Archive for May 2009

Is Aliyah Detrimental to American Jewry?

May 31, 2009

In Jonathan’s Sarna’s article in The Forward about the challenges of American Orthodoxy, he lists aliyah as one of the challenges:

Third, American Orthodoxy is experiencing a significant brain drain. It sends its best and its brightest to Israel for long periods of yeshiva study, and unsurprisingly, many of them never return. One can think of multiple examples of remarkable Orthodox men and women who might have had a profound effect on Jewish religious life in America but preferred to cast their lot with the Jewish state. Can a movement that sends its most illustrious sons and daughters to Israel truly expect to triumph here in the United States?

Israel expects that American Jewry will support the State of Israel and this is even more true for American Orthodoxy. The Modern Orthodox Jewish community in the United States is extremely supportive of Israel – donating funds, educating students about the importance of Israel and encouraging tourism to Israel.

Sarna’s thesis, that this philosophy ultimately hurts American Orthodoxy is an interesting one.  The bulk of Orthodox Jews educated in yeshiva in the US remain in America. The ones who make aliyah go to Israel looking for better educational opportunities for themselves or their children or in order to fulfill the mitzvah of living in Israel. Are these the cream of the crop religiously and intellectually? Are these the Jews who could be influential active members of religious communities in the US?

Today is the Salute to Israel parade in New York City. Many Jewish day schools will be marching in the parade to celebrate Israel’s independence and to show their support for Israel. The organizers expect 100,000 participants and one million spectators.

Support for Israel is built into the American Orthodox educational system and this is unlikely to change soon. Whether this will really have an effect on the quality of Jewish communities in the American Diaspora remains to be seen.


Construction Controversy

May 27, 2009

Sixty years ago, the building of any city, town or settlement in Israel was a reason for rejoicing. Today it can cause major controversy. Ynet reports that the Israeli government plans to build a new city for the ultra-Orthodox in the Negev. The new city, which will be called Kasif, has already been opposed by more than one group.

The Israel Nature and National Parks Service (NNPS) and the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel believe the new city is a threat to the environment of Israel and the  plant and wildlife in the Negev.

The NNPS also argues that it would be preferable to encourage the ultra-Orthodox to settle in already existing southern cities. Arad, for instance, has only reached half of its potential population and could benefit from an influx of residents.

Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen supports the construction of the city. He is in favor of any type of Jewish settlement in the Negev. He refers to the “demographic situation” – in other words, the concern that someday in the not-too-distant future, the Arab population in the Negev could exceed the Jewish one.

This controversy raises the much-asked question: What is Zionism in the 21st century? For some, concern over the environment in Israel can be considered Zionism. For others, encouraging integration of different elements in Israeli society is a Zionist value. And others are still sticking to the old values: Jewish settlement of the land first and foremost. This difference of opinion is also evident in the ideological divide between settlers in Judea and Samaria and the more dovish elements of society. The settlers believe that continuing the original Zionist ideal of settling in every part of the country is top priority, while others argue that now that Israel is a developed stable country other goals take precedence.

Of course, disagreement on the definition of Zionism today is not the only argument between the left and the right in Israel. The question of how best to achieve security for the citizens of Israel is a major one too. However, the issue of what Zionism means to a country 60 years old – or 70 years old or 80 years old – has far-reaching consequences for the future of the State of Israel.

Herbert Samuel

May 25, 2009
Herbert Samuel Arrives in Palestine, 1920

Herbert Samuel Arrives in Palestine, 1920

When the British Mandate of Palestine was established in 1920, Herbert Samuel was appointed the first High Commissioner of Palestine. Samuel was a British Jew and his appointment demonstrated that the British mission was to establish a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. (Subsequent High Commissioners of Palestine were not Jewish and the British later committed themselves to establishing two states in Palestine.)

On June 30, 1920, Sir Louis Bols of the Occupied Enemy Territory Administration handed over Palestine to Herbert Samuel, who signed that he had received “one Palestine, complete.”

One Palestine complete

"One Palestine complete"

Samuel attempted to set up first a legislative council and then an advisory council which would include Jews, Arabs and Christians. Due to the lack of cooperation on the part of the Arabs these initiatives failed. An advisory council made up of only British officials was established instead.

During Samuel’s administration the White Paper of 1922 was published, restricting Jewish immigration and defining the Jewish national homeland as “not the imposition of a Jewish nationality upon the inhabitants of Palestine as a whole, but the further development of the existing Jewish community, with the assistance of Jews in other parts of the world, in order that it may become a centre in which the Jewish people as a whole may take, on grounds of religion and race, a interest and a pride.”

Herbert Samuel left Palestine in 1925 and was succeeded by Herbert Plumer as High Commissioner. Samuel returned to politics in Britain, serving both in the House of Commons and the House of Lords.

Netanyahu-Obama Meeting

May 20, 2009

ABC News has posted a clip from the meeting between Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama:

Newly Discovered Antiquities

May 20, 2009

Two announcements of archaeological discoveries were made yesterday. The Israel Antiquities Authority announced the discovery of a seal bearing the name Shaul.

Seal of Shaul

Seal of Shaul

The seal dates to the eighth century BCE (the First Temple period). According to the IAA press release:

The name of the seal’s owner was completely preserved and it is written in the shortened form of the name שאול (Shaul). The name is known from both the Bible (Genesis 36:37; 1 Samuel 9:2; 1 Chronicles 4:24 and 6:9) and from other Hebrew seals.

More details about the seal are on the COJS website and on Jim West’s blog.

The second archaeological discovery is a jug handle with the name Menachem or Nachum inscribed on it. The dating of the jug is uncertain as well. Scholars speculate that the jug handle originates from as early as the Canaanite period up until the First Temple period. It was discovered inRas al-Amud, a Jerusalem neighborhood.

Jug Handle

Jug Handle

Scholarly comments on this discovery are at Jim West’s blog.

Documenting Israel’s History

May 19, 2009

The NY Times reports on a project called Toldot Yisrael, whose mission is to film eyewitness accounts of the establishment of the State of Israel. The goal is to interview as many people as possible who lived through the days leading up to Israel’s independence. So far over 80 interviews have been conducted. Plans are underway to post clips from some of the videos online. The inspiration for the project comes from Steven Spielberg’s interviews of Holocaust survivors.

Oral histories are quite different from written histories and eyewitness accounts have a different perspective than researched works. These interviews can’t provide an objective history of the period, but, once made available to the public, will provide an important window into the history of twentieth century Israel.

Chaim Weizmann – Israel’s First President

May 17, 2009
Chaim Weizmann

Chaim Weizmann

Today (May 17) is the anniversary of the day Chaim Weizmann accepted the Israeli presidency in 1948. Weizmann accepted from his hotel room at the Wardolf-Astoria, since he was ill. In his statement he said,

“I pray that the struggle forced upon us will speedily end and will be succeeded by an era of peace, development and prosperity for the people of Israel and those who are waiting to join us in the construction and advancement of the new state.

“I regret that at this moment I am not with our people, but my thoughts and prayers are especially with those who are bearing the brunt and sacrifice of Israel’s defense.

“The future of Israel will not be unworthy of those who have fallen. Zion shall be redeemed in justice.”

Weizmann was a scientist and an active Zionist from 1901 onwards. In 1918, he met with Emir Feisal to gain his support for the Zionist cause. He served as president of the World Zionist Organization from 1920-1931 and again from 1935-1946. In 1947 he appeared before the United Nations Special Committee of Palestine.

Weizmann initially became president of the Provisional Council of Israel. On Feb. 16, 1949 he became President of Israel. He served as president until his death in 1952.