview was cut. But then years later, a woman from my church told me she had seen me on TV and I found the episode online. I was very embarrassed to realize what a hokey, sensationalist series it was that I had agreed to give an interview for!

This past fall, both of you helped organize Fordham’s first Interfaith Prayer Service during Orientation Week.  Can you share more about that experience?

Jason: I thought it was a really moving service. I was really impressed that President Tetlow wanted to sing a traditional Jewish prayer (and that she has a repertoire of traditional Jewish prayers)! President Tetlow sang Osei Shalom, a song she was familiar with from her days singing at Jewish high holiday services. I said the shehechayanu blessing, which seemed fitting at the start of a new academic year where we welcomed a new president. Probably the facet of the program that most riveted me was the dance in praise of Shiva. I’d never seen anything like it, and I found it very powerful. 

Karina: I was also very happy with the way the service turned out, and with the creativity and commitment of everyone who contributed to it. Figuring out what it should look like took all summer, and some parts of it didn’t fall into place until right near the end. But I found the end result very cohesive, even though it represented so many different religious traditions. My part was an opening prayer based on an Anishinaabe water ritual taught to me by my father. I felt very blessed to have the opportunity to share that part of my heritage with the Fordham community.

Karina offering the opening prayer at the Fall 2022 Interfaith Prayer Service at Lincoln Center

In what ways has Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic missions impacted the work that you do, in the classroom and in your research?

Jason: This is an institution that encourages us to cultivate so many aspects of our humanity and our students’ humanity in all aspects of our work, whether in student advising and mentoring, or in the classroom, or in training students how to do independent research. It’s also a place that encourages everyone in the community to take ethics seriously and to engage in reflection about our values and our practices. All of that is deeply informed by the Jesuit and Catholic mission, though it resonates very strongly with my Jewish values. 

Karina: My understanding of Fordham’s Jesuit mission has deepened over the years, partly through study groups focused on the mission, but mostly through observing my colleagues living the mission. I agree with Jason that it’s about cultivating the full personhood of every member of the Fordham community. If we don’t allow our own humanity to flourish in all of its dimensions, how can we care for our students as full persons? One of the ways I have found to live the mission is by employing the pedagogy of community-engaged learning. This year I’m working with a committee to create a new cohort program, similar to an Honors program, that centers social justice and community engagement.

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

Jason: I’m very proud of Fordham’s Jewish scholarship and Fordham’s community around Jewish studies. I don’t think too many faith-based institutions would prioritize the understanding and appreciation of another faith in this way. I can’t think of another university, including Jewish universities, that would have helped me to grow in my own Judaism as Fordham has.

Karina: I am thrilled to be a member of the Jewish Studies faculty at Fordham. It has been wonderful to see the Center grow so quickly and to see the incredible diversity of programming that it offers. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is that we now reach so many people with our virtual and hybrid programming. My own intellectual life has been greatly enriched by the contact with other Jewish Studies scholars that the Center has facilitated. 

Thank you, Jason and Karina, for such a wide-ranging and moving peak into your research and relationship!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professor Anne Hoffman

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Professor Anne Hoffman, Professor of English and Modern Hebrew Literature at Fordham, a special member of the Association for Psychoanalytic Medicine of the Columbia Center for Psychoanalytic Training and Research, and an accomplished painter.


Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your research?

My interests are somewhat eclectic, held together by a deep interest in narrative as a fundamental human practice. Over the years, I’ve written about modernist writers, S.Y. Agnon in particular, contemporary Israeli fiction, Freud and psychoanalysis. Fordham has been a welcoming intellectual environment, and being in New York has allowed me to advance more specialized interests through work with colleagues at neighboring institutions. I’ve collaborated with Jewish Studies colleagues at JTSA and NYU, and mentored graduate students in Hebrew literature at both institutions. (For years, I taught Hebrew literature in summer sessions at JTSA, just to keep my hand in.) At the same time, I hold research affiliations in psychoanalysis at the Columbia Institute and at Weill Cornell Medical College. These overlapping communities have fostered my career as a comparatist, allowing me to develop and share work that has addressed narrative constructions of gender and embodiment across a range of texts and fields.

Anne Hoffman in a class at Fordham

You are a scholar of late nineteenth and early twentieth century literature, psychoanalytic studies, narratology, and gender studies.  You also write about modern Hebrew literature and gender in Israeli and European Jewish writings.  Have you always been interested in Jewish literature?

I stumbled upon modern Hebrew literature, Agnon in particular, as an undergraduate majoring in English with a strong interest in languages. I was trying to piece together a comparative literature focus for myself and happened into a seminar with David Patterson, founder of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, who was visiting faculty at Cornell at the time. Having learned Hebrew as a child in day school, I was immediately captivated by Agnon, a distinctively modernist writer whose work resonates with all the richness of Jewish traditions and classical texts. My first thought was that if I were to go to grad school, it would be to study Agnon and Kafka, and in fact that was the focus of my dissertation and early publications.

My interests in Hebrew literature and Jewish writing evolved from there. For example, after completing a monograph that approached Agnon from a comparative perspective, I went on to write a series of articles in the 1990’s on gender and contemporary Israeli fiction, examining representations of Jewish male feminization in the work of male novelists. It was fascinating to trace back the history of Jewish responses to longstanding antisemitic stereotypes of Jewish male feminization, including Max Nordau’s conception of the “muscle Jew,” a significant trope in Zionist thought, and to examine the ways in which contemporary writers such as A.B. Yehoshua and Yaakov Shabtai use narrative to challenge rigid gender binaries and undo an oppressive history of male stereotyping.

You have translated important works of Israeli literature, including stories by Shai Agnon, into English. What is it like to work as a translator?

I don’t consider myself to be a translator, even though I’ve translated some stories of Agnon. My approach as a translator was always to be faithful to the text as a scholar, not the best approach for literary translation.

When did you arrive at Fordham and what was Fordham like at the time?

Timely question: interesting to look back, as I approach retirement. I came to Fordham from Columbia in 1979, moving from a stratified environment to a more egalitarian setting in a young college. It was an exciting time at Fordham Lincoln Center, with an intergenerational student body and interdisciplinary divisions. As faculty we met in study groups and enjoyed opportunities to invite scholars from a range of fields to lead seminars with faculty and with students. During the eighties, College at Lincoln Center Dean George Shea led a Mellon-funded project to rethink core curriculum, convening faculty seminar-style to envision a liberal arts curriculum for the next century. Those were formative years for me intellectually and professionally.

In terms of Jewish Studies at Fordham, Byron Shafer, who taught Hebrew Bible, and John Entelis in Political Science, would invite me to offer the occasional course in Israeli literature and film, as part of the Program in Middle-East Studies they directed. In 1988, at Byron’s suggestion, I developed and led the annual colloquium in Middle-East Studies, devoting it to recent trends in Israeli literature. I was thrilled to host the writer Aharon Appelfeld as our main speaker, with talks by my close collaborators Alan Mintz (JTSA) and Yael Feldman (NYU).

In the early nineties, when Ed Bristow became Dean of the College, one of his initiatives involved finding a use for a fund established by a Jewish alumnus. Ed asked if I’d join the conversation and at my suggestion, invited Burt Visotzky, professor of Midrash at JTSA, to brainstorm with us. It was Burt’s idea to create a public forum devoted to Catholic-Jewish dialogue. That became the Nostra Aetate Dialogue, which went on for a number of years, an annual event bringing together a Jewish scholar and a Christian scholar to address questions such as the Jewishness of Jesus. Characterized by a genuinely fruitful exchange of perspectives, the Nostra Aetate Dialogue offered an illuminating model not just for Fordham, but for the broader community.

During the nineties we went through a turbulent time of restructuring at Fordham that led to the creation of bi-campus departments in a more unified arts and sciences structure. I was one of those who led the fight to preserve our interdisciplinary and intergenerational College at Lincoln Center. While we lost that battle, the years since have certainly seen many exciting interdisciplinary opportunities open up at the level of programs and departments, including in recent years the development of a thriving Center for Jewish Studies.  

Anne Hoffman receives the Bene Merenti Medal for 40 years of service to Fordham University

What inspired you to found the Jewish Texts Reading Group?

I didn’t create it! I was approached by Gerry Blaszczak, SJ, who was then Vice President for Mission, and Elsie Stern, who taught Hebrew Bible in the Theology Department. Together with Russ Pearce in the Law School, they invited me to join them in forming a faculty seminar devoted to the study of Jewish texts. After Gerry left Fordham, Pat Ryan, SJ, joined me in sustaining this wonderful project.

What was the very first text that you read in that group, and what texts have you studied together since? Is there a particular session or insight that stands out for you? 

We started with Aviva Zornberg’s book on Genesis in conjunction with study of the biblical text. Very quickly the group came to define itself through its interest in classical Jewish sources. Over the years that has ranged from the biblical to the Talmudic and Midrashic, with forays into modernity to read Emmanuel Levinas and Gershom Scholem, interspersed on rare occasion with an Agnon story. Most recently, we’ve made our way through Ketuvim, working with Robert Alter’s translations, as well as Ed Greenstein’s recent translation of Job. Following our discussion of the Book of Esther, we closed the fall with Elie Wiesel’s Trial of God, a play conceived as a very dark Purimshpil. What stands out for me over the history of this group is the range of interests people bring to our meetings, whether in the dramatic potential of narrative material, the cross-cultural folkloric parallels, the internal contradictions or conflicts that a text encompasses, or textual intersections with Christian and Islamic sources.

How has the group changed over the years?

The membership has changed, obviously, but there have always been several Bible scholars. I’m struck more by the continuities than the changes. It’s a group made up of people from diverse religious and disciplinary backgrounds and commitments, brought together by shared interest in close study of classical Jewish sources, qualities that make it distinctive and precious in my eyes.

In what ways has Fordham’s Jesuit and Catholic missions impacted the work that you do, in the classroom and in your research as well as in the Jewish Texts Reading Group?

I think of my late father-in-law’s comment when I got a first summer grant in the early eighties for travel to Israel to explore Agnon’s archive. An immigrant himself and a refugee from Nazi Europe, he observed that it truly is the “goldeneh medineh” when a Catholic university gives a Jewish girl money to go to Israel to work on Agnon. Even more than the material support, his remark captures something of the openness and generosity that have been my experience of this university, my academic home for over forty years. The Jesuit appreciation for diverse perspectives and fields of inquiry has provided me with extraordinary opportunities to develop my interests in Hebrew literature and Jewish Studies, and in other areas as well. I’ve been supported with the resources to advance my own training in psychoanalytic studies, and to develop interdisciplinary seminars and colloquia, including most recently a faculty seminar on W.E.B. Du Bois that grew out of an interdisciplinary course I developed with Jason Morris, a biologist and stalwart of the Jewish text group. It’s that kind of mix that characterizes our academic community and exemplifies the intellectual openness of the Jesuit tradition. The social justice values that are at the core of our mission have energized much of what I do in the classroom, in courses that have addressed disability studies and the history of mass incarceration, including a few years ago the chance to teach a course in a maximum security prison to which I traveled each week with a group of Fordham students.   

Any thoughts about Jewish Studies @Fordham as we celebrate its fifth anniversary?

I celebrate the creative leadership of the program and look forward with great pleasure to learning about new initiatives.

Thank you, Professor Hoffman, for sharing these memories and history with us!

Jewish Studies before Jewish Studies @Fordham: Interview with Professor Edward Bristow

This year, Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is celebrating its fifth anniversary.  But before the formal founding of the CJS, many professors, students, librarians, and others taught, studied, and cultivated the study of Jews, Judaism, and Jewish history and culture at Fordham.  This blog series features interviews with some of these people and celebrates their lasting contributions to the university.  

This interview features Professor Edward Bristow, Professor of History at Fordham, previous Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center, and Founder of the Fordham-Alvin Ailey BFA Program in Dance as well as the Annual Nostra Aetate Dialogue on Catholic-Jewish Relations.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your work?

I came to the then “College at Lincoln Center” in 1986 as associate dean after training at Yale, teaching in England for a wonderful decade, and turning to administration. Back in New York, grantmaking at the New York Council for the Humanities was enjoyable and instructive, and working in the ambitious central administration at NYU prepared me for anything that might  follow in university life. My first books were in British political and social history. Later I found my way to academic subjects of Jewish interest, a focus that was encouraged by the post-Vatican 2 philosemitic culture of a Jesuit university.

You joined the Fordham faculty many years ago.  What was Fordham like at that time and how has it changed since then?

Fordham was a far less complex institution in the 1980’s. It was not nearly as heavily administered nor as multifunctional as it is now. It was not unusual for administrators to have little to do in summer. My two predecessors as dean disappeared for much of the summer, leaving me to run the college. When I became dean in 1991 the college remained intergenerational, with easy crossover between day and evening sessions, and without a residence hall. We housed residential students at The Hotel Lucerne on 79th Street, later devoted to the homeless, or at any other facility that we could turn up. McMahon Hall opened on my watch. The college was organized on a divisional rather than a departmental basis, which encouraged interdisciplinary teaching and colleagueship across fields. The dean had considerable autonomy and was responsible for a range of campus programs, including HEOP [Fordham’s Higher Education Opportunity Program], College at Sixty, and ESL [English as a Second Language], which we planned and initiated. For a time we ran evening admissions and struggled to stabilize the shrinking size of our nontraditional student intake. We went so far as to advertise on WFAN radio, not a popular move with the administration, though now Fordham advertises on New York Giants radio broadcasts.

Fordham was not yet focused on developing our arts curriculum. Theatre was in place but suffered as it still does from inadequate performance space. Music instruction barely existed. At the last minute I had to find money from discretionary funds for providing a critical window in a new arts studio which had somehow been left out of the architect’s plan. Otherwise there would have been no natural light for painting.  With no funds centrally available, we also paid for the portable banked seating in the auditorium which is still in use, as well as for the first white-box rehearsal space, built on the sly with the help of a sympathetic Lincoln Center administrator. Our primary initiative was the collaborative BFA dance program with the Ailey School, launched in 1998 following several years of planning.

In the 1990’s, the central administration decided to restructure undergraduate education, placing the day and evening sessions in separate schools, repurposing the new Fordham College at Lincoln Center as a largely residential day college for traditional students, and uniting the two college faculties in bi-campus departments. This enabled a range of important academic enhancements, and was necessary to permit us to compete successfully in the admissions marketplace.

Edward Bristow as Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center

When you were Dean of Fordham College at Lincoln Center in the 1990s, you initiated an annual interfaith dialogue, which eventually came to be published as a book titled No Religion Is An Island: The Nostra Aetate Dialogues.  What inspired you to begin Catholic-Jewish dialogue on campus, and what did you learn through that experience?  

I recall the moment when the Nostra Aetate Dialogues came to mind. It was at Elie Wiesel’s honorary Fordham degree ceremony at Rose Hill.  Wiesel observed that Fordham would never have invited his father to such an event, and that his father would never have accepted. His comment encapsulated how Nostra Aetate marked an unparalleled religious transformation. Times had changed, good interfaith relations were palpable, and interreligious dialogue was developing across the country. I approached the late president, Fr. Joseph A. O’Hare, who eagerly encouraged me to develop the program.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan, Arnold Eisen (seventh chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary), and Edward Bristow speak at the Nostra Aetate Dialogue in November 2009

Is there a particular conversation or moment from the dialogues you hosted that stands out in your memory?

Several moments from the dialogues are especially memorable. We promoted the programs widely and aggressively, always essential in New York with its broad public offerings. When we entered the Law School auditorium for the inaugural program in 1993 on “The Jewishness of Jesus,” there were scores of people sitting in aisles, with hundreds more unable to gain admission. This was far more pleasing than Cardinal O’Connor’s entrance to the Pope auditorium a few years later, where he could barely reach the stage and had to climb over scenery set up for a theatrical production.

​​Our dialogue in 2000 concerned the role of Pope Pius XII during the Holocaust, a controversy that was raging at the time. An international commission of six distinguished Catholic and Jewish scholars was studying the subject and was about to break up in recrimination.  We invited Fr. Gerald Fogarty SJ, who had been in my graduate-school class, and who was serving on that international commission. He told the audience that no smoking gun would be found when the wartime papers of Pius XII were finally opened. This turned out to be right.

When the storm over Pius XII was first raised in 1963 by Rolf Hochuth’s sensational and wildly tendentious  play, “The Deputy,” the Vatican enlisted Jesuit editors to publish what became a twelve-volume set of Pius’s carefully selected wartime correspondence. The later international commission asked that some obvious and important gaps in the published correspondence be filled in from the archives. It was the Vatican’s refusal to provide this documentation that caused the breakup of the commission. The pope’s wartime papers were finally opened in 2020, and we now have the initial findings, including a major work by David Kertzer. His virtual day-to-day narrative has not really turned up a smoking gun. What could that look like? Nor does Kertzer appear to fill in most of the gaps identified by the commission, for which documentation must not be extant. On the other hand, his account of the Pope’s wartime activities provides a shockingly awful record of moral and political failure.

Among your research interests is the study of comparative genocide, antisemitism, and the Jewish anti-slavery movement.  Can you tell us a bit about your work in these fields?

While researching an earlier book about social-purity movements in English history,  I encountered documents about the Jewish role in the international white-slave traffic from the late-nineteenth century to 1939. This development seemed so unusual that I resolved to explain how it could have emerged. The result was Prostitution and Prejudice (1982). Chillul Hashem? Jewish historians still comment about how difficult it is to acknowledge the disproportionate role of Jews on the revolutionary left, which did indeed fuel antisemitism. I proceeded with the book because we also understand that the danger is not generally what Jews did or do, but what they permanently represent in Western culture. Gaining access to Jewish archives was sometimes a problem. I later learned that some papers may have been kept from me at the Hebrew University archives. Officials at the Jewish Colonization Association in London, whose collection relating to Jewish settlement in Argentina was central to the subject, tried to convince me to abandon the project. In the end JCA settled for control of the book’s title, but compromised with my editor at Oxford University Press by settling for the subtitle accentuating Kiddush Hashem: The Jewish Fight Against White Slavery.

You teach a course about the Holocaust.  When did you begin teaching this course and what are the themes you emphasize in this course?

A course about the Holocaust was a natural development at Fordham in the post-Nostra Aetate years, and I first offered it in 1988.  A thread within the course, if not an emphasis, is the Holocaust as a laboratory for human behavior in extreme situations, affecting everyone involved across the range of roles. For example, there is now sufficient work in social psychology, evolutionary psychology and neuroscience for us to go beyond Christopher Browning’s use of the famous Milgram and Zimbardo experiments. Rescue remains a puzzle, defying general theorizing. In addition to the conventional emphases, I deal thoroughly with the role of the churches, especially the Catholic church. To address the difficult question of how we may effectively represent the Holocaust, I assign Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, and short sections of Claude Lanzmann’s “Shoah”. I leave time for the important aftermath, including the  development of international humanitarian law, retributive justice and its failures, and the long-term cultural transformation which uniquely produced German identification with their victims rather than with the perpetrators. The class visit by Mr. Martin Spett, a remarkable survivor, was always transformational. His recent death moves us closer to the day when there will be no survivors.   

Teaching the course at the Juilliard School in Fall 2022 afforded the opportunity to consider the odd tension between barbarism and high culture that characterized the Nazi regime. Martin Goldsmith visited the class. He is a writer and classical music presenter whose parents, until their last-minute escape in 1941, played in the Jewish orchestra that was organized by the heroic Kulturbund and permitted by the Nazis as a useful propaganda tool. Martin’s  grandfather and uncle sailed on the ill-fated SS St. Louis and perished at Auschwitz. His long quest to reconstruct this family saga and put to rest second-generation difficulties produced two family histories and a docudrama with the famous Bruno Ganz in his last role cast as Martin’s father (Ganz played Hitler in “Downfall”). The course concluded with a look at the denazification hearing of Wilhelm Furtwangler, one of the greatest conductors of the twentieth century, and who played for Hitler. I hope to bring Martin to Fordham in Fall 2023. 

A course on Genocide was a natural outgrowth of the Holocaust course. I used to assign reading about whether the Holocaust was unique, a topic that thankfully is now largely ignored. This made me curious about other mass atrocities, which is what the Genocide course is about.  Carefully arranged comparative study enables us to understand individual cases more clearly, and the several weeks devoted to the Holocaust in the Genocide course usually produce further curiosity.

You also established the Fordham-Alvin Ailey BFA program in Dance.  What are some intersections between your research or teaching on topics related to Judaism, and the study and practice of dance?

The BFA Dance program is a consequence of our proximity with the Ailey School, and our mutual location at the center of the performing-arts world. The scores of professional dancers from City Ballet who studied at Fordham beginning in the 1980’s also encouraged us, since most of these performers were excellent students, knew how to learn, and were loved by faculty. Dance is not alien in the history of the Jesuits, who were actively involved with liturgical ballet in seventeenth-century Paris. From the beginning Jesuits engaged our dancers to perform a piece at Fordham’s annual Christmas concert. It surely helped that Fr O’Hare was a devoted fan of Judith Jamison, Alvin Ailey’s muse.

Edward Bristow with Melanie Person (Co-Director, The Ailey School) and Laura Auricchio (Dean, Fordham College at Lincoln Center) at a Fordham-Alvin Ailey BFA Benefit

I was surprised and interested when Robert Battle, Jamison’s successor as the Ailey Company’s artistic director, made a ballet about the Holocaust using a score by Erwin Schulhoff,  a Czech-Jewish composer who was killed during the war. Battle calls the ballet “No Longer Silent,” referring to the many talented interwar composers who perished. BFA alumni in the Ailey company have performed in this piece. Battle, who has an honorary Fordham degree, has commented sensibly that he could only approach the theme indirectly, not fully programmatically.

Thank you, Professor Bristow, for sharing this amazing personal and institutional history with us!

Unspoken Collective Resistance: A Reflection

By Mark Naison

On January 22, I, along with many others, joined Fordham faculty, Wes Alcenat and Magda Teter, for a tour of an exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance,” which they co-curated with a student Lesley East FCRH’24. It is not often that I encounter scholarship and art with life changing power. But I did that day.

The remarkable exhibit and presentation had a profound effect on everyone who attended, me included.  Juxtaposing the language and imagery of antisemitism along with that of anti-Black racism and showing commonalities in the language of resistance from scholars and activists who were not always aware of one another is something that I have ever seen done before. 

On a personal level, the presentation by both of my colleagues inspired me to look at my own childhood and youth in a new way. I have written extensively about my own attraction to, and immersion in Black history and culture—an effort that has shaped my entire adult life. I even wrote an entire book about that: White Boy: A Memoir.

However, I never fully interrogated the Jewish dimension of my childhood and youth in terms of the historic dynamics which the exhibition presents, particularly resistance to the imagery as well as lived reality of antisemitism, in the US as well as globally.  My parents’ generation not only lived through Hitler and the Holocaust, but they also faced fierce antisemitism on the streets of New York City and, if they chose to travel, throughout the country. My generation grew up with a completely different experience. We grew up believing that there was nothing that could stop us from achieving any position we sought in American life and we were determined to turn that into a reality. In my own scholarship, that journey has often been described as “Jews becoming white.”

But in the context of what the exhibit explores, there was something else going on: a concerted effort to create a generation that defied historic stereotypes of Jews that my parents’ generation was bombarded with. Some of this, interestingly enough, was done through diet; some of it through sports, often in a highly gendered way.  My cousins and I, who grew up together in Crown Heights, were deluged with food by everyone around us—Jewish food, Chinese food, TV Dinners—at every meal, constantly told in Yiddish “es mein Kind” (eat my child). The results were visible in physical terms. I grew to be six full inches taller than my father, something quite common in my Brooklyn neighborhood. We were also taught to fight and were exposed to sports at an early age.

My father, a 5’5″ teacher with dark hair, glasses and a hooked nose, almost a walking image of the Jewish stereotype, bought me boxing gloves and football equipment before I was 5 years and taught me wrestling holds that I could use in a fight.  With me, who was 6’ tall and 180 pounds by the time I was 14 and ironically had reddish blond hair, he ended up creating someone who (from the vantage point of the exhibition) could avenge the insults, attacks and antisemitic imagery that haunted him his entire life. I grew up being afraid of NO ONE, and kicked the butts of many people who made fun of me for doing well in school, and in one or two instances, who made antisemitic remarks.

However, what the exhibition made me realize was that my experience was not idiosyncratic, but generational.  I never thought of this before. But, when I graduated Columbia in 1966, I was one of three captains of Columbia teams who were Jewish—me in tennis, Stan Felsinger in basketball, Steve Richmond in baseball. Harvey Rubin, a captain in football, had graduated a year prior. What’s more, EVERY SINGLE ONE OF US GREW UP IN BROOKLYN and attended a local public high school.

From the perspective that the exhibit and the presentation by Wes Alcenat and Magda Teter have provided me with, we were a collective example of resistance to antisemitism, something never fully articulated by those around us, but perhaps all the more powerful because it was unspoken!

I never saw myself as fighting antisemitism when I was growing up. Rather, I saw myself as attaining the heights of achievement in a country open to my efforts. But was it an accident that when the Civil Rights movement exploded to the fore during my years in college, I became deeply immersed in fighting anti-Black racism, with my civil rights activism, and emerging studies of race in America, becoming as important a part of my identity as being a star athlete?  After all, wasn’t my becoming a star athlete part of an unacknowledged, but collective mission, to resist and ultimately defeat antisemitism?

I grateful to Wes and Magda for inspiring me to take a new look at all these issues, to understand the trauma of being constantly bombarded with negative images, as well as very real threats, which shaped the outlook of my parents and everyone else in my parents’ generation in my Crown Heights neighborhood where the vast majority of people over 20 were first and second generation Jews and Italians. One of the big takeaways from the Exhibition was realizing that my emergence as a star athlete was more than a personal journey—an entire community was invested in training and mentoring me and so many other Jewish athletes so that we would shatter the widely disseminated stereotypes about Jewish weakness and fragility.


Mark Naison is Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University and the author of seven books and over 300 articles on African American politics, labor history, popular culture and education policy.

A Holistic View at Jewish Culture: Reflections on the Jewish Museum

Emma Reynolds FCRH’23

Immediately upon entering the Jewish Museum, the tone is clear: Holistic. On the third floor, the large main room we entered first was bright. It included art of all content and style, spanning centuries of history. The exhibit “Scenes from the Collection” was very obviously curated with a labor of adoration, with each piece in its specific place working with each piece around it to create a picture of Jewish culture that was both historical and personal, modern and contextual, saddening and rejoicing. I believe the museum was very careful to present Jewish culture as alive, not simply reduced to Jews as victims of tragedy and discrimination. This was a theme I often came back to in our course this semester, how both antisemitism and the study of antisemitism can de-personify Jews, either turning them into villains or perpetual victims. The reinstating of Jewish personhood and identity, while also acknowledging the sadness and loss that is a part of that identity, is one of the strongest statements of the museum.

These themes of connecting personal modern identity with the past was shown through many pieces and displays in the exhibit. The first collection we viewed was a case of at least a dozen Hanukkah lamps that varied wildly. From material to sentimental context, from a century to a continent, each lamp was different and reflected the personality of Jews all across place and time, united by a culture and religion. The image was so powerful. These lamps were so personal, almost a vignette or a biography of a family who had once owned it, yet the display also served to point out the longevity of the traditions that maintained this culture. Too often in the study of Jewish history, or even more so in antisemitism, the lack of a Jewish voice can prevent us from seeing a person behind every story, perpetuated myth, act of violence or gaining of citizenship. While studying the history of antisemitism, I would constantly and actively remind myself to read between the lines and remember the humanity behind every story and remember that people, demonized in these text, were also not just victims—they had full and culture-filled lives that were enriched by their community and religion. This display of Hanukkah lamps also noted the connection between religion and culture.

Another display that stuck with me was the pairing of the highly decorated portrait of Alios Itzhak by Kehinde Wiley and the Torah ark made by Abraham Shulkin next to it. The placement of these two objects, different in era, form and function, allowed us as the audience to clearly compare and understand the elements that are reformed and replicated as important motifs in Jewish art. The similarities included religious elements such as the top more decoration of the eagle and the hands gesturing in prayer, as well as intricate detail work of flowers and vines. The overlap in these pieces that are so different really emphasize the importance of history to modern Jewish art and show how modern Jews continue to root themselves in their past and in religious origins to maintain a cohesive culture. The use of religious motifs despite the nonreligious function of the piece really speaks to the importance of the religion on the culture, yet the continuation of artistic styles also supports the reverse- that there is a deeper culture and style that unites beyond religious symbolism.

These ideas are also reflective of what we discussed in class, the variation in defining what is “Jewish”, and how its ties to cultural, religious, and ethnic roots impact the contextualization of Jews in their world. While this is relevant to antisemitism, as it concerns outward perceptions of Jews and what it means to be a Jew, these are also concerns of the self and of self-identity. In the art by modern Jewish artists, physical manifestation of that self-exploration is seen in their playing with the overlap of culture and religion. In the painting by Kehinde Wiley, I think this relationship is captured perfectly, and it is aided by the side-by-side comparison to the historical Torah ark.

The art on display did not shy away from discussions of trauma and violence, however, it framed these events in the context of Jewish agency and personhood. Works we saw explored

Jewish reactions to the mass murder or attempts to understand a new reality with the knowledge of the extent of anti-Jewish hate, but they did not reduce the Jewish people to faceless victims. This reflection on the real emotion and reaction to tragedy were some of the most honest and human works of art I’ve experienced. By framing the Holocaust in this way, almost in an abstract, the viewer is allowed to focus on the humanity of the artist, and the life that they created from a tragedy.

Overall, I think this museum is remarkably well conceived and unique in its ability to remain cohesive and yet represent such a long and diasporic history. In the use of the specific works of art to contextualize each other historically or emotively, the museum was able to create a truly personable and holistic view at Jewish culture.


Emma Reynolds is a senior at Fordham College at Rose Hill. She visited the Jewish Museum as part of the values seminar on the history of antisemitism taught by Professor Magda Teter in the fall of 2022.

Reflections on the Exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance”

by Dylan Shack FCRH’23

Visiting the exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance” in the Walsh Family library was an eye-opening experience in demonstrating the similarities between antisemitism and racism. The exhibit shows how both forms of hatred and their propagators have used similar methods to otherize Jews and African Americans. In both the United States and Europe, derogatory depictions of Jews and Black individuals were widespread in different forms of media consumed by the majority, Christian and white, from cradle to grave. This included storybooks that portrayed both Black Americans and Jews with exaggerated facial features, which were particularly used to caricature and dehumanize them.

Children's books play a role in perpetuating and fighting derogatory stereotypes: displayed here series of children's books from 1905, a 1949 edition of "Little Black Sambo," and Julius Lester's anti-racist reinterpretation of "Little Black Sambo": the 1996 "Sam and the Tigers"
Children’s books play a role in perpetuating and fighting derogatory stereotypes: displayed here series of children’s books from 1905, a 1949 edition of “Little Black Sambo,” and Julius Lester’s anti-racist reinterpretation of “Little Black Sambo”: the 1996 “Sam and the Tigers”

Seeing them on the screen in class was upsetting enough but seeing these items physically and knowing that they were distributed widely, that people made money off this hate, and that millions purchased these items willingly was a stomach-turning experience. These depictions and dehumanization, over centuries, resulted in the enslavement, torture, and mass murder of both peoples, though contexts for these persecutions differed. Pogroms committed in Europe even before the Holocaust against Jews and lynchings committed across the United States against Black people show the consequences of hatred and dehumanization.

Another aspect I found interesting is that both Jews and Black people came together in these times of elevated discrimination and hatred in order to establish both guides and physical places where they could enjoy themselves without fear of discrimination. I knew of both the Motorist Green Book for Black community and the resorts which were open to Jews in such places as the Catskills prior to visiting the exhibit but had never independently made the connection of the level of similarity between these two in the creative ways in which they made the best they could while facing particularly dire discrimination nationwide.

The case displays a menu and promotional postcards of Jewish resorts in the Catskills and facsimile editions of the Green Book.

I think that this exhibition is also more relevant than ever in our current time as we have seen an increase in the level of both antisemitic and anti-Black racism nationwide, as well as a concerted effort by white supremacists to separate our two communities and define our struggles to obtain equal rights and treatment in our country as entirely separate issues. White supremacists know that the only way in which they can achieve power is to divide minority groups and pit us against each other. The reality is that our respective communities did have unique struggles. This is especially true of the degree of discrimination that Blacks faced in the United States, which was much more severe on average, in legal and experiential way, than Jews such as my family faced.

It is important as a point of mutual respect that I acknowledge this historical reality while also acknowledging that my family came to the United States to escape often comparably severe hatred and persecution Jews faced in Europe. Still as immigrants from Europe, my family was allowed to integrate into and benefit from white America, which was and still is a society that persecutes and discriminates against Blackness. This is something that I acknowledge while also understanding that Jews in America continue to face the threat of daily antisemitic violence. These realities which both of our communities have lived through and continue to live through are not mutually exclusive and acknowledging them can help us to work through much of the divide that white supremacists have sought to establish between our communities. This exhibit shows in painstaking detail the ways in which both communities have been dehumanized and othered are very similar, and the danger that these forms of hatred continue to present to society. The exhibit also shows resilience and ways to confront this hatred. I am grateful to have visited this exhibit and seen this intersectional struggle that our communities have experienced.


Dylan Shack is a senior Economics major at Fordham College at Rose Hill. He is taking a values seminar on antisemitism with Professor Magda Teter.

The exhibit “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance” is on view at the Walsh Family Library until February 28, 2023, workdays 9:30AM-4:30PM. The exhibit catalogue is available here.

A Walking Tour of the Jewish Bronx with Julian Voloj

By Reyna Stovall FCLC’25

On September 18th, the Fordham University’s Center for Jewish Studies hosted a walking tour of the Jewish Bronx with Julian Voloj, a photographer and author, whose photographs will be on display at the Walsh Family Library from October 20, 2022. The group explored the neighborhood along the Grand Concourse to learn about historic buildings that were once cornerstones of the Jewish Community. 

Julian Voloj leading Fordham tour of the Jewish Bronx, September 18th, 2022

The Bronx in the 1930s through the early 1950s was home to one of the largest Jewish communities in the United states. The South Bronx alone had some 360,000 Jews, 260 registered synagogues, and, according to Dr. Seymour J. Perlin, at least twice as many unregistered ones. Since then, most Jews have moved to the suburbs, although Riverdale in the South Bronx still has a fairly large Jewish community of more than 20,000 people. Despite the drastic decrease in the Bronx Jewish population, remnants of the old communities that once dominated the borough can still be found today.

Our tour kicked off at the Heinrich Heine Fountain where our guide, Julian Voloj, recounted his own experiences of the Bronx and gave some general descriptions of the vibrant Jewish past that once stood where we’d be walking. The fountain was originally designed to commemorate Heinrich Heine’s birth centenary and be placed in Düsseldorf, the birthplace of the famous German Jewish poet, in 1897, but it was rejected by the city council and brought to New York, finding its way to the Bronx in 1899.

After quick photos of the beautiful fountain that greeted us at the beginning of our tour, we began our walk down Grand Concourse avenue, stopping to view the gorgeous Bronx County Courthouse, before making our way to our first official stop, on Morris Avenue, Bronx Christian Charismatic Prayer Fellowship Inc. which is housed at what used to be a synagogue. While the Star of David that was once on the roof of the building is no longer there, other Jewish imagery, such as inscriptions on the building itself and stars of David on the window bars, still remain. While Julian Voloj was pointing out some of this imagery, the pastor, Andre Faison, came out of the building and introduced himself, providing more insight into the building’s history and how his congregation came to acquire it. It was a lovely and insightful surprise addition to the tour.

Walking around the Grand Concourse area, what surprised me the most was the hidden beauty that disguised itself behind a veil of urban development. Beautiful art deco buildings and small homes stood side by side, creating a mosaic of culture and history. I could only wonder as we walked past shops, churches, daycares, and homes about the layers of history each possessed. Did a Jewish family once own them? What would it have been like to see these buildings in the 1930s? What would those people think of the Bronx as it is today? These were only a few of the questions that ran through my mind as we walked through the Jewish Bronx. 

Once Temple Adath Israel, now Grand Concourse Seventh Day Adventist Temple, 1289 Grand Concourse at East 169th Street. The Grand Concourse Seventh Day Adventist Temple purchased the building from Adath Israel in 1972 and has remained in the building since. It is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2022.

My favorite stop on our tour had to be the House of the Daughters of Jacob home and hospital on E. 167th Street and Findlay Avenue. It towered above the street, looming over us in all its beauty. Compared to the other buildings we saw, it seemed by far the largest, probably magnified by its location, as it perched on the top of a hill. Like the church we had visited earlier, the Star of David that once sat on its roof is no longer there. But the Jewish symbolism is still very prominent, dominating the gates that lead up to the building itself. The ironwork twists into swirls ending in a Star of David as well as the name of the building itself. Beautifully, one member of our tour group recognized the building from old photos of her grandparents, who she discovered while on the tour had once lived their last days in the building. 

Former Home of the Daughters of Jacob is located at 1201 Findlay Ave

To round out and end our tour, we stopped at the Andrew Freedman Home, which was created to be a retirement home for wealthy people who had lost their fortunes. It was owned and operated by former owner (1922) of the New York Giants and self-made millionaire Andrew Freedman. Over the years has served many purposes, including a home from German and Jewish refugees during the Second World War. Today the house is an active collaboration space where artists, entrepreneurs, technologists, and educators come together to work towards sustainable community development. While we weren’t permitted onto the campus due to filming that was occurring at the time, walking around the several block building allowed us to put into perspective the past and the present.

While many structures of the past still exist today, they are constantly changing and evolving to serve new functions, communities, and purposes. Some are even unrecognizable from their old forms. But if you look closely, they will tell you their story. 


Reyna Stovall is a sophomore at Fordham College at Lincoln Center and a minor in Jewish Studies. She is currently holding an internship in Jewish Studies at the Walsh Family Library, where she is preparing an exhibition about Jewish life in the Bronx.

New Exhibit: “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism, and the Resistance”

Westenley Alcenat, Lesley East, and Magda Teter

Antisemitism and anti-Black racism have often been viewed as separate issues. The exhibit “Confronting Hate: Racism, Antisemitism, and The Resistance,” a fruit of the work of students in HIST 4312: Antisemitism and Racism taught by Professors Westenley Alcenat and Magda Teter in 2021-2022, seeks to open a conversation about historical and phenomenological connections between racism and antisemitism. The exhibit highlights the way popular culture, scholarly works, and art have served to construct ideas about race and racial identity. It explores how racist ideas became entrenched in European and American cultures and how Jews, Black people, and their allies strove to push back. Premodern works displayed here illustrate the process of construction of racist and antisemitic ideas through rhetoric and imagery. More recent works, in turn, show how these ideas have left residual ramifications, continuously influencing future generations.

New Exhibit: “Confronting Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and the Resistance,” co-curated by Westenley Alcenat (History), Lesley East FCRH’24, and Magda Teter (History)

These anti-Black and anti-Jewish imagery and ideas were meant to promote hierarchical frameworks to reinforce Black and Jewish inferiority and the idea that the presence of Jews and Black people presents a danger to the dominant Christian—in case of Jews—and white—in case of Black people—society. Dehumanization and demonization became a function of social subjugation and exclusion. With relentless dissemination of these ideas, these anti-Jewish and anti-Black stereotypes and prejudices have been normalized and naturalized, influencing the conscious and subconscious perceptions of Jews and Black people, especially in Europe and in the United States.

This normalization and naturalization of racist and antisemitic rhetoric have not gone unchallenged. The main voices seeking to combat the anti-Black and anti-Jewish narratives in society came from the Jewish and Black communities—that is those most affected by their harmful effects. But there were some allies within the dominant society who used their more privileged platforms to push back against antisemitism, racism, or polices that were constructed by anti-Jewish and anti-Black ideologies. Alongside the historical sources demonstrating how these pernicious ideas became part of the cultural mainstream, the exhibit spotlights those men and women who spoke up against them. From the seventeenth-century Jewish and Christian writers defending Jews from deadly libels, to voices challenging Enlightenment scholars producing racist and antisemitic literatures under the guise of rationalism and science, to modern Black and Jewish scholars who turned to historical scholarship to offer new perspectives on dominant history, to ordinary Jews and Black Americans who, in spite of the odds, created spaces of luxury and travel that affirmed their dignity as citizens. The exhibit also highlights the ways in which Black and Jewish writers of children’s books harnessed the power of early education to push back against antisemitism and racism.

By exploring why racist and antisemitic ideas exist and how they continue to persist in modern ideologies and cultures, this exhibit hopes to open up a conversation toward mitigating their pernicious effects today.


The curators of the exhibit–Westenley Alcenat, Lesley East, and Magda Teter–are grateful to Fordham University’s Walsh Family Library and especially the O’Hare Special Collections for their support. We are especially grateful to Linda Loschiavo, the Director of the Walsh Family Library, and Gabriella DiMeglio and Vivian Shen at the O’Hare Special Collection. Vivian Shen set up the exhibit with great care and attention to detail.

The catalogue of the exhibit is available here.


Westenley Alcenat is Assistant Professor of History and of African American Studies; Lesley East is a junior at Fordham College at Rose Hill, majoring in International Studies and minoring in Peace and Justice Studies; Magda Teter is Professor of History and the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies.

Moisei Beregovsky and His Archive of Jewish Music

by Mark Slobin

Film poster for "Song Searcher"

I first spoke about the film Song Searcher before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Discussing this groundbreaking, absorbing, and intensely human film has now become a very different experience now that Ukraine has descended into tragic violence once again. The moment has particular personal resonance for me, as my mother was a refugee from Ukraine exactly 100 years ago, following a path to Kishinev now being heavily traveled once more by escapees from violence.

Given the age-old tangled and perilous history that has brought us to today, particularly the story of the three million Jews who lived in Ukraine in the early twentieth century, Beregovsky presents just one brief moment that can offer a microcosm of the paradoxes of the place. Our hero—and he is that—arrived on the scene in 1926 when the memory of the massive pogroms of 1918-21 was still an open wound, barely bandaged by the Soviet attempt to restore order. Jeffrey Veidlinger’s fine new study confirms a death toll of at least 100,000 Jews. In 1932, even as Beregovsky was collecting folk music, Stalin’s vicious famine was in progress: 80,000 Ukrainians died of starvation in 1932 in just the Kyiv area. Soon to follow were Stalin’s massive purges, deportations, and increasingly strident antisemitism within Stalinist Soviet Union and in Ukraine itself, quickly giving way to the massive destruction caused by Hitler’s invasion of 1941. All these horrors were taking place, as Beregovsky was working on surveying Ukrainian Jewish music culture.

Presidium of the Institute of Jewish Proletarian Culture, Kiyv/Kiev, 1934. Moisei Beregovskii (head of the Folklore Section), second row, center. (YIVO Encyclopedia)

Against all odds, in his heyday as a working scholar, we see Beregovsky housed and supported in a Jewish division of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, a temporarily protected space for the systematic gathering and contemplation of the deeply rooted Ukrainian Jewish cultural heritage. Beregovsky functioned something like a fish in a winter lake, carrying on an active life by finding enough nutrients to survive under a thick layer of ice. He was able to come up for air briefly, in wartime evacuation to what is now called Bashkortostan, managing to keep at work by studying the local folk music. And then again, as poignantly testified to in the film, in the brief thaw immediately at the end of World War Two he felt he had to document the Holocaust-ravaged remnants of Jewish communities. Alas, the winds changed again and Beregovsky was sent to the gulag.

Phono-cylinders from the collection of Moshe Beregovsky at the Institute for Information Recording of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine. Source: Song Searcher

Beregovsky’s legacy remained in doubt for decades after his death in 1961. While his published works were certainly known and accessible, most of us thought his archive probably perished over the decades of the Soviet and the Nazi persecution and violence. To our surprise, the 1990s brought the news that the precious materials had indeed survived, though we outsiders had no access to what now became the new Ukrainian state property. To jump to the present crisis, I learned that other day that so far, the archive Beregovsky held from earlier collectors and added to significantly is intact and being safeguarded by the Vernadsky National Library in Kyiv. So the brief period of recognition and limited exposure of those precious holdings over the last thirty years has become just another moment in a string of pauses for breath before history forced the record of Ukrainian Jewish music below the surface again.

These radical shifts in the political and military atmosphere of Ukraine and Russia make it very hard to assess Beregovsky’s work, beyond recognizing the massive achievement of his stockpiling of valuable evidence for the diversity and richness of the Ukrainian Jewish musical experience. Decades ago, I brought up the issue of how seriously to take his pro-stalinist rhetoric – subterfuge or co-optation? That remains an open question. There’s also the selectivity of his collecting efforts, which downplayed most religious-based music, despite his fine anthology of Hasidic nigunim, or scanted the music-dance connection, backgrounded some repertoires outside his favored core, and posited some questionable historical relationships, as Zev Feldman has pointed out.

Yet, I prefer to focus on the breadth of his vision and the largely inclusive nature of his work, including those nigunim and a substantial sampling of purimshpil folk plays. This openness extended to his vision of folklore itself, leading to a flexible, shifting, multi-sourced methodological standpoint influenced by that brief period of open inquiry of the 1920s by those who influenced him, like the Ukrainian scholar Klement Kvitka. I always like to compare Beregovsky to that other great figure of early twentieth century folk collecting and publication, Bela Bartok. Bartok had no interest in the people whose oral testimony he gathered, from the biographical to the contextual. He was not much concerned with the intense interactivity of ethnic traditions and practices. That allowed his work to lay the cornerstone for nationalist traditions of collecting and analysis among the peoples of the Hungarian kingdom that he worked with. Some of those attitudes spilled over to the creative work and polemics of a widening circle of Jewish composers, scholars, and collectors, people who were often looking for an unchanging, inherently Jewish music that perhaps dated back to Biblical times. By contrast, here’s what Beregovsky had to say as he began work, in 1930:

“Is it possible to speak of ‘Jewish music’ when it has been created by different classes, strata, and groups across a wide geographic spread among differing economic, social, and cultural circumstances and as a minority in a diverse ‘national-musical’ environment.” Turning from generality to the specifics of his research method, he says: “Can there be a general unified musical language, or can one find just identical musical expressions, intonations, turns, rhythms, and so forth?” These practical goals drive the current energized work of today’s Yiddishland music researchers.

So what we inherit from Beregovsky, so finely portrayed in the film Song Searcher, should be a gentle open-mindedness, big ears combined with a big heart that respects and safeguards the colorful and hard-won aesthetic freedom of the Ukrainian Jews and their kin across Yiddishland. I am grateful to the filmmakers for giving a broad audience a deeply respectful and humane introduction to a great and largely unknown figure in modern Jewish cultural history.


Mark Slobin is the Winslow-Kaplan Professor of Music Emeritus at Wesleyan University and the author or editor of numerous books, including about Moshe Beregovsky, Old Jewish Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovski (1982), which was republished in 2001 by Syracuse University Press, and coedited with Robert A. Rothstein and Michael Alpert, Jewish Instrumental Folk Music: The Collections and Writings of Moshe Beregovski. (2001).


A portion of the Historical Collection of Jewish Musical Folklore 1912-1947 at the Vernadsky Library has been digitized and you can learn more about its history here and peruse and listen to some of the materials here.

A 1782 Haggadah with Yiddish Commentaries

by Henry Poehlein FCRH ’22

Printed in Amsterdam in 1782 by Yohanan Levi Rofe and his brother-in-law Barukh, Haggadah shel Pesah: an merkung Enyeh Hagodeh oyf zolkhe ahrt in es Taytshe izt nimahlen in der velt geyezn is a Passover Haggadah with contains two sections, one written in Hebrew containing the Haggadah with commentaries, and the other, written in Yiddish containing Jewish songs and commentaries pertaining to the Passover holiday.[i] It also contains a kabbalistic commentary by Elhanan ben Moses of Schnaittach (Elḥanan Shnaṭikh), Arba’ Yesodot.

Hagadah Shel Pesaḥ : An Merkung Eyneh Hagodeh Oyf Zolkhe Ahrṭ in Eś Ṭayṭshe Izṭ Nimahlen in Der Ṿelṭ Geṿezn (Amsterdam: Be-vet ubi-defus Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-eḥaṿ, bi-shenat 543 [1782/3]). Spec Coll Judaica 1782 1

The book itself is not fancy in any way. It has a simple dark brown cover with no writing on it, with leather spine, which has faded Hebrew characters on it, and very small toolings. The book is 24 centimeters wide and contains 54 leaves. A book this size would not be able to fit into a pocket but could most likely be used in a household at the Passover Seder. The book is must have been used relatively often or for a long time, as many pages have dirt marks on them, water and wine stains, and ripped corners. Some pages are completely discolored from the stains. Some of the stains appear to be from water. Other stains are darker and look like wine, not unusual for Passover Haggadot. Some drop stains in yellow color; they appear to be wax from a candle. On one page, there are three small burn holes (fig. 1). The condition of this book clearly indicates frequent usage and handling.

Fig. 1. Burn holes

The typeset used shows many fonts, distinct for Hebrew and Yiddish sections. The printer uses larger fonts at the beginning of a section, or verse and as titles (fig. 2). The printer uses bigger fonts as he states the laws in the second half of the book.  A section from Elḥanan Shnaṭikh’s commentary on the Haggadah has a classic layout with a central text surrounded by commentaries (Fig. 3)

Fig. 2. Fragment of a page with laws concerning the counting of Omer, running head in large square Hebrew font, with laws in Yiddish, each paragraph beginning with a word in larger font.
Fig. 3. Section of Haggadah with Elhanan Shnaṭikh’s commentary Yesod Ha-Ahavah

In the book there are no annotations of any kind. There is one word handwritten in the book, along with a few drawn lines. There is also no color in this book, and almost no illustrations, indicating that it was not expensive. The one decorative element in the book is in black ink and looks like a bush of some kind. The illustration is also not very large, taking up less than a quarter of a page.

Although most of the pages are in poor condition, the binding of the book is still very tight, and indicates that the book has been recently rebound.

Passover is a Jewish holiday, which reminds Jews of their ancestors’ history as slaves in Egypt and how they managed to survive and flee. The celebration usually takes place around the dinner table, as family members get together and read from the Haggadah. The holiday continues to be widely celebrated across the Jewish community, as recent studies show that over 90% of all Jews celebrate yearly.[ii] To celebrate Passover, however, a family must have a haggadah. During Passover, family members are asked to spill droplets of wine on the book itself, which explains many, but not all, of the stains in the book.

The Haggadah with Shatnikh’s commentary Arba Yesodot was four times in the eighteenth century: 1782, 1788, and 1789 in Offenbach, and the 1782/3 Amsterdam edition, discussed here. The printer Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe in Amsterdam came from a family of printers and booksellers, who began printing in Amsterdam in mid-eighteenth century: Hirsz Levi Rofe, Yohanan’s brother, and Barukh, their brother-in-law.[iii] In 1797, Yohanan was joined by his son Benjamin, and they continued to print together till 1818.[iv] It is clear that they specialized in prayer books and liturgical texts for Ashkenazi Jews across Europe.

 Their books were published in Hebrew and Yiddish, the most common language spoken by Jews of northern and eastern Europe. The use of the Yiddish language has been used for centuries, with the first known writing dating back to the 14th century.[v] This language was used predominantly by Ashkenazi Jews, and the language itself combined both Hebrew and German.[vi] After printing was introduced in the Jewish community in the 15th century, the majority of works printed were in Hebrew, however, it was not long until works were translated and printed into Yiddish, the first book in Yiddish was published in 1534 in Cracow.[vii] Although this new, exciting idea of printing brought with it many books for people to buy, certain communities did not always agree with what was printed.

The book discussed here incorporates both Hebrew and Yiddish, making the laws and meaning of Passover accessible for those who may have only spoken Yiddish (Fig. 4).

Fig. 4. Pages from the section on Laws of Pesah with Shnatikh’s commentary Yesod ha-yirah in Yiddish.

Henry Poehlein is a senior at Fordham University. He wrote this paper in the fall of 2018, during his first semester at Fordham in Professor Magda Teter’s class HIST 1851 “Jews in the Modern World.”


Bibliography:

Shnaṭikh, Elḥanan. Hagadah Shel Pesaḥ : An Merkung Eyneh Hagodeh Oyf Zolkhe Ahrṭ in Eś Ṭayṭshe Izṭ Nimahlen in Der Ṿelṭ Geṿezn … Ez Zaynen Arbaʻ Yesodot Ṿe-Arbaʻ ʻamude ʻolam Nehmlekh Dizeh Yesod Ha-Yirʼah Yesod Ha-Ahavah Di Andere Tsvey Yesod Ha-ʻavodah Yesod Ha-Berakhah Geheysn Ṿerdn. Nidpas be-Amśṭerdam : Be-vet uvi-defus Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-aḥiṿ, [5]543 [1782 or 1783], 1782.

Shoham, Hizky. “You Can’t Pick Your Family:Celebrating Israeli Familism around the Seder Table.” Journal of Family History 39, no. 3 (2014): 239-60.

Weinstein, Miriam. Yiddish : A Nation of Words. South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press., c2001.


Notes

[i] Hagadah Shel Pesaḥ : An Merkung Eyneh Hagodeh Oyf Zolkhe Ahrṭ in Eś Ṭayṭshe Izṭ Nimahlen in Der Ṿelṭ Geṿezn … Ez Zaynen Arbaʻ Yesodot Ṿe-Arbaʻ ʻamude ʻolam Nehmlekh Dizeh Yesod Ha-Yirʼah Yesod Ha-Ahavah Di Andere Tsvey Yesod Ha-ʻavodah Yesod Ha-Berakhah Geheysn Ṿerdn (Nidpas be-Amśṭerdam : Be-vet uvi-defus Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-aḥiṿ, [5]543 [1782 or 1783], 1782), Non-fiction.

[ii] Hizky Shoham, “You Can’t Pick Your Family:Celebrating Israeli Familism around the Seder Table,” Journal of Family History 39, no. 3 (2014).

[iii] Sefer Magishe minḥah (Amśṭerdam : Be-vet uvi-defus ha-meshutafim Hirts Leṿi Rofe ṿe-ḥatano Ḳashman mokhre sefarim, 514- [1753 or 1754]); Maḥzor ke-minhag Polin, Raisen, Liṭa, Fihem, Merherin (Amśṭerdam : Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe ṿe-giso Barukh ṿe-eḥaṿ Hirts mokhre sefarim, 526 [1766])

[iv] Zot Ḥanukat ha-bayit (Amsṭerdam : be-vet uvi-defus Yoḥanan Levi Rofe u-veno Binyamin, [5]557 [1797]);  Seder tefilot mi-kol ha-shanah : ke-minhag Ashkenaz u-Folin (Amśterdam : Yoḥanan Leṿi Rofe u-veno Binyamin, 1818).

[v] Miriam Weinstein, Yiddish: A Nation of Words (South Royalton, Vt. : Steerforth Press., c2001).

[vi] Weinstein.

[vii] Magda,Teter, and Edward Fram, “Apostasy, Fraud, and the Beginnings of Hebrew Printing in Cracow,” AJS Review 30, no. 1 (2006): 31-66.

Roman Glass and Jerusalem Trade

By Daniel Ramazzotto

Jerusalem is a rich archeological site for various reasons.  It is an old city: the first archeological evidence of human settlement dates to before 2000 BCE.[1]  More importantly, the city has been settled and conquered by many different kingdoms and empires, each of which has left its own ruins. The Egyptians, Israelites, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Umayyads, Abbasids, Fatimids, Suljuks, Crusaders, Mamluks, Ottomans, British, Jordanians, and Israelis all held Jerusalem under their rule at some point in time.  During their reigns, these powers left behind their legacy in tangible, material ways, such as large public works, monumental buildings, and religious sites.  But they also left behind more mundane artifacts that are by no means less important.  Consumer goods used by common inhabitants of Jerusalem reveal much about the culture of Jerusalem and its place in the world.  Large projects may indicate the priorities of rulers, religious authorities, and other elites, but they do not capture what it meant to be an average inhabitant of Jerusalem.  Consumer goods are used in the daily lives of the people, and the logistics of producing such goods can provide a window into another aspect of  Jerusalem’s history.


Figure 1: Roman Candlestick Unguentarium

This small glass container (Figure 1), housed at Fordham’s Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art, is a Roman unguentarium, a simple container that implies much about the city under Roman rule.  An unguentarium is a container used for storing powders and liquids, typically used for cosmetic purposes.[2] 

Many unguentaria have been found at cemeteries, also suggesting that they must have served a religious or ritual purpose as well.[3]  It is thought that unguentaria were suspended by ropes, as no evidence of stoppers have emerged.[4]  Various materials were used, such as ceramic and glass, but Roman unguentaria were predominantly glass.[5]  Glass unguentarium come in different colors, a result of the metallic oxides added to the glass by the artisan.[6]  Two shapes of unguentarium are commonly encountered, fusiform and piriform. Fusiform, or spindle shape, have a conical base.[7]  Piriform are pear shaped, and have a flat base.  Another common shape of unguentaria is the candlestick shape, so called because its long neck resembles a candlestick.  The pictured unguentarium is an example of a candlestick unguentarium.

This particular unguentarium has some fairly common qualities that indicate it is mass produced.  Although it has corroded, it appears to have originally been a light blue translucent color.  This was a popular color for Roman glassware, and was achieved by adding varying amounts of cobalt oxide and copper oxide to the sand used in glass making.[8]  The base is half of a sphere, and the foot is flat, allowing it to rest without the support of ropes like other unguentaria.  The neck is long and slender, but slightly askew.  That is to say that the neck is not exactly perpendicular to the base.  The mouth has a circular rim that juts out past the neck, though it is not an equal thickness throughout.  From mouth to base the unguentarium stands just over eight inches tall.

With these qualities in mind, the provenance of this unguentarium may be ascertained.  Given that this unguentarium is the common aqua blue and has imperfections in its shape, it is safe to assume that this unguentarium was part of a mass production.  This being so we can assume several possibilities about the unguentarium’s origin.  According to Pliny, the source for raw materials used in the majority of Roman glassware came from two locations in Egypt, Wadi Natrun and el-Barnugi, with the material from el-Barnugi being superior.[9]  Given this piece’s common qualities, the glass used could have come from either site, though it is impossible to say without a chemical analysis.  Raw materials here would be manufactured into glass in bulk; this process is referred to as primary glass working.  These massive slabs of glass would be broken up and shipped to a location that worked the glass into usable vessels.[10] 

There is no way of knowing where this vessel was shaped but Diocletin’s price edict is illuminating.  In the edict, Diocletien fixes prices for various goods, including glass.  Interestingly, the price between “Judean plain glass cups and vessels” and “Alexandrian plain glass cups and vessels” is different: Judean is listed as 20 denarii and Alexandrian as 30 denarii.[11]  This price difference suggests that there were sites in Judea that worked glass into vessels.  Unfortunately, there is virtually no extant evidence of glass working workshops in the Roman Empire, so it is difficult to say where exactly this piece may have been made.  Another possibility is that Judea itself contained primary glass working facilities. If there were different primary sites, the quality of glass would have been different than the Egyptian glass due to the different raw materials used to make the glass. Inferiority in Judean raw materials would explain the difference in price between Judean and Alexandrian glass, though this is uncertain due to lack of archeological evidence of the Roman glass industry in general.[12]

All of this begs the question, what is a vessel of Roman design, made of Egyptian materials, doing in Jerusalem?

The question of the provenance of the unguentarium provides a lens into  Jerusalem’s place within the vast trade network that made up the Roman Empire.  The unguentarium’s construction was possible due to trade between various entities: the sites that made glass from raw materials, those that shipped this raw glass, and those that fashioned the glass into usable goods. This is a sophisticated process, indicating a highly organized trade structure.  Though the Peutinger map is not contemporaneous with the Roman Empire, the map details the cities and road networks that made up the empire.[13]  The map shows hundreds of cities, including Jerusalem, labeled as Aelia Capitolina.  Jerusalem is connected to this network by three roads, one of which leads to the major commercial hub of Antioch.  Additionally, the major cities of Alexandria and Constantinople are relatively close to Jerusalem.  All of this indicates that Jerusalem had access to a large amount of goods, such as this unguentarium, from all across the empire.


Figure 2: Section of Peutinger Map showing Jerusalem (Aelia Capitolina)

This unguentarium speaks to what the average person may have had access to, as it is most likely a cheap, mass produced item. This line of reasoning may hold true for a number of new goods under Roman rule of the city, much like modern international trade enabling unprecedented access to goods on a global scale.  Aside from the commercial aspects of the unguentaria, there is the fact that they were commonly used in funeral rituals.  Prior to Roman rule, this would have been an impossibility, as Jerusalem would not have access to these vessels beforehand.  This indicates that Roman religious practices may have affected local practices.  All of this forces us to examine what legacy – not only military but also commercial – the Romans left on Jerusalem.

Roman rule of Jerusalem ushered Jerusalem into a pan-Mediterranean trade network; the city would eventually transition to trade in the East.  Jerusalem is often considered for its religious importance. But there are many references in historical literature to Jerusalem’s centrality in trade, too.  Jerusalem had a significant commercial importance as early as the Iron Age, as the rise of the Assyrians led to increased trade in the region.[14]  But this trade mainly benefited the elite, as very few imported goods like pottery have been discovered.[15]  It is thought that trade routes were limited due to the difficult topography around Jerusalem.[16]  Trade networks significantly expanded during the Roman period, in part because of the vast road system that the empire built. 

Perhaps the most famous reference to Jerusalem mercantilism is the episode of Jesus chasing out the money changers, which appears in all four canonical gospels.[17]  The narrative details Jesus expelling currency exchangers out of the Second Temple.  The fact that there are multiple currencies to be exchanged show that Jerusalem has garnished a reputation for a city of international trade; such a profession would not be necessary if goods were all purchased with a single currency.  Rather, currency from different sources show that traders from different regions would come to Jerusalem to purchase things.  Another reference to Jerusalem as a great trading city is found in Al-Muqaddasi’s The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions.  In his praise of Jerusalem, Al-Muqaddasi mentions that many amenities from around the world are available in Jerusalem’s market, and he says that this is one of the reasons why Jerusalem is one of the best cities in the world.[18]  Al-Muqaddasi composed his text in the tenth century, when Jerusalem was under Abbasid  rule, well after Roman rule of the city. This indicates that Jerusalem maintained its commercial status after the fall of the Western Roman Empire.[19]

This Roman unguentarium found near Jerusalem allows us to infer many things about the status of trade in Jerusalem during and after Roman rule of the city.  The production of the unguentarium was enabled by the vast trade network of the Roman Empire.  The glass industry was able to utilize raw materials for production in distant areas, and allowed for transport of final goods for sale in far-reaching regions.  While Jerusalem gained the status of a commercial city under the Romans, this status endured through the medieval period.  The world’s foremost religious city was a worldly city as well.

Daniel Ramazzotto is a senior from New Jersey studying Biology. He enjoys reading, running, and history.

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the Mahzor and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library. 

Notes:

[1] Dorell, “Jerusalem has History.”

[2] Telli, “Unguentarium As A Ceramic Vessel,” 1.

[3] Telli, “Unguentarium As A Ceramic Vessel,” 1

[4] Telli, “Unguentarium As A Ceramic Vessel,” 21

[5] Telli, “Unguentarium As A Ceramic Vessel,” 20

[6] “How Glass Was Made in the Ancient Roman World.”

[7] Telli, “Unguentarium As A Ceramic Vessel,” 20

[8] “How Glass Was Made in the Ancient Roman World.”

[9] Jackson, et al, “Glassmaking Using Natron.”

[10] Jackson, et al, “Glassmaking Using Natron.”

[11] Barag, “Alexandrian and Judaean Glass in the Price Edict of Diocletian,” 184.

[12] Zeitzer, “The Roman Glass Industry,” 25.

[13] “Explore Peutinger’s Roman Map”: https://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/space/tpeut.html

[14] Tebes, “Was Jerusalem a Trade Center.”

[15] Tebes, “Was Jerusalem a Trade Center.”

[16] Tebes, “Was Jerusalem a Trade Center.”

[17] Matthew 21; Mark 11; Luke 19; John 2.

[18] Al-Muqaddasi, The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions, 251

[19] Trade in medieval Jerusalem is also explore in Boehm and Holcomb, Jerusalem, 1000-1400, 9-26.

Bibliography:

Barag, Dan. “Alexandrian and Judaean Glass in the Price Edict of Diocletian.” Journal of Glass Studies 47 (2005): 184-186.

Boehm, Barbara Drake and Melanie Holcomb, Jerusalem, 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven (Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2016).

Dorell, Oren. “Jerusalem has history of many conquests, surrenders.” USA Today. 6 December 2017. Accessed December 9, 2020, from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2017/12/05/jerusalem-history-israel-capital/923651001/

Explore Peutinger’s Roman Map. (n.d.). Retrieved December 09, 2020, from https://isaw.nyu.edu/exhibitions/space/tpeut.html

“How Glass Was Made in the Ancient Roman World.” Department of Classics. July 26, 2019. Accessed December 09, 2020. https://www.colorado.edu/classics/2018/10/11/how-glass-was-made-ancient-roman-world#:~:text=The ancient Roman glass industry,the raw materials were available.

Jackson, C.M., Paynter, S., Nenna, M.D. et al. “Glassmaking Using Natron from el-Barnugi (Egypt): Pliny and the Roman Glass Industry.” Archaeological and Anthropological Sciences 10 (2018): 1179–1191. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12520-016-0447-4

Muqaddasi, Muhammad Ibn Aohmad. The Best Divisions for Knowledge of the Regions: Translation of Ahsan Al-taqasim Fi Marifat Al-aqalim. Translated by Basil Anthony Collins. Doha: Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization, 1994.

Tebes, Juan Manuel. “Was Jerusalem a Trade Center in the Late Iron Age?” 2020. Accessed December 09, 2020, from https://www.bibleinterp.com/articles/wtc2357913.shtml

Telli, Elçin. “Unguentarium As A Ceramic Vessel.” Conference Paper delivered at the 1st International Aromatic Plants & Cosmetics Symposium, 2019.  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/338984815_Unguentarium_As_A_Ceramic_Vessel

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.

Zeitzer, Ryan. “The Roman Glass Industry: An Analysis of Roman Era Glass Production and the Lives of Glassblowers.” Master’s thesis, Brandeis University, 2018.

Duodecim Prophetae, cum glossa: A Glossa Ordinaria from La Bussiere, France

By Sara Paola Guerra Rubí

The gloss on the Bible, also known as the Glossa Ordinaria, is a pedagogical and devotional text that became popular during the High Middle Ages.  Beginning around the twelfth century onwards, the text of the Latin Vulgate was commonly copied by scribes into structured manuscripts accompanied by commentaries from various authoritative sources.  These referenced  texts include the Church Fathers, Cassadorius, Isidore, Bede, and other medieval exegetes and intellectuals.  The term “gloss” comes from the Latin and Greek word for tongue (language) and it should not be confused with texts labeled as “commentaries,” as these only pertain to compilations that house the comments of a single author.  Glosses, in their most common form, are manuscripts that contain a series of biblical texts accompanied by a “set of marginal and interlinear comments and explanations.”[i]  These added excerpts discuss different interpretive theories or mention subjects like etymology and terminology as they relate to the biblical text on the page.

The format of the Gloss is one of the most distinctive features that distinguishes it from other Christian compositions; some Jewish exegetical texts also adopted these gloss formats.  The layout and script of the manuscript is meant to guide the reader through the text.  Scripture is laid out continuously in the center of the page, and the font of this text is much larger than the comments added in the margins.  This is done in order to visually distinguish between the holy words of Scripture and the exegesis of scholars.[ii]  This means that in some structural aspects, glosses not only had a practical purpose; their features also pointed to theological ideas and concepts, like the special, inspired status of the Bible.  In addition, the biblical text is double spaced to allow for several smaller glosses to weave between the scriptural lines.  All comments on a certain verse or passage are included alongside the Scripture on the same page.  In addition, glosses often employ the use of different symbols and markers to signal where a comment or biblical passage begins.  In the manuscript displayed in this exhibit, each separate comment is marked with a sign that looks like the modern indent symbol, each new verse is signaled with a larger capital letter, and the transition from one book of the Bible to the next is announced by a decorated initial.

Figure 1: The different font sizes help the reader of the gloss distinguish between the Scripture and the theological commentary.  This image depicts the decorated initial (V) that marks the beginning of the book of Micah.  A smaller, distinguishable “A” in the word Audite (listen) points to the beginning of the second verse in the first chapter.

Figure 2:
The symbol that looks like a modern indentation sign helps the reader know when a comment from a patristic or authoritative source begins and ends.

The Gloss included in this exhibition (Latin 17222) was produced in the Cistercian Abbey in La Bussiere, France during the first half of the thirteenth century.  It contains within it the biblical books categorized as the “twelve minor prophets,” along with patristic and exegetical commentary.  The twelve minor prophets appear in the manuscript in the following order: Hosea (Osee), Joel (Ioel), Amos, Obadiah (Abdias), Jonah (Ionas), Micah (Micaeas), Nahum, Habakkuk (Habacuc), Zephaniah (Sophonias), Haggai (Aggaeus), Zechariah (Zacharias), and Malachi (Malachias).  This is how the minor prophets are arranged in the Vulgate, as this is believed to be the proper chronological order of the texts.  For the sake of this brief introduction to the Latin 17222 manuscript, we will focus on the books of Hosea, Nahum, Zephaniah, and Zechariah, as their contents relate to the city of Jerusalem.  After a short discussion of these books of Scripture, this introduction will turn its focus to the added patristic commentary featured alongside each mentioned passage or chapter.

The Latin 17222 manuscript opens with a set of two prefaces to the minor prophets.  Most notably, the first preface comes from Jerome’s introduction to this set of books in his Vulgate, as it was compiled by Carolingian scholars.  All these features are common among Glosses.  In his brief prologue, Jerome dedicates these Scriptural translations to two individuals named Paula and Eustochium (Paula’s daughter).  The narrative of the life of Saint Paula is especially linked to Jerusalem.  In a letter penned by St. Jerome, he attempts to comfort Eustochium after the death of her mother.  Jerome mentions Paula’s famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where she visited many holy sites in Jerusalem and venerated them with ardent devotion.  As mentions in the letter, “What tears she shed there (in the Lord’s tomb), what groans she uttered, and what grief she poured forth, all Jerusalem knows; the Lord also to whom she prayed knows.”[iii]  At the end of her journey, Paula decides to remain close to Jerusalem, in the town of Bethlehem, where she remains until her death.  Finally, Jerome mentions in his preface the different sets of Hebrew prophets that were contemporaneous with each other.  He also claims that the order in which the books are compiled is a feature handed down from Jewish tradition, which orders the books of the prophets according to their date of composition.


Figure 3:
In this image of a sentence in St. Jerome’s “Prologue to the Twelve Prophets,” he names his two patrons.  “I would only you were warned this, O Paul and Eustochium: the book of the Twelve Prophets to be one; (not in the picture) and Hosea a contemporary of Isaiah; (and) Malachi in fact to have been of the times of Haggai and Zachariah.”

The book of Hosea is the first book included in the list of the minor prophets, and it focuses on the theme of loyalty to God. It is believed to have been composed from 750-725 BCE.  The first three chapters of Hosea, especially, represent Jerusalem through the figure of a prostitute or harlot.  This personified Jerusalem has gone after her lovers and made God rightfully resentful of her abandonment.  It is because of this that God makes her path difficult and punishes her through the suffering of her children and the defilement of her status.  God then tells Hosea to “love a woman who is a lover and an adulteress, just as the Lord loves the people of Israel” (Hosea 3:1).  However, despite the current state of Jerusalem and the people who used to live within it, God still points Hosea to the possibility of redemption and a promised, eventual return to the divine presence of God and their sacred spaces.  Jerome, in his Three Books of Commentary on the Prophet Hosea to Pammachus, mentions that the term “fornication,” as it is used in the book of the prophet Hosea, refers to the idolatrous practices of the Israelites.  Jerome also links this specific action attributed to the personification of Jerusalem to the heretics of his time.  He mentions that “heretics go after these (foreign) lovers according to spiritual understanding; when often they are deserted by them, they are turned back to the bosom of mother church by the weight of evils.”[iv]  Finally, Jerome re-interprets the story in this biblical book through a Christian lens.  Though he acknowledges that the period of suffering mentioned in Hosea refers directly to the seventy years of exile in Babylon when there were no priests or a temple in Jerusalem, he says that Christians should think of this story in relation to the end of times when the people of Israel will see their mistake in rejecting Christ.  This rejection is, according to Jerome, analogous with the abandonment of God by Israel before the first destruction of the temple.  In a similar way, Jerusalem and the Jewish people will be punished for fornicating with other figures and ideas and not accepting Jesus, who was sent primarily to save them.

The prophecy of Nahum centers on the downfall of Nineveh, the capital of the Assyria Empire.  This disaster came about because the people in this city failed to listen to God.  The fall of the major city featured in this prophetic book mirrors the fall of Jerusalem and is meant to remind the Jewish people of God’s will, power, and judgment, for it is only God who can liberate them from the oppression of a foreign empire by destroying the Neo-Babylonian’s most important city.  The book of Nahum was written between 630 and 612 BCE.  For both the Israelite authors and the Christian scholars commenting on this book, Nahum’s text describes the ultimate governance of God over his creation.  Since Christian and Jewish thinkers only made reference to Nineveh in relation to the exile and Jerusalem, this significant site was only necessary as long as it played a role in the prophetic narrative.  This status of liminal and secondary importance held by this Assyrian city differs greatly from the historical, cultural, and religious significance linked to the city of Jerusalem.

The book of Zephaniah dates to around 630 BCE.  Zephaniah himself is believed to be a contemporary of Jeremiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk.  This prophetic book discusses the idolatry and injustice occurring in Jerusalem and admonishes the Jewish and Gentile nations of an impending day of doom.  The final prophet discussed in this entry, Zechariah, dates his work to “the second year of Darius the king (1:1), which would be around 520 BCE.”[v]  This biblical book is apocalyptic in style and highly messianic.  Jerusalem is represented in Zechariah as the dwelling place of God’s people. By this time in Jewish history, the exiles were released from captivity in Babylon by the Persian emperor Cyrus and had returned to Jerusalem.  Jerusalem is depicted in Zechariah through two literary senses.  The first refers to the rebuilt, physical city of Jerusalem.  The second refers to Jerusalem as the dwelling place for the people of God in which they will accept the coming of the Messiah and the end of times.[vi]  Jerome, in his biblical commentary, posits a third image of Jerusalem.  This Jerusalem represents not an earthly or heavenly city, but the Christian church.  As he mentions in his commentary on Zechariah, “Jerusalem and Zion… can be understood as the church, which does not consider the wars of this world, nor lowly and earthly things, but peace and harmony and the heights of the heavens.”[vii]  Jerome mentions that the decline in the bureaucratic and moral state of the Church will cause the church to be handed over to dangers and persecutors, in order to test the valuable members of the Church.  Although the adversaries sent to test the people will destroy the earthly, physical Jerusalem (the Church), Jesus will arrive at the end of time to build his Church back up.  Jerome repeats the language utilized by Jewish scholars, prophets, and exegetes when talking about Israel and Jerusalem, but places these images of a heavenly institution or space in conversation with Christian theological imagination.


Figure 4:
In this biblical verse one can see Jerusalem and Zion mentioned along with some added commentary.  Part of the verse reads: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: I have been zealous for Jerusalem and for Zion with a great zeal” (Zechariah 1:14).

Why were the compilers of these types of manuscripts so interested in including these patristic commentaries that point to Jerusalem’s inherent theological importance?  This question points the reader to the cultural, artistic, and literary impact of the Crusades.  During this period the repossession of Jerusalem symbolized (for the European Christian population) the superiority of Christianity, the prestige of the Western church, and the effective safe-guarding of the patrimony of Jesus, the apostles, and other holy figures.[viii]  This clerical and popular interest in the city is reflected in the continued appeal of pilgrimage to its holy sites and the resulting literature and manuscripts that attempted to take the reader to Jerusalem through their narratives.  Even pedagogical texts like glosses concerned themselves with placing patristic commentary on Jerusalem next to Scriptural depictions of the city, making it clear that, in some way, these texts were interested in establishing the importance of this particular city in the Christian theological and devotional imagination.  Even after the Crusader states fell, Jerusalem still continued to loom large in the minds of medieval writers and artists, who widely copied texts that depicted the Holy city within the Crusader context.[ix]  As one can see, the effects of the Crusades and the campaigns that stirred up support for these enterprises were felt throughout the High Middle Ages.

The Latin 17222 manuscript references personifications and images of Jerusalem as they relate to prophetic narratives.  The Scripture points to how Jerusalem was portrayed by the Jewish authors of the texts named after the minor prophets, and the comments in the margins and between the lines, authored by Christian readers of the biblical texts, complement or challenge these interpretive claims.  These additions to the biblical text through the Christian glosses introduce their own historical and theological concerns.  This, inevitably, shifts the role and importance of Jerusalem in the medieval imagination.  This interest in reinterpreting Jerusalem through a Christian lens might also be linked to the historical and cultural developments that followed the advent of Crusader culture.

Sara Paola Guerra Rubí is a senior History and Theology major from a small town in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico.  She currently enjoys painting, hanging out with her dogs, and reading about the Biblical Apocrypha. 

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course, and is featured in the exhibition catalogue “Jerusalem in the Stacks.” 

Notes:

[1] Smith, Glossa Ordinaria, 1.

[2] Smith, Glossa Ordinaria, 5.

[3] Jerome, “Letter 108,” 6.

[4] Jerome & Scheck, Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, 162.

[5] Melhus, “The Minor Prophets,” 95.

[6] Melhus, “The Minor Prophets,” 96.

[7] Jerome & Scheck, Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets, 9.

[8] Armstrong, Jerusalem, 427.

[9] Westwell, “Medieval Depictions of the Crusades,” 1.

Bibliography:

Armstrong, Karen. “Chapter 13: Crusade,” in Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths, 426–59. New York: Ballantine Books, 1997.

Doob Sakenfeld, Katharine, James Raymond Mueller, and M. Jack Suggs. The Oxford Study Bible: Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.

Jerome. “Letter 108.” Translated by W.G. Martley, W.H. Fremantle, and G Lewis. Church Fathers: Letter 108 (Jerome), 1893. https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/3001108.htm.

Jerome, trans. by Kevin P. Edgecomb. “Jerome, Prologue to the Twelve Prophets (2006).” tertullian.org. Accessed December 5, 2020. http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/jerome_preface_prophets.htm.

Jerome, and Thomas P. Scheck. Commentaries on the Twelve Prophets. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, an imprint of InterVarsity Press, 2017.

Melhus, Dan. “The Minor Prophets.” padfield.com, n.d. https://www.padfield.com/acrobat/asher/minor-prophets-mehus.pdf.

Smith, Lesley. Glossa Ordinaria: The Making of a Medieval Bible Commentary. Boston: Brill, 2009.

“Twelve Minor Prophets.” Latin-English Study Bible (with translation notes), 2020. http://www.sacredbible.org/studybible/.

Westwell, Chantry. “Medieval Depictions of the Crusades.” Medieval manuscripts blog, March 29, 2017.

The Casale Pilgrimage and Drawings of the Holy City

By Yuet Ho

This illustrated manuscript depicts holy places throughout Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and mainly Palestine.  It is small, 93 x 154mm, and it contains many colorful illustrations along with Hebrew captions.  The manuscript does not give itself an official name, but Cecil Roth, who published an English translation of the book in 1929, called it The Casale Pilgrim and identified it as an illustrated account of the holy places in Palestine.  The original manuscript is housed in the Leeds University Library’s archive, classmarked at MS ROTH/220.[i]

The manuscript’s first few pages of text provide information and hints about this book’s origin.  The Hebrew text on the title page, for example, says that the book was finished in the year 5358 at Casale Monferrato, in Italy.  The year 5358, the traditional Jewish calendar date, translates to the year 1598 C.E., when the author completed this work.  Under the Hebrew writing, there is cursive Italian handwriting, which is a point of interest as the book itself is written fully in Hebrew; all captions in the remainder of the book are written in Hebrew, and this cursive Italian writing is only found on the first few written pages.  This could suggest that the Italian was written after the manuscript’s completion, perhaps by its owner rather than by the person who produced the manuscript.  The Italian on this page reveals that the manuscript belonged to Mr. Leone Vida Piazza.  Interestingly, the following pages also contain some cursive Italian script identifying the book’s owner as a Jew of Florence.  The manuscript was completed in Casale Monferrato, yet its owner records that he lives in Florence, two different locations in Italy, 268 kilometers apart.

Looking at this manuscript’s historical context provides further insight into its origins.  Before and during the 16th century, Europe saw a surge of persecutions and expulsions of Jews.  The Spanish expulsion of Jews meant that some Jews from Spain and its territories, such as Sicily and Sardinia, would have migrated to Northern Italy.[ii]  Northern Italian cities had relatively large Jewish populations, with Casale Monferrato having 600 to 700 Jewish residents and Florence having about 500.[iii]  The Jewish community in Florence would have been culturally diverse because of immigration.  There was already an existing community of Jews in Florence made up of merchants, doctors, and bankers that settled there in the 15th century because the city needed more moneylenders.[iv]  The Medicis showed favor to Jewish refugees, allowing Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal to settle in Florence, along with Jews escaping from the anti-Jewish decrees of the Papal States, policies which Florence did not follow. 

Figure 1: Title page of manuscript, with two different Hebrew writings as well as Italian
Figure 2 (left): Cover of book
Figure 3 (right): Map of Italy, indicating the two locations mentioned on the manuscript’s title page

Perhaps this manuscript traveled from Casale Monferrato to Florence in the inventory of a migrating Jew and then got passed on to Mr. Leone Vida Piazza.  But it is also possible that the manuscript was commissioned by Mr. Leone Vida Piazza for use as a codex during his own pilgrimage or that of a relative.  Its usage as a pilgrimaging guide is supported by the fact that it is quite small for a manuscript.  Being only half a foot in length, it would have easily fit into a travel bag. 

The first inscription in the manuscript describes the text: “These are the journeyings of the children of Israel which they journey, from strength to strength, to prostrate themselves upon the sepulchers of the righteous: until they come with tears and supplication to pray for the welfare of their brethren which are in the diaspora.  May the Lord hasten our deliverance: Amen!”[v]  This introduction makes clear that the travels of Jews to the land and to the graves of righteous ancestors is meant to bestow blessings not only on the travelers but also on those who stayed back home.

By the end of the 16th century, the Ottoman Empire controlled the places that this manuscript illustrates and describes.  Many exiled Jews from Europe settled in the Ottoman Empire, where they found more success and better treatment.[vi]  The relative safety of the Ottoman Empire and the settlement of exiled Jews in its territories led to a significant increase in Jewish pilgrimages to holy sites within the Empire, including to Jerusalem.[vii]  Italian trading cities such as Florence would have had trade routes that connecting to important cities within the Ottoman Empire, and so travel was relatively straightforward.  Figure 4 depicts the village of Gaza, which would have been one of the first towns a pilgrim would visit when traveling from the Holy Land to Egypt.  It is possible that either Mr.  Leone Vida Piazza or the author of the book travelled to Egypt through common trade routes and Gaza could have been considered a welcoming first site for pilgrims traveling the Levant, given how the gates were drawn so wide and golden.  The caption calls it a fair and beautiful place.  Considering the increase in Jewish pilgrimage within the Ottoman Empire, perhaps the author created this book from their time as a pilgrim in order to document their experience and save it for other pilgrims, of which Mr. Leone Vida Piazza could have been one.

Figure 4: Illustration of Gaza, on the way to Egypt from Jerusalem

The vast majority of the sites illustrated in this manuscript are burial places for important religious figures.  Some of the burial sites include Mount Hor where Aaron the Priest was buried, the Hidekel river where Ezekiel lies, Damascus with the cave of Elijah, Babylon where the three Holy Children and Daniel are buried, Basra where Ezra the priest was buried, Edrei where lies Eldad and Medad, Jacuc with the burial site of the Prophet Habbakuk, Arbel where lay the children of Jacob and a cave where Seth (Adam’s Son) was buried.  There are also places such Gibratin, Alyukemeh, Shechem, Bethshean, and Tiberias, where many named rabbis and their families are buried.  These sites were the resting places of figures from the Hebrew Bible, prophets, and notable rabbis.  They would have been sacred places for a pilgrim to visit, as they would be standing in the presence of their ancestors  and reflecting on the significance of those buried there.  In addition to the many burial places, the manuscript also illustrates the holiest sites for Jews: Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, and the Temple Mount.   

In addition to the theological importance of these sites, there was also an element of awe at their marvelousness.  Occasionally, the author points out how beautiful a synagogue or tomb is.  The caption for the image in Figure 5 describes an Aleppo synagogue as “large and beautiful,” to which “none other can be compared.”  The site is enhanced by surrounding trees, vines, and orchards, which are described as places under which to pray.  The illustration and caption provide a sensory experience of the place.  It is interesting that the author calls this synagogue’s beauty unrivaled, yet the illustration of it is not as large nor as detailed as other depictions of synagogues such as the illustration of a synagogue in Cairo, featured in Figure 6.  Perhaps its beauty lies in the surrounding plant life, which is more elaborate than in the other synagogues illustrated.  A pilgrim that visits this place can pray under the peaceful and quiet trees, such lush plant life reminiscent of Eden.

By being a guide to holy places, this manuscript functions like a tour brochure.  It describes the specialness of the places a pilgrim can visit and creates further interest in visiting them.  Figure 7 contains one of the most unique illustrations in the book.  It depicts the burial site of the prophet Daniel in Babylon.  Daniel is buried in a metal coffin, hanging by iron chains onto an elaborately decorated bridge.  There is a sign that reads “Daniel, of blessed memory.”  The caption narrates lore about the site; among the many fishes in the river under the bridge, there is an old fish that existed in Daniel’s time; fishing was banned near this site out of respect for Daniel.  This page offers quite the marvelous site to behold.  Not only is it theologically significant because it is the burial site of a prophet, but it is also physically unique as no other burial site in the book involves hanging a coffin under a bridge.  For a pilgrim reading this page, such a story might have inspired a visit to the site, whether to honor Daniel’s memory, or to view the unique burial site, or the chance to see the old fish that lived during Daniel’s time.

Figure 5: The Aleppo synagogue is described as “large and beautiful,” to which “none other can be compared.” 
Figure 6: A synagogue in Cairo
Figure 7: The burial site of the prophet Daniel in Babylon

The manuscript holds a special place for the city of Jerusalem.  It is one of the first places mentioned in the text, following Jericho, Hebron, Tekoa, Halhul, and Sarata.  One of these early pages, which depicts Tekoa, mentions Jerusalem and adds “may it be rebuilt and established speedily in our days!” in prayer for redemption, a common Jewish sentiment, and this line is repeated each time the name “Jerusalem” appears in the manuscript.  The first discussion of Jerusalem in the manuscript highlight’s Jerusalem’s state of destruction: “Jerusalem… is waste through our sins.  Nothing is left of the old construction save somewhat of the foundation; but now recently they have built the whole wall at the bidding of the King – a laudable and beauteous construction.”[viii]

A particularly interesting page in the manuscript depicts the Temple Mount.  This page is part of a series of pages that depict sites a pilgrim would visit when they arrived at Jerusalem.  The short description calls this the Temple with twelve gates; the text explains that two gates were permanently closed and that from then on they were called the Gates of Mercy.  The building above the Temple Mount is interesting because it has only one gate.  The mention of the Gates of Mercy in the captions makes it possible that the building is supposed to be an illustration of it.  The next page describes the Temple Mount to have two great domes covered in gold and silver; these could correspond with the Dome of the Rock and the Dome of the al-Aqsa Mosque.  The gated building is flanked by two great domes which could be the previously mentioned ones.  Given the mention of the Gates of Mercy on this page and the location of the domes, this might be an illustration of the Gates of Mercy.  But there is a fault to this interpretation in the fact that the illustration only depicts one gate when it explicitly mentions that there are two.  Jewish pilgrimage scrolls in the 16th century, such as the Genealogy of the Patriarchs (Yichus ha-Avot), depict two distinctly separate gates.[ix]  The author might have had access to these pilgrimage scrolls as it was common in the 16th century for Jews in Palestine to send emissaries with scrolls abroad to promote pilgrimage to the Holy Land.[x]  It is then interesting that they would only draw one gate.  Perhaps the illustration depicts another gate beside the Gates of Mercy, but it would be strange to mention those gates, and then decide to draw a completely different gate. 

Figure 8: Page depicting the Temple
Figure 9: Mount of Olives with the Tomb of Hulda and other places of burial

The illustrations of sites from Jerusalem represents a fascinating view into the city at the end of the sixteenth city.  The following pages describe the Western Wall, “whence the Presence God has never moved”; the Gate of Benjamin, which the text identifies by its Arabic name as well (Bab-el-Sabin, the Gate of the Tribes); Zion, the place of King David’s palace, where the ark of the covenant was housed before the temple was built; the Tower of David; the city’s three markets, where all kinds of goods are sold; and an ancient synagogue.  After describing Jerusalem proper, the text describes the Mount of Olives, noting the tomb of Hulda the Prophetess and those of many others on the mount itself and all the way to Ramah.

The Casale Pilgrim manuscript was published as a facsimile with an English translation in 1929 by Cecil Roth, who was born in London in March 1899 and became one of the greatest and most prolific Jewish historians of his generation.  Fordham’s Special Collections holds the fourth copy of a total of 38 printed, signed by Roth himself.  Roth went on to publish over 600 of his works; the Cecil Roth Collection at Leeds University is one of the most extensive archives on Jewish History.

Figure 10: Cecil Roth’s signature in Fordham’s copy of The Casale Pilgrimage

Yuet Ho is a senior Computer Science major from New York City. He enjoys programming mini-games and editing images in photoshop.

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; a facsimile of the Casale Pilgrimage and this essay is featured in an exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library, on display August – December 2021. 

Notes:

[i] “Cecil Roth Collection,” University of Leeds.

[ii] Bell, Jews in the Early Modern World, 43.

[iii] Bell, Jews in the Early Modern World, 45.

[iv] “Florence, Italy,” Jewish Virtual Library.

[v] Roth, The Casale Pilgrim.

[vi] Jacobs and Montgomery, “Turkey.”

[vii] Deutsch, Eisenstein, and Franco, “Pilgrimage.”

[viii] Roth, The Casale Pilgim, 41.

[ix] https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/688582

[x] Berger, “The Dome of the Rock as the Temple in Pilgrimage Scrolls,” 229.

Bibliography:

“Cecil Roth Collection.” University of Leeds Library: https://explore.library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/114260.

Bell, Dean Phillip. Jews in the Early Modern World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.     

Deutsch, Gotthard, Judah David Eisenstein, and M. Franco. “Pilgrimage.” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, accessed online at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12149-pilgrimage. 

“Florence, Italy.” Jewish Virtual Library: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/florence-italy-jewish-history-tour.         

“Genealogy of the Patriarchs (Yichus ha-Avot).” Metropolitan Museum of Art Online Collection, accessed at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/688582. 

Jacobs, Joseph, and Mary W. Montgomery. “Turkey.” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, accessed online at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14546-turkey. 

Berger, Pamela C. “The Dome of the Rock as the Temple in Pilgrimage Scrolls.” In The Crescent on the Temple: the Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary. Boston: Brill, 2012. 

Bibliography:

“Cecil Roth Collection.” University of Leeds Library: https://explore.library.leeds.ac.uk/special-collections-explore/114260.

Bell, Dean Phillip. Jews in the Early Modern World. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008.     

Deutsch, Gotthard, Judah David Eisenstein, and M. Franco. “Pilgrimage.” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, accessed online at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12149-pilgrimage. 

“Florence, Italy.” Jewish Virtual Library: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/florence-italy-jewish-history-tour.         

“Genealogy of the Patriarchs (Yichus ha-Avot).” Metropolitan Museum of Art Online Collection, accessed at https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/688582. 

Jacobs, Joseph, and Mary W. Montgomery. “Turkey.” Jewish Encyclopedia, 1906, accessed online at http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/14546-turkey. 

Berger, Pamela C. “The Dome of the Rock as the Temple in Pilgrimage Scrolls.” In The Crescent on the Temple: the Dome of the Rock as Image of the Ancient Jewish Sanctuary. Boston: Brill, 2012. 


Fordham’s Abudarham: Who Crossed out the Censors’ Signatures? (Part 4)

A note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired the Sefer Aburdarham published in Venice 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the important Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. The book had been digitized by NLI before being sold. This year, as part of our work on an upcoming exhibition on history of censorship, we asked Mr. Fabrizio Quaglia, a Hebraica and Judaica consultant in Italy and an expert on Italian censorship of Jewish books to uncover the secrets old books hold within their pages. Part I  explored a note in the upper left corner of the title page. Part II dealt with another note, on the printed ornate letters of the book’s titlePart III deals with the marks left by Christian censors. This is the final installment.


On the right side of colophon appears the peculiar note “dia que senorio yaque [or “ya que”] espinoza en: 13 de adar [“March”] de 1613 [?]”, referred to a mr. Jacob [?] Espinoza, but whose overall meaning escapes me. Known historical records note a merchant Jacob de Spinoza (also called Jacob Espinosa and d’Espinosa), descendant of a converso Portuguese family, who lived in Cairo and Amsterdam in 1630s; he was cousin of Baruch Spinoza. Perhaps Yaque Espinoza was one of the owners of the book, in addition to the heirs of Jacob Pogetto, discussed in the earlier parts.

But after the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century provenance marks, there is a huge chronological gap until the book came to the hands of its last private owner – the diamond merchant and famed book collector Jack V. Lunzer (1924-2016) – before Fordham University bought this book at an auction in 2018. We do not know when and from where Lunzer had purchased the book. The books Luzner collected were often tattered and incomplete so he sometimes would buy duplicates to create “good” and “undamaged” copies. In this copy of Abudarham, the first and the last leaves were neatly cut to new margins. It is possible that these sheets came from different copies, which in turn could explain the puzzling presence on the title page of two effaced expurgation notes whereas on the colophon they remained intact. All the more that the first censor’s note on the title page was written in 1590 and the one on the last page near the colophon in 1582. Yet, it is the later signature that was effaced. And so, while at first sight it would be appear that one censor may have eliminated the previous censor’s written testimony of an intervention on the book, the fact that it was the later note that was effaced makes this theory untenable. Moreover, no censor would have ever dared to eliminate the signature of a previous censor. Accordingly, I would suggest that  Lunzer might have bound together two different copies of Abudarham and that in the first a later Jewish owner crossed out the censors’ signature while in the second copy another owner, contemporary to the time of the Church expurgations, had to keep the expurgator’s signatures untouched under threat of a fine. But we cannot tell for sure what happened.

Perhaps not coincidentally, I also found in Parma Cod. 3220, f. 272r, a crossed out notes of censorship from 1590 Asti by Vincenzo de Matelica and G.B. Porcelli with almost the same wording as it appears in Fordham’s Abudarham. That manuscript was owned by the sons of Ya‘aqov b. Mordekay Poieṭo and afterwards by Shelomoh Poieṭo alone. It contains on the last (fifth) volume of the series (Parma, Cod. 3224, f. 128r) the same “clean” censors’ inscriptions by Asinari and Carato, date included, I reported above. Therefore, it is also possible that on Fordham copy, necessarily unbroken since its publication, Shelomoh himself or another Poggetto could have mysteriously left intact one pair of signatures but crossed out the others.

In my closing remarks I want to note that in  1948 Lunzer, who was born in Antwerp in 1924, founded in London what he called the Valmadonna Trust Library. The Valmadonna Trust Library was once considered the largest private Jewish library in the world. Its name derives from Valmadonna, a suburb of Alessandria in Piedmont, with which the family of Lunzer’s wife Ruth Zippel (d. 1978) once had ties. After the II World War Lunzer tried to buy land in Valmadonna and maybe locate his ever increasing collection there, but he was unable because of various bureaucratic quibbles related to property transfers. Fordham’s copy of Abudarham is in its way a heritage of the Piedmontese Jewry. It traveled from Asti to  London to New York, ultimately failing to reach the surroundings of Alessandria, which is located only 24 miles from the place where the book’s oldest certified owner lived.

The Fordham Abudarham: Disclosures and Conjectures (Part 3: Christian censors)

by Fabrizio Quaglia

A note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired the Sefer Aburdarham published in Venice 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the important Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. The book had been digitized by NLI before being sold. This year, as part of our work on an upcoming exhibition on history of censorship, we asked Mr. Fabrizio Quaglia, a Hebraica and Judaica consultant in Italy and an expert on Italian censorship of Jewish books to uncover the secrets old books hold within their pages. Part I  explored a note in the upper left corner of the title page. Part II dealt with another note, on the printed ornate letters of the book’s title. Today’s installment deals with the marks left by Christian censors.


Next to the printer’s mark of Marco Antonio Giustiniani (with an image of the Dome of the Rock with an inscription בית המקדש “The Holy Temple” as a representation of the Temple of Jerusalem) is a crossed-out censor’s note “Ego fr[ater] vi[ncentiu]s de Ma[teli]ca fr.[ate]r or[din]is predicator[um] et vicarius s[anc]ti off[i]cij As[ten]is correxi de Ma[nda]to … R[everen]di p[atri]s inq[uisitor]is …” (“I, friar Vincenzo from Matelica friar of the Order of the Preachers and Deputy of the Holy Office of Asti, corrected by command … of the Reverend Father Inquisitor …). It is followed by another note, likewise crossed out, “Fr.[ate]r Jo.[annes] bap[ti]sta porcellus Inq.[uisit]or Asten.[si]s die. 15. 8bris 1590 (“Friar Giovanni Battista Porcelli, inquisitor of Asti, day 15 October 1590”). Similar inscriptions, almost verbatim, can be found in an Italian manuscript of the Tur by Jacob ben Asher now in the Palatina Library of Parma, Cod. Parm. 2901, f. [11]r.

The author of the first note, Friar Vincenzo da Matelica was born around 1550 in Matelica in the Marches (Central Italy), where he was apparently a rabbi (his Hebrew name is unknown) before converting to Christianity and becoming a preacher. His competence in Hebrew and rabbinic literature led him to become a professor of Hebrew, or as scholar Germano Maifreda put it “docente di lingua ebraica.” It is known that Friar Vincenzo was still alive in Ancona in August 1624 when he was 75 years old.

As shown by several of his notes for a period that spans more than thirty years, starting at least in 1590, the year of the note in Fordham’s Abudarham, Friar Vincenzo da Matelica became a censor of Hebrew books. In 1591, the inquisitor of Vercelli ordered Friar Vincenzo (and his colleague Paolo Visconte from Alessandria) to inspect books and manuscripts owned by the brothers “Aron et Lazzar Vitta Sacerdotti,” two Jews living in Vercelli. Ten years later, in 1601, “Vincentius” was returned to Vercelli. Other signatures prove that in in 1601 and 1602 Vincenzo da Matelica was also active in Pavia and was certainly a revisore of Hebrew texts in Ancona in October and November 1622 working together with friar Angelo Maria from Monte Bodio (a town near Ancona), who was a notary of the Holy Office. In Ancona, his work seems to have dissatisfied the Inquisition since texts he had already examined were reinspected six years later, in 1628, by a new censor.

The second censor, who left a now defaced signature on the title page of Fordham’s Abudarham, was Friar Giovanni Battista Porcelli (b. Albenga, 1534 – d. Asti, 31 January 1613). Friar Porcelli was the inquisitor in Alessandria (1572-1589) and Asti (1589-1613), where he was, as he tells in his book Scriniolum Sanctae Inquisitionism, apparently subjected to abuses and ridicule, as well as envy. In 1592, for example, he was ridiculed for trying to “revise” the whole Talmud, but later “his” Inquisition of Asti was recognized and praised in a letter from the secretary of the Congregation of the Index for implementation of Index by Pope Clement VIII.

Friar Porcelli was a zealous censor, eager to ban books even if they were not included in the Clementine Index of prohibited books. He frequently considered every book he deemed “heretical” book as worthy of not just of expurgation but of the stake. Besides giving his “imprimatur” to writings including those he himself authored, Porcelli printed in Asti in 1610 (but really in 1612) the lengthy manual for censors titled Scriniolum Sanctae Inquisitionis Astensis, in which he collected five sixteenth-century indexes of the so-called prohibited books that had been prepared by the Piedmontese Inquisition, including in Asti in 1576.

But there were also other censors who left their marks on Fordham’s Abudarham. After the colophon on f. 86v, there is the concise bilingual note “Visto et coretto p.[er] me Boniforte delli Asinari (“Checked and corrected by myself, Boniforte delli Asinari”) and אני בוניפורטי אסינארי (I, Boniforṭe Asinari”). This second signature in Hebrew suggests that Boniforte degli Asinari was a converted Jew, and not a Catholic man who studied Hebrew, since Catholic censors did not sign their names in Hebrew but converts sometimes did. For example, Domenico Gerosolimitano (formerly Shemu’el Vivas), a much better known expurgator than Boniforte degli Asinari, sometimes signed in Latin as well as דומניקו ירושלמי  (Dominiqo Yerushalmi), that is a Hebrew transliteration of the surname that he assumed when he became Christian.

Since Fordham’s Abudarham bore a signature of Friar Porcelli who was an inquisitor in Asti, it is worth noting that two men named Asinari lived in Asti during the 1570s. Boniforte likely took a surname from his patron, one of the two Asinaris, since it was customary that a neophyte would take the surname of his patron. Consequently, although Boniforte delli Asinari never reported in his censor’s notes the place where he was active, it seems that he was active in Asti. This means that Fordham’s Abudarham would have been in Asinari’s hands in Asti. Nothing more about Boniforte Asinari is known beyond 1582.

This appears to be confirmed by the subsequent note on that page:

“Fr.[ate]r hier.[onymu]s caratus inqu[isito]r Ast[ensis] die 19 Feb.[ruari] 1582” (“Friar Girolamo Carato inquisitor of Asti, day 19 February 1582”). Girolamo Carato (also called Carati, Caratto and Carratto) was inquisitor at Asti from 1566 until his death on 6 December 1588; the abovementioned Giovanni Battista Porcelli, who left his signature on the title page of Abudarham, succeeded him. Carato’s Latin notes and signatures appear on a handful of Hebrew manuscripts, all of them dated between 15 and 19 February 1582; as well as on nine sixteenth-century books now in the BNU of Turin, signed in 1586 and 1587 by “Caratus.” Given the paucity of books inspected by Caratto, one might conclude that censorship of Hebrew books was not his main focus, and instead he was dedicated to the usual job of an official of the Holy Office, namely hunting witches, real or alleged dissenters, and other examples of heterodoxy, and that Boniforte Asinari only briefly overlapped with Caratto.

Abudarham was a popular medieval commentary on the liturgy that was based on much material collected from the Talmud and from other rabbinic sources, it is therefore not surprising that its editions have been censored. Since the Fordham copy of Abudarham had been published before the Talmud had been banned and before the establishment of the Index of Prohibited books and the office devoted to book censorship, this copy would have had to be expurgated should objectionable materials have been subsequently discovered.

Abudarham, title page, the expurgated word is “mi-talmud” (from the Talmud).
fol. 26v

Fordham’s copy shows thin strokes of pen on around 30 folios, with the crossed out words still readable. Some of the expurgations were single words appearing on the title page like mi-Talmud (“from the Talmud”) and minim (“heretics”) while on f. 20r the sentence כעשתה התועבה הזאת בישראל (“that this detestable thing has been done in Israel”) taken from commentary to Deut. 17:4 and on f. 36v a longer line from the commentary by the author of Abudarham on the weekday prayers reciting after the Amidah (“The Standing Prayer”) were crossed out. Other words had corrected terms written above the expurgated words. For instance on f. 34r instead of Birkat ha-minim (“Blessings on the heretics,” part of the Jewish rabbinical liturgy that was considered as a Jewish curse of Christians) had Birkat resh`aot (“A blessing on the wicked”) written over—the word “minim” that was considered objectionable. Elsewhere the presence of those words was signaled on the margins by a vertical dash and sometimes by question marks. Those substitutions that aimed at eliminating every possible anti-Christian allusion in the text (see the abovementioned Birkat ha-minim) were most likely made by one of the Christians censors and not by the book’s Jewish owners. But who may have decided to make those markings? We can exclude Asinari since his Hebrew calligraphy is different, moreover he used a black ink while the questioned words have been penned in red. Without chemical analysis it is difficult to tell who is responsible for the expurgations.

In the next and final installment, we will circle back to the question of ownership to explore to whom the book belonged over the centuries.


A note from Fabrizio Quaglia: I thank Dr. Alexander Gordin, paleographer and staff member of the National Library of Israel, for helping me render some of the Hebrew signatures on Fordham’s copy of Abudarham. Dr. Fabio Uliana, Office of Ancient Funds and Special Collections, Protection, Conservation and Restoration of Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria of Turin, for sending images of BNU books, and Dr. Alberto Palladini, Archivist of Archivio di Stato di Modena for checking for me the list of Leon Poggetti’s books, where this document is located.


Fabrizio Quaglia is Hebraica and Judaica Consultant. His last publication is Il recinto del rinoceronte. I giorni e le opere degli ebrei ad Alessandria prima dell’emancipazione del 1848, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2016. Editor of MEI: Material Evidence in Incunabula Editor: https://www.cerl.org/resources/mei/about/editors.

The Fordham Abudarham: Disclosures and Conjectures (Part 2)

by Fabrizio Quaglia

A note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired the Sefer Aburdarham published in Venice 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the important Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. The book had been digitized by NLI before being sold. This year, as part of our work on an upcoming exhibition on history of censorship, we asked Mr. Fabrizio Quaglia, a Hebraica and Judaica consultant in Italy and an expert on Italian censorship of Jewish books to uncover the secrets old books hold within their pages. Last post explored a note in the upper left corner of the title page. Today’s installment deals with another note, on the printed ornate letters of the book’s title.

Notes within ornate letters of the title of Abudarham (Venice, 1546/7)
Abudarham (Venice 1546/7), Fordham SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1547 1 (high resolution digitization by NLI)

On the letters that make up the ornate title there is a partially damaged inscription in the same seventeenth-century Italian cursive style as the Hebrew note discussed in Part I,  מאת ה’ היתה זאת ליורשי המנוח כמהר”ר יעקב פוייטו יצו (“From G-d to the heirs of the late honored teacher the rabbi Rav Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo, may the Lord protect and redeem them”), יצ”ו =  יצו is shortened for ישמרם צורם וגואלם (may the Lord protect and redeem them). In my opinion, even though the father’s name and a date are missing, Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo or Jacob Poggetto corresponds to the son of the rabbi of Cuneo and money-lender in Asti and Moncalvo Mordechai b. Yiṣḥaq (known in Italian as “Angelino di Isaac”, d. before 1603), also  an owner of Hebrew books, and of Rosa Foa. Jacob Poggetto was rabbi in Asti and in Cuneo. He composed unpublished biblical commentaries (Raze Torah “Secrets of Torah”, included in London, Montefiore Library, ms. 479; posthumously copied), sermons (one on holidays is titled Divre Ya‘aqov, “Words of Jacob”, dated 1579; now in New York, Jewish Theological Seminary of America, ms. 1588) and liturgical poetry dispersed in various manuscripts. Furthermore, Jacob Poggetto was involved in political and rabbinic affairs, which were not always transparent. For example, he had in his hands funds that should have been sent from Cuneo to the Provencal Jews in Safed, but after his death it was discovered that the funds had in the meantime disappeared.

One of Jacob Poggetto’s works, Reshit ḥokmah ha-qaṣar (“The Abridged Primer to Wisdom”), a digest of the ethical Reshit ḥokmah by R. Eliyyah de Vidaś from Safed, which was based largely on the Zohar, was printed in Venice in 1600, twenty years after Poggetto had written it in Asti in 1580. While in Asti, in 1578-1587, Pogetto copied kabbalistic manuscripts mostly composed originally in Safed, including Or Yaqar (“Precious Light”) by R. Moses Cordovero (see the short National Library of Israel, ms. Heb. 8°2964, with his own drawings and kabbalistic diagrams) and at times he also had others copied on his behalf. For example, the anonymous Sefer ha-peli’ah (“The Book of Wonder”), now in British Library Add. 26949. Some of Poggetto’s manuscripts (among them also JTS, ms. 1558) were censored by Boniforte del Asinari and Girolamo Caratto [discussed in upcoming installments] on 19 February 1582.

Poggetto owned some tractates of the Babylonian Talmud published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice in 1521-1522 (the copies are now  in Turin BNU: Hebr.II.10 and Hebr.II.19). Rabbi Jacob Poggetto (Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo) died in 1592. He had a cousin also named Jacob (Giacob), son of Lazarino (Eli’ezer), who was Jacob’s father’s brother; this “second” Jacob operated loan banks in the Asti region in the same years as our Jacob, the book owner. Jacob son of Eliezer lived at least till 1623. Though they shared a name, it is unlikely that this second Jacob owned Fordham’s Abudarham because no book signed by him appears to have survived anywhere. There is no record of the second Jacob the son of Lazarino as a book collector. The opposite is true for Jacob son of Mordechai Poggetto.

Unspecified sons of our Jacob Pogetto, the son of Mordechai (Ya‘aqov b. Mordekay Poyeṭo), inherited in 1601/1602 [361] in Moncalvo an illuminated French rite Maḥzor dated 1304 (now Parma Cod. 3006-3007), according to an owner’s signature on the manuscript; in Asti the Commentary on Pentateuch by ‘Immanuel b. Shelomoh of Rome from circa 1400 (Parma, Cod. 3220), and, perhaps also in 1601-1602, the book of responsa by R. Shelomoh ibn Aderet printed in Venice in 1545 (BNU, Hebr.V.21), which was expurgated in Asti by Boniforte del Asinari and Girolamo Caratto on February 19, 1582.

Jacob Poggetto had at least five sons: Abramo Poggetto lived in Moncalvo (he was a subject of part I), Shelomoh (Salomone), Azariah Shalom, Mosheh, and Yehudah Arieh (in Italian documents Leon Poggetti). Based on the owner’s notes written on other manuscripts we can narrow down the names of the two male heirs of Jacob, one of whom may have owned the Fordham Abudarham in addition to Abramo: Shelomoh (Salomone) and Azariah Shalom.

Salomone seems to have owned two Hebrew manuscripts, which are now in Parma (Parma Cod. 3006-3007 and 3220). In 1624 Salomone purchased another manuscript, now in Vienna (Cod. 3222), and bequeathed another manuscript, now also in Vienna (Austrian National Library, Cod. Hebr. 116), which had originally been copied for his father Jacob Poggetto in 1582 in Cuneo, to the Jewish community of Casale Monferrato, where he died ca. 1630 (in 1607 he was still in Asti). He also sold Jacob’s copy of the poetical miscellany (British Library, Add. 27001) to Meir Luṣaṭo (Meir Luzzatto).

Azariah Shalom was not as active in collecting and selling of books as his brother, Salomone. Azariah Shalom’s signature appears only on a fifteenth-century extremely fragmentary book of Genesis on parchment (Parma, Cod. 2950). Azariah had at least two sons one called Ya‘aqov Hayyim (b. 1609) whose godfather was Abramo Poggetto (Avraham Poyeṭo) who owned the illuminated French rite Maḥzor dated 1304 (Parma, Palatina Library, Cod. 3006-3007) and who left a mark on Abudarham, and Mordechai (b. 1615), whose godfather was his uncle Solomone (Shelomoh Poyeṭo) in Moncalvo.

Another son of Jacob Poggetto, Yehudah Arieh (known in Italian as Leon Poggetti, died at the end of 1647, at 63), was a well-versed scholar, schoolteacher, and the author of rabbinical responsa and unpublished commentaries. Yehudah Arieh (Leon Pogetti) was a rabbi and private tutor in the Ashkenazi synagogue of Modena from the 1620s (if not before). In 1636, Leon Poggetti declared to the Inquisition in Modena that he had inherited from his brother Salomone some of the “prohibited” books that had been sequestered from him. But Abudarham was not one of them since its title is missing from the short list of Leons volumes compiled by the Holy Office.

Another son of Jacob Poggetto, Mosheh was the banker in Moncalvo and Asti since 1585. Mosheh is recorded in two entries in an Asti mohel’s register as father of Israel (b. 1609; Israel’s godfather was his uncle Avraham, Abramo Poggetto, discussed in Part I) and Yehoshua‘ (b. 1611; whose godfather was R. Eliaqim, teacher in the Jewish community of Moncalvo, mentioned in Part I). Given the records, it is thus clear that Mosheh was not among those who inherited Abudarham.

Jacob Poggetto belonged to a much talked about family: in the 1550s his uncle Lazarino was accused in Alessandria of having poisoned to death his wife Allegra Levi and was imprisoned along with his parents Isaac and Stella, Jacob Poggetto’s grandparents. Lazarino and his father Isaac had a very bad reputation even among the Jews—they had already been suspected of an attempted murder in Asti of Lazarino Levi, Lazarino Poggetto’s brother-in-law. But in this case, the Poggettos were acquitted.

Coming back to our book, the Sefer Abudarham. Inside the manuscript on about 15 leaves are marginal notations in five different hands (mostly single words), some in faded bigger characters. They seem to come from slightly later periods and not from declared signatories, except for five notes attributable to Abramo Poggetto (Avraham Poyeṭo). I want to venture a risky suggestion is that Abramo Poggetto purchased of the book from a man Meir Luzzatto, who must have been in some way connected to the Poggettos, on  Salomone’s side. Luzzatto must have acquired it earlier from one of Jacob Pogetto’s heirs. But the question remains, why did Abramo, one of Ya‘aqov’s sons, have to buy it back? The answer could no doubt be found in some notarial records preserved in the archives.

In the next installment, we will explore the marks Italian censors left on the book. Stay tuned.


A note from Fabrizio Quaglia: I thank Dr. Alexander Gordin, paleographer and staff member of the National Library of Israel, for helping me render some of the Hebrew signatures on Fordham’s copy of Abudarham. Dr. Fabio Uliana, Office of Ancient Funds and Special Collections, Protection, Conservation and Restoration of Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria of Turin, for sending images of BNU books, and Dr. Alberto Palladini, Archivist of Archivio di Stato di Modena for checking for me the list of Leon Poggetti’s books, where this document is located.


Fabrizio Quaglia is Hebraica and Judaica Consultant. His last publication is Il recinto del rinoceronte. I giorni e le opere degli ebrei ad Alessandria prima dell’emancipazione del 1848, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2016. Editor of MEI: Material Evidence in Incunabula Editor: https://www.cerl.org/resources/mei/about/editors.

The Fordham’s Copy of “Sefer Abudarham”: Disclosures and Conjectures (Part 1)

by Fabrizio Quaglia


An introductory note from Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies: In November 2018, Fordham University acquired an expurgated copy of Sefer Abudarham published in Venice in 1546 at an auction held by the Kestenbaum Auction House of some items of the legendary Valmadonna Hebraica collection, along with two other items. This year, as part of our work on an upcoming exhibition on history of censorship, we asked Mr. Fabrizio Quaglia, a Hebraica and Judaica consultant in Italy and an expert on Italian censorship of Jewish books to uncover the secrets old books hold within their pages. This is the first installment of five essays about our copy of Sefer Abudarham. Before the book found its way to Fordham, it was digitized by the National Library of Israel.


One of the most awesome features of an old books is that it has gone through so many hands for so many different reasons. This is true for Hebrew books as well. Many readers, censors, and collectors left traces on their leaves and binding—most of the time precisely in that order.

The marks left by these users of the book are a testimony of the religious and cultural concerns of its more or less temporary owners. These markings then are nor just marginal footnotes (pun intended!) to the History of Book and the history of the Jews. Through these sometimes overlapping of personal notes a book can tell the story of a family, unveiling us joys and scandals, activities, and displacements that sometimes lay hidden behind a simple signature.

Fordham’s copy of Sefer Abudarham published in Venice in 1546 tells such stories, whose protagonists include members of a Jewish family of French origin (from Puget in Provence) who in sixteenth-century Italy assumed the name Poggetto (and several variations of it), their friends Luzzatto and Sacerdote, and their opponents in cassock—that is  the local representatives of the Holy Office of the Inquisition. All of them lived in the town of Asti in Piedmont and in its surroundings.

In this series of essay, I will describe the kind of provenance the past whereabouts of the book in question, the third edition of  Sefer Abudarham (Venice, 1546), now at the Walsh Library, Special Collections (Judaica 1547 1), apologizing in advance for some perhaps excessive speculation of mine.

Sefer Abudarham, Venice: Marco Antonio Giustiniani, 306 [1546], JUDAICA 1547.1. The book was also digitized by the National Library of Israel.

On the upper left side of the title page was inscribed a cursive Hebrew signature in a quite clear Italian script הגיע לחלקי אברהם פוייטו יצ”ו (“It came to Avraham Poyeṭi, may his Rock keep him and grant him life”). Name אברהם פוייטו (Abraham Poyeti) is slightly crossed out with a single stroke of the pen, presumably by a subsequent owner. The same man is cited and slightly crossed out among the letters composing the subtitle, again in a Hebrew cursive Italian style note, partially trimmed to the right margin, מאת ה’ היתה זאת לגורלי אברה'[ם] פוייטו יצו בכמוה”ר יפ”י נתנני אלקים הספר הזה במקח מעם הנע’ כ”מ … לוצאטו יצו אלול שצ”ח פה אסטי (“From G.d. was this for my fate, Avraham Poyeṭo, may His rock protect me, son of the honored teacher and rabbi the rabbi Y. P. God gave this book in a bargain from the eminent honored teacher … Luṣaṭo, may His rock keep him and grant him life, Elul 398 [= August/September 1638] here in Asṭi”). ‘נע [ne’] is shortened for הנעלה [ne’elah]. This note is followed by a few unidentified acronyms (on f. 86v, too), preceded by word נאם (“Signed”), and by the line ויסכר פי דוברי שקר, that is a quotation from Ps. 63:12 (“the mouths of those who speak lies will be shut”). The ownership ends with a sentence written in a smudged ink, always referable to Avraham Poyeṭi/Poyeṭo: אחר כך נתתיו אל כ”מ אכסלראד כצ”י (“Then I gave it to the honored teacher Akselrad K.ṣ.i”). An inscription by the same hand is also visible on bottom of f. 86v: לאכסלראד כצ”י לביתי השמשים (“To Akselrad K.ṣ.i. for the houses of the caretakers”); K.Ṣ. (modern Katz) stands for “Kohen Ṣedeq” (“Authentic Priest”) and i.for יחיה (“Long live”). There were at least Akselrads in the area at this time. In 1611 was born an Akselrad son of Shimshon כצ”י   (in Italian documents called “Sanson Sacerdote”), a banker active in Moncalvo but from Cortemilia (province of Cuneo); and in 1614 an Acselrad son of Ya‘aqov כצ”י (“Jacob Sacerdote”), another banker in Moncalvo. I cannot determine which Akselrad Sacerdote received this volume, but since the שמש shamash is usually a sort of sexton I am quite sure that it was offered to a synagogue (of Asti, Moncalvo or Cuneo). The abovementioned acronym יפ”י “Y. P.” is readable in mss. copied for Ya‘aqov Poyeṭo [see below] such as British Library ms. Add. 27041, f. 241r: therefore I deduced Avraham Poyeṭo was the son of Ya‘aqov. The Italian signature “Abramo puggetto hebreo” appears on title page of two tractates gather together of Talmud Bavli printed in Venice in 1520-1522, now in Turin (Biblioteca Nazionale Universitaria, shelf number Hebr.II.21).

Abramo Poggetto lived in Moncalvo and had at least one son, Mordecai, circumcised in 1608, who appears to have owned a kabbalistic work now preserved in the The Russian State Library Moscow Russia Ms. Guenzburg 218.

The first name of the seller of the book of Abudarham was erased—it was possibly Me’ir Luṣaṭo. Why? Did it belong to a Jew then converted? A case of “damnatio memoriae”? Or for some other reason? I don’t know, by the short space between the words כ”ם and לוצאטו and some tiny remnant of its ink I dare to suggest that missing name was מאיר Me’ir. A banker Me’ir Luṣaṭo (Luzzatto) lived in Asti, although not consistently, during the years 1584-1631; there he was one of the guardians of a Jewish youth society called Confraternity of the Zealous. Maybe belonged to him an auctioned Soncino Commentary to Former Prophets by Isaac Abrabanel printed in Pesaro in 1511: “I, Meir Luzzatti, gave this book as a complete gift to the dear and exalted … Luzzatti, may his Rock protect him”; the 1511 volume was censored by Asinari and Carato (and Dominico Ierosolimitano, 1598). A XVIc purchase’s note inscribed on the poetical miscellany (British Library, Add. 27001) links the abovementioned Me’ir Luṣaṭo (which would be son of a late Shelomoh) to Shelomoh Poyeṭo [see below] residing in Casale Monferrato. I add that on a copy of Shemu’el Ṣarṣah’s Meqor ḥayyim (“The Fountain of Life”, Mantua 1559) in Turin BNU (shelf number Hebr.III.37) there is the concise XVIc signature by a מאיר לוצאטי. We know the names of three Me’ir’s sons: Yiṣḥaq (b. 1617) – who had as godfather rabbi Eliaqim Poyeṭo – teacher in the Jewish community of Moncalvo –, Mordekay Meshullam (b. 1622) and Uri (1623).


In the next installment we will explore another partially damaged note found on the letters that make up the ornate title of the book. Stay tuned to see what they reveal.


Fabrizio Quaglia is Hebraica and Judaica Consultant. His last publication is Il recinto del rinoceronte. I giorni e le opere degli ebrei ad Alessandria prima dell’emancipazione del 1848, Alessandria, Edizioni dell’Orso, 2016. Editor of MEI: Material Evidence in Incunabula Editor: https://www.cerl.org/resources/mei/about/editors.


The acquisition of books for the Judaica Collection at Fordham has been possible thanks to the generosity of Mr. Eugene Shvidler and the enthusiastic support for the collection from Linda Loschiavo, the Director of the Walsh Family Library.

Me’ah Berakhot: A Miniature Prayerbook from the 18th century

Kristen McCarthy FCRH’24

The facsimle of Me’ah berakhot, an eighteenth-century compendium of “one hundred blessings,”in Fordham’s collection was published by Facsimile Editions in London in 1994. The Me’ah berakhot was printed on fine vellum in a limited edition of 550 copies, of which 500 are numbered 1-500, and 50 Ad personam copies are numbered I-L. The first 400 hundred copies were issued on vellum. Fordham’s copy is numbered 4. It was donated to Fordham University by James Leach, M.D., on September 16th, 2021.

Figure 1:
Me’ah berakhot= One hundred blessings: an illustrated miniature liturgical compendium in Hebrew and Yiddish from 18th-century central Europe (London: Facsimile Editions, 1994)

The edition includes the facsimile of the prayer book, containing 35 leaves, or 70 pages, in Hebrew and Yiddish, and an additional volume, 109 pages long, with commentary in English, which includes a transcription of Hebrew with a parallel English translation. (Figure 1)

The original book, which remains in a private collection, was made as a small miniature illustrated volume measuring 1.4″ x 1.6″ (or 3.6cm x 4 cm) a small prayer book in manuscript that included prayers from the 18th century. The facsimile mimics traditional bookmaking. The vellum was prepared as in the past, the binding sewn in precisely the same way as the original manuscript. The binding with silver clasps and morocco leather exquisitely tooled with 23 carat gold (Figure 2). Twenty-one out of thirty-five pages included color illustrations, they show, as pictured in this illustration of the blessing for reading the scroll of Esther, Megillat Ester, on Purim (Figure 4). The tiny size of the manuscript, according to Iris Fishof, made it possible only to include one illustrated panel on each page, above which is the blessing to be recited in Hebrew and any instructions concerning it in Yiddish, as shown in the illustration of the blessing before reading the scroll of Esther (fig. 3).[i]

Fig. 2: The cover in perspective. Image courtesy, Facsimile Editions.
Fig. 3: Me’ah Berakhot, blessing on the reading for the book of Esther, Yiddish instructions (r), Hebrew blessing (l). Image courtesy, Facsimile Editions

The original Me’ah berakhot is a unique miniature prayer book handwritten and hand-painted by an unknown scribe for an anonymous Jewish woman about 250 years ago.. Berakhot,in Hebrew “benedictions” or “blessings,” are prayers of thanksgiving or praise that Jews recite as they perform specific religious duties as a course of their everyday life. The Me’ah berakhot opens with prayers to be recited upon waking in the morning, followed by benedictions to be said after performing bodily functions like washing one’s hands, eating, and finishing meals. There are then twenty-two shorter benedictions to be recited on various occasions.[ii] There also prayers recited before sleep at night and the blessing over the appearance of the new moon. The final prayer included in the book is one to be used before departing on a journey.

Though many blessings the book contains would have been said by a man, the inclusion of the three special blessings for women to be recited when performing the three “women’s commandments” (mitzvot): ḥallah, setting aside a portion of the dough, niddah ritual immersion at the end of the menstrual cycle and hadlakat ha-ner, lighting candles to usher in the Sabbath and festivals suggests that Me’ah berakhot was perhaps created to be presented to a young woman on the occasion of her wedding.[iii] The woman’s life is revolved around household tasks, whether they be cooking, cleaning, childbearing, or tending to the children with a minimally independent life outside of the home, and that was also reflected in the printed books available to women in the early modern period, such as the Yiddish Seder mitsvot nashim by Benjamin Slonik, which was also published in an Italian translation.[iv]

The origin of the one hundred blessings seems to stem from a declaration of Rabbi Meir in the Mishna that it was everyone’s duty to recite one hundred blessings. And while the earliest efforts to create prayer books can be dated to the ninth century, the first examples of the prayer books titled me’ah berakhot come only from the seventeenth century. The earliest appears to be Seder Me’ah berakhot, printed in Venice by Giovanni di Gara in 1607.[v] Other versions were

Printed in Venice in 1648 and in 1780, Livorno in 1652. Among Ashkenazi Jews, there was an edition in Frankfurt in 1712.[vi] These editions were not illustrated. But an 1687 edition of benedictions, published in Amsterdam in a bilingual Spanish-Hebrew edition, Me’ah Berakhot, Orden benedictiones, included some illustrations on the frontispiece.[vii]The eighteenth-century manuscript of Me’ah berakhot demonstrates that Me’ah berakhot shows is that despite the availability of printed prayer books, people continued to produce elegant manuscripts for their personal use.


Kristen McCarthy is an undergraduate student at Fordham University at the Rose Hill Campus. She wrote this paper in Professor Magda Teter’s class “Jews in the Modern World” in the fall of 2021.


Bibliography

Bromer, Anne. Miniature Books: 4,000 Years of Tiny Treasures. New York: Abrams in association with Grolier Club, 2007.

Colclough, Stephen. “Pocket Books and Portable Writing: The Pocket Memorandum Book in Eighteenth-Century England and Wales.” Yearbook of English Studies 45 (January 2015): 159–77.

Fishof, Iris, Linda Falter, Michael Falter, and Jeremy Schonfield. Meʼah Berakhot = One Hundred Blessings: An Illustrated Miniature Liturgical Compendium in Hebrew and Yiddish from 18th-Century Central Europe. Facsimile Editions, 1994.

Fogel, Joshua A. Grains of Truth. [Electronic Resource] : Reading Tractate Menachot of the Babylonian Talmud. Hamilton Books, 2014.

Fram, Edward. My Dear Daughter: Rabbi Benjamin Slonik and the Education of Jewish Women in Sixteenth-Century Poland.  Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2007.

Ramos-González, Alicia. “Daughters of Tradition: Women in Yiddish Culture in the 16th-18th Centuries.” European Journal of Women’s Studies 12, no. 2 (May 2005): 213–26.

Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women. 1st ed.

Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2004.

Sherman, Stuart. Telling Time : Clocks, Diaries, and English Diurnal Form, 1660-1785. University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Sirat, Colette. Hebrew Manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Slonik, Benjamin. “The Order of Women’s Commandments” 1 (2004): 12.

Weissler, Chava. Voices of the Matriarchs : Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women. Beacon Press, 1998.

Weissler, Chava. “Women’s Studies and Women’s Prayers: Reconstructing the Religious History of Ashkenazic Women.” Jewish Social Studies 1, no. 2 (Winter 1995): 28–47.


Notes

[i] Iris Fishof, Linda and Michael Falter, Jeremy Schonfield, Meʼah Berakhot = One Hundred Blessings: An Illustrated Miniature Liturgical Compendium in Hebrew and Yiddish from 18th-Century Central Europe (London: Facsimile Editions, 1994).

[ii] Fishof, Me’ah Berakhot, 11.

[iii] Fishof, Me’ah Berakhot, 15.

[iv] Edward Fram, My Dear Daughter: Rabbi Benjamin Slonik and the Education of Jewish Women in Sixteenth-Century Poland (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 2007).

[v] Fishof, Me’ah Berakhot, 17.

[vi] Fishof, Me’ah Berakhot, 17. Me`Ah Berakhot : Ke-Minhag Sefaradim (Venice: Andrea Vendramin, 1649),  Sefer Meah Berakhot: Kol Ha-Omer Meah Berakhot Be-Khol Yom ([Frankfurt am Main?]: Shimon Volf be Avraham, 1712); Seder Meah Berakhot : Ke-Minhag K.K. Sefaradim (Venice: Stamperia Bragadina, 1780).

[vii] Me’ah Berakhot: Orden Benedictiones (Amsterdam: Albertus Magnus, 5447 [1687]), available at the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, https://cja.huji.ac.il/gross/browser.php?mode=set&id=35331


Prayer Book for Members of His Majesty’s Forces (1941)

by Patricia Scully FCRH’25

The Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces in Fordham’s Judaica Collection (SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1941 2) was published in the middle of World War II in 1941 (5702) in London. It was approved by the Chief Rabbi of Britain for the use of Jewish soldiers in the British Armed Forces. Written in both English and Hebrew, the book also opens differently than Western books written in Latin script do; instead of turning the pages from right to left, they are, as is true of Hebrew books, turned left to right.

The prayer book, which contains traditional prayers, was printed by the H.M. (His Majesty’s) Stationery Office, which also published other issues of the Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces, including in 1940 and 1943. The fact that this printer produced two other editions from years both before and after this specific prayer book was published suggests that there was a demand for Jewish prayer books for Jewish soldiers throughout World War II, that Jewish soldiers were an important part of the British Armed Forces, and that the Jewish community made an effort to provide Jewish soldiers with compact prayer books as they went to war.

The back of the title page notes that the 1941 edition was issued in 15,000 copies. That was in addition to the 50,000 copies published in the 1940 edition.

The H.M. Stationery Office had published similar prayer books during the Great War, over 20 years before. In fact, the note of the Office of the Chief Rabbi stated that this version was “substantially the same” as the edition “issued in the latter part of the Great War.” The first edition was published in 1914, with 16,000 copies and with other editions in 1917 and 1918, presumably those mentioned in the note.[i]

The fact that the British government was involved in the publication of Jewish prayer books means that they acknowledged the existence of the Jewish soldiers in their armed forces risking their lives for the British Empire. According to Yad Vashem, about 30,000 Jewish citizens served in the British Armed Forces.[ii] Other works that the H.M. Stationery Office published include both governmental reports and correspondence between the United States and Great Britain. Examples of other publications from the H.M. Stationery Office are Further Correspondence with the United States Ambassador and Reports of Visits of Inspection Made by Officials of the United States Embassy, both of which are from 1916.

“Pour Alex” in Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces in Fordham’s Judaica Collection (SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1941 2)

This copy of the 1941 edition of the Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces in Fordham’s collection measures only 15.2 by 9.8 centimeters and could easily fit in a pocket or bag. Only 76 pages long, it has several different types of prayers inside: festival prayers, patriotic prayers, mourning prayers, including prayers for “the sick and wounded” and a memorial prayer “for those fallen in battle,” alongside morning and evening prayers.

On the first few pages, there are inscriptions indicating previous ownership of the book. On one page the words, in French, “Pour Alex”-“For Alex” are written. The name “Alex” likely refers to Alexander Birenboim, whose full name and his address in “Pardes-Hanna, Palestine,” appears on the cover page of the book. Palestine had been under British rule since 1917 until after the Second World War, but this particular soldier appears to have been given this prayer book by a French speaker.[iii] In his book, Jews and the Military: A History, historian Derek Penslar writes, “Palestinian Jewry’s contributions to war industry were portrayed as part of world Jewry’s commitment to fight for Britain and against Hitler by any means necessary.”[iv] The Jewish sacrifice that was displayed by Jewish men who fought in World War II is linked with the rise of Zionism and the continued nationalism that many Jews expressed during the early 19th century. These two diverging viewpoints of Jewish people, Jewish Nationalism, or Zionism, which was the wish that all Jews will return to Israel, and European Nationalism, Jews remaining in the countries of Europe and staying loyal to those countries, gave Jewish communities a reason to become involved with the war effort. If the Allies won, Jewish people would be able to survive and escape the Nazi regime, thus having the ability to ether migrate to Palestine or stay in Europe.

When looking at the physical book in Fordham’s archives, one can see that the spine and cover of the book are missing. The size of the font is not too small considering that this prayer book is so tiny in both page number and in area. For soldiers on the front lines, the font size is big enough to read in dim light, but condensed enough to fit full prayers on each page. This particular copy of the Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces has pages that have been stained with water or maybe sweat and the binding is fragile, signifying that the book had been used frequently by its owner.

Since the Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces is composed of prayers for the Sabbath and certain Jewish holidays, soldiers were perhaps able to celebrate and participate in the Sabbath and religious festivals even away from home. For the soldiers using the Prayer Book for Jewish Members of His Majesty’s Forces, the destruction of European Jewry was in the forefront of their lives since they were fighting against the Nazis in order to liberate and save those in concentration camps. Although these Jewish members of the British Army were unable to be with their friends and family during wartime, the publication of this book indicates that the British Army understood the needs of Jewish soldiers.


Patricia Scully is an undergraduate student at Fordham College-Rose Hill. She wrote this essay during her first semester at Fordham in Professor Magda Teter’s class “Jews in the Modern World.”


[i] Prayer Book for Jewish Sailors and Soldiers. H.M. Stationery Office, with the Authority of the Chief Rabbi, 5678.

[ii] “Jewish Soldiers in the Allied Armies,” Yad Vashem, 2021, https://www.yadvashem.org/holocaust/about/combat-resistance/jewish-soldiers.html

[iii] “Memorandum by His Britannic Majesty’s Government ​​presented in 1947 to the United Nations Special Committee on Palestine Published at Jerusalem, 1947,” The Political History of Palestine under British Administration, 1947, https://www.un.org/unispal/document/auto-insert-185776/

[iv] Derek J. Penslar, “Chapter Six: The World Wars as Jewish Wars,” in Jews and the Military: A History (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013), 216, ProQuest Ebook Central.

Hurricane Ida’s Impact on Fordham’s Library

The festival Sukkot is associated with rain. According to the Mishnah, there are four times during which the world is judged, on Sukkot it is “judged in regards of rain” (Mishnah Rosh Ha-Shanah 1:2, BT Rosh Ha-Shanah 16a). Just as the academic year began, New York was hit by Hurricane Ida, which had made a landfall in Louisiana a few days before and continued on across the land making a turn toward the North East and New York, retaining, quite unusually an incredible amount of water. As it hit the New York tristate area on September 1, 2021, it caused catastrophic damage, homes were destroyed and lives were lost. Fordham was not spared. And the Walsh Family Library in the Bronx campus suffered most devastating damage of all university buildings.

According to the director of Fordham libraries, Linda Loschiavo, as Sebastian Diaz reported in the Fordham Ram, “Everything in the staff areas (Cataloging, Acquisitions, Serials, the EIC) was under four plus feet of water and destroyed.” Michael Wares, Assistant Director of Technical Services in Fordham University Libraries, took a photo from one of the offices.

The Walsh Family Library, basement office after Hurricane Ida. Photo: Michael Wares

Some of the books lost were from the growing Judaica collection, one cart, waiting to be catalogued was lost in the water. A number of recent facsimile acquisitions generously donated by Dr. James Leach over the summer were irreparably damaged, among them a facsimile of Megillat Esther. Other lost manuscript facsimiles included a copy–numbered 3–of The Skevra Evangeliar, which is the fine facsimile edition of the so-called Lemberg Gospels (original residing in the Biblioteka Narodowa of Warsaw, Poland, Rps 8101 III).

Astonishingly, the library remained open. Staff, now displaced by the flood, moved to other parts of the library, including the back offices of the Special Collections and Archives, which are the home of Fordham’s growing Judaica Collection. And even in the midst of this crisis, on September 12th, the Special Collections and Archives accommodated the visit of 54 undergraduate students in two of our classes UHC 1851: Jews in the Modern World and ICC HIST 4312: Antisemitism and Racism (team taught by me and Professor Westenley Alcenat).

Vivan Shen, of the Special Collections and Archives, made sure that our students would not be denied the incredible experience of learning with historical artifacts. In those two classes, students were able to see and touch history: the transition from the medieval manuscript era to early printing technology, to more complex sixteenth century printing, and on to the 20th century. They were able to see the development of Jewish culture in conversation with the environment and societies in which they lived through books printed in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italy, even nineteenth century India and Iraq, and some amazing artifacts from the Jewish communities in the Bronx. They were also able to see how hatred is manufactured and disseminated and how it is possible to push back. (In 2019 students from my course on antisemitism co-curated an exhibit “Media Technology and the Dissemination of Hate” using special collections).

Mahzor (Bologna, 1540), a Mahzor for the Roman rite, shown in HIST 1851
Precetti da esser imparati dalle donne hebree (Venice, 1616), an Italian translation of Benjamin Slonik’s Seder Mitzvot Nashim (Cracow, 1577), shown in HIST 1851
Ordern Benedictiones (Amsterdam, 1687), a Sephardic prayer book in Spanish and Hebrew, shown in HIST 1851
Isaac Cardoso, Las Excellencias de Los Hebreos (Amsterdam, 1679), an apologetic work pushing back against anti-Jewish stereotypes by promoting Jewish “excellencies,” or contributions to the world, and rebutting anti-Jewish accusations, shown in HIST 4312
A set of antisemitic and racist postcards popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century both in Europe and in the US, shown in HIST 4312

John William Gibson and W. H. Crogman The Colored American: From Slavery to Honorable Citizenship (Atlanta, GA and Naperville, IL, 1903), a book highlighting the accomplishments of Black Americans, seeking to push back against anti-Black stereotypes and to inspire “multitudes to catch the same spirit of progress.” Shown in HIST 4312

In this difficult time, days after a catastrophic flood and after a very difficult year, being together in person, in the library, touching and experiencing history, was indeed uplifting and inspiring. It could not be possible without the support and commitment of the library director and staff.


Magda Teter is Professor of History and the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies at Fordham University. In Fall 2021, she teaches HIST 1851: Jews in the Modern World and, with Professor Westenley Alcenat, HIST 4312: Antisemitism and Racism.

Come Visit Jerusalem at Fordham: An Exhibition Overview

by Sarit Kattan Gribetz

Over the summer, I was happy to announce the publication of our new catalogue, “Jerusalem in the Stacks,” which features original student research about manuscripts, rare books, and artifacts from Fordham’s Special Collections and Art Museum, all related to the city of Jerusalem. That catalogue is available for download here.   Now, I’m excited to introduce you to our companion in-person exhibition, open at the O’Hare Special Collections at Walsh Library on Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus from August through December 2021.

The exhibit features several dozen artifacts about Jerusalem’s religious, political, cultural, and literary dimensions. Each display case explores a different aspect of Jerusalem’s history, the rituals that took place and lives lived in the city, the ways in which the city interacted with other places both near and far, how different people visualized the city in various artistic media, and how the history and the contemporary circumstances of the city are taught. 

This exhibition is a collaboration.  I curated it together with Magda Teter, with the help of Vivian Shen of the O’Hare Special Collections.  Some of the artifacts featured in the exhibition were chosen and researched by Fordham students enrolled in my “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives” course in Fall 2020, and thus they appear in the exhibition catalogue; other books and objects are unique to the in-person exhibition and are not included in the catalogue.

The exhibition is currently open to visitors who are allowed on campus, and I encourage those who can get to campus to spend some time perusing the display cases.  For those unable to make it to campus, I’m happy to be able to take you on a virtual tour here on our blog…

A City of Three Faiths

Jerusalem is a city sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and a city of worship, prayer, song, and ritual.  It is also a city that features in the religious practices of worshippers far from the physical city.  This case presents three ritual objects: a contemporary Muslim prayer rug, purchased from Jerusalem, that features Islam’s three most sacred cities, Mecca, Medina, and Jerusalem; a facsimile edition of the Black Hours, a fifteenth-century Christian Book of Hours from Bruges, Belgium (the original of which is held at the Morgan Library in New York), open to a page that depicts Jesus’ crucifixion, with a view of Jerusalem in the background; and a Jewish prayer book (maḥzor) for the holiday of Sukkot, published by the Kashman ben Joseph Baruch Printing House for the Amsterdam Ashkenazi community, which, as a diaspora community, directed its prayers east towards Jerusalem.  These objects highlight not only Jerusalem’s centrality to many religious traditions, but also the way in which communities all over the world, from Mecca to Bruges to Amsterdam and beyond, find ways of connecting to the city through prayers and rituals.

Jerusalem is a city sacred to Jews, Christians, and Muslims and a city of worship, prayer, song, and ritual
(photo credit: Magda Teter)

Claims to the Holy City

Jerusalem is also a contested city.  This case brings together Jewish, Christian, and Muslim texts that each in its own way stakes a claim to the city.  Mary Angeline Hallock’s The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, a work of historical fiction published in 1869 by the American Tract Society, an evangelical publisher, tries to educate young adult readers about Christian history in Jerusalem.  The book ends with a hymn called “The New Jerusalem,” written by Charles Wesley, the Methodist movement’s English leader and acclaimed hymn writer.  Chaim Weizmann’s The Jewish People and Palestine, published by the Head Office of the Zionist Organization in 1937, makes a case to the British Royal Commission on Palestine in Jerusalem as to why Jews need a national homeland.  Weizmann uses a simple phrase to summarize the challenge that the Zionist movement sought to address: “It is a problem of the homelessness of a people.”  A Brief Guide to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, Jerusalem, published by the Supreme Moslem Council in Jerusalem in 1930 during the British Mandate, details visiting hours, rules for visitors, historical information about the Haram, including the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and includes photographs of the sites.  Moslem Religious Life in Jerusalem, published by the Ministry of Religious Affairs in Jerusalem in March 1970, shortly after Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem from Jordan, details Israel’s policy regarding the city’s holy places and provides a set of articles about Jerusalem’s Islamic sites. 

Pamphlets highlighting the contested political situation of modern Jerusalem
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

From Word to Image

This case features drawings of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, based on biblical passages.  Each drawing represents an attempt to imagine the monument architecturally and visually based on the measurements and descriptions contained in scripture.  These drawings were produced by both Jewish and Christian readers of the Bible.  The lowest shelf displays two editions of Timothy Otis Paine’s book Solomon’s Temple, the first published in 1881 and the second in 1886.  The second shelf presents two different books of “she’elot u-teshuvot,” Jewish texts that deal with Jewish legal questions: Yom Tov ben Moses Ẓahalon’s Sefer she’elot u-teshuvot, published by Giovanni Vendramin in 1694 in Venice, and Mordekhai ha-Leṿi’s Sefer Darkhe Noʻam: ṿe-hu ḥibur teshuvot sheʼelot published in 1697-1698 by Fratelli Bragadini, also in Venice.  The middle shelf features a wooden model of the First Temple sold at the gift shop of the Israel Museum in 2017, a cardboard model of the Dome of the Rock (also contemporary), and a 1951 Haggadah, which features on its cover an image of the Dome of the Rock interpreted as the Jewish Temple. The 20th-century printed adapted a printer’s design of Marco Antonio Giustiniani (active 1543-1552), one of the most important printers of Hebrew books in sixteenth-century Italy. His printer’s device features the image of the Dome of the Rock with words “beit ha-mikdash” (the Temple) and includes a Hebrew phrase : “Great shall be the glory of this house”.

The 1861 edition of Paine’s Solomon’s Temple, from the Goldman Collection.
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)
The 1886 edition of Timothy Otis Paine’s Solomon’s Temple. From the Goldman Collection
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)
Mordekhai ha-Leṿi’s Sefer Darkhe Noʻam: ṿe-hu ḥibur teshuvot sheʼelot published in 1697 above a wooden model of the first Jewish temple in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)
Yom Tov ben Moses Ẓahalon’s Sefer she’elot u-teshuvot published in 1694 above a model of the Dome of the Rock and a 1951 Haggadah that features an image of the Dome of the Rock interpreted as the Jewish Temple and copied from a sixteenth-century Christian printer’s mark
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

Jerusalem in Sacred Texts

This case contains Jewish, Christian, and Islamic sacred texts, each related to the sacredness of Jerusalem.  On the bottom shelf you can see a facsimile of the fifteenth-century Kennicott Bible, the original of which is held at the Bodleian Library at Oxford; these pages depict the instruments from the Jewish tabernacle, described in the book of Leviticus, and later used in the Jerusalem temple in Jerusalem.  Alongside the Kennicott Bible you can see a facsimile of the thirteenth-century Bible de Saint Louis (the original of which is held at Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada in Toledo), commissioned by Blanche of Castile for King Louis IX of France; the pages displayed illustrate Jesus’ entry into the city, a prominent scene in all four Gospels.  The middle shelf pairs a Qur’an, open to Surat al-Isra that narrates Muhammad’s night journey from the “sacred place of worship” to the “furthest place of worship” (associated in Islamic tradition with Jerusalem), with a facsimile of the Rothschild Miscellany, a fifteenth-century Jewish manuscript from Northern Italy that presents King David, who, according to biblical texts, conquered Jerusalem and made it the capital of his kingdom, playing his harp (the original is held at the. Israel Museum in Jerusalem).  The top shelf features an illumination of the heavenly Jerusalem from the Book of Revelation, as it appears in the medieval Flemish Apocalypse, dating to c. 1400 (the original manuscript is held at the Bibliothèque nationale de France).

The Rothschild Miscellany, showing King David, and the Bible de Saint Louis, illustrating Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. Both books come from the James Leach Collection
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

A Qur’an, open to the page of Muhammad’s Night Journey, and the Kennicott Bible, from the James Leach Collection, open to a page depicting the tabernacle’s utensils
(photo credit: Vivian Shen).
An illumination of the heavenly Jerusalem from the Book of Revelation, from the Flemish Apocalypse. The James Leach Collection
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

Jerusalem at Passover

This display case and the one to its right feature an array of Passover haggadot, each of which engages Jerusalem in some way.  Here, three haggadot depict Jerusalem, both ancient and contemporary.  The two early modern haggadot – one published in  Fürth in 1762 by Itzik ben Leib and the other published in Amsterdam in 1765 by Harer Hirtz Levi Rofe ve-hatano Kashman mokhrei sefarim – each contain the same engravings (mirror images, suggesting one was based on the other and engraved to copy the model but flipped when printed on a page), which were based on earlier printed haggadot from Amsterdam. The third, published by Sinai in 1953 in Tel Aviv, shows a man walking in the Old City on his way to a synagogue, which, when this edition was published, was merely a memory as Jerusalem’s Old City was by then under Jordanian rule with no Jews or active synagogues.

Three Haggadot that depict Jerusalem from Fordham’s Judaica Collection
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

“Next Year in Jerusalem!”

Passover haggadot traditionally conclude with a declaration of hope, “Next Year in Jerusalem!”  Some haggadot published by communities already living in Jerusalem or nearby amend the hope to “Next Year in Jerusalem Rebuilt,” adding a hope for full redemption.  The El Al Haggadah, published in 1969 as an advertisement for Israel’s airline, encourages readers to fly to Jerusalem the following year using El Al: “NEXT YEAR – IN JERUSALEM REBUILT, And may we of El Al wish that when you do come you fly El Al, the airline of the people of Israel.”  Below it we have displayed an Amharic haggadah made for the Ethiopian Jewish community in Israel in 1985, the year following “Operation Moses,” a mission that brought over 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel (the Haggadah was edited by Yosef Hadana, translated by Yona Bugale, and published by Misrad Le-kelitah Ruhanit shel Yehudei Etiopia be-Israel).  The 1990 fundraising haggadah published by the United Jewish Appeal, also in support of “Operation Moses,” plays on the verse “next year in Jerusalem”: it has the phrase “This year in Jerusalem” printed on its cover.  The largest haggadah on display, The Children’s Passover Haggadah, published in New York by Shilo in 1945, features a depiction of Psalm 126, which describes the return to Zion with laughter and singing alongside a jubilant drawing of people of all age rejoicing.

“Next Year in Jerusalem,” as it appears in various Haggadot. Fordham’s Judaica Collection.
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

Missionary Travels

These four books, published between 1823 and 1860, represent examples of books published by Christian scholars and organizations aimed at missionizing in Jerusalem or educating Christians about the city’s history.  Each book contains a map of the Holy Land or Jerusalem, orienting readers geographically.  Charlotte Elizabeth’s Judea Capta (New York: M. W. Dodd, 1860), for example, depicts Jerusalem’s topography, including Mount Zion, the Ophel, and Mount Moriah, which housed the temple.  Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland (Philadelphia: Pressbyterian Board of Publication, 1843) contains red and blue pen marks, which a reader added to the map to show the routes from Scotland to Jerusalem.  These books are displayed alongside William Jowett, Christian Researches in Syria and the Holy Land, in 1823 & 1824 (Boston: Crocker and Brewster, 1826) and Stephen Greenleaf Bulfinch, Palestine and the Hebrew People (Boston and New York: Crosby, Nichols, and Company, and Charles S. Francis and Company, 1852), both of which begin with large maps that situation Jerusalem in the broader region.

Books published by Christian scholars and organizations aimed at missionizing in Jerusalem or educating Christians about the city’s history, each of which includes a map of the city or region. From the Goldman Collection
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

The Environs of the City

The Mount of Olives and other valleys and mountains adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City house cemeteries, shrines, and places of worship.  This case displays three stereoscope photographs that feature the Mount of Olives, the Garden of Gethsemane, and the Valley of Kidron, in which one can see the “Tomb of the Kings,” build by the first-century Queen Helena of Adiabene.  These places were important sites for Christians (and others) on pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  Alongside these photographs is a drawing of the Mount of Olives and the prophet Hulda’s tomb from an illustrated manuscript, known as the Casale Pilgrim, created in sixteenth century Italy that depicts synagogues and burial sites of important Jewish figures in Jerusalem and the Holy Land. The manuscript’s small size would have made it convenient for a pilgrim to bring for traveling.  Finally, Johannes Henrico Hottinger’s 1662 Cippi Hebraici, published in Heidelberg by Samuel Broun, illustrates many of the city’s tombs, including prophets, rabbinic figures, their students, and their wives.

Illustrations and photographs depicting different monuments in and near Jerusalem
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

Jerusalem in 3D

This set of stereographic photographs (along with the photographs displayed in the previous and following cases) was taken by Bert and Elmer Underwood on their trip to the Holy Land in the spring of 1896. The images displayed here are part of a larger collection from the Underwoods’ trip totaling 100 images. Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut published Traveling in the Holy Land Through Stereoscope; a personally conducted tour by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D, a 220-page narrative accompanying the images. To view these photos properly, you need a stereoscope, a device that looks like binoculars, which makes the images appear three-dimensional.  Because most people could not make the journey due to financial or other reasons, these photographs transported them to the Holy Land while they remained, physically, at home in the United States or elsewhere.  The photos thus served as many people’s first images of the Levant and Holy Land, making distant lands a little more accessible.  Importantly, these images depicted biblical scenes reenacted in Jerusalem.  They thus transported the viewer not only through space but also through time, and specifically to the time of Jesus.  Nonetheless, despite its focus on the Christian past, the collection of photographs included holy sites from the three religious traditions, including the Dome of the Rock, the Wailing Wall, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, as displayed here.  The first row features three views approaching the city; the second row contains photographs of the city walls and city gates; the third row depicts the Dome of the Rock; the fourth row contains images of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre; and the fifth row highlights the Wailing Wall and a synagogue in the Old City.

Stereographic photographs of the Holy Land and Jerusalem became popular at the end of the nineteenth century, making the city more accessible to those who lived at great distances from it
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

Educating for Tolerance

This case features contemporary children’s books that celebrate Jerusalem as a multi-religious city with diverse residents.  Meir Shalev’s Michael and the Monster of Jerusalem (Jerusalem: Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, 1989), illustrated by Emanuele Luzzati, features a boy who is accompanied by a monster named Metusalem (a play on the biblical figure Methuselah in Genesis 5:25 and one of the biblical names of the city, Salem), through the Jerusalem’s entire history from antiquity to modernity.  Deborah de Costa’s Snow in Jerusalem (Illinois: Albert Whitman and Co, 2001) addresses the relationship between two boys from Muslim and Jewish backgrounds, connecting them through their shared love for a cat, who travels between the Muslim and Jewish Quarters of Jerusalem’s Old City.  Likewise, Sheldon Lewis’ Mini Adventures in Jerusalem (Hadassa World Press, 2017) depicts two small children, a Muslim boy named Ahmed and a Jewish boy named Mati, who recognize that aspects of their culture and language are both different and the same, just as the two young boys are both different and the same.  In one scene, Mati shares with Ahmed his word for charity, “tzedaka,” and Ahmed responds, “our word is sadaka! The words sound alike.”  These books are paired with two photographs of Jerusalem’s busy streets and markets from the late nineteenth century, scenes vividly illustrated in pages of the children’s books.

A variety of children’s books that promote messages of peace, tolerance, and co-existence in Jerusalem
(photo credit: Vivian Shen)

With Thanks:

“Jerusalem in the Stacks” was curated by Sarit Kattan Gribetz and Magda Teter, with the help of Vivian Shen, of Fordham’s Special Collections, who also took the photographs featured in this essay. The students who contributed to this exhibition include (in alphabetical order): Sera Allen, Amelia Antzoulatos, Ashley Conde, Adam Elbordiny, Liliya Fisher, Marina Francis,  Sara Paola Guerra Rubí, Yuet Ho, Victor Imparato, Julia Kohut, Esther Leviev, Liam Pardo, Daniel Ramazzotto, Felicity Richards, Daniela Valdovinos, Hannah Whitney, Xinqiao Zhang. Special thanks as well to Shawn Hill, Emanuel Fiano, Nicholas Paul, Nina Rowe, and Jennifer Udell for assistance with research, and to the donors who have built Fordham’s Special Collections over the years, including Dr. James Leach, Eugene Shvidler, and an anonymous donor who bequeathed books from the Yosef Goldman Collection, whose contents were used in this exhibition. Many thanks are also due to Rita Houlihan, Dario Werthein, the Knapp Family Foundation, and the Picket Family Foundation for their generous support of these and related endeavors at Fordham.

Sarit Kattan Gribetz is Associate Professor of Classical Judaism in the Theology Department at Fordham University.

Jerusalem at Fordham

By Sarit Kattan Gribetz

A shuttered Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City in the early months of the pandemic. Image by Daniel Estrin for NPR (from here).
Fordham University’s campus, which closed in March 2020 as the pandemic became more widespread in New York. Image by Sarit Kattan Gribetz.

Teaching in Pandemic Times

In August 2020, a new fall semester began.  Whereas in past years there was palpable excitement on campus as students returned from summer break and reunited with friends in classrooms and hallways, this year was different.  After a difficult spring, during which Fordham abruptly closed mid-semester in March 2020 when New York City and much of the rest of the world went into lockdown, and a harrowing summer of illness, death, and isolation, we were back in class but not on campus.  I met my students on Zoom, in our virtual classroom, each student a small tile on my screen.

How would we manage to learn together in this new setting and under such challenging circumstances? I wondered.  And, more importantly, how would we become a community – which, to my mind, is the foundation upon which deep learning is built – with all of us so far away from one another? 

I need not have feared.  In the second week of our semester, I sensed that before we could turn to analyzing artifacts and discussing texts, my students were eager to check in with one another, to hear how their classmates were doing.  How was Hannah handling quarantine?  Did Liliya find a job?  Did Adam make it back to New York?  And so, every other week, we took a few minutes to share our “highs” and “lows.”  As I look back at that semester, my “low” was that we weren’t able to meet each other in person and discuss our sources around an actual seminar table, as I have done with my students in semesters past; the cadence of a voice or the squinting of an eye is often enough to signal that we might need to spend more time unpacking an idea, and a subtle knowing smile can prompt me to encourage a shy student to share a brilliant idea I see taking shape in her mind.  But my “high” more than made up for it: watching my students embrace the challenge of learning in far from ideal circumstances, and seeing how dedicated they were to this task, even as they were caring for sick relatives, working multiple jobs, or zooming from disparate time zones – and learning so much.

Despite pandemic and political upheaval, I set high course expectations.  As a final project, each student was asked to choose a manuscript, facsimile, or book from Fordham’s Special Collections or an artifact from Fordham’s Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art that related to the topic of our course; conduct original research; write a catalogue essay; and, collaboratively, curate an exhibition.  Most students worked remotely, accessing manuscripts and library resources only digitally.  Together, we created an exhibit catalogue that is now online (you can download it here). What these students accomplished is a testament to how much can be done these days in a virtual world, and also no doubt reveals its limits. 

The course, titled “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish, Christian, Muslim Perspectives,” centered on the history of Jerusalem from the Jebusites to the present day, focusing especially on the city’s importance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims across the centuries.  During our class sessions, we examined archaeological, architectural, and artistic sources; passages from the Hebrew Bible, New Testament, and Qur’an, along with their rich traditions of commentaries; accounts of pilgrimage and travel; legal and historiographical texts; and many other genres, all designed to provide diverse angles through which to study Jerusalem’s rich history.  This final project was designed to encourage students to continue these explorations independently, by pulling yet another source off the shelf, closely analyzing it, and contributing their own piece to the study of Jerusalem’s history.  By producing their own original scholarship, I hoped that my students would not only learn some of the skills it takes to create new knowledge but also come to recognize the power that they have to do so – and, most importantly, the sense of responsibility to do so with honesty and integrity to the sources, people, and histories in them.

The construction of space, both physical and conceptual, is always an overarching theme of my Jerusalem course.  How could it not be in a course centered on a city?  But this semester, the theme of space resonated in new ways.  Examining the topic of space and our relationship to different spaces was especially poignant during a time when most of us were largely confined to our personal spaces, when we were unable to gather together in the space of a classroom, when proximity itself was dangerous and even lethal.  Yet one of the most comforting aspects of this semester for me was when we were able to join together in our zoom room to create a virtual space – a virtual classroom – in lieu of a physical one.  I cannot help but wonder how our own situatedness in space affected the ways in which we studied the space of Jerusalem, and how studying the history of a place so far away impacted our experiences of staying put.  When we discussed the idea of sacred space, reflections about domestic spaces entered into the conversation (a theme I don’t recall from previous semester when I taught this same course): a dining room table, a bedroom, a garden, a view.  Being home because of the pandemic and reading about the temple as God’s dwelling prompted us to consider the many ways in which the domestic and the cultic intersect in ancient sources.  When we analyzed pilgrimage narratives, we wondered anew about the function that such tales of travel served for those unable to travel.  Verbal and visual descriptions of a pilgrim making her way through the city, building by building and street by street, helped us vicariously make our own way through Jerusalem from afar in a context in which traveling to the city was impossible for us, as it was for the original recipients of these medieval texts. 

In every course I teach, I always remind students that context matters.  The context (historical, cultural, political, literary, artistic, economic, and so on) of our sources matters; the context of later readers (i.e. the transmission history of our sources) matters; and our own context (as interpreters of texts, as historians, as people) matters.  Reflecting on our own context as learners encourages us to be aware of what we bring of ourselves and our circumstances to our readings of sources, and it also prompts us to be deliberate in how we apply our new-found understanding of the past to our current world.  I’ve therefore shared some reflections about teaching and learning during pandemic times to provide some context for the work we produced together.

Overview of “Jerusalem in the Stacks” Catalogue

If one can’t travel far, one is prompted to make the most of what one has at home.  This is exactly what we did here in our exhibition catalogue.  This catalogue’s title, “Jerusalem in the Stacks,” gestures to the many unexpected places in Fordham University’s library where one can find Jerusalem if one is looking for it.  All one needs to do is take a book off the shelf, peer inside, and begin to ask questions.  That’s what each student did with a single item at the library; together, it became a collection.

The catalogue is divided into four themes: “Devotion”; “Regional Relations”; “Visualizing the City”; and “Education.”  Each theme represents a different aspect of Jerusalem’s history, and each manuscript and object within the catalogue was researched by a different student.

The section titled “Devotion” highlights four objects that represent different modes of devotion – biblical interpretation, prayer, music, and religious rituals – both in the city and by those who incorporate memories of or aspirations for the city from afar. 

An excerpt from the prologue of Jerome’s Commentary, in which he names his two patrons, Paula and Eustochium, important women in late antique Jerusalem.

A Glossa Ordinaria on the Minor Prophets highlights the rich ancient and medieval commentary tradition that engaged with biblical references to Jerusalem; Jerome’s translation of the biblical books is dedicated to Paula and Eustochium, two fourth-century women with deep ties to Jerusalem. 

David, who conquered Jerusalem and made it the center of his kingdom, depicted playing his harp in the Roshchild Miscellany.

The Rothschild Miscellany represents a collection of Jewish texts of different genres, in which Jerusalem often appears, not least in the section on the Psalms and through an elaborately illuminated depiction of King David with his harp, which appears in the opening pages of the manuscript. 

Saint Michel Hours, Fol. 91b, with the manuscripts only illumination, featuring the apostle John reading a book to the other apostles.

Jerusalem also appears frequently in the Saint Michel Hours, a book of devotional prayers that brought monastic piety into lay settings. 

The unguentarium from Fordham’s collection.

Finally, a simple piriform unguentarium from Jerusalem, likely used in ancient funerary rituals, reminds us that in addition to texts – their study and recitation – objects played important roles in devotional practices in the city.

Regional Relations” highlights Jerusalem’s place in a broader network of cities, empires, trade routes, and diasporas.  As with all cities, it is not only defined by its local history and those who inhabit it, but also by others who interact with the city from outside it (to visit, to conquer, to rule over it, to write poetry about it) and by the relations it has with other places.  In this section of the exhibition, we explore five examples of contact between Jerusalem and its region: the Roman Empire, late antique Egypt, medieval France, modern Amsterdam and England.

Portrait of Emperor Hadrian, housed Fordham’s Museum of Greek, Etruscan, and Roman Art

A portrait of Hadrian from the Levant demonstrates how Roman imperial figures found creative ways of inserting themselves into the daily lives of their subjects, even those far from Rome.  Through such portraits, several of which have been discovered in the region, the Roman emperor Hadrian – who re-founded Jerusalem as a Roman colony and named it “Aelia Capitolina” – was able to fashion himself as both an omnipresent, even divine, figure, and also a local resident present on a daily basis. 

Another unguentarium from Fordham’s collection

The path of a single piece of Roman glass, however, reminds us that imperial travel to Jerusalem was but one part of far more intricate regional relations, which also entailed the production and shipment of goods along Roman roads, including glass from Egypt to Jerusalem and elsewhere. 

An indulgence from France.

This section also includes an indulgence from William of Adam, a French Dominican who spent much of his life traveling the world.  Though the indulgence was produced and remained in France, William is known for his calls to embark on a new Crusade to reconquer Jerusalem, reminding us that even local politics often set its sights on global ambitions, indulgences having long played a role in the Crusades. 

The title page of a Yiddish Mahzor for the holiday of Sukkot, from Amsterdam

An Ashkenazi Mahzor with Yiddish commentary from Amsterdam spotlights a particular Jewish community that made its home not in the holy land but in Europe, and its annual celebration of Sukkot, a holiday with deep connections to the temple in Jerusalem, not least because of traditions that link the dedication of the two temples with this holiday. 

The cover page of Chaim Weitzman’s “The Jewish People and Palestine” (1936, 2nd ed.)

Likewise, Chaim Weitzman’s little pamphlet arguing for why the Jews ought to return and live in Palestine uses ancient traditions about Jewish attachment to Jerusalem to argue for their modern return in the twentieth century.

How did people imagine Jerusalem?  Artists depicted Jerusalem in the media of their day, whether through elaborate illuminations, simple illustrations, affective drawings, or photographs.  Each image tells us just as much (or more) about the person who created the image as it does about the city.  The third section of the exhibition features examples of “Visualizing Jerusalem,” highlighting diverse modes of visual expression, each preserved in a different type of source, from the medieval, early modern, and modern periods. 

A depiction of the New Jerusalem in the Flemish Apocalypse

The Flemish Apocalypse’s illumination of a New Jerusalem attempts to illustrate a heavenly city, along the lines of several other Apocalypses that provide differing visual interpretations of the Book of Revelation’s reimagination of the holy city. 

The depiction of Jerusalem in Nicholas of Lyra’s Commentary on Ezekiel

The illustration of Jerusalem in a manuscript of Nicholas Lyre’s Commentary on Ezekiel depicts the city more simply and schematically, with walls and gates, leaving the details to the imagination of the reader. 

Depiction in the Casale Pilgrim of the Mount of Olives with the Tomb of Hulda the Prophet and other places of burial.

In contrast, a sixteenth-century Jewish Italian pilgrimage text provides quite down-to-earth drawings of sites along an actual pilgrimage route, depicting sacred tombs along the way to Jerusalem paired with the city’s many gates, sacred sites, and shrines, and commentary written above and beneath each drawing.  The manuscript, signed by its Florentine owner, is small enough to fit into a travel bag to accompany a pilgrim to the Holy Land. 

Stereoscrope with set of photographs of Jerusalem and the Holy Land from 1896.

Complementing these early modern drawings is a set of 30 stereoscopic photographs that capture a pilgrimage from Jaffa to Jerusalem.  These photographs are part of a collection of a 100 such photographs, accompanied by detailed explanations of each location on the back of each card.  These photographs, which became 3-dimensional images when viewed through a stereoscope, were designed to transport American Protestant readers of the Bible to the holy land without ever leaving their living rooms.  They also served as supplemental religious educational materials.

The last theme explored in the catalogue is “Education.”  Because of Jerusalem’s importance to Jews, Christians, and Muslims, the city is often found in educational contexts in all three religious traditions, from family rituals to children’s literature.  In this section, we feature books that were designed to be used in familial contexts; each book cultivates a particular type of relationship with the city.

“Next Year in Jerusalem” from the Barcelona Haggadah

We begin with the Barcelona Haggadah, used by Catalonian Jews during the holiday of Passover.  The Passover seder, a discussion and reenactment of the Israelite exodus from slavery in Egypt, is designed primarily as an educational experience in which parents teach their children this part of their heritage.  The manuscript includes a full page that reads “Next Year in Jerusalem,” a traditional exclamation recited towards the conclusion of the seder ceremony, which functions as a hope for a good future and an eventual return to Jerusalem. 

Mary Angeline Hallock’s The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem.

A mid-nineteenth-century chapter book titled The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem narrates Josephus’ account of the Jewish revolt against Rome in the late 60s C.E. in the form of a story that a father tells his two young children.  This book, published by the American Tract Society, an Evangelical Christian institution, fosters interest in the ancient history of Jerusalem, in particular before and after the time of Jesus, and ends with Charles Wesley’s hymn, “The New Jerusalem.” 

The Preface to Meir Shalev’s “Michael and the Monster of Jerusalem”

A more recent illustrated children’s book, Michael and the Monster of Jerusalem, attempts to tell a more religiously pluralistic history of Jerusalem as a city sacred to three religious traditions and therefore also a city that has found itself in the midst of conflict for centuries.  This history is narrated not by a parent but by an imaginary monster named Methusalem, a name that evokes both the biblical figure “Methuselah,” the oldest man who ever lived, and the city of Jerusalem, called “Salem.”  The book contains a preface written by the former mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, who playfully bemoans not having heard of this “non-tax-paying resident of the city” until reading Michael’s tale. 

Mati and Ahmed, Jewish and Muslim boys from Jerusalem, as they are depicted in Sheldon Lewis’ Mini Adventures in Jerusalem.

Finally, the catalogue ends with an exploration of books that are explicitly written to promote peace among Jerusalem’s diverse religious populations as well as among those outside the city who likewise feel deeply connected to the city from afar.  Both stories feature pairs of Jewish and Muslim boys who discover, through the course of their interactions with one another, that they have just as many similarities as differences, and that one of the things that binds them is their love of their city, Jerusalem.

Focusing on items that are found in Fordham’s collection – whether original manuscripts or facsimiles – forced us to be creative in the connections we made.  We weren’t able to resort to the most famous objects found at the Met or the British Museum.  As a result, there are quite a few objects that are remarkable precisely because they are quite ordinary, such as a Mahzor that a regular congregant would hold in a synagogue in Amsterdam, or a stained book of hours with tattered pages that must have been used and cherished before anyone thought to preserve it.  The limitations of the collection also prompted us to consider books written and published in the US that touch on the history of Jerusalem, and to wonder what role they played for American readers – including readers in our very own university library. 

The artifacts cover much ground, from ancient glass to medieval manuscripts to modern literature.  But there are also significant gaps, which reflect absences in Fordham’s collection.  The most striking absence is that of Islamic texts.  Fordham has long collected Christian materials, and more recently began acquiring Judaica as well, but it has not yet begun to build a substantial collection of rare Islamic texts.  In class conversations, we brainstormed various ways of dealing with this gap in the context of our exhibition.  The first was to acknowledge it, thereby making the absence noticed.  In addition to acknowledging the gap, one student pointed out that while none of the manuscripts, books, or objects were produced by Muslims nor do they contain an Islamic text, some of the objects were produced in Muslim Jerusalem (for example, the stereoscope photographs, taken at the turn of the twentieth century in Ottoman Jerusalem) or created outside of Jerusalem at a time when the city was under Islamic rule (such as William of Adam’s indulgence, composed when Jerusalem was in Mamluk hands).  Some of them even depict Muslim Jerusalem (most strikingly, the Casale Pilgrimage, which includes drawing of late sixteenth century Jerusalem), or discuss Jerusalem’s Muslim residents (as Weitzman’s text does).  Thirdly, we incorporated more recent children’s literature that, though not rare, makes an effort to be deliberately pluralistic in its presentation of the city and its history.  Highlighting these historical contexts and expanding what the collection includes are some of the ways in which we’ve attempted to include Jewish, Christian, and Muslim dimensions of Jerusalem in this exhibition, despite the limitations we faced.

“Next Year in Jerusalem”: Looking Ahead

The very last sources I shared with my students during our final moments of our final class meeting were a number of Passover Haggadot, in which the phrase “Next Year in Jerusalem” appears.  I explained that when Jews say this phrase, they mean it in at least two ways.  First, they mean it literally, that they hope that by next year redemption will have arrived and that they’ll be living in a restored Jerusalem.  But they also recite it figuratively, as a generalized hope for the future – a hope that next year will be better, that they won’t be in the midst of a pandemic, that they’ll be somewhere else, in a way that they’ll figuratively be in Jerusalem.  I thought it was fitting to end our class in this way, with this doubled hope, that one day – in the not too distant future – each student be able to visit Jerusalem, the city about which we had just spent a full semester learning, and also that each of them will find their way to their own Jerusalem, wherever that might be, once it’s safe for each person to emerge from their homes.  And as I tell each group of students I teach, I hope that they will stay in touch – that they will send back their pilgrimage narratives and reflections from their journeys, wherever those take them.

The exhibition catalogue, “Jerusalem in the Stacks,” can be downloaded here.

As for those of us still on campus, there will also be several more upcoming exhibitions and catalogues highlighting the expected and unexpected places where Jerusalem appears in the Fordham Library.  There are new boxes of old books to explore, still uncatalogued, waiting for us in the back rooms of the library, as well as many other pages to peruse in the stacks.  Stay tuned!

Jerusalem Exhibition Details

A companion in-person exhibition, also titled “Jerusalem in the Stacks,” features some of the pieces that Sarit’s students researched for the catalogue as well as many additional pieces from the Fordham collection. It is currently on display at the Special Collections in Walsh Library on Fordham University’s Rose Hill Campus through the end of 2021. The in-person exhibition was curated by Sarit Kattan Gribetz and Magda Teter, with the generous assistance of Vivian Shen of the O’Hare Special Collections.

Sarit Kattan Gribetz is Associate Professor of Classical Judaism in the Theology Department at Fordham University, and served as Acting Director of Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies in 2020-2021. Her first book, Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism (Princeton University Press), received a National Jewish Book Award for Scholarship. She is currently writing her next book, Jerusalem: A Feminist History.

Announcing the 2021-2022 Fellows at the Center for Jewish Studies @Fordham

Fordham’s Center for Jewish Studies is delighted to welcome new fellows in 2021-2022. This cohort represents the interdisciplinary depth of Jewish Studies.  For the past few years, Fordham has partnered with several institutions – Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies, the Center for Jewish History, and the New York Public Library – to make these fellowships possible. We are looking forward to a thought-provoking year of learning together.

Rabin-Shvidler Post-Doctoral Fellow in Jewish Studies at Columbia and Fordham:

  • Samuel Shuman, Ph.D. University of Michigan 

“Cutting Out the Middleman: The Diamond Industry & the Politics of Displacement in a European Port-City”

Sam Shuman is an anthropologist of religion, politics, and economy, who studies the shifting role of historical merchant diasporas in the age of supply-chain capitalism. At Fordham, he will teach two courses in the Anthropology Department, and develop his dissertation into a book manuscript. His book will focus on the relationship between Antwerp’s Jews and the diamond industry as a way to rethink politics in contemporary Europe.

2021 Salo Baron New Voices in Jewish Studies Award Recipients:

  • Daniella Farah, Ph.D. Stanford University

“Forming Iranian Jewish Identities: Education, National Belonging, the Jewish Press, and Integration, 1945-1981” 

Daniella Farah’s scholarship lies at the intersection of modern Jewish history, education history, Middle Eastern history, and transnational studies, focusing on Jewish-Muslim relations and Jewish identity formation in twentieth-century Iran and Turkey. By applying a transnational approach to the history of Jewish education, her work asks what bearing language and access to education had on Turkish and Iranian Jews’ abilities to integrate into and claim belonging to their respective nation-states. Daniella will be Samuel W. and Goldye Marian Spain Postdoctoral Fellowship in Jewish Studies at Rice University.

  • Jeremiah Lockwood, Ph.D. Stanford University

“Golden Ages: Chassidic Singers and Cantorial Revival in the Digital Era,”

Jeremiah Lockwood’s research argues that a cadre of young Chassidic singers who have embraced a style of early 20th century recorded sacred music illustrates the contested nature of prayer practices in the contemporary Jewish American community. His thesis offers a picture of artists who surface sounds of the Jewish sonic past as a means of aesthetic self-cultivation and a utopian effort to revive an approach to prayer characterized by the transportive experience of listening. Beyond a revival of musical style, their work with the archive of early Jewish records attempts to reanimate a form of comportment in prayer based in an imagined Jewish past in which aesthetics and prayer were integrated and the role of artists was foregrounded as communal leaders facilitating the experience of listening as a sacred act. Jeremiah is currently Associated Researcher at UCLA’s Department of Ethnomusicology.

  • Alex Moshkin

“Russian-Jewish Culture in Israel: In Search of Identity”

Alex Moshkin’s research examines the largest outpost of Russian-Jewish culture in the twentieth century—that of Israel. His dissertation, “Russian-Jewish Culture in Israel: In Search of Identity,” which he wrote at the University of Pennsylvania, tells the story of how Russian-speaking writers and artists sought to forge a Jewish/Israeli cultural identity after their immigration to Israel with a divided and often vague understanding of this identity-in-the-making. In analyzing this cultural output, Alex shows how engagement with Soviet history, Jewish religious tradition, ideas of cosmopolitanism, and the institution of the Israeli army has allowed Russophone artists in Israel both to inscribe themselves as part of the Jewish population and to insist on their unique, hyphenated Russian-Israeli identification.  Alex will be Assistant Professor of Comparative Literature at Koç University in Istanbul.

  • Sarah Zager

“’I Will Sing of Love and Justice’: Jewish Responses to the Theological Roots of Contemporary Virtue Ethics” 

Sarah Zager is a scholar of philosophy, religion, and Jewish thought. Her Yale dissertation puts Jewish philosophy into conversation with contemporary ethical theory in order to develop a novel account of the relationship between moral rules and character development. While much of the philosophical conversation to date has assumed that we can understand ethics either as a system of rules (deontology) or as a discourse about character-formation (virtue ethics), Sarah uses the work of  Maimonides , Moses Mendelssohn, and the nineteenth-century Musar thinkers Israel Salanter and Simhah Zissel Ziv to show that we can productively combine virtue ethical and deontological approaches, arguing that these thinkers provide us with useful resources for addressing problems in contemporary moral conversation, including those of race and gender.  She is also working on a project on the role of abstract thinking in feminist thought and Jewish philosophy, focusing especially on experiences of infertility and pregnancy loss.

Fordham-NYPL Mid-Term Research Fellow in Jewish Studies:

  • Ephraim Shoham-Steiner, Ben Gurion University

“The ‘Holy Community of Cologne’: New Perspectives on the Medieval Jewish Community

Cologne is one of the only Jewish communities in medieval Europe that received serious and meticulous archeological attention. The Cologne Judenviertel (Jewish quarter) located at the heart of the city’s historical center in close proximity to the city hall (Rathaus) was excavated twice over the past 60 years. One of the earliest scholars studying Cologne was Adolf Kober (1879-1958), and Ephraim will study pertinent materials relating to him and by him that are held at the NYPL and the Center for Jewish History in New York.

Fordham-NYPL Short-Term Research Fellows in Jewish Studies:

  • Tamara Gleason-Freidberg, University College London 

“‘Our Golden Chain in Broken’: Responses to the Holocaust in theh Bundist Journal Foroys from Mexico (1941-1947)”

Tamara Gleason-Freidberg will explore the variety of texts about the Holocaust that appeared in Foroys, a Yiddish journal published by a group of left-wing activists who had founded the association Kultur un Hilf in 1941 as a Mexican branch of the Jewish Labour Committee, which had been established in New York City.  During her time at the NYPL, Tamara will focus on texts published in Foroys between 1941-1947, with a special focus on articles and poems that tried to explain the significance of the annihilation of Eastern European Jewry, analyzing the specifically Jewish Mexican context of these Yiddish publications.

  • Zohar Segev, University of Haifa 

“Philanthropy, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation: The Nathan Straus Papers in the NYPL”

Nathan Straus is most known for his co-ownership of Macy’s and his promotion of the pasteurization of milk in the USA and in Palestine. The projects Straus initiated and funded in Palestine exemplify the dramatic transformation in the reciprocal relations between US Jews and Jewish communities in Europe and Palestine during the interwar period. Zohar Segev’s research at the NYPL, which holds the Nathan Straus Papers, will examine the full scope of Straus’ philanthropic work in Palestine. 

  • Sharon Weltman, Louisiana State University 

“Elizabeth Polack: British Melodrama and Jewish Emancipation”

Elizabeth Polack was the first Anglo-Jewish woman playwright, and perhaps the first Jewish woman dramatist in any language. Her melodramas appeared in print and on the London stage from 1835 to 1838.  But very little is known about her. Sharon Weltman aims to fill that gap, recovering forgotten plays and investigating how a Jewish woman found an audience in London’s theater scene when Jews had almost no civil rights, were typically reduced to antisemitic stereotypes on stage, and when women playwrights faced serious obstacles to production and publication. Polack’s use of melodrama in the context of a decades-long fight for Jewish emancipation helped bring Britain to the condition of a modern state where all adults hold equal rights under the law.

Associate Fellows in Jewish Studies:

  • Emmanuel Bloch

“Modesty: Halakhah, Meta-Halakhah and Historical Development in the Twentieth Century”

Emmanuel Bloch’s research analyzes the concept of Tsniut, understood as modest female dress, in the halakhic realm, demonstrating that Tsniut underwent a process of halakhization in the middle of the twentieth century and shedding light on the social context surrounding this metamorphosis.  His work uses the concept of Tsniut to explore how Jewish law changes (including the strategies employed to generate new halakhic rules) and as a lens through which to study the internal dynamics of twentieth- and twenty-first century Orthodoxy.

  • Ayelet Brinn

“”Tailors, Old Jews, and Women: Gender, Mass Culture, and the Rise of the American Yiddish Press” 

Ayelet Brinn is an American Jewish historian with an expertise in gender and popular culture (and a past Rabin-Shvidler Post-Doctoral Fellow at Fordham and Columbia). Her research explores the role of the Yiddish press in mediating between American and Jewish cultural spheres. Her current project investigates the crucial role that questions of women and gender played in the development of the American Yiddish press.  

  • Yehudah B. Cohn

“Immanuel of Rome: Hebrew Sonnets from the Early Renaissance”

Yehudah B. Cohn is currently finishing a book titled Immanuel of Rome: Hebrew Sonnets from the Early Renaissance, an annotated translation into English of Immanuel of Rome’s Hebrew sonnets. The aim is to render these Hebrew sonnets in iambic pentameter – the classic meter of the English sonnet – while retaining the rhyming scheme of the originals. The notes will focus on the allusions in the Hebrew, whether to the Bible, rabbinic literature or earlier medieval works.

  • Dana Fishkin

“Between Rome and the Adriatic: Immanuel of Rome and the Relationship Between Jews of Rome and the Marches in Medieval Italy” 

Dana Fishkin’s research examines the work and life of Immanuel of Rome, a well known polymath, poet, exegetist, best known for Mahbarot Immanuel (Immanuel’s Compositions), a miscellany of rhymed prose tales interspersed with metric poetry. The Mahbarot contains an encyclopedic range of content, including the earliest known Hebrew sonnets and a Hebrew version of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

  • Ben Ratskoff

“Waltzing with Hitler: Black Writers, the Third Reich, and Demonic Grounds of Comparison, 1936-1940” 

Ben Ratskoff’s recent dissertation, “Waltzing with Hitler: Black Writers, the Third Reich, and Demonic Grounds of Comparison, 1936-1940,” examines how Black writers in the United States and French Empire represented Nazism in real-time, in journalistic writing, poetry, and novels. His research focuses on the intersections of Black Studies and Jewish Studies, with particular interest in the relationship between antisemitism, white supremacy, and colonialism. 

  • Eli Rosenblatt

“Enlightening the Skin: Travel, Racial Language, and Rabbinic Intertextuality in Modern Yiddish Literature”

Eli Rosenblatt studies the Jewish Atlantic world less as a geographic space and more as a coherent system of exchange and interaction, where Jewish bodies, texts, ideas, theologies, pathologies, commodities, and technologies were regularly exchanged among the four continents of North and South America, Europe, and Africa. He places this Jewish Atlantic world in the context of the Black Atlantic world. He is completing a book manuscript on Yiddish literature in its colonial contexts, as rooted in the Jewish Enlightenment and covering the major aspects of Yiddish cultural production in the Black Atlantic world, and beginning to work on his second book project on the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Paramaribo, Suriname after the abolition of slavery in 1863 until World War II.

Jerusalem Illuminated: An Illustration in a Unique Manuscript of Nicholas of Lyra’s Commentary of Ezekiel

By Felicity Richards

The Special Collections of Walsh Library at Fordham University in New York City preserves several folios of a medieval manuscript with text from the Postilla super total Bibliam, a biblical commentary of the thirteenth-century Franciscan scholar Nicholas of Lyra (b. 1270 in La Vielle-Lyre France, one hundred thirty-five kilometers west of Paris).[i] This work was copied widely in later medieval Europe and published in an early printed edition of 1472, though it has never appeared in a modern scholarly edition.[ii] The text on the folios held at Fordham corresponds to Nicholas’s commentary on Ezekiel 42-48. On the last of these manuscript folios is a stylized depiction of the city of Jerusalem that has heretofore never been described or analyzed in published scholarship. 

By way of introduction, a few notes about the manuscript as a whole are in order. The folios are approximately 42 x 21 centimeters. Each folio has two columns, and, in each column, there are approximately 66 lines. On the folio with the Fordham image, there are approximately 24 lines per column. The parchment itself has survived in good condition; the top left corner of several folios is torn, but otherwise there is no additional excess damage to the parchment.

There is no attached date to the Fordham MSS Group 2 folios, but an approximate date and a potential geographic location can be surmised when examining the script. The Fordham manuscript is a conglomerate of two scripts. On the one hand, the script itself is most closely related to a French style of script called Lettre Bâtarde, commonly used in France throughout the fifteenth century, which helps point to a potential location and time for the creation of the Fordham manuscript.[iii] The elongated and tall shape of the letter s and f, in addition to the slightly angular slant of letters such as a, indicate that they belong to this style.  On the other hand, it also bears some similarity to another script found throughout Europe during the Gothic period (thirteenth through fifteenth centuries), Gothic Quadrata Bookhand.[iv] Gothic Quadrata Bookhand is characterized by angular letters and the regularity of the handwriting.[v] Another characteristic of Gothic Quadrata Bookhand that appears in the manuscript is “biting of bows.”[vi] This refers to instances when two letters share one stroke and the bows of the letters overlap.[vii] This is often the case in the Fordham manuscript. The script is thus an unusual blend of these two different styles.

The city of Jerusalem was a central subject for illuminators of medieval manuscripts. Images of Jerusalem often supplement texts, helping the reader to imagine what Jerusalem could look like. Some provide an idealized vision of Jerusalem; others strive for accuracy.  Scholarship traditionally views these images through the lens of biblical exegesis. It is clear that a major driver behind the depiction of Jerusalem in these manuscripts is the tradition of a Heavenly or New Jerusalem, an idea first found in the Book of Ezekiel and developed as well in the Book of Revelation and other ancient texts.  In these works, the Heavenly or New Jerusalem is imagined as a heavenly or future incarnation of Jerusalem; the New Jerusalem is often but not always associated with the apocalypse.

In medieval Hebrew manuscripts, Jerusalem is invoked in a variety of ways. One of the most direct references to Jerusalem is associated with a line often recited towards the end of the Passover Seder, “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Among Jews of the diaspora, the hopeful exclamation looks forward to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem while also invoking the coming of the Messiah, and more generally a sense of hope and renewal. Another focus of Jewish manuscript illuminations is the temple of Jerusalem, as it appears in various biblical texts.  1 Kings and other passages throughout the Prophets and later Jewish texts portray the Temple of Solomon as God’s dwelling place on Earth, and illuminations in biblical manuscripts illustrate the temple accordingly.

Figure 1: Next Year in Jerusalem from the Bracelona Haggadah
London, British Library, MS Add. 14761, f.88.

Christian devotional manuscripts often place images of Jerusalem in two different contexts. First, Jerusalem is illustrated in depictions of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Mt. 21:1–11, Mk. 11:1–11, Lk. 19:28–44 and Jn. 12:12–19). The manuscript illuminations that depict this scene from the Gospels vary greatly in how they depict Jerusalem. Some manuscripts, such as the St. Alban’s Psalter and the Isabella Breviary, depict the walls of Jerusalem in the background with Jesus on a mule entering the city gate. It is the walls and gateway of the narrative, and not the larger city, that is the focus.[viii]  These illuminations serve as reminders of how important Jerusalem was in the stories of Jesus as they are told in the Gospels, and how sacred the city became for Christians after its Christianization in the fourth and fifth centuries.

Depictions of Jerusalem also frequently appear in apocalyptic contexts, often in relation to the book of Revelation. In these cases, it is the New Jerusalem that is depicted, rather than the historic city, the Jerusalem of Jesus’ lifetime.  These illustrations attempt to render what this heavenly city will look like. In the Christian Bible, the idea of a new Jerusalem appears towards the end of the Book of Revelations and it is believed to be where God will manifest upon return to Earth. John believes that the New Jerusalem is the place that Saints will return to Earth, alongside God.[ix]  Revelations 20 describes the final judgement that occurs. This centers around both God and Satan deciding who is pious and who has sinned and thus if they will be sent to hell or to the New Jerusalem. But in Revelations 21:1-3, the New Jerusalem appears as a beacon for all who have been judged as pious:

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth. For the first heaven and the first earth was gone, and the sea is now no more.  And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice from the throne, saying: Behold the tabernacle of God with men, and he will dwell with them.” (Revelations 21:1-3)

For Christians, Jerusalem holds a special place as it is where Jesus died and was resurrected. But in the book of Revelation, composed by a Jewish follower of Jesus, John of Patmos, in the decades after Jerusalem’s destruction by the Romans, Jerusalem becomes the ideal city where the resurrected Christ will reside for eternity – and it is no longer the same Jerusalem in the same physical location, it is, rather, an ideal. This version of Jerusalem, while it resembles the physical city of Jerusalem, in fact comes down from Heaven along with the Saints and angels.[x] Creating an apocalyptic New Jerusalem reassures the believer of the promise of an experience with God and a hope for life after death.[xi] Jerusalem thus symbolizes eternal life alongside God in a metaphorical city of Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem, according to later Christian depictions, appears to be a place where God will always be found, replete with angels.

The image of Jerusalem in Nicholas of Lyra’s manuscript is interesting because it does not appear in a text about Jesus’ entry into the city nor as an illustration of the Book of Revelation.  Rather, it is placed after the commentary on the description of the vision of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48, immediately following the verses detailing the city gates:

“And these are the goings out of the city: on the north side thou shalt measure four thousand and five hundred.  And the gates of the city according to the names of the tribes of Israel, three gates on the north side, the gate of Ruben one, the gate of Juda one, the gate of Levi one.” (Ezekiel 48:30-31)[xii]

Figure 2: The depiction of Jerusalem by Nicholas Lyra. New York, Fordham University Library Special Collection MSS Group 2, folio 3v (upper register)

There is nothing ornate about the illustration: there is no gold leaf and it does not contain a lavish rendering complete with people and a narrative. A closer examination, however, reveals that it is more than a simple schematic. The illustration in the manuscript depicts the city.

While the Jerusalem image is the only major artwork in the folios held by Fordham, the manuscript does feature some decorations associated with reading aids in the text, such as red underlining of the biblical text, red chapter headings, and illuminated book headings, showing which part of the Bible is dealt with in the associated commentary. The only parts that could be considered lavishly decorated are the abbreviations for the names of the biblical books on the top of the page. These, in addition to several initials, resemble common features in deluxe manuscripts. The drawing surrounding the letters is intricate and is featured across all of the folios. There is a large amount of detail prevalent in these initials. The artist who created this manuscript had an artistic flair.

Figure 3: Book heading “Eze” New York, Fordham University Library Special Collection MSS Group 2 folio 1v
Figure 4: Book heading “Eze” Book heading “Eze” New York, Fordham University Library Special Collection MSS Group 2 folio
Figure 5: Initial C[ompleta]: short treatise on the “vision image” of Jerusalem in Ezekiel 48 ” New York, Fordham University Library Special Collection MSS Group 2 folio 3v

These three images are examples of the intricate headers, or initials, on the top of the manuscript folio that state what part of the Bible is being discussed. These are just some of the more intricate decorative initials that are found scattered throughout. When these textual design features are compared with the image of Jerusalem, it becomes clear that the simplicity of the Jerusalem image was deliberate.

The 48 lines underneath the illustration contain a brief essay or extended sequence of Nicholas of Lyra’s thoughts connecting the idea of a historical city of Jerusalem with the description of the future Heavenly city of Jerusalem.  For example, Nicholas of Lyra writes:

“It is certain however, from 3 and 4 Kings that the Temple of Solomon was built in the city of Jerusalem, and by consequence the temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel, and in this the Latin and Jewish historians agree.  The Temple, however, and the city of the vision which are described above are distant from each other by 28 miles or more. Therefore, it is impossible, it would seem, that the vision both of the rebuilding of the Temple and of the city should be understood [as taking place] after the return from Babylon.”[xiii]

This section of Nicholas of Lyra’s text indicates that he is concerned with solving the conundrum of the relationship between the temple in Jerusalem that Ezekiel describes in his text (that appears after the destruction of the first temple) and the temple in Solomon’s Jerusalem (that is, the first temple). This sentence, in conjunction with the illustration, demonstrates Nicholas of Lyra’s impulse to harmonize divergent biblical texts and solve textual problems.

The illustration itself depicts twelve distinct gates, which correspond to the tribes of Israel. At the top, labeled the western side (occidens), is Gad, Asher, and Naphtali. Next, on the side labeled North (aquilo), is Reuben, Judah, and Levi. At the bottom, where it is labeled East (oriens), is Dan, Simeon, and Joseph. The final set of names on the southern side (auster) is Zabulon, Issachar, and Benjamin.[xiv]

For a reader of Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary, the names associated with these gates gesture both backwards and forwards in the biblical text, referring both to the sacred geography of the Holy Land and also to the eschatological architecture of Ezekiel’s heavenly Jerusalem. The twelve tribes refer to Jacob’s sons (and in two cases grandsons), who appear in the second half of the book of Genesis as individuals, are then blessed by Jacob at the end of Genesis, and become tribes within the People of Israel in the remainder of the Pentateuch and Prophets, playing a prominent role as well in the conquest of the land following the Exodus from Egypt and the time spent wandering in the desert. The prominence of the names in the image of Jerusalem would likely have called to mind some elements of this sacred history and the sacred geography that went along with it. 

But the reader would also have been reminded of the New Jerusalem, the city described in the book of Revelations 21, even though this image accompanies a commentary of Ezekiel. The chapter begins: “And I John saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Rev. 21:1). In the description of the New Jerusalem that follows, John turns to the city’s gates: “And it had a wall great and high, having twelve gates, and in the gates twelve angels, and names written thereon, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the children of Israel.  On the east, three gates: and on the north, three gates: and on the south, three gates: and on the west, three gates” (Rev. 21:12-13).  This description refers directly to Ezekiel 48 and the gates that the text describes, but John is very explicit about the function of these gates in an eschatological context: “And the gates thereof shall not be shut by day: for there shall be no night there.  And they shall bring the glory and honor of the nations into it. There shall not enter into it anything defiled, or that makes abomination or a lie, but they that are written in the book of life of the Lamb” (Rev. 21: 25-27).  The image of Jerusalem can thus also be viewed as a map with the center representing the holiness of the coming New Jerusalem. At the center of the image, Jerusalem is not written but rather “city” (civitas), a city at the center of all the tribes, and perhaps the center of the world.

Figure 6: Cambridge, Trinity College Library, R.16.2, f. 25 v

The apocalyptic resonances of the Jerusalem image in the Fordham folio become especially clear when compared with an image of Jerusalem in the Trinity Apocalypse (Cambridge, Trinity College Library, R.16.2) from the thirteenth century.  In the Trinity Apocalypse, the city of Jerusalem is depicted as a simple square surrounded by twelve gates, three on each side. Unlike the Lyra illustration, however, the center of this apocalyptic rendering features the figure of Jesus Christ, an angel, and a tree. An angel at the bottom left corner of the illumination guides an individual into the center of New Jerusalem to be joined with God. God is clearly marked as being in the center of the image due to the figure of Jesus sitting with a lamb on one side and the Bible on the other side.

The image from the Fordham manuscript is not the sole image from a manuscript of Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary on Ezekiel that depicts the temple in Jerusalem. A manuscript from Oxford University (Bodleian, MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 70, fol. 165v), for example, contains an image depicting a vastly different depiction of the temple in Jerusalem.  A manuscript of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla litteralis on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art likewise contains a drawing of the “Elevation of Solomon’s Temple” in bright reds, blues, and yellows.

Figure 7: Bodleian, MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 70, fol. 165v
Figure 8: Elevation of Solomon’s Temple, from Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla Litteralis, Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Collection, 2011.20.4

In recent years, scholars have shown that Nicholas of Lyra’s commentary was influenced by the Tanakh commentary composed by Shlomo Yitzchaki, known as Rashi (1040-1105).  Rashi had a unique style of commentary that subsequently became widely adopted. He often applied a more literal approach to commentating on the Bible, prioritized the “literal translation” rather than agreeing with midrashic commentaries often found in earlier rabbinic compilations of biblical exegesis.[xv] This method was soon adopted by Christian and Jewish scholars.[xvi]

How did Nicholas of Lyra learn about and read Rashi?  Nicholas of Lyra grew up in Lyra, nearby a town called Evreux, also a center of Jewish thought at that time.[xvii]  It is possible that he learned Jewish commentary orally through interacting with individuals in this town. However, this is not the broadly accepted theory. The more likely scenario is that Nicholas read and worked with Hebrew manuscripts themselves.[xviii] Several studies have noted Nicholas of Lyra’s dependence on earlier Jewish biblical commentaries, a reliance Nicholas himself acknowledged.[xix] Sarah Bromberg, in her study of Nicholas of Lyra, mentions, for example, the similar use of diagrams in Rashi’s writings.[xx]

What does a close examination of Nicholas of Lyra and Rashi’s commentary on Ezekiel reveal? Ezekiel discusses the layout and structure of the temple in Jerusalem. Rashi seeks to clarify portions of the Bible that seem confusing. One such example is Ezekiel 46:2-3:

“And the prince shall enter by the way of the porch of the gate from without, and he shall stand at the threshold of the gate: and the priests shall offer his holocaust, and his peace offerings: and he shall adore upon the threshold of the gate, and shall go out: but the gate shall not be shut till the evening. And the people of the land shall adore at the door of that gate before the Lord on the sabbaths, and on the new moons.” (Ezekiel 46:2-3)

Rashi’s commentary seeks to clarify this passage, which states that the gates to the temple will only close in the evenings.  Rashi questions the specific timing of the gates’ closure: why do they remain open all day?  His commentary explains that the gates are open to allow the people to come and bow down all day long. As Rashi writes: “And the people of the land shall prostrate themselves: all day, and whoever comes, too, and in the evening they shall close it.”[xxi]  Rashi’s commentary does more than simply clarify the confusing parts of the text, however. It also points out some instances where there may be some inconsistencies, unusual wording that needs to be clarified, or expands on concepts.

Like Rashi, Nicholas of Lyra attempts to interpret the discussion of the temple courtyard to fit his reading of scripture, discussing the dimensions of Solomon’s temple in the context of the historical city of Jerusalem. Then, Nicholas compares the historical city with the city represented in Ezekiel as the New Jerusalem. Lyra attempts to understand exactly how the two biblical descriptions of Jerusalem relate in terms of their scale, layout, and architecture.

If Nicholas of Lyra himself depended on Rashi, and perhaps worked alongside Jewish scholars in making his commentary, what relationship might the Jerusalem image in the Fordham manuscript have with images of Jerusalem in Jewish manuscript traditions? In Hebrew religious manuscripts, the idea of a New Jerusalem is not closely tied with the notion of an apocalyptic narrative ending as much as it is with the idea of the community’s return to the actual city or the advent of the Messiah to the city to take up divinely ordained leadership.  For example, the Worms Mahzor, a thirteenth-century manuscript from Germany, depicts a rebuilt Jerusalem – that is, the city in the future, when Jews will return and rebuild.[xxii]

Figure 9: Jerusalem, National Library of Israel, Hebrew MS 4 (Worms Mahzor), vol. 1, f. 98r.

In the Worms Mahzor, the illumination frames the text, acting as an accompaniment to it. Unlike the Fordham illustration, in which the image works to visually depict the text, the Worms Mahzor illumination works as background to supplement the words written. The most important words on the folios are encased by the historical city of Jerusalem. In the Fordham illustration, the text is placed below the image, suggesting that the text is in part explained by or subsidiary to the illustration. Also, the decorative elements stand in stark contrast to the Fordham manuscript.

Both the Fordham illustration and the Worms Mahzor depict Jerusalem’s gates, but they direct the gaze of the viewer very differently.  In the Worms Mahzor, the viewer is invited to peer into the gates – and thus into the city – but what the viewer sees when they do so is the text of the Mahzor itself.  In the Fordham illustration, in contrast, the eye is automatically drawn to the writing in the center of the illustration. The margins on the previous folio appear to draw a line oriented in the east-west orientation to the names of the tribes written. Once your eye is drawn to the first tribe, it then travels to all of the other names written across the border. This then suggests that the most important part of the illustration is the words, rather than the decorations. Or perhaps, they can be viewed in tandem.[xxiii]  In both, the text stands at the center, with the illustrations supplementing, adorning, and explaining the text.

Felicity Richards received her BA from Fordham College at Lincoln Center in 2019 and her MA in History, with a medieval concentration, from Fordham University in 2021.

This blog post is an excerpt from Felicity Richard’s MA thesis, titled “Commentary on Ezekiel Found in the Fordham Collection: An Examination of Jerusalem in Nicholas of Lyra’s Commentary.”  This manuscript illumination and corresponding essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library, curated by Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz in conjunction with her “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course. 

Image Credits

The Depiction of Jerusalem. Nicholas of Lyra.  Fordham Library. New York City, Fordham University Library, MSS Group 2m. f. 3v.

The New Jerusalem. Trinity Apocalypse. Cambridge, Trinity College Library. R. 16.2, 25 v.

Worms Mahzor. Jerusalem, National Library of Israel, Hebrew MS4, vol 1, f. 98r.

Next Year in Jerusalem. Barcelona Haggadah. London, British Library. MS Add 14761, f. 88. 

Temple Diagram. Nicholas of Lyra. Bodleian, MS. Canon. Bibl. Lat. 70, fol. 165v.

Elevation of Solomon’s Temple. Nicholas of Lyra. Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Cloisters Collection, 2011.20.4.

Bibliography:

Dombibliothek Hildesheim, St. God. 1 (St. Alban’s Psalter).

London, British Library Add MS. 18851 (Isabella Breviary).

Bromberg, Sarah. “Exegetical Imagery for King Manuel I of Portugal: Solomon’s Temple in Nicholas of Lyra’s ‘Postilla.’” Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 77.2. (2014): 174.

Clemens, Raymond, and Timothy Graham. Introduction to Manuscript Studies. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007.

Geiger, Ari. “A Student and an Opponent: Nicholas of Lyra and His Jewish Sources,” in Nicolas de Lyre: francise an du XlVe siècle, exégète et théologien, edited by Gilbert Dahan(Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2011, 167-203.

Gundry, Robert H. “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People.” Novum Testamentum 29.3 (1987): 254-264.

Kogman-Appel, Katrin. “Jewish Art and Non-Jewish Culture: The Dynamics of Artistic Borrowing in Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Illumination.” Jewish History 15:3 (2007): 187-234.

Krey, Philip D. “Nicholas of Lyra: Apocalypse Commentator, Historian, and Critic,” Franciscan Studies 52 (1992): 53-84.

Lee, Pilchan. The New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation: A Study of Revelation 21-22 in the Light of its background in Jewish Tradition. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001.

Lucie-Smith, Edward. The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson, 2003: “Lettre bâtarde.”

Lyra, Nicholas. Postilla Super Totam Cum Postilla Nicolae Lyrani, edited by Jean and Jacques de Cuilly. Venice: Giunti, 1603.

Matenaer, James M. “Lyra in Light of Condemnation.” Franciscan Studies 65 (2007): 349-69.

Merrill, Eugene H. “Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis.” The Westminster Theological Journal 38.1 (1994): 66–79.

Meyer, Ann Raftery. Medieval Allegory and the Building of the New Jerusalem. Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2007.  

Nuvoloni, Laura. “The Woodcut as Exemplar: Sources of Inspiration for the Decoration of a Venetian Incunabulum.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 15:1 (2012): 141-163.


Notes:

[i] Philip D. Krey, “Nicholas of Lyra: Apocalypse Commentator, Historian, and Critic,” Franciscan Studies 52 (1992): 54.

[ii] Nicholas of Lyra, Postilla Super Totam Cum Postilla Nicolae Lyrani, edited by Jean and Jacques de Cuilly (Venice: Giunti, 1603).

[iii] Raymond Clemens and Timothy Graham, Introduction to Manuscript Studies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2007), 169-170; “Lettre bâtarde,” in Edward Lucie-Smith, The Thames & Hudson Dictionary of Art Terms, 2nd ed. (London: Thames & Hudson, 2003).

[iv] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 153-154.

[v] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 154.

[vi] Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 154.

[vii]  Clemens and Graham, Introduction, 154.

[viii] Dombibliothek Hildesheim, St. God. 1 (St. Alban’s Psalter); London, British Library Add MS. 18851 (Isabella Breviary).

[ix] Robert H. Gundry, “The New Jerusalem: People as Place, Not Place for People,” Novum Testamentum 29.3 (1987): 255.

[x] Gundry, “The New Jerusalem,” 255.

[xi] Pilchan Lee, The New Jerusalem in the Book of Revelation: A Study of Revelation 21-22 in the Light of its background in Jewish Tradition (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2001), 8.

[xii] All references to Ezekiel in the context of the Latin commentary are from the Douai-Rheims translation, originally published in 1582.

[xiii] Nicholas of Lyra. Postilla, cols. 1479-1480.

[xiv] In Latin, the first row is Gad, Aser, Neptalim. The second row is Reuben, Juda, Leui. The third column is Dan, Simiamin, Ioseph. The final row is Zebulon, Isarcar, and Binyamin.

[xv] Eugene H. Merrill, “Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis,” The Westminster Theological Journal 38.1 (1994): 68-69.

[xvi] Merrill, “Rashi, Nicholas de Lyra, and Christian Exegesis,” 68.

[xvii] Geiger, Ari. “A Student and an Opponent: Nicholas of Lyra and His Jewish Sources,” in Nicolas de Lyre: francise an du XlVe siècle, exégète et théologien, edited by Gilbert Dahan(Paris: Institut d’études augustiniennes, 2011), 167-203, at 7.

[xviii] Geiger, “A Student and an Opponent,” 8.

[xix] James M. Matenaer, “Lyra in Light of Condemnation,” Franciscan Studies 65 (2007): 350; Sarah Bromberg, “Exegetical Imagery for King Manuel I of Portugal: Solomon’s Temple in Nicholas of Lyra’s ‘Postilla,’” Zeitschrift Für Kunstgeschichte 77.2. (2014): 174; Laura Nuvoloni, “The Woodcut as Exemplar: Sources of Inspiration for the Decoration of a Venetian Incunabulum,” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society 15:1 (2012): 146.

[xx] Bromberg, “Exegetical Imagery,” 175.  The majority of the article discusses the depiction of Solomon’s Temple in Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla. This illustration follows along with Lyra’s tradition of using diagrams to supplement his commentary. 

[xxi] Rashi on Ezekiel 48:3.

[xxii] Ann Raftery Meyer, Medieval Allegory and the Building of the New Jerusalem (Cambridge: DS Brewer, 2007), 5.  

[xxiii] Katrin Kogman-Appel, “Jewish Art and Non-Jewish Culture: The Dynamics of Artistic Borrowing in Medieval Hebrew Manuscript Illumination,” Jewish History 15:3 (2007): 206.

An Indulgence from William of Adam in Fordham’s MS 29

By Liam Pardo FCRH’22

Guillaume Adam, better known by his English name William Adam or William of Adam, or by what he called himself and as he was addressed, Guillelmo Ade, was a French Dominican who traveled throughout southern and eastern Europe, Ethiopia, India, and Persia, where he spent much of his time in service to the Church.[i]  It is unknown when he was born, but he lived during the first half of the fourteenth century, dying between 1338 and 1340.  Although most of the major Crusades were long over, the idea of taking back the Holy Land and Jerusalem, under Islamic rule at the time, was still a topic of discussion throughout the Church.  William was a staunch advocate of another Crusade, and his travels throughout the East, especially in Persia and the Byzantine Empire, greatly influenced his ideas about a potential future conflict in the region.  Williams states in one of the works attributed to him, titled De modo Serracenos extirpandi or How to Defeat the Saracens, that “Among other members of my order who go to the nations of the infidels to preach the faith, I have seen many lands, traveled through many provinces, and experienced the ways of many peoples, and often such laments have filled my ears, often they have moved me to bitter inner heartfelt tears.”[ii]  (The term “Saracen” was used by medieval European Christian writers to refer to Arab Muslims, and is common in Crusader literature.)  In this text, William writes about how to root out the Muslims from the Holy Land and even focuses on the capture of Constantinople as a necessary measure to achieve on the way to Jerusalem.[iii]  

William of Adam’s treatise, translated by Giles Constable, reads more like a call to arms than a how-to manual, as its name suggests.  William is incredibly passionate about this endeavor, especially its connection to Jerusalem.  He states: 

The voice of the church weeping with Rachel, the voice of the oppressed Christian people, the voice of those trapped in servitude to the Saracens, the voice of the land consecrated by the blood of Christ fill the world and resound with frequent, bitter, and loud laments.  The church cries to the heavens, and there is no one to hear that her splendid sons have been taken. Her children are led into captivity before the face of the oppressor (Lamentations 1:5), and there is no peace for them on account of the affliction and extent of servitude…  

Lastly, the Holy Land cries that strangers devour it before our face (Isaiah 1:7); it keeps a Sabbath in the enemy’s land (Leviticus 26:35) and remains without its due inhabitant (Jeremiah 4:7).  It is crossed and occupied by uncircumcised and impure people, who pollute the temple and trample on holy things.  It is inhabited by men who have shed like water the blood of their own Christian sons in the surroundings of Jerusalem.[iv]

In the first portion of this passage, William alludes to the matriarch Rachel, associated in medieval Christian literature with the Church.  Rachel’s weeping refers to a passage in Jeremiah 31:15, in which Rachel weeps on behalf of the exiled Children of Israel who leave Jerusalem for Babylon: “Thus says the Lord: A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.  Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.”[v]  In William’s text, Rachel weeps not for the Jews but for the Christians, who have lost sovereignty over Jerusalem.  In the second half of this passage, William characterizes the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem as intruders in the Holy Land, claiming that they have desecrated it and all the holy things that it holds.  He is also upset at the Christian rulers, whom he regards as a problem in the region because they sent Christians to die without true reason or a well-thought-out plan.  William may have written this treatise not only to promote another Crusade but also in order to prevent unnecessary Christian deaths should another Crusade occur.  During this time, the Egyptian Mamluks had control over the region, and William was one of the first writers to highlight the importance of the Indian Ocean and the trade routes connecting the Near East and Egypt to Asia, both for purposes of commerce and war.  He suggests that a blockade would be needed in order to cut off the Mamluks from this important trade network.  

Although these wars and plans never came to fruition, William had a successful career.  He became a bishop of the archdiocese Sultanieh, which included a large portion of western Asia, Smyrna in Asia Minor, and Antivari, now known as Bar in Montenegro.  With his experience in these regions, one could say that William would have been considered one of the leading thinkers of his day on the topic of whether and how Europe could launch another Crusade.  

William of Adam wrote other works in genres apart from his Crusader thinking.  For example, he is thought to have authored MS 29, an indulgence pertaining to Tarentaise, a valley in France, dated to 1335 and 1337.  This manuscript is currently housed in Fordham’s Special Collections.[vi]  While the indulgence is not from Jerusalem, one can see the importance of the city in William’s earlier writings.  Michael Sanders and David Howe did extensive work on MS 29, and this essay expands upon their findings and contextualizes it within William of Adam’s broader world, including Jerusalem. 

Indulgences are one of the most criticized aspects of the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and many disliked them even then.  The major use of indulgences is what persuaded Martin Luther to write his 95 Theses and pin them to the door of the Wittenberg Church.  But, what are indulgences?  The official definition from the Roman Catholic Church, canon 992, states that “An indulgence is the remission before God of temporal punishment for sins whose guilt is already forgiven, which a properly disposed member of the Christian faithful gains under certain and defined conditions by the assistance of the Church which as minister of redemption dispenses and applies authoritatively the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” Anne Bysted explains that there are three specific parts of this definition that help describe what an indulgence is.[vii]  Firstly, an indulgence is a remission of temporal punishment, meaning that it does not remiss one of eternal punishment in Hell or the guilt of sin, which can lead to eternal punishment.  One would need to go to confession before one dies in order to absolve yourself.  Secondly, an indulgence is a remission before God, since the Church has a “treasury” of the merits of God and the saints, so one pays for an indulgence in order to receive those goods.  Lastly, indulgences are remissions of penances, but not the sacrament of penance.  In order to receive an indulgence, one needs to have gone to confession and had their sins absolved beforehand.  

Even though the morality and ethics of indulgences are questionable, the organization that made it work was large and influential.  Indulgences characterized the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages, and especially during the Crusades, one of the bloodier times in medieval Europe and the Near East.  Apart from fighting for God, indulgences were used in order to make people fight during the Crusades.  Fighting and/or dying during battle, or in later Crusades, sending money or supplies to Crusaders, were considered automatic indulgences that allowed the soldier or patron to go to heaven without fear of repercussion.  Although the official Church has not confirmed that Crusaders who died were martyrs, to some like Jacques de Vitry, a medieval bishop of Acre during the early 13th century, it was an indulgence that Crusaders’ sins would be absolved and they would go straight to heaven if they “picked up the cross” and died.[viii]  Crusaders had temporal and spiritual privileges that helped persuade them to go on a Crusade, and indulgences were there to confirm that their spiritual life was safe and that their property would be secure while going to war.[ix]  Many Crusade indulgences were influential to the indulgence system and impacted how they could be used in the future, showing that even though Jerusalem and the Holy Land were incredibly far away, they were important enough to protect and die for. 

Figure 1: MS 29.  Notice the colorful illustrations and detailed penmanship of this indulgence.  The response by the archbishop can be seen at the bottom.

Not all indulgences, however, were connected with the Crusades.  MS 29 is a specific genre of indulgence called the collective indulgence that became increasingly popular.  Collective indulgences were different from regular indulgences in one major way – they implemented multiple bishops in their creation in order to bypass certain rules about how many indulgences a single bishop could give.  For example, there is evidence of a papal indulgence from the Church of Bethlehem, only a few miles away from Jerusalem, that would remiss one of sin for 40 days.  This indulgence was issued at a time when the Church of Bethlehem needed money and land from England in the mid-13th century.  The indulgence allowed “enjoined penance to anyone who aided them or sought to join their fraternity.”[x]  Although this indulgence from Bethlehem was not a collective one, it highlights one of the main reasons why collective indulgences and indulgences in general were used – they were profitable.  Since bishops had a limit for the amount of indulgences they would sell, they were limited in how much money they could make.  By working with other bishops, they could bypass this rule and group their indulgences together, thereby selling more than they would be able to sell on their own.  Sanders and Howe state: “They wanted financial support from the papacy for their dioceses or personal projects. Collective indulgences, or rather the fees garnered from them, were one of the ways they collected money.”[xi]  This was especially true in poorer dioceses.  

In this specific indulgence, William of Adam writes to James, the archbishop of Tarentaise, an area nestled within the French alps.  With 16 other bishops, he asks “We, bishops, desire that the chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Saint Blaise, which is in a village of the sacred diocese of Tarentaise, will be venerated frequently with fitting honors and perpetually by the faithful of Christ; by all who are truly sorry and have confessed; by all who go to the said chapel for the sake of devotion, prayer, or pilgrimage…”  The bishops then say that in the chapel they will celebrate a multitude of feasts and holidays and that the people who worship there will take wonderful care of the chapel and what is inside of it.  To those that succeed in this task, William writes, “we, by the mercy of the omnipotent God and the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul whose authority has been entrusted to each of us, each mercifully grant 40 days of indulgences from penances imposed upon them, provided that the will of the bishop of Tarentaise approves and consents to it.  In witness of these things, we have ordered that the present letters be fortified with the affixing of our seals.”  Note how he writes “each mercifully grant.”  This is evidence of the loophole in effect, that each of the 16 bishops can give their allotted 40 days of indulgences to this one project, for a total of 640 days!  The archbishop of Tarentaise responded two years later, in 1337; his response appears on the bottom of the paper in a different color and handwriting.  Giving his seal as well, he accepts the conditions stated in the indulgences and grants the bishops the ability to sell them.  According to Sanders and Howe, the remnant of strings at the bottom of the manuscript may have held the seals that the bishops provided in order to give the indulgence credibility and authenticity.[xii]

Figure 2: A focused view of the leftover strings and the puncture marks that used to hold the seals.

Figure 3: A magnified view of the illustration of Saint Blaise.  Note the marks of the first draft of the bishop bishop behind the finished depiction of the saint. 

MS 29 is more than just a collective indulgence, however. It is an illustrated collective indulgence.  It features large lettering at the beginning of each major word, illustrated drawings of people and saints, and beautiful penmanship.  Most likely, this indulgence was hung up and displayed, since there are puncture marks in the corners, to show that the bishops were given permission to sell indulgences.  The upper left-hand corner features the depictions of people, angels, and prominently a beheaded bishop, who is believed to be Saint Blaise, one of the patron saints of the region.  If you look closely at the illustration of Saint Blaise, one can see an older, original version of the drawing in pencil behind the illustrated one.  It is thought that a scribe simply did not like the way he was drawing the saint or he made a mistake, so he stopped and started over.  Seeing this reminds us that people living during this time were human beings, and that not all artifacts have to be the remnant of a perfect piece; making mistakes is part of being human and this small detail highlights that very well.

William of Adam was well versed in the customs and ideas of his day.  He was fascinated by the crusading culture and wrote extensively on the subject, highlighting ways that Europeans may be able to win control over Jerusalem were they to go to war again.  Although Jerusalem was not the subject of this collective indulgence, its author most certainly had experience both in the region and with the people of the city.  This indulgence, however, most likely never left France until modernity.  From what is known about the provenance, since the beginning of the 20th century it was in New York, switching hands between Jesuit institutions until it reached Fordham University in the 1980s.  Since then, it has been in the collections of the university, kept in a climate-controlled room to make sure it is safe and secure.  On a worldwide scale, this piece is miniscule, but it is still an incredibly important manuscript that allows us to understand what the average business dealings of the church were during the 14th century, especially with people who are not necessarily known a global scale, but nonetheless important in their local contexts.  


Liam Pardo is a junior History major and Medieval Studies minor.  He is an avid fisherman who loves hiking to find new spots, all while enjoying the plant life along the way.


This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the indulgence manuscript and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.  

Bibliography:

Ade, Guilelmus. How to Defeat the Saracens: Tractatus Quomodo Sarraceni Sunt Expugnandi. Translated by Giles Constable. Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2012. 

Bysted, Ane. Ane Bysted, 2005, www.anebysted.dk/English.html.  

Bysted, Ane. The Crusade Indulgence: Spiritual Rewards and the Theology of the Crusades, c. 1095-1216. Leiden: Brill, 2015. 

Carr, Mike. “Benedict XII and the Crusades.” In Pope Benedict XII (1334-1342): The Guardian of Orthodoxy, edited by Irene Bueno. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2018. Pp. 217–240. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctv513csm.13. Accessed 3 Dec. 2020. 

“Chapter IV. Indulgences.” Code of Canon Law – IntraTextwww.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/_P3I.HTM.  

Richard, J. “Adam, Guillaume,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/4, pp. 447-448; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/adam-guillaume-14th-century-traveler

Sanders, Michael, and David Howe. “An Indulgence with William of Adam, Archbishop of Antivari and Author of How to Defeat the Saracens.” The Crusader States. www.crusaderstates.org/indulgence-commentary.html.  Vincent, N. “Goffredo de Prefetti and the Church of Bethlehem in England.” The Journal of Ecclesiastical History, 49.2 (1998): 213-235. doi:10.1017/S0022046998006319


[i] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 1; Richard, “Adam, Guillaume.”

[ii] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 25.

[iii] Richard, “Adam, Guillaume.”

[iv] Ade and Constable, How to Defeat the Saracens, 23.

[v] NRSV.

[vi] Sanders and Howe, “An Indulgence with William of Adam.”

[vii] Bysted, The Crusade Indulgence, 11.

[viii] Bysted, The Crusade Indulgence, 149.

[ix] Bysted, The Crusade Indulgence, 156.

[x] Vincent, “Goffredo de Prefetti,” 220.

[xi] Sanders and Howe, “An Indulgence with William of Adam.”

[xii] Sanders and Howe, “An Indulgence with William of Adam.”

The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem and American Evangelicalism

By Julia Kohut

Mary Angeline Hallock published The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem in 1869 in New York City through the American Tract Society.  The book was part of a series that consisted of at least two other books, titled The Child’s History of King Solomon (1869) and The Child’s History of Daniel (1870).  The book is a children’s chapter book.  It contains large font and several illustrations throughout. 

Figure 1: Cover of The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem,featuring an image of a Roman Judea Capta coin

The cover of the book is a deep red and embossed with a leaf design.  The words on the cover are written in gold.  The two halves of the title, “The Child’s History of” and “the Fall of Jerusalem,” are written in two different fonts.  An image of a Judea Capta coin, a coin Emperor Vespasian issued to commemorate the Roman victory in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., appears between the two parts of the title.  The cover page has the same Judea Capta image, with the words “Vespasian’s Triumphal Midal” written underneath it.  Fordham’s copy of the book appears to be in excellent condition.  The front cover is slightly worn, and the color has somewhat faded, but that is expected for such an old book. 

Not much is known about the author, Mary Angeline Hallock.  She was, however, a prolific author who published multiple books with the American Tract Society.  In addition to The Child’s History Series, the cover page of The Fall of Jerusalem also credits her with two other books, That Sweet Story of Old and Life of Paul.  She published other books as well, including Bethlehem and Her Children (1859), Beasts and Birds of America, Europe, Asia and Africa (1870), and Story of Moses, or Desert Wanderings from Egypt to Canaan (1888).  Her work with the American Tract Society, an evangelical publication, is most likely indicative of her religious upbringing and communal affiliation.[1]  According to documents from the American Tract Society’s online archive, the group was created in 1825 for three main reasons.  First, the Second Great Awakening in 1790 caused the widespread creation of new Christian groups and societies in America.  Secondly, America was annexing states in great succession, and these Christian groups wanted a way to spread their faith to those living in these new territories.  Lastly, there was a surge of immigration to America in the early 1800s, and so they felt the pressing need to educate the growing country and its new residents about their religion and its history, especially Jesus Christ.[2]

Figure 2: Table of Contents of  The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem

Based on this information, it is possible to assume that the American Tract Society published Christian authors who fit their narrative and bolstered their agenda.  In addition, we know that Mary Angeline Lathrop married William Allen Hallock, the son of Reverend Moses Hallock, who worked for the American Tract Society and was fundamental to its success.  Several of Mary Angeline Hallock’s books were already published with the American Tract Society when they wed.  The couple was married before The Fall of Jerusalem was published.[3]

The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem can be classified as historical fiction.  While the historical information is accurate to a degree (determined through comparison to historical documents and Josephus’s works), the facts are told through a fictional father, Mr. Sherman, who converses with his teenaged son and daughter, Charlie and Jennie.  The book is easy to understand and was probably intended for slightly older children.  The main characters are 12 and 14, probably the imaged age of the book’s ideal readers.  Throughout the book, Mr. Sherman assigns Charlie and Jennie their own research on people and events during Jerusalem’s destruction.[4]  Hallock might have decided to frame the story in this way to inspire her young Christian audience to conduct their own research and further develop their knowledge about their faith while cultivating good study or educational habits. 

Hallock provides background information on the city, beginning with Abraham taking Isaac to the land of Moriah. She explains that the Israelites took control of the city and that David became the king of Israel.  She also briefly describes the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes.  Four of the ten chapters are devoted to significant people, including Josephus, Antonius Felix, Agrippa, and Titus.[5]  Only three chapters are devoted specifically to the destruction.  The last three chapters of the book examine three different themes of the destruction: hunger, famine, and death.

There are 21 illustrations throughout the book.  Each of the ten chapters begins with an image depicting the main person or event introduced in that section.  The illustrations are incredibly detailed drawings and usually depict a Roman perspective. Roman soldiers are often in the forefront of the image and are drawn in more detail than Jewish aspects or people. Furthermore, several of the illustrations include “SPQR” in their borders. SPQR stands for the Senate and People of Rome (Senatus Populusque Romanus in Latin).

Figure 3: Illustrations from The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem

The first drawing (Figure 3, above) appears before the text begins.  It depicts Roman control of the city with Roman soldiers standing in line.  Juxtaposed to the Roman soldiers are disordered Jews on their knees in the background.  Spears are pointed to a menorah, and the words “Judea Capta” are written at the bottom of the image alongside a Roman emblem.  The second illustration (Figure 4, below), placed above the book’s opening lines, is a circular image of people walking into the city, some on horseback.

Figure 4: Illustrations from The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem

In this illustration (Figure 4), the people depicted on horses are most likely Roman Soldiers overseeing this movement of people.  On one side of the circle is a crate with a jug, perhaps containing olive oil.  On the other side is a table with a menorah and several ambiguous blocks.  The circle is encased with a variation of Psalm 48:12: “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces; that ye may tell it to the generation following.” This psalm personifies Jerusalem as a woman and encourages pilgrimage to the city to spread its history to others.  Both of these concepts are key themes in the Hebrew Bible and New Testament, and the citation of this Psalm alludes to this larger constellation of traditions, including to the feminization of Jerusalem in contexts of conquest in particular.  Other illustrations in the book show Roman soldiers on horseback as well (see Figure 5 below).

Figure 5: Illustration of Roman soldiers on horseback, preparing to enter Jerusalem

The work’s final illustration (Figure 6) is found at the conclusion of the book where the story transitions from Jerusalem to Rome, with the erection of Vespasian’s Temple to Peace. The illustration depicts the iconic panel from the Arch of Titus, featuring what appears to be smiling Roman soldiers carrying the precious Jewish artifacts that were seized during the destruction to Rome (the relief on the Arch of Titus has also been interpreted by scholars to depict enslaved Jews carrying the temple objects).[6] The artifacts include a golden menorah and the Book of the Jewish Law set on a golden table.[7]

Figure 6: Drawing of the relief from the Arch of Titus, depicting the Temple vessels taken out of Jerusalem to Rome
Figure 7: Arch of Titus in Rome
Figure 8 (right): Digital reconstruction of the colors of the Arch of Titus panel[8]

The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem describes the city in a tone similar to biblical texts.  The text emphasizes the inherent holiness and divinity of the city at various points throughout the narrative.  For example, on page eight, Hallock writes: “Troy was no more than any other city, while Jerusalem is identified with the church of God in all ages.”[9]  Like Jerusalem, the ancient city of Troy was a critical city.  After a long and strenuous battle, Troy was conquered by the Greeks.  Introducing Jerusalem as an important city to Christianity was a key strategy for Hallock, and probably the American Tract Society as well.  This would have cemented the younger generation’s notion that Christianity and Jerusalem were intrinsically connected and that each played a part in the other’s history – and, in turn, in their own history and identity. 

There is also an act of “othering” in the text that creates a divide between Christians and Jews, making the text slightly prejudicial and biased.  For instance, in reference to the Jews, Mr. Sherman tells his children that “their sin lay in not believing. Their scriptures were very plain; and in perfect harmony with them were Christ’s life and miracles, which were sufficient proof of his divinity.”[10]  Mr. Sherman tells his children that the Jews in ancient Jerusalem were negatively impacted because they did not accept Jesus Christ as their savior.  The children who would have read this book are thus  taught the same supersessionist lesson as Charlie and Jennie learn in the narrative.  Potentially, an entire generation of young Christians in America grew up believing in their superiority over Jews and that their claim to Jerusalem was more robust than anyone else’s claim. 

The history of Jerusalem is a contested history.  Debates about who deserved to live in the city and control it have persisted on and off since antiquity.  Researching children’s books, especially ones used for educational purposes, provides insight into what was significant to society at the time of publication.  What is omitted from texts like The Fall of Jerusalem is also significant. Sometimes, excluding certain information is deliberately done to suppress certain ideas.  Even if the history of Jerusalem was taught in American schools or in religious contexts in the 1860s, finding credible works about the city translated into English would not necessarily have been simple.  Hallock’s book might have been one of the only sources about Jerusalem available specifically for children in America.  Prejudice or bias in a children’s book would therefore have serious ramifications. 

For such a short book, it is relatively thorough.  Hallock references biblical passages and relies on Josephus’ account of the city’s destruction for the bulk of the information.  Unfortunately, Hallock does not cite any of the sources she used to write The Fall of Jerusalem, but we might make educated guesses about Hallock’s sources.  In 1737, W. Bowley, a publisher in London, published a translation of Josephus’s work titled The Genuine Work of Flavius Josephus, by William Whiston.  This translation of Josephus’s work included the first seven books of The Jewish War, making it a probable source.[11]  Recently, the University of Oxford collaborated with the UK Arts and Humanities Council to create the “Reception of Josephus Project.”  The project’s mission statement declares that “Josephus has been crucial in the formation of modern Jewish identity.  Our project explores how Jews since the middle of the 18th century have used and recreated his writings and how they have built on earlier uses of them for their own purposes.”[12]  Neither Hallock nor the American Tract Society was listed in this project, but it does include authors and texts written in English that could likewise have helped Hallock create her books – and her book certainly fits into the broader purview of the Oxford project to trace the reception of Josephus in the modern period.  One of the authors mentioned in the “Josephus Project” was Anglo-Jewish author Grace Aguilar who, while being British, had a large audience in America.  A contemporary of Hallock, Aguilar “often [chose] themes from Jewish history and religion, she sought to dignify Judaism and to push back Christian missionary activity.”[13]  Aguilar died in 1847, meaning that The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem was published after her death.[14]  It is possible, however, that Hallock attempted to rewrite Aguilar’s Jewish narrative from a Christian perspective and thus to undo the effects that Aguilar’s work might have had on American views of Jerusalem’s history.[15] 

The book ends with a hymn called “The New Jerusalem,” written by Charles Wesley, the Methodist movement’s English leader and acclaimed hymn writer.[16]  The last stanza reads:

Jerusalem, my happy home!

My soul still pants for thee;

Then shall my labors have an end,

When I thy joys shall see.[17]  

Ending the book with this hymn was another strategic move by Hallock and the American Tract Society because it reinforces the Christian narrative they cultivated throughout the book.  In this narrative, Jerusalem is a heavenly city connected to the Christians.  This hymn draws on and engages apocalyptic literature that suggests that Jerusalem is a destination before Heaven for Christians and a direct bridge to God.  The hymn suggests that when Christians return to Jerusalem their struggles will end and they will be greeted by God. 

Julia Kohut is a sophomore soon-to-be Political Science major and American Studies minor from New Jersey.  She loves baking, reading, and learning about history. 

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the book and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.  We thank the anonymous donor who donated books from the Yosef Goldman Collection, which included the book featured in this piece.

Bibliography:

“American Tract Society.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 23 April 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Tract_Society. (Accessed December 9, 2020).

“Early History of the American Tract Society.” Internet Archive of the American Tract Society, 2008. (Accessed December 9, 2020). https://web.archive.org/web/20100525052409/http://www.atstracts.org/readarticle.php?id=4.

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Charles Wesley.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-Wesley. (Accessed December 9, 2020).

“First Judaica & Judaic Firsts: Works of Josephus.” Works of Josephus – Judaic Treasures. https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/works-of-josephus-judaic-treasures. (Accessed December 09, 2020). 

Galchinsky, Michael. “Grace Aguilar.” Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 27 February 2009. Jewish Women’s Archive. https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/aguilar-grace. (Accessed December 9, 2020). 

Hallock, Mary Angeline. The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem. New York: The American Tract Society, 1869. https://archive.org/details/childshistoryoff00hall/page/192/mode/2up. (Accessed December 9, 2020).

McClintock, John, and James Strong.“Hallock, William Allen, Dd.” The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1880. www.biblicalcyclopedia.com/H/hallock-william-allen-dd.html. (Accessed December 9, 2020).

The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture. University of Oxford. January 12, 2020. https://josephus.orinst.ox.ac.uk. (Accessed December 9, 2020). 

The Arch of Titus Project. Yeshiva University, https://www.yu.edu/cis/activities/arch-of-titus (Accessed December 17, 2020).

Rajak, Tessa. “Grace Aguilar.” The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture. The University of Oxford. August 27, 2015. https://josephus.orinst.ox.ac.uk/archives/605. (Accessed December 9, 2020).


[1] “American Tract Society.” Wikipedia.

[2] “Early History of the American Tract Society,” Internet Archive of the American Tract Society.

[3] “Hallock, William Allen, Dd,” in McClintock and Strong, The Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature.

[4] Hallock, The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, 23.

[5] Hallock, The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, 15-23.

[6] On the Arch of Titus, see “The Arch of Titus Project,” Yeshiva University: https://www.yu.edu/cis/activities/arch-of-titus

[7] Hallock, The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, 192.

[8] Image credit: VIZIN and the Yeshiva Univ. Center for Israel Studies; https://www.haaretz.com/archaeology/MAGAZINE-archaeologists-reconstruct-how-the-arch-of-titus-looked-in-full-color-1.5449144.

[9] Hallock, The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, 8.

[10] Hallock, The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, 11.

[11] “Works of Josephus.”

[12] “The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture.”

[13] Rajak, “The Reception of Josephus in Jewish Culture.”

[14] Galchinsky, “Grace Aguilar.” Some of Aguilar’s work Galchinsky mentions some of Aguilar’s writings, including History of the Jews in England; Israel Defended; The Jewish Faith; The Spirit of Judaism; Women of Israel; A Vision of Jerusalem, While Listening to a Beautiful Organ in One of the Gentile Shrines.

[15] Galchinsky writes: “Lacking any Jewish translation of the Bible into English, Aguilar often felt she could satisfy her religious yearnings only by going to hear sermons in Protestant churches. These church visits provided the material for one of her most moving and ironic poems, a reverie of Israel redeemed, entitled ‘A Vision of Jerusalem, While Listening to a Beautiful Organ in One of the Gentile Shrines.’ Her practice of attending church would later provide fodder for her critics. Missionaries claimed to be able to see the light of the gospel in her work; Jewish critics claimed she was a ‘Jewish Protestant.’ … Anna Maria Hall introduced her to Robert Chambers (1802–1871), the radical Edinburgh publisher of Chambers’s Miscellany, who solicited an essay from her entitled ‘The History of the Jews in England.’ This remarkable essay, published months before her death, offered a more radical vision of Jewish-Christian relations than Aguilar had dared to put forward in any previous text. Here Aguilar substantially rejected assimilationism and called English Christians to a more stringent account than she had ever done before.”

[16] Charles Wesley,” Encyclopaedia Britannica.

[17] Hallock, The Child’s History of the Fall of Jerusalem, 192.

The Living Bible: Pilgrimage to Jerusalem through Stereoscope Photography

Liliya Fisher FCRH’21

This piece is a stereographic set of 30 images taken on a trip to the Holy Land in 1896.  The images were taken by Bert and Elmer Underwood.  The photos were published by Underwood & Underwood, a well-known stereoscopic company, owned by Bert and Elmer Underwood.  The 30 images in this set are part of a larger collection from the Underwoods’ trip that consists of a total of 100 images of the journey to and at the Holy Land. 

Figure 1: Stereoscope with photographs of the Holy Land and Jerusalem

In 1900, a 220-page book, titled Traveling in the Holy Land Through Stereoscope; a personally conducted tour by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D., written by Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D., was published to accompany the photos.  Jesse Lyman Hurlbut, D.D. was a clergyman of the American Episcopal Church and held positions all over New Jersey.[i]  The book contains corresponding texts to each of the 100 photographs as well as maps pinpointing the sites that guide the viewer through the images.  The current exhibit only contains 30 photographs and not the book. 

The 30 photographs in this series begin in the Port of Jaffa.  This port is a common entryway to the Holy Land for pilgrims, so it is fitting that the photo series begins there.  The photo of the camel caravan is used symbolically to show the pilgrims making their way out of Jaffa, further inland.  The Underwoods photographed the plains of Sharon, passing through Lydda, Mizpah, and Mount Scopus.  These sites are historical and can be traced to biblical narratives.  As the Underwoods approached Jerusalem, they photographed the Damascus Gate, with a great view of the city and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Jaffa Gate, and the ancient walls.  Other photos specific to Jerusalem include the Valley of Kedron, Tombs of the Prophets, the Garden of Gethsemane, Mount of Olives, and other panoramic scenes.  The Underwoods also photographed lepers, pilgrims, the Dome of the Rock, the Rock itself, the Wailing Wall, David Street, and Christian Street.  They even staged two Syrian women for photographs at the tomb of Jesus, to reenact the finding of the risen Jesus. 

This set of photographs is diverse in a number of ways.  This diversity can be seen through the different subjects that the Underwoods chose to photograph.  In some photos, there are no people, such as the photo taken outside the Dome of the Rock.  In others, the streets and the frame are completely full of people, such as the photo of the Greek Easter procession of the Patriarchs.  The final photo in this specific exhibit shows the pass of Upper Beth-Horon, which is an ancient city northeast of Jerusalem.  The photos also capture the diversity of people who live in and visit the city.  There is no doubt that these photos encapsulated the various types of people in the city, including Greeks, Ottomans, and Jews.

Stereoscopic photography is a form of photography that was popular between 1870 and 1920.  To view these photos properly, you need a stereoscope, a device that looks similar to binoculars.  The card mount photo card has two images placed next to each other.  When the viewer looks through the stereoscope, the images appear 3-D.  This device was fascinating to users in this time period, as it was the first of its kind, and the art of photography was quickly evolving.[ii]  The hope, expressed by Hurlbut, was to create an experience beyond what a 2- dimensional picture provides.  The use of a stereoscope thus creates a super realistic depiction of its scenes.  Adding these depths and dimensions creates grander photographs that are beyond the simple, 2-dimensional photographs.  This also aids in the purpose of the photographs, allowing those who could not visit Jerusalem in person to experience the Holy Land from their homes and elsewhere.  Pairing the images with descriptions, which are written in English, Underwood, Underwood and Hurlburt created an all-inclusive experience.  With Hurlburt’s accompanying book, the addition of maps that traces the path of pilgrimage also creates inclusivity and immersion in the Holy Land experience.  These maps can be accessed in the back of Hurlbut’s book.

To the Underwood brothers, photography was powerful, especially in religious contexts.  According to Rachel McBride Lindsey in A Communion of Shadows, the power of photography “facilitate[s] access to the sacred site without physical travel.”[iii]  The photographs, especially when viewed in 3D through a stereoscope, transport the viewer to the Holy Land.  The 3-dimensional image is an involved experience.  Lindsey quotes a viewer, for example, who reported that the experience of viewing these photographs “is almost the same as if we were actually traveling in the Holy Land.”[iv]  In Hurlbut’s introduction, he states that the photos make “the Bible real to us.”[v]  Since the Bible does not contain photographs, these early photographs were important because they allowed viewers to visualize the places about which they read in their Bibles or heard in their church services.  Because most people could not make the journey due to financial or other reasons, these photographs transported them to the Holy Land while they remained, physically, at home in the United States or elsewhere.  The photos thus served as many people’s first images of the real Levant and Holy Land, making once ancient lands a little more accessible.  Importantly, these images represented biblical Jerusalem, not contemporaryJerusalem.  They thus transported the viewer not only through space but also through time, and specifically to the time of Jesus.  This is a different type of immersive experience, more than simply reading biblical texts.  As a minister, the words of Hurlbut were highly valued in his religious community and to religious users of this stereoscope series.  His support of stereoscopic photographs helped make them popular and relevant in religious educational settings.

One important image to highlight is this context is the “Tomb of Our Lord.”  According to Lindsey and the accompanying description on the card mount, the two women in the image were Syrian girls that Bert and Elmer staged for the photograph.  This staging is based on Biblical Protestant interpretation.  Hurlbut references three different versions of the same description of the tomb.  First, he mentions John 19:41, Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.”  He also refers to Luke 23:53, “Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before,” and Matthew 27:60, “and laid it in his new tomb which he had hewn out of the rock; and he rolled a large stone against the door of the tomb, and departed.” Hurlbut exclaims in the card’s description: “Even the possibility that we may be looking upon the rock walls which once enclosed the body of Jesus brings the scenes of the burial, the sealing and rising vividly before us.”[vi]

This stereoscope series was not unique: it was part of a broader photographic trend.  As stereoscope photography was the new craze in the mid 1800s, it made its way into the religious realm.  Popular religious sets include Holy Land Tours (1900) and The Life of Christ (1904).[vii]  Usually, when images of the Middle East, Levant, and holy sites therein were published, many were published as tourism or archeological photographs, not religious photographs.[viii]  To adapt them for religious purposes, they would be published as “scriptural interpretation.”[ix]  This framing as “interpretation” was important because the photographers and authors did not want them to be misunderstood as icons or sacrilegious images.  Moreover, the photographs and book were sold through the Bible Study Department of the publishing company. 

These images did not only serve as a form of travel from home.  They also served a pedagogical purpose as religious educational materials.  Some ministers actively supported the use of these stereographs as learning tools.  The stereoscope images of the Holy Land, for example, became teaching tools in Sunday school programs and home schooling for American Protestants.[x]  The cryptic description of the image, “Pilgrims in the Temple are: N. from El Aksa to Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem,” shown above, is a great example of this.  The description on the back of this card is an excerpt from Hurlbut’s book.  He first gives a general, geographical description: “We are standing in front of the Mosque El Aksa, just south of the Temple area, looking north to the Dome of the Rock.”[xi]  After Hurlbut establishes the location of the image, he acknowledges that the people seen in the photo are “Mohammedans,” and then he quickly shifts to describe the photograph’s biblical significance.  This gloss of a non-Christian pilgrim comes off as disrespectful, but Hurlbut seems mainly to be considering his Protestant audience, rather than Jerusalem’s local population.  Rather than dwelling on the mosque itself, Hurlbut explains how this is the site of Solomon’s newly built temple.  Then he jumps to explain how King Hezekiah held congregations in this same location.  Hurlbut continues to take his reader through the history of the site, with reference to Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles, stating that “That voice sounded out over this very area and before such a throng as this.”[xii]  It is not necessarily important to question how historically accurate Hurlbut is in his geography skills.  More important, for our purposes here, is to recognize that he sought to provide context for his congregation or whomever else was reading his descriptions.  The fact that Solomon, Jesus, and other famous religious figures were in the general vicinity of the site is proof enough for Hurlbut to keep the faith strong. 


The written descriptions of the images that appear on the back of the photographs play a key explanatory role. Without these explanations that come with the images, viewers would have a difficult time understanding some of the subjects of the images.  A worry in general with photography is that the framing of the image is decided by the photographer.  One must ponder not only what is included in the image, but also what is excluded.  The viewer must be wary of any hints of a forced interpretation of the image.  Consider, for example, image 18 of the Dome of the Rock, as seen in Figure 5.  The angle chosen provides a lot of foreground in the image.  Why did the Underwood brothers choose this angle?  It frames the Dome of the Rock nicely, but the disproportionate focus on the foreground is, at first glance, baffling.  The description explains, however, that this image was taken at the northwest corner of the Haram enclosure, and that the foreground shows the “native rock of Mount Moriah, just as Abraham found it when he climbed this hill for the offering up of his son.”[xiii]  We learn from this description that the focus of the photo is not the Dome of the Rock, as one might expect, but rather the ground before it, which is connected to Abrahamic history.


These stereoscopic images are a fascinating addition to the Fordham collection.  While the collection holds only 30 of the 100 images, they tell a great deal about Jerusalem in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s as well as the relationship that American Protestants sought to cultivate with Jerusalem from afar.  The images contextualize modern pilgrimages and visits to the Holy Land with the new technology of the stereoscope.  Bert and Elmer Underwood worked to reimagine the world of photography.  These 3-dimensional images not only brought a new form of entertainment, but also changed how a biblical scene could be portrayed and viewed.  The role of stereoscopic photographs in religious devotion and education is likewise important as the photographs bring those who cannot make pilgrimage closer to the sites through the medium of photography.  Through such series, photography became an acceptable educational resource used to teach biblical narratives to children and adults.  


Liliya Fisher is a FCRH senior Psychology major and Bioethics minor from Albany, NY.  She is a hiker, animal lover, and proud vegetarian who is currently on her way to join the Catskill 3500 Club with her dog, Patch.

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the photographs and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.  


Bibliography:

Hurlbut , Jesse Lyman. “Introduction,” in Traveling in the Holy Land, through the Stereoscope: A Tour Personally Conducted by Jesse Lyman Hurlbut (Underwood and Underwood, 1900), pp. 10–14, archive.org/details/travelinginholyl00hurl/page/10/mode/2up. 

Lindsey, Rachel McBride. A Communion of Shadows: Religion and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2017. 

Smith-Pistelli, Della Dale. Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut. 24 May 2018, www.geni.com/people/Reverend-Jesse-Hurlbut/6000000018605674334. 

“Stereographs.” Retrieved December 07, 2020, from https://www.americanantiquarian.org/stereographs.htm

“Stereograph Cards – Background and Scope.” Background and Scope – Prints & Photographs Online Catalog (Library of Congress), Library of Congress, www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/stereo/background.html. 


[i] Smith-Pistelli, “Reverend Jesse Lyman Hurlbut.”

[ii] American Antiquarian Society, “Stereographs”; Library of Congress, “Stereograph Cards.”

[iii] Lindsey, A Communion of Shadows, 201.

[iv] Lindsey, A Communion of Shadows, 203.

[v] Hurlbut, Traveling in the Holy Land, 12.

[vi] Excerpt from image 3106; extract from Hurlbut, “Traveling in the Holy Land through the Stereoscope.”

[vii] Lindsey, A Communion of Shadows, 206.

[viii] Lindsey, A Communion of Shadows, 206.

[ix] Lindsey, A Communion of Shadows, 206.

[x] Lindsey, A Communion of Shadows, 210.

[xi] Back of card #10976, “Pilgrims in the Old Temple Courts.”

[xii] Back of card #10976, “Pilgrims in the Old Temple Courts.”

[xiii] Card #3109 image description, the “Dome of the Rock” where the Temple Altar stood, Mt. Moriah, Jerusalem, Palestine.”

The Jews of Iraq in Modern Times – and My Family’s Story

by Hagit Goral Halperin

When George Bush went to war in Iraq in 1990 and clips from Iraq started showing on TV, I called my father to ask if it is possible that this depressingly bleak place was their paradise. My father was surprised: “What did you expect? This is one big desert with two rivers.” I guess I did know, but it wasn’t what I imagined about this country. This imagination was a fantasy based upon their stories, which seemed so ideal: the swimming and boating in the Tigris River, picnics on its bank in fruit gardens (bustan). The true picture is in the middle between what was shown on TV and my imagination. (I know that cameras that are aimed at filming war do not show the pleasant places.) The feeling of paradise is not the picture portrayed in history books, but indeed the Jews in Iraq maintained their community for many centuries, without any extremely traumatic incidents and in a relatively safe environment. What stands out is the great co-existence they had with their neighbors, the Muslim Arabs. This coexistence can be exemplified by customs of reciprocity during holidays. Iraqi Jews remember that Muslim neighbors used to bring hot tea to Jews returning from the synagogue at the end of Yom Kippur, and trays with bread and cheese at the conclusion of Passover. In Basra, where a significant number of Jews lived, there was no Jewish quarter; Jews lived in mixed neighborhoods. 

Image 1: Cover of My Beloved Baghdad: Memories and Longing by Shmuel Moreh

Many Iraqi Jews, when referring to their old homeland, express the feeling of Lost Paradise. The Iraqi immigrants in Israel and in other parts of the world, including North America and Europe, hold special pride in their Diaspora, as the oldest Diaspora, whose beginning is recorded in the Bible. In Israel, the Iraqi Jews receive special acknowledgement, being called in formal occasions “Babylonian Jews” (Ha’aliya Ha’Bavlit) though Babylon is long gone. Indeed, even after the period of the Babylonian Exile and the return of some Jews to rebuild the second temple in Jerusalem, Jews in Iraq had a rich and outstanding history of scholarly leadership in the Jewish world. From around the third century C.E., a period famously known as the Amoraic period, the rabbinic Amora’im composed the Talmud; in the late sixth through eleventh centuries, the Geonim led the Yeshivot (Talmudic academies) of Sura and Pumbedita. This leadership of the Jewish world ended in the mid-thirteenth century with the Mongol conquest of Iraq. Like their Muslim neighbors in Iraq, the Jews lost both their prominent positions in commerce and their scholarly leadership in the Jewish world.

Iraq was part of the Ottoman Empire from 1517 through the end of World War I.  The historian Norman Stillman describes the situation of Jews and Christians in Iraq under the Ottomans as a constant state of insecurity, continuing throughout the nineteenth century, and explains that conditions were worse in the north, under the Kurdish tribes’ domain. When Da’ud Pasha ruled, between the years 1817-31, many Jews fled to other countries to escape oppression.[1] Stillman described cases of Jews who were accused and executed for blasphemy against Muhammad. A series of three letters, dating from 1860, provide an interesting account of an attempt by the Turkish governor Nuri Pasha, who was pressured by Muslim extremists to remove the Jewish custody of Ezekiel’s Tomb, claiming that it was built over the ruins of a mosque. [2] A letter sent by the community leaders of the Baghdadi Jews to Nuri Pasha states that Jews held the prophet’s tomb for 2000 years. The British Consul, who was concerned that a similar fate might occur to the Christian community in Iraq, sent another letter in this regard. 

The Jews of Iraq: Fallen Glory | JEWISH HOME LA
Image 2: The Prophet Ezekiel’s Tomb al-Kifl, Iraq, build between the 12-14th centuries
(image source: Wikipedia) 

These letters provide testimony to religious tension, a result of the rise of Muslim extremism during this period in Iraq. It also illustrates European involvement in the Ottoman Empire as that empire was slowly losing its power. Both Jews and Christians intervened on behalf of their co-religionists. This is also a testimony to the ancient establishment and the symbiotic status of the Jews in Iraq. They were in charge of places revered by all three religions there: Muslims, Jews, and Christians. (Apparently Ezekiel’s Tomb along with the tombs of Ezra the Scribe and Jonah the Prophet, all considered sacred by Muslims, were renovated by the government of Saddam Hussein and guards were assigned to protect these holy places.[3]

Image 3: Girls learning to sew in the workshop at the Alliance School in Basra, Iraq, 1939
(image source: Facebook group “עיראקים יוצאי בבל”)

In the mid-nineteenth century, the situation of the Jews in Iraq started to change in a way that distinguished them from the rest of the population. The arrival of the French Alliance Israelite Universal branch of Jewish schools (in 1864 for boys and 1893 for girls)[4] meant the advance of Western education to Jews, at a time when 95% of the Iraqi population was illiterate.[5] By 1880, about 12,000 Jewish children attended schools. In Baghdad and Basra, the rich families in the communities sponsored traditional Yeshiva schooling for their poor. At the same time the Tanzimat reforms in the Ottoman Empire meant modernization of Baghdad and Basra, especially between the years 1869-1872 under Midhat Pasha, and this transformation worked well for the newly educated generation of young Jews. When the British army conquered Iraq from the Turks during the First World War, those educated Jews were in a good position to embark on a trend of prosperity and success, backed by the British who preferred to bestow their trust to minorities. The British stayed until 1932, when Iraq became independent, and they returned during the Second World War, after a pro-Nazi group led by the Mufti of Jerusalem and Rashid Ali took control of the government. This new government organized clashes against Jews (the Farhud) in 1941. Some claim that the British used these clashes as a pretext for coming back to Iraq.[6] However, the British stayed at the outskirts of the cities until the clashes calmed down. Only then did they enter with their army.

As Jewish history teaches us, after success a backlash is likely to follow. When the British came during World War I they installed a pro-British king, Faisal ibn Hussein, from the Hashemite family. This intervention gave a boost to the Pan-Arab nationalistic trend in Iraq, while in Israel a flood of Zionist European Jews caused a resistance and bloody retaliations with the Palestinian Arabs. In many ways the situation of the Iraqi Jews was determined by what happened in the West. Intervention of the British in Iraq’s affairs both promoted the Iraqi Jews and also caused a rise in Arab nationalism. The movement of European Jews to Israel and their later victory in the War of Independence in 1948 added fire to the jealousy, which is natural when a minority is too successful. The downfall started with the Farhud. Muslim rioters robbed and killed about 200 Jews in Baghdad and wounded as many as a 1000 more. For a while even after the Farhud, however, things seemed to go back to normal for the Jews. 

אחרי 77 שנה, גם יהודי עיראק דורשים הכרה כנפגעי הנאצים - חינוך ...
Image 4: The Farhud, during the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, June 1st-2nd, 1941
(image source: Pictures Archive of Yad Ben Zvi & Beit Hatfutsot)

Both of my parents share the feeling, expressed by many Iraqi Jews of that generation, that they lived very well among their Muslim neighbors. When unrest occurred, Iraqi Jews blamed politics rather than inherited hatred. Both of my families, my paternal side in Baghdad and my maternal side in Basra, were protected during the Farhud. Their Muslim neighbors warned them in advance and stood at the entrance of the alleyways to block the excited mob. In Basra, Jews were not killed and the attackers ended up looting the market, regardless of whether the owner was Jewish or not. In Baghdad, people were murdered. One victim was my great-grandfather, who was walking in the street, unaware of what was going on. My father, who always tried to convey the message that Jews and Muslims can live peacefully together, did not tell us this fact until a year before he died – he was always convinced that the Farhud was nothing more than an action of a mob triggered by propaganda. 

Through the stories of my family I have a colorful view of the history of the Jews of Iraq. The oldest account of my mother’s family actually relates to a woman. Apparently, in the mid-nineteenth century (in 1854), Basra suffered a severe plague that reduced the Jewish population from three thousand families to fifty. According to my family’s story, the whole Jewish community left the city and settled on its outskirts in tents until it appeared safe to return. My mother’s great-great grandmother apparently took the initiative to carry a big load of flour with her, and she started baking bread and giving it away to all the hungry children of the community. For this remarkable act she became known as “Hubaza,” meaning baker, and it became the family’s last name. 

My mother’s family was one of the established families in Basra and by the turn of the century they acquired quite a good fortune as merchants. An interesting story of my family concerning the Jewish community happened around 1930. Apparently my mother’s two grandfathers, Dudi and Menahem (as was common, they were also close relatives), accused the rabbi of stealing the congregation’s money. As a response, their families and their supporters were excommunicated from the Jewish community. They became known as the “Theosophists,” apparently implying that they were nonbelievers (at that time, a family friend, who returned home from a business trip in India, initiated a Theosophy’s study group). The “Theosophists” bought a bustan (a tree-garden) and built their own synagogue. It also provided them a place to socialize and to bury the few elders who died at this time, since they were barred from the Jewish cemetery. My mother and her siblings had to leave the Alliance School and join the Iraqi public school (as a result they don’t speak French). My mother speaks fondly about the public school. She explains that she and her sister were treated very well, and had Muslim friends. Apparently they used to study the Qur’an with the Muslim girls, while in the boys’ school, the Jews were asked to leave the room when Qur’an was taught.  

Image 5: In the “Theosophic” busan: my mother, Luise Doodi, and her oldest and youngest brothers, Nachum and Eddy

My uncle and another boy from the banned group were named Balfour (in a salute to Lord Balfour, the British Foreign Secretary who, in 1917, wrote a declaration of sympathy with Jewish Zionist aspirations, supporting the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, known as the Balfour Declaration). Both boys, then in the Iraqi public school, received blows from their classmates, and a worried Muslim teacher suggested to their parents that they change the boys’ names. The parents did so and my uncle was renamed Daud and his friend was renamed Fu’ad. (Fu’ad Gigi now lives in New York as Fred. He told me recently that all the problems for the Jews in Iraq started with the declaration of Lord Balfour.) 

Image 6: The Balfour Declaration, 1917
(image source: University History Archive/UIG/Getty)

The dispute in the congregation ended up in court, and my family won the case. Later on, Nuri Sa’id, the prime minister, was involved in solving the matter by making peace (sulcha) between the two factions, and actually paying a visit to my great-grandparent’s home. The fact that the prime minister became involved in a dispute in the Jewish community is not so surprising because at that time Jews were holding major positions in the administration and commerce of Iraq and were among the wealthiest people in Iraq. Iraq’s first Minister of Finance, Yehezkel Sasson (1921-27), was a Jew; for many years the treasurer of Iraq was Avraham Elkabir, another Jew. Jews occupied main positions in the post office, the train administration, and the high court.[7] My mother’s great uncle, Elias Khawa was the minister of the port in Basra, which was the main commercial of Iraq  (it is unclear why his last name is woman’s first name, since usually last names were after the father’s first name )  My mother remembers the gifts that he used to get from merchants who needed favours from him. Her uncle, Naji Menachem, was the port treasurer.  

Image 7: Sir Sassoon Eskell, a Jewish Iraqi statesman and financier, also known as Sassoon Effendi, sitting third from right, next to King Faisal I al-Hashemi, who reigned 1921-33
(image source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/dismay-poetry-as-home-of-jew-who-helped-found-modern-iraq-is-destroyed/)
Image 8: My father, Moris, and my grandfather, Shkuri Taufiq, in Baghdad in the late 1930s

My father’s family lived in Baghdad and apparently was from a somewhat lower middle class. My grandfather, Shkuri Ta’ufik, was a self-made person. When he was 13-years old, his father died and he had to leave school and work to support his mother and siblings. He worked for a while as an apprentice of the shochet – the Jewish butcher. His breakthrough came thanks to a punishment by the British. Failing to register to the British authorities, he was sent on a British Navy ship to India, where he stayed for a year, learning English while abroad. Upon returning he started working in the Jewish owned Zilkha Bank in Baghdad. This was one of the most important banks in Iraq – and the first chain banking in the Arab world, with branches in Beirut, Damascus, Cairo and Alexandria, and the Iraqi government was invested in it.[8] My grandfather made his way up and became the treasurer of the Zilkha Bank. He bought a big house outside of the Jewish quarter, in a mixed neighborhood, and was able to house a few relatives in it as well. (When he moved to Israel he was much better off than most, as he was able to transfer some money in advance to Israel, and to buy a house and a store there.) His children attended the prestigious Anglo-Jewish school Shamash, which was the only Jewish school outside of the crowded Jewish neighborhood.[9] At that period, it was allowed to teach reading Hebrew, but the newly independent Iraqi government (since 1932) banned the teaching of the Bible and Jewish history. My father studied the Hebrew Bible only in Israel.

Image 9: The graduating class of Shamash, the British affiliated Jewish school in Baghdad in 1942; my father stands in the third row, first from right

This period is distinguished because the Jews were going through rapid social and cultural changes. My two grandmothers, who were born at the turn of the century, never attended school and stayed illiterate all their lives. Apparently, in their youth, Jewish girls started attending schools, but my grandmothers were caught up in the instability of the time in addition to the fact that most of society was not ready for those changes. When the British army entered Iraq during World War I, they came with Indian troops and a rumor spread among the Jews that these soldiers were abducting girls, and so, many Jewish girls stayed home and got married early, as usual. When she was born, my maternal grandmother was promised to the 10-years old son of her mother’s aunt. When she turned 12 she was married, and ‘luckily’ for her she was allowed to stay for a year longer in her parents’ home until she began menses. Her first son was born when she was fourteen. She moved to Khoramshahr in Iran, where her husband’s family lived, but when she was twenty-years old her mother died, and she returned home to Basra, to take care of her father and brothers. 

Image 10: My mother’s great grandmother, Razala Khawa, in the 1930s, wearing a traditional Jewish woman’s head covering topped by a metal ball wrapped in gold thread

My maternal grandmother came to age on the brink of modernity. Although uneducated, she dressed only in Western clothes and gave Western names to a few of her children. She was determined to marry off her daughters only after they finished school. Even though her husband was ten years her senior, well-educated, spoke Turkish, and served for a few months as an officer in the Turkish army before World War I, my grandmother was always the lady of the house, hosting British officers for tea parties.[10] Her husband was one of the first agents of Singer, and she became a talented seamstress and embroiderer who, according to my mother, embroidered dresses for weeks and then donated them for charity if  she found out that other women copied her designs. 

Image 11: My grandfather, Moshi Doodi, second from right, with the employees of the Singer Corporation in Basra in the 1930s

My paternal grandmother also married young and had a hard time with her husband’s family. Her time to shine came when she was ill and the doctor suggested that she move outside the city. The family moved to a Muslim village, and there my uneducated grandmother became a counselor to the village women. My father remembered them flocking to her house to learn about things like childcare and feminine hygiene. Upon returning to Baghdad the family bought their own house. Another distinguished woman was her aunt, Lulu Tweina (her last name is not certain), also analphabetic, who became a talented seamstress and a good businesswoman. She never married (and never attempted to) and was so successful that her clientele included many government officials (my father claims that she used to boast that if they ever needed something from the king, she would have no problem getting it). She became a rich woman and started lending money to her customers, who apparently owed her such great sums that when the family moved to Israel she decided to stay, hoping that one day they would pay her back. (My father recalls a memorable incident. This aunt tried to marry off her miserably unsuccessful sister by paying a young man a good amount of money. My father, about 7-year old then, was asked to spend the first night with the newly married couple, witnessing the bride kicking her groom away. The young groom fled with the money shortly thereafter.)

  In this atmosphere of changes in the cities in the 1930s, young Jews were attending Westernized schools, in which Judaic studies were not permitted. The slogan of those days was the nationalist song: “Jews (Musawi), Christians (Esawi) and Muslim (Muhamadi) – we are all Arabs.” Jews dressed in Western clothes and saw American movies in the theater. According to my mother, her mother used to put on an abayia (a black robe) when going out, and the celebratory Jewish type of cover – the Izar – when going to the synagogue on Shabbat, but she and her sister never did, and they used to walk by themselves to places around town with no fear. The synagogues became a place to go for holidays; the community held events, such as plays performed by the young to benefit the congregation’s poor. Charity was an integral part of life. Since food could not be saved for the next day, my grandmother used to send one of her children with leftovers to hand to a certain poor family, accompanied by a servant.  She wouldn’t send a servant alone, as it would have been regarded as an insult. 

Image 12: An Izar, a type of wrap dress worn by Jewish women on holidays; the face covering is made out of horse hair, from the collection of the Israel Museum

This period saw the detachment of many young Jews from traditional ways. Many of them were drawn to Arab culture, to Communism, and later to Zionism. My father used to say that Zionism saved his life. He and his best friend Shaul Tweig (the bank manager’s son, who was Zilkha’s in-law) joined the Communist movement, which like Zionism, was outlawed. My father left and became a devoted Zionist but Tweig stayed and was stoned to death by the police during a Communist demonstration. 

The Zionist movement started taking root among the young people after the Farhud. At first it was an attempt by the young Jews to organize resistance to atrocities (the Shurrah), and then, with the arrival of Israeli emissaries in 1942, this organization transformed into the Zionist movement. The time was ripe for the Zionist movement (the Tnu’ah) to attract an excited group of young Jews looking for new ideals. It gave them new meaning, when religion wasn’t inspiring any longer. It gave them a pretext to meet in mixed groups, men and women together. Israeli emissaries taught them Israeli songs and dances. They used to take boats at night to small islands on the river and sing those songs loudly. It was secretive and their parents were not aware of their activities. My father, Yoav Goral (born as Morris Ta’ufik), taught himself Hebrew from a dictionary and became a counselor, being also appointed as the cultural head of the Tnu’ah in Baghdad. When it became necessary to find a place for the Tenu’ah’s library, he moved the entire library to his room without his parents’ knowledge and told his mother that she could no longer enter his room. Since carrying illegal material was the most dangerous mission, the women in the Tenu’ah had a special role. They could carry around such material, covered by their abaya. My father tells how astonished his family was when a woman, a Tenu’ah activist – coming to check the library – came alone asking for him. This was something unheard of in those days.

Image 13: Young members of the Zionist Tenu’ah (my father sits in the middle), on the banks of the Tigris River in Baghdad in the 1940s

The activity of the Zionist movement in Iraq had astounding success among the young people, starting with a reaction to the Farhud, and the call to defend themselves against atrocities. It continued to grow with the atrocities experienced by Jews while Israel was fighting to become an independent state in the years between 1946 and 1949. In 1948, the Iraqi government outlawed Zionist activities. One of the wealthiest Jews in Basra, Shafik Ades, who established the agency of the Ford car company in Iraq, was arrested and accused of being a Zionist supporter. This was ironic because he was actually one of those who opposed the Zionist movement, but it didn’t help him and he was hanged publicly. False accusations by envious Muslim colleagues brought also the arrest of my great uncle, Naji Menachem (the port treasurer), also arrested for being a Zionist activist.  He had opposed Zionism as well, and even after his release he maintained his dislike of the Zionist affair. He was sentenced to three years in prison and my grandmother managed to bribe someone to move him from a pit in northern Iraq to a prison in Baghdad. 

Image 14: Shafiq Ades at his trial, being led to his execution by hanging in front of his villa in Basra in 1948
(image source: Picture Archive of the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center, Or Yehuda, Israel)

Naji fled to Iran when he was released from prison in 1951, choosing not to immigrate to Israel. Many of the very well-to-do Iraqi Jews never considered Zionism and some of them stayed in Iraq after most of the community left. Naji did well in Iran and then had to flee again when Ayatollah Khumeini came to power – a reminiscent of the story of the Jews who fled from Spain to Portugal, only to find themselves fleeing again shortly after). Again, Israel wasn’t his preferred option. He came to Israel in 1980 only because he couldn’t go to the United States.

The arrest and hanging of Ades in 1948 signified an important turning point for many Jews. Many Jew were arrested, as the Iraqi government was going after Zionist activities. During 1948, all the Jews in governmental jobs were dismissed, and restrictive laws forbade Jews from banking, import and export, and higher education. In 1949, martial law was lifted and Jews started to leave in large numbers. In 1950, the Iraqi government passed a law that allowed Jews to leave if they gave up their Iraqi citizenship and relinquished their assets. Thanks to a secret deal between high rank Iraqi government officials, who owned the airline, and an Israeli secret agent named Shlomo Hillel, Jews were airlifted by Iraqi airplanes to Iran, and from there they were taken by Israeli planes to Israel. (A temporary camp was built in the Jewish cemetery in Teheran to accommodate those who were waiting to be airlifted to Israel.) In 1950, a few bombs were exploded in a synagogue in Baghdad and in the American consulate. This increased the sense of urgency and Jews felt that it was necessary to leave. (A rumor claims that the bombing was an act of the Israeli Mosad, attempting to persuade the Jews to move to Israel.) The Tenu’ah sent my father in 1945 to Israel due to illness. In 1950, he returned to Iraq as a secret emissary to help reorganize the activities of the Tenu’ah. At that time the situation became more and more difficult for Jews, as many of them lost jobs and lived in fear of arrest. He returned to Israel in 1951, when it became too dangerous to stay (after the arrest of the emissary Mordechai Ben-Porat by the Iraqi police) and he was actually the last of the Israeli emissaries to leave Iraq. 

ויזה טורקית של שלמה הלל על שם "ריצ'ארד ארמסטרונג", שם בדוי.
Image 15: Shlomo Hillel’s fake Turkish passport from 1950; he introduced himself to the Iraqi government as Richard Armstrong and arranged the airlift of Iraqi Jews
(image source: Operation Babylon, by Shlomo Hillel, 1987)
Image 16: My father, who changed his name to Yoav Goral when he moved to Israel, in Abadan, Iran, before re-entering Iraq on a secret mission to revive the Tenu’ah and organize the Aliya of remaining Jews; he was the last emissary to leave Iraq in 1950

Many Iraqi Jews in Israel are deeply proud of the success of their Aliya (immigration), as they feel that they initiated it and they were in charge of their own fate (notable is the difference from the North African Aliya, which was to a larger extent an initiative of the Israeli government, and attracted the poor, while many from the educated classes moved to France). In less than two years an ancient population of Iraqi Jews was reduced from 130,000 to 6,000 people. Most of them came to Israel, and unlike many North African Jews, they managed to integrate with the Israeli Ashkenazi population. Their successful positions in Iraq helped them to establish themselves in Israel, and just as their Aliya was largely their initiative, so was their integration. This integration of course had a price that some of them dismiss as unimportant. Most of them are now secular, and their Iraqi culture was kept only partially and mainly at home. Their children do not speak their Judeo-Arabic language, and although Jews in Iraq were the leading musicians for generations, in Israel many children of Iraqi Jews were not even exposed to this music. (A notable exception is the city of Ramat-Gan, where many Iraqi Jews live, which sponsors an Iraqi orchestra.)

Image 17: Saleh and Daoud al-Kuwaity with the national Iraqi Radio Orchestra, which they established in the 1930s; they were the Iraqi King’s favorite
(image source: https://jewish-music.huji.ac.il/content/salah-el-kuweiti)

The Jews who stayed in Iraq were those who were too old to leave, those who didn’t “buy” into the Zionist ideas, and those who didn’t want to leave their wealth behind. The Jews that were left behind were allowed to attend Jewish schools, but apparently it was hard to find Jewish teachers. According to Sa’id Herdoon, who fled from Iraq to Israel in 1972 after spending six month in Abu-Ghraib jail, only a few Jews lived near the synagogue in Baghdad and so the rabbi declared that it was halakhically legal to come to the synagogue on Shabbat with a car, as long someone else drove, or to come by bus if the ticket was purchased on another day. Most of the Jews had to escape later, because after each war in Israel the Iraqi government acted against their Jews. In 1969, as a reaction to the Arab loss in the Six Days War, nine Jews were falsely accused of spying for Israel and they were hanged in Baghdad. Some half a million people paraded through to watch the hanging. As a result, in the early 1970s, groups of Jews crossed the border to Iran, assisted by the Kurds in the north, who smuggled them. The community is now dying out; as of 2005, only 76 elderly Jews were reported to live there, and no doubt that number is significantly lower now.

The 1969 public hangings of 9 Jews in Iraq who were falsely accused of  spying for Israel. Half a million peopl… | Middle eastern history, History  class, Persecution
Image 18: The 1969 public hangings in Baghdad of 9 Jews who were falsely accused of spying for Israel; half a million people paraded and danced past the scaffolds where the men were hanged
(image source: https://www.timesofisrael.com/iraqs-jewish-sites-almost-all-ruined-beyond-repair-new-heritage-report-finds/)

A prosperous community of Iraqi Jews lives in London.  This community consists of Jews who immigrated there before and between the two World Wars and some who came in the 1960s. In the early 1980s, when the Diaspora Museum in Israel was planning an exhibition of the Babylonian Diaspora, to be curated by Sara Gilboa Karni, Shlomo Hillel – then a minister in the Israeli government – was sent to London to raise money, but the mission turned unsuccessful. The exhibition never happened and the book that was to accompany it was never published. Meanwhile, the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Center was established in Or Yehuda, initiated by the former Knesset member Mordechai Ben Porat; its mission is to preserve Iraqi Jewish culture. The center was made possible largely thanks to donations from Iraqi Jews in the United States.

As of 2005, the estimate is that around 15,000 Iraqi Jews live in the United States. Generally, many Iraqi Jews in the United States are spread around, but two centers emerged, one on the West Coast and one on the East. In Los Angeles, Kahal Joseph Congregation was established in 1959 by Iraqi Jews who came from the Far East (India, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, and Indonesia) at the beginning of the twentieth century. Their synagogue follows “Nusakh Baghdad” (Baghdad custom and usage). In New York State there are two congregations. In 1934, Iraqi Jews first organized the “Iraqi Aid Society,” when, at the height of the great depression of the 1930s, many of the community’s members suffered its effects. It is important to note that most Iraqi Jews who came to New York were not poor, but on the contrary, they were among the more prominent families. The first communal action of the society was to buy a burial place for its members. The Iraqi Aid Society cemetery, inside the Montifiore Cemetery in Long Island, came into being in 1945 and since then it grew bigger as more plots were purchased. Until the mid-1980s, the community used to rent space at a few hotels to celebrate holidays. In 1983, a small synagogue that previously served the Afghani Jewish community was purchased in Jamaica, Queens, and a religious organization was established under the name of Congregation Bene Naharayim (which means, in Hebrew, “between the rivers”). Interestingly, their Religious Advisor and Chazan (cantor) is an Iraqi Jew from Calcutta (India), named Aaron Abrahams, who has been serving the community since the early 1970s. In 1997, members of the Iraqi Jewish community in Long Island established a second congregation in Great Neck, under the name of the Babylonian Jewish Center. Their mission statement is “the preservation, promotion, and continuation of the culture, tradition and identity of the Babylonian Jewish Heritage through religious, social and educational means.” In order to preserve the Babylonian Nusach (customs), their by-laws state that only Iraqi Jews can become members. But then the congregation couldn’t find a native Iraqi rabbi or cantor and hired an Israeli-Moroccan rabbi and a half-Iraqi cantor. Both of them, trained in Israel, pronounce their Hebrew letters differently (mainly they are not used to the Iraqi deep Koof and the Vav which should be pronounced as Waw). The congregation’s elders tried to train them in proper Iraqi pronunciation, but admitted that it was hard. A great percentage of this congregation’s members are actually Iraqis who came to the United States from Iran after the Islamic Revolution of Khomeini in 1980.

The synagogue reflects the somewhat easy going character of Iraqi Jews. Most of its members are non-observant Jews, and see themselves as Masorati’im (traditionalist). Yet, “orthodox” traditions are observed. The synagogue consists of one big room with an open center in the middle, for the Torah reading (there is no raised bimah). Surprisingly (for me) the men sit on the two sides, and the women sit in front of the Aron Hakodesh (the ark), behind a low partition. Their presence is very pronounced during the service (positioned well to throw candies on the Chattan Torah, when there is a celebration for an upcoming wedding, or at a Bar Mitzvah celebration). The gallery serves for babysitting (with non-Jewish babysitters). A few older women cover their heads with a kippa-size lace, fastened to their head. At an event such as a baby naming, the whole congregation (about 130 families) is present, and it feels like one big hamula (extended family). The languages spoken there are a mix of the Iraqi Judeo-Arabic, Hebrew, and English. Many of those who left Iraq in the 1950s say that they can no longer speak the Iraqi Arabic, and need English to communicate with a non-Jewish Iraqi. When I asked about the second generation, many of them attest regretfully that their children only know a few words in this language. While this congregation is new, its leadership is old, and it is not clear how it will turn out in the future. On the congregation’s calendar, its president, Shlomo Bakhas wrote “Although most Iraqi Jews may not be traditionally religious, there is no question that we are religiously traditional, and proud of it.

Hagit Goral Halperin grew up on a kibbutz in Israel, where a group of young Iraqi Jews were among its founding members. She holds a master’s degree in Jewish Art and Visual Culture from the Jewish Theological Seminary as well as a bachelor’s in Restoration from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She holds an art teaching certificate from Ha’Midrashah Le’Omanut, an Israeli college for art education. Currently, Hagit teaches Hebrew at Fordham University, Dwight International High School, and JTS’s Ivry Prozdor program. Since 2006, Hagit has led tours in Hebrew at museums around New York, mainly for Ha-Ulpan students.

Footnotes:

[1]  Norman Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: JPS, 1979), 87-94.

[2] Ibid, 389-92.

[3] Jewish Virtual Library: Iraqi Jews (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/iraqijews.html)

[4] Reeva Spector Simon, , Michael Laskier, and Sara Reguer, eds, The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times (New York: Columbia University Press, 2003), 359-362.

[5] According to a report the World Jewish Congress titled “The Treatment of Jews in Egypt and Iraq,” from 1948.

[6] See www.inminds.co.uk/jews-of-iraq.html

[7] Spector Simon et al, The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times, 362-3.

[8] Spector Simon et al, The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times, 42 and 363.

[9] Golany, Babylonian Jewish Neighborhood and Home Design, 64.

[10] After the Young Turks Revolution in 1906, which allowed Jews to serve in the Ottoman army.

Bibliography:

Atlas, Yehuda. Ad amud ha-tliya, alilot ha-machteret be-iraq. Tel Aviv: Ma’arakhot, 1969 (Hebrew).

Cohen, Ben. “Review (Book by Moshe Gat): Paradise Lost? The Jewish Exodus from Iraq, 1948-51.” Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Summer, 1998), pp. 109-111.

Ivri, David. Doodi, from Bani-Said the Baghdadian Slum, Autobiographical Novel. Jerusalem: Research Institute of the Zionist-Pioneer Underground Movement in Iraq, 2002 (Hebrew).

Golany, Gideon S. Babylonian Jewish Neighborhood and Home Design. The Edwin Mellen Press, 1999

Senhav, Yehuda. “The Jews of Iraq, Zionist Ideology & the Property of the Palestinians Refugees of 1948: An Anomaly of National Accounting.” International Journal of Middle East Studies, Vol. 31, No. 4 (Nov., 1999), pp. 605-630.

Snir, Reuven. “Review: Kazzaz, The Jews in Iraq in the Twentieth Century.” The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 84, No. 4 (Apr., 1994), pp. 495-500.

Spector Simon, Reeva, Michael Laskier & Sara Reguer, eds. The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa in Modern Times. New York: Columbia University Press, 2003.

Stillman, Norman. The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Philadelphia: JPS, 1979.

Warkov, Esther, “Revitalization of Iraqi-Jewish Instrumental Traditions in Israel: The Persistent Centrality of an Outsider Tradition.” Asian Music, Vol. 17, No. 2, Music in the Ethnic Communities of Israel (Spring – Summer, 1986), pp. 9-31.

World Jewish Congress. The Treatment of Jews in Egypt and Iraq. 1948.

Websites: 

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/anti-semitism/iraqijews.html

www.babylonjewry.org.il/new/english/index.htm 

www.inminds.co.uk/jews-of-iraq.html 

Interviews: 

Yoav & Aliza Goral (parents)

Fu’ad (Fred) Gigi

Sa’id (Sid) Herdoon

Su’am Tweig

Sara Gilboa Karni

Essays: 

Yoav Goral, Yearzeit book: Mordechai Bibi, Aliza Katan, Ya’akov Tzemach 

Jerusalem Series: An Ashkenazi Maḥzor from Amsterdam and Diasporic Longings for Jerusalem

Ashley Conde FCRH’21

The Maḥzor ʻim kaṿanat ha-paiṭan in Fordham’s Special Collections was published by Kashman ben Joseph Baruch Printing House in Amsterdam in 1767.  It contains prayers for the holiday of Sukkot and was designed for the prayer leader’s personalized use.  The prayer leader is identified in the Maḥzor’s cover page as the “paytan,” which is a term that means a liturgical poet and refers to the person who leads services.  This Maḥzor features texts written in different types of script: traditional Hebrew block script, Rashi script, and Yiddish cursive script (see figure 1).  It was intended for Ashkenazi Jews living Amsterdam and elsewhere in Europe.  The copy in Fordham’s collection contains 93 leaves with leaves 6 or 7 and leaf 9 missing from the digitized item.  It contains solely printed pages.  Unlike the printing house’s other publications, this Maḥzor does not bear the printer’s mark.

The Maḥzor s cover page claims to be “better than other maḥzorim today” and states that “nothing of its sort has been printed until now.”[i]  It advertises the addition of Yiddish explanations to and commentaries of the Hebrew prayers.[ii]  The prayers and Torah readings in traditional Hebrew script act as the headers of each leaf, followed by a smaller text in Rashi script, and concluding with commentary in Yiddish (see figure 2).  There are also smaller instructions inserted between prayers that detail the specific intentions and directions for the prayer leader (and for those using the prayer book as individuals as well).  Despite the Maḥzor’s lengthy commentary, it is possible that the book was also meant for the broader Ashkenazi community.  The numerous Yiddish books printed in 18th-century Amsterdam sometimes featured “marginalia in Yiddish explaining the order of the service, local liturgical customs, and various rules about worship.”[iii]  Ashkenazi Jews were encouraged to read the Yiddish explanations and recite the Hebrew prayers in synagogue.[iv]

Figure 1: Maḥzor ʻim Kaṿanat ha-paiṭan (Amsterdam: Kashman ben Yosef Barukh ha-ḥotem Hirts Levi Rofe ṿa-ḥatano Kashman, 527 [1767]). Title page of with examples of different scripts used. SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1767 1|V.3
Figure 2: Maḥzor ʻim kaṿanat ha-paitan. First page of the prayer text, featuring the “ma tov hu” prayer with commentary.

Amsterdam’s Ashkenazic community had been growing since the 17thcentury.  Individuals fled Germany after the Swedish invasion during the Thirty Years’ War in the 1630s and established themselves at the margins of the thriving Sephardic community already present in the city (who themselves settled in Amsterdam following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in the late 15th century).[v]  The Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam regarded the more recent Ashkenazi Jewish arrivals as a social blight but nevertheless provided minimal economic support for them.  Ashkenazi Jews continued to move to Amsterdam in waves. Jews from Lithuania and Poland left their home countries for Amsterdam in the 1650s.[vi]  As they became outnumbered by the Ashkenazim, the Dutch Sephardic Jews “encouraged the separatist tendencies” among Eastern Europeans in order to weaken intracommunal Ashkenazic relations.[vii]  Whereas Ashkenazim numbered around 500 in the 1640s, a century later Ashkenazim outnumbered their Sephardic brethren by 80 percent: of the 13,000 Jews living in Amsterdam, 10,000 were Ashkenazic.[viii]

Maintaining a strong sense of cultural identity was important to the Dutch Ashkenazim who were disconnected from their home countries and alienated by the contemptuous Sephardic Jews.  The Ashkenazim were more likely to retain their traditional attire than the Sephardim, as Dutch artists depicted Ashkenazi Jews as visually distinct from the assimilated Sephardic Jews.[ix]  Publishing texts in Yiddish allowed the Ashkenazim to further distinguish themselves from the Sephardim.  Yiddish books were previously printed in Poland and Italy, but many of these publishing houses had collapsed by the 1750s. Amsterdam printers thus filled the market void left by these printing centers.[x]

Printing was an economic enterprise that elevated Ashkenazic Jews whom the Sephardim had deemed tramps and beggars.[xi]  Jewish printers in Amsterdam produced an unprecedented number of Yiddish books and “declared that Dutch Yiddish books were better than those produced elsewhere.”[xii]   The Fordham Mazor reflects this pride in Dutch Yiddish identities when it proclaims itself superior to other maḥzorim.  The flourishing Yiddish printing industry in Amsterdam attracted literary agents from throughout Europe[xiii] and led the Dutch Ashkenazim to market to Jews in Europe.[xiv]  It is likely that copies of the Mazor in Fordham’s collections were distributed outside of Amsterdam.  As Dutch printers realized the potential for a broader European market, they developed an interest in reporting news in Yiddish— the first known Yiddish newspaper was published in Amsterdam.[xv]  Shlomo Berger posits that the Yiddish press’ ability to unite Ashkenazim both in Amsterdam and abroad “[testifies] to an interest in Jewish life outside the Holy Land that attaches a unique importance to Jewish existence in Europe.”  The ability to read Yiddish connected diasporic Jews who were unable to read Hebrew fluently. Furthermore, Yiddish offered a more contemporary appeal than Hebrew, which the Ashkenazim deemed archaic. Indeed, 18thcentury Jewish printer Hayyim Druker claimed that “building a Yiddish literary corpus was… about being involved in a process of change.”[xvi]

The Mazor in Fordham’s collection was thus part of a movement to modernize Jewish liturgical practice and strengthen Ashkenazic identity.  Amidst these changes, Ashkenazi Jews still maintained a sense of belonging to the city of Jerusalem.  The particular Mazor in Fordham’s Special Collections contains prayers for the festival Sukkot.  Jeffrey Rubenstein recounts how the biblical harvest festival of autumn gave way to the rabbinic festival of Sukkot, which celebrates God’s protection of the Israelites following their flight from Egypt.  Sukkot has long been linked with Jerusalem, as evidenced by King Jeroboam’s efforts “to prevent Israelites of the northern kingdom from making pilgrimage to Jerusalem” during the autumnal festival.[xvii]  During the time of Jerusalem’s First and Second Temples, Sukkot was one of three pilgrimage festivals. Jews traveled to Jerusalem to make the obligatory sacrifices involved with Sukkot,[xviii] and the sukkah built on Sukkot “originated as the temporary shelters erected by pilgrims.”[xix]  Even the timing of Sukkot links celebrants to Jerusalem, as Sukkot occurs at the “time of year that inaugurates the rainy season in the land of Israel.”[xx]

Beyond its pilgrimage ties to Jerusalem, Sukkot is intimately associated with the memory of the First and Second Temples.  Torah readings for Sukkot include accounts of the sacrifices that were brought by priests in the temple on each of the days of the holiday.  One of the haftorahs in the Mazor is 1 Kings 8: 2- 21, which contains Solomon’s Temple dedication address.  This liturgical reading connects Sukkot with the time of the dedication of Solomon’s Temple, and reminded those who attended synagogue services and heard the Torah chanted of their connection with Jerusalem and its temple.[xxi]  The dedication of the second temple also fell around Sukkot.[xxii]

Rubenstein claims that Sukkot “gave expression to fundamental beliefs of the Israelites: the revelation and theosophy, salvation of Israel, the exodus, renewal of the covenant, and the inviolability of Jerusalem.”[xxiii] Observance of Sukkot, which survived the traumatic destruction of the First and Second Temples, continues to assert Jerusalem’s sanctity.  It is possible that Sukkot, with its themes of displacement, God’s protection, and Jerusalem’s “inviolability,” appealed to Ashkenazic Jews in Amsterdam.  Like the Israelites fleeing Egypt, the Ashkenazim left conflict and persecution in countries such as Germany, Lithuania, and Poland.  Another haftorah in the Mazor, Zechariah 14: 1-21, declares that Jewish survivors of a cataclysmic war must go to Jerusalem annually to pay homage to God during Sukkot.[xxiv]  The scripture associated with Sukkot refers to war, something with which the Dutch Ashkenazim were familiar.  Salvation from war, both in Zechariah’s time and the 18thcentury, involves reflecting on Jerusalem’s memory.

At the time of the Mazor’s printing, Jerusalem’s temples were long-destroyed and Jerusalem was under Ottoman rule.  The Ashkenazim yearned both for their homelands and Jerusalem.  As a commercial object produced by Ashkenazic printers for Ashkenazim around the world, the Fordham Mazor demonstrates the unique methods Jews employed in relating to one another as well as their Holy Land.  Reading texts in Yiddish allowed diasporic communities to understand and continue their religious practices despite their distance from Jerusalem and inability to read Hebrew.  At the same time the Ashkenazim were, as Druker believes, modernizing their language and faith, they were maintaining Jerusalem’s memory through their rituals.

The Mazor for Sukkot belongs to the exhibit’s “Regional Relations” section.  The objects in “Regional Relations” span different eras of Jerusalem’s occupation.  From Roman bottles to medieval European indulgences, the objects demonstrate how Jerusalem established itself in the imaginations and practical lives of those outside the city.  The Mazor is at once an emblem of a successful Ashkenazic printing industry and a symbol of diasporic longings for Jerusalem. 


Ashley Conde is a FCRH senior English and Theology major from Los Angeles, CA.  She is interested in Jewish Studies and enjoys listening to music and playing Animal Crossing.

This blog post was originally written for Prof. Sarit Kattan Gribetz’s “Medieval Jerusalem: Jewish Christian, Muslim Perspectives” course; the Maḥzor and this essay will be featured in an upcoming exhibition at Fordham’s Walsh Library.  


Bibliography:

Baskind, Samantha. “Distinguishing the Distinction: Picturing Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews in 

Seventeenth- and Eighteenth-Century Amsterdam.” Journal for the Study of Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry 1, no. 1 (2007): 1-13.

Berger, Shlomo. “Books for the Masses: The Amsterdam Yiddish Book Industry.” European 

Judaism: A Journal for New Europe, 42, no. 2 (2009): 24-33, accessed online December 7, 2002. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41444027.

“First Days of Sukkot: Haftorahs in a Nutshell,” Chabad.org, accessed online December 2, 2020, 

https://www.chabad.org/parshah/article_cdo/aid/742779/jewish/First-Days-of-Sukkot-Haftorahs-in-a-Nutshell.htm.

Kaplan, Josef. “Amsterdam and Ashkenazic Migration in the Seventeenth Century.” Studia 

Rosenthalia 23, (1989): 22-44, accessed online December 7, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/41481726.

Mazor for Sukkot, 1767, Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies— Judaica Collection, Fordham 

University Archives and Special Collections, Fordham University Libraries. https://www.library.fordham.edu/digital/item/collection/p17265coll5/id/5220

Rubenstein, Jeffrey L. A History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods.

Providence: Brown UP, 2020, accessed online December 2, 2020. https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvzpv502.1.

“Sukkot in LBI Collections,” LBI.org, accessed online December 13, 2020, 

https://www.lbi.org/collections/jewish-holidays-lbi-collections/sukkot-lbi-collections/.


[i] Conversation with Professor Gribetz, December 2, 2020

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Berger, “Books for the Masses, “25.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Kaplan, “Amsterdam and Ashkenazic Migration in the Seventeenth Century,” 25.

[vi] Ibid, 37- 38.

[vii] Ibid, 38.

[viii] Baskind, “Distinguishing the Distinction,” 7. 

[ix] Ibid, 10.

[x] Shlomo Berger, “Books for the Masses,” 25.

[xi] Ibid, 27.

[xii] Ibid, 27.

[xiii] Ibid, 28.

[xiv] Ibid, 30.

[xv] Ibid, 31.

[xvi] Ibid, 28.

[xvii] Rubenstein, A History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, 19..

[xviii] Ibid, 25.

[xix] Ibid, 27.

[xx] “Sukkot in LBI Collections.” 

[xxi] “First Days of Sukkot Haftorahs in a Nutshell.”

[xxii] Rubenstein, A History of Sukkot in the Second Temple and Rabbinic Periods, 41. 

[xxiii] Ibid, 21. 

[xxiv] “First days of Sukkot Haftorah in a Nutshell.” 

A 2020-2021 in Review

As the year 2020 and academic year of 2020-2021 come to a close, we turn our thoughts to the bright moments of the year. Despite the pandemic, or perhaps because of it, we were able to launch a series of public programs that reached audiences well beyond Fordham and the New York metropolitan area, to other parts of the US, as far as California and Oregon, to Canada, Brazil, Argentina, Denmark, France, Spain, the UK, Germany, Poland, Italy, Israel, and more. Soon after the pandemic sent us all home we launched a “Zoominar” series on pandemics in Jewish history and society. Then, as we remained home, we continued public programs over the summer, including film virtual screenings, and then through the fall. We look forward to seeing each other in person in 2021 but in the meantime feel free to enjoy the past lectures and conversations that are now available on our YouTube channel.

Thursday, February 13th, 2020

Dear Editor: Advice Columns and the Making of the American Yiddish Press by Ayelet Brinn (live event). Watch.


Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Epidemics, Disease and Plagues in Jewish History & Memory, a conversation between Joshua Teplitsky and Magda Teter. Watch


Wednesday, May 6th, 2020

The Historians and the Memory of  Plagues in Jewish History, part II of the conversation between Joshua Teplitsky and Magda Teter. Watch.


Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Orthodox Jews vs. the State: Responses to COVID-19 in the US, UK, & Israel, a tricontinental panel discussion. Watch.


Sunday, May 31st, 2020

Hidden Heretics: Jewish Doubt in the Digital Age, a conversation with Ayala Fader and Robert Orsi. Watch.


Wednesday, June 10th, 2020

Epidemic and the Marginalized of Society: A View from the Jewish Past, a talk by Natan Meir. Watch.


Thursday, June 16th, 2020

From HIV/AIDS Epidemic to Pride Shabbat: Liturgical and Cultural Transformations in Progressive Judaism, a conversation with Elazar Ben Lulu and Deborah Medgal. Watch.


Thursday, August 6th, 2020

“400 Miles to Freedom: A Perilous Journey from Ethiopia to Israel”: a conversation about the film with director Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen, Steven B. Kaplan, and Kay Shelemay. Watch.


Tuesday, August 18th, 4PM:

Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin, a conversation between the artist Siona Benjamin and art historian Ori Soltes. Watch.


Wednesday, September 9th, 4PM:

A Lens onto the Jewish Past: How do Prints of Eastern European Jewish Life Speak to Us Today? A lecture by Susan Chevlowe, the Director and Chief Curator of Derfner Judaica and The Art Collection. Watch.


Thursday, Sept 24, 4PM: 

Feminine Power in the History of American Jewish Museums, a lecture by Ariel Cohen, University of Virginia. Watch


Thursday October 22, 1PM :

Fordham and Les Enluminures present
“Go forth and learn”: The Artist Joel ben Simeon and a Newly Discovered Hebrew Manuscript. Watch


October 14-November 12:  Visiting Distinguished Scholars Lecture Series:

Moshe Rosman

A SHORT HISTORY OF JEWISH GENDER

Wednesday, October 14th, 12 noon:

Lecture 1: The Genesis of Jewish Gender: From the Bible to the Baal Shem Tov

with a response by Sarit Kattan Gribetz, Fordham University. Watch


Wednesday, October 28th, 12 noon:

Lecture 2: Jewish Gender Expressed: The Synagogue and Other Institutions

with a response by Debra Kaplan, Bar Ilan University . Watch

Wednesday, November 4th, 12 noon:

Lecture 3: Jewish Gender under Review: Early Modern Ambivalence

with a response by Elisheva Carlebach, Columbia University. Watch

Wednesday, November 11th, 12 noon:

Lecture 4: Well-Behaved Women Undermining Jewish Gender, Part I: Leah Horowitz as the Jewish Mary Wollstonecraft?

with a response by Elisheva Baumgarten, Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Watch

Wednesday, November 18th, 12 noon:

Lecture 5: Well-Behaved Women Undermining Jewish Gender, Part II: Glickl Hamel as a Model Jewish Grandmother?

with a response by Ruth von Bernuth, University of North Carolina. Watch


Thursday, November 19, 7PM

A panel discussion of the new film by Anat Tel, “The Church” with George Demacopoulos, Sarah Eltantawi, Sarit Kattan Gribetz, and Michael Peppard, four Fordham professors from the Theology Department whose areas of expertise cover Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Watch.


Sunday, November 22, 1PM:

Nina Rowe, “The Illuminated World Chronicle: Tales from the Late Medieval City” in conversation with Ephraim Shoham-SteinerWatch.


Tuesday, December 1st, 2020

Sarit Kattan Gribetz, “Time and Difference in Rabbinic Judaism” in conversation with Elizabeth Shanks Alexander. Watch.


Thursday, December 3rd, 2020

“Singed by History: Lucy S. Dawidowicz, Polish-Jewish Relations, and Holocaust Historiography,” a talk by Nancy Sinkoff. Watch.


Wednesday, December 9th, 4:30PM:

Alon Tam, “Nostalgia: Remembering The Jewish Community In Egypt”


Spring 2021 Public Events in Jewish Studies at Fordham

Watch a short video about registering for our events. It can be tricky.

Tuesday, January 19th, 12PM: 

Rebekka Grossman 

“On Turning Local Sites into Global Sights: When Zionist Politics Met Photography”

Salo Baron New Voices in Jewish Studies Award Lecture in partnership with Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies

Watch


Wednesday, February 3rd, 4PM: 

Jacqueline Nicholls 

“Learn Talmud Like An Artist”

Watch


Wednesday, February 10th, 4PM: 

Golan Y. Moskowitz 

“Maurice Sendak in Queer Jewish Context”

in conversation with Naomi Seidman

Watch


Wednesday, February 17th, 1PM:

Ephraim Shoham-Steiner

 “Jews and Crime in Medieval Europe”
in conversation with Nicholas Paul and Magda Teter

Watch


Wednesday, February 24th, 4PM: 

Roy Holler 

“Multiple Identity Politics: The Passing Narratives of Dahn Ben-Amotz”
in conversation with Katya Gibel Mevorach

Salo Baron New Voices in Jewish Studies Award Lecture in partnership with Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies

Watch


Thursday, March 4th, 4PM: 

Book Club Event
Eva Mroczek
 

“The Literary Imagination in Jewish Antiquity,” in conversation with Karina Martin Hogan and Karen Stern

Watch


Wednesday, March 10th, 1PM:

Hanan Mazeh 

The Land of Israel or Syria Palestina: Reconceptualization of Territory in Rabbinic Literature”

Watch


Monday, March 15th, 4PM: 

Pratima Gopalakrishnan 

“Family and Other Fictions in Late Antique Jewish Society”

Salo Baron New Voices in Jewish Studies Award Lecture in partnership with Columbia University’s Institute for Israel and Jewish Studies

Watch


Wednesday, April 7, 12 noon:

Zohar Segev

“Rethinking the Dilemma of Bombing Auschwitz: Support, Opposition, and Reservation”

Watch


Tuesday, April 13th, 12 noon: 

“Jewish Ceremonial Art: Continuing the Conversation”
Laura Arnold Leibman and Maya Balakirsky Katz in dialogue with Magda Teter

A program in memory of Vivian B. Mann,
presented in partnership with the Jewish Museum

Watch


Thursday, April 22nd, 12 noon: 

Michal Kravel Tovi 

“On Winks and Lies: The Performance of Sincerity and Jewish Conversion in Israel” in conversation with Omri Elisha

Watch


Thursday, April 29th, 4pm: 

Mika Ahuvia

“On My Right Michael, On My Left Gabriel: Angels in Ancient Jewish Culture”
in conversation with Sarit Kattan Gribetz

Watch


Wednesday, May 5th, 12 noon:

“The Pius XII Archives and the Jews: First Notes and Research Hypotheses”
Panel featuring David Kertzer, Maria Chiara Rioli, and Nina Valbousquet
moderated by David Gibson and Magda Teter

This event is co-hosted between Fordham University’s Center for Jewish Studies in New York and Ca’ Foscari University’s Department of Asian and North African Studies, and co-sponsored by Fordham’s Center on Religion and Culture.


To keep up-to-date about upcoming events, sign up for our newsletter.

All events are possible through the generosity of The Joseph Alexander Foundation, The Knapp Family Foundation, The Picket Family Foundation, the Shvidler Gift Fund to Fordham University, and individual donations from friends of the Center for Jewish Studies at Fordham.

Siddur Minḥat ‘Erev: A French/Hebrew Prayer Book from Cairo

Sophie Hamlin FCRH’22
Siddur Minḥat ʻerev: Minḥah Ṿe-ʻaravit = Office de preières: Min’ha et ‘arbit (Pour la semaine et le samedi), traduction francaise par un groupe de rabbins (Le Caire : Editions Dath, 1943). SPEC COLL Judaica 1943.

Measuring only 4.5 by 5.5 inches, the French and Hebrew prayer book Sidur Minhat ‘Erev[i], is not eye-catching in the slightest. It has a plain, peach-colored cover, void of any markings beside those accidentally added over time. The binding is falling apart but the pages are in good condition, suggesting that while this book was certainly used, it may not have been the well-loved, well-worn prayer book carried everywhere with a person. It appears to be cheaply made and boasts no grandeur in the slightest. However, this book can shed an interesting light on the life of Jews, specifically French-speaking Jews living in Cairo at the time of World War II. 

This prayer book was published in 1943 in Cairo, Egypt by the publisher Editions DathIt is a Jewish prayer book meant specifically for everyday use and the Sabbath as is described in the subtitle “Pour la semaine et le samedi”. It contains prayers written in Hebrew characters juxtaposed against French translations of the same prayers. There is no available information as to who precisely translated this prayer book, other than the ambiguous note “French translation by a group of rabbis”. In fact, the only name actually mentioned is that of Rabbi Dr. Moses Ventura, the chief rabbi of Alexandria (1937 – 1948), who wrote the French foreword to the text. Upon further research, there appears to be only one other reference to Rabbi Ventura on databases available at Fordham. In the footnotes of Dr. Nadia Malinovich’s PhD dissertation “Le Reveil D’israel: Jewish Identity and Culture in France, 1900 – 1932,”[ii] there is a reference to another book in which a man named Moishe Ventura wrote a foreword.[iii] Rabbi Ventura’s involvement in the two books book illustrates the vibrancy of the Egyptian Jewish community in the early-mid 20th century. Although the Sidur Minhat ‘Erev had limited circulation throughout Cairo, it still contained a foreword from the chief rabbi of Alexandria, a rabbi who had two works published in French, evidencing the widespread influence of French schooling in Egypt.

Another mystery lies in the publisher of this prayer book, Editions Dath. Editions Dath appears not to have published any other books, at least none on record. In fact, even the book at hand, Sidur Minhat ‘Erev, has only two recorded copies in the world. One at Fordham University and the other in The National Library of Israel[iv]. However, the lack of information concerning the publisher can actually reveal quite a bit about the circumstances of this book’s publication. It is more than likely that only one edition of these siddurim was ever circulated, due to the lack of surviving copies. Furthermore, it is clear that the printing was done cheaply, as many pages are printed quite crookedly. 

The book was printed specifically for the French-speaking Jews in Cairo, not for a large-scale audience, and Editions Dath was likely a publishing company set up by those in this community, influenced by schools founded by the French. The question remains, who precisely made up the French speaking Jewish community in Cairo? While one could a group of French immigrants, more likely it was educated Egyptian Jews. In the 20th century, many Cairo Jews went to French schools established by Alliance Israelite Universelle. According to Joel Beinin, “… the use of French in the community schools [was] a result of the proselytization of the Alliance Israelite Universelle”[v]. Alliance Israelite Universelle, a French Jewish organization focused on educating Jews in the Balkans and the Middle East on Jewish and French culture,[vi] came to Cairo around 1903. By the time this siddur was written, French was the language being taught in schools to most Sephardic Jews. Consequently, this prayer book could be used not only by the French Jews in Cairo, but by all French speaking Sephardic Jews.  

This book is not ornate; it has no pictures and is in mediocre condition. There are water stains throughout and, as earlier mentioned, is falling apart at the binding. This is not the book of a religious official, nor a remarkably wealthy man. This is the book of an average man, leading one to conclude that even the average man at the time spoke Hebrew. (It is clearly a man’s book because women at the time could not practice religion in the same way. This is evidenced by the distinct lack of mention of female prophets in prayers such as the Amidah, as is common in traditional Sephardic practice.)

The book in Fordham’s Special Collections likely belonged to an average, yet educated Cairo Sephardic man. The font is large enough that it can be assumed the book was meant for personal use. However, there is a distinct lack of transliteration meaning that either a) the intended user spoke Hebrew or b) simply would follow along with the French translation as the rabbi conducted a service. 

On the inside the front cover of this copy of Sidur Minhat ‘Erev at some point the owner wrote a note in Hebrew script about the owner’s migration to Israel with the book. The book was owned by an Egyptian family Mansour (Mantsur), and was still used after they migrated to Israel. Hebrew notes on the inside cover demonstrate that the owner of this book spoke Hebrew, at least after he and the family moved to Israel. 

Published in 1943, the book appeared at the height of World War II, soon after the Allied defeat of the Nazis in Egypt. In the 1940s, Egyptian Jews appear to have published other texts: at least two Haggadot,[vii], another siddur,[viii] and a fiction book.[ix] To contrast, WorldCat only revealed one French Jewish text originating in Cairo outside of that era – a siddur written in 1917.[x]Jews in Cairo were thriving in the early 1940s, and yet they were so close to a mass exodus out of Egypt.[xi] It is remarkable that just years before many of the Jews left for Israel, they were a thriving, intellectually stimulating community living with enough stability to produce a number of books.

The note inside cover of the prayer book lists family deaths of the Mansour (מנצור) family including one member who died in the Six-Day war. The note also mentions synagogue in Israel, Shaarei Asher in shikun bet.

An interesting picture is painted of 1940s Jewish Cairo. It seems to be a productive, educated community, and yet it is only a few years away from a major disruption. The fact that many would have spoken not only Arabic but, also French and Hebrew points to a level of literacy higher than average. The number of surviving volumes from this era also shows the emphasis placed on furthering Jewish education. This small, 213-paged, peach-colored book originated, Sidur Minhat ‘Erev, which, stand-alone, is certainly quite obscure, actually has much to tell about World War II era Cairo, and offers a glimpse into the lift of Jews there.


This essay was written in fall of 2018, during Sophie Hamlin’s first semester at Fordham, within a course on modern Jewish history (HIST 1851) taught by Professor Magda Teter. Their essays, some of which will be featured here, were published in a volume “You Can Judge Books by Their Covers Jewish History through Used Books.” Fordham’s Judaica collection prides itself in collecting books that were used and popular, often quite quotidian and ordinary, for they reflect a broader Jewish culture that might not be visible through expensive extraordinary items.


[i] Sidur Minḥat ʻerev: Minhav Ṿe-ʻaravit = Office De Preières: Min’ha Et ‘Arbit (Pour La Semaine Et Le Samedi). ‏ וערבית מנחה: סדור מנחת ערב = Office De Preières : Min’ha Et ‘Arbit (Pour La Semaine Et Le Samedi) /‏ ‏Traduction Francaise Par Un Groupe De Rabbins. Le Caire : Editions Dath, ©1943.

[ii] Nadia Donna Malinovich, “Le Reveil D’israel: Jewish Identity and Culture in France, 1900–1932 – Proquest” (Web, University of Michigan, 2000).

[iii] Judah Ha-Lévi, “Le Livre Du Kuzari,” Bibliothéque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Hébreu 757 .

[iv]  וערבית מנחה :‏ ערב מנחת סדור, 1 ed. (Le Caire: Editions Dath, 5704 – 1943).

[v] Joel Beinin, The Dispersion of Egyption Jewry: Culture, Politics, and the Formation of a Modern Diaspora(Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).

[vi] “Alliance Israelite Universelle,” Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/alliance-israelite-universelle.

[vii] Hagadah Shel Pesah :Ke-Fi Minhag Sefaradim = La Haggadah De Pessach a L’usage Du Rite Sefardi (Cairo, Egypt: Feliks Mizrahi, 1945); Hagadah shel Pesah kefi minhag k”k sefardim im targum aravi be-otiyot araviot (Cairo: Hotsaʼat ha-Mizraḥ, 5706 [1945 or 1946]), SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1946 1.

[viii] Alexandre Créhange, Sidur Sha`Are Tefilah (Cairo, Egypt1946).

[ix] Segulah:Le-Hantsal Hu U-Vene Beto Min Ha-Sakanah Umi-Mikrim Ra`im (Cairo: Defus Yosef Yehezkel, 1940).

[x] Hillel ben Jacob Farhi, Siddur Farhi, 4th Edition ed. (Wyckoff, NJ; Cairo, Egypt2003, 1917).

[xi] Beinin.

The Ethical Will, Embodied: American Jewish Museums and the Women Who Created Them

By Ariel Paige Cohen

We are on the precipice of the largest intergenerational wealth transfer in human history. Over the course of the next 10 years alone, at least $4.1 trillion is expected to change hands from American baby boomers to their millennial and Gen Z children. The United States is currently the country with the most ultra-high net worth individuals, and individuals account for four out of every five philanthropic dollars in the United States (foundations and corporations account for the other 20%). Additionally, of all ethnic groups in North America, Jews give the most to charity per capita as of 2016 reports by Giving USA.[1] As a result, many of those who will be giving wealth to and receiving wealth from their loved ones over the course of the coming decades are, or might become, Jewish philanthropists – that is, self-identifying Jews who are donors, and/or people who give to Jewish organizations and causes. 

History is informing these donors’ giving practices even if individuals aren’t always aware of it. Some scholars are exploring the ways in which philanthropy has defined the twentieth-century evolution of the American Jewish community, including Lila Corwin Berman in her new book, The American Jewish Philanthropic Complex. These important studies show us the processes from history that created the present giving landscape. But the “ethical will” concept and the legacy of cultural philanthropy are both largely ignored in American Jewish studies, and both are vital keys to understanding the history of American Jewish philanthropy as a whole. This article offers two American Jewish museums as case studies for the ways in which the built environment can serve as an embodied version of the ethical will. Perhaps with a greater understanding of the history of American Jewish philanthropy, complete with intergenerational transfers of ethical values and the history of American Jewish museums, the next generation of donors will be empowered to lean on the tools and traditions of Jewish history in their own giving. Further, because Jewish cultural philanthropy was first envisioned by women, this history urges a move toward gender equity in the narrative of Jewish philanthropy. Let us examine what these intertwined histories of Jewish ethical wills and American Jewish museums have to offer us. 

The first Jewish museums in our country with their own independent addresses were created by women in New York and in Boston. Through their visionary writings and donations, these two philanthropists, one a wealthy German Jewish heiress and the other an educated middle-class rebbetzin, promoted a vision that left an indelible mark on American Jewish identity and that shaped the earliest Jewish museums in North America. By creating the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue (famously still extant today) and the historical Jewish Museum of Boston, Frieda Schiff Warburg and Mignon Levine Rubenovitz wrote their own ethical wills, reclaiming and reinventing a masculinized practice from medieval Judaism.

Left: Entrance hall of the Warburg mansion, as it was originally furnished. Right: the entrance as it appears today as the Jewish Museum’s Skirball Lobby; installation view from the exhibition Using Walls, Floors, and Ceilings: Valeska Soares, November 6, 2015-April 25, 2016. Photo by: David Heald.

The ethical will hails from the men of medieval Jewish communities primarily residing in France and Germany. Leaning on biblical precedent, the first medieval writers of ethical wills used Genesis 48 as a template for their own writings and cited it as a binding decree for fathers to write “moral exhortations” for their children.[2] In Genesis, Jacob gathers his sons and grandchildren before his death and says: 

May the G-d before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the G-d who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm – may he bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth. (Genesis 48:16).

In medieval Europe, ethical wills were written exclusively by Jewish fathers to their children. Designed for private, familial use and written in informal language, they revealed the emotional composition – fears, hopes, dreams, frailties – of the author. As Stefanie Siegmund has shown, some ethical wills hailing from the Spanish inquisition commanded readers to do business honestly, wear special clothes on the Sabbath and other occasions, honor one’s body, and practice sexual modesty. As Jacob Marcus has uncovered, some from fourteenth century Germany discuss charity, refraining from speaking out of turn, reciting blessings, and living in primarily Jewish neighborhoods. As Israel Abrams has demonstrated, some ethical wills even enter into Jewish philosophical debates and command children to adhere to one leader or another (for example, Maimonides).

The ethical will was scantly present in the later early modern Jewish communities but has not disappeared from the Western world. During industrialization in the 1880s, wealthy Americans, Christian and Jewish, revived the concept, writing ethical wills as detailed estate plans to be used by their families after their deaths. In the early 20thcentury, chaplains and caretakers for patients in hospice began to help men and women compose ethical wills orally or in writing as a comfort to the dying and an offering to the living. American celebrity physician Dr. Andrew Weil now defines ethical wills as documents of intergenerational spiritual healing, bridging gaps between parents and their sons and daughters. 

In 1926, the first-ever compilation of Hebrew ethical wills was published in the United States by the Jewish Publication Society.[3] During this interwar period, as many American Jews became middle-class, they confronted massive societal changes and decentralized communities. The immigration acts of 1921 and 1924 dramatically decreased the number of Jewish immigrants, and successful American Jews began searching for the instruments of community that would not only keep Jewish global heritage alive but could creatively remake it with each generation. Frieda Schiff Warburg, named JTS’s first female board member in 1937, began to consider creative ways to commemorate and breathe life into the global Jewish experience of millennia past, and to pass Jewish history and ethics on from her own generation to the next. 

 In January 1944, Frieda Schiff Warburg wrote a seminal letter to the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary announcing her donation of the Warburg family’s three-story Gothic mansion on the corner of 92nd street and Fifth Avenue. She envisioned her home as a museum:

With the consent of my children, I am now ready and glad to offer my former home… to the Jewish Seminary of America to be used as a Museum… I would like my gift to be [remembered as]… my affirmation of my faith in the fundamental principles of our Jewish Traditions, which can be helpful and constructive in the problems of the World Today… It gives me great happiness to think that the house… should now continue to live on to further the ideals of our family traditions.

Schiff Warburg’s correspondences and 1956 memoir reveal that she imagined the Jewish Museum as an ethical will to her own children and grandchildren as well as to the American people. When Moses gave the Torah to the Israelites in Deuteronomy, which is often cited as a second template for the ethical will, he predicted their successes if they adhered to G-d’s ethical code. Similarly, in her writings Frieda Schiff Warburg predicted the open-mindedness and successes of the Jews and Americans who would walk through the halls of her former home. Invoking her children and future grandchildren in her letters and speeches leading up to the opening event, Schiff Warburg clarified her mission: to steer future Americans in the directions of cultural pluralism, interfaith dialogue, and artistic richness. 

 In Boston, there was another American Jewish woman moved to display Jewish objects as pleas to present and future Jews to pass along values from one generation to another. Motivated more by fear, loss and devastation than her distal friend Schiff Warburg, Rebbetzin Mignon Levine Rubenovitz of Boston’s prominent Conservative outpost Temple Mishkan Tefila called upon American Jews to “rescue Jewish history from the broken hands of those who live under the malignant skies of Europe.” Levine Rubenovitz began to collect objects and to write about a future Jewish Museum in Boston when the Nazis rose to power in 1933. In 1940, she founded her museum as a model of the “great responsibility” of American Jews: to liberate Jewish objects from Europe and guard them in the United States on behalf of world Jewry. In other words, her museum was her own version of an ethical will, too, pleading for American Jews to keep Jewish ritual objects safe for future generations. In her founding museum document, she wrote: 

Perhaps I have told you enough to convey our underlying purposes – the quiet, painstaking salvaging of the symbols of Jewish values, of Jewish idealism and dignity, at a time when millions of our innocent and unoffending coreligionists were ground into the dust. Here a precious few of Jewish treasures are treasured: Jewish aspirations made concrete. While the guns roared in Europe where our people, martyred, fed the flames, we unceasingly pursued our peaceful task of succoring, albeit in small measure, the things they wrought to express their belief in the sacredness of human personality and its corollary, the faith that freedom would not, must not, perish from the earth.

Now, in 2020, as Jewish elders prepare to leave our earth, many are concerned with imparting their legacies and inherited Jewish values to the next generation. Several years ago, a group of Jews got together to form the Jewish Future Pledge which calls upon all Jewish donors to give 50% of their philanthropy to Jewish causes. American Jews are increasingly turning to outside organizations for help in facilitating conversations with their children, who they hope will be next-generation givers to Jewish causes. Many fear a looming loss of Jewish history, culture, and practice in next-generation America. Some want to invest in the Jewish non-profits that will serve and maintain community for generations to come.

Some Jews are now also reviving an ancient and medieval Jewish concept to pass along their ethics to their children. The ethical will, filled with spiritual, religious, and ethical significance to the Jewish people specifically, is serving a renewed purpose in families and private spheres as we prepare for the world’s largest-ever transition of intergenerational wealth. One might wonder whether the next Frieda Schiff Warburg or Mignon Rubenovitz is on the horizon to explore the ethical will through an altogether new modality. As more ethical wills are being written in the traditional style – with words on paper – I am curious to see whether more will be written in nontraditional styles that set precedent for future Jewish ventures. I predict that women, again, will imagine them. 


Ariel Paige Cohen was a Fordham-NYPL Research Fellow in the Fall of 2020. She spoke about “Feminine Power in the History of American Jewish Museums” in September, 2020.


[1] https://givingusa.org/just-released-giving-usa-special-report-on-giving-to-religion/

[2] I. Abrahams, “Jewish Ethical Wills,” The Jewish Quarterly Review 3, no. 3 (1891): 436–84, https://doi.org/10.2307/1450009, 448.

[3] Israel Abrahams,צואות גאוני ישראל (Jewish Publication Society of America, 1926).

Sefer mitsvot ha-gadol of 1546/7, a story of a used book

by Andrew Pace FCRH’22

The physical qualities of books, regardless of the content of the text itself, such as condition, format, design, fonts, and many more are valuable pointers to show how and by whom a book would have been used during its lifetime. Bibliographical records on the author and publisher can also help the reader understand the style in which the book was written and published. There is no better instance where this is the case than in Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol by Moses ben Jacob of Coucy and published by the world-renowned Venetian publisher Daniel Bomberg in 1546/7. 

Moses of Coucy, Sefer mitsvot ha-gadol (Venice: Daniel Bomberg, 1546/47). Fordham University, Walsh Family Library, O’Hare Special Collections, + SPEC COLL JUDAICA 1546 1A

Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol is arguably Moses ben Jacob of Coucy’s most celebrated work. Fordham owns two copies of the 1546/7 edition. The Mitsvot ha-gadol, as it is commonly known, or “Se-Ma-G,” for short, includes the principles of the Rabbinic Oral Law and is divided into two sections: positive and negative precepts.[1] Due to its popularity and importance to rabbinic learning, the Mitsvot ha-gadol had been widely distributed in the Middle Ages and published in print several times as well.[2]

Its first publication took place in Rome sometime between 1469 and 1480, by Obadiah, Menasheh and Benjamin of Rome.[3] Subsequently, it was published in 1488 by Gershom Soncino in Soncino, the Duchy of Milan.[4] According to Israel Moses Ta-Shema, the final publication of this book during the pre-modern era took place in 1546 by Daniel Bomberg.[5] This edition was the last until the nineteenth century. Bomberg’s print shop in Venice, Italy, became famous for its Hebrew publications, including the first full edition of the Talmud, with what would be come a standard foliation of the work. There have also been a number of great scholars who have written commentaries on this work including, Isaac Stein, Joseph Colon, Elijah Mizrachi, Solomon Luria, and Hayyim Benveniste. However, as demonstrated by the lack of publications after 1546/7, the Mitsvot ha-gadol fell out of use, likely because it was replaced by the Shulhan Arukh around the time it was published in 1565.[6]

Fordham’s unexpurgated copy of Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol is bound in a green cardboard cover with brown leather spine. The book measures thirty-two-point-five centimeters by twenty-three centimeters (Figure 1). 

The large size of this book suggests that it was used as a reference book. The worn condition of the cover shows that it was frequently used. 

Although the outside of the book gives the reader a general understanding of its use, the pages tell a whole story in themselves. The title page of the Mitsvot ha-gadol has a large image of an archway with words embedded under the arch, known as a head-piece (Figure 2).[7]

Fig. 2

These words are divided into three sections. The topmost set of words is arranged in two lines of dark black letters which are written in the largest font size out of the four sections. This is the title of the respective section of the book which follows this page. The second section of words is split into two identically-shaped paragraphs, preceded by a line of words with a larger text size than the two paragraphs, but smaller than the first section of words. These paragraphs taper down from a full line to one word at the bottom, resembling two upside-down triangles on top of each other. Moreover, the size of the text of this section is quite smaller than that of the first section and is printed in a different typeset. This text briefly explains the purpose and usefulness the positives precepts which are held in the first part of the book.[8] The third and final section of text presents itself in three lines which are separated by a space. The first line is very similar to the second, except that the first line is written in more of a rounded Hebrew font, while the font of the second line seems to be much more boxlike or square. However, the third line is much different than both. This line is very short and has a larger, broader font than lines one and two. These three lines are likely the closing remarks of the paragraphs in the second section of words. 

While there is much to say about the text of the title page, the relatively poor physical condition of the page is immediately apparent as well (Fig. 2). There is tape all around the edges of the page indicating that there was damage which needed to be repaired. The binding is visibly very worn, weak and appears to have water damage. Finally, there is also writing which was done by hand in between the lines and letters of the above-mentioned three sections of words. Ironically enough, on the inside cover of the book and adjacent to the title page, someone had written, “Writing in this book is prohibited,” about fifteen times in Hebrew (Fig. 3).

Fig. 3

The age of this book is apparent on the page following the title page as well (Figure 4). All over the page are spots and browning that come with the book aging process. This process is known as “foxing.” Besides the foxing on this page, there are also holes in the paper which are seen on the majority of the pages, known as “wormholes.”[9]

Fig. 4

As consistent with the title page, there is also water damage and tape on the edges of the paper. Besides the physical qualities of this page, there is also evidence of Daniel Bomberg’s employment of foliation in the top left corner above the text, which made it easier to navigate a large resource such as the Mitsvot ha-gadol.[10] Furthermore, this page has three large Hebrew letters at the top of the page boxed in by an ornate design, which is displayed in a similar fashion to a head-piece or vignette.[11] One may also note that at the top of the page and besides the ornate box there are large words which most likely identify the section of the book that the reader is currently in. Finally, where the text begins in the first paragraph, the first Hebrew word is capitalized. This typographical method is used to add emphasis and is known as an initial or drop cap.[12] While the first page holds many particular observations, the rest of the book is more or less quite uniformly designed.

Fig. 5

The standard page in the Mitsvot ha-gadol includes two columns of text (Figure 5). Beside the columns and in indented sections of the paragraphs are notes in a smaller font size than the text. These serve as references to the sources in which Moses ben Jacob used. Many of these, but not all, are direct references to the Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, which is said to be directly cited on at least every page.[13] These pages are numbered in the top outer corners and have large words at the top of the page which identify the section of the book as either the positive or negative precepts.[14] Additionally, at the end of the first section, there are large darkened words which specify that the section is over, and a new section begins with the same archway that is observed on the title page of the book (Figure 6).   

Fig. 6

The Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol was written by Moses ben Jacob of Coucy, who was born in France and, in 1236, became an itinerant preacher in Spain.[15] During the rise of rationalization in Spain, the adherence to the precepts of the Jewish faith became fairly permissive. Consequently, Moses ben Jacob began his work on the Mitsvot ha-gadol to address the precepts and commandments. He arranged, as is traditional, the precepts into positive and negative sections of the book and organized them in such a way that the reader could distinguish which applied to their time and which did not.[16] Although educating its reader on the precepts may have been a primary motivating factor behind the writing of the Mitsvot ha-gadol, Moses ben Jacob also states in the introduction of the positive precepts that, “A man may learn his entire life and still fail to attain knowledge of a particular commandment, and this is due to the length of the Talmud, the dialectic reasoning, and to the fact that one commandment may appear in several places.”[17] So, this book was also meant to be used alongside the Talmud as a reference due to its complexity, and, therefore, the target audience would have been narrowed to scholars who were already immersed in Talmudic studies. Following the great success of the Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol, Moses ben Jacob also went on to author another work. He wrote a commentary on the tractate Yoma which was titled “Tosefot Yeshanim.” This commentary, however, was not published until 1735 in Berlin.[18]

Daniel Bomberg, the printer of Fordham’s Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol, was one of the most prolific publishers of Jewish texts during the 16th century. Bomberg, a native of Antwerp, moved to Venice in 1516, which was the center of Jewish and Christian writing in the 15th century.[19] Here, he opened a print shop and began specializing in printing Hebrew bibles, famously printing the Rabbinic Bible, which became known as the Bomberg Bible in 1517. The Bomberg Bible solidified Daniel Bomberg’s reputation amongst 16th-century printers because, through its many successive printings, it became the golden standard for Hebrew scriptures in the Jewish tradition.[20] In dominating the competitive printing scene, Bomberg also took business from other printers, such as Gershom Soncino, the preeminent printer of medieval Hebrew works and one of the earlier publishers of the Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol (in 1488).  Years later, Soncino wrote, “The Venetian printers copied my books and published, in addition, whatever they could lay their hands on. They tried hard to ruin me…”[21] Clearly referring to Bomberg as a “Venetian printer,” Soncino admits that Bomberg was outpacing him and, subsequently, ruining his career. The very notion that Bomberg could take a work, such as the Mitsvot ha-gadol, from the distinguished Gershom Soncino and print a superior version in his own style is a testament to his success.

         Daniel Bomberg also published dozens of other influential pieces of Hebrew literature. This included works like Sefer ha-shorashim by David Kimhi and Elijah Levita, which goes into detail about the Hebrew language itself, and Hamishah humshe Torah ; Neviim Rishonim; Arba `a Neviim Aharonim ; Ketuvim,” a collection of commentaries on the Old Testament of the Bible compiled from four volumes into one book in 1521.[22] Bomberg also famously printed the first full foliated edition of the Talmud in 1520. A specialty of his, the addition of page numbers made reading texts like the Talmud much more accessible because it allowed people to easily locate sections of the book without having to refer to the chapter and verse. This foliation became standardized in the printing of the Talmud.[23]

         The Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol has engraved its name as one of the most distinguished pieces of Hebrew works in medieval Europe. It presented the negative and positive precepts in a clear and usable way. When the printing press was invented, it was one of the first Hebrew works to be printed, and the book had such success that several distinguished scholars wrote commentaries on the work. Fordham’s copy of the Mitsvot ha-gadol was printed in 1546/7, by the notable printer, Daniel Bomberg, in Venice. This was the last publication of this important halakhic compendium in the pre-modern period and was not republished again until the 19th century. The fact that it survived throughout the centuries and was still studied by scholars in Europe even after it ceased to be published points towards its importance. Furthermore, as evidenced by the physical examination of this book, it was undeniably frequently used, its owners trying to repair and preserve the work. Although it was not published again until the 1800s, it is beyond doubt that the Sefer Mitsvot ha-gadol has left a lasting impact on the history of Jewish law and culture. 


This essay was written in fall of 2018, during Andrew Pace’s first semester at Fordham, within a course on modern Jewish history (HIST 1851) taught by Professor Magda Teter. Their essays, some of which will be featured here, were published in a volume “You Can Judge Books by Their Covers Jewish History through Used Books.” Fordham’s Judaica collection prides itself in collecting books that were used and popular, often quite quotidian and ordinary, for they reflect a broader Jewish culture that might not be visible through expensive extraordinary items.


[1] Israel Moses Ta-Shema, “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy,” Encyclopaedia Judaica 14 (2018).

[2] Ta-Shema, “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy.”

[3] of Coucy Moses ben Jacob, Sefer Mitsvot Gadol. (Rome: [Rome] : [Obadiah, Menasheh and Benjamin of Rome, ca. 1469-1472], 1469-1480).

[4] of Coucy Moses ben Jacob, Sefer Mizot Gadol (Book of Precepts). (Duchy of Milan Gershom Soncino, 1488).

[5] Ta-Shema, “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy.”

[6] Conversation with Professor Teter; September 26, 2018

[7] John Carter and Nicolas Barker, Abc for Book Collectors, 8th ed. (New Castle, DE; London: Oak Knoll Press; The British Library, 2004).

[8] Yehuda Dov Galinsky, “The Significance of Form: R. Moses of Coucy’s Reading Audience and His ‘Sefer Ha-Miẓvot’,” AJS Review, no. 2 (2011).

[9] Dialogue with Professor Teter; September 26, 2018 

[10] Professor Magda Teter Class Lecture; September 6, 2018

[11] Carter and Barker, Abc for Book Collectors.

[12] Ina Saltz, Typography Essentials : 100 Design Principles for Working with Type, Design Essentials (Quayside Publishing Group, 2009).

[13] Ta-Shema, “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy.”

[14] Ta-Shema, “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy.”

[15] Ta-Shema, “Moses Ben Jacob of Coucy.”

[16] Galinsky, “The Significance of Form.”

[17] Galinsky, “The Significance of Form.”

[18] of Coucy Moses ben Jacob, Tosefot Yeshanim. (Berlin1735).

[19] “Bomberg, Daniel (1483–1553) [Bomberg, Daniel],” The Oxford Dictionary of the Renaissance.

[20] David Shepherd, “Before Bomberg: The Case of the Targum of Job in the Rabbinic Bible and the Solger Codex (Ms Nürnberg),” Biblica 79, no. 3 (1998).

[21] Jacob Rader Marcus, 1896-1995. and Marc. Saperstein, The Jew in the Medieval World: A Source Book, 315-1791, Rev. ed. ed. (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1999).

[22] Daniel Bomberg, Hamishah Humshe Torah ; Neviim Rishonim ; Arba`a Neviim Aharonim ; [Ketuvim]. Nidpas shenit ed. (Venice, Italy: Daniel Bomberg, 1521); David Kimhi and Elijah Levita, Sefer Ha-Shorashim. (Daniel Bomberg, 1546).

[23] Professor Magda Teter Class Lecture; September 6, 2018

On Saying Their Names—Remembering Pittsburgh

By W. David Myers

I arrived in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania via El Paso, Texas and Prague, in the Czech Republic. 

On October 27, 2018, I was in Prague on a research trip when the shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation occurred. News was sparse, in large part because mass shootings in the United States are so common that international news organizations now present them as part of the daily news.  11 people were murdered, and others injured, during Sabbath prayer services that morning.  When I returned to the United States from Europe that November, the midterm elections had occurred, and the Pittsburgh tragedy had already faded from the news and the nation’s awareness. Then, in August 2019, a gunman walked into a Walmart in my hometown of El Paso and opened fire with another assault rifle, specifically targeting Mexicans and Latinos, killing 23 and wounding 23 others. The frantic day of phone calls and texts focused attention narrowly on my community (very Latino), my family (half Latino), my childhood friends (mostly Latino). One month later, in El Paso, I was able to visit and to walk the wall of tributes that sprang up spontaneously, and it was there that I saw this message from the Jewish Community Center—of Pittsburgh.  

“The JCC of Greater Pittsburgh Stands with El Paso, Texas.” Photo: W. David Myers

Suddenly it became clear to me that communities seemingly separated by geography, culture, and ethnicity were in fact closely connected not only by tragedy and compassion, but also alas by hate. Pittsburgh, far from El Paso, now seemed very near indeed, and from there it was only a small journey to Charleston, South Carolina, and the church shootings of June 17, 2015, in which 9 members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were gunned down during a bible study.

Three different cities, three different cultures, even three different religious traditions – same fate, similar cause. The United States has stopped listening to the “better angels of our nature” and is drifting back toward a history of violence based on racial and religious hatred fueled by conspiracy theories about children abducted and then murdered for obscure cultish practices.  In this regard, the Pittsburgh attack is particularly instructive. The murderer is an acknowledged white supremacist whose extreme anti-Semitic convictions led him to target the Jewish community specifically. It’s also striking that an explicit motive for his attack was the HIAS (Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) support for refugees from Central America. He expressed concern about the “migrant caravans” supposedly hurtling northward in an assault on the American border before the midterm elections. El Paso, Texas, one must recall, was and is a major destination for immigrants and more recently refugees. The Jewish community of Pittsburgh came under attack in part for its compassionate response to the very people who would be attacked 1800 miles away and 9 months later. As history shows, any conspiracy theory or hysteria over immigration in the United States will inevitably touch the Jewish community. As William Faulkner famously noted, “The past is never dead. It isn’t even past.” This brings me back to Prague. On the day before  the Pittsburgh attack, I was wandering through the amazing Jewish Museum spread throughout the Jewish Quarter, ending up at the old Jewish Cemetery. Of course it was a melancholy and profoundly moving experience—a graveyard, after all, and one of the few Jewish cemeteries in Central Europe to survive the Nazis. Looking about me, I thought of the vibrant but nonetheless embattled community these graves represented. Their existence—and survival—in a turbulent and often-hateful environment are testimony that for this community, these lives mattered and still matter, not just generally, but in their particularity as Jewish lives. My visit to the Pinkas Synagogue – the second oldest surviving synagogue in Prague—only strengthened this sense, because inscribed on its walls are the names of 77,297 Moravian and Bohemian Jews killed in the Holocaust. “Say their names” is no empty slogan but an affirmation of existence and humanity.

The Pinkas Synagogue, Prague. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

That, for me, is one of the takeaways from the Pittsburgh tragedy, and from those other tragedies that have intersected with it. In the United States today, a central cultural and political debate focuses on whose lives matter. For some, the easy fallback is the claim that all lives matter. On the other hand, in Prague the destruction of the cemetery would have meant erasing not just individual lives, but the life of the Jewish community. Only by preserving the particular was it possible to recognize that Jewish lives counted, that they matter. This is why we must say their names. The same is true for Latinos in my hometown, and for Black Americans in Charleston and elsewhere who have to fight for the simple recognition that Black Lives Matter.  Only when we finally accept this can we move on to some more universal affirmation. 


W. David Myers is Professor of History at Fordham University. He is the author of “Poor, Sinning Folk”: Confession and the Making of Consciences in Counter-Reformation Germany (1996) and Death and a Maiden: Infanticide and the Tragical History of Grethe Schmidt (2012). He is currently the reviews editor of Renaissance Quarterly. Professor Myers is completing a new book, “American Torture and the Experience of the West.”

Jewish theatre in Buenos Aires (1930-1950) and its connections with the New York Yiddish theatre

by Paula Ansaldo, University of Buenos Aires

During the twentieth century, the city of Buenos Aires was one of the main centers of Jewish culture and theatre. The great Yiddish theatre began to flourish in the 1930s when Buenos Aires was established as a Jewish theater city of international relevance. During the interwar period, a large population of Yiddish-speaking Jews settled in Buenos Aires, escaping from European hard living conditions and anti-Semitism. As a result, a rich Yiddish cultural life began to grow, and the city became an attractive destination for intellectuals and artists.

At the same time, by the 1930s, the audiences of the Yiddish theatre in the US were already declining, so the actors and actresses decided to go touring to other countries where the Jewish communities were still eager to see theatre in Yiddish, as it was the case of Argentina. The southern hemisphere had an extra advantage: it benefited from the season’s opposition. This allowed that during the summer break the actors could go to work in Argentina, without the need to completely leaving their own companies. That way, they were able to do two winter seasons: one in the US and another one in South America, one based in New York, and the other one based in Buenos Aires, from where they also traveled to other Argentinean cities, such as Rosario, Córdoba, and Santa Fe, and to the Jewish colonies, as Moisesville and Basabilbaso. They also tour other Latin American cities, such as Montevideo, Santiago de Chile, Sao Paulo, and Rio de Janeiro. This way, many American Yiddish theatre directors and actors, came to Argentina and their work had a profound impact on Buenos Aires’ theatre scene.

Molly Picon at Teatro Excelsior

Between 1930 and 1950, the golden age of Jewish theatre in Buenos Aires, four theatres presented plays in Yiddish regularly: the Soleil and the Excelsior (in the Abasto), the Mitre (in Villa Crespo), and the Ombú (which is where the AMIA is today). In addition to the theatres, some cafes also presented Yiddish vaudeville numbers, such as the Cristal and the Internacional, creating a wide Yiddish theatre scene. The shows were held from Tuesday to Sunday, even with two or three performances on the same day during weekends. The season normally lasted from April to November. And the theatres had always a full house.

The Commercial Theatre in Buenos Aires was organized by a star system. The impresarios brought stars from abroad to lead their companies and completed the cast with local actors and actresses. Thanks to this guest star system, many renowned artists arrived in Argentina and were considered outstanding visits even outside the Jewish theatre community. This happened especially in the case of the actors Jacob Ben-Ami, Maurice Schwartz, and Joseph Buloff, whose repertoire and acting style were completely different from the type of plays (like operettas, melodramas, and light comedies) that prevailed in the theatres of the period, Jewish and non-Jewish also. Anyone who looks into Argentinean newspapers will probably be surprised by the way the theatre reviewers wrote about these Jewish actors. In most cases, the critics didn’t even mention that they were performing in Yiddish. Instead, they focused on their acting skills and abilities, and referred to them as figures of universal theatre, regardless of the language they were using on stage. Many sources show that the critics and actors of the non-Jewish theatre went to see Yiddish plays and were admires of these Jewish actors. The actress Silvia Parodi, for example, says about Ben Ami:

Ben Ami has the gift of making himself understood without the need for language. (…) even without understanding a letter of the text, it’s enough to contemplate his face to feel all the passions and feelings reflected. Silence, attitudes, gestures, say so much that there is no need for more to understand him and admire him.

Review of Ben Ami’s performance at Teatro Soleil
Joseph Bulloff at Teatro Soleil

Therefore, the Jewish theatre was seen by the Argentinean community as a significant phenomenon, especially when the actors brought repertoire that was unknown in the Buenos Aires theatre scene. This was the case of Joseph Buloff’s Death of a Salesman/Toyt fun a seylsman, which premiered in Buenos Aires in 1949 in Soleil Theatre. This was the first time that the Argentinean public saw an Arthur Miller’s play. The show was such a success among Jewish and non-Jewish audiences that in 1950, the prominent actor Narciso Ibañez Menta premiered a Spanish version of the play. This is an emblematic case that shows how the Yiddish Theatre operated as a modernizing force that deeply influenced the theatre scene of Buenos Aires. Its itinerancy enabled, through the use of Yiddish language, the arrival of radical theatrical ideas, modern aesthetics and new repertoires that had not yet been translated to Spanish and neither developed in Buenos Aires’ theatres. 

For these reasons, my time researching at the Dorot Jewish Divison at the NYPL help me to gain a better understanding of the transnational Yiddish theatre network and the connections established between Argentinean and American Yiddish theatre. NYPL materials regarding Joseph Buloff and Ben-Ami allowed me to improve my understanding of their artistic conceptions and how their artistic background, acting style, and repertoire influenced and shaped the Jewish theatre of Buenos Aires.


Paula Ansaldo is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Buenos Aires. In the fall of 2019 she was a Fordham-NYPL Fellow in Jewish Studies. On October 3, 2019 she delivered her talk about ” “A history of the Jewish Theater in Buenos Aires: from the star system to the Idisher Folks Teater (1930-1960),” which can be viewed below.

October 3rd, 6PM Fordham University at Lincoln Center
Paula Ansaldo, “A history of the Jewish Theater in Buenos Aires: from the star system to the Idisher Folks Teater (1930-1960)”

A Maḥzor from Venice 1599/1600

By Michael Pappano FCRH’22

The Maḥzor: ke-minhag k.k. Ashkenazim in Fordham’s collection was published in Venice in 1599/1600 (5360) at the prominent printing business in the Venetian Republic of the era, the Bragadina. This Maḥzor, a Jewish prayer book used on the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was intended for the Ashkenazi Jewish community. The copy in Fordham’s collection measures approximately 6.19 inches x 8 inches x 2.25 inches, and contains approximately 500 pages. It is missing the title page, and the first pages are hand-written.

Maḥzor ke-minhag ḳ.ḳ. Ashkenazim (Venice, 1599/1600), Spec Coll Judaica 1600 1. The first page here starts with a seliḥah אל ארך אפים אתה ובעל הרחמים

The Maḥzor’s cover is made of cloth-covered board and the binding is made from small twine wrapped tightly together, which we can see because the cover is torn off the spine of the book. The individual threads of the binding can be seen when viewing the front and back covers of the book.

The condition of the book, its binding, missing pages, and handwritten restorations signify that the book was heavily used and must have been passed down to many generations, as attested by multiple signatures on the book’s inside covers, in Hebrew and Italian.

Inside cover of The Maḥzor from Venice, Fordham, Spec Coll 1600 1

For a book so old and so heavily used, it is no surprise that many of the pages have blemishes on them. There is water damage on many of the pages and there is a very large number of tears, folded corners, and creases on most all of the pages. Some of the pages also have holes, likely caused by worms.                                     

This book contains both printed pages and handwritten pages. The manuscript pages are written in a handwriting strikingly similar to the font used by the print shop, demonstrating that printed pages were copied in manuscript to replace missing pages.

Maḥzor (Venice 1599/1600), Spec Coll 1600 1. The page on the left is printed, the page on the right is handwritten to resemble the printed page.

Some printed pages have two columns with detailed page borders and intricate borders around titles. 

The Maḥzor was published by a family-owned print shop that eventually became known as “Stamperia Bragadina,”[i] founded by Alvise Bragadin (c.1500 – 1575) in Venice. A Christian, he eventually began printing Hebrew books when offered the chance. After the press was first established and managed by Alvise, his descendants would take over the family business and would keep it successful into the 18th century. [ii] The first book that Bragadin printed in Hebrew was, according to most scholars, Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah in 1550.[iii] This was a very popular book that was published in many editions. The Bragadin family business held a monopoly in the printing business of Hebrew texts for some time in Venice. As a result, the books they published reached many people and places in Europe, North Africa, and the Fertile Crescent. The monopoly ended when a new printing house, Stamperia Vendramina, was established in 1630 by Giovanni Vendramin.[iv]

The presented here Maḥzor was printed by a named printer, Zuan di Gara, better known as Giovanni di Gara, who operated his own printing press but also cooperated closely with the Bragadina, as this Maḥzor attests.

Publishing Competition and Feud in Venice

Marco Antonio Giustiniani, another Venetian publisher, was an ambitious printer. He came before Alvise Bragadin, who began to compete with Giustiniani, and put him out of business. Giustiniani printed many different types of books, including a famous edition of the Talmud, different editions of the Pentateuch with commentaries, works on Jewish law, and more. The feud between him and Bragadin arose over the printing of, Maimonides’ Mishne Torah. Rabbi Katzenellenbogen wrote commentaries in this edition and Giustiniani refused to print. Angered, Katzenellenbogen brought the task to the printshop of Alvise Bragadin who at this point hadn’t yet been publishing Hebrew books.[v] Bragadin accepted the task, and thus began his role as a printer of Hebrew books. Annoyed, Giustiniani printed the book as well, and began to sell it for less than his rival.[vi] In response, Rabbi Katzenellenbogen, who had paid for the printing, went to his distant cousin and leading authority among Ashkenazim in Europe, Rabbi Moses Isserles, seeking to protect his investment in his commentaries. Giustinian’s book was banned as Rabbi Moses Isserles found him guilty under Jewish laws for unfair competition. Angered by the verdict, Giustinian took the issue to Pope Julius III for a trial, urging the pope to examine Katzenellenbogen’s commentaries for heresy. The end result was, that in 1553, Julius III issued a bull ordering the burning of the Talmud and other halakhic works.[vii] This all occurred at a time when Hebrew publications were becoming increasingly questioned and accused of containing blasphemous context.

Historical Context: Burning of the Talmud

The Venetian Republic, in October of 1553, ordered all publications of the Talmud to be burned.[viii] Catholics, those behind the Inquisition, claimed that the Talmud was full of blasphemous assertions regarding God, Mary, and Jesus. Burning the Talmud, a Hebrew publication, affected the printers of Hebrew texts. As a result, the prominent printers Giustinian and Bragadin lost money. Six years later in 1559, the Esecutori ruled that Hebrew books could only be published if they were censored. The printed text would undergo expurgation, and if anyone were to hold unexpurgated books, they would be subject to punishment, such as imprisonment. The Talmud was not allowed to be printed again until 1564.[ix] In 1571, Jews were not even allowed to work at a print shop. The Hebrew presses were now controlled by Christian owners and typesetters. This caused problems as more mistakes were made, complicating the whole process. Jews were then hired to correct and curate the texts if it was permitted by the Catholics in power.[x]

Bragadin Family in Year of Publishing

In 1599/1600 the Bragadin printshop, where the Maḥzor was published, was managed by Giovanni Bragadin, the son of Alvise who took over the press after Alivse had died. He was the head of the Stamperia Bragadina, from 1579 to 1614. Giovanni Bragadin had a standing professional relationship with Aser Parenzo, a prominent editor of the time in Venice. Working with the company for a long time, his loyalty and good-standing relationship with the Bragadin’s was evident.[xi]Giovanni Bragadin’s main competitor at this time was Giovanni Di Gara, though the two frequently collaborated. Di Gara was a prominent Venetian printer that enriched the cultural aspects of Venice with the influence of his press. Between 1565 and 1608, his press issued eight editions of the complete Jewish Bible. Although competitors, both Bragadin and Di Gara published a Torah, Perush ha-Torah meha-ḥakham ha-shalem Don Yitsḥak Abrabanel z[ekher] ts[adik] le-[verakhah]. The colophon of the Torah states that the present work was printed “in the house of the skilled craftsman Zuani di Gara.” Also in this text can be seen 4 crowns; the three represent Stamperia Bragadina, and the added fourth marks the collaboration with Di Gara.[xii]


This essay was written in fall of 2018, during Michael Pappano’s first semester at Fordham, within a course on modern Jewish history (HIST 1851) taught by Professor Magda Teter. Their essays, some of which will be featured here, were published in a volume “You Can Judge Books by Their Covers Jewish History through Used Books.” Fordham’s Judaica collection prides itself in collecting books that were used and popular, often quite quotidian and ordinary, for they reflect a broader Jewish culture that might not be visible through expensive extraordinary items.


[i] Squarcini, F. & P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION OF THE VENICE GHETTO. 315. Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

[ii] “Alvise Bragadin and Stamparia Bragadina,” WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions, accessed September 30, 2018, http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/items/show/8387.

[iii] Maimonides, Moses. 1550. [Mishneh Torah … Helek Rishon. Ṿenetsiʼah: nidpas … Aloṿizi Bragadin. See also, Kellner, Menachem. “On the Status of the Astronomy and Physics in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah and Guide of the Perplexed: a Chapter in the History of Science.” The British Journal for the History of Science 24, no. 4 (1991): 453–63. doi:10.1017/S0007087400027643

[iv]“Alvise Bragadin and Stamparia Bragadina,” WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions, accessed September 30, 2018, http://omeka.wustl.edu/omeka/items/show/8387. Yeshaʻyah ben Eliʻezer Ḥayim. 1633. Derekh yashar: ṿe-hu perush kamah maʻaśim yafim, meshalim u-feshaṭim mi-kamah pesuḳim.

[v] Squarcini, F. & P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

OF THE VENICE GHETTO. 315. Ca’ Foscari University of Venice.

[vi] Neil Weinstock Netanel, and David Nimmer. 2016. “Maharam of Padua versus Giustiniani: Rival Editions of Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah”.

[vii] Squarcini, F & P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

[viii] Kenneth R. Stow, “The Burning of the Talmud in 1553  in the Light of Sixteenth Century Catholic Attitudes toward the Talmud.” Bibliotheque d’Humanisme et Renaissance 34 (1972): 435-459.

[ix] Grendler, P. F. (1978). “The Destruction of Hebrew Books in Venice, 1568.” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 45: 103-130.

[x] Squarcini, F&P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

[xi] Squarcini, F&P. Capelli. 2016-2017. TRACING THE HEBREW BOOK COLLECTION

[xii] Abravanel, Isaac, Zuani di Gara, Asher Prikhtsu, Zuan Bragadin, Henry Cohen, and Mollie Cohen. 1579. Perush ha-Torah meha-ḥakham ha-shalem Don Yitsḥak Abrabanel z[ekher] ts[adik] le-[verakhah]. Be-Vinitsiah: [Printed by Asher Prikhtsu for Zuan Bragadin].

Antisemitism in Christian America:Then and Now

by Nina Valbousquet

The Voice of Human Rights, a monthly published by The Committee of Catholics for Human Rights. September 1939.

In a picket line of right-wing demonstrators in New York City, a man held a protest sign “We Christians need more father Coughlin”. The picture struck me when I discovered it on the frontpage of The Voice for Human Rights of September 1939, while consulting the journal at the Dorot Jewish Division of the New York Public Library. The frontpage offers a snapshot of two contrasting realities of Christian America and antisemitism. On one side, the picture encapsulates the activism of Charles Coughlin’s pro-fascist militant Christian Front, which in 1938-1939 unleashed an unprecedented level of street and political anti-Jewish hatred in the United States. On the other side, the cover title of the Voice, “Catholics Expose ‘Christian Front’”, demonstrates resistance to antisemitism and to the instrumentalization of Christian values by right-wing hatemongers. 

Antisemitism was a divisive topic among American Catholics at the end of the 1930s. Anti-Jewish vitriol seduced some sectors of American Catholicism while outraging others. In the second half of the 1930s, the repercussions of the Great Depression, the political backlashes of the New Deal, and the worsening of the international situation fostered tensions and resentment toward religious and ethnic minorities and immigrants. The propagation of antisemitic myths about both the “Jewish bank” and “Judeo-Communism” reached a new level of mass diffusion. The rise of domestic anti-Jewish agitations included a “tide of Catholic antisemitism” (Father Gregory Feige) empowered by the inflammatory propaganda of Father Coughlin. Christian antisemites accused “international Jews” of taking part in communist and anticlerical movements in Spain, Mexico, the Soviet Union and France, and blamed American Jews for being complicit with their anti-Christian coreligionists. Jewish refugees in America were labelled communists, radicals, and atheists, all plotting to destroy a Christian White America from within. Coughlin, the “Radio Priest”, capitalized on nativist prejudices and stirred up populist fears against Jewish refugees. 

Social Justice, Father Coughlin’s weekly based in Detroit.

In spring 2019, thanks to the support of the NYPL-Fordham fellowship in Jewish studies, I was able to examine more closely this historical subject and conduct research at the Dorot division on primary sources pertaining not only to Christian antisemitism in New York City, but also to Jewish-Catholic collaborations in the fight against bigotry. Alongside rare copies of The Voice and the American Jewish Committee Oral History Collection, I looked at Social Justice, Coughlin’s weekly based in Detroit. Social Justice’s use of religion and Christianity remained a political expediency to serve a right-wing and nativist agenda. Among other “fake news,” Coughlin published in his weekly the notorious antisemitic forgery The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, from July to November 1938. An article of December 5, 1938 blamed “Judeo-Communism” for the persecutions of Jews in Germany: “German Jews are today suffering persecution because for 15 years after the Great War Germany was prostrated by Communism, headed by Jews under direction of Moscow.” Thus, Social Justice made the diffusion of anti-Jewish sentiments in American seem understandable and legitimate: “Anti-Semitism is spreading in America because the people sense a closely interwoven relationship between Communism and Jewry. […] It is the duty of American Christians to aid their Jewish fellow-citizens in shaking off Communism before it is too late.” The distinction between communist and religious Jews, and between foreign and American Jews was actually a subterfuge to demonize all Jews while claiming that the publication was not antisemitic. Coughlin’s fallacious arguments drew on typical mechanisms of antisemitism such as conflation, generalization, collective guilt, and conspiracy theories.

A cartoon in Commonweal, published on November 18, 1938 in the aftermath of Kristallnacht

An examination of Commonweal, a Catholic weekly of liberal stamp based in NYC, which I was able to consult at Fordham Walsh library, provides a completely different picture. On November 18, 1938, a few days after Kristallnacht, Commonweal published a cartoon and several articles making a plea for European Jewish refugees and asking for the end of the strict immigration quotas that had been implemented in the United States since 1924. Although the cartoon includes stereotypical physical features, its logic of analogy reminds me of current images that have been circulating on social media portraying the Holy Family as refugees from the Middle-East. 

These few examples demonstrate that it is especially timely to further investigate the historical shapes of antisemitism in the United States and to consider both its religious and secular components. While a NYPL-Fordham fellow, I also taught a seminar on antisemitism at Rose Hill campus. Even though at the beginning of the semester not all students were aware of some common antisemitic tropes, they grew increasingly equipped to critically decipher the construction of stereotypes, prejudices, and hate-speech. While most of them knew already about the history of Nazism, they seemed more astonished to discover the roots of a domestic history of antisemitism. Particularly helpful in this regard was the in-class discussion of the Pittsburg shooting and of Jaclyn Granick and Britt Tevis’ article (The Washington Post, October 28, 2018). Learning about the history of anti-refugee sentiments and of the Hebrew Sheltering and Immigrant Aid Society, students were able to grasp better the intersectionality of prejudices and discriminations in the United States and to revise assumptions of American exceptionalism. One of my takeaways from this intense and stimulating semester is surely that much remains to be taught and researched about the entanglement between antisemitism, nativism, and populism in American history. 

Nina Valbousquet was a Fordham-NYPL Fellow in Jewish Studies in spring 2019. While at Fordham she also taught a values seminar on antisemitism.


Nina Valbousque: “Un-American” and “Un-Christian”? Global Antisemitism and Jewish-Catholic Relations in the United States 1936-1945, March 28, 2019, Fordham University.

Jews of India: Highlights from Fordham’s Special Collections

In February 1807, Claudius Buchanan, a Scottish theologian and missionary of the Church Missionary Society, wrote in his letter from Cochin, 

I have been now in Cochin, or its vicinity for upwards of two months, and have got well acquainted with the Jews. They do not live in the city of Cochin, but in a town about a mile distant from it, called the Jews’ Town. It is almost wholly inhabited by the Jews who have two respectable Synagogues. Among them are some very intelligent men, who are not ignorant of the present history of nations. There are also Jews here form remote parts of Asia, so that this is the fountain of intelligence concerning that people in the East; there being constant communication by ships with the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the mounths of the Indus. The resident Jews are divided into tow classes, called the Jerusalem or White Jews; and the Ancient or Black Jews. The White Jews reside at this place. The Black Jews have also a Synagogue here; but the great body of that tribe inhabit towns in the interior of the province. I have now seen most of both classes. My inquiries referred chiefly to their antiquity, their manuscripts, and their sentiments concerning the present state of their nation.[i]

Claudius Buchanan, Christian Researches in Asia: With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages (Boston: Published by Samuel T. Armstrong, Cornhill, 1811), which includes a section about Jews in India on pages 164-206.

The history of Jews in India is long and complex. The Jewish population is diverse, with different groups claiming different roots and histories. There are the Jews of Cochin, some of whom claim millennia long-history, some, known as the Paradesi, can trace their roots to early modern Sephardic Jewish traders. There are Jews of Madras, whose roots go back to Sephardic traders from Livorno, Amsterdam, and other places of Western European Portuguese Jewish diaspora. There are also Bene Israel, whose language and culture until the nineteenth century was largely Marathi, and who settled in Mumbai.

Maḥzor li-yeme ha-seliḥot ṿe-Hatarat nedarim ke minhag kahal kadosh Sepharadim (Bombay: Shelomoh ben Salạm Sharʻabi, 5601 [1840]), SPEC JUDAICA 1840.1

Fordham has several items related to that history. One of them is a Maḥzor according to the Sephardic rite for the High Holidays printed in Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1840. This small, 40-page-long book, bound in a repurposed paper wrapper with inscriptions in English and Marathi, belonged in 1870 (or 1872) to a man named Jacob “inhabitant of Bombay.” Fordham is only one of four other libraries in the world holding this item.

Maḥzor li-yeme ha-seliḥot ṿe-Hatarat nedarim ke minhag kahal kadosh Sepharadim (Bombay: Shelomoh ben Salạm Sharʻabi, 5601 [1840]), SPEC JUDAICA 1840.1, owner’s signature and repurposed paper wrappers serving as cover.

The Bene Israel community were introduced to Hebrew by both the Cochin Jewish community and European missionaries. As a result, Bene Israel were gradually encouraged “to align and modify their religious practices to accord with more conventional expressions of Judaism.”[ii] A rare copy of a textbook for Hebrew instruction in Marathi and English is found at Fordham. Written by Ezekiel Mazgaonkar (1875-1951), it was first published in 1910 in Bombay, then republished in several editions. Fordham’s copy is the second edition, published also in Bombay in 1920. There were eight additional editions, the last one in 1966. Only three libraries worldwide have copies of this edition: Fordham, University of Florida at Gainsville, and the National Library of Israel.

Ezekiel Mazgaonkar, Le-lamed bene Yiśraʼel = Hibru vācanapāṭha = the elementary Hebrew reader (Bombay: Printed at The Lebanon Type & Litho Works, 1920), SPEC JUDACIA 1920.1
Ezekiel Mazgaonkar, Le-lamed bene Yiśraʼel = Hibru vācanapāṭha = the elementary Hebrew reader (Bombay: Printed at The Lebanon Type & Litho Works, 1920), SPEC JUDACIA 1920.1
Basant, 1942

The Indian American Jewish artist Siona Benjamin, who spoke at Fordham on August 18th, 2020, recalls her childhood in Mumbai, “the oil lamps, the velvet-and-silver-covered Torahs, a chair left vacant for the prophet Elijah.” Siona Benjamin comes from the Bene Israel in India. As she remarked, discussing her art, “having grown up in a Hindu and Muslim society, educated in Catholic and Zoroastrian schools, raised Jewish in India, and now calling America home, I have always had to reflect on cultural boundary zones.” Her art brims with cross-cultural references to different religions or cultural icons, from American pop art to Bollywood, from Jewish symbols to Christian and Hindu references. Fordham’s Special Collection has a few artifacts from Bollywood, the “Hollywood” of Bombay, among them are press booklets of two films with Pramila, a Bollywood star and film producer, born in Calcutta in 1916 as Esther Victoria Abraham: Basant (1942), the highest grossing film of 1942, in which she played Meena, and Beqasoor (1950), the seventh highest grossing film of Bollywood. (A recent documentary Shalom Bollywood traces the history of Jews in Bollywood, including Jewish actresses like Pramila.)

Besaqoor, 1950
Poster for “Yahudi,” a 1958 Bollywood film by Bimal Roy.

One of the most fascinating films that came out of Bollywood is the 1958 film Yahudi, directed by Bimal Roy and based on a play Agha Hashar Kashmiri, an Urdu poet also known for adaptations of European plays, including by Shakespear, into Urdu. Yahudi is set in the Roman Empire. The play was based on the 19th-century play The Jewess, which inspired the opera La Juive by Jacques-François-Fromental-Élie Halévy that premiered in 1835. The film, the opera, and these nineteenth-century plays draw on the plot developed by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing’s 1779 play Nathan the Wise. Made in 1958 in India, Yahudi also spoke to the India-Pakistan partition and the impact it had on interreligious relations, especially poignantly since some of the stars were Muslims who remained in India after the partition.


Blue Like Me: The Art of Siona Benjamin


Siona Benjamin, Finding Home #79, Lilith, 2006.
Siona Benjamin, Finding Home #82, Joseph, 2006.

Below is a video of Siona Benjamin and art historian Ori Z. Soltes discussing her art.

This program was co-presented with Be’chol Lashon’s speakers’ bureau. For 20 years, Be’chol Lashon  has been addressing questions of diversity within the Jewish community. For more information see their website www.globaljews.org


[i] Claudius Buchanan, Christian Researches in Asia: With Notices of the Translation of the Scriptures into the Oriental Languages (Boston: Published by Samuel T. Armstrong, Cornhill, and sold by him, by A. Lyman & Co. Portland; H. Whipple, Salem; Thomas & Whipple, and E. Little & Co. Newburyport; S. Butler, Northampton; A. Shearman, Newbedford; H. Brewer, Providence, Hale & Hosmer, Hartford; Beers & Howe, Newhaven; Whiting and Watson and John Tiebout, Newyork; E.F. Backus, Albany; George Weller, Newark; D. Allinson and Co. Burlington; W.W. Woodward, Philadelphia; J. Kingston, F. Lucas, Jr. and P.H. Nicklin, Baltimore, 1811),  171.

[ii] Mitch Numark, “Hebrew School in Nineteenth-Century Bombay: Protestant Missionaries, Cochin Jews, and the Hebraization of India’s Bene Israel Community,” Modern Asian Studies, Vol. 46, No. 6 (2012):  1767.

Jews, Race, and the Story of Ethiopian Jews

Famine in Ethiopia of 1983-1985 led to over one million deaths, with hundreds of thousands refugees leaving the country. Among those refugees were Beta Israel, Ethiopian Jews, who found their way on foot to Sudan. As neither Muslims nor Christians, they were persecuted in Sudanese refugee camps. In an international operation, later called Operation Moses, thousands of Beta Israel were rescued and brought to Israel between November 21, 1984 and January 5, 1985.

In Israel, state agencies, social workers sought to integrate the refugees into a new life in Israel. Passover of 1985 would be their first Passover in a new home. That year, the Office for Cultural Integration of Ethiopian Jews (Misrad le-kelitah ruḥanit shel yehudei etiopia be-Israel) published a bilingual haggadah in Amharic and Hebrew, Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, edited by Yosef Hadana, Chief Rabbi of Ethiopian Jews, translated by Yona Bugale.

Haggadah shel Pesaḥ, Amharic and Hebrew, edited by Yosef Hadana, Chief Rabbi of Ethiopian Jews, translated by Yona Bugale (Bnei Brak: Misrad le-kelitah ruḥanit shel yehudei etiopia be-Israel, 1985). Fordham, O’Hare Special Collections and Archives, Walsh Family Library.

The process of integration was not easy, Israel’s rabbis questioned the refugees’ Jewishness requiring conversions, while within the Ethiopian Jewish community, traditional values and practices were challenged, including traditional gender roles. Among those refugees was Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen, whose compelling film “400 Miles to Freedom” combines a deeply personal story with broader questions of trauma, race, gender, and identity. Mekonen’s deeply personal story also raises questions that were a driving force for early Jewish historians, even those focused on mostly European Jewish history: how Jews survived for thousands of years and maintained their Jewish identity as a tiny minority settled among other peoples. But the film also raises broader questions about what it means to be Jewish and how the Jewish community accepts its own diversity.

On August 6th, Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen discussed his film and family story with scholars of Beta Israel, Steven B. Kaplan, a professor emeritus of African studies and comparative religion at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where he also served a Dean of the Humanities, and the author of many books and articles on the history of Ethiopian Jews, including The Beta Israel: Falasha in Ethiopia: From Earliest Times to the Twentieth Century, and Kay Shelemay, the G. Gordon Watts Professor of Music and Professor of African and African American Studies at Harvard University and the author of Music, Ritual, and Falasha History (1986), A Song of Longing: An Ethiopian Journey (1991); and Ethiopian Christian Chant: An Anthology (3 vols., 1993-97), among others.

The conversation can be viewed on our YouTube chanell

And you can watch “400 Miles to Freedom” on Vimeo:

Avishai Yeganyahu Mekonen’s compelling film “400 Miles to Freedom” from from Seventh Art Releasing

This program was co-presented with Be’chol Lashon’s speakers’ bureau. For 20 years, Be’chol Lashon  has been dealing with diversity in the Jewish community. The organization also supported the creation of Avishai’s movie. For more information see their website www.globaljews.org

COVID-19 Series: Moshe Krakowski Interviews Rabbi Eli Steinberg

Eli Steinberg, a rabbi and writer active in Jewish communal politics in Lakewood, NJ 

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to interview Eli Steinberg, a rabbi and writer active in Jewish communal politics in Lakewood, NJ (the center of Yeshivish haredi life in America). Alongside writing about Jewish communal issues, he has also written on broader aspects of American politics and policy. I know Rabbi Steinberg through my research on haredi education and culture, having spent many years looking at how haredi communities navigate secular and religious knowledge and culture in schools, and how haredim develop an epistemology and world view through a close school/community relationship. 

In my research, I observe classes, and talk to teachers and students, as well as to members of the broader haredi community. In that capacity I have often used the insight and perspective of a number of haredi insiders who are deeply connected to the pulse of their respective communities. Rabbi Steinberg is one of those insiders—someone who is involved in haredi communal affairs and is able to articulate his perspective using modes of discourse more common to the secular world. In a way this is the inverse of my position. As an academic working at a research institution, I am entrenched in nonharedi society, but I am able to engage with haredim using the language and discourse of haredi life. I believe that this partnership has allowed me to characterize insider perspectives with a great deal of fidelity, to understand the experiences of haredim, as well as the underlying dynamics of haredi world-view development.

Because COVID-19 has so significantly impacted the haredi community, and because of the attention haredim have received in the popular press, I wanted to speak to Rabbi Steinberg to understand how the Yeshivish haredi community in Lakewood has experienced the virus. Prior to our interview he sent me a short written piece describing his perspective on this issue. 

Beth Medrash Govoha of Lakewood. Photo the Lakewood Shopper.

In this piece he discussed the explosion of cases (and deaths) in Lakewood following Purim celebrations in March that led to a tremendous viral spread. He wrote about how the communal rabbinic leadership shut down synagogues and schools, despite the centrality of Torah study to this community’s sense of self. He further described the sense of confusion that permeated the community, as updates on the virus came via “cholim lists,” which list the Hebrew names of the ill so that community members could pray for them. Finally, he focused on the degree of antisemitism community members faced, as Orthodox Jews as a whole were held responsible for the actions of a few scofflaws, and Jews once again found themselves accused of bringing the plague to their gentile neighbors.

One of the central concerns I had in the interview was to understand how information moved through the community, and how community leaders and members made decisions in response to the virus. This, in particular, helps us understand how haredim are navigating the desire to open up with the desire for public safety, something that many outsiders have questioned. Are they opening up schools and shuls too soon? Are small businesses violating orders? In response, many haredim wonder why they have been singled out. Why, for example, are police officers so quick to shut them down, while leaving others alone? They feel that they have been treated with a double standard. These concerns provide a subtext to our conversation below, as Rabbi Steinberg both describes and defends his community as an insider who has deep connections to the outside world of politics and policy. Acutely aware of the sometimes-negative perception of haredi communities in many circles, Rabbi Steinberg took pains to point out that his community responded much like any other community: with confusion, fear, and the desire to protect themselves from the virus. These desires, however, were expressed in a decidedly haredi register.

COVID-19 Series: Watching “Unorthodox” during COVID-19

The Beginnings and the Endings: Watching Unorthodox during COVID-19

By Jessica Lang, Professor and Chair of English and Newman Director of the Wasserman Jewish Studies Center, Baruch College, CUNY

The Netflix four-part miniseries Unorthodox, loosely based on the 2012 memoir by Deborah Feldman by the same name, debuted on March 26, 2020, the same week that millions of Americans were impacted by stay-at-home orders for all but essential workers. Numerous media outlets reported that within the first weeks after its release, Unorthodox was among the platform’s most-viewed content. The word “quaranstreaming” was coined to capture viewer bingeing. Watching shows during a pandemic, especially newly released ones, emphasizes one of many practices that have become our new normal: a communal activity done in isolation from one another. We all watch together while we are apart.

Anika Molnar/Netflix

Unlike the book on which it is based, which unfolds in chronological order, the editing of Unorthodox holds viewers in a present, a recent past, and a more distant past, all of which are interwoven together, appearing and disappearing unexpectedly. Told this way, Unorthodox is a fractured story with multiple beginnings and endings, “befores” and “afters,” a feature that resonates even more when watching it in a COVID-19 landscape. Viewers move around not only in time but also in our relationship to the different representations of the main protagonist, Esty, with each beginning magnified because of its nonchronologic position.

We first see Esty as a married woman, who, childless, remains apart from other married women in her ultra-Orthodox community in Williamsburg. We see her next as a stranger in a strange city, Berlin. We then see her in an earlier period, as a girl who is, as she describes herself to the young man soon to become her husband, “different.” Raised by her grandparents with a mother who had, according to family lore, run away, and father who is a charpeh, a disgrace, Esty offers viewers glimpses of other beginnings that demarcate other pasts and fall outside the framing of the series.

The interplay between time, setting, and perspective is deliberately irregular and unpredictable, asking that viewers collect and connect the fragments they are given and create a narrative out of them. A delicate thread, created through music, holds these fragments together. In the first episode, as Esty seats herself on the steps outside her mother’s apartment building in Berlin, the opening strains of Schubert’s “An die Musik” are heard. The setting abruptly switches to an unmarried Esty setting the Shabbes table at her grandmother’s house, when a soprano’s voice starts singing what is perhaps Schubert’s best-known lied:

Du holde Kunst, in wieviel grauen Stunden, Wo mich des Lebens wilder Kreis umstrickt,         Hast du mein Herz zu warmer Lieb’ entzunden,    Hast mich in eine beßre Welt entrückt,     In eine beßre Welt entrückt!       O blessed art, how often in dark hours, When the savage ring of life tightens round me, Have you kindled warm love in my heart,
Have transported me to a better world! Transported to a better world

The song reappears towards the end of the last episode, only this time the singer is Esty, who, having applied for a scholarship to a music school in Berlin, chooses to audition with the song she heard in her grandmother’s home, the one her great-grandfather, with his own fine voice, loved to listen to in Hungary, before the war when “so viel vorloren,” so many were lost. The melody of the song is simple and clear, as is the meaning of its words: music, the champion of art, ignites warmth and light in times that are wretched, offering an alternative, however fleeting, to the darker world around us.

After they hear “An die Musik,” the judging panel asks Esty to sing another song, one better suited to her tonal range—“something different,” as one judge frames it, recalling the sense of difference that has long set Esty apart. Esty squares her shoulders, closes her eyes, and, with no formal practice, launches into another song heard earlier in the series. A number of male wedding guests sing “Mi Bon Siach” as Esty walks towards the chuppah at her wedding. In a reversal of that scene, as Esty begins the song in her audition, her abandoned husband enters the auditorium and hears her voice.

The One who knows the speech of a rose among thorns The love of a bride and the joy of lovers He will bless the groom And the bride.Mi bon siach shoshan chochim, Ahavas kallah, misos dodim,        Hu yevarech es hechassan V’es hakallah.    מי בן שיח שושן חוחים אהבת כלה, משוש דודים הוא יברך את החתן ואת הכלה

It’s possible for us to understand Esty’s singing of these two songs in the final episode as sacrilegious—that music for her is salvational as faith never could be. Moreover, Esty’s two solos at the end of Unorthodox can—and maybe should—be understood as a declaration of selfhood. As she takes the stage to sing she makes a vocal public pronouncement, one that is declarative and deliberate, and one that by her community’s estimation violates strictly enforced standards of modesty for women.

And yet the invocation of the elte zayde by Esty’s bubbe as the two listen to a soprano singing Schubert’s 1817 work, and Esty’s tribute to her grandmother—and moments later her husband—as she explains why she chose the song for her audition, connects generations, places, eras, and traditions. It weaves together the varied beginnings and endings, including Esty’s grandmother’s death and the birth of her child, and suggests that Esty’s rendition draws her in some ways closer to her past even as she launches herself into a new way of living.

Esty gives us a sense of what lies ahead—a mix of multiple pasts, presents, and possibilities, and the unequivocal need for the transformative capacity of art to create new understandings about ourselves in a world that in some ways will be permanently changed.


Jessica Lang is Professor and Chair of English and Newman Director of the Wasserman Jewish Studies Center, Baruch College, CUNY

COVID-19 Series: The Pandemic through Hasidic Women Artists’ Voices

by Jessica Roda, PhD, Georgetown University, Center for Jewish Civilization

Hasidic women are often portrayed in the mainstream media through a Western feminist framework, which assumes that women can only gain agency by leaving their faith. Two media events during  the COVID-19 crisis have reinforced this narrative:  The first is media coverage of the ultra-Orthodox response to the COVID-19 pandemic and its domination by male voices of rabbis, doctors, and male community leaders on various platforms, while women, such as journalist Efrat Finkel, are rendered invisible and unheard. The second event is the release of the Netflix drama Unorthodox, a miniseries based on Deborah Feldman’s 2012 memoir of the same name, which follows a hasidic woman named Esti, who can only end her suffering and shine as an artist by leaving her Brooklyn community for the secular, inclusive, multicultural, and artistic Berlin.

Dobby Baum, April 12, 2020, Concert-Talk on Zoom and Instagram 

Although the ultra-Orthodox are known for their opposition to the Internet, some hasidic business owners find it necessary to be connected. Other ultra-Orthodox Jews use technology by choice. Among them are Dobby Baum, Malky Media, Devorah Schwartz, Sarah Dukes, Bracha Jaffe, Devorah Leah, and Chany Rosengarten, each of whom I discovered online in the last two years. These women come from a mixed ultra-Orthodox background, representing Bobov, Chabad, Ger, Litvish, and Satmar communities. They are particularly active on Instagram, where they promote their businesses, music, films, lessons, performances, and albums. The application serves as a marketing tool and springboard to create a community of followers. Ultimately, their use of Instagram might lead to their broader rec