In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Day we wanted to highlight The Freedom Seder: A New Haggadah from in our Judaica collection. The Freedom Seder was held at the Lincoln Temple, a black church in Washington, DC, in 1969 and was attended by hundreds of participants, Jews and Christians, black and white.
Passover of 1968 came on Aprl 12, just eight days after the assassination
of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and three days after his funeral. Days after the “Holy
Week Uprising” was quelled. That year, Arthur Waskow, one of Jewish peace activists
at the time and a future founder of the Shalom Center, felt that the Passover holiday
spoke to the struggles of the time. As he told NPR’s
Code Switch, for that Passover, “I wove the story of the liberation of
ancient Hebrews from Pharaoh with the liberation struggles of black America, of
the Vietnamese people, passages from Dr. King, from Gandhi.”
In 1969, the anniversary of Dr. King’s death fell on one of the days of Passover, and Arthur Waskow along with other activists organized the Freedom Seder. For that occasion, Waskow created a “new Haggadah,” one that combined traditional elements with those relevant to the times, using the Saul Raskin Haggadah, which he had been given in 1946 for his bar mitzvah, and adapting it by adding new voices, among them Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Abraham Lincoln, Nat Turner, Emanuel Ringelblum, and of course Martin Luther King Jr.:
No, the moments of resistance have not been bloodless. The blood of tyrants and the blood of freemen has watered history. But we may not rest easy in that knowledge. The freedom we seek is a freedom from blood as well as a freedom from tyrants. It is incumbent upon us not only to remember in tears the blood of the tyrants and the blood of the prophets and martyrs, but to end the letting of blood. To end it, to end it! For as one of the greatest of our prophets, whose own death by violence at a time near the Passover were member in tears tonight—as the prophet Martin Luther King called us to know: “The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the principle of nonviolent resistance seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites-acquiescence and violence. The nonviolent resister rises to the noble height of opposing the unjust system while loving the perpetrators of the system. Nonviolence can reach men where the law can not touch them. So—we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process.”
The Freedom Seder Haggadah was first published in the Ramparts magazine, and, according Waskow, this was “the first Haggadah, certainly the first widely circulated, that celebrated the liberation of other peoples as well as the liberation of the Jewish people.”
The Shalom Center, founded by Rabbi Waskow, has posted a 10 minute video of the 1969 seder:
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
by Boaz Huss (Ben Gurion University, Israel and a past Fordham-NYPL Fellow in Jewish Studies)
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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