A New Exhibit at O’Hare Special Collections: Media Technology and the Dissemination of Hate

by Magda Teter, The Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies

Technological advances can lead to positive social change. Technological innovations have helped create, preserve, and disseminate knowledge. In medieval Europe, the introduction of paper lowered the costs of manuscript production and record keeping. The invention of movable type and the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century made books more easily accessible. The innovations in the production of paper in the nineteenth century, and in printing methods made newspapers, postcards, and color books possible. Photography, radio, and films facilitated new forms communication of news and entertainment. In our lives the Internet has provided new ways to communicate and learn. But along positive change, technological advances have often also been harnessed to less laudable goals, allowing for access to and dissemination of not only “useful” or “respectable” knowledge, but also of hateful stories, derogatory images and stereotypes.

In June 2019, the Council on Foreign Relations concluded that “Violence attributed to online hate speech has increased worldwide.” Twenty-first century media technology has been shown to facilitate dissemination of hate–bullying on social media; chat groups that allow for racist and antisemitic individuals to find like-minded communities; bots amplifying hateful messages. But while the media technology we live with is new, the phenomenon of harnessing new technology for hateful purposes is not. Anytime communications technology advanced, hatred spread as well. The exhibition explores how different technological breakthroughs facilitated the propagation of hate: in Europe—anti-Jewish and antisemitic images and tales, in America—antisemitism and racism.

Bible moralisée/Bible de Saint Louis (Facsimile edition, M. Moleiro, 2000-2004; original, 13th century, between 1226 and 1234, now at Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada, in Toledo)+ SPEC COLL LEACH 2000 2 V.1

Derogatory anti-Jewish iconography emerged at the end of the 12th century not to channel anti-Jewish sentiments but rather to amplify Christian piety. With time this anti-Jewish imagery gained more explicit hateful meaning. Still in the Middle Ages its reach was relatively limited— church art seen only locally, or precious manuscripts seen by few, such as here the splendidly illuminated Bible moralisée—the medieval picture bible—made for King Louis IX of France between 1226 and 1234, on display here. 

The breakthrough came with the invention of the printing press in the middle of the fifteenth century, which resulted in the first mass produced commodity—the printed book. Along came also cheaper pamphlets and broadsides. While the printing press allowed for the diffusion of knowledge, laws, and devotional texts, the new technology was also employed to disseminate anti-Jewish images and texts. These previously localized, or obscure, images or tales now had a broader reach. Books, even those that only tangentially discussed Jews, helped spread ideas and images—often false and spurious—about Jews and Judaism to a much wider audience. On display is the lavishly illustrated Nuremberg Chronicle, published in 1493, which included, among thousands of other stories, some eleven stories about post-biblical Jews, all of them spurious and derogatory. While there were books specifically focused on anti-Jewish content, sometimes books not meant to convey explicitly derogatory ideas captured the state of current knowledge, effectively replicating biased epistemological models, the works of Johannes Buxtorf or Bernard Picart in Fordham’s collection can serve as examples.

Hartmann Schedel, Weltchronik, also known as the Nuremberg Chronicle, originally published in Nuremberg in 1493 in both Latin and German, republished in German in a full size facsimile edition in 1933.
19th-century technology made publishing daily newspapers, postcards, posters, leaflets, songbooks, joke books, and other ephemera, possible. These too were harnessed to propagate hateful stereotypes.

But until the nineteenth century book production was still quite expensive: paper was made through a protracted process from rags, text had to be set from individual types, and any illustrations had to be either carved in wood to make woodcuts, or engraved on copper plates. But in the nineteenth century, wood pulp paper, lithography, rotary press, and offset printing made printing cheaper and more widely available. This facilitated the development of daily newspapers, with front-page color images, as well as postcards, posters, songbooks, joke books, and other ephemera. These too were harnessed to propagate hateful stereotypes much more widely through news and entertainment.

Irene Harand, Azoy? Oder Azoy? Der Emes vegen anti-Semitism [This? Or That? The Truth concerning anti-Semitism.] (Vienna: Karl Popelka, 1933). First published in German as “So? oder so? Wahrheit über den Antisemitismus” (This? or that? The Truth about Antisemitism). The title of the publication “This? Or That?” is tied to the cover design, presenting a choice between “this,” represented as a swastika or “that,” represented by the scales of justice. It was also issued in Yiddish (on display) and in Polish. A recent acquisition.

But these hateful challenges did not go unanswered. Jews, as well as non-Jews, often became allies in the fight against hatred, turning to religious values for moral support, celebrating festivals together, and organizing for a better future.

The Common Road to Freedom Passover Haggadah (Prepared for the Religious Action Center of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1985). First edition, prepared the Shabbat Hagadol Social Action Sabbath in 1985. In English with some Hebrew. It is an example of a joint response to racism and antisemitism. A recent acquisition.

The exhibition “Media Technology and the Dissemination of Hate” is on view until May 31st, 2020 at the O’Hare Special Collections at the Walsh Family Library at Fordham University, Rose Hill Campus.

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The exhibition was co-curated by Sally Brander FCRH ‘20, Clare McCabe FCRH ‘20, and Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies, with contributions from students in Professor Teter’s seminar on antisemitism (HIST 4308) from Fall 2018 and 2019, and assistance and support from Linda Loschiavo, the Director of the Walsh Family Library and Vivian (Wei) Shen of the O’Hare Special Collections.

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The exhibition would not have been possible without the generosity of Mr. Eugene Shvidler, whose gift to Fordham’s Jewish Studies program helped start Fordham’s Judaica collection.

Researching Isaac Myer and His Work on the Kabbalah at the NYPL

by Boaz Huss (Ben Gurion University, Israel and a past Fordham-NYPL Fellow in Jewish Studies)

Dr. Boaz Huss from Ben Gurion University at the NYPL reading Isaac Myer’s papers.

In 1888, Isaac Myer published, in Philadelphia, a book entitled Qabbalah – The Philosophical Writings of Solomon Ben Yehuda Ibn Gabirol. It was the first comprehensive book on Kabbalah printed in the United States, and the most learned and up to date book on Kabbalah in English at the time.                                      

Isaac Myer was born in Philadelphia in 1836.   His ancestors, who immigrated to America in the 17th century from England and from Holland, were Puritans and Dutch reform.  His father, Isaac Myer senior, was a wealthy businessperson. Isaac Jr. graduated from the law department of the University of Pennsylvania in 1857. He practiced law in Philadelphia and New-York and was United States Commissioner of western Pennsylvania. He was a private scholar, a Freemason, and a member of several scholarly and antiquarian associations.

Myer published several books, which can give us an impression of the wide range of his interests. They include Presidential Power over Personal Liberty (1862); The Waterloo Medal (1885); The Qabalah (1888); Scarabs (1894); and his last book The Oldest Books in the World (1900).   He also published several articles, which include articles on Hermes Trismegistus and on Hindu Symbolism published in The Path, an article on “On Dreams by Synesius,” published in The Platonist, and an article entitled “Qabbalah, Quotations from the Zohar and other writings, treating of the Qabbalistic or Divine Philosophy,” published in The Oriental Review.

Myer’s was especially interested in Kabbalah. He presented his unique ideas about Kabbalah in his major book, Qabbalah, as well as in some of his other writings.  His views on the history and significance of Kabbalah are based on comparative and philological-historical research. However, his interest in Kabbalah and comparative religion was not purely historical. It had a theological, spiritual aim. Myer believed that the study of Kabbalah and its ancient origins will revive Christian mysticism, and will enable the formation of a new theology, that will reunite all divided religions.

Myer died in 1902 and was buried in the family lot at Laurel Hill, Philadelphia.  Myer bequeathed his rich library, and many of his own manuscripts, to the Lenox library, which became part of the New York Public Library.

Isaac Myers` papers are found today at the Manuscripts and Archives Division of the NYPL. They contain 11 boxes of Myer’s manuscripts. On November 2017, I spent a few weeks studying this vast collection, with the support of the NYPL and Fordham University grant. I have recently presented the results of my research, at the opening of the conference “Kabbalah in America,” held at Rice University.

Myer’s Collection consists of manuscripts of his published and unpublished works, as well as many translations, transcriptions, commentaries, bibliographies, and indexes related to his research of Kabbalah and other ancient religions, as well as to federalism and constitutional history. Myers’ papers also include several letters, that provide valuable information about Myers’ affiliation and networks.

Myer translated to English dozens of books and articles, mostly on Kabbalah, from Latin, French, German, Hebrew, and Aramaic. They include western esoteric and occult works, such as Franz Molitor’s Philosophy of History and works of Eliphas Levi; 19th-century German Jewish scholarship of Kabbalah, including translations from Heinrich Graetz, History of the Jews and Adolph Jellinek’s Selection of Jewish Mysticism and books on Kabbalah in Hebrew, such as Moshe Kunitz`, Ben-Yochai and Abraham Baer Gotlober’s, History of Kabbalah and Hasidut. Myer also translated primary Kabbalistic texts, from Hebrew and Aramaic, such as Ibn Gabai’s Derekh Emuna, and many passages from the Zohar. The archive reveals the Myer was the most knowledgeable person about Kabbalah in the United States in his period. 

Apart from the manuscripts of his published work, Myer’s collection includes also drafts of several unpublished articles, as well as a draft of a book about Johannes Kelpius (1667-1708), the 17th-century German pietist who immigrated with his followers to Pennsylvania in anticipation of the end of the world.  The collection also includes Myer’s eulogy to his friend and patron, Eli K. Price (1797-1884), a lawyer and independent scholar, who the president of the Philadelphia Numismatic and antiquarian society.

Most interesting are the letters found in Myer’s archive, that shed some light on Myer’s networks and the context of his unique interest and perception on Kabbalah. These include correspondence with Thomas Moore Johnson (1851-1919), from Osceola, Missouri, the editor of the journal The Platonist, who was (similar to Myer), an eminent attorney, independent scholar, and an occultist.  Another interesting letter found in the archives is a letter from Merwin-Marie Snell (1863-1921) dated May 30, 1894.  Snell, one of the first scholars of comparative religion, came from a prominent New England protestant family but converted to Catholicism. He published several books, and he is known as one of the organizers of the famous World Parliament of Religions in 1893. He was interested in esotericism and was the founder of one of the most learned, and mysterious occult movement, The Universal Brotherhood.

Myer correspondent also with several Jewish scholars and Rabbis, who helped him in his research of Kabbalah. The archives include a letter which was sent to Myer by Sabato Morais (1823-1897). Morias, originally from Livorno, Italy, was for many years the head of the Orthodox Synagogue Mikveh Yisrael in Philadelphia. He was one of the most important American Jewish scholars and leaders of the late 19th century and was involved in International, American and Jewish public and political issues. In 1886, he founded, as was the first president of the original Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Another Jewish scholar who corresponded with Myer was Henri (Zvi Hirsch) Gersoni (1844-1897). Gersoni who was born in Vilnius, was a Journalist, author, and rabbi, and published extensively on various topics in Hebrew, Yiddish, and English. In Myer’s archive, I found a package that contained Gersoni’s translations of Hebrew and Aramaic texts from Adolphe Jellinek’s Beitrage zur Kabbalah. It also included correspondence between Myer and Gersoni, from 1885, regarding translations of different Kabbalistic texts. Another person Myer corresponded with was Chajim David Lippe, a Jewish publisher, and bibliographer from Wien. The study of Myer’s papers at the NYPL sheds light on Myers’ wide scholarly interests and on his unique knowledge and perception of Kabbalah.  The archive reveals Myers’s scholarly and esoteric affiliations and networks, which were quite wide and interesting. The occult and scholarly networks, to which Myer belonged, helped to shape other modern forms and perceptions of Kabbalah, which developed and became popular in America in a later period. Although Myer`s erudition and interests in Kabbalah were unique in his time, many of the characteristics of his modern American Kabbalah will also characterize later forms of Kabbalah in America.

Jewish High Holidays in Christian Eyes

by Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies

From the earliest days of Christianity, Christian communities grappled with Jewish holidays. Should they be observed or not? Soon, they were rejected. Passover came to be redefined as Easter; the Sabbath moved to Sunday as the day of the Lord. But as Jews continued to observe their festivals—sometimes developing new rituals—some Christians continued to follow them. Preaching in 387, just before High Holidays, which he described as “the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts,” a Christian leader in Antioch John Chrysostom was exasperated. “The festivals of the pitiful and miserable Jews,” he noted in his homily, “are soon to march upon us one after the other and in quick succession: the feast of Trumpets, the feast of Tabernacles, the fasts. There are many in our ranks who say they think as we do. Yet some of these are going to watch the festivals and others will join the Jews in keeping their feasts and observing their fasts. I wish to drive this perverse custom from the Church right now.” It was a difficult task, many Christian considered synagogues holy places because of the scrolls they held, and respected Jewish holidays. As a result John Chrysostom did everything possible to disparage both Jewish rituals and their synagogues, producing some of the most anti-Jewish writings in Christian history, though because they were written in Greek they became lost to the Roman Latin world.

Still, Jewish holidays continued to be subject of Christian interest and derision, seen a proof of the absurdity of their observance of Jewish law. Some of the earliest printed anti-Jewish books focus on Jewish ceremonies, and especially those of the High Holidays. At the beginning of the sixteenth-century, a new genre of literature developed, called by scholars “polemical ethnographies of Jews.” Victor von Carben and Johannes Pfefferkorn pioneered the genre in the German vernacular, and Antonius Margaritha perfected it. In 1508, Pfefferkorn published a pamphlet Ich heyss eyn buchlijn, which came with five woodcuts, four of which were full-page, representing scenes of Jewish ceremonies related to the High Holidays. In all of them, Jews appear blindfolded performing ritual acts on Rosh Ha-Shana and Yom Kippur, such taschlikh (a symbolic casting off of sins), kapparot (a ritual of atonement), and malkot (a ritual flagellation). The goal was unmistakably to ridicule and highlight the strangeness of Jewish observances. The woodcuts in Pfefferkorn’s booklet were some of the earliest visual representations of post-biblical Jews disseminated in Europe.

In 1530, Antonius Margaritha published Der gantz Jüdisch Glaub (The Entire Jewish Faith) and provided a fuller (than Pfefferkorn) description of Jewish customs, including also a translation of Jewish prayers into German. The book also came with woodcuts and became a bestseller. Margaritha’s illustrations were based on Pfefferkorn’s, though they were smaller and a mirror image, suggesting the artist had Pfefferkorn’s book in front of him.

The genre of “polemical ethnographies of Jews” flourished after the beginning of the Reformation in the context of Protestant anti-Catholic polemic and interests, as Protestants began to study “Jewish ritual for the purpose of elucidating the original practices” of early Christians, and, thereby, of pointing to the corruption of the Catholic Church. If von Carben, Pfefferkorn, and Margaritha were Jewish converts to Christianity, soon Christian scholars began to write their own books about Jewish ceremonies and rituals. One of the most successful such books became Johannes Buxtorf’s Synagoga Judaica, whichaddressed explicitly to the Christian reader, promising to “consider” with utmost diligence the “great ingratitude, disobedience, and stubbornness” of the Jews through a detailed description of Jewish ceremonies. He based his description on a wide array of Jewish sources ranging from the Talmud and the Shulḥan ‘Arukh, to prayer books, and Yiddish sources, such as sermons, guidebooks, and minhag books. Buxtorf, a reformed theologian and a professor of Hebrew at the University of Basel, wanted ostensibly to answer a question whether Jews indeed observed “zealously” the laws of Moses.  But, in fact, he sought to expose the “unbelief” of the Jews and show to Christians that Jews of his time no longer obeyed biblical laws but they followed “fables” and other traditions. He wanted to arm Christians with tools against the Jewish “unbelief” and help them avoid the “wrath of God.” The book became exceedingly popular, going through many editions in German and Latin, not least because—with no illustrations and small octavo or duodecimo format—it was inexpensive to print. Only some later, eighteenth-century editions included images.

Bernard Picart, The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Several Nations of the Known World (1733), illustrations of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur

But some other books were more exquisite. One such work was Bernard Picart’s elaborate depiction and description of Jewish ceremonies, Cèrèmonies et coutumes religieuses de tous les peuples du monde, published in 1723, with high quality copperplates that did not focus just on what Christians thought were absurd practices, and soon also in the English translation as The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of the Several Nations of the Known World. And though not all Picart’s Jewish figures are portrayed in a flattering way— some even sport a prominent “Jewish nose”–nonetheless these images are not inflammatory, though not devoid of polemical meaning. Like Pfefferkorn and Margaritha before him, Picart included in the first 1723 edition illustrations of Rosh Ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur, and the rest of High Holidays, but omitted the “bizarre” others emphasized (tashlikh, kapparot, and malkot). (Only a later edition in Paris added these derogatory images).

With these books, some illustrated, western Christian readers now had tools to learn more about Jews. Jewish rituals were now revealed, and the artists made it symbolically known that Christians were now privy to see the internal Jewish practices: many illustrations depict Christians gazing or even participating in the ceremonies: in Pfefferkorn’s and Margaritha’s books it is a Christian synagogue attendant, the only figure not blindfolded; in some of Bernard Picart’s depictions, among Christian figures are prominently located women wearing crosses; in Johann Alexander Boener’s depictions of Jews in Fürth, Christians witness outdoor Jewish ceremonies, as they also do in Paul Christian Kirchner’s Jüdisches Ceremoniel and Johann Bodenchatz’s Kirchliche Verfassung. The presence of the Christians in these illustrations made visible a significant point—they signaled to the readers that Jewish ceremonies, now exposed and witnessed by Christians, were no longer “secret” and concealed. In the long term, the works demystified Jewish practices. Even though these books presented Jews as strange, they also countered the knowledge passed on through anti-Jewish tales in chronicles so ubiquitous in Europe, in which Jews appeared as secretive and dangerous killers to be killed and plundered.

The High Holidays in Jewish Tradition: Highlights from Fordham’s Judaica Collection

by Magda Teter, the Shvidler Chair in Judaic Studies

Most Jewish holidays are found in the Tanakh—Passover the most explicitly discussed. Rosh ha-shanah and the High Holidays are there too but in less explicit ways. In the ḥumash—the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures also known as the Pentateuch—the year’s beginning was in the spring. The festival we now call New Year, Rosh Ha-Shanah, is mentioned as a festival on the first day of the seventh month, marking harvest. On that day, Moses instructed Israelites “to observe complete rest, a sacred occasion commemorated with loud blasts” (Lev. 23:22-24).  That is why the sounding of the shofar is the signature ritual of Rosh ha-shanah.

By the time of the Mishnah (the beginning of the third century CE), the idea of the New Year being celebrated in the fall was present but the debates still remained. The Mishnah mentions four new years (mRH 1:1): “The first of Nisan is the new year for kings and for festivals. The first of Elul is the new year for the tithe of beasts. Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Shimon say: the first of Tishri. The first of Tishri is the new year for years, for shmitta and jubilee years, for planting and for [tithe of] vegetables. The first of Shevat is the new year for trees, according to the words of Bet Shammai. Bet Hillel says: on the fifteenth of that month.” And these were the four times God issued a judgment—attuned to the annual agricultural rhythms of live in ancient Palestine (mRH 1:2): “On Pesah in respect to the produce. On Shavuot in respect to the fruit of the tree. On Rosh Hashanah all the people of the world…. And on Sukkot they are judged in respect of rain.”

With time, special prayers marking the festivals developed. Initially they were oral, public prayers, since prayer books did not develop until the eight century of the Common Era, or even later, in part because in antiquity writing down prayers was not allowed. As prayer books were created they reflected regional cultural differences among Jews. In the Middle Ages, Ashkenazi Jews, living in northern Europe, separated festival prayers from daily prayers, using the word maḥzor for large communal prayer books used during festivals, and siddur for daily prayers. Sephardic Jews also separated their prayers into different festival categories. But Italian Jews used the term maḥzor for both festival and daily prayers. Fordham’s new and growing Judaica collection has examples of prayer books, siddurim and maḥzorim, from different parts of the world. Below are a few examples.

In modern times rituals and traditions were adjusted and invented. For example, in the nineteenth century the new technology, called lithography, allowed for color printing. This, together with a development of a modern postal system, led the rise of a new form of communication—the postcard. In the late nineteenth century postcards became exceedingly popular, leading to the invention of the “Shanah Tovah” postcards.