Thursday, December 19, 2019

Again on the Hanukkah hymn, Maoz Tzur - who is the "Red One" named in the sixth stanza?

I wrote on this question on December 14, 2009, and here is the answer once again (slightly edited).

I'm thinking about the words to Maoz Tzur, the Hanukkah hymn. According to the siddur edited by Philip Birnbaum, it was composed in the 13th century (Philip Birnbaum, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem [New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1969] 777). (The article in Wikipedia makes the same statement, based on Zunz). 

The article on Maoz Tzur in refers to an article by Ismar Schorsch, the former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, published in the journal Judaism in the fall of 1988, entitled "A Meditation on Maoz Zur." Schorsch's family escaped from Germany on the first day of Hanukkah of 1938, after his father had been freed (he had been arrested on Kristallnacht). He writes that his family always sang the first five stanzas of Maoz Tzur with great fervor during their Hanukkah celebration (p. 459): "The poem's theme of redemption seemed to offer a poignant comment on our family's experience." They omitted the sixth stanza, however.

He records the history of the poem as follows (p. 460): "In its present form, Maoz Zur consists of six stanzas. Since the days of Leopold Zunz, the first five have been ascribed to an unknown German poet named Mordecai, who lived sometime before the middle of the thirteenth century and whose name survives as an acrostic formed by the first letter of each stanza." Schorsch writes that the poem is written as if shortly after the Maccabees had retaken the Temple from the Syrian Greeks. "The rescue from 'Greek' tyranny triggers a recollection of earlier cases when God's intervention redirects the course of Jewish history." These are in Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia. The fifth stanza describes the "redemption at the time of the Hasmoneans."

The sixth stanza was composed later than the first five, and it is (p. 461) "an unabashed messianic plea for divine retribution upon Israel's Christian oppressors." He comments that it is often left untranslated in modern prayer books (like the Birnbaum siddur, which translates only the first five stanzas). The fifth stanza adds the final subjugator of the Jewish people - Edom (which in rabbinic interpretation is equated first with pagan and then with Christian Rome, thus becoming the code name for Christianity as a whole).

My rough translation (helped by Schorsch's discussion on p. 462):
Reveal your holy arm (cf. Isaiah 52:10) and bring near the day of salvation.
Avenge your servants against the evil kingdom.
The time has lengthened, and there is no end to the evil days.
Destroy the red one (Admon=Christianity) in the shadow of the cross,
and send forth the seven shepherds [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David]
This stanza is a more urgent request for divine salvation - rather than remembering the past salvation from danger and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, it directly calls on God to save his people from the Christians. The term "Admon" (meaning the red one) is an allusion to the biblical name Edom (equated with Esau in Genesis 25), which is understood by the rabbis to refer to the Roman Empire, and then after its Christianization, to Christianity. Schorsch believes that this stanza was also written by an Ashkenazic Jew (p. 463), "stirred by the tremors and aftershocks of the Reformation," who believed that the Christian kingdom could only be overcome by direct divine intervention.

With this understanding of the meaning of the text, it's clear why Philip Birnbaum did not care to translate the stanza into English. Although he does not mention it in his entertaining introduction to the siddur (full of jabs at earlier translations and editions of the prayer book), he refrains from translating quite a number of potentially troublesome passages, particularly mystical ones, and in this case, one that could be viewed as an open attack upon Christianity, something that he presumably thought would be unwise even in the United States.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A disturbing antisemitic assault on the New York City subway.

A disturbing antisemitic assault on the New York subway.

Elad Nehorai (@PopChassid) comments on Reverend Brooks' tweet:

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

B'Tselem: On the Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation

Just the tip of the iceberg:
One victim a year, times thirty years

December 10, 2019

B’Tselem is marking 30 years since its founding in 1989. As always when reaching a milestone, we debated how, if at all, to mark this anniversary, given that it’s certainly not a happy occasion. In the end, we decided to focus on one issue we have grappled with since day one - the lack of accountability by security forces for harm to Palestinians. The result is this collection of testimonies: “Just the tip of the iceberg: One victim a year, times thirty years.

To write this publication, we went back to the hundreds of files that document in minute detail what has long since become daily life - and death - in the Occupied Territories: cases in which soldiers killed, wounded and beat Palestinians. We selected one incident from each year since our founding, and over the past few months, went back to the victims and their families to learn about how their lives were affected, and to hear their reactions to the fact that no one was held accountable for the harm done to them or their loved ones.

During this process, we quickly learned two things. The first was that confining the conversation in this manner was not possible. The occupation takes control over every aspect of the lives of people living under it, and this gets reflected in what they say: a father whose son was killed by soldiers had to stop working in Israel after his permit was denied and the family was thrown into a life of poverty; a mother who could not visit her wounded daughter in the Jerusalem hospital she had been taken to because the authorities would not give her a permit; a resident of Gaza whose brother was killed when he was a child, and then, after he reached adulthood, his parents were killed in Operation Protective Edge, and many more.

The second thing we learned is that while much has changed since B'Tselem was founded, the main thing remained the same: Israel imposes a cruel and brutal regime of military occupation, which denies millions their fundamental rights. Almost every decision requires Israel’s consent, and Israel, for its part, chooses to ignore the needs of the Palestinians and refuses to see them as human beings who are entitled to everything Israeli citizens are entitled to - first and foremost, life, but also a home, water, privacy and security.

Israel hardly pays a price. Internally, it faces no accountability for its policies (neither criminal nor civilian), and abroad, the international community avoids taking effective action to compel Israel to change its policies. And so, without any significant diplomatic, political or economic repercussions for these policies, Israel really has no incentive to change anything.

Despite all this, the horrific, intolerable reality of occupation has to be changed. The occupation is not fated. It is a policy repeatedly chosen by successive Israeli governments. As such, it can and must be brought to an end, and a different reality must be chosen, one in which all 14 million people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River live in freedom and equality.

Yael Stein
Research Director 

Sunday, December 08, 2019

David Rich's comments on the Jewish Labour Movement's submission to the EHRC

Thursday, November 28, 2019

More of Jeremy Corbyn refusing to denounce antisemitism in the Labour Party

David Aaronovitch, a columnist for the Times of London, writes about another thing that Corbyn refused to denounce: the statement by a Liam Moore, a Labour candidate for a local council seat, who wrote that "People, understand Rothschilds Zionists run Israel and world governments."
It came when [Andrew] Neil put to Mr Corbyn that the Chief Rabbi had not been wrong to dispute Labour’s claims that antisemitism in the party had been dealt with. The example Neil gave was one reported here in the JC last year. The council candidate for a ward in Liverpool, Liam Moore, had tweeted “Rothschilds Zionists run Israel and world governments”....
Neil to Corbyn:  Let me ask you this. Is it antisemitic to say Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world governments? 
JC: In the Chakrabarti report we asked that people did not use comparisons about conspiracies, not use… 
AN: Is that antisemitic? 
JC: …because in the belief of Shami, and I support her on this in that report, that can be constructed as being an antisemitic statement and therefore – and therefore should not be -– 
AN: Right, but let’s just get it clear. I asked you – I gave you a specific quote. Are the words ‘Rothschild’s Zionists run Israel and world government’. Is that antisemitic? 
JC: It should not be used and it is. 
AN: But you can’t say it’s antisemitic? 
JC: Look, I just said that it should not be used. 
Finally, painfully, he allowed that it was “an antisemitic trope”. Neil banked that and asked, so if the Chief Rabbi was wrong, why was Moore still in the party? After a short eternity of bluster (the transcript makes almost unbearable reading) Corbyn finally answered “Look, I don’t know the process that is involved with him.”....
The man, a Labour council candidate, tweets out neo-nazi conspiracy theories about Jews, is then endorsed as a candidate by his local party, his antisemitism is described as “inappropriate”, a year later is still in the party and the party leader and putative prime minister, under intense criticism for just this, says “Look, I don’t know the process that is involved with him.” And, of course, there are plenty of others.

Jeremy Corbyn failing to apologize to the British Jewish community

Jeremy Corbyn, painfully refusing to apologize for antisemitism in the British Labour Party.

Andrew Neil - Wouldn't you like to take this opportunity, tonight, to apologize to the British Jewish community for what's happened? 
Jeremy Corbyn: What I'll is this - I am determined that our society will be safe for people of all faiths. I don't want anyone to be feeling insecure in our society and our government will protect every community. 
Neil: So no apology? 
Corbyn: Against the abuse they receive on the streets, on the trains... 
Neil: So no apology? 
Corbyn: or in any other form of life 
Neil: Try one more time. No apology. 
Corbyn: Andrew, Andrew, Can I explain what we're trying to do? 
Neil: You have, and you've been given plenty of time to do it. I asked you if you wanted to apologize 
Corbyn: We don't want anyone to go through what anyone has gone through 
Neil: And you've said that several times. I understand that Mr. Corbyn. I was asking you about an apology.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

A Response to the Chief Rabbi's statement

Jim Dedham of Shiraz Socialist (and Workers Liberty) has a good response to the Chief Rabbi's statement and Jeremy Corbyn's disastrous interview on the BBC:
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis is certainly a small-‘c’ conservative on both political and theological matters. And he congratulated Boris Johnson on becoming Prime Minister (though it’s worth noting that religious leaders are expected to offer congratulations and promises of prayer to incoming prime ministers). 
Whether or not Mirvis is a Tory is not the issue. 
The most senior rabbi in British Orthodox Jewry has made an unprecedented intervention into party politics, warning that “the very soul of our nation is at stake” and that Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to tackle antisemitism within Labour means he is unfit to be prime minister. While Mirvis stopped short of endorsing any other party or using language as explicit as that used by Jonathan Romain, a senior Reform rabbi, who urged his congregants to vote tactically to defeat Labour, the message is clear: don’t vote Labour. 
Rightly or wrongly, close to 85 per cent of British Jews (according to the polls) believe that Labour has become an antisemitic party under Corbyn and that he himself is an antisemite. 
Corbyn’s supporters (including some Jews) point to his record as a “life-long” opponent of “all forms of racism”, but the fact remains that under his leadership the majority of British Jews have become alienated from Labour and the party is under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission following claims of “institutional” antisemitism.
He makes an interesting point, which I hadn't considered before, that what he calls the "absolute anti-Zionism" of the far left (organizations like the British Socialist Workers Party, the SWP) is a form of political antisemitism. It's not merely opposing the discriminatory policies of the state of Israel towards Arab citizens, general criticism of the government, or opposition to the Israeli occupation - it goes much further than that, to a belief that the state of Israel should never even have been established.

Read the whole article - he eventually comes out supporting a vote for the Labour Party in the upcoming election on December 12, but he's fully aware of why most Jews will not be voting Labour.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Chief Rabbi of Britain: What Will Become of Jews in Britain if Labour forms the next government?

The British Chief Rabbi has just weighed in on the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. This is his statement, published in The Times. For those without a subscription, here's the whole article (link is at

Ephraim Mirvis: What will become of Jews in Britain if Labour forms the next government?

Elections should be a celebration of democracy. However, just weeks before we go to the polls, the overwhelming majority of British Jews are gripped by anxiety.

During the past few years, on my travels through the UK and further afield, one concern has been expressed to me more than any other. Of course, the threats of the far right and violent jihadism never go away, but the question I am now most frequently asked is: What will become of Jews and Judaism in Britain if the Labour Party forms the next government?

This anxiety is justified. Raising concerns about anti-Jewish racism in the context of a general election ranks among the most painful moments I have experienced since taking office. Convention dictates that the Chief Rabbi stays well away from party politics — and rightly so. However, challenging racism is not a matter of politics, it goes well beyond that. Wherever there is evidence of it, including in any of our political parties, it must be swiftly rooted out. Hateful prejudice is always wrong, whoever the perpetrator, whoever the victim.

The Jewish community has endured the deep discomfort of being at the centre of national political attention for nearly four years. We have been treated by many as an irritant, as opposed to a minority community with genuine concerns. Some politicians have shown courage but too many have sat silent. We have learned the hard way that speaking out means that we will be demonised by faceless social media trolls and accused of being partisan or acting in bad faith by those who still think of this as an orchestrated political smear. Yet, I ask myself: should the victims of racism be silenced by the fear of yet further vilification?

Therefore, with the heaviest of hearts, I call upon the citizens of our great country to study what has been unfolding before our very eyes.

The Jewish community has watched with incredulity as supporters of the Labour leadership have hounded parliamentarians, members and even staff out of the party for challenging anti-Jewish racism. Even as they received threats, the response of the Labour leadership was utterly inadequate. We have endured quibbling and prevarication over whether the party should adopt the most widely accepted definition of antisemitism. Now we await the outcome of a formal investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into whether discrimination by the party against Jews has become an institutional problem. And all of this while in opposition. What should we expect of them in government?

The way in which the leadership has dealt with anti-Jewish racism is incompatible with the British values of which we are so proud — of dignity and respect for all people. It has left many decent Labour members both Jewish and non-Jewish, ashamed of what has transpired.

The claims that the party is “doing everything” it reasonably can to tackle anti-Jewish racism and that it has “investigated every single case”, are a mendacious fiction. According to the Jewish Labour Movement, there are at least 130 outstanding cases before the party, some dating back years, and thousands more have been reported but remain unresolved.

The party leadership have never understood that their failure is not just one of procedure, which can be remedied with additional staff or new processes. It is a failure to see this as a human problem rather than a political one. It is a failure of culture. It is a failure of leadership. A new poison – sanctioned from the top – has taken root in the Labour Party.

Many members of the Jewish community can hardly believe that this is the same party that they called their political home for more than a century. It can no longer claim to be the party of equality and anti-racism.

How far is too far? How complicit in prejudice would a leader of Her Majesty’s opposition have to be to be considered unfit for office? Would associations with those who have incited hatred against Jews be enough? Would describing as “friends” those who endorse the murder of Jews be enough? It seems not.

It is not my place to tell any person how they should vote. I regret being in this situation at all. I simply pose the question: What will the result of this election say about the moral compass of our country? When December 12 arrives, I ask every person to vote with their conscience. Be in no doubt, the very soul of our nation is at stake.

Ephraim Mirvis is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth

Dr. Mark Falcon Lesses - two scientific articles

My grandfather, Dr. Mark Falcon Lesses, published a number of research articles over the year. In the same box with his certificate from the UJA in 1948, I found offprints of some of the articles. These are the first pages of two of them.

The first one, tititled "Hyperparathyroidism with Nephrolithiasis" (New England Journal of Medicine, 1949), is a case study of a young woman who suffered from a high fever and urinary tract infection. It turned out that she had kidney stones which were a consequence of hyperparathyroidism. One of the symptoms of hyperparathyroidism can be kidney stones because of the high calcium levels associated with this syndrome. She was in and out of the hospital, and treated unsuccessfully many times with antibiotics and removal of the kidney stones, until the misbehaving parathyroid was found and removed.

The second article is titled "Treatment of Thyroid Carcinoma with Radioactive Iodine (I 131)," from the American Journal of Medicine, 1951. I haven't read it yet so I can't provide my layperson's summary of it.

My grandfather's award for "Distinguished Service to the Jewish People"

I'm visiting family in Massachusetts now, and I was looking through a box that contained old photos and other documents about or by my grandfather, Mark Falcon Lesses. I found a certificate from 1948 commending him for "Distinguished Service to the Jewish People" for helping to raise funds for the United Jewish Appeal. (And 1948, of course, was the year that the State of Israel came into existence).

United Jewish Appeal

Certificate of Award
For Distinguished Service to the Jewish People
presented to

Dr. Mark Falcon Lesses
In sincere appreciation of his devotion and selfless effort which contributed greatly to the success of our 1948 campaign in behalf of the 
In a year of destiny, his notable service helped American Jewry play an historic role in the establishment of the State of Israel, in the beginning of a new era of hope and reconstruction for the Jews of Europe and in strengthening the foundations of Jewish life at home.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

The attempted massacre at the synagogue in Halle, Germany

I feel deeply affected by the attempted murder of Jews at prayer in Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur, and by the murder of two people on the streets of Halle simply because the killer came upon them when he failed to get into the synagogue.

It's really too hard for me to articulate my feelings - they are a mixture of fear, and anger, and a feeling that the world is irrevocably broken. I don't know why this event has finally given me that feeling. So much awful has happened in the last few years - including the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh last year (the anniversary is coming up on October 27). But that this attempted massacre occurred in Germany, of all places, which is a flawed country but has very much engaged in remembering the Holocaust and facing up to the horrific deeds of the Nazis against Jews and other victims, is simply too much.

(For me this is coupled with Trump's decision to stab the Kurds in the back and allow the Turks to invade the Kurdish area of Syria. To betray people our soldiers fought with to defeat ISIS, the genocidaires of the Yazidis. People who fought and died for the security of the US and for their own people. I never used to think that concepts of "national honor" meant anything - but now that we've lost ours, I feel it keenly).

Friday, October 11, 2019

Jews: overlapping target of Neo-Nazi and Islamist Terrorists

For those who fool themselves into thinking that Jews in Europe are only targeted by Neo-Nazis, see Anshel Pfeffer's latest column for Haaretz:

For the Jews barricaded in a synagogue in Halle, it made no difference if the shooter was a neo-Nazi or a soldier of the Caliphate. But for the left and right in Europe, the U.S. and Israel, Jewish bodies are political capital

Oct 10, 2019 7:39 PM 
Sometimes it makes sense to go back and read Mein Kampf.... 
In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler makes it clear that his particular obsession with Jews was not based on their being one of the inferior races. There were plenty of those, and the Germanic and Aryan races would fight them for domination of scarce natural resources and living-space. 
For Hitler, the Jews were a threat to the human race because they had brought to earth the notion that there was a way for humans to share the earth instead of killing each other for it. The Jews, according to Hitler, had imposed their values on the natural order and were a force working against humanity. "All world-historical events are nothing more than the expression of the self-preservation drive of the races," he wrote. "It is Jewry that always destroys this order," and "murders the future.".... 
Mein Kampf is clearly referenced in the video manifesto of the 27 year-old German man who tried to enter the Humboldt Street synagogue in Halle on Yom Kippur (Wednesday) and murder the Jews praying inside. Having failed to shoot open the armored door, he fled, killing two passersby. 
"Feminism is the cause of declining birth rates in the West, which acts as a scapegoat for mass immigration, and the root of all these problems is the Jew," he declared, livestreaming himself before arriving at the synagogue. 
The chain-reaction leading from feminism, to dropping birth-rates and mass immigration to Germany, all originates from the Jew. And since mass immigration in today’s Europe is a by-word for Muslims, then we are all in the firing-line together. The ideological manifesto of the Halle shooter is virtually identical to that of the mass-murderer of Christchurch who massacred 51 Muslims at prayer in New Zealand and of the shooter who murdered eleven Jews in a synagogue in Pittsburgh a year ago.

The updated version of Mein Kampf’s natural order of races fighting each other, to the death, is today’s "replacement theory," the conspiracy theory popular on the far-right with echoes on the less radical but more populist right-wing, which sees the hordes of Muslim immigrants invading western countries, depopulated by plummeting birth-rates, and replacing their white Christian majority. The liberal elites responsible for welcoming these immigrants have been contaminated by the Jews and their ideas. 
Unsurprisingly, not one of the mainstream Israeli politicians releasing statements at the end of Yom Kippur about the Halle shooting could bring themselves to call the hatred by its name. How could they? 
Their ideological allies, from Donald Trump in the U.S. to Viktor Orban in Hungary, regularly spout watered-down versions of the "replacement" theory. As do those very same Israeli politicians, when they talk of Israel’s own Muslim communities and the African asylum seekers who have found shelter here.... 

In the last eight years, all the Jews murdered in Europe for being Jews, were killed by Muslims. Because they represented something to them too. 

It’s not that the left is much better. Statements from left-wing politicians and commentators about how Jews and Muslims are now both targets of the far-right are just a bit too convenient. They obscure the fact that in the last eight years, all the Jews murdered in Europe for being Jews, were killed by Muslims. Because they represented something to them as well. 
If the attacker on Yom Kippur had successfully broken down the door, then we would have more dead Jews in Halle to add to the twelve murdered over the past year by white supremacists in Pittsburgh and Poway. But the interesting thing with left-wing condemnations is that they tend to be much more eloquent when the perpetrator is white and comes from the far-right. 
Because a dead Jew is never just a dead Jew, it depends who killed the Jew. 

The left has long categorized Jews as being white and therefore privileged oppressors. We lose our privileged status only when the shooter is from the right. 

Anti-Semitism is binary, just not in the way that word is usually used in these situations. The left has long categorized Jews as being white and therefore privileged oppressors. We lose our privileged status only when the shooter is from the right, and proposes, as the Halle shooter did, to "kill as many anti-whites as possible, Jews preferred." 
In the 20th century our parents and grandparents were killed for being both rapacious capitalists and godless communists. In this century we are killed for both encouraging Muslims to emigrate to the Christian West and for being the vanguard of the imperialist Christian West dispossessing Muslims in the Middle East. Either way we are the targets. 
Facing the far-right, both Muslims and Jews are targets. And in the wave of Islamist attacks in recent years, Jews weren’t the only targets either. There were plenty of non-Jewish targets, including satirical cartoonists and pop concert-goers and people eating at restaurants and many bystanders. 

In the Venn diagram of Islamist and Neo-Nazi terror, Jews are the only overlapping target. 

But in the Venn diagram of these two waves of terror, Islamist and neo-Nazi, Jews are the only targets who overlap in the crosshairs of both sets of attackers. 
The man and woman murdered on Wednesday have yet to be identified as of time of writing and when their names are released, will remain significant only to their families and friends. Not being Jewish, their deaths are not politicized. 
For the 80 Jews in Halle, praying on Yom Kippur that the shooter would not break in, they had no idea if he was a neo-Nazi or a soldier of the Caliphate. 
And if those had been their last moments alive, they would not have known how their deaths would be exploited by the politicians, framed by the media, and claimed by Israel - or by multi-cultural Europe.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Miko Peled, who appeared in Ithaca in 2016, now speaking to neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers in Britain

I wonder if it's occurred to the people who organized Miko Peled's talk in Ithaca in 2016 to feel a bit of shame in retrospect, considering that he's now appearing at venues in Britain organized by open neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers? 

Peled is the son of an Israeli general who has decided that Israel is entirely responsible for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He spoke here on November 2, 2016, after giving a talk in Syracuse on September 16 to the Syracuse Peace Council. The Ithaca sponsors were a parade of the local leftist great and good:  Ithaca Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Citizens for Justice in Palestine, Episcopal Peace Fellowship's Palestine/Israel Network, Veterans for Peace, Ithaca Catholic Workers, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and the Multicultural Resource Center. He spoke at GIAC - the Greater Ithaca Activities Center.

See William Jacobson's report on his visit to Ithaca -

What's he been up to since then?

He just spoke at a church in Soho, as reported by David Collier - and It turns out his talk was sponsored by a group called "Keep Talking," which was founded by a 9-11 Truther named Ian Fantom and a Holocaust denier named Nick Kellerstrom. Other antisemites also attended the meeting, among them Alison Chabloz, who has been convicted and jailed for Holocaust denial (illegal in Britain), and Stephen Sizer, the Anglican vicar who also blames Israel for everything and has cosied up with the Iranian regime.

I'm not holding my breath waiting for his local fans to apologize for bringing him here. Much of his antisemitic reputation was already known at the time he came to Ithaca, and it didn't stop any of them from bringing him. A pity.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Progressive Israel Network Opposes Netanyahu’s Annexation Pledge

Statement by network of (mostly) American Jewish Zionist organizations against the annexation of the West Bank.

September 10th, 2019

Progressive Israel Network Opposes Netanyahu’s Annexation Pledge

Responding to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of his intent to extend Israeli sovereignty over large parts of the West Bank, the Progressive Israel Network released the following statement:

A democratic and peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians requires national self-determination for both peoples. Any step to unilaterally impose Israeli sovereignty over Palestinian people and territory in the West Bank is a step away from the two-state vision and toward the formalization of two separate and unequal legal systems. Both Israelis and Palestinians want and deserve to live in peace, with justice and dignity. Israelis deserve to live in a healthy and vibrant democracy. Palestinians deserve to live free from occupation.

Netanyahu’s suggested move would entrench Israel’s military occupation in the West Bank. It harms millions of Palestinians living under occupation and poses an existential threat to Israeli democracy. Israeli democracy cannot endure without putting an end to the 52-year occupation.

Our vision for Israel and its relationship with the U.S. includes:

* A strong and democratic Israel that ends its 52-year occupation and that provides for all its citizens justice, dignity and equal rights. An Israel that seeks peace, rather than entrenching occupation and inequality.

* Strong US leadership towards a two-state solution, which opposes unilateral Israeli annexation of the West Bank.

* A US-Israel relationship that reinforces our countries’ shared democratic values and institutions.


The Progressive Israel Network is a coalition of the ten leading organizations representing Americans committed to pursuing democracy, equality in Israel and to peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The coalition speaks with a unified voice in support of democracy and equal rights, religious freedom and pluralism, and a two-state solution. The network’s founding members areAmeinu, Americans for Peace Now, Habonim Dror North America, Hashomer Hatzair, The Jewish Labor Committee, J Street, The New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel, Reconstructing Judaism, and T’ruah. This statement is further joined by the National Council of Jewish Women.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Valerie Plame and antisemitism

Valerie Plame is running for Congress for the third district of New Mexico. Yair Rosenberg writes about her: "Many know Plame as a former CIA officer who rose to anti-war fame in 2003. (Her cover was blown after her then-husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson, publicly questioned the U.S. rationale for going to war in Iraq.)" 

She's recently posted a video pushing her candidacy, and some of my friends have been wowed by her.

A couple of years ago, however, Plame was discovered to have published tweets with blatantly antisemitic content. The Forward reported on this earlier this year:
One early obstacle for Plame Wilson, should she choose to run, is an anti-Semitism controversy: She was criticized in September 2017 for tweeting links to anti-Semitic articles, including a column titled “American Jews Are Driving America’s Wars” and another called “The Dancing Israelis” that insinuated the Mossad was involved in the 9/11 attacks. Plame at first defended her sharing of the “Jews drive wars” article, arguing, “many neocon hawks ARE Jewish.” [Links to both articles are below].
Here are the two tweets that were discovered, one from 2015 and one from 2017:

After her tweets were discovered, she apologized:
(JTA) — Former CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson resigned from the board of the Ploughshares Fund days after she retweeted an article accusing American Jews of pushing the U.S. into a war with Iran. 
Wilson, who[se] paternal grandfather was Jewish, made the announcement on Sunday in a series of tweets. “Actions have consequences, and while I have been honored to serve on the board of the Ploughshares Fund…to avoid detracting from their mission, I have resigned,” Wilson said in consecutive tweets. “I take full responsibility for my thoughtless and hurtful actions, and there are no excuses for what I did.” 
She also tweeted that she was “horrified and ashamed” for retweeting articles from the Unz Review website “without closely examining content and authors.” 
The article, titled “America's Jews Are Driving America’s Wars,” included several anti-Semitic tropes including that American Jews are guilty of dual loyalty to Israel, and that Jews control the media, the entertainment industry and politics. 
Ploughshares Fund, where Wilson has served as a board member, issued a statement condemning Wilson’s original tweet of the article. Ploughshares works to reduce nuclear threats and to prevent a new arms race.
Yair Rosenberg's comments are apposite here:
At the time, Plame defended her tweet, calling the article “provocative, but thoughtful.” She later apologized, claiming that she hadn’t read the piece whose contents she’d just been defending. Of course, given that the headline—which she tweeted—was “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars,” this was not a very convincing excuse. Moreover, as the indefatigable journalist Yashar Ali quickly uncovered, this was not the first time Plame had shared anti-Semitic material. In another instance, she had promoted the notorious conspiracy theory that a group of Israelis celebrated while 9/11 transpired (a canard that candidate Donald Trump later revived and applied to Muslims). [I added the link to the "America's Jews are Driving America's Wars" article].
She linked to the first article named in Rosenberg's article on September 21, 2017 - that's the one that forced her to resign from the board of Ploughshares and delete her Twitter account. The second one, about 9/11, was from 2015.

Both of these articles were published in the Unz Review, which is published by Ron Unz. It's clear that she didn't suddenly discovered this "news" source in September, 2017, since she also tweeted the article about the conspiracy that five Israelis in New York celebrated the 9/11 attacks (link to this article -

Both articles were written by Philip Geraldi, a prolific contributor to the Unz Review, and an obvious antisemite and Holocaust denier. Here's a sample of his Holocaust denial:
The imposed holocaust narrative is full of holes and contradictions in terms of who was killed and how, but it is impossible for genuine academics to critique it if they want to stay employed. Books like Wiesel’s “Night” are largely works of fiction. The narrative exists to perpetuate the belief in Jewish suffering, which brings with it a number of practical advantages....
Third, holocaust guilt is used in the United States to counter any criticism of what Israel and Jewish groups are up to, as they use their wealth and access to power to corrupt America’s institutions and drive the country to needless wars. One might well ask, when confronted by the taxpayer funded holocaust museums that appear to spring up like mushrooms, why so much interest in a possible crime that has nothing to do with the United States? 
Why was Valerie Plame reading and posting articles by Philip Geraldi? His antisemitism is hardly hidden in these articles. I don't believe her apology that she hadn't "closely examined content and authors" - something obviously drew her to Geraldi's articles, and to the Unz Review itself. Why was someone who claims to be a progressive even reading the Unz Review? It's not a progressive publication. Plame may have a Jewish grandfather, but that doesn't seem to have sensitized her to the existence of antisemitism. If I lived in New Mexico, I wouldn't vote for her - and I'm certainly not giving her any money.

Monday, September 09, 2019

In memory of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto - the fighters and martyrs

Ghetto Wall in 1943
The Ghetto was cut off from the rest of Warsaw on November 16, 1940.
Approximately 360,000 Warsaw Jews and 90,000 Jews from other towns
lived in an area of 759 acres. Nearly 100,000 died of starvation.
Beginning in May 1942 and extending through the summer, about
300,000 Jews were deported to the Treblinka death camp, where they
were murdered. On April 19, 1943, the uprising against the Nazis
began, and lasted through May.
Model of the Ghetto, showing the large and small ghettos in 1943

Memorial for the fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto
"The people of Israel - for its fighters and martyrs"
(In Hebrew, Yiddish, and Polish)

The martyrs of the Ghetto, on their way to death
(on the other side of the memorial)
April 19, 1946 (third anniversary of the beginning of the Ghetto uprising)
To the heroes who fell victim in their tremendous war for the honor and freedom of the Hebrew people, for the liberation of Poland, and for the redemption of humanity.
Remnants of the Jews of Poland.
(in Polish, Hebrew, and Yiddish)

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

"Nippur, the lead goat of the land": home to many Aramaic incantation bowls

I'm reading an article about metaphors in the Sumerian language in The Ancient Near East Today, published by ASOR (American Schools of Oriental Research), using the metaphor theory of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. 

One of the metaphors that is frequently used in Sumerian is the word "goat"(maš[2]) for leadership. From this concept is derived the "conceptual metaphor" that "CITES ARE ANIMALS," which is found in an inscription about the city of Nippur: "Nippur: the lead goat of the Land.” Why was it the "lead goat of the land"? I will answer this question, but first must make an excursus into the Aramaic incantation bowls found in Nippur.

This summer I wrote a paper on Babylonian incantation bowls, many of which were found in the ancient city of Nippur when archaeological excavations began there in the late 19th century.

This bowl was published by James Montgomery in his Aramaic Incantation Texts (1913), which includes 41 bowls written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Syriac, and Mandaic (three different dialects of Aramaic). This bowl #2, written in Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, is for Pabak the son of Kufithai, Abuna the son of Geribta, and Ibba the son of Zawithai, to protect them and their families from "evil fiends and bitter adversaries," and "demons, devils, tormentors, gods and female goddesses." (If you want to read the book yourself, it's available in full text on Google Books). 

This map shows where Nippur was located in southern Mesopotamia.

This map below shows important locations in Nippur and areas that were excavated.

Both of these maps are from an article on the website of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, Nippur - Sacred City Of Enlil, by McGuire Gibson, Professor of Mesopotamian Archaeology at the Oriental Institute.

According to Gibson, "Nippur was one of the longest-lived sites, beginning in the prehistoric Ubaid period (c. 5000 B. C. ) and lasting until about A. D. 800, in the Islamic era (Gibson 1992)." It was a sacred city, devoted to Enlil. He writes:
The strength of Mesopotamian religious tradition, which gave Nippur its longevity, can be illustrated best by evidence from the excavation of the temple of Inanna, goddess of love and war. Beginning at least as early as the Jemdet Nasr Period (c. 3200 B.C.), the temple continued to flourish as late as the Parthian Period (c. A.D. 100), long after Babylonia had ceased to exist as an independent state and had been incorporated into larger cultures with different religious systems (Persian, Seleucid, and Parthian empires). The choice of Nippur as the seat of one of the few early Christian bishops, lasting until the city's final abandonment around A.D. 800, was probably an echo of its place at the center of Mesopotamian religion. In the Sasanian Period, 4th to 7th Centuries, A.D., most of the major features of Mesopotamian cultural tradition ceased, but certain aspects of Mesopotamian architectural techniques, craft manufacture, iconography, astrology, traditional medicine, and even some oral tradition survived, and can be traced even today not just in modern Iraq but in a much wider area.
 Gibson writes about the excavations of Nippur:
Nippur has been the focus of major excavation since 1889 when the University of Pennsylvania opened the first American expedition in the Middle East. Finding the site a rich source for cuneiform tablets, that expedition continued to excavate at Nippur until 1900 [Hilprecht 1903; Peters 1897]. The main achievements of the expedition were to locate the ziggurat and temple of Enlil and to recover more than 30,000 cuneiform tablets of extraordinary literary, historical, grammatical, and economic importance. More than 80% of all known Sumerian literary compositions have been found at Nippur. Included were the earliest recognized versions of the Flood Story, parts of the Gilgamesh Epic, and dozens of other compositions. It was these Sumerian works, plus an invaluable group of lexical texts and bilingual (Sumerian/Akkadian) documents that allowed scholars to make real progress in deciphering and understanding Sumerian. As important in historical terms are royal inscriptions from all periods, especially those of the Kassite Dynasty which ruled Mesopotamia from about 1600 to 1225 B. C. More than 80% of our knowledge of this dynasty has come from Nippur texts. In a special category of Nippur texts are the business archives of the Murashu family, merchant bankers who controlled vast commercial and agricultural interests under the Achaemenid Persian kings (c. 500 B.C.) [Stolper 1985].
Gibson's article doesn't mention the incantation bowls, except obliquely, because he focuses on the earlier periods. The bowls are dated to the late Sasanian/early Islamic period (roughly the 5th-8th centuries CE), the last periods of habitation of Nippur.

Erica C. D. Hunter has published a number of articles on the incantation bowls, in particular on those discovered in the most recent Oriental Institute excavations (the last of which was in 1990; they stopped with the Gulf War of 1991). In one article she writes:
Recent archaeological evidence has shed further light onto the Aramaic-speaking communities of Sasanid Mesopotamia. Recent excavations at Nippur of Area WG - adjoining the Jewish settlement dug a century earlier and from which Montgomery published his forty specimens - revealed in the seventh-century Level III five downturned incantation bowls. These were randomly buried in a courtyard which also featured an oven. Three of the specimens were written in Aramaic and two in Mandaic, the latter pair being for brothers.... The placement of the Aramaic and Mandaic incantation bowls strongly suggests that two families, one possibly Jewish and the other Mandaean, shared adjacent domestic quarters.
The article is "Aramaic-Speaking Communities of Sasanid Mesopotamia," Aram 7 (1995): 319-335, and the quotation is from pp. 332-32, published on p. 129 of Rabbis, Sorcerers, Kings, and Priests: The Culture of the Talmud in Ancient Iran, by Jason Sion Mokhtarian (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

Back to the more ancient Nippur. The quotation that I began with is from an ancient inscription of king Ur-Ninurta, who reigned circa 1859 – 1832 BCE.  The inscription refers to the king making a copper image (with the king's face), which is holding a votive goat-kid, and it also employs the word "goat" to refer metaphorically to a leader.

The inscription is number Ur-Ninurta E4.1.6.2, and it's found in Douglas Frayne, The Old Babylonian Period (2003-1595 BC) (The Royal Inscriptions of Mesopotamia / Early Periods / Volume 4; Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1990), pp. 66-68.

A copy of an inscription of Ur-Ninurta on a tablet excavated at Nippur deals with the setting up, in the courtyard of Ninlil's Gagiššua temple, of an image of the king holding an offering of a votive goat (máš-kadra).
This is part of the inscription:
ii 6'-150 for the great mother of the Anuna gods,  the lady of the Kiur [...], in order to choose the mes of the Ekur, the supreme shrine, [in order] to purify the cleansing rites of shrine Nippur, the bon[d of heaven and earth, in order] to make the neg[lected] rites appear magnificently, [in order] to restore Nippur, the lea[d] goat [of the nation],

ii 16-210 it was Ur-Ninurta, who devoted himself to the Ekur, upon whom the god Enlil, king of the foreign lands, look[ed] am[ong] the broad, numerous people and truly [chose].
vi r-30 (I, Ur-Ninurta)..., (for) the gods An, Enlil, (and) Ninlil removed evil from ...

vi 4-50 and set up for them a ... (in) the shining [E]kur, (in) the ... city

vi 6'-120 I fashioned (for Ninlil) a [copper] image, whose form was endowed with my face, clasping a votive kid, standing to make supplications for me, an ornament of the main courtyard of the Gagiššua (temple).

vi 13'-140 1 dedicated it to her for my own life.

vi 15-180 (As for) the man who gives orders to  do evil against it, who [destroys m]y [handi]work
edge 1-6) ... the supreme ... of the god Enlil, may the ... which proclaims his name be revoked from  the [Ek]ur. M [ay the god N]inurta, the mighty champion of the god Enlil, forever b[e] its (the  curse's) evil spirit who cannot be countermanded.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Cat in my lap at "La Vie En Rose" Gallery in Jerusalem

Today I visited a lovely little art gallery in Arnona, Jerusalem, with a friend - La Vie en Rose. It's owned by Steve Selig, who is transitioning from running a picture-framing business to organizing art exhibitions and hosting artistic events at the gallery. This little kitty showed up to greet us.

Reed House in Jerusalem

At the end of the street I'm staying on in Israel, there's a house that's almost entirely surrounded by tall reeds. They've turned golden brown in the summer heat.

I'm reminded of a passage from the Gilgamesh flood story. This story appears in the book of Gilgamesh, although it didn't originate there - it's an independent story. Gilgamesh has gone to Utnapishtim, the Babylonian Noah figure who survived the great flood with his wife, and to whom the gods gave immortality.

The gods had decided to destroy humanity, because we were very noisy and disturbed their sleep. The "great gods" - Anu, Enlil, Ninurta, Ennuge [his name means "inspector of canals"] - had made the decision. Another god, Ninigiku-Ea, was "present with them," and was disturbed by this decision, he decided to warn Utnapishtim. Utnapishtim said to Gilgamesh:
"I will reveal to you, Gilgamesh, a hidden matter
And a secret of the gods I will tell you:
Shuruppak - a city which you know,
And which is situated on the banks of the Euphrates -
That city was ancient, (as were) the gods within it,
When their hearts led the great gods to produce the flood."
Ea told Utnapishtim:
"Their words he repeats to the reed-hut:
'Reed-hut, reed-hut! Wall, wall!
Reed-hut, hearken! Wall, reflect!
Man of Shuruppak, son of Ubar-Tutu,
Tear down (this) house, build a ship!
Give up possessions, seek life!
Forswear (worldly) goods and keep the soul alive!
Aboard the ship take the seed of all living things.'"
Source: Tablet XI of Gilgamesh, published in Pritchard, ANET, p. 93.