Sunday, November 28, 2010

Wikileaks - cynical and naive

Having read a few of the cables leaked by Wikileaks, I am actually more impressed by U.S. diplomatic representatives than I was before. The cables I've read are well-written, concise, and informative, and reveal a knowledgeable and skeptical attitude towards those with whom the U.S. is negotiating.

The Wikileaks site, however, introduces the cables with the following words:
The cables show the extent of US spying on its allies and the UN; turning a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuse in 'client states'; backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; lobbying for US corporations; and the measures US diplomats take to advance those who have access to them.

This document release reveals the contradictions between the US’s public persona and what it says behind closed doors – and shows that if citizens in a democracy want their governments to reflect their wishes, they should ask to see what’s going on behind the scenes.
I totally disagree with the Wikileaks introduction, which I think is both cynical and naive.

It is cynical because it assumes that U.S. intentions are always, and uniquely, bad. Other countries don't spy on their allies, turn a blind eye to corruption and human rights abuses in countries with which they are allied, lobby for corporations based in their countries, and advance the interests of those who have access to their diplomats? I think that probably almost every nation with even the least bit of power does these things in their diplomatic relations. Just for an example I know about, Israel has spied on the U.S. (think of the Pollard case). Most nations pick and choose the human rights abuses they protest. I don't particularly like it, but I don't expect anything differently - national governments operate on the basis of what they perceive national self-interest to be. China, for an example, has been assiduously working on behalf of Chinese economic interests in other countries. Diplomacy is not conducted in such a way as to prove the pure motives of the nation.

It is naive because it assumes that it's possible to get anything done diplomatically without secrecy. The Oslo Accords negotiated between the PLO and Israel would not have occurred if they had been conducted publicly. Diplomats need to be able to report truthfully back to the State Department - which means they have to be able to say undiplomatic things about foreign leaders. What use would there be in sanitized cables to the State Department which don't reveal frank evaluations of foreign leaders or officials? Or which don't reveal what they really say to U.S. diplomats? I want the U.S. to be able to say different things in private than in public - that way we can propose actions that if they turn out to be a bad idea, we can later disavow and say we never thought of.  Or perhaps our diplomats can say things that we might aspire to do but cannot do at the present moment. There are a lot of good uses for secrecy in diplomacy.

Even paranoids have enemies....

Wikileaks has posted a July, 2009 cable from the American Embassy in Abu Dhabi to the State Department, which doesn't have the "Ahmedinejad is Hitler" quote but does have many interesting statements by and about Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ in the cable). This cable refers to a dinner meeting held on July 15, 2009 between Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ) and Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al Nahyan (ABZ). [I am starting to wonder if there was an editing error in the Times' story on the July, 2009 cables about meetings with Mohammed bin Zayed - it will be interesting to see if some corroboration appears for the quote].

Some of the more interesting details:

From the summary: "He [MBZ] painted to a nuclear Iran as an existential threat to the UAE and invoked the well being of his grandchildren while urging the U.S. to act quickly. MBZ asked for close coordination between the U.S. and UAE to deal with the Iranian threat."

On the Iranian threat: "MBZ described a nuclear armed Iran as absolutely untenable. He pointed to Iran's relentless ambitions to restore regional hegemony as evidenced by destabilizing interference in Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Palestine. He believes that 'all hell will break loose' if Iran attains the bomb, with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Turkey developing their own nuclear weapons capability and Iran instigating Sunni - Shia conflict throughout the world. He said Iran is surrounding Israel - driven by ideological conviction - and will threaten Israel's existence should it go nuclear. At the same time, he described Iran's ambitions as reflecting a desire to restore Persia's great-power status, rather than driven by religious convictions." [Emphasis mine - RL]

On war with Iran: "While careful not to suQY.JQoWoRth [word is garbled on Wikileaks site] Iran, MBZ described a near term conventional war with Iran as clearly preferable to the long term consequences of a nuclear armed Iran. Without timely and decisive action by the United States, MBZ believes that Israel will strike Iran, causing Iran to launch missile attacks - including hits on the UAE - and to unleash terror attacks worldwide. In his view, 'the map of the Middle East' would change. He expects widespread civilian conflict to erupt as Iran sparks Sunni - Shia violence worldwide (including the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia which he sees as the greatest vulnerability, along with Iraq, in the Arab world). He speculated that such an event could unfold within six months time and resolved that the UAE is prepared to defend itself. He believes that an Israeli strike will not be successful in stopping Iran's nuclear program, and therefore we need to plan."

On why Israeli-Palestinian agreement is important in this context: "MBZ suggested that the key to containing Iran revolves around progress in the Israel/Palestine issue. He argued that it will be essential to bring Arab public opinion on board in any conflict with Iran and roughly 80% of the public is amenable to persuasion. To win them over, the U.S. should quickly bring about a two state solution over the objections of the Netanyahu government. He suggested working with moderate Palestinians that support the road map, and forget about the others as there is no time to waste." This is interesting to me - what he is suggesting is that when it comes to Iran, the I/P conflict isn't important in and of itself, but rather for the purpose of gaining the support of Arab public opinion in any action against Iran. As long as the I/P conflict exists, Iran can exploit it in order to gain the support of Arab public opinion.

Another July, 2009 cable, recounts the 7/19/09 Gulf Security Dialogue working dinner hosted by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed. More relevant remarks on Iran:

"MbZ reiterated his belief that an Israeli pre-emptive strike against Iran was increasingly likely, saying he was convinced the Netanyahu government was prepared to act against Iran, and that he agreed with Israeli intelligence assessments regarding how close Tehran is to achieving its nuclear ambitions. The Iranian response to a pre-emptive strike, predicted MbZ, would be attacks on U.S. allies in the region, foremost among them the UAE; Iran may also unleash terrorist cells against western interests around the world. ASD Vershbow explained that the USG assessment differed in timeframe -- we do not anticipate military confrontation with Iran before the end of 2009 -- stressing, however, that denying Iran's nuclear ambitions and stemming its efforts to achieve regional hegemony were foremost among U.S. international security concerns." We have now arrived almost at the end of 2010, and there still has been no military confrontation with Iran.

"Ahmedinejad is Hitler" - Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi

On the other hand, the Wikileaks documents do reveal a fascinating group of Middle Eastern nations that agree on the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran: Israel (of course), the king of Bahrain (which is the base for the U.S. Fifth Fleet), king Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who implored the U.S. to "cut off the head of the snake," and military leaders from the United Arab Emirates (the defense chief, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed of Abu Dhabi called Ahmedinejad "Hitler" in July 2009). See the short discussion by Jeffrey Goldberg - "The Saudis are Neocons."

I looked for the full text of the document that details the words of the Crown Prince about Ahmedinejad, but it doesn't appear that the Times has published it yet.

Update on November 29: a commenter provided the reference - it's in the July 23, 2009, cable from the Abu Dhabi embassy (, in the section entitled "Afghanistan - Neighbors Not Doing Enough." I missed seeing because of that headline. Here's the full text:
MbZ criticized other regional leaders for playing both sides and for "dating" Iran. MbZ compared the current situation to pre-WWII Europe saying, "Ahmedinejad is Hitler," and neighboring capitals believe erroneously that they can prevent Iranian retaliation by playing nice or signing agreements with Tehran. "They think the are backing the winning horse," MbZ explained, emphasizing that if they think that by appeasing Iran they will avoid Iranian retaliation "then they are seriously mistaken, Sir."

Who elected Julian Assange?

As Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs says (European Newspapers Begin Publishing Wikileaks Docs), "I don't recall voting for Julian Assange. As he sets himself up as the arbiter of government morality, and recklessly reveals secrets that will distort and vastly complicate international relations, and very probably cause innocent people to suffer and die, who will hold him accountable? Who does he answer to?"

Amen. I'm glad that someone with public visibility, like Charles, is asking these questions.

The New York Times, which is one of the newspapers publishing these documents, has redacted some of them, both on the grounds of protecting private citizens named in the documents whose lives might be threatened, and on the grounds of protecting American intelligence efforts.
The Times has withheld from articles and removed from documents it is posting online the names of some people who spoke privately to diplomats and might be at risk if they were publicly identified. The Times is also withholding some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts.

Monday, November 22, 2010

SBL – an increasingly confessional Christian scholarly society?

Upon reflection about this year’s SBL annual meeting, aside from my own pleasant experiences of meeting friends and going to intellectually stimulating panel sessions, there were also things that bothered me about the conference. Ron Hendel, earlier this year, wrote a cri de coeur against what he saw as the increasingly confessional (especially conservative evangelical Protestant) and less critical approach to biblical scholarship at the SBL. (It was published in Biblical Archaeology Review and is available at his website for download - I was skeptical of his critique, because that was not how I experienced the SBL. I spend most of my time attending sessions organized on midrash, or early Jewish and Christian mysticism, Bible and Qur’an, early Jewish and Christian relations, and the like – and in these sessions scholars approach their research from the relevant critical perspectives. This year I noticed a marked difference – the increased presence of explicitly confessional panel sessions at the SBL, usually organized by outside groups. In the program book I noticed sessions organized by the Society for Pentecostal Studies, the Society of Christian Ethics, the Institute for Biblical Research (six total sessions), the Adventist Society for Religious Studies, the GOCN Forum on Missional Hermeneutics, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, and the Academy of Homiletics. The Academy of Homiletics held nine panels on Friday and two on Saturday.

The first meeting of the Institute for Biblical Research, their annual lecture and reception, was held on Friday evening. N.T. Wright, of the University of St. Andrews, gave the annual lecture, on “The Kingdom and the Cross,” which was preceded by “scripture reading and prayer,” led by Helene Dallaire of Denver Seminary. The reception was sponsored by the InterVarsity Press. If I had been interested in hearing Wright’s lecture, I would have been made very uncomfortable by the explicitly confessional nature of the session.

The group’s website ( describes its mission: “The Institute for Biblical Research, Incorporated (IBR) is an organization of evangelical Christian scholars with specialties in Old and New Testament and in ancillary disciplines. Its vision is to foster excellence in the pursuit of Biblical Studies within a faith environment. The achievement of this goal is sought primarily by organizing annual conferences, conducting seminars and workshops, and by sponsoring academic publications in the various fields of biblical research. IBR's conferences, seminars and workshops are open to the public and its publications are available for purchase.”

The Society for Pentecostal Studies sponsored four sessions. On Saturday, their 1:00 p.m. session was on “Charismatic perspectives on the Hebrew Bible.” Their Monday 9:00 am session was on “Pentecostal-Charismatic Hermeneutics.” The Monday 1:00 p.m. session was “Charismatic Perspectives on the New Testament.” Judging purely from the session titles, the point seemed to be to give an explicitly Pentecostal perspective on various biblical books – not from the perspective of one studying about Pentecostalism, but of people utilizing their own Pentecostal faith to interpret the Bible.

The group’s website ( describes its mission as follows: “The Society for Pentecostal Studies began in 1970 and is an organization of scholars dedicated to providing a forum of discussion for all academic disciplines as a spiritual service to the kingdom of God. The purpose of the society is to stimulate, encourage, recognize, and publicize the work of Pentecostal and charismatic scholars; to study the implications of Pentecostal theology in relation to other academic disciplines, seeking a Pentecostal world-and-life view; and to support fully, to the extent appropriate for an academic society, the statement of purposes of the World Pentecostal Fellowship.”

In addition to a number of sessions organized by confessional groups, the book display was dominated by presses presenting predominantly Christian perspectives, or university or trade publishers that sent only the books they appeared to think would appeal to people coming from a particular Christian perspective. There have always been a certain number of presses or other organization selling books and other materials from an explicitly confessional perspective, but the percentage (in my eyes) was higher than it had been before.

I am Jewish. Since I started going to AAR/SBL meetings as a graduate student in 1985, I have always felt welcomed at the SBL. My religious identity (or whether I had a religious identity at all) seemed irrelevant to the society of scholars who were interested in studying the Bible and other early Jewish and Christian religious texts together. I felt that I was joining a group of people who could speak and do critical research across differences of religious affiliation and practice. Perhaps I was naïve. The field of biblical studies has certainly been marred (and fatally damaged, some people might argue) by a wide variety of forms of prejudice and institutionalized discrimination. It has been used to foster even the most virulent forms of racism, as when Protestant biblical scholars in the Third Reich used the tools of scholarship to support the genocide of the Jews (see Susannah Heschel’s book, The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany []).

Nonetheless, my experience of the SBL has been very positive. In the years that I have gone to the annual meetings I have seen Jews, Christians, people of other religions, and people without any religious belief or practice cooperating in the study of texts in a way that once would have been impossible. It was not necessary to be a Christian, or pretend to be one, in order to be an active participant in discussions at the SBL. Will this continue to be true? In my view, it is essential to the mission of the SBL to be a scholarly society where the religious commitment of scholars is irrelevant to their participation in any panel discussion at the annual meeting. I would be just as opposed to separate tracks of programming organized by a Jewish group that required a commitment to traditional Judaism as I am to the tracks of programming that now exist that appear to be limited to evangelical Protestants or Pentecostals. I think it is time for the SBL to dissociate itself from such groups and reaffirm its commitment to scriptural study beyond confessional boundaries.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

SBL Sunday November 21

Today was another pleasant day at the SBL. I went to the morning session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section, and heard papers on merkabah elements in early Christian writings (Ascension of Isaiah and Hebrews), as well as a review of the new book by Bogdan Bucur, Angelomorphic Pneumatology: Clement of Alexandria and Other Early Christian Witnesses.

In the afternoon, in lieu of going to sessions, I went to the book display and got several expensive books from European publishers - Mohr Siebeck and Brill. It's still a wonder to me how university presses in the United States still manage to publish scholarly books that cost much less than these excellent European presses. I've published several articles in books from these presses, and their cost is always much too high to recommend to anyone to buy them. I also had a good time talking to a friend of mine about Jewish Studies and especially about the definition of the word "Jew" - at what historical point can we start speaking of "Jews" and not "Israelites"? We agreed between ourselves that the term becomes relevant - to refer to an ethnic-religious group - in the books of the Ezra-Nehemiah, specifically pointing to the returning exiles who go from Babylonia to the Persian sub-province of Yehud after the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C.E. Obviously, others disagree, and argue that the term only really becomes meaningful in the time of the Maccabees in the second century B.C.E., or even later in the first century C.E. or afterwards.

In the evening, to the reception for Rachel Elior, to honor her with the presentation of a festschrift, edited by Andrei Orlov and Daphna Arbel, entitled With Letters of Light: Studies in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Early Jewish Apocalypticism, Magic, and Mysticism. I contributed an article to the volume, "'They revealed secrets to their wives': The Transmission of Magical Knowledge in 1 Enoch." The reception began with an introduction by Andrei and Daphna, and continued with greetings and appreciations by the other people attending the evening - many of whom had contributed to the festschrift. Rachel then thanked all of us and talked about how she had gotten interested in the connections between Hekhalot literature and the Qumran texts - when she discovered the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice in 1987 and began to read them together with the Hekhalot hymns. I didn't know the particular story of her learning about the Songs, but I do remember her Hekhalot seminar at the Hebrew University in the 1988-1989 academic year, when we spent quite a long time reading Qumran texts, and focused upon the Sabbath Songs.

After that reception some of us left and went to the JTS reception, which was marked by the presence of good kosher food - and plenty of it! (Always an important consideration at these convention receptions).

Tomorrow morning I'm heading back to Ithaca, and won't be going to any other SBL sessions, unfortunately. This has proven to be an enjoyable conference.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Today at the SBL

I went to a couple of interesting sessions at the SBL today - the first was the morning session of the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism section, which was a book review session. The first book reviewed was Peter Schäfer's The Origins of Jewish Mysticism. James Davila and Seth Sanders both spoke about it. I was supposed to be one of the reviewers, but I was really over-committed this semester and thus was unable to complete my review. I will, however, be writing a review to be published sometime next year. They both brought up interesting critical points - you can read all of Jim's review at his blog, PaleoJudaica (there's a link to a PDF of the review). Jim's critique focused on the lack of attention given by Schäfer to the ritual, instructional character of the Hekhalot texts, which he thinks is the way we should be reading them, rather than getting involved in the old fight over whether the texts describe mystical experiences or are literary, exegetical texts. Seth's reading focused on another point raised by Schäfer, on how the biblical book of Ezekiel should be understood - again, not as giving us access to the supposed ecstatic experience of Ezekiel which provides the basis of the book, but to certain linguistic features ("the hand of the Lord" upon Ezekiel) that indicate a pragmatic effect upon Ezekiel. I hope that Seth will say more about his interpretation on his blog, Serving the Word.

The second part of the EJCM session was a review of another book, The Spirit World in the Letters of Paul the Apostle, by Guy Williams. Charles Gieschen reviewed the book, and Williams responded.

This afternoon I went to a session of the Qur'an and Biblical Literature Section. I missed the first talk, by Herb Berg, on "Islamic origins and the nature of the early sources," but was there for the other papers, by Stephen Shoemaker, Vernon Robbins, Devin Stewart, and Gordon Newby, which were all very interesting. This is by no means my field, but I am very interested in it, especially the way in which the  Qur'an takes up earlier Jewish and Christian traditions (biblical as well as post-biblical) and re-uses/re-fashions them for its own theological/rhetorical agenda. Since I don't know Arabic, it's not going to be an area that I can do my own academic research in, but I like to follow what others are doing. If I have time I'll write more about each paper.

I'm now going to seize the moment and go to the book display. Tomorrow morning is another session of the EJCM, and tomorrow night there is a reception for Rachel Elior, with presentation of a festschrift to her.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Airport security - Israel & US

I just discovered, through reading Jeffrey Goldberg's blog, that the Shin Bet (the Israeli internal security agency) has a web site! Somehow, this seems contrary to the image I have that security agencies should be secret! If you're interested, here it is: The Israeli Security Agency.

Goldberg cited an interesting terrorism case that happened in 1986, of Anne-Marie Murphy, whose Jordanian boyfriend gave her a bomb to carry onto an El Al flight. She was six months pregnant (by him). If the bomb had blown up, almost 400 people would have been killed on the flight. I remember traveling to Israel a year or two after that and going through Israeli security. The security agent asked me if I knew why he was asking me all those questions - and then proceeded to tell me the Anne-Marie Murphy story.

Today I went through the security line in Ithaca, where fortunately they don't have one of the screening machines that can see under people's clothes. We did, of course, have to take off our shoes and put our baggies of containers holding less than 3 oz. of liquid in the bin. At least the TSA employees were polite.

Society of Biblical Literature - Atlanta

I'm sitting in the Ithaca-Tompkins airport, waiting to fly to Philadelphia for my flight to Atlanta for the annual SBL meeting. I'm attending a panel organized by the Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism Section, which I'm looking forward to - among other things, we're reviewing Peter Schafer's new book on the origins of early Jewish mysticism. Seth Sanders and James Davila will be presenting. That session is Saturday morning - I hope we will have an audience!

I just got back on Tuesday from another conference, held at Princeton University, about the Hekhalot Literature - I'll write more about it later. My talk was on the role of women (or lack thereof) in the circles that produced the Hekhalot Literature.

I hope to do some more posts from the SBL, writing about sessions that I've attended.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Secret Justice Department report on U.S. help to former Nazis

The New York Times has just posted to its website a secret, 617-page report prepared by the Justice Department on how the U.S. government helped former Nazis, and then prosecuted many who had come to the U.S. under false pretenses. The Justice Department ordered that the report be made, but then suppressed it for four years. Someone just gave the Times the full report, which is available at: Secret Justice Department Report Details How the U.S. Helped Former Nazis.

There is an appendix to the report that gives information about 143 Nazi persecutors whom the Office of Special Investigations, formed in 1979 to investigate and deport Nazi war criminals, prosecuted and attempted to deport (in many cases succeeding).

I have extracted the reports on those accused of committing atrocities in Latvia and Estonia, and they are copied here.

Bogdanovs, Boleslavs
Born: 1917, Russia
Died: 1984, US

Alleged Persecutory Activity: Member of the "Arajs Kommando," a Latvian death squad responsible for mass execution of thousands of civilians in Nazi-occupied Latvia. The victims of the mass shootings were mostly Jewish, but also included political enemies (those believed to be Communists), gypsies and the mentally ill. The leader of the organization, Viktor Arajs, was convicted in West Germany for leading the unit in murdering more than 13,000 people.

Legal history: Denaturalization proceedings commenced in Nov. 1983. Bogdanovs died before the case was resolved.

Detlavs, Karlis
Born: 1911, Latvia
Died: 1983, US

Alleged Persecutory Activity: As a member of the Latvian Auxiliary Security Police, he executed Jews in the Riga ghetto and chose Jews for execution in the Dwinsk ghetto.

Legal History: Detlavs never became a U.S. citizen. INS filed a deportation action in 1976. An immigration judge rejected the government’s case in 1980 and that decision was affirmed on appeal the following year.

Didrichsons, Valdis
Born: 1913, Latvia
Died: 1995, U.S. A
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Member of the Arajs Kommando (see Bogdanovs).
Legal History: The government filed a denaturalization suit in May 1988. The case settled in Feb. 1990 with Didrichsons agreeing to relinquish his citizenship. Because he was ill, the U.S. agreed not to institute deportation proceedings.

Hazners, Vilis
Born: 1905, Latvia
Died: 1989, U.S.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Selected Latvian Jews in the Dwinsk ghetto for execution.
Legal History: Hazners never became a U.S. citizen. A denaturalization action was filed by INS in Jan. 1977. The government’s claims were rejected in 1980 and OSI handled the appeal. The immigration judge’s decision was affirmed in 1981.

Inde, Edgars
Born: 1909, Latvia
Died: 1980, U.S.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Member of the Arajs Kommando (see Bogdanovs)
Legal History: The government filed a denaturalization suit in Aug. 1988. Inde died before the court issued a ruling. [RL: There’s obviously an error in dates here].

Kalejs, Konrads.
Born: 1913, Latvia
Died: 2001, Australia
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Officer in the Arajs Kommando (see Bogdanovs) and a guard supervisor at the Salaspils concentration camp near Riga, Latvia.
Legal History: Kalejs never became a U.S. citizen. A deportation action was filed in Nov. 1984 and he was ordered deported to Australia in Nov. 1988. His appeals were exhausted in Mar. 1994 and he was deported the following month. See pp. 469-478,493.

Kaklins, Talivaldis
Born: 1914, Latvia
Died: 1983, U.S.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Member of Latvian District Police and director of the Madona concentration camp in Latvia. As a member of the District Police, he participated in two mass executions of hundreds of Jews and Soviet activists.
Legal History: A denaturalization case was filed in 1981. It was pending when he died.

Kauls, Juris
Born: 1912, Latvia
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Deputy chief and Commander of the guards at a Nazi concentration camp near Riga, Latvia
Legal History: A denaturalization case was filed in 1984. Kauls left for Germany in 1988 while the case was still pending. The court entered a default judgment of denaturalization.

Kirsteins, Mikelis
Born: 1916, Russia
Died: 1994, U.S.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Member of the Arajs Kommando (see Bogdanovs)
Legal History: A denaturalization case was filed in July 1987. The case settled in Dec. 1991, with Kirsteins relinquishing his citizenship and the U.S. agreeing not to file a deportation action unless the defendant's medical condition improved.

Laipenieks, Edgars
Born: 1913, Latvia
Died: 1998, U.S.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Member of the Latvian Political Police which pursued Jews and Communists.
Legal History: Laipenieks never became a U.S. citizen. A deportation case was filed in June 1981. The government lost; the decision was reversed on appeal, and then reversed again. See pp. 117-126.

Linnas, Karl
Born: 1919, Estonia
Died: 1987, U.S.S.R.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Chief of concentration camp in Tartu, Estonia
Legal History: Denaturalization proceedings commenced in Nov. 1979. Linnas' citizenship was revoked in June 1981 and his appeals were exhausted in Oct. 1982. A deportation action was filed in June 1982 and Linnas was ordered deported in May 1983. Appeals were exhausted in Apr. 1987 at which time he was deported to the U.S.S.R. See pp. 273-297.

Maikovskis, Boleslavs*
Born: 1904, Latvia
Died: 1996, Germany
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Latvian chief of police who participated in the arrest of civilians and the burning of their dwellings.
Legal History: Maikovskis never became a U.S. citizen. INS filed a deportation case in Oct. 1976. Maikovskis was ordered deported to Switzerland in Aug. 1984. Switzerland would not allow him entry and OSI asked the court to modify its order to designate the U.S.S.R. In Oct. 1987, while that request was pending, Maikovskis left for West Germany. In 1988, Germany charged him with war crimes. His trial was suspended due to the defendant's ill health. See pp. 430, 433-434.

Sprogis, Elmars
Born: 1914, Latvia
Died: 1991, U.S.
Alleged Persecutory Activity: Assistant Chief of Police in Gulbene, Latvia. He was involved in the arrest, transportation, and confiscation of property from nine Jews, the transportation of 100 to 150 Jews to the site of their execution, and the appropriation of furniture from the houses of arested Jews. Legal History: A denaturalization complaint was filed in June 1982. The government lost the case both in the district court and on appeal. See pp. 101-105.

Trucis, Arnolds
Born: 1909, Latvia
Died: 1981, U.S.
Alleged persecutory activity: Member of the Latvian Auxiliary Police and the Security Service of the SS which guarded and beat Jewish civilians.
Legal History: A denaturalization action was filed in June 1980. Trucis died before the matter was resolved.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Lazar Gulkowitsch

Last summer, at the international SBL in Tartu, Estonia, I went to a really interesting presentation by Anu Pöldsam of the University of Tartu. She presented on Lazar Gulkowitsch, who had had a chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Tartu from 1934 to 1941 (when he was killed by the Nazis). I finally wrote up my notes of her talk.
She started by talking about the historical situation in Estonia at the time. Estonia became an independent nation after WWI. In 1924 Estonia granted rights to minorities for independent status, and in 1926 cultural autonomy was granted to the Jewish community in Estonia.

In 1929 a society to promote Jewish Studies was established at Tartu University. The first goal was to educate Jews, but it got support from the theological faculty, the rector of Tartu University, and from other Jewish scholars outside the university.

In 1934 a chair, supported by the Jewish community, was established in Philosophy at the University of Tartu. Lazar Gulkowitsch was appointed to the position.

Lazar Gulkowitsch was a scholar who followed the methods and philosophy of the Wissenschaft des Judentums. For his position at Tartu, he was recommended by Christian scholars in Germany.

He was born in 1898 in Shirin (Belorus) and studied at the Mir Yeshiva. In 1919 he studied at the University of Königsberg, where he received his Ph.D. He worked on Kabbalah for his thesis. In 1924 he was invited to Leipzig, where he lectured on Hebrew and Aramaic studies. He also continued to study at Leipzig. In 1927 he received his habilitation in Hasidism. In 1932 he was named a professor of Judaism at Leipzig, but in 1933 he was dismissed because of the Nazi racial laws.

In 1934 he went to Tartu. There were 25 students there from Estonia and Latvia. Some rabbinical students came as well for a Ph.D. in Hebrew literature. He gave guest lectures in the United States and Sweden after he got Estonian citizenship in 1937.

In 1941 he was killed by the Nazis (after the Nazi invasion in the summer of that year). He had many publications and five unpublished manuscripts. (One of his published books was Der Hasid).

In 1938 he wrote about his scholarly program. He was interested in the history of ideas – rational and mystical approaches, with an emphasis on language. He was a philologist, also interested in the philosophy of language and culture. He wrote on the formation of abstract terms in Hebrew. The term חסיד was among the central terms of Jewish culture. He covered its appearance in all aspects of Jewish literature. He thoroughly researched Hasidism, relying on texts. Discussed the peak, the ideal of Hasidism. He studied cultural-hasidic phenomena and the sociological structure of Hasidism. He had a holistic approach to it – history, language, culture, and social sciences.

Why was he forgotten?
Gershom Scholem discussed Gulkowitsch in his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism. He found his approach too rational (Scholem was very critical of the rationalistic Wissenschaft des Judentums). But Scholem didn’t know Gulkowitsch’s later work in Tartu, because Gulkowitsch was isolated in Tartu until 1937 (when he gained Estonian citizenship and could then leave the country to give lectures elsewhere). He had almost no audience in Estonia. There was a lack of research resources because of financial difficulties. Also a shift from focus on the essence of Judaism to emphasis on the Jew and his life.

He might have tried to find a position in Leningrad before the German invasion. There is a story that he went to the train station with his family to go to the Soviet Union at the last moment, but then turned back and didn’t go.
I just did a Google search for Gulkowitsch and turned up an interesting article about him, written by another scholar at the University of Tartu - Urmas Nommik, in a journal called Trames: Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences (2006), which is published at Tartu. It can be read via Google Books at Trames. The title of the article is "Lazar Gulkowitsch: Relations between the Rational and the Mystical."

The abstract for another article on Gulkowitsch in the journal Akadeemia 7/2008 can be found at a website called Eurozine. This article was written by Isidor Levin.

In 2007 there was a conference on Gulkowitsch at the University of Tartu entitled: "Jewish Studies in Tartu: Lazar Gulkowitsch and his Seminarium Litterarum Judaearum Tartuensis (a Memory for the Future)." A short description of the subject of the conference:
More than 70 years are past, since Lazar Gulkowitsch, having studied and worked in Koenigsberg and Leipzig, driven out of Leipzig in 1933, came to Tartu and began to build up his institute for Jewish Studies. When only few years were granted for this institution - it was closed by the Soviet authorities and Gulkowitsch himself was executed soon after the occupation of Tartu by Nazis. It has still its special place in the history of not only the University of Tartu, but also of the Jewish Studies. We have to remind this work and make it fruitful for the future, we have to discuss, how this work begun by Gulkowitsch and his students can be carried on today.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Monday, November 08, 2010

Kristallnacht - 72 years ago

Modernity Blog posted a Youtube video about Kristallnacht, so I thought I would say something about it as well. The US Holocaust Memorial Museum has information about it: Kristallnacht: The November 1938 Pogroms.

Tomorrow night, Dr. Susannah Heschel will be speaking at Ithaca College on "The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theology and Nazi Racism." This is the subject of her talk: "During the Third Reich, German Protestant theologians, motivated by racism and tapping into traditional Christian anti-Semitism, redefined Jesus as an Aryan and Christianity as a religion at war with Judaism. The surprisingly large number of distinguished professors, younger scholars and students who became involved in the effort to synthesize Nazism and Christianity should be seen not simply as a response to political developments, nor simply as an outgrowth of struggles within the field of Christian theology, but as suggesting underlying affinities between racism and Christian theology, affinities they recognized and promoted."