Content for class "past" Goes Here


Included with this months HASHALOM:

A journey through Marcus Arkin’s Column published in Hashalom over the past 20 years



- By David Arkin

Like the column one year ago, this piece will have a summer reflection feel to it. In the last week of August, I found myself up north on the Moshav of Dalton. The well-known winery of the same name is next to it. Down to the road to the left is Safed, and to the right is Meron. Across the road is Jish, the only village in Israel with a Maronite Christian majority.  With a 40 min drive west, one can see a magnificent sunset at Achziv beach, and a similar drive to the east will have you lounging around a quiet part of the Kinneret. So Dalton is well placed in the Northern Galilee, not right next to anything, but not particularly far from anything either. Being on school holiday with all Am Yisrael means meeting up with all types, shapes and sizes. During Chol Hamoed or Chanukah this is more likely to be secular or dati-leumi familes. But this was August, “Bein Hazmanim”, and the Haredi high-holiday season was in full swing. This three week window kicks in after the Tisha B’Av fast and runs to Rosh Chodesh Elul, when yeshivot return to study. 

 So while it is common to see stacks of bottled water and packs of charcoal merchandised outside all shops and petrol stations over this period, it’s also very common to see all types of black hats enjoying the sites and attractions alongside everyone else.  A water hike in the Majrassa Nature Reserve and horse-riding near Safed saw a fair sprinkling of them swimming and saddling up like everyone else. At another water hike at Ein Tina, upstream along a river bed, a whole tour-group from Bnei Brak was present, with a similar-sized group present at nearby Katsrin rafting down the Jordan River.  I acquiesced to my children’s request to go ice-skating, and found myself in the minority at the rink at Montfort Lake, near Maalot. Ice-skating Haredim was an unusual site for me, as were the go-karting Haredim on the track next door.  And there were certainly some speed merchants amongst them.  I think I remember at least one Haredi family on hike at Nahal Kaziv, which reaches the sea south of Rosh Hanikra. I saw none swimming in the Kinneret, which is not to say they weren’t there. There are separate swimming beaches to suit their modesty requirement (mainly near Tiberias).  In fact the only place I didn’t see any was on a “night safari” at Agamon Hula reserve, which is famed as a spot for bird-watching (but it was quite pricey and with limited space). 

But there needn’t have been any need to venture very far from the cottage in Dalton. Unbeknown to me, the Moshav was inundated mostly with holidaying Israeli Gur Hassidim during this period. It was only on Shabbat that I realised to what extent, upon meeting a Vishnitz Hasid in the park (complete with shtreimel) from Monsey, NY. At first I thought maybe the preponderance of the ultra-orthodox at Dalton was due to the fact of a tomb ascribed to Rabbi Yosi Haglili being located there on a hill overlooking the moshav. He was one of the Tannaim, the rabbis whose work was compiled in the Mishnah.  But an early-morning run there dispelled this theory, as the tomb appeared lacking any signs of recent visitors. Later I heard from our host, Yisrael, that the locals are willing to rent out basic accommodation at a cheap rate, and have attracted a niche market. It is no intention to convey an “us versus them” tone in this piece, and as a caveat, I am more familiar than most with their lifestyle, having attended more smachot than I can remember courtesy of my wife’s Haredi uncle Dov and his eleven children.  Slowly there is more integration, in the army and in the workplace, but like the Arab sector, are still classified as a distinct marketing segment in the Israeli population. 

Shortly before Shabbat, I drove over to Jish, to get some innocuous last-minute things from the supermarket. Sure enough, there was a Haredi gent there too, his trolley full with household necessities. An unusual sight during the year as there isn’t too much interaction between the two biggest minority groups, but this was Bein Hazmanim. Jish, or Gush Halav in Hebrew, is also mentioned in the Mishnah, and was one of the strongholds of the First Jewish revolt against the Romans. After independence it was resettled by Maronite Christians, and today is the centre of efforts to revive the Aramaic language (there is a primary school programme sponsored by the Ministry of Education). It is also well-known for a walking and cycling path that runs for 2.5 km, connecting Jish to Dalton, known as the ‘Coexistence Trail’. It was inaugurated to symbolise the relationship between Israel’s Jewish, Christian and Arab populations, and to serve as a meeting point for the neighbouring peoples. 

Back on the moshav, one morning was spent picking peaches at Yisrael’s orchards. My co-pickers were from Jish and Bar’am, another Christian village, further north closer to the Lebanese border. The peaches had ripened late this summer, and couldn’t be sold timeously to Israeli supermarkets, which had already signed contracts and purchased from alternative suppliers.  The solution? Sell the stock at reduced prices into Gaza. At time of writing, Elul is well under way, with the whole Haredi populace long back studying. Meanwhile, back in Gaza, someone is likely making a peach crumble or preparing jam with the peaches I picked at Dalton. This is what I call coexistence. 


Anyone got a watch?

- By Warren Shapiro

Without defining exactly when the evening starts, the Rabbonim move on to discuss the latest time that the Shema can be said. Apparently, the Talmud is like that…

R’Eliezer said that the evening Shema could be said until the end of the “first watch”. He reckoned that the night consisted of three watches, each of which must be four hours long because in the Talmudic system, the day and night are divided equally into twelve hours a piece.

And how do you know how to mark the watches? Well, according to R’Eliezer, the first watch ends when a donkey brays (we know when the watch starts, that is when night falls). Dogs howl at the middle of the middle watch and, at the beginning of the last watch, an infant nurses from its mother and a wife speaks with her husband.

Sounds a bit odd?  Let’s unpack it…  If each watch is four hours, then the end of the first watch is four hours after nightfall.  So, if day starts at say 06h00 then the end of the first watch is two hours before midnight.  Which would be the latest time to say the evening Shema.

Why then do we identify the beginning of the last watch? Because, say the Sages, an infant will nurse from its mom and a wife will speak to her husband when the day is beginning. So, if you live in a dark house and do not know when to say the morning Shema, breakfast for the baby or the first reminder to take out the trash is a sign that it is time to get up and daven!

Just when the discussion is getting interesting, the Talmud takes a detour! The Rabbonim then discuss an experience that R’ Yose had when davening in the ruins of Jerusalem and having a conversation with Elijah the Prophet! This leads to debate about who can enter a ruin and under what circumstances. The bottom line is this – do not enter a ruin.  Especially if a man is alone (because that is plain suspicious, you know what I mean!) and generally, even if two men of good morals choose to do so, they shouldn’t because the ruin might fall down. Or there may be demons.  Either way – not advisable.

Got it?  Good!

I must say – I admire the practical halacha – giving flesh to a commandment to say the Shema with accessible and easily understandable steps.  If its late enough for the evening meal but still light enough to see what you are eating, you can say the evening Shema (lying down time).  In the centuries before tick-tock watches, if you awoke and it was dark, you just had to listen!  If a dog barked or a donkey brayed, you could go back to sleep.  If the baby nursed or your significant other woke up and spoke to you, it was safe to get up (arise) and say the morning Shema!


The Israeli Sevens Expert

With the Rio Olympics concluding as I pen this, and with Rugby Sevens making its debut at the Games, I thought it instructive to take stock of how the sport has made it big, and what Israel’s contribution has been to its global success. To be honest, the Israeli contribution has been zero. This is hardly a surprise, but what is surprising is that Israel has a Rugby Sevens tournament pre-dating any modern international tournament. Now, the reader may question my credentials for writing about this sport, but I assure you they are impeccable: I was a regular, playing House Sevens at school, and at varsity I turned out for the Commerce Faculty Sevens team (with questions raised to my eligibility as I was registered under Social Science). When I made aliyah, I played in the local league for the Haifa Technion team, and represented them at the Kibbutz Yizre’el’s Sevens.

Kibbutz Yizre’el, situated in the lower Galilee, was established after Independence, with many of its founding members immigrating from South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Israeli rugby is synonymous with the kibbutz, with the game first played there in 1967, and the Israeli Rugby Union (IRU) formed in 1972. The Yom Kippur War got the Israeli defence scrambling against the Arab attacks, and many young soldiers literally put their bodies and lives on the line to defend the State. Including at least one rugby player. Dudi (David) Silbowitz had come to Israel as part of a Habonim garin group, settling at Yizre’el. A year earlier, after the IRU was formed, it hosted the first rugby tour to the Holy Land: the Cyprus Lions consisting of British Army troops. Israel won 14-12, with Silbowitz the vice-captain on the day. He and another ex-South African, Neil Freed, fell in battle on 18 October 1973, at Abu Sultan in the Sinai, when their tank took a direct hit from an Egyptian shell. Both were buried at Yizre’el.  The year following the war, according to the Jerusalem Post, Northern Transvaal toured Europe, with a stop-over match played against Israel in Ramat Gan! They were the Currie Cup champions with six Springboks and easily disposed of the Israelis. But it was a watershed moment in Israeli rugby, and a Sevens tournament was inaugurated in memory of the late Dudi Silbowitz later in the year at Yizre’el. To put this into perspective, the most prestigious and famous Hong Kong Sevens tournament was first played in 1976, two years later.

The Yizre’el Sevens has been running for 42 years now, but I would daresay the Kibbutz’s claim to fame is rugby. Back in September 1969, the AGM passed a revolutionary decision which was criticised throughout the Israeli Kibbutz Movement. The members decided to abandon the traditional system whereby the children slept at night in the communal children’s houses, and allowed them to sleep at home with their parents. It was the beginning of the end of the kibbutz socialist ideal. In order to implement this decision, new larger houses including a children’s bedroom had to be built, as well as new day-care units. Today there is not a single kibbutz where the children sleep at night in the communal children’s houses. Yizre’el was also amongst the first kibbutzim to branch out of traditional agriculture into industry. It’s the owner of Maytronics Group, which manufactures and distributes automatic pool cleaners, water-treatment systems and pool safety products. This started back in 1983, and today has a market cap of almost 900 million shekels. The success of kibbutz industries hasn’t escaped the attention of Moshe Kahlon, the current finance minister. He has recently proposed that kibbutz members be taxed individually, rather as a collective unit, where the kibbutz pays the tax for all of its members. 

So kibbutz socialism is dead, but to be frank, who cares, especially when there is rugger on at Rio? Now, I don’t know who organised the scheduling of the Olympics, but the rugby semi-finals and final happened to coincide with the Perseids Meteor Shower in Israel. To the uninformed, this is one of the world’s most impressive astronomical events, when the earth crosses the path of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Thousands flock to the Negev, free of light pollution, to view shooting stars in the early hours of the morning. My significant other, who obviously does not share my unhealthy interest in Sevens, thought it a brilliant opportunity for a family camping trip in the summer holidays with friends to see this spectacular lunar event. I doubt no-one in the desert that night shared my problem with the Olympic scheduling and time difference (and I grudgingly admit it was a fun evening). 

My fondest memory of the Yizre’el tournament: Haifa Technion vs. Yizre’el. There was a scrum in the middle of the field, on our 10m. The ball came out our side, and was swung to the right, where I was on the wing. I caught it, feigned left, then side-stepped right, got outside the defender and was off, belting for the try-line. By the time I was on their 10m, the cover defence was bearing down fast, and I knew I didn’t have the legs to get over by the corner flag. Our coach, Danny, was screaming at me to kick, which I did, with a perfectly placed chip ahead in-field, and the ball sitting up perfectly in the goal area just next to the posts. The defenders had to change direction and I just got ahead in the race, diving on the ball. Try!


James Bond banned in Israel?

- By David Arkin

This may seem strange to the reader as in all of Ian Fleming’s original books and the subsequent movie franchise based on his character, James Bond has actually never been in Israel. He has been close, having a tête-à-tête with a belly-dancer in Beirut in 19741, a year after the Yom Kippur war, and then cavorting with the lovely “XXX”, in Cairo in 1977 2, a year before the signing of the Camp David Accords. In fact, the only Israeli he did meet up with briefly was in the Swiss Alps in 1969, soon after Golda Meir was elected Prime Minister. One of Blofeld’s “Angels of Death” (bacteriological warfare agents) was an Israeli girl with a Shellfish allergy3. Due to the obvious lack of Kashrut policy, I thought the “Israeli girl” was a rather amusing character-cast. 

Bond, though, has met up with a whole gamut of villains with a dodgy Nazi background. This is hardly surprising as Ian Fleming worked for British Naval Intelligence during the Second World War. His war-time experiences and the immediate post-war period provided the inspiration for what was essentially a Cold-war spy combatting rogues in the twilight of the British Empire. There was Sir Hugo Drax of Moonraker fame, who, in the original book, had joined the Nazi Party and fought with the Wehrmacht. Max Zorin, of A View to Kill, was a former KGB agent, who was born in Dresden in 1943 as a product of Nazi medical experimentation. His associate in the film, and the one responsible for the experiments, was Dr. Carl Mortner (real name Hans Glaub), who’s character is akin to the evil Dr. Josef Mengele. Bond’s most-recurring nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, was in fact a worker in one of the ministries of the Polish Government, who collaborated with the Nazis prior to Poland’s invasion by passing on classified material (as outlined in the novel Thunderball). In all the films, Blofeld’s background is never truly revealed 4.  

So, despite many literary and cinematic run-ins with Nazis or Nazi-collaborators, there is still no compelling reason why 007 should be banned in Eretz HaKodesh. There was, however, an official ban on purchasing German-made products in the initial four year inception period of the State, until a reparations agreement was signed with Germany in 1952. And even afterwards, there were in fact no diplomatic ties until these were established in 1965 by Levi Eshkol and Ludwig Erhard. Buying products “Made in Germany” continued to be a bit of a taboo, and there existed an unofficial boycott by the generation of Holocaust survivors. This was passed down to the next generation, where many also banned (or at least disapproved) their children from travelling back to Germany to tour or holiday (even on a cultural roots visit). Over the years, this has whittled down to the extent that Germany today is arguably Israel’s biggest political ally in Europe. And of course, it is very common to drive a German-made car, or use German-made appliances at home. However, back in the early sixties, the existing prevalent anti-German sentiment in Israel’s developing society was inflated by an incredible media spectacle. The Eichmann capture in May 1960 in Argentina, his subsequent trial in Jerusalem, and his death sentence by hanging that ended a 2 year-saga in June 1962, caused a dramatic increase in awareness of the Holocaust and in the suffering of survivors amongst the country’s younger citizens. So by the time Goldfinger was released in 1964, the groundwork existed for something totally unexpected.

Goldfinger was only the third 007 film, but is arguably today the all-time favourite of Bond fans: it had a powerful theme song sung by Shirley Bassey, an iconic image of a secondary Bond girl covered in gold paint, a deadly henchman in Oddjob, the introduction of Q-Branch gadgets and the quintessential Bond car (an Aston Martin DB-5), and possibly the raciest of all the Bond lead women: Pussy Galore 5. It also had the arch villain, Auric Goldfinger, played with extraordinary flair by the German actor Gert Frobe. However, when the Israeli censorship board found out that Frobe, who had studied theatre in Berlin, had joined the Nazi party during the Third Reich, Goldfinger was banned at once from being screened. Frobe heard about this and attempted to set the record straight: in a subsequent newspaper interview, he claimed that he had actually left the Nazi party two years before the outbreak of WW2, that he was drafted and sent to the Russian Front for distributing anti-Nazi leaflets, and made the startling revelation that he risked his life in the war to hide two Jews from the Gestapo. No-one believed him and Goldfinger remained banned. Then out of the blue a certain Mario Blumenau suddenly appeared at the Israeli embassy in Vienna and backed up Frobe’s revelation: he and his mother had been saved by the slandered actor‘s actions and they wanted to set the record straight! Their written affidavit was accepted by the local film censorship board, the ban lifted, and Frobe’s reputation restored.

There is still an outside chance that James Bond might make a film debut appearance here in Israel. There have been book series spin-offs by Fleming’s publishers since the 1980’s, where the recreated James Bond character does meet up with the Mossad. A Bond/Beautiful Sabra Mossad Agent rendezvous on Tel Aviv’s Gordon Beach is not out of the realm of possibility.

1 In The Man with a Golden Gun

2 In The Spy Who Loved Me

3 In On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

4  Interestingly, and by way of trivia, Fleming pens Blofeld’s birthday to be in the port of Gydnia, on May 28, 1908, his own birthdate!

5 More useless trivia: “Pussy Galore” was inspired by the actual name of     Fleming’s pet octopus, which was called “Octopussy”.


I’ve been driving in my car, it’s not quite a jaguar…*

- David Arkin

Driving in Israel is never dull. Beating traffic is a national sport, with updates on the radio as frequently as every 15 minutes on some stations. It can also be dangerous, with more people killed on our roads each year than from war and terror-attacks. However, there have been numerous development and innovations in recent years to reduce road accident casualties as well as traffic jams. As I share the road with 2.2 million other vehicles, I like to avoid traffic and prevent accidents as much as possible. This has been made easier with the advent of toll roads, and on-board technology.

Toll roads have entered into the Israeli market in a big way over the last decade. Road 6, the Tel Aviv Fast Lane and the Carmel Tunnels are all relatively new, developed on the BoT model (Build-Operate-Transfer). This basically means they are built by large private consortiums that are then awarded a license by Government to operate, and then charge customers through the roof for driving on them. I was an early pioneer of Road 6, now connecting the periphery from Yokneam in the north to Beersheva in the south. Back in the day, I regularly drove from Haifa to Jerusalem to see a girlfriend studying at Hebrew U. It reduced my drive considerably and allowed me to spend more time with her. This had long-term benefits as she married me. The road is still being extended: it is planned to run all the way past Nahariya down to Ir Habahadim (the army’s new massive training base) between Beersheva and Dimona. I haven’t driven much through the Carmel Tunnels, but it’s an impressive engineering feat, carving a tunnel through the Carmel mountain, connecting the Bay area in the north to the Tirat Hacarmel suburb in the south. And one can surface in the middle of the mountain and stop to shop at the trendy Grand Kanyon (Mall).

I do drive a good deal along the Fast Lane. This is a dynamic-pricing toll lane that runs parallel Road 1 for 13 kilometers into Tel Aviv. Powered by Siemens, the toll changes variably depending the speed of the traffic flow. So in peak-hour traffic it charges up to a maximum ILS 105, and off-peak it reduces to a minimum ILS 7. It’s marketed that a peak-hour drive will take 7.5 minutes only, instead of 30-45 minutes, so I leave it up to the reader to decide if time really is money.  

There are two options for avoiding the toll: the first is ride-sharing, where cars with 3-4 passengers are exempt from the toll; the second is a park-and-ride facility, where one can park and then take a shuttle into the business districts around the Kirya Base or around the Diamond Exchange. This is what I do most days. There is a 2000 parking bay lot, which is nearly full daily, with the Government paying ILS 12 per car to the BoT consortium. I park and ride a shuttle with the general populace all coming to work to Tel Aviv or Ramat Gan in the morning (and back again in the afternoon/evening of course). During the short walk from car to shuttle, one is usually accosted by single-drivers trying to make up numbers to avoid the toll. The operation is billed as reducing congestion and pollution (with which I fully agree), and you never know who you may sit next to on the shuttle. It is a relaxing 20 minute ride in a shuttle, where I can read, doze or daydream until I am dropped right outside my office. On the odd occasion one may enjoy a Seinfeld-type moment, where the passenger next to one is shaving with an electric razor, and the passenger next to the shaver is talking loudly on his mobile in American. The shaver is getting annoyed with the American, and both are disturbing one trying to doze. But these moments are few and far between.

So much for toll roads, but what about technology? Over a decade ago, Globes, the Israeli Business Daily, named Mobileye as a promising Start-Up. Beginning 2014, the company listed on the NYSE, and was valued at approx. $12 billion at its peak in September 2015. They develop collision-avoidance systems and are forerunners in autonomous driving (hence the ridiculously high valuation, based on what analysts think their technology may be worth in the future). My leased Kia Ceed from work came fitted with a Mobileye system. It has a big, round, digital clock face and sits on my dashboard in front of me. It operates by alerting you through several distinguishable tones and illuminating icons on the clock face if you are drifting lanes without indicating, if your follow-time is too low on a highway, if there is a pedestrian crossing the road in front you etc. Having driven with it for over 6 months now, I can confidently say it makes back-seat driving that much easier for a loving spouse. But it does provide the driver with increased awareness of his actions behind the wheel. Mobileye aim to build a completely automatic self-driving car. One of their salesmen, Rudd, used to live in the ground floor apartment in my building. Last summer, whilst cherry-picking on a farm in the Gush, he backed his car into a pole. Good luck to Rudd and his team - some accidents are just unavoidable.

* Lyrics from the single released by the English band, “Madness”, in 1982.


Of Rock Stars and Reality Stars

By David Arkin

The second yahrzeit of Arik Einstein has recently passed. Israel’s most celebrated singer and songwriter was the complete antithesis to how the average modern rock and reality star behaves, namely low-key and modest. His music retained its appeal and relevance to all ages, throughout his career and into the after-life. Interestingly, this characteristic, namely broad mass-appeal is something that is shared by many of Israel’s current rock and reality star generation. The former is an Arik Einstein children’s classic, and the latter was rated as song of the year across nearly all radio stations before last Rosh Hashanah, sung by a popular rocker with the stage name Muki. I can think of 2 reasons for this mass-appeal: the Hebrew lyrics are simultaneously meaningful to child, adult and pensioner alike; and this is Israel, not Hollywood – our stars live amongst us, like us. 

Flashback to last summer. There is a music festival at the Amphitheatre in the Sultan’s Pool, at the foot of the Old City walls. Ivri Lider, local pop star, played to a full-house. It doesn’t matter that he is openly gay or that he controversially avoided army service due to medical reasons, or that in the past the army even prevented him from performing before soldiers, the Yerushalmi crowd loved him. Admittedly, the summer holidays did allow for many children to be present, but the 6 year olds were clapping and shouting as much as the 60 year olds. The diverse audience – secular, dati-leumi, modern Haredi – all unified by the music. Ivri played host on stage to Ninet. Born Nina Tayeb, back in 2003, as a 20 year-old, she won the inaugural “Star is Born” competition, the local version of Pop Idols. She’s a prodigious talent and her career has since evolved into acting, composing, song-writing and the odd D.J. gig.  There have been 10 seasons of “A Star is Born”, which morphed into various other singing reality shows in numerous formats. And while the talent unearthed on these shows never ceases to amaze me and continues to entertain in 2016, Ninet remains the original reality star, and has become something of a cultural icon to hold a dear place in all Israeli hearts. But she is also now a working mom, and this concert was soon after the birth of her baby girl two months previously. She thanked her hubby on stage for staying home to baby-sit.

Another flashback to last year some time, this time to the Habima theatre in Tel Aviv. Mosh Ben Ari is bringing the house down. Resembling Bob Marley somewhat with long dreadlocks, he is a contemporary of Muki and Ivri Lider in the age 40+ rockers’ club. With his Temini/Parsi background from small-town Afula, he shot to fame in the nineties blending rock, reggae and soul in hits singing about Shalom/Salaam. The Tel Aviv crowd was a bit younger and hipper than Jerusalem obviously, but the audience demographics still had a decent spread of ages from the 20’s to 50’s, with even a few outliers in their 60’s. Mosh also hosted a guest performer onstage during his show, the completely bald and soft-spoken Shlomi Shabat. This brings me to my final flashback, this time to one Motzei Shabbat late last November in the Cultural Centre of Modi’in. I had seen Shlomi Shabat previously at an end of year company party, but this was a novelty watching a live show down the road from my apartment for the first time. I had a preconception that the atmosphere wouldn’t be as lively as in one of the bigger cities, but was pleasantly surprised. He started off by welcoming a special fan, a 15 year-old boy, who was also soccer-mad, and a huge supporter of Real Madrid, and who gave up watching an El Classico game between Real and Barcelona that evening to come watch his favourite singer play in his home-town. He was very appreciative that the young fan preferred his company over that of Ronaldo and Messi, and commiserated with him that Real were getting thrashed (they lost 0-4 for the record). Shlomi has a huge hit,  אמא,   which unsurprisingly is about children’s love for their mother. He didn’t sing it, but instead regaled the audience with stories about his late father, who emigrated from Turkey (in the early days of Statehood I am guessing, as Shabat was born in 1954). With age comes nostalgia, and he had plenty of this to share. I felt he spoke a bit too much, but when he did sing (also in Turkish and even Spanish) he didn’t show any signs of being on the wrong side of sixty. 

All the male artists showcased above have also recently appeared as judges and/or mentors on reality shows, bringing them even closer to their fan-base. All of them are A-list celebrities, but living in a small country of 8 million population, the local market is just too small to ignore anyone. Mass-appeal is a must to be star. I haven’t yet mentioned my rendezvous with a local reality celeb. Before the winter, I invited a plumber to give me a quote for servicing my water-boiler. I vaguely recognised him from somewhere, and it was only that evening when I remembered it was none other than Bentsi, the plumber with Tourette’s syndrome from the second Big Brother series. I really despise this 

show, so I didn’t take his services.


Crime stories from Israel’s Gotham City

- David Arkin

That headline is grossly unfair, because if the mayor of Modi’in read it, he would banish me from the city (although I have sighted Batman, but more about that at the end). One can glean a lot from reading a local newspaper. And my local paper is full of news of planned activities for residents under the auspices of the municipality (arts, sport, culture and religious events, for child and adult alike), glossy adverts from local businesses, and a real estate section where my apartment keeps gaining value. Not to be nostalgic or anything, but I do miss the local papers back in Durban: the Northglen News, Berea Mail, Umhlanga Globe etc. The local-paper crime stories of armed robberies, hijackings, murders and rapes made for far more-gripping reading than my current fare in the Modi’in News. None the less, if one looks below the surface of this quiet (dare I say dull), family-oriented, centrally-planned city, the seedy-side comes to light. So what follows are some of the crime stories scoops from the Modi’in News over the last few months.

First of all, there seems to be a preponderance of teenage cannabis dealers in this town. At least once a month, some unlucky teen gets busted. The paper hardly ever mentions quantities. One story did describe how the suspect was caught throwing out his apartment window an electronic scale and 70g of a “suspected cannabis-type drug”, already divided into portions for use. In a separate interview, the local police chief claimed that the amount of light drugs entering the city has halved, and that several drug smuggling networks have been smashed. So if one is looking to smoke a joint here, think again…

Then there was the story about two teenagers who stole an electric bike in Tel Aviv, and attempted to sell it online. The victim persevered, didn’t give up hope, and searched second-hand bike websites, until he saw the stolen goods advertised two months later after the theft. He then contacted local police, who advised him to set up a meeting with the seller. This led to a big undercover sting operation down-town right outside the Modi’in Azrielli Mall. Undercover detectives later questioned and released the suspects under restrictive conditions… (The bike was returned to its owner, in case you are wondering). 

City Hall was dragged into the crime section with the following story: A councilman on the municipality was abroad with his wife.  His son organised a big party at home with lots of alcohol, which at some point turned violent when he assaulted one of the party-goers. The police were called in to break it up, and the prodigal son was put into detention. The article then went to great lengths quoting the aforementioned police chief, who apparently is closely acquainted with the aforementioned councilman, and who decided that in the interest of total transparency, to move the case to a neighbouring police station outside Modi’in for a thorough and impartial investigation. Needless to say, the mayor was fully updated with all the developments… 

In the last week of July, things did eventually get serious, when a local item even made the national headlines: a 19-year old was arrested by the Cyber Fraud Squad for sexual harassment of minors. The young man in question hacked Facebook and Instagram accounts, extorted nude pictures of victims, and then threatened to distribute them on social networks. He even encouraged some of them to commit suicide. Apparently the motive was retaliation for being abused in his childhood. The local paper again described the arrest in detail: first the cyber cops set him up with an undercover policeman posing online as a minor; and then they traced his online conversations in real time to a local petrol station where he worked, was “caught in the act” and duly arrested. 

By far the most heinous and publicised crime in the city this year has been the theft from a warehouse in the main commercial area. The owner had just relocated his business from the industrial park of Atarot (this is a joint Israeli-Palestinian commercial district just outside Jerusalem). There he had experienced numerous break-ins, got annoyed at being constantly targeted, and decided to move to plush Modi’in. He had barely reopened shop, when he was hit again and NIS 1 million in stock stolen.  What made it such a big story is that the entire crime was filmed by cameras, and the thieves returned several times over an entire evening to load up with their booty, with no response from any security company or neighbourhood watch patrol. No doubt our police chief is still trying to track down the thieves…

To compensate for the lack of criminal activity within the city, there are sometimes reports of nefarious activity from the neighbouring Haredi town of Modi’in Illit. The story of the hen who laid golden eggs was an entertaining piece. The largest egg smuggling network in Israel was recently uncovered, with its ringleaders being residents of Modi’in Illit. Millions of unsupervised eggs from Palestinian territories were smuggled into Israel, bypassing any veterinary, sanitary or kashrut checks. The agricultural ministry was up in arms because of the potential spread of salmonella bacteria, the religious affairs ministry was up in arms because of falsifying kashrut documents, and the treasury was up in arms because of the lost income tax and VAT to its coffers. The sheer logistics of transporting the eggs and the scale of the money laundering to clear the cash was impressive. 

For now, the only Batman sighted here was that on my son’s pajamas. Gotham City – more likely Dull City? But I hope it keeps that way.


Meet my son, the nursery-school teacher

David Arkin

It appears old-school to wish one’s son to grow up to be a lawyer or doctor. What about something less common like a quarry-manager or a nursery-school teacher? 

By now, in November, the new school year in Israel is fully under way. Officially it starts on 1 September each year, but with all the chaggim in Tishrei falling soon after this date, it is only in October after Shemeni Atzeret/Simchat Torah when the kids start to get fully back into the academic year. 

Matan, my boisterous four-year old, is into his second year at his gan. So this year was an easy-restart for him. He has made some good friends, and then there is Yossi. Yossi is the only male on the staff. I suppose he doesn’t look like your regular run-of-the-mill nursery-school teacher: mid-to-late 30’s, head shaven for that balding look, ear piercings, lean but not muscular, with a sun tattoo over his right shoulder and what I think is a chameleon tattoo over his ankle. Hollywood may have glamourised the male nursery-school teacher in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Kindergarten Cop, but Yossi is an educator, not an undercover-policeman. The male educator is a respectable profession here in Israel – there is no shortage of rabbi’s, heads of yeshivot, school principals, and school teachers in the system. 

But less so in nursery-school. Almost 5 years ago, when we moved to a new neighbourhood within Modi’in, a gan run by Dan, an ex-high tech worker, was said to be phenomenal, with sometimes a two-year waiting list! Dan has since relocated to the nearby community of Lapid (before Matan could be enrolled), but I was curious: how many male nursery-school teachers are there in Israel? 

Apart from some personal anecdotes on the Israel Teacher Union website dating from 2005, I didn’t find any firm facts or figures until I came across an interview of Dr. David Brody on the Maariv news site (NRG) from June earlier this year. Dr. Brody is the Dean of Students at the Efrata Teacher’s College in Jerusalem, and the head of the Early Childhood Development (ECD) track. He started out, back in the early 70’s, as a nursery-school teacher, and recently published a book: Men who teach young children: international perspectives, London, Institute of Education Press, 2014. So he is a bit of an expert on the matter. 

What characterises a male nursery-school teacher, according to Dr. Brody? “They need to be caring, empathetic with people, be open to team-work with women and have the ability to work with them as equals. They should also have a strong masculine identity, capacity to love children, and endless curiosity. Above all, the male nursery-school teacher must be a person willing to invest in his work, and continue to keep learning.” Sounds good to me. The problem is that society defines the work as feminine, and accordingly, the low pay may be keeping more men from entering into this niche job-market. Usually products or specialists in niche markets are able to command some sort of premium because of the low supply, but this isn’t the case here. Brody estimates there are only around 40 male nursery-school teachers in Israel (out of a pool of 17 thousand women!) The low number is partly to blame on women co-workers, who find it difficult to trust the men, and overcome their prejudices.  

But, if ECD isn’t an option, maybe quarrying is? There are only 25 active quarries in Israel, each one with a manager. The company I work for operates 3 of them, and there are 2 members of the management team who used to manage a quarry and are licensed quarry managers. So based on this, I would be surprised if there were more than 40-50 qualified quarry managers here in Israel. An Israeli quarry comes into contact with almost every single government ministry. The manager needs to be: business-oriented (with annual sales of hundreds of millions of shekels), a good operational leader (managing over 60 workers and many sub-contracted teams), a hybrid engineer (combining mechanical, electrical, civil and chemical engineering all-in-one), have extensive knowledge of building materials for down-stream activities (like cement, concrete and asphalt production), a geologist, a conservationist with a basic knowledge of biodiversity, have a legal mind to navigate red-tape on licenses, restoration plans and mining extensions, and have near expert-level knowledge of Health & Safety issues. Needless to say, all of them are male, and I am estimating they earn at least 4-5 times more than their counterparts in nursery-schools. They are a talented lot, I am sure, but I’d bet none of them can make a paper plane as well as Yossi (his secret is a folding paper planes app!) 

Quarrying hasn’t changed much since antiquity. The core-business involves taking big stones and crushing them into small stones. Not exactly rocket science. In Israel, the oldest quarries are at Bet Guvrin, in between Bet Shemesh and Kiryat Gat, off Road 35. Here one can walk into the caverns and marvel at the skylight above. Like we parents marvel at our children growing up, I think we can all attest that raising a child is infinitely more difficult than crushing stones. Arnie may have progressed to being Governor of California (or regressed, depending on one’s view of politicians), but I sincerely hope Yossi continues to work in his profession, educating young Israeli children, and giving them a good base in their early childhood development.

Out of Perspective

Operation Protection Edge: One year on… remembering when war came to the office

To the discerning Hashalom reader, one may have noticed that the May 2015 edition was the last time my grandfather, Prof. Marcus Arkin, wrote his In Perspective column on page 3. He is getting on in years, and unfortunately finds the effort of writing too great. That he carried on for such a long-while is outstanding. So, after several chats with the editor on the opposite page, I decided to carry on the family tradition and write in his place. For those of you who think this is cronyism or nepotism be assured, I wasn’t even promised a cup of coffee for my efforts. While the Senior Prof put things “In” Perspective, I told the Junior Prof Editor that this monthly article will be “Out of” Perspective: it will lack focus, have no connecting themes, and be based on daily life experience in Israel. 

For comments, fan-mail, hate-mail or blackmail please send letters to

One summer ago, Israel was at war with Hamas. Daily sirens, running for bomb shelters, iron-dome intercepting missiles, soldiers dying. Tuesday, 22 July 2014 was a quiet day at the office in Ramat Gan. Around 13:45, I hear hysterical screaming and crying from one of the PA’s. I rush out, and see Reut, bent over and shaking uncontrollably. The other two PA’s, Hila and Natalie are at her side. Reut manages to stammer out: “My cousin fell in battle”. Silence. Nothing prepares you for this. It’s 14:00 and I am driving Reut home to Ashdod. Solly, the office mother-figure, is sitting behind with her.  On the way, Reut finds out the funeral is scheduled for 15:30 in Mazkeret Batya, so I change course and arrive at the cemetery. We are early, but everything is eerily in order. The army has had too much practice with military funerals: police are already manning the street and entrance outside, coordinating parking; the grave is freshly dug with packets of sand to fill it lining neatly alongside it; chairs and microphone are set up; there is big pergola erected with crates of water bottles to hand out; there is an ambulance and medics on site to take care of anyone collapsing in the heat or from grief. Soldiers and officers are busying around as mourners begin to arrive. Solly and I decide to stay to honour the fallen.

The family starts to arrive. First, the 80-plus old safta, wailing at the loss of her grandson. It’s bad enough for a parent to bury a child, but imagine a grandparent burying a grandchild? A medic is by her side almost immediately, offering her water. The older brother and father come in supporting each other, and tearfully embrace the safta. We are standing a metre behind them. Six male soldiers from Givati Brigade are in formation at the gate, pall-bearers, ready to carry in the coffin. Behind them, six more soldiers, weapons at side, who would give the military salute. And behind them, female soldiers, armed with wreaths to bring to the grave. An Army chaplain leads the ways, reciting tehillim. Silence descends. It’s broken by the anguished cries of Hadar, 25, the widow. Unable to support herself, she is held up by her mother and mother-in-law.

First came a reminder of guidelines in an event of a siren – namely to lie down and cover your head (bit restricted in a cemetery). Tehillim. Kaddish. Hespedim. The first hespedim are from the army as protocol: Company Commander, Battalion Commander, Division Commander, and then a Regional Commander. Heartfelt, but regimental –a Division Commander may have up to 4,000 soldiers serving underneath him. Still, that there were so many senior officers present is incredible, given the fact that war was still waging and that they left the field to honour the fallen. Then, came hespedim from the Shabak. This soldier was on milu’im (reserve duty) and had joined the Israel Security Agency after his studies (Shabak is the Hebrew acronym). He was eulogised by his field commanders and a Senior Officer in the Intelligence Corp. These were more personal, as they were work colleagues. The Head of the Local Council of Mazkeret Batya then spoke. The soldier had only come recently to live here, but the councilman was a long-standing friend of his widow’s family. Two close friends followed on, and then his brother. And then Hadar. Incredibly, she got up by herself and spoke lovingly to her fallen husband.

His name was Ohad Shemesh, just 27 years, married for five months, and was on Reserve Duty when he fell. Despite his life cut short by war, he had a list of incredible accomplishments: at seventeen he started a project for under-privileged children in Ashdod, using volunteer tutors to help with their school studies in the afternoon; later he would volunteer in the Ethiopian community too. He flew to Haiti after the earthquake in 2010 and volunteered in a girl’s orphanage for several weeks. He was a trained medical clown. He completed a BA in Middle Eastern Studies and Arabic, and worked as an intelligence officer in the Israeli Security Agency. 

The coffin is lowered in the grave, the neatly-lined sandbags are emptied, and wreaths are laid. The final military salute jolts me and brings up tears. After the funeral, Solly and I returned to the office circa 17:30, distraught that the war had reached our office. 

Dedicated to Ohad Shemesh, Master Sergeant, of blessed memory.



Prof Marcus Arkin

While the Holocaust was a unique mid-20th century industrial killing machine, many of the policies put in place by the Nazis to de-humanize the Jewish population were direct echoes of Medieval Europe. The Middle Ages in Europe stretched for a thousand years from the fall of Rome in the 5th century to the beginning of the Renaissance in the 15th. During that time the Church was supreme and the Jews allegedly were the killers of Christ. By and large it was a period of persecution for most Jewish communities.

Yet there were notable exceptions. The Jews of Byzantium (Eastern Roman Empire) dominated the silk industry and trade, and during the greater part of Medieval times most imperial edicts were more often concerned with protecting the Jews than impinging on their freedom. The Jews of Perpignan became wealthy money lenders in the borderlands of Southern France and Northern Spain. Equally significant was the fact that the prevailing enmity between the Christian West and the Muslim East provided tremendous scope for the entrepreneurial energies of Jewish middlemen.

But these were isolated instances of positive responses. The overall picture is largely negative. In the early Middle Ages the Jews of Europe suffered only from local disturbances, but towards the end of the 11th century the Crusades began which was to keep Europe and Western Asia in a ferment for nearly two hundred years. The Jews who lived in large numbers in the Rhine Valley very soon felt the presence of the Crusading hordes. Perhaps as many as twelve thousand Jews perished in the Rhine Valley over a three month period.

Then came the second, third, fourth and fifth crusade and every defeat of the Crusaders brought their wrath of failure. The Crusades are a turning point in Jewish history. They mark the end of settled Jewish communal life in Europe and the beginning of race hatred.

For the Jews of Germany there was another important consequence of the Crusades. The emperor extended protection to them and they paid a goodly sum for his generosity. The practice developed into a tradition and the Jews became the special vassals of the Emperor, chattels to be bought and sold at the whim of their patron. Emperors often consigned the revenues from “their Jews” to barons and nobles in return for lump sums. The Jews did not rise out of this humiliating status for more than six hundred years.

In 1215 during the papacy of Innocent III, Jews could neither hold public office nor employ Christian domestics. It was decreed that all Jews were to wear a distinctive garment or a special badge to set them apart from other people. Nothing could have more quickly and more completely broken the proud spirit of Israel. The Jews were stoned and pelted, compelled to slink through byways and side streets in darkness and in shame. He ceased to dress with care, to walk with head erect. He bowed and scraped his way before his tormentors, his self-respect disappeared. He was at last just what the Church had hoped he would become, a fugitive and vagabond.

As decade followed decade in the 13th century the world began to take for granted that the Jews were not men but tools to be used and thrown away. But all these sufferings were as nothing in comparison to the terror of the Black Death, which swept out of Asia in the middle of the 14th century and penetrated into every nook and corner of Europe. The rumour spread that cursed Jews, revenging themselves for their degradation, had poisoned the wells.

The poor Jews, themselves suffering grievously from the plague, were now subjected to the worst outrages in their history. The massacres spread from one end of Europe to the other. Everywhere Jews were put on trial and tortured, confessions were forced from lips wrung from pain. Property losses were staggering but the toll of lives made these pale. The surviving Jews were now herded into special quarters and every restriction was placed on their movements.

The ultimate “solution” to the Jewish problem was expulsion. This was only feasible in societies with fairly advanced central governments such as England, France and Spain. To Edward I of England belongs the dubious distinction of being the first European ruler to lift the Jewish Question out of the political melting pot by the simple device of wholesale and virtually complete expulsion. Yet the 15 000 Jews who were forced to leave their homeland for France and Flanders in 1290 were not banished because Edward’s government had suddenly developed religious scruples and could no longer tolerate a non-Christian community numbering less than one percent of the total population. Religion was only the excuse for measures to solve an intricate economic problem that could be disentangled in no other way.

The laws against “Usury” had left the Jewish community in England without employment. Edward accordingly had empowered Jews to become merchants and craftsmen but the guilds were too powerful to accept passively inroads into their monopoly.

It was the same story in France where Philip the Fair ordered the expulsion of Jews in 1306, exiling a community of some forty thousand. But the expulsion order of  1492 of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella joint monarchs of the recently united Christian kingdom of Spain was the largest. At least 250 000 Jews were expelled.

Since it is never desirable for a productive segment of any population to disappear suddenly, the expulsions turned out to be an enormous blunder. If the edict of 1492 marked a major turning point in the general history of the Jewish people, it was to lead to the undermining of any future prosperity for Spain.

As we commemorate seventy years since the liberation of Auschwitz, the path to the Holocaust stretches back over a millenia.


Israel’s Sojourn in Egypt

Prof Marcus Arkin

Despite sporadic attempts of some radical critics to deny that the Hebrews ever sojourned in Egypt, the experience of the Egyptian sojourn and servitude in the land of the Nile is so deeply interwoven in the historical record of God’s ancient people that it is virtually ineradicable.

Perhaps the most unanswerable bit of testimony that part of Israel, the tribe of Levi at least, resided in Egypt for a long time is the surprising number of Egyptian personal names in the Levitical genealogies. For example: Moses, Assir, Pashhur, Hophni, Phinehas, Merari and Puti-el, are all unquestionably Egyptian. Most critical scholars grant that the proportion of Egyptian names among the Levites is surprisingly large and could scarcely be accidental. Accordingly, they readily agree that the tribe of Levi in whole or in part sojourned in Egypt for several generations.

There are moreover a great many correct local and antiquarian details in the Egyptian narratives in Genesis and Exodus which, like the general fact of the sojourn of Jacob’s twelve sons and their posterity in the land of the Nile, would be inexplicable as later inventions. The story of Joseph, which is one of the finest and most dramatic stories in all literature, furnishes an example. In this moving narrative there are many bits of Egyptian colouring which have been fully illustrated by Egyptological discoveries. When the writer has occasion to mention the titles of Egyptian officials, he employs the correct titles in use and exactly as it was used at the period referred. Where there is no Hebrew equivalent he simply adopts the Egyptian word and transliterates it into Hebrew. The titles of “chief of the butlers” and “chief of the bakers” (Genesis 40:2) are those of palace officials mentioned in Egyptian documents.

Other striking instances of authentic local colour in the story of Joseph are numerous. There is for example ample evidence of famine in Egypt (Genesis 41). At least two Egyptian officials giving a synopsis of their good deeds on the walls of their tombs list dispensing food to the needy in each year of a seven year famine in the days of Pharoah Zoser of the Third Dynasty (c.2700 BCE).

Dreams were regarded by Egyptians as extremely important, as in the Biblical narrative. The monuments also indicate that magicians played an important role in Egyptian affairs (Gen. 41:8). Asiatic shepherds were indeed an abomination unto the Egyptians (Gen.43:32, 46:34). Joseph’s lifespan of 110 years (Gen 50:22) was the traditional length of a happy and prosperous life in Egypt. The mummification of Jacob and Joseph (Gen.50:2) was according to Egyptian practice in preparing the bodies of distinguished people for burial.

The name of Moses dominates the last 40 years of Hebrew residence in Egypt. The story of how the Egyptian princess found him in the ark of papyrus by the riverside has many parallels in ancient law. That Moses was born in Egypt and reared among strong Egyptian influence is independently attested by his clearly Egyptian name. It is in fact quite probable that Pharoah’s daughter did not give a special name to this unknown infant, a child of an alien race and that she contented herself simply to name him “the child”.

Another fact in the life of Moses besides his birth and education in Egypt that is attested by his own name and those of his kinsmen is the presence of a Nubian element in his family. The name of Moses’ brother, Aaron’s grandson, Phinehas is also Egyptian meaning ‘the Nubian’ and is interesting as providing an independent and absolutely reliable confirmation of this circumstance.

The account of the ten plagues, like the story of Joseph abounds in authentic local colouring. The miracles consisted of events that were natural to Egypt, the supernatural elements consisting in the great augmentation of the normal intensity and their introduction in unusual sequence.  There is in other words no importation of natural phenomena from remote countries into the Nile valley.

Israel’s exit from Egypt as outlined in the Biblical narrative formally excited a great deal of skeptism and debate among scholars. Many contended that the route described in the Book of Exodus was impossible and that the Exodus itself was accordingly legendary or at least historically unreliable. Others insisted on the northern passage along the Mediterranean, despite definite Biblical assertion to the contrary (Ex.13:17:18). In tracing this itinerary on a map it is important first to observe that the translation of the Hebrew name Yam Suph by Red Sea is plainly incorrect, for the word obviously means “Reed” or “Marsh” Sea. It is possible that the Israelites in their circuitous journey (Ex. 13:18) may have wandered further northwards than is commonly supposed and the route as outlined in Exodus bears every indication of authenticity.

Although up to the present no direct archaeological evidence has been found of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt, nevertheless in the light of considerable indirect testimony it is practically impossible to deny either the historicity or the fact of the Exodus. As scholars generally concede an event which impressed itself so ineradicably on the consciousness of a people as to control all its later thinking, to be the foundation of its natural history and to ratify its religion, could by no stretch of the imagination have been a mere invention. The real problem is therefore not did it happen, but when did it happen.

Two principle views exist. The first places the event around 1441 BCE in the reign of Amenhotep II of the eighteenth dynasty. The second places it about 1290 BCE in the reign of Ramses II of the nineteenth dynasty. Merril F. Unger in his study Archaeology and the Old Testament (1954) addresses the problems of the dates of the Exodus in great detail but finally comes down in favour of the first alternative.

The problems, as the archaeological situation now stands, are admittedly great but future discoveries and increased evidence will doubtless demand a reinterpretation of the whole situation and result in the clearing up of the confusion.


The Significance of Der Judenstaat

Prof Marcus Arkin

It is almost 120 years since Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat was published in 1896. 

It is a short work of some 23000 words and proved to be the most important book in the Zionist archives. Sub-titled “an attempt at a modern solution of the Jewish question”, the tract contains a dispassionate examination of the Jewish people among the nations and a detailed plan for creating a state in which the Jews would reconstitute their national life in a territory of their own.

Herzl’s goal was nothing less than the regeneration of the Jewish nation as a political entity. The task seemed impossible. The Jews had settled throughout the world. They were a minority everywhere, possessed no common territory, and spoke many languages. They followed different traditions and their religious ideology had become splintered as a result of emancipation and reform. There was no Jewish nation in the political sense, there were only Jewish communities scattered throughout the world.

Keenly aware of the magnitude of the Jewish problem, Herzl stressed the power inherent in the idea of a national territory. The idea of a Jewish state he strongly believed had the power to motivate Jewry. For Jews had dreamt this princely dream throughout the long night of their history. “Next year in Jerusalem” is an ancient watchword. It was simply a matter of showing that the vague dream could be transferred into reality.

The starting point of Herzl’s ideology as presented in The Jewish State was his analysis of the Jewish question. For Herzl the root of the problem was the Jews’ feeling of homelessness, their sensation of being unwanted, on being aliens even in the country of their birth. In keeping with the common 19th century European belief Herzl thought that the equal rights of the Jew before the law could not be rescinded once they had been granted. Hence the recent anti-Semitism would grow because of the very impossibility of getting at the Jews legally. No matter what the cause of anti-Semitism, economic, religious or political, the result was always the same. It inevitably led to bloodshed, poverty, destruction of property and demoralization. It was a vicious circle Herzl believed, oppression nationally creates hostility against oppression and this hostility in turn increases the pressures.

In The Jewish State Herzl emphasized that the constant oppression of the Jews would produce one positive effect. It would weld the Jews into one united people. The feeling of fellowship among the Jews which had begun to crumble after the era of emancipation was strengthened anew by anti-Semitism. The response he concluded would be the growth of cohesiveness. We are a people (Wir sind ein Volk). Our enemies have made us as one, whether we will it or not. Affliction binds us together and thus united we suddenly discover our strength.

Herzl’s statement that the Jews were a Volk stirred the Jewish intellectuals of both Western and Eastern Europe. The Jews of Eastern Europe were thrilled when Dr Herzl of the famous Neue Freie Presse spoke their language as it were and declared his adherence to Das Yiddishe Folk. Not only did Herzl declare the Jews to be a people, he declared them to be one people. And so the assimilationists of Western Europe and the tradition-bound Jews of Eastern Europe responded to Herzl’s inspiring message. They were imbued with one spirit and shared a common destiny.

Herzl’s nationalistic appeal to the Jewish people was heightened by its messianic overtones. Among East European Jews in particular Herzl stimulated the dream of a return to the Promised Land, even though he had not ruled out other territories as possible sites for a Jewish state. The messianic appeal was not anticipated by Herzl who was interested in the concept of nationalism. For modern European nationalism had drawn from the old monotheistic religion not only their exclusiveness but also their proposed belief in a forthcoming “end of days”, an era of ultimate fulfilment.

Herzl also knew there was considerable danger in bringing Jewish nationalism into the glaring light of international politics. His was an age of political unrest in which the strong currents of national revolt and international rivalry could be discerned under the smooth surface of apparent peace. Had Herzl’s theory contained the faintest suggestion of the use of force his efforts to gain the support of both the international community of nations and the Jews themselves would have miscarried.  It was to be perceived rather as emancipation for the Jews of Europe. His plan contradicted the force of arms. It depended largely on interchange, discussion and diplomacy, and positive political action.

In many ways The Jewish State represented a complete break with Utopian tradition. It contained nothing suggestive of a perfect society, nor did it revive any tendency to mould individuals into Utopian creatures with identical wants and reactions, devoid of all emotions and passion. Individuality would not be crushed on either aesthetic or moral grounds. Private property was to remain rather than be scrapped unlike the demands of most Utopias.

The publication of Der Judenstaat aroused a storm of controversies within modern Jewish history. Immediately after the appearance of the first edition of some 3000 copies, a vehement campaign was launched against Herzl and his publisher Dr Max Bernstein. The leaders of the Austrian Jewish community flung bitter reproaches at him. The Algemeiner Zeitung of Vienna argued that Zionism was a madness born of desperation. The Algemeiner Zeitung of Munich described the treatise as a fantastic dream. Even among the Hovevei Zion (Lovers of Zion) there were many who feared that so clear an exposition of nationalism would cause the Turkish government to take steps to destroy the Jewish settlements in Palestine.

Assimilationist elites of Western Jewry were disturbed by the declaration that a Jewish people was in existence and that it consisted of a single nation throughout the world. Similarly many lay leaders of Western Jewry and with few exceptions the rabbis, both Orthodox and Reform, utterly condemned Herzl’s ideas as contrary to the fundamental principles of Judaism.

However it was on the masses in Eastern Europe that Herzl’s ideas made their largest positive impression. Little was known there of the contents of The Jewish State for it had been censored by the Russian government. Only its title was enough to attract the attention of the Jews. Thus overnight Der Judenstaat catapulted Herzl into the forefront of Jewish political life, a position he retained until his untimely death in 1904.


George Soros - A non-Jewish Jew

Prof Marcus Arkin

He has been called “a messianic billionaire”. Hungarian-born George Soros was raised in a Jewish family in Budapest, where as a boy he survived the Nazi occupation. Then after the war as the Soviets tightened their control, Soros slipped under the descending Iron Curtain and made his way to England where he attended the London School of Economics. In the mid 50’s he came to the United States and began his career on Wall Street.

Soros zealously guarded his privacy. Well into the 90’s he remained

unrecognized by the American public and as he steadily expanded

his philanthropic activities he habitually kept to the shadows. All

that changed in September 1992 when the British government

abandoned its commitment to prop up the value of the pound.

Soros made a speculative fortune. Besieged by Fleet Street

journalism as “the man who broke the Bank of England” Soros

exploited his new fame by gaining access to world leaders and

his philanthropies, especially in Eastern Europe, took hold. By

the end of the century he was nominated for the Nobel Peace

Prize. Among his projects was $ 50 million to help the citizens of

Sarajevo in the Bosnian war, $100 million to rescue Soviet science

from bankruptcy, and hundreds of scholarships to bring academics

from the East to study in the West. He also provided funds to

reform early children education in more than thirty countries and

the re-training of thousands of Communist military officers for

civilian life.

But few of these beneficiaries were Jewish or Israeli. Soros never

tried to hide his Jewish origins but his donation seldom benefited

Jewish organizations. Why was this? What made Soros who was so

committed to propping up such a wide variety of causes so niggardly

when it came to things Jewish? Soros’ brief period of religious

interest occurred during 1942/43. He attended Hebrew classes

and had his Barmitzvah in the autumn of 1943. It was a modest

event. On the appropriate day in the midst of the war he went to

the synagogue where he read the portion of scripture and passed

through to the rite of Jewish manhood. While in London Soros

applied to the Jewish Board of Guardians for a stipend and was

annoyed when he was turned down on the grounds that the Board

did not provide money for students seeking higher education, only

those learning specific trades. This was very likely a factor in Soros’

subsequent anti-Jewish policies.

According to Michael Kaufman’s biography Soros (Vintage Books,

New York) while in America most of Soros’ business relationships

were with Jews. These included F. M. Mayer (a brokerage dealer),

Singer and Friedlander (Wall Street brokers), Alan Greenberg (CEO

of Bear Sterns) and many others.

Kaufman argues that Soros’ outlook rested on three pillars: making

money, philanthropy and philosophy. Soros’ own published works

reflected his interest in philosophy. The Alchemy of Finance (1978),

Underwriting Democracy (1991), The Crisis of Global Capitalism

(1998). All three works harp on the pioneering work of Freud.

After politely praising Freud for his pioneering explorations, he

contended that by claiming that psychoanalysis could explain all

human behaviour, Freud had “set himself up as a kind of God”

and added that his aim was to “cut him down to size”. He wrote

“science cannot take the place of religion, unless it deteriorates into

religion, as in the case of Marxism and psychoanalysis”. Freudian

theory “presupposes not only that there is reality outside the

human mind, but also that if thinking were fully rational, that reality

could be fully understood”. Freud went wrong in believing that

science could and ought to provide a complete explanation of all

phenomena. Soros declared “we must proceed on the assumption

that a pre-determined particle of human behaviour, even if it

existed, would be beyond our ability to comprehend”. The attack

on Freud may not now seem particularly provocative, but in the

early 60’s, when Freudian orthodoxy was the accepted norm

within influential intellectual circles, particularly New York, it was

audacious. Here was an unknown writer, fully aware of having no

legitimizing credentials, launching into a full scale assault on one of

the bona fide geniuses of the modern age.

Soros became more involved with defence shares as a result of the

Yom Kippur War of 1973. Though the Israelis ultimately repulsed the

Egyptian and Syrian forces who invaded their country in October,

they lost many more tanks and planes than in previous conflicts.

What if the military equipment supplied to the Arab forces by the

Soviet Union had improved? What if the gap had been narrowed

between Russian weapons and those that the United States had

provided to Israel? If that was the case, American defence spending

would be certain to increase significantly.

In 1983 Soros married for the second time. Susan Webber came

from an unobservant Jewish family and had attended an Episcopalian

private high school in Brooklyn. She referred to herself as a WASH,

a white Anglo-Saxon Hebrew. In 1991, in Underlying Democracy,

Soros noted that despite his success in the United States he had

never fully become an American and his Jewishness “did not express

itself in a sense of tribal loyalty that would have led me to support

Israel”. On the contrary, he wrote “I took pride in being in the

minority, an outsider who was capable of seeing the other point of

view. Only the ability to think critically, and to rise above a particular

point of view, could make up for the dangers and indignities that

being a Hungarian Jew had inflicted on me”. Elsewhere in the same

book Soros commented further on the schizoid pattern established

in adolescence. “I have lived with a double personality all my life. It

started at the age of 14 in Hungary when I assumed a false identity

to escape persecution as a Jew. It continued in England, where I

was a refugee and had to work in various menial jobs in order to

maintain myself”. Soros wrote that the duality continued during his

years on Wall Street. The pragmatic denial of Jewishness at the age

of 14 had altered the development of his personality.

By the 1990’s, Soros was a globally engaged billionaire and

revolutionary plutocrat who was often welcomed and sometimes

feared in many corridors of power. He does not respond to

solicitations received from Jewish organizations, charities or

Zionism. His disregard for sectarian groups and Jewish charities

in particulars was further heightened by the memory of his own

treatment by that Jewish charity in London.



Prof Marcus Arkin

Conceived as supernatural celestial beings, angels play a role in Jewish thought and literature from earliest Biblical times. Yet angelology has never become a major systemised branch of Jewish theology. Some scholars maintain that belief in angels is of foreign origin and aroused opposition of certain religious authorities. The study of angelology is nevertheless important for an understanding of the evolution of Jewish religious ideas.

Various names are applied to angelic beings in scripture. The Hebrew word malach signifies primarily a “messenger” or “agent”. It is as God’s messengers that the malachim become angels. More distinctive appellations are reserved for the supernatural creatures connected with the divine throne or chariot seraphim (Isaiah 6:2), cherubim (Ezekiel 10:3), ophanim (Ezekiel 1:15). Notwithstanding the variety of general names by which angels are called, it is significant that with the exception of post-exilic references, these heavenly spirits are depicted in the Bible as lacking in individuality, personal names and hierarchical rank. In the course of their duties they assume many forms, the shape varying with their task. Most often especially in the earlier narratives, they appear as human beings. But irrespective of their commission they remain completely obedient to the Divine will.

Angelic functions are numerous and as a rule beneficent. Thus they come to the aid of Hagar, apprise Abraham that a son will be born to him, guard the Israelites against the pursuing Egyptians, protect them during wanderings in the wilderness, and interpret the visions of Zechariah and Daniel. At other times angels are given punitive missions, to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, punish the citizens of Jerusalem, and smite the camp of Assyria. In heaven they surround God’s throne and form his Council and Court. They also constitute the celestial choir which sings unceasing praise to the Creator since the beginning of time (Job 38:7).

Inconsistencies discernible in the portrayal of angelic activities, for example the “sons of God” marrying the daughters of man (Genesis 6:2) appear to be due to the fact that various strands of thought and belief combine to form the fabric of biblical angelology. In some instances forces deified by heathen people were reduced to the status of angels and thus brought under the control of the One God. At other periods it was felt that the very transcendental character of God postulated the presence of intermediary beings to mediate between Him and the world. In many passages the angel merely personifies a Divine attribute or embodies His will in history.

It is noteworthy that in large parts of the Bible angels are conspicuously absent. It is conjectured that the prophetic and priestly circles were opposed to the doctrine of angels in as much as it derogated from the absolute divinity of the One God.

The Babylonian Exile had a marked effect on Jewish angelology. Rabbinic tradition attested to this Babylonian-Persian influence in the statement “The names of the angels were brought by the Jews from Babylon.” The angels became individualised, were given specific names and were graded like Babylonian spirits into different ranks. Ezekiel speaks of seven angels, six of whom brought destruction, while the seventh acted as a scribe. The new conception of the Deity was so transcendental that is was no longer God but “the angel that talked with me” who instructed the prophet.

In the Bible this process reaches its climax in the Book of Daniel. Here the angels are classified. Two high-ranking angels have individual names, Michael and Gabriel. Guardian Angels (sarim) are introduced for the first time (Daniel 8:16; 10:20). The evolution of angelology advanced still further in the Post-Biblical apocalyptic literature. The world of angels now became so bizarre and chaotic as to leave an impression of unbridled imagination. Essentially the angels serve as the media of revelation and are the instruments by which God governs the world. Their numbers are astronomical, their varieties almost endless. All the elements and phenomena of nature are given tutelary spirits. Certain angelic categories are of special interest. Thus frequent reference is made to the Angel of Peace and it is said “the very angel of peace shall strengthen Israel” (Testament of Daniel, 6:5). The seven archangels are usually declared to be the highest angelic echelon.

At the other end of the scale the Fallen Angels, who for their sins were cast out from heaven to the netherworld (Genesis 6:4, Isaiah 14:12) are given prominence in the apocalyptic works, but find no place in rabbinic literature. They were subjugated by the archangels but not annihilated. The polarisation of the angel world into good and evil spirits is a major feature of angelology. It appears that the Essenes made a considerable contribution to this structure. The Sadducees on the other hand seem to have been strongly opposed to it.

A highly developed angelology is also found in the Talmud and Midrash. Under Zoroastrian influence the angelic host proliferated but in rabbinic Judaism the evil spirits remained under the supreme control of the one God. It was a moot point as to whether the angels were formed on the second, fourth or fifth day of creation. They certainly were not created on the first day, lest it be thought they were God’s partners in the creation process. They were called elyonim (higher beings) to distinguish them from the tachtonim (lower beings), the denizens of the earth. They have no will of their own, but loyally carry out the Divine commands. Mostly they seek the good of pious men and the wellbeing of Israel in particular.

Generally speaking, contemporary Judaism regards allusion to angels in Scripture and in the liturgy as of poetic and symbolic significance rather than of doctrinal importance or factual significance.



Prof Marcus Arkin

The Jews arrived in Lithuania in the 14th century from Germany and Central Europe. By the end of the 18th century there were approximately 250 000 Jews within over three hundred communities. They were mainly concentrated however in the larger cities such as Vilna, Kovno and Brest-Litovsk. Many Lithuanian cities had populations of over 20 000 Jews.

Lithuania had few natural resources or commercial opportunities and most of the Lithuania’s Jews lived in a perpetual state of poverty. In spite of their hard physical existence learning Torah gave them a feeling of wellbeing. Torah study faced complex challenges and their rabbis had to re-invent the way it was taught so that it could retain its leading position as the defining value of Jewish life.

Rabbi Chaim Rabinovitz established a yeshiva in the village of Volozhin in 1803 which was to become the model of all subsequent yeshivot. It had a fixed curriculum of study, daily lectures, a stipend paid by the yeshiva to its students for their support and the division of the hours of study into three daily units. In the course of the 19th century there developed in the Lithuanian yeshivot a greater emphasis on prayer, ritual piety, sensitivity in dealing with all other humans and meticulous observation of ritual. Their legacy of deep devotion to Torah study is to be found in successor yeshivot in the United States and Israel today, headed in many instances by descendants of teachers in the original Lithuanian yeshivot. A full account of the Lithuanian Yeshiva movement is to be found in chapter 7 of The Legacy (Maggid Books, Jerusalem) by Rabbis Wein and Goldstein.

In another chapter they take up the topic of “Being a Mensch”, which means much more than being a person. A mensch is one who demonstrates basic human decency, one who interacts with others sensitively and kindly and in a manner that brings honour to himself. The first principle of being a mensch is to have derech eretz, good moral behaviour. The Mishnah says that a person who does not behave with derech eretz cannot be part of the civilised world. In addition to derech eretz there is a second concept crucial to being a mensch, the development of good character traits or middos tovos, especially helping people in need. The third principle involved in being a mensch is between one person and another, bein adom lechavero, from marriage and business to honouring parents and the elderly, to ethics of speech and charity

The very essence of a Jew is not his level of religiosity but his level of ehrlichkeit, his honesty, integrity and uprighteousness. Focusing on inner truth and sincere devotion as opposed to superficial religiosity, which is focused on externalities, is a central Torah principle. The general approach of many Lithuanian rabbis was to stress humility of dress and to discourage the egotism involved in externalities. Those who did not hold official rabbinic office dressed in ordinary apparel. Arrogance invalidates a person’s good deeds because the heart and mind have the power to ruin physical activities. A society obsessed with external signs of piety, which nurtures a judgemental atmosphere is a society that stands in stark opposition to the most fundamental Torah values of honesty, truth, integrity and humility. The religious arrogance and emptiness of such a society will manifest itself in all areas of human interaction. One of the fundamental principles of good sense is that a person becomes close to God through humility and submission. Paradoxically, religiosity in extreme leaves no space for God because it is self-centred. We do not strive for frumkeit. We treasure and nurture ehrlichkeit which is about the integrity of inner growth rather than about superficial religiosity or self-righteous ambition.

As Rabbis Wein and Goldstein point out, the Torah’s goal emphasized by many of the leading Lithuanian rabbis is to create a deeply sensitive, caring, modest, introspective and pleasant person. Pleasantness is not a surface characteristic. It is cultivated within the inner recesses of each person. Good habits and good actions can become habitual, but the platform upon all this goodness is built is the individual’s inner pleasantness.

Far from being a vague mandate for cordiality, pleasantness represents an absolute value in Jewish law and thought. Though the English term “pleasantness” has a benign tone the concept is robust in Jewish life and paramount in Torah law and behaviour. In its broadest sense it is the basis for many of the particular laws of the Torah. It prohibits actions such as stealing, murdering, slandering that violate the essential principle of pleasantness. Positive commandments such as hospitality, charity, caring for the sick and comforting the bereaved exemplify pleasantness in human affairs.

A good Jew was usually defined in terms of pleasantness towards others and not exclusively in terms of observance and piety. Superficial religiosity, exclusively concentrating on personal spirituality and punctilious observances of the law is not the measure of a good Jew. The overwhelming opinion of the Lithuanian rabbis was that a good Jew lives by the overall values of the Torah including considerations of pleasantness in human affairs.

The sharp divisions within 19th and 20th century Eastern European Jewish life were clearly present, but without the venom and violence that often marked these disputes in other places. It was not that the leaders of Lithuanian Orthodoxy were more compromising in their opposition to secularism, Marxism, nationalism and other panaceas that swept through the streets of Eastern European Jewry. On the contrary they were the leading opponents, both intellectually and practically, of these false gods. But even in the midst of their struggle to stem the tide of assimilation they never lost sight of the value of respect and pleasantness in dealing with other people. Observing how they reacted to this challenge we see continued striving for pleasantness in their personal and communal lives.



Prof Marcus Arkin

Arab hostility towards the Jewish State stems from circumstances associated closely with Moslem tradition. When the Jews refused to accept Muhammad as an authentic prophet he turned violently against them and all subsequent references in the Koran portray them as Allah’s enemies who have been cursed for their disobedience.

In the two centuries after Muhammad’s death, the sword of Islam swept across the Mediterranean carving out a vast Moslem empire. This stretched from the Pyrenees to the Indus and contained the major portion of the Jewish diaspora. The Jews of the medieval caliphate were always second class citizens, paying special taxes and barred from holding responsible civic or military positions. True enough, they were permitted to engage in long distant trade, since their Moslem overlords despised commercial enterprise. They did enjoy a measure of personal freedom greater than that of their co-religionists in the Christian north-west, but records of savage anti-Jewish persecutions and expulsions proliferate through the annals of medieval Islam.

Nor did the position greatly improve as modern times approached. As late as 1907, for example, there was a great massacre of Moroccan Jews in Casablanca. Hence the historical record suggests that Jewish-Arab co-existence is something of a myth, and that the popular idea that the Arabs have nothing against the Jews as such, but only against the Zionists, is equally erroneous.

In view of those many millions of Arabs nurtured on the Koranic text and often on little else, the Jews, as a religious and political entity, are a people of the past who ideally should have accepted conversion to Islam. If they insist on retaining a separate religious identity, they are entitled to some measure of protection. But if they attempt to reverse the natural course of history and offer a political challenge to the all-embracing Islamic spirit, then today’s children of Israel once again demonstrate the hostility and treachery with which their ancestors rejected Muhammad.

How have such attitudes influenced the political attitudes of the Middle East? In the course of the 20th century, as traditional Moslem society came more and more into contact and conflict with the economic, scientific and technological revolutions of our era, Islam found itself under the process of re-evaluation. This was at the very time when serious Jewish efforts began to be made to resettle the neglected wastelands of Palestine. As the threat of secular modernisation to traditional Islam became more pronounced, the emerging state of Israel served as a catalyst for all the problems facing the Arab world. This then is the intellectual basis of the Arab hostility to the Jewish national revival in its midst.

It must be coupled with a political hostility stemming from traditional intolerance toward self-conscious non-Moslem minorities. Except for Israel itself, no non-Moslem group has succeeded in modern times in establishing a viable sovereign entity within the Islamic area.

These cultural, religious and political fears have also served to provide the fragmented Arab world with a useful rallying point. Whenever mutual rivalries and suspicions seem to be getting out of hand, the “common Zionist enemy” can be conjured up to paper over the cracks. For over seventy years these deeply rooted sentiments have provided a solid psychological barrier against any prospect of a meaningful Middle Eastern settlement. In both a physical and spiritual sense, Israel represented an unacceptable foreign body. It was not a matter of conflict over this piece of territory or that parcel of land. Instead, there is an all-pervasive, underlying refusal on the part of the whole Arab world to recognize the very existence of a Jewish State.

When President Sadat of Egypt attempted to break through these blockages by journeying to Jerusalem in November 1977 and addressing the Knesset there, he created a traumatic upheaval throughout the Islamic Middle East. This action of de facto recognition of the Israelis was so out of character that even its most “moderate allies”, the Jordanians and the Saudis could not bring themselves to mutter words of tentative approval.

It is widely argued by well-meaning observers that if one root cause of the conflict has been Arab failure to accept the sovereign integrity of the Jewish State, another has been a marked reluctance on the Israeli side to recognize “the legitimate natural aspirations” of the Palestinian Arabs. The Balfour Declaration of 1917 gave international recognition to the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine on both sides of the Jordan. In 1922 the British arbitrarily declared that the concept would no longer apply East of the Jordan, where a separate emirate was created. At an unauthorized stroke of the pen, four-fifths of Palestine was henceforth barred from Jewish settlement.

The next partition of Palestine came in 1947 when the United Nations agreed to the creation of both Jewish and Arab states in Western Palestine. The Jews were now left with some 10% of the original mandated area. Reluctantly the World Zionist Organization accepted this proposal, but both the Palestinian Arabs and the Arab states denounced the decision and pledged to use force to oppose its implementation. This they promptly proceeded to do, and were eventually defeated in the ensuing Israeli War of Independence.

The upshot was that the bulk of the area which had been designated an Arab Palestinian state fell under Jordanian control, that is Judea and Samaria, known as the West Bank. Also Egypt controlled the Gaza Strip. No attempt whatsoever was made thereafter to create any type of Arab-Palestinian autonomy in these regions. In fact these territories continued to be used as bases for terrorist incursions into Israel itself.  This situation led directly to the subsequent wars of 1956 and 1967.

In fact the parrot cry about the “national rights of the Palestinians” has again and again been exposed by the Palestinian terrorists themselves as simply a device for the eventual elimination of Israel from the midst of the Middle East. Zuhair Mohsin, one such spokesman, provided authoritative confirmation of the true nature of this line in March 1977 when he declared:

“There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese... We are one people. Only for political reasons do we carefully underline our Palestinian identity... The existence of a separate Palestinian identity is there only for tactical reasons. The establishment of a Palestinian state is a new expedient to continue the fight against Zionism and for Arab unity.”

There is therefore no reason to suppose any modification of these sentiments since that pronouncement.


The Luck of the Irish

I have been lucky enough to travel for pleasure. Between 1881 and 1914 more than 2.5 million Jews fled the pogroms of Eastern Europe. This huge wave of people came to a halt a hundred years ago in 1914. I however, have been fortunate to make these journeys voluntarily and for personal enjoyment.

In 1958, Sue, my late wife, and I started travelling. We literally travelled the world. In Europe, from Britain we visited the Scandinavian countries, the Low Countries, Switzerland, Germany and France, Southern Europe (Portugal, Spain, Italy, Greece), Israel many times, Turkey and Teheran (pre-Revolution). We went to Asia, (Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan) and the Americas (USA, the Caribbean, Mexico, Brazil) and Hawaii. All these destinations admitted us on our South African passports, no questions asked.

In 1976 our married daughter and her family settled in Toronto, so we started our annual pilgrimage to Canada. Then during the 1980’s it became fashionable to not only demand passports at border crossings, but visas for each particular visit. This was not only a nuisance but an expensive nuisance; a visa could cost hundreds of Rands.

It was then that I recalled that my late mother was born in Dublin and that the Irish authorities gave citizenship to descendants of the mother, not the father. So I applied for an Irish passport. Ireland was a member of the European Community and no visas were required. But it wasn’t so easy. I knew that she was born sometime in the mid 1890’s but I had no precise date. Nor was she a Christian, so there was no baptismal certificate. But I persevered and eventually my Irish passport arrived. Not only could I now travel visa-free but at Heathrow there was a special desk for European community visitors which was hassle free. 

We visited Dublin from London in the mid 70’s before I had an Irish passport. It was quite different from Britain, greener, less congested and much friendlier. For example a stranger would come up to Sue and tell her one shoe was not tied up properly and she would have “a terrible fall”. The Jewish community is small and generally keeps a low profile. I never did discover why my maternal grandfather and his family settled there from Eastern Europe.

Visas are purely a money-making device and most countries today have adopted the habit, including South Africa. It is unnecessary and expensive and I must have saved quite a bit of money, to say nothing of time-wasting hassles with the Canadian consular staff. Just to be on the safe side I have a letter from our Department of the Interior authorising me to have two passports.

Of course that does not mean that travel is hassle-free. Air journeys, and from South Africa that is the only way to travel today, are full of stress, from the luggage inspections to the narrow seats to say nothing of the inevitable and costly delays. So with one leg I am not altogether sorry that my travel days are over.

How to keep in touch? In addition to emails there is the telephone and I am lucky that my daughter in Toronto phones me every day, so we keep closely in touch. I have never seen my three great-grandchildren who live in Canada, but at least in this way I am familiar with their daily lives.

How different it was a century and more ago. Once Jewish people had emigrated from Eastern Europe there was very little opportunity to keep in touch with family left behind. Of course there was letter writing, but not everyone is a good letter writer and all too often families were split apart. The same applied to the early Zionist pioneers in Israel.

Of course travel today is big business, even local travel. My granddaughter thinks nothing of flying from Durban to Johannesburg for a meeting or conference once or twice a week and coming home the same day. Just thinking about it is enough to make me exhausted. And yet there are large gaps in connections. For instance there are still no direct flights between South Africa and Canada and one has to change planes either in Europe or the United States, yet there is plenty of traffic between the two countries.

That leads me to the last point in the somewhat rambling discourse, the quality of airlines. Whether it is SAA, Air Canada, British Airways, El Al or any other airline, there will always be some aggrieved passengers. That is the very nature of the business. So there is only one way out, one has to go with the airline offering the cheapest fare and that surprisingly is still a major factor in what has become important in almost all our lives. However, compared to travelling steerage a hundred years ago, even the most uncomfortable airline is still a pleasure.



Prof Marcus Arkin

History provides few instances of individual Jewish businessmen exercising a decisive influence on diplomatic and political events. However, there was one mid-nineteenth century occasion, now almost forgotten, when the private affairs of a Jewish merchant not only caused the near-downfall of a British cabinet, establishing the reputation of Lord Palmerston as one of the greatest parliamentary debaters of his time, but also generated a first class international rumpus that brought the major European powers to the brink of war. Yet the surprising thing about the person who started the whole affair is that he was hardly of the Rothschild calibre. In fact he was something of a charlatan and petty scallywag.

David (popularly known as Don) Pacifico was a Portuguese Jew who, because of the accident that he had been born in Gibraltar in 1784, was able to claim he was a British subject. From 1812 he carried on a merchandising business in the seaport of Lagos in South Portugal. He was appointed Portuguese consul in Morocco in 1835. Between 1837 and 1842 he served as Portuguese Consul-General in Greece, and thereafter remained in Athens as a merchant.

During the Easter of 1847 an Athenian mob set fire to Don Pacifico’s house. The Jewish merchant naturally demanded, and was fully entitled to, compensation. Pacifico, who by all reports had always lived in a modest fashion and was known to be in financial difficulties, assessed his claims on a fanciful scale. He argued that the mob had looted the rare coins he had had been painstakingly collecting over many years, and that valuable brocade furniture had been gutted. Also, his wife and daughters had lost jewellery worth two thousand pounds Sterling. But this bill for household and personal property was dwarfed by the value set on certain vouchers destroyed in the riot. He alleged these to have been evidence of outstanding debts owed him by the Portuguese government amounting to twenty six thousand pounds Sterling.  When the Greek authorities refused to countenance these claims, Pacifico remembered the site of his birth and appealed to the Foreign Office at Whitehall on the grounds that he was a British subject.

For several years prior to this incident disappointment had been mounting in London at the behaviour of the Athenian administration. The property of other British subjects residing in Greece had been sequestrated, members of British crews had been maltreated in Greek ports and repayment of British loans had been arbitrarily suspended. Moreover, Lord Palmerston, the Foreign Minister, firmly believed that both France and Russia were tacitly supporting Greek recalcitrants in these matters.

The Pacifico Affair provided Palmerston with a welcome pretext to adopt a more forceful policy in Greek affairs. After nearly three years of futile palaver, in the course of which the Foreign Minister fully endorsed every one of the Jewish merchant’s exaggerated demands, Palmerston took the decisive step of instructing the Mediterranean fleet to proceed from the Dardanelles to Athens. Fifteen battleships anchored in Salamis Bay during mid-January 1850 and were ordered to seize sufficient Greek shipping to cover payment of Pacifico’s claims.

The intimidated and browbeaten Greeks thereupon offered to negotiate, but Palmerston was not prepared to discuss either the justice of the Jew’s demands, or to hassle over the amount. The Athenian authorities finally yielded to Palmerston’s steamroller tactics on April 26th. Don Pacifico was to receive an immediate payment of 120 000 Drachmas (about 4200 pounds) for his losses and as compensation for the personal injuries and suffering to himself and his family. Moreover a further sum of 150 000 Drachmas was to be handed over as a security deposit while a mixed commission of British, French and Greek officials in Lisbon investigated the question of damage incurred through the destruction of the documents establishing Pacifico’s alleged claim against the Portuguese.

As diplomacy with the continental powers became more envenomed over the Pacifico incident, Palmerston began to lose the support of his cabinet colleagues. The Don Pacifico enquiry that followed (June 24-28) was one of the most sensational debates of the whole history of  Parliament and included the greatest of all Palmerston’s speeches (“because a man is of the Jewish persuasion he is a fair mark for any outrage”) a vote of confidence in the government’s foreign policy was carried by 310 to 264. Even Palmerston’s bitterest adversaries admitted that his speech had been a masterpiece.

Long after the echoes of the statesmen in Westminster had died away ripples from the Don Pacifico affair continued to lap against the troubled shore of European diplomacy. There can be little doubt that relations with Russia festered slowly, erupting in the Crimean War. Moreover in many quarters of the continent Palmerston’s actions and speech seemed perfect expressions of arrogant British imperial pride. It is certain too that anti-Semitic elements in the Balkans (especially Bulgaria and Rumania) were emboldened by the whole business. On the other hand, in England, the public and parliamentary conversations and particularly Palmerston’s stout defence of Pacifico’s inherent rights, helped to create a favourable climate for the sweeping away of remaining Jewish civil disabilities.

And what of the principal figures in the affair, Palmerston and Pacifico? Queen Victoria sent Palmerston a memorandum soon after the parliamentary debate demanding that he cease acting on his own initiative in foreign affairs. Palmerston replied evasively and carried on as before. After a stint in the Home Office, Palmerstone became Prime Minister and it was during his period as Premier that the Jewish Disabilities Bill was passed (removing previous barriers to Jews entering Parliament) in July 1858.

Meanwhile the joint British/French/Greek commission working in Lisbon had found the originals of the Jewish merchant’s lost documents in the Portuguese archives. On this basis it assessed the amount still outstanding, together with the expenses incurred by him during the investigation to come to only a hundred and fifty pounds. That sum was paid by the Hellenic government to the British minister in Athens by June 1851. And thus ended a career, which for a brief moment, had been enmeshed in the web of great international events. All this is known of Pacifico’s later life is that he finally settled in London, where he died in April 1854 and was buried in the Spanish Jews cemetery.



Prof Marcus Arkin

When the Biblical prophet Ezekiel described Israel as the "glory of all lands" (20:6), he was not exaggerating. Israel has more species of plants and animals than North Africa or Southern Europe and has an incredible amount of geographical variety packed into a small space.

Rainfall normally begins in Israel during November, increases in intensity to about January/February, and decreases again through to May, which is sometimes completely dry. Most of the rainfall, some 70%, arrives in December to February. Contrary to common belief the amount of rain in agricultural areas of Israel is no less than in countries in the temperate zones. The difference lies not in the annual amount of rain but in the number of rainy days. In Israel the entire annual amount falls in 40 to 60 days in a season of seven to eight months. In temperate climates precipitation occurs on 180 days spread over 12 months.

In certain mountain areas snow is a normal occurrence. Mountains of 800 - 1000 metres, such as those of Hevron and the Upper Galilee, have snow nearly every year. Most snow falls in January/February. The heaviest snowfall recorded in Jerusalem was 97 centimetres in February 1920.

Air temperature depends on elevation and distance from the sea. The mean annual temperature in the coastal regions is 20/21 degrees C with differences between coastal plains that are near mountains and those that are not. Great climatic differences are hidden by a similarity of mean annual temperatures.
A hamsim, or heat wave, occurs when a depression approaches Israel from the West. It is broken when cool and humid maritime air replaces the hot air. When this occurs temperatures may fall by 20 degrees or more. During a hamsim, the temperature always rises and the humidity decreases. In May and June, and October and November, there are often such severe days with high temperatures.

Weak winds prevail in the Coastal Plain, the Jezreel Valley and the Negev. The mountains of the Rift Valley experience strong winds. Average wind force is higher in summer than in winter throughout the country, but in a winter storm velocities in January and February can equal or surpass those in the summer. In summer, regularly at certain hours, strong winds blow. While these are not as strong as the winter storms, summer averages are generally higher than winter ones. Mornings are usually calm in most areas of the country, as are nights.

The coastal zone of the Mediterranean Sea is about 270 kms and represents a transition between the coast of Egypt and Sinai, which are mainly deltaic, and the Lebanon-Syrian coast whose configuration is primarily determined by faulting. The coast of Israel is fairly smooth, without any islands representing detached parts of the mainland.

In many respects the Negev highlands represent a direct continuation of the plateau and mountainous regions of the Sinai Peninsula, exhibiting great similarity of tectonic and climatic conditions and consequently relief.
From the Jordan Rift Valley to the Mediterranean coast is an East/West sequence of interconnected, elongated basins, the Herod Valley, the Jezeel Plain and the Plain of Haifa. These three basins form relatively wide plains enclosed on their southern and northern sides by abruptly rising steep mountains.

The Lower Galilee Highlands rise steeply from the vale sequence and almost all of the land forms bear visible evidence of the decisive role played by faulting in determining the relief of the present landscape. Most of the essential differences between the Lower and Upper Galilee are conspicuous at their boundary. Here without any transition the slopes of several mountain blocks rise abruptly, culminating, in the north, in the three summits of the Meron Block. Structurally these mountains as well as the majority of the mountains throughout Upper Galilee are horsts, i.e. blocks separated from their surroundings by faults and partially uplifted to very considerable heights. Upper Galilee has only a narrow coastal plain interspersed between it and Mediterranean.

The Rift Valley within Israel is part of the approximately 6000 kms rift valley system that begins in Africa near the Zambezi Valley. The Red Sea and its two gulfs, Eilat and Suez, are submerged parts of the system. Some of the tectonic movements that generated the Rift Valley seem to be still active here as proved by the frequent earthquakes. The Rift Valley is sunk in some places to considerable depths below sea level and forms a unique climatic region with very distinct characteristics and exerts great influence upon its adjacent zones.

The country's topography does not favour road traffic and even today the highly sophisticated modern road network still mirrors the morphological structures, although, today's technology enables builders to overcome these topographical difficulties. Israel's three modern deep-water harbours, Haifa and Ashdod on the Mediterranean and Eilat on the Red Sea are managed and developed by the Ports Authority. Civil aviation has made a huge contribution to tourism, exports, rapid interior communication and economic development.
Israel's location at the junction of Europe, Africa and Asia make it an ideal focus for air transport.

Located between the Mediterranean and the desert, Israel exhibits complex climatic gradations and contains almost all the major relief elements characteristic of the adjacent territories. To a large extent its history has been determined by these geographical conditions.



Prof Marcus Arkin

Justifiably, the Renaissance is looked upon as one of the most significant periods of human history. In the late Middle Ages the people of Europe threw off the tight shackles imposed on them and approached a broad avenue of cultural and social creativity.

Men began to consciously perceive the world in all its vastness, to extol the individual and his talents, and to rediscover the cultural treasures of the ancient world.

This new approach, that opened society to the individual, offered vast opportunities to the Jew. Italy, the springboard for much of the Renaissance, was the area most directly affected. The original size of the Jewish population there is very difficult to determine because until the last quarter of the 19th century Italy comprised a multiplicity of states.

To the original Jewish inhabitants of Italy around the year 1300 came a mass of immigrants from Germany and two hundred years later there arrived refugees from Spain and Portugal. In between (in 1341) there arrived in Savoy Jews who had been expelled from France. "They waxed greatly in strength" according to the chronicler Joseph Hanohea. The period was one of relative tranquillity and freedom for the Jews of Italy.

Although each of the three waves is associated with a particular period, immigrants continued to arrive throughout the ensuing two centuries. In the middle of the 16th century, the Levantine sector of the Jewish population began to achieve prominence, consisting of immigrants from Palestine and other parts of the Near East. In Venice the Levantines achieved prominence as early as the first half of the 16th century. In later years they played a significant role in the development of Leghorn.

Altogether, during this period the Jewish population of mainland Italy was about 24000 of whom about 12000 were in the Papal States and about 3000 in Venice or Venetian-held territory.

While Italian Jews of the Renaissance were active in various areas of business and industry, banking became the major field of economic endeavour. Near the close of this period (c. 1550), one observer attested "that in these lands more than anywhere else in the entire diaspora has the custom of lending to the non-Jew become widespread". By the start of the 15th century the geographic expansion of the local business by Jews was complete and became a general economic phenomenon in all parts of Italy. A process of inner expansion also began and Jewish money lenders penetrated into many small towns. It became customary among city leaders to invite a Jewish money lender to settle in their midst much in the way they would invite a physician or a teacher.

Nevertheless, the money lending business did evoke opposition from within Jewish circles. Rabbi Abraham Gallichi claimed that interest lending brought no benefit to the community and caused only economic damage. Rabbi Samuel Archivolti spoke in this way:" banking is an occupation that engenders the pursuit of plunder, alienation of relatives, hatred of friends, enmity of the masses, a torrent of woe". Rabbi Abraham Farissol however vigorously defended Jewish money lenders. He was aware that the Pope and other Christian rulers assented to the practice, receiving through taxation a large share of Jewish profits. In these circumstances a considerable amount of interest money reverted to the state's treasuries, thereby benefiting the entire region.

Throughout the period (c.1300-1600) all possible varieties of trade was encountered, from petty merchandising to large international enterprises. In Ferrarie for example "most of the city's businesses are in the hands of wealthy Jews". Most of the Jewish merchants were regular shopkeepers and sold the necessities of daily life.

The most important contribution of the Jewish merchants everywhere in Italy was in the clothing trade, both used and new clothes. In addition Jewish merchants succeeded in establishing a firm hold over two special areas of trade, import and export of precious stones and metals. In response to the needs of Jewish merchants guides to the jewellery business were written in Hebrew. Jewish wholesale trade especially importation from foreign countries achieved truly grand proportions. Not only was there no resistance to Jews in this field, but they were on the contrary, officially invited to some places on condition that they engage in foreign trade.

A part of Italian Jewry carried its livelihood in the book business, as a book market of major proportions developed among both Christians and Jews.

In some places the artisans constituted an important part of the Jewish population. They were significant in Sicily and Southern Italy, but in the north their numbers were small. As early as the 13th century there were so many Jewish crafters in Southern Italy they probably comprised the bulk of the skilled working class. Silk production was one area in which Jews were prominent; in Calabria they virtually monopolized the industry. A huge contribution was made by the Jews in Leghorn in the late 16th century when they founded two prosperous soap factories and laid the foundation for the coal industry that made Leghorn famous in a later period. Jewish involvement in the jewellery trade was accompanied by the entrance of many Jews into the profession of gold and silver smiths.

Jewish wealth reached its highest point during the 16th century primarily as a result of widespread international trade and the accumulated profits of the loan book business that was more than two centuries old at that time.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

The notion that Jewish superstition exists separate from Jewish culture and religious belief is misleading. Superstition has a great deal in common with both science and religion. In traditional, pre-modern communities religious belief, as defined by the Rabbis, and the beliefs of folk religion co-existed, albeit uneasily. Despite the fear that these beliefs seem at first glance to contradict Jewish notions of monotheism, the incorporation of a vast array of demons and other occult figures into a folk pantheon and their successful assimilation into religious ideology, is an old as the Bible itself.
Modern Biblical criticism indicates clearly that the Hebrews made extensive use of the myths and legends of neighbouring people shaping their own myths. Theodor Guster  Customs and Folkways of Jewish Life says "It must be clearly understood that the expression ' Jewish folkways' is but an overall, comprehensive term covering what is in fact a manifold, heterogenous diversity. Indeed if there is one thing that the study of these folkways brings home, especially, it is that Jewish life is, and always has been, a sea fed by many rivers".
Light and water are two powerful agents used to dispel the evil intentions of demons. The Talmud mentions the value of carrying a torch at night to ward off evil spirits and light is virtually a universal element in ritual processes. Candles for example, are carried at wedding processions even when they take place during the day. The number three is particularly significant because it is commonly believed that even numbers are both unlucky and dangerous. Three, the first odd number after one, has a rich history as a favoured number in magic and religion.
Loud noises are supposed to be able to startle demons and frighten them away. The blowing of the Shofar, either by itself or in conjunction with specific holidays,  has this effect, as does the breaking of glass at the wedding ceremony. Other acts of propitation include shaving the bride's head and the cutting a three-year-old child's hair on Lag B'Omer.
Deception and concealment are frequent elements in Jewish folk beliefs and ritual practice. Jewish weddings provide ample evidence of this. Guster relates that in the 15th century bridegrooms in the Rhineland wore mourning garb and covered their hair with ashes. This is an extreme expression of the implicit funereal aspect of the wedding ceremony and is carried out in order to fool evil forces. Both bride and groom fast prior to the wedding ceremony to enhance  the notion of sobriety and mourning. Guster mentions the custom of not naming the new born child until the brit, since it is thought that the days which precede the brit are critical ones.
Amulets provide an important line of defence against evil spirits. The mezzuzah which is placed on the doorpost is seen as a particularly effective amulet and must be checked periodically to guard against eradication of key letters or phrases. Without the correct formulation, the inhabitants of the house might forfeit the protection they seek.
Births too were facilitated through magic. A woman in labour would be led to and from the threshold of her home and anything that could be opened such as drawers, was opened. Even the key to the synagogue has its own special powers as an opening device useful in facilitating delivery.
Sympathetic magic has a negative side to it as well. Pregnant women should not step over ropes, fearful that the body will become entangled and die. Floors should not be swept or cleaned after someone leaves the house since this is customary procedure after someone dies. Babies should not be dressed by more than one person since this is how dead people are dressed (i.e. by the Chevra Kadisha). Even sewing buttons onto a piece of clothing while it is being worn creates the possibility of interfering with a person's ability to reason.
In Jewish folklore one's enemies become incensed at one's successes. As a protective device, laudatory remarks need to be accompanied by a phrase such as kin ayne hore (no evil eye). Since the evil eye and the spirits that provoked that cast it are provoked by success or great joy, enumerating people and wealth could lead to ruin. The proper counting of children, therefore, is as follows: nit eyn, nit tsvey, nit dray and so on   (not one, not two, not three). The term "evil eye" was itself seen as a danger and frequently the euphemism "good eye" was used in its place.
The effect the evil eye on a child can be detected by the presence of fever, emaciation, and excessive yawning. The method of combating the spell was to place part of the garment of the suspected culprit on glowing coals together with dirt from the four corners of the room.The smoke that resulted was blown into the child's face. Another means of combating the evil eye was through mirrors which reflect the curse.
Folklorist Dov Noy divides beliefs regarding demons into three main categories. Those that suggest a direct contact, those that seem to compromise, and those that are designed to deceive. Folk beliefs speak to the broadest range of human consciousness. They serve the human need for a sense of order in the universe. By presenting a set of practices designed to bring about desired changes or prevent undesirables occurences, they soothe the pain of helplessness and create the illusion of control.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

The Bible is not a single book but a little library of thirty nine books as we ordinarily count them. Originally there were even more. For several which were at first distinct and separate are now combined in one,  and many more authors were responsible for their production then tradition allows.
As we now have it, the Bible is the result of a long literary process in which compilers and editors had a large share. It is in this final form that it has exerted its great influence on ancient and modern civilizations alike. But each book had its special significance for its own time as well.
Some of them were the direct cause of powerful religious and social movements. Others contain the soul-stirring addresses that gave new direction to the life of Israel. Each separate piece of the Bible gave inspiration before it became united with a particular book, whose greatness and power it now augments.
Long before anyone in Israel thought of writing in literary form, people sang songs and told stories, delighted in riddles and wise sayings and handed them down from generation to generation in oral tradition. The few of these that have come down to us, embedded as quotations in our prose books, are all in poetry. They have been conceived in enthusiastic moods and had often been recited and sung on festive occasions. The rythmic form was accentuated by dancing and the accompanying clapping of hands or by crude music.
Among the ancient poetic material that is still preserved in the books from Genesis to Samuel, there are lyric songs as well as didactic, prophetic and cultic poems. Unfortunately is is impossible to date them exactly. Though some are very old, not a single song has come down from a time earlier than Moses.
Legends of a more remote past had been handed down through the ages by those in Israel with astounding tenacity of memory.The priests had recited the stories connected with their particular sanctuaries. The shepherds had told their tales of pastoral life, the peasants of agriculture and the city dwellers of urban life. They were all at first single stories complete in themselves, independent of others. Minstrals and story-tellers had collected and narrated them to the people at the festivals, and the parents had told them in turn to their children. Yet in the course of time with the development of settled life the need for writing them down came to be felt, and certain groups of stories were thus preserved.
It was inevitable that by the time we came to written records the tales should have been more or less modified in the long oral process of tradition. Stories that were originally Canaanite or Babylonian had been made Israelitic. Thus religious tales originally connected with the Canaanite god Baal or the Babylonian god Marduk, or some other deity, were now told of Yahweh.
It is noteworthy that in telling the ancient stories (Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and his Ark, etc.), the author did not reject the various Canaanite elements that had been introduced into Israel's religion, but he transformed them.Thus the ancient local sanctuaries of the Canaanites were sacred to Israel not because Baal had lived and received his worshippers there, but because Yahweh had appeared to the ancestors. They then had built altars to Him there. Of course unassimilable ideas were discarded, for example polytheistic notions and female deities.
A new epoch not only in literature but in religion began with the rise of the literary prophets. They did not merely produce a new class of literature but ushered in the greatest movement in the spiritual history of mankind.
While Amos and Hosea were prophesying in the North there arose in Judah the most majestic of the prophets, Isaiah of Jerusalem. For forty years he was God's spokesman to his people (c 738-700 BCE). The splendour of his diction, the wealth of his imagery, the amazing variety of his style now grand and majestic, powerful and sweeping, now gentle and sweet, moves as if full of silent tears, marks him out as the prince of Hebrew orators. But he was greater than his style and his words. He had penetrated through appearances to the underlying reality. He had seen the One who directs all movements of history and thus was enabled to interpret them to his people and to unfold His plan in the events of the nation.
The Book of Isaiah now contains many passages which were not from him. Not only the whole second part ch 40-66, most of the oracles against foreign nations in ch 13-23, the so-called apocalypse in ch 24-27, the biographic material in ch 36-39, but a good many other passages were added later. We now have a great collection of oracles in his book, of which Isaiah's own are not even the largest part.
It was during this period too that the book of Deuteronomy was written. The rhythm of its language, the particular phraseology of its well-formed sentence and the distinction of its vocabulary are impressive. The whole is pervaded by such a warm tone that the reader is filled with admiration. His style and thought influenced many writers, amongst them Jeremiah, Nehemiah and Daniel.
The Bible was meant to contain only sacred writings.  Secular books were therefore excluded on principle. If some were nevertheless admitted (the book of Esther and the Song of Songs) they had to be interpreted in a religious or allegorical manner in order to be acceptable.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

The prophets whose revelations have been transmitted to us in the Bible were only a small minority of the prophets who were active in Israel during the monarchy and first centuries after the deportation. Jeremiah says that God has sent prophets from the day of the liberation of Egypt (XI: 7). Prophets were also active among the exiles in Babylon. "In the Messianic Age the spirit of prophecy will be poured out upon all the members of the elect People" ( Joel,  III :1f).
Since the existence of the prophets was regarded as a privilege to Israel and a blessing for this time and for the ages to come, the disappearance of the prophets was considered as punishment and judgement.  Amos says that days are coming when men will wander from sea to sea to seek the prophetic oracles but will not find them (VIII : 11f).
The authority enjoyed by the prophets among their people depended naturally on the fact that they were regarded as bearers of the divine word. The divine word gave information about obscure matters and was also an effective power to bring about good fortune or misfortune. As can be seen particularly from the history of Isaiah and Jeremiah, important prophets were often summoned by the Kings in critical situations. They could also appear before them on their own initiative, and thus could have great influence on political life if the king listened to them. Their main task however,  was to preach wherever people assembled. Because the prophets were regarded as sent  by God and as being in possession of His word, their persons were sacrosanct and it was dangerous to do violence to them (Jeremiah XXVI).
A prophet's task was not only to preach. He was also appointed to be "an asseyer and tester" (Jeremiah VI:27). He had to examine his people, distinguishing between that which was good and that which was evil. On the result of this examination the contents of the prophet's preaching depended. A prophet was also appointed a watchman to his people. He had to look out for what was to happen in accordance with God's purpose and then warn his compatriots.
Among the prophets Jeremiah is the supreme intercessor. In no other prophet do we find so many expressions of compassion for the people. It is noteworthy that this compassion is combined with a feeling of solidarity with the people in its sinfulness and guilt.
As effective intercessors in prayer the prophets were of course held in high regard by their compatriots and occupied an important position in Israelite society. As intercessors with God the prophets were not only God's messengers to the people, but representatives of the people before God. The prophets were specialists in prayer in the same measure as they were specialists in the delivery of divine oracles and the proclaiming of divine revelations. A balanced view of the prophetic  commission must take both functions in account.
The question arises whether any of the great prophets were cultic prophets in the strict sense, that is were they permanently attached to a sanctuary and received their livelihood there. Isaiah seems to have had an independent existance surrounded by a private circle of  disciples and there is no evidence that he was attached to the Temple staff. Micah was a man from the countryside, perhaps a small freeholder. Hosea was undoubtedly a farmer. Jeremiah is shown living as a private man, working as an independent prophet. Ezekiel was called to be a prophet in Babylon where there was no Jewish temple. Neither Zephaniah nor Hagai seem to have been cult prophets. On the other hand, Nahum, Joel, Malachi and Zechariah belonged to the cultic staff. We know nothing about the life of Amos. Accordingly there were professional Temple prophets as well as independent ones.
Many passages in the books of the classical prophets contain sharp attacks on other prophets.  The sharpest and most detailed attacks are to be found in Jeremiah and Ezekiel. That is not to say that they deny these prophets were really prophets, but they have not been sent by God. They had revelations and visions, they imparted regular oracles and they prophesized "in God's name".  This claim was false according to Jeremiah, and instead they prophesied in the name of Baal and other false gods.
The task of a true prophet was to intercede for the people and to bring them to repentance and righteousness in order to save them from the wrath of God and secure their existence. This task was neglected by the false prophets. These prophets have nothing to expect but judgement and punishment.
A simple criterion by which people in general could conclude whether a prophet was really called and sent by God, or was a prophet without divine commission, was the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of his prophecies. The "false prophets" have often been identified with the cultic prophets attached to the sanctuaries. Such an opinion is without any foundation. Some cultic prophets were filled with true moral zeal, as can be seen from the cultic prophets whose revelations have been preserved in the Bible.
The marks by which one could recognize a true or a false prophet cannot be expressed in a formula. They were not dogmatically fixed. The general agreement of a prophet's preaching with God's will, thoughts, and purpose, guaranteed the fact that this prophet had been sent by God and had a true divine message to convey.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

In thinking about Jewish financiers, pride of place must go to the Rothschild family. They not only played a decisive role in the outcome of the Napoleonic Wars but were to become by far the most influential merchant bankers of the 19th century. They played a prominent part in securing Jewish emancipation from civil disabilities.
It was in the commercial city of Frankfurt that the firm's founder, Meyer Amschel, was born in 1743. He went on to become a money changer and handle some petty brokerage business for the landgraf of Hesse-Cassel. But as late as 1806 the firm was of little account beyond the immediate business world of Frankfurt itself. The firm's subsequent soaring fortunes were the product of Meyer's five energetic sons. One of them, Nathan Meyer, had settled in Manchester in 1797, where he engaged in the purchase of semi-processed cottons, arranged for the dyeing and cutting, and dispatched the finished cloth to the parent firm at home. In 1804 he moved his business to London and become a naturalized British subject two years later.
The defeat at Trafalgar had put an end to Napoleon's plans for a direct invasion of Britain, and  transformed the Anglo-French struggle from a military to an economic contest. In the autumn of 1806, after Prussia had fallen, the Berlin Decree proclaimed the British Isles to be in a state of blockade. The signatures of Austria, Russia, Sweden and Denmark were soon added to this scheme of commercial warfare. There now ensued a long and intense struggle between the emperor's resolve to exclude British and colonial products from the continent, hence the name Continental System, and the determination of the peoples of Europe themselves to secure such supplies, even at greatly inflated prices.
This was a situation offering tremendous scope to the entrepreneurial investiveness of any businessman lucky enough to have a footing in both camps. Among the few in this fortunate position were the Rothschilds. Frankfurt was now part of the French controlled Confederation of the Rhine. Under Nathan's skillful guidance the firm plunged into cross-channel contraband with all its energies. Thus the undermining of Napoleon's continental system proved to be one of the three pillars on which the fortunes of the House of Rothschilds were originally built.
Meanwhile the centre of military interest had come to be focused on Britain's diversionary campaign led by the Duke of Wellington on the Iberian Peninsula. If the plan was to succeed however, the Duke had to receive adequate funds for paying his troops and for purchasing local supplies, since he could not afford to alienate the sympathies of the Spaniards by living on the country. Yet there could be no question of shipping the necessary bullion to Lisbon, 800 miles from the nearest English port across seas infested with enemy warships and privateers.
Once again the actual methods used remain somewhat hazy.However, James in Paris, now on intimate terms with Napoleon's finance minister Mollien, must have played a vital part. It is certain however, that during 1813 alone, cash remittances to Spain and Portugal amounted to not less than Sterling 1,400,000, the great bulk of which was managed by the Rothschilds. Handling the money to Wellington, therefore, formed the second pillar supporting the Jewish firm's mushrooming wealth.
The struggle against Napoleon also involved the regular transfer of considerable sums from Britain to her continental allies. These were mainly in the form of out-and-out subsidies rather than loans. This business was to become the third pillar on which the Rothschild financial leadership came to rest.
Following on the French retreat from Moscow, Whitehall became anxious to create a  grand alliance that would lead to the final overthrow of Napoleon. But if these allies were to place large new levies of  troops in the field, the Treasury would have to remit more than Sterling  2 million to the Austrians, about half that amount to Russia, and at least Sterling 700,000 to the almost bankrupt Prussians. Because of Britain's seriously depleted reserves, bullion itself could not be sent, and a direct remission of bills was likely to have a disastrous impact on the delicate mechanism of the foreign exchanges which would lead to a rapid external depreciation of Sterling.
In an effort to overcome this problem the Treasury once more called upon the services of Nathan. His talent for financial manipulation in the grand manner now found its fullest expression in close co-operation with his four brothers on the continent. Nathan manipulated all the technical devices by which foreign money might be obtained without undue pressure being exerted on Sterling. He purchased the largest possible supply of European bills and fed these into the bill market at regular intervals to maintain an equilibrium. As a consequence, the financial operations essential for the defeat of Napoleon were carried out without any further drain of bullion from Britain, and with stability in the foreign price of  Sterling currency.
At the end of the Napoleonic Wars the Rothschild brothers were the richest men in Europe. Solomon became the commercial advisor to the Prussian government. Louis XVIII took up a loan of 5 million francs with James in Paris. From Schonbrunn Palace outside Vienna came a Hapsburg patent conferring a title of nobility on Amschel, the eldest of the brothers, in recognition of his services in transmitting the British subsidies. Karl went to Italy as financial consultant of the King of Naples. Nathan, the most astute of them all, remained in London to launch the firm to new heights of financial eminence. He become immortalized in a verse by Byron as the one who held "the balance of the world".
In the space of five years these five extraordinary brothers had bridged the gulf between the medieval ghetto and the modern world of international finance and in no small measure their greatness flowed from characteristics that were essentially Jewish.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

Several misconceptions Jews have about Judaism are so part of everyday Jewish life that one has to pause and reflect to bring them to life.
One is that the Mourner's Kaddish is a prayer for the dead. However, the prayer itself is not about death nor is its usage limited to the mourner. The prayer is an affirmation of G-d's greatness and that He is "beyond all the blessings and hymns ... that are ever spoken in the world". The Kaddish is written almost entirely in Aramaic, the vernacular tongue of the ancient Babylonian Jewish community. The custom may have originated during the German persecutions of the 13th century. The symbolic significance of the prayer in this context is the assertion by the mourner of G-d's ultimate justice and power. The mourner, in reciting the Kaddish, accepts the divine decision, symbolised by his asserting that G-d is "blessed and praised, glorified and exalted". At no time however does the prayer mention the dead or ask for divine intervention on behalf of the departed.
Another popular misconception is that Judaism is a religion which never sought converts. The discussions of conversion in the Talmud and later legal codes are extensive. Non-traditional sources (such as Josephus) also indicate that conversion to Judaism was welcomed and at times actively sought. In the Talmud for example Rabbi Jochanan and Rabbi Eliezer stated that "the Holy One, blessed be He, exiled Israel among the nations only in order to increase their numbers with the addition of proselytes". The major turning point against proselytizing activity occurred with the ascension of Constantine as emperor of Rome in 312 CE. As a Christian, the Emperor enacted various restrictions on Judaism, including the ban of proselytizing, and ordered the death penalty for anyone who converted to Judaism. Nonetheless, later Jewish history saw a number of important instances of conversion. The most unusual in this regard is the story of the Khazari, a Turkish people whose nation was located east of the Black Sea. For reasons that are somewhat unclear the King and the royal house of the Khazars converted to Judaism sometime in the 8th century. Scholars speculate that the conversion was instigated to find a "neutral" religion between the opposing forces of Christian and Islamic political powers in the region.
Jews sometimes like to compare their religion to Christianity and state that while Christianity is "other world" orientated, Judaism is focused on the "here and now". This may be partly true, but it would be incorrect to say that Judaism does not believe in an afterlife. The Bible has a fairly undefined view of man's fate after death. Sheol, a shadowy world of the departed, is alluded to (Numbers 16.33). But the details of this existence are unstated. Only in the relatively late book of  Daniel is there the first clear statement of a resurrection of the dead. "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" (Daniel 12.2). Jewish literature since rabbinic times however, is filled with statements about "the world to come", both describing what the afterlife will be like and announcing that one can "attain the World to Come" or be excluded from it. The Talmud, particularly in the tractate Sanhedrin  discusses the resurrection of the dead in considerable detail, and the life of the soul after death is a much discussed topic in many other rabbinic texts. The Jewish mystical tradition also developed a system known as gilgul describing transmigration of souls.
"All work is forbidden on the Sabbath" is true, the problem lies in how one defines the concept of work. In what way for instance, is turning on a light in the present day and age, really work? Is carrying a chair work? What about reading or taking a walk or playing chess? When the Bible states that one "shall not do any manner of work"  (Exodus 20.10) on the Sabbath, it does not elucidate its definition of the word "work". Only a few deeds are specifically forbidden by the Torah. These are the activities that were undertaken in the construction of the sanctuary. A typical example of the problems encountered in thinking of the Sabbath as a time when all "work" is forbidden, can be seen in the case of probitions about carrying. According to Jewish law carrying heavy furniture from one part of the house to another is permissible, but carrying even a handkerchief from one's home into the street is forbidden. The important distinction is the public versus the private domain. Carrying from the private domain (the house) to the public or vice versa is prohibited, as is carrying in the public domain itself. Carrying exclusively within the private domain however is permitted. In modern times many new problem areas previously unanticipated have emerged with the growth of labour-saving technology. For example, problems such as the permissibility of using totally electric and self-operating devices. If the labour is saved, is the deed still considered "work" ?  All definitions agree that "work" is forbidden on the Sabbath. How the distinction are determined is the challenge.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

In its issue of May 18 2013 The Economist  ran a report " Who's a Jew?  An old religious argument once again rears its angry head".  It concerned the Karaites, who go back more than  1300 years and comprise less than one percent of Israel's six million Jews. They recognized the Scriptures as the sole source of religious law to the exclusion of the Oral Law.
This places them at odds with mainstream Orthodoxy. Maimonides denounced them as heretics and in modern-day Israel the Chief Rabbi has slapped fines of a  1000 shekels on Karaite butchers  for calling their meat kosher and is battling with the Supreme Court over the validity of Karaite marriages.
In the 9th and the beginning of the 10th centuries the Karaite movement was a conglomeration of various anti-Rabbanite sects.  Benjamin ben Moses Nahawenli (c.830 - 860) laid the groundwork for the development of Karaite doctrines by encouraging the individual study of the Scriptures into a basic principle of  Karaism.
In the 10th century, when Karaism was already fairly consolidated, there was a considerable number of Karaite theologians,  religious teachers, grammarians and biblical exegetes. Rejection of secular sciences was discarded and Karaite scholars became active participants in the flourishing Arabic culture. Some Jewish historians (Graetz for example) were of the opinion that the first Jewish grammarians and biblical scholars had been Karaites.
The first prominent Rabbanite to attack the Karaites was Saadiah Gaon. On both sides the battle was waged with great ardour and often with a lack of objectivity. However it remained a war of words and scarcely ever descended into physical violence.
At the end of the 11th century the centre of  Karaite intellectual activity shifted to Europe where  Judah Hadassi produced an encyclopaedic summary of Karaite theology, one of the most important works on Karaite literature and undoubtedly the outstanding work in Hebrew.
In the 17th and 18th centuries Karaite activity shifted to the Crimea and Lithuania, and Karaites in these areas assumed the leadership of the sect. A new epoch was opened by the incorporation of Lithuania and the Crimea  (1793 and 1783 respectively) into Russia. Until then the external history of the Karaites had been similiar to that of the Rabbanite Jews. Both considered each other as Jews and regarded the most violent polemics between them as an internal Jewish quarrel. Wherever the Karaites had taken up residence, they had been treated as Jews.
But inequality before the law was introduced in 1827 when the Crimea Karaites were exempted from military service, a privilege which was not extended to the ordinary Jews. In 1828 exemption from military service was also granted to the Karaites of Lithuania. The special legal status accorded the Karaites was also influenced by the difference in their social and economic situation. Whereas the Jews in the Crimea were mainly pedlars and artisans, the Karaites were wealthy landownwers, deriving their income from tobacco plantations, orchards and salt mines. In 1863 the Karaites were given rights equal to those of the native Russian population.
In 1939 the German  Minitry of the Interior expressly stipulated that the Karaites did not belong to the Jewish religious community. Their "racial psychology" was considered non-Jewish. This decision was subsequently applied to France and Eastern Europe. The behaviour of the Karaites during the Holocaust period vacillated between indifference to the Jewish cause and in some cases of actual collaboration with the Germans.
In the Arab states the persecution of Jews which followed the establishment of the Jewish state  caused the Karaites (in Egypt, Iraq and elsewhere)  to settle in Israel, where they were given government assistance in establishing themselves economically, and providing for their religious and educational needs.  The Karaites are now recognized as a separate community where they have their own Beth Din to administer marriage and divorce. According to their own laws, they are not permitted to intermarry with the rest of the Jewish population.
The basic disagreement between the Karaites and the Rabbanites over the authority of the post-Biblical oral tradition, and the unshakeable conviction of the Karaites that their teachings represented the pure original Mosaic faith, free of Rabbanite distortion and corruption, continue to make attempts at reconciliation anything but hopeful.
And in modern times, Karaites disassociating themselves  in Russia and Poland from the Rabbanites in order to escape the crushing disabilities and persecutions imposed on Jews there, led to a quiet estrangement. Scholars however in both camps continue to maintain an amicable dialogue in the course of their research into Karaite history and literature.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

There is a long-standing tradition in Judaism, beginning with the Biblical references, which emphasise the human, earthly, non-cosmic function of the Messiah and limits his role to restoring political sovereignty under the kingship of a "scion of the House of David" (Jer. 30.9).
The reason for minimizing the importance of the person of the Messiah seems to have been to magnify God's direct involvement in the Messianic drama. But the brutal Roman occupation added fuel to popular speculation about the name and personality of God's chosen agent who would announce the impending end of the world.
By the second century CE the figure of the Messianic king had become almost totally mythologised. The highly respected sage Rabbi Akiva, whose choice of Bar Kochba who led the abortive revolt against the Romans in 132-135 CE as the Messiah, taught that there are two thrones in heaven, one for God and one for the Messiah.
These Rabbinic speculations are modest compared to the virtually unrestrained mythological elements found in the apocalyptic writings like IV Esdras, where the Messiah is envisaged as a human-like being who is blown up from the depths of the seas, flies through the air, strikes terror into all who hear or behold his presence, defeats the wicked by consuming them by the fire of his breath, and only then begins the ingathering of the exiles and the restoration of political sovereignty that was the mark of the Messiah at an earlier time. This represents quite a change from the impressive but thoroughly human picture given by Isaiah (11.2),  "The spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and insight, the spirit of counsel and heroism, the spirit of knowledge and Godliness".
Further complications and attempts to identify the figure of the Messiah is the influential rabbinic belief in a second Messiah called Messiah ben Joseph.  The Messiah ben Joseph was supposed to arrive prior to the Messiah ben David and was to die in the battle against the forces of evil. Only then would God send the Messiah ben David, who would defeat the enemies of God, gather the exiles and inaugurate the Messianic age. The suffering of the Messiah ben Joseph was not seen as atonement for the sins of the people but merely as part of the general violence and moral collapse which is also a sign of the pre-Messianic age.
The basis of the belief that Elijah's appearance on earth is a necessary prerequisite for the Messianic age is the prophecy found at the end of the book of Malachi (3.23 -24) "Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he shall turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse".
Elijah is identitified not only as a prophet but also as a priest in the lineage of Aaron and Eliezer. In connection with that priestly role a beautiful teaching is preserved that Elijah will bring with him three things for the Messianic age. First, the manna that fed the Israelites in their wanderings in the desert; second, the flask of water and the flask of oil that were used to purify and annoint the Tabernacle;  and the third, the flowering staff of Aaron. The Manna would feed the people during the time of tribulations in the Messianic age. The word Messiah means "The annointed one" and so  the holy oil would be used to annoint the Messiah, who would then take the rod of Aaron with its ripe almonds and flowering blossoms.
The most profound way the rabbis found to diffuse the anarchistic elements in the messianic expectations of the people was to reinforce the ancient biblical view that redemption only followed repentance. The teachings of Amos,  Hosea, Isaiah and Jeremiah succinctly expressed by Rabbi Eliezer are that " if they do not repent they will not be redeemed". Charity and repentance are singled out as the most effective qualities in bringing the Messiah.
The most important belief about the Messianic age was that at that time all the dead would be reuntied in a general resurrection and Day of Judgement in which final verdicts would be pronounced upon all persons. Learning, which languished during early messianic times, would be revived. The great academies of Babylonia would be transported to the Holy Land and God himself would be the chief of the academy and teach the true order of the Biblical verses, which He alone knows.
Even before the medieval mystical turn of Judaism, the profound hope took root that the peace and wholeness of the Messianic age would encompass both God and the people who had wandered and suffered for so long all in the belief that "Though he tarries, yet will I await him".

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

Hitler's obsession with the "Jewish Problem" is what he is mainly remembered for; it is his lasting legacy. It diverted his attention from pursuing the war effort and led to the utter defeat of the Nazis. But for the annihilation of European Jewry, the Nazis would have probably been treated like any other defeated foe and there would have been no Nuremburg Trials.
He did not only persecute Jews. Other groups like the gypsies and homosexuals were also killled off. But the sheer scale of the war against the Jews dwarfs all the rest. By and large the German population supported Hitler's anti-Jewish crusade. Whether it was greed for Jewish property, anti-Semitic feelings or sheer bloody-mindedness, the great majority of Germans either were actively involved in the persecutions or stayed on the sidelines. A very tiny minority attempted to help the persecuted.
Similar support was forthcoming in Poland (where before World War II the Jews made up about ten percent of the population), the Soviet Union and the various Baltic states. Western Europe was more mixed. France under Petain was virulently anti-Jewish whereas some countries like Denmark and Bulgaria attempted to protect their Jewish populations. Had the battle for Britain gone the other way and the Nazis prevailed, there were plenty of anti-Semites in government circles who would have come to prominence and Anglo Jewry would have fared no better than their co-religionists in France.
By 1942 it was well known that Hilter was bent on the destruction of European Jewry and that the only immediate remedy was to bomb the rail links to the death camps. Yet the Allies turned a blind eye to this solution while the BBC avoided any reportage or discussion of the "Final Solution".
In Palestine the British, ever afraid of antagonizing the Arabs, kept a tight rein on Jewish immigration and diverted all shipping carrying refugees. It kept up this policy even after the war, diverting the pitiful remnants of the death camps to Cyprus. In America under F D Roosevelt the administration by and large refused entry to Jewish refugees and American Jewry itself was slow to react to what was happening in Occupied Europe and in criticising US immgration barriers.
Hitler himself made no bones about his intentions. "Mein Kampf" is riddled not only with anti-Semitic statements but clearly portrayed a world free of Jews. And when the Nazis found themselves in power in Germany, having won the 1933 elections, what had been merely in print was quickly translated into reality. They started with the economic degradation of German Jewry, then with it incarceration and finally the gas chambers.
The Holocaust directly impacted on the German war effort. German Jewish scientists and technicians were in the forefront of the development of rocket technology and atomic energy. Deprived of access to their laboratories many of them went into exile. Those who managed to get into the US were soon bolstering American technology in that direction. It was a zero sum gain, German's loss was the turning point of the war.
Meanwhile in Occupied Europe itself Jewish resistance to persecution was building up. Where Jews were concentrated in large numbers, as in Warsaw, this resistance for a short period became quite significant. But in most situations Jewish counter measures were just impossible  and were confined to individuals joining partisan groups in densely forested areas.
Was the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 a direct consequence of the Holocaust? The answer is NO.The pressure for Jewish statehood was internal, not external. The continued resistance of the Hagana, Irgun, and the Stern Group, would have eventually forced the British out, although it may have been delayed by two or three years. But the numbers reaching the shores of Palestine from war-ravaged Europe were never sufficiently large to have made a difference. The grim determination of the resistance groups and the near bankruptcy of the British  treasury were the main ingredients for the emergence of the Jewish State.
There is a Hebrew saying: "The wicked, even at the gates of  Hell, do not repent". In April 1945 in the midst of his death agonies, when Hitler sat in the cellar of the Reich's headquarters, his entire world in ruins, at this moment the Fuhrer wrote his last will. He bequeathed to his people the injunction of eternal hatred for the Jews.    ............."Above all, I enjoin the government and people to uphold the racial laws to the limit and to resist mercilessly the poisoner of all nations, international Jewry."   
Even from beyond the grave, Hitler was still trying to sow the seeds of hatred and destruction for the Jewish people.

In Perspective

The Beyachad Library

Prof Marcus Arkin

"The People of the Book" . It is a bit ironic that the Jewish community should cling to that description and at the same time be prepared to jettison its main communal library at Beyachad. The main library used to belong to the South African Zionist Federation and was an integral part of the Fed's existence and character. As Director-General of the Federation from 1973 to 1985 I spent many hours in the library which had four professional assistants. The library was central to the Federation's being.

To the Jews of the Witswatersrand I would have thought the library was essential. It provides evidence of a Jewish presence even before 1886, when Johannesburg was founded. In its newspaper files are records of how the early Jewish pioneers bolstered the city's economic and social life, without which such claims cannot be substantiated.
The library also houses the Joe Green collection of audio-visual material which contains films of South Africa and Israeli development available nowhere else, and this is repeated right down the line. Many of the books in the library are out of print and are not available in any other repository in the country.

During my years at the Federation the very idea that the library should be closed down was unheard of. In fact the talk was always exactly the opposite. Plans were afoot, and some were implemented, to expand the library facilities. It was the only place to go to if one wanted to follow up the historical growth of a town or institution. Take the Federation itself. It housed a full set of minutes of Honorary Officers meetings, and these meetings were very fully described. So much so when Professor Gidi Shimoni wrote his important history of the South African Zionist movement those minutes provided him with material which would not have been found anywhere else. Serious scholarship on any aspects of the community's history must have the backing of the library.
Nor should the library be regarded as a static entity. There is a wealth of new scholarly publications being produced  worldwide which is imperative for the library to obtain. In addition funding is always essential for the latest issues of Jewish learned journals. There was always a budget for these acquisitions in the past and it should not be beyond the community's resources to ensure that such a budget is available in the future.

In fact I cannot understand why there is a financial problem with the library's upkeep. Once it is accepted that the library is an essential ingredient of the community's existence the funds will be forthcoming just as they are for other aspects of Jewish communal life such as JNF activities, or Holocaust memorial programmes.

Nor should staffing be an insuperable financial problem. One full- time, fully trained and experienced librarian is all that is needed provided he or she has the backing of half a dozen volunteers. Johannesburg is full of Jewish librarians who for one reason or another  have withdrawn from active participation. They need to be rounded up to serve the community.
But the library is not only the preserve of researchers trying to clarify the community's historical roots. It is open to everybody, and that explains its real value. Think of a Jewish man or woman in his/her early twenties who has gone to Beyachad to attend a meeting  say, on a forthcoming concert. The meeting is to take place in twenty minutes, and so he/she wonders into the library. The visitor is overwhelmed by the richness of  the Jewish content on the shelves and is late for the meeting because  he/she never imagined the depths of the experience. This is what we will be losing if the library closes down.

Books and reading are important in most situations. For the South African Jewish community it represents the very essence of  life. Without it, the community soldiers on purposeless. It is like a diver going into an empty pool.

In Perspective

Nostradamus: The Prophecies

Prof Marcus Arkin

Michel de Nostradamus (1503-1566), whose prophecies have fascinated the world for more than five centuries, was both a physician and an astrologer. Both of his grandfathers were professing Jews, but when Provence became a French possession in 1488, Charles VIII's anti-Jewish policy induced them to convert to Christianity. Consequently Nostradamus was born and raised as a Catholic. Yet in adult life, while in Italy, he sought out Jews, especially Kabbalists.

John Hogue's edition of "The Complete Prophecies" (Element Books, pp 961) is the most comprehensive examination of the prophecies ever written, with Nostradamus' French original placed side by side with the English translation.

His writing is so muddled and full of ambiguities that the Church inquisitors failed to torture and execute him as a magician, and he died peacefully in his own bed. His obscurity has worked to keep alive for centuries what may be a practical joke or a true prophetic gift, or some combination of the two. As he put it himself, "I write in dark and cryptic sentences the events of the future evolution of humankind, especially the most urgent ones, so that I will not scandalise and upset fragile sentiments".

In 1559 Henry II of France was killed in a jousting match as Nostradamus had foretold. The Wars of Religion had Catholic and Huguenot nobility jockeying for territory and influence. It was a period of long lulls between the civil wars with sharp but short-term military actions, again as foretold by Nostradamus. He also prophesied Napoleon's abortive and disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812 and the French building of the Maginot Line to halt any future German invasion. There seems to be vague references to the Holocaust and even vaguer references to the State of Israel. Prior to the Holocaust, the slow but steady colonisation of Palestine by the Zionist movement gave rise to Jewish pioneers establishing kibbutzim which were always vulnerable to harm from hostile Arab neighbours. Subsequent references to "occupying a place which until then was inhabitable" could be a reference to Israel's policy of settlement in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and the Golan Heights.

The prophecies rarely follow any logical sequences. The events they describe are frequently scrambled out of chronological order, requiring the interpreter to find key phrases and words linking the events into some understandable order. Nostradamus' predictions are open to all kinds of interpretation. This obscurity by its very nature cannot prove or disprove that our interpretations are the correct ones. Nostradamus has many layers of intentions for the use of his prophecies.

In 1529 Nostradamus graduated from the University of Montpelier as a doctor of medicine. He practised unorthodox but successful methods of combating the plague, but failed to save his own wife and children in 1538. In the 1550's he published a number of astrological works, including the "Prophecies". In 1564 he was appointed physician and councillor to Charles IX .

The first complete text of the "Prophecies" appeared post-humously in 1610 and ran to countless editions, not only in French but also in many other languages.Nostradamus himself "decides to relinquish withholding my tongue and pen from paper by declaring in dark and cryptic sentences the causes of the future changes of mankind ... by clouding them in obscure but, above all, prophetic language".

His cryptic chronicle of the future has succeeding in distancing his attackers from the majority of his undecided readers. He understood that people love to project their prejudices onto the canvas of the obscure, and that the passion in human nature for giving shape to ambiguities will always survive the sceptic's attack. Nostradamus ensures his credibility by injecting moments of brilliant clarity that occasionally burn an opening in the general obscurity of his narrative.

Nostradamus' 36 000 weird words of prophecy are the molecules that compose the dark surface of his magic looking-glass. On rare occasions we can peer into its surface and see the seeds of humanity harvested in tomorrow's field of dreams. But the magic doesn't end there. His strange language, symbols and insights can also be used as a projector of the hidden secrets of his interpreters. A study of Nostradamus is more than just another examination of fulfilled and yet-to-be fulfilled prophecies. It can also be an exploration into how we project our thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears on the future.

His own astrological make-up indicates that Nostadamus was not an ego wishing to be found out. But he was an alchemist of controversies. His obscurity has worked to keep alive for centuries what may be a practical joke or a true prophetic gift, or some combination of the two.

In Perspective


Prof Marcus Arkin

In the Chanukah 2012 issue of Jewish Affairs (published by the Board of Deputies) there is an article "Lies, Delusions, and the Jews" written by Chuck Volpe, a Port Elizabeth businessman who is also chairman of the Eastern Cape Council of the Board of Deputies. It comes to grip with modern anti-Semitism in such a fundamental and unique way that I feel it would be useful for the great majority of readers of Hashalom who do not receive Jewish Affairs.

Anti-Semitism is not content just to stigmatize Jews, Volpe asserts, it wants to wipe them out. Too often the Jewish response has been self-deception, a tendency to disbelieve. The most recent example has been Hitler and Nazi Germany during the 1930's when misplaced hope led to the Holocaust.
Why have the Jews been singled out for such treatment? The answer is a simple one: a tiny and vulnerable people living as a minority in resentful host communities is a ready target of false accusations and unfounded suspicions. In "Mein Kampf" Hitler argues that the bigger the lie, the more likely it is to be believed. He accused the Jews of being responsible among other things, for Capitalism and Communism, for the Great Depression of the early 1930's and of polluting the "Aryan race". In earlier times the "big lie" included the murder of God, using the blood of Christian children for ritual purposes and of spreading the Black Death.

The sheer variety of accusations points to the ability of anti-Semites to easily change their targets according to circumstances and need. Most charges are unanswerable. A rational response to the charge, for example that you have murdered God, is to ask for hard evidence. But the anti-Semite is not rational. He does not reach his conclusions by citing evidence. Debate is not his forte. Instead he points his finger at the Jews which has the advantage of directing attention away from his own shortcomings. It enables him to be accuser, prosecutor and judge while the Jew is put in the dock as defendant.

The Holocaust was not an aberration of history. It comes out of Western civilisation and eight centuries of European Jewish civilisation were laid to waste. With the exception of Bulgaria and Denmark, all Europe under German influence combined to bring about the final catastrophe. Non-Jews need to reassess some of the basic assumptions about the civilisations to which they belong.

Having abandoned its interest in science and philosophy, and taken refuge instead in fundamentalist religion, the Arab world too has to look for a scapegoat for its lack of development. The Jews on their tiny sliver of land in the midst of the Islamic world provides such a scapegoat. In 1975 the Arab world persuaded the General Assembly of the United Nations to adopt a resolution that "Zionism is Racism".

When a Nazi or an Islamist or an anti-Semite of any description says something, take heed. Do not try to justify it or excuse it. Anti-Semitism is anti-Semitism and should always be called by its rightful name. With this background Volpe continues to examine six delusions which the Jewish world is prone to.

The first is that the Jews under-estimate their enemies. For example, that peace with the Arab world is possible. After the Six Day War the majority of Israelis were open to negotiation on the territories. But the Arabs thought differently, issuing their infamous Khartoum Declaration of no negotiation, no recognition, no peace. They still refuse to recognise a Jewish state.

Secondly, do not under-estimate the power of ideas. Although the "Zionism is Racism" claim of the UN has been retracted, it still forms the basis of the Arab case against Israel. The Zionist argument has been stolen by them and "homeless Palestinian" has replaced "homeless Jew". This is in spite of the fact that the Arabs have twenty two states in the Middle East. This has resulted in some Jews believing that "Zionism has failed" and others asking "Is Zionism still relevant?"

The third delusion, probably more wide-spread than any other, is the optomistic belief that mankind is improving and justice will ultimately prevail. The Holocaust stands in the sharpest contradiction to this idea of human progress. That it happened once increases the possibility of its happening again. The Jew provides the mirror in which Western civilisation can see its own depravity and shatters the dream of a better world.

Fourthly, is the liberal delusion one-size-fits-all theory. All human problems according to liberalism are reduceable by negotiation.Thus when Israelis sit down with Palestinians, it is on the basis of compromise and exchange. But the Palestinians base such negotiations on Islam, according to which any land that has once been Islamic cannot revert to its former status. To relinquish it amounts to apostacy. If the Arabs are not receptive to pressure, the world blames Israel for the breakdown in talks and for being intransigent.

Delusion number five is bound up in the "I am worthy" plea. Jews are an enormously creative people. Their achievements in almost every field of human endeavour are at least partly the result of their desire for acceptance. But the anti-Semite is not concerned about the real life Jew but in the fantasy Jew and his multiple vices.

Finally there is the "illiciting pity" delusion. Thus the belief that by imparting information on the Holocaust it will reduce the chance of it being repeated. But if Jewish innocence did not protect them in the first instance, why should it now be more effective? Rather than putting a stop to anti-Semitism focusing on the Holocaust may actually encourage it by demonstrating that the Jews were an easy target, that the international community were prepared to abandon.

Volpe concludes with four observations. First the dangers of anti-Semitism for both Jews and non-Jews should be clearly recognized by becoming part of the syllabusii of universities around the world. Secondly, in the real world a shadow coexists with the light rather than a movement towards a universal brotherhood of man. Those who should show most benevolence towards Jews (like Christians, Liberals), have betrayed them. In the third place, it is up to non-Jews to expunge anti-Semitism, having invented and practiced it. And finally it is time for Jews to move from defence to offence to level the playing fields by confronting the anti-Semites with accusations of our own.

The strength of the Jewish people, sharpened by over 2000 years of anti-Semitism, will eventually prevail against all anti-Semitic distortions

In Perspective

South African Jewry, The Histories

Prof Marcus Arkin

The first attempt to record A History of the Jews in South Africa by Louis Herrmann was made in 1930 and took the story down to 1895. It was a pioneering work and the chronological constraints meant that the emphasis throughout was on Cape Town Jewry and early synagogue affairs.

More ambitious was The Jews in South Africa (1955) edited by Gus Saron, secretary of the Board of Deputies and Louis Hotz, a journalist. The volume comprised a series of closely related studies compiled by sixteen contributors and emphasized the vital formative period in the history of South African Jewry.This was the era stretching from the mineral discoveries to the time of Union, a time when the Jewish population increased from less than 4000 to well over 40 000. Such a co-operative effort involving the farming out of topics to a fairly large number of specialists must suffer inevitably from a good deal of overlapping and repetition. It is to the credit of the editors that they managed to keep duplication within reasonable limits.

The majority of the 40 000 Jewish settlers who reached the shores of Southern Africa during those years came from the Russian controlled territory of Lithuania and the Saron/Hotz study gives a very full account of the background to this "Litvak" migration.

To a far greater extent than the Herrmann publication The Jews in South Africa emphasizes the economic role played by these recent immigrants. It leaves the impression of a comparatively small segment of the South African white population, when given full freedom of action in response to a challenging environment, being able to release a flood of enterprise which permeated the economic life of the whole country. This had major beneficial consequences for all sections of society.

The third and most recent general history unfortunately uses the same title as Saron/Hotz, The Jews in South Africa (2008), and is written by Richard Mendelsohn and Milton Shain, both attached to the University of Cape Town. It traces the community's early fragile beginning, the strident anti-semitism of the 1930's, the moral dilemmas of the apartheid era, the resultant mass emigration and the subsequent transition towards a non-racial democracy.

It is not a narrow institutional history of the community and recognizes the evolving tensions and divisions along the lines of religiosity, ideology and class. At the same time it acknowledges the centripetal forces at work, which enabled the community to achieve a measure of cohesion. Altogether it is a serious attempt to recognize the challenges and responses to and from the community over more than two centuries.

These general histories have been supplemented by more specialised ones. Israel Abrahams The Birth of a Community (1955) dealt with the early history of Western Province Jewry; Gideon Shimoni's Jews and Zionism (1980) traces the history of the Zionist movement in South Africa; Mendel Kaplan's Jewish Roots (1986) attempted to assess the economic contribution of the Jewish community. In 1965 Leon Feldberg, publisher of the S A Jewish Times, brought out South African Jewry. It has specialist writing about contributions to econonic development, public life, law, the arts, and the structure of major communal organisations. But its biggest innovation was to devote almost 300 pages to a Who's Who of leading personalities which was enlarged and updated in subsequent editions.

A major development has been the portrayal of "Jewish Life in the South African Country Communites", researched by the South African Friends of Hatefutsot, most of which have now disappeared. Four of the planned seven volumes have been published. Each one is fully illustrated and includes a profusion of maps. Prominent individuals are discussed for each town and
Jewish communal organisations are listed.

There are also many miscellaneous publications. For example Forty Years in Retrospect the story of the Western Province Zionist Council ( 1984), or 70 Years of Southern African Aliyah (1992). These various histories reflect the many aspects of South African Jewish life and the list is by no means complete.

In Perspective

Napoleon And The Jews

Prof Marcus Arkin

The principle influence exercised by Napoleon as emperor on Jewish history was in the years 1806-1808 when he convened the Assembly of Jewish Notables and the Sanhedrin, and established the Consistoire. The documents formulated during this period and the institutions which then came into being embody the first practical expression of the demands made by a centralised modern state on the Jews who had become its citizens. This indicates the separation of the political from the religious elements in Judaism.

The new revolutionary society had proclaimed the freedom of all French citizens and resolved as a consequence that there should also be full freedom of religion, on condition that its exercise did not disturb public order. Judaism was to be considered as one of the legitimate faiths allowed in the Republic. It was therefore unavoidable that Judaism should be looked upon as a religion and not as a nation or a closed society. The old characteristics of the pre-revolutionary Jewish communities were considered remnants of the oppressive regime under which they had suffered. Freed from the shackles of the past, Judaism would join the modern world as the equal of the other great religions.

Napoleon's whole consistorial system was a defined attempt to give a Christian structure to the new Jewish organisation.

A Jewish church was established, side by side with the Christian church. There is no reason to believe that this was done with hostile intentions: Napoleon looked at Judaism with Christian eyes because he was unable to do otherwise. This became quite obvious in his thinking about the leadership of the new Jewish community.

In the pre-revoluntionary French Jewish communities the role of the rabbinate was of rather minor importance. The real leadership of the Jewish nation belonged to its lay leadership. The rabbi was foremost a judge and a teacher, and could in no way be compared to the head of a parish, still less to a bishop. He was the foremost authority in judicial and ritual matters, and usually acted only when called upon to do so. He was estranged from the actual communal leadership and had nothing to do with the political negotiations the community would occasionally enter upon in order to obtain a renewal or a strengthening of its privileges.

The real power remained therefore in the hands of the lay leadership which took upon itself all political and financial responsibilities. The secondary role of the rabbinate was inherent in its origin. Rabbis, contrary to Catholic ecclesiastics, had no priestly functions and could not be looked upon as real members of the clergy. They were foremost teachers, people who knew what the teachings of Judaism were, and were able to apply them to the concrete problems they were confronted with.

This aspect of Judaism was unknown to the Christians lawyers who dealt with the Jewish problem on Napoleon's instructions. This explains the questions put to the Assembly about the functions and the training of the rabbinate. It was difficult for them to understand that there were rabbis who did not exercise any function in a synagogue or a larger community and they wanted therefore to be reassured about their duties. It is true that the whole organisation of the rabbinate was changing very quickly, as the community itself was discarding the remnants of the ancient structures which had been in use till the French Revolution. It had given up in the wake of emancipation all of the traditional forms of Jewish autonomy. Its right to raise funds through taxes was now limited to the satisfaction of its religious needs. The judicial authority of the rabbinate had disappeared with its recognition of the French courts. No Jew could be compelled any more to be judged by the Jewish court.

The religious sanction of the cherem, the ban of excommunication, had also disappeared. In an open society it could no longer be enforced, as no Jew would now be entirely dependent upon the Jewish community for his economic and social survival.

The monopoly of Jewish culture and learning had been undermined also as schools and universities had opened their doors to Jewish youth.

It cannot be denied that Napoleon's reorganisation of Jewish life, which implied the definition of Judaism as a Christian-like religion, represented a remarkable attempt to solve the problem of Jewish existence in the modern world. The Christianisation of Judaism was inevitable, no less then its eventual failure.

A minority religion cannot be expected to react in the same way as the majority religion, unless it were to be condemned to assimilation and to eventual extinction.

In Perspective

EMIGRATION AND ZIONISM- A personal perspective

From a population of about 120 000 in 1975 South African Jewry shrunk to less than 80 000 ten years later. The closing decades of apartheid saw a massive exodus mainly to Israel, Australia, United States, Canada and Britain. The motives were mixed: some went to join family who had already emigrated, others went for a mixture of political and economic factors, still others because the grass seemed greener or out of a sense of adventure. Whatever the motives, SA Jewry was bereft of some of its most accomplished members.

Although some talk of a massive return, I don't see it happening. Take my family as a typical example. When I became Director-General of the SA Zionist Federation in 1973 I toyed seriously with the idea of making aliyah. Sue, my late wife, was less keen, mainly because she lacked a knowledge of Hebrew and felt this would be a tremendous disadvantage. So we never made it to Israel. My married daughter Glenda emigrated to Toronto in 1978 with her husband Jeff and baby daughter. Although at first things were difficult, made more so by bitter winters, they prevailed. A son was added to the family. Jeff did well in business and Glenda, once the children were at school, added an education degree to the social science one she already had and became a full-time teacher. Though Glenda still hankers after Ceres fruit juice and Jeff has a preference for biltong, they would never think of returning to SA.

Or like my grandson David. As soon as he completed his post-graduate studies he made aliyah. Now married to Tali (graduate of the Hebrew University) they have two children. They are now well settled in Modi'in and except for visits to show their children they wouldn't dream of returning to Durban. My niece Jennifer and family followed Glenda to Canada where their three children grew up. Now all three live in Florida, while Jennifer and her husband are long-term residents of Jerusalem. None of them would dream of returning permanently to South Africa. But her brother Bernard, a successful accountant, married with three daughters continues happily to live in Sea Point. So even in the same family, the one is a goer, the other a stayer.

I correspond with a widow who was a close friend of my wife. She emigrated some 15 years ago to Dunedin, New Zealand, to join her sister. The climate is distinctly chilly and she has made few new friends but again no thought of returning to SA. So from personal evidence there does not seem to be a strong surge to come back and I just don't see it happening.

How Jewish have these emigrants been? I can only speak of my own family. Glenda and Jeff have joined a large Conseravative congregation and are regular shul goers ( which they never were when they lived in South Africa). Their two children are married to Jews and one of them has two of her own children now. Rachel, my oldest great grandchild, has just started at Jewish Day School and the family recently have moved so as to be nearer that facility. David, my grandson is shomrei Shabbat which is easy to be in Modi'in. From a purely Jewish angle then my family have lost nothing from emigration.

But one can't generalise. No doubt there are many cases where Jewishness has suffererd. But on balance I would say that the results are positive rather than negative for the simple reason that one's Judaism is something to cling to in a strange environment.

Where does this leave SA Jewry? There are only two largish communities: Johannesburg with about 50 000 and Cape Town with some 17 000 . By and large the country communities have disappeared and there are small groups of Jews left in Pretoria and the three coastal cities of Durban, Port Elizabeth and East London.

To some extent, Johannesburg particularly, these communities have become more "Jewish" if one thinks in terms of kashrut, Sabbath observance and shul attendance. But in other ways there has been a falling off. I am thinking particularly of Zionist commitment, where SA Jewry led the world three decades ago. Now it is very different, partly of course because the ANC government, to say the least, is hostile towards Israel. This has been reinforced by the prescence of a large Moslem community sympathetic to the Palestinians. The bulk of the population couldn't care less one way or the other. There are strong Zionist sympathies however among certain Evangelical groups. So SA Jewry generally speaking is more reluctant to speak out openly in favour of Israel and what it stands for in the Jewish world. This diminishes the unity, forcefulness and influence of the community.

Prof Marcus Arkin

In Perspective


In its issue of July 28th The Economist ran a 12 page special report on "Judaism and the Jews" which was so important and impartial that I will try to summarize it for the benefit of the great majority of Hashalom readers who don't read The Economist.

Instead of concentrating on Israel the beleaguered State and problems of the Palestinians under occupation, the report emphasizes Israel / Diaspora relations and the problems posed by the Hareidim in both contexts.

It starts with giving the demographic facts together with a world map, which shows that 11 million of the 13½ million Jews live in Israel and the United States, almost equally divided. In America, "Jewish is cool". In the inter-war years Jews used to change their names and hide their identities. Now non-Jewish kids want to participate in Seders and Barmitzvahs. Diaspora Jews, broadly speakly, love and cherish Israel and suppport it against its enemies, real and perceived.

In Israel the founding fathers agreed to exempt a few hundred Talmud students from army service to resuscitate Jewish learning after the Holocaust. Jewish Orthodoxy came surging back and produced a demographic explosion among the ultra-Orthodox hareidi (God fearers). Today they make up 10% of Israel's population. But even the majority of secular Jews increasingly radiate their national, cultural and religious Jewishness into the diaspora communities.

In America the two largest denominations, Conservative and Reform, are shrinking, losing one percent of their members each year. But other forms of Judaism have surged. The report stresses the positive influence of the Chabad movement, Limmud and the spread of Jewish Studies programs at universities. And if the yardstick for measuring Jewish commitment is intermarriage, the Day School movement worldwide is the basic criteria. Jews who have no Jewish education marry out of the faith at the rate of 43%, among those who attended Day Schools the rate is 7%.

In a survey of religious beliefs in Israel, 46% defined themselves as secular but only 16% said they did not observe any traditions at all. 70% of the respondents said they only eat kosher food. Perhaps this is an indication that the differences between the secular and the religious is eroding as people pick and choose to develop a modern, pluralistic Israeli Judaism. The Russian immigrants are purposefully assimilating into Israeli society, and tradition-based behaviour is part of that assimiliation.

A reform of the present exemptions of Hareidi men from doing army training may also, the report goes on to suggest, help towards breaking down the religious/secular division in Israeli society. But even today both camps are moving towards greater mutual tolerance. Until recently Shabbat was often punctured by the Hareidim closing roads and stoning cinemas. Now they have all Hareidi towns of their own so they have less reason to interfere with other people's way of life.

Looking at Israeli politics the report stresses that for the right in Israel (as well as for many Jewish communal leaders in the diaspora) an undifferentiated axis of evil extends from the Iranian leadership to the Palestinians and onto the anti-Semitic thugs on the European streets. This attitude fosters paranoia towards the Palestinians with whom Israel needs to come to terms if it is to survive as a Jewish and democratic state.

Among Jews whose Jewishness is important to them the faultline is between those for whom being Jewish is about the survival of Israel and for whom Orthodoxy is the authentic form of Judaism, and those who have a very diverse, pluralistic expression of their Judaism. But many of today's Jews are reaching out beyond the old divides of Israeli religiousness and secularism and diaspora Orthodoxy, Convservatism and Reform.

Apathy, alienation and assmilation naturally weaken Jewish solidarity in the diaspora and hence threaten Jewish continuity. A partial answer to this is Birthright Israel whereby every young person in the diaspora is offered a 10 day trip to Israel free of charge. Last year some 35 000 went from North America alone and the numbers are rising. Over the 12 years of its existence, those who made the trip are 50% more likely to in-marry than comparable youngsters who did not go on Birthright. One reason for Birthright's success is that it transcends denominational divide of visitors and hosts alike.

In Israel, the Hareidim a tiny proportion of the Jewish population when Israel was created in 1948, are now the fastest growing section of society. Some 26% of Jewish children entering primary school are Hareidi, thus drawing them into the mainstream of Jewish society through military service and the work place, through the gradual withdrawal of welfare payments, should be a priority. Once the Hareidim fully enter Israeli society it would be greatly strengthened. By and large The Economist report is a celebration that Judaism and the Jews are alive and well.

Prof Marcus Arkin

In Perspective


Marcus Samuel's father was a London Jew who purchased coral, mother-of-pearl and other  exotic sea shells from returning sailors. He would clean and polish these wares and convert them into shell boxes, trinkets and other souvenirs for sale at the esplanade booths of Britain's seaside towns. Marcus Samuel was born in 1853. After dabbling in numerous aspects of inter-Asiatic trade he set up a cartel known as the Tank Syndicate in 1892. This enabled him to run a rapidly expanded business without specialised departments. Because of the benefits of the joint stock organisation, the Tank Syndicate became the nucleus of the Shell Transport and Trade Company Limited in 1898, with a capital of £180 000, with Samuel as chairman.

By this time mineral oil had become the most sought-after and profitable item in the Asiatic trade, but its refining, transport and marketing was firmly in the hands of Rockefeller's Standard Oil monopoly. Samuel devised an ingenious scheme to gain a footing in international oil. To avoid the long and expensive haul around the Cape, he set Newcastle shipbuilders the task of designing tankers that would meet the strict safety requirements of the Suez Canal. At the same time these vessels were to be fitted with steam-cleaning equipment that would enable them to take on freights of general cargo after discharging their oil, so that they need not return empty. Thirdly, a comprehensive storage and distribution system was created through setting up bulk stations at strategic points in the Far East and operating these in conjunction with refineries.

By the turn of the century a fleet of eleven tankers (all of those named after shells) was in operation. Costs had been cut so effectively that not even Standard Oil could afford to undersell Shell and Samuel had become a major figure in the world of oil. With Standard controlling virtually all supply points, Shell explorers were busy in Indonesia and soon found oil in Borneo where they constructed a refinery capable of handling a million tons of crude oil annually. By mid 1900 a £100 share in Shell was worth £300. Inevitably these earnings attracted competitors, and very soon the Royal Dutch firm under the wily Henri Deterding was impinging upon Samuel's oil empire in the Far East. A lengthy, complex price war ensued until in 1903 Deterding persuaded Samuel to enter into an agreement with Royal Dutch to carry out joint marketing arrangements. The upshot of which was to drive Standard Oil completely from the European scene.

Four years later a period of intricate arrangements led to a merger of the two companies: Royal Dutch Shell, with Deterding as Managing Director. Samuel bore the Dutchman no ill will; "I am going to pay you the highest possible compliment. You ought to have been born a Jew". As things turned out, it was Samuel, as leader of the British element in the group, who continued to be regarded as head of the whole Anglo-Dutch combine and to be dubbed by the press "The Napoleon of Oil".

His knowledge of the oil business had led him to start a campaign for the conversion of warships from coal to liquid fuel which provides 40% more energy than did a similar weight of coal. Moreover, oil made it far easier to reach full speed, and re-fuelling on the open sea not only was much quicker but also required fewer hands. These arguments in favour of an oil-burning navy were unanswerable, and Samuel after a fifteen-year campaign and despite Admiralty opposition, finally won his battle.

His other great contribution toward ultimate victory over the Central Powers concerned tolval, a chemical essential for the manufacture of TNT explosives. By 1916 there was an extreme shortage of this substance in both Britain and France, whereas the distillation of their brown coal gave Germany a practically unlimited source. Samuels however was able to convince the authorities that Borneo crude oil was exceptionally rich in tolval and threw himself into the extremely difficult task of organising adequate supplies. It was an action deserving a niche in history at least as great as Chaim Weizman's for the production of acetone at the same critical stage of the war.

In 1903 Marcus Samuel became London's third Jewish Lord Mayor. Accompanied by music by the Jews' Orphan Asylum he insisted in diverting the procession for his installation to Whitechapel. There in the heart of the East End, Samuel was acclaimed by the packed masses of recent Jewish immigrants, many with their strange ringlets and foreign ghetto dress, and Yiddish talk (which Samuel did not understand), and all living inthe semi-squalor to which he himself had been born. As Lord Mayor he received his first hereditary title, a baronetcy. From World War I he emerged as a respected elder statesman, and in the birthday honours of 1925 he was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Bearsted. But this was not acceptance at any price; when he became Lord Mayor, for example, he refused to entertain officially the representative of the anti-Jewish Rumanian government.

A king on the ruthless battlefield of the early days of oil, Marcus Samuel also bore the stamp of a prince of Israel. When he died in January 1927, even the thick London fog failed to deter thousands from the poorest quarters of the East End from following the funeral cortege to the Jewish cemetery at Willesden.

In Perspective


It is convenient to think of the Torah (the term means simply "teaching") as a book which pre-modern Jewish and Christian traditions alike have held to have been written by Moses at God's dictation. To religious Jews however it is more than a written book, or more specifically, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. It is a body of law, the constitution of the nation and people called Israel. It is noteworthy that Jewish tradition speaks only rarely of "the Bible" but profusely of the "Torah". Modern biblical scholarship finds it doubtful that the five books of Moses had a single author. Parts of the Torah, especially some of the legal and poetic material, are indeed very ancient. They may reflect authentic tradition that stem from or even ante-date the era of Moses ( 13th century BCE). The Torah is a "mosaic" book in more ways than one.

It is probable that the Torah evolved together with the historical books Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings which continue Israelite history down to the beginnings of the Exile. The five books of Moses however are regarded by Jews as the most sacred and authoritative part of the Bible. One could not render a legal decision on the basis of non-Pentateuchal Biblical sources. The Torah was generally written out separately on a single scroll. To the present day the Torah scroll remains the most sacred object in a synagogue.

While numerous non-Pentateuchal books of the Bible rank among the world's greatest literary classics, none has had the power to arouse thought and controversy in quite the same way as the book of Job. Even in its role as a Biblical book, Job is a uniquely "literary" product. It is the only one whose characters are held by tradition to be fictional. All others purport to represent historical personages. Jewish tradition maintains that Job was composed by Moses to illustrate the problem of human suffering and divine justice.

Job is the type of book known as Wisdom literature, a genre cultivated by the scribes and teachers of antiquity in many nations. There are three Wisdom books in the Hebrew Bible: Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes, each with its unique style and theme. These books have in common an interest in the meaning of life, in human destiny and the justice of divine providence and in the nature and purposes of human wisdom. There the similiarity ends. Ecclesiastes is a sermon, Proverbs a collection of short poems, Job a dramatic dialogue. Of the three, Job is the most ambitious and the most passionately written.

The book's dramatic tension centres on the idealogical conflict between Job and his companions. Believing that all human suffering has its roots in sin, the friends admonish Job repeatedly in endless variations to acknowldge his mistakes and beg God's forgiveness. But Job repeatedly refuses to accept their mundane sentiments. He insists on his innocence and trembles at the august absoluteness of God's power, even as he hopes for God's willingness to allow him to plead his case.

God's answer is one of the most beautiful examples of Biblical poetry. God does not answer Job directly but shifts the whole dialogue from a human to a super human perspective. He describes the awesome nature of His acts of Creation, the wondrous beauty and precision of His natural phenomena, and His mind-boggling mastery of the earth's most gigantic creatures. Paradoxically after implicitly rebuking Job for failing to understand the mysteriousness of divine design, God then rewards him for having come closer to the truth than his companions in their conventional beliefs.

The Passover Haggadah is unique among Jewish classics for one reason. It is the only one that has been read by almost every Jew, young or old, male or female, observant or non-observant, rich or poor. It is the only Jewish work that explicitly includes everyone in its intended readership, including the stranger and wayfarer. It is read from cover to cover, usually word by word in a single evening. All readers are given an active role. The Haggadah is the oldest and most fundamental curriculum of Jewish education.

The word "Haggadah" means telling. The concept of a special category of telling the Passover story derives from the biblical commandment to tell the story of the Egyptian Exodus to one's children throughout all generations. The Haggadah only gives people a bare outline of the event and some samples of the way that outline is to be embellished.

The participants in the Haggagah reading are bidden to consider themselves liberated from slavery in Egypt. One hears the voice of the youngest child asking four questions about the commemorative meal, the Seder. The participants touch and taste the symbolic food that help enact the stories. They learn of the "four sons" i.e. the four types of children to whom the story is to be told. One sings the tongue-twisting jingles, holds up the unleavened bread, matza, commemorating the flat cakes eaten in haste in going out of Egypt. The Haggadah close with the invocation, "Next Year in Jerusalem".



Zionism is seldom viewed by the Arabs as a legitimate and authentic expression of Jewish nationalism. Instead it is regarded as a racially exclusive form of Judaism which has become a malignant wound in the body of the Arab world. The very existence of Israel is a negation of Arabism. The Zionist conquest of Palestine is seen as a catalogue of crimes and atrocities. Thus the "liberation of Palestine" and the destruction of the Jewish state is viewed as the sacred goals of Arab nationalism.

After the Six Day War in 1967 Arab nationalism tried to modify its demands especially for Western consumption. The new policy spoke of the containment rather than the destruction of Israel, gradually stripping it of its Zionist identity so that it could be absorbed into the region. An Arabised Jewish nation among the Arab states could conceivably be integrated. Full peace it was implied, would eventually involve the self-dissolution of Israel as a nation-state, the ultimate disappearance of Zionism, and the return of the Jews to their historic status as a "tolerated religion" in the Moslem Arab world.

But after the peace treaty between Egypt and Israel anti-Judaism among intellectuals in the Arab world became a torrent of vituperation. Bernard Lewis, the eminent Middle Eastern authority has noted:

"The volume of anti-Semitic books and articles published, the size and number of editions and impressions, the eminence and authority of those who write, publish and sponsor them, their place in school and college curricula, their role in the mass media, would all seem to suggest that classical anti-Semitism is an essential part of Arab intellectual life at the present time ..."
But this anti-Semitism appears essentially to be idealogical and political, literary and intellectual more than an expression of popular attitude. Thus in spite of the vehemence of Arab anti-Semitism it is still something that comes from above, from the leadership, rather than from below, from the society.

Following much soul-searching the PLO appears to have accepted the principle of a two-state solution (one Jewish, one Arab state, alongside each other) after over 40 years of unrelenting opposition to the very existence of Israel. On the other hand there is no sign that the Palestinians have abandoned their basic view of Zionism as an "illegitimate" racist and imperialist movement. PLO propaganda still regularly refers to "usurped" or "occupied" Palestine, to the racist "Zionist" entity. However the clear distinction made between Zionists and Jews are by no means universally shared at street level. For the ordinary Palestinian, Zionism is personified by the Jews he encounters in oppressive institutionalized roles and as the embodiment of a semi-colonial power structure. He does not differentiate between hawks and doves within the Israeli political system, between Judaism and Zionism, between diaspora Jews and Israelis. What he has to confront are Jews who have come from all over the world to settle in Palestine and who thereby seem to be crowding him out from his own homeland. It is easier to see them as repesentatives of an international "Zionist conspiracy" than as settlers who merely happen to be Jews.

It is undeniable that an anti-Jewish Arab ideology has crystallised and acquired its own momentum over the course of the last few decades, one that has distorted and blackened the image of the Jew in ways that were historically unprecedented for the Islamic world. Inevitably this ideology has been able to feed on feelings of anger and hostility towards Israel. The anti-Jewish ideology has been constantly disseminated through books, newspapers, caricatures, radio, television and the new social media which have reached a mass audience. Among Palestinian children who have known nothing but Israeli occupation of the territories, daily events doubtless have the effect of seeming to confirm some of their fears and deeply ingrained stereotypes.

The degree of commitment of the secular nationalist regimes to the Arab Israeli conflict may indeed be questionable, whatever lip-service they have paid over the years to the Palestinian cause. The emerging Islamist regimes may be in the same position. For it must be increasingly apparent to the more sober, rational Arab leader that the core problems of Middle Eastern under-development, political corruption and the failure to engage modernity on level terms have little to do with Israel. The establishment of the Jewish State cannot indefinitely be made a scapegoat for the endemic violence of inter-Arab politics, its instability, irrationality, insecurity and constant relapse into terrorism. Zionism cannot explain the chronic inability of the Arab world to capitalise on its oil wealth to achieve economic development, pluralistic democracy and social stability.

At the heart of the Middle Eastern problem for most Arabs is their emotional refusal to accept Israel and the right of the Jews to exercise any sovereignty in a Moslem domain. Neither in Arab nationalism nor in Islam can national independence and equality for Jews be tolerated.