When the Talmud Was Burned

When the Talmud Was BurnedHow was it that you, O Law, given by G-d, the Consuming Fire,
Should be consumed by the fire of mortals,
And that the heathens weren’t singed by your burning coals?
How can food ever again be sweet to my palate
After beholding what your plunderers have gathered?
Men whom you rejected from entering your assembly
Burned the spoil of the Most High in the midst of the market
square,
Like the possessions of a condemned city.

(Adapted from a translation by A. Rosenfeld)

With these poignant words from the kinah “Sha’ali Serufah Va’eish,” recited by Ashkenazim each year on Tishah B’Av, Rav Meir of Rothenberg (1215-1293) mourned the burning of the Talmud in Paris that he had witnessed in June of 1242. He writes that he himself saw 24 wagon loads of Talmudic volumes destroyed. This horrible anti-Semitic act had enormous consequences for the study of the Gemara in Ashkenaz (France and Germany) in the Middle Ages. In fact, we have only one complete manuscript of the Talmud Bavli, the Munich manuscript, an Ashkenazic copy from 1342.

But the burning of the Talmud in Paris was not a sudden, isolated event. Rather, it capped a long history… Continue reading

A Meeting about the Mount

Western Wall, Meeting about a MountThere really is an ivory tower. Academic scholarship can sometimes rise completely above the political fray and bring scholars together in order to seek truth. It was a group of such scholars that gathered just a few weeks ago at Providence College, a Dominican Catholic institution with strong long-term ties to the Jewish community, in Providence, Rhode Island. Under the leadership of Joan Branham of Providence College, an art history professor who is an associate dean, and Beatrice St. Laurent of Bridgewater State University, 29 international scholars—Jewish, Christian and Muslim—gathered to talk about the history and archaeology of the Har Habayis. The conference was entitled “Marking the Sacred: The Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif in Jerusalem.” The conference was also attended by a larger audience of Providence faculty, colleagues from other universities, and the local community. Along with the conference, the college’s museum presented a beautiful exhibition of rare photographs of the Har Habayis since the 19th century.

Read the rest of the article in Ami Magazine.

The Magdala Stone

Magdala StoneThe Jews of Rome and the authorities of the Vatican seem to have decided that if so many people believe that the Vatican has the Menorah in its possession, they might as well capitalize on this “urban myth,” as it has been described by Rome’s Chief Rabbi Riccardo Di Segni. They decided to put together a joint exhibition, with part of it in the Jewish Museum of Rome, near the Great Synagogue, and the other part in the Vatican Museum in Vatican City. This reminds me of a meeting I attended years ago at the Vatican Museum, where the then director jokingly pointed to a modern Israeli chanukiyah and said, “See, we have the Menorah!” The myth will never die, but the decision to hold this exhibit, aptly entitled “Menorah: Cult, History and Myth,” has certainly been a wonderful result of its longevity.

Read the rest of this article in Ami Magazine.