B U L L E T I N

Happy New Year!

1. New Year Message - A purposeful life – Huffington post
2. A Note about Sean Hannity, Stuart Varney and Fox News –request
3. Note about Bridgette Gabriel’s comment on Fox News – upon request
4. American Muslims are proud of taking the right step - Link
5. Moderate Muslims Speak out? Link

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

India - the pluralistic governance

Harsh Mander is wonderful human being, he feels the suffering of all humans alike with no distinction. He is one of the few who strongly believes in the Hindu tenent of "the world is one family". The extremists Hindus discredit him, just as extremists Christians, Jews and Muslims discredit their good ones - Mike Ghouse
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Expectations from a secular government
http://www.hindu.com/mag/2009/05/31/stories/2009053150070300.htm

BY HARSH MANDER

The people have put their trust again in a secular polity. Will the new government live up to that trust?

Millions among the men and women who lined up patiently outside polling booths this hot summer have voted for a caring State, for inclusive growth and a secular government. The burden of expectations, therefore, that rests on the shoulders of the government in New Delhi — which has been returned with an emphatic expanded mandate — is daunting and diverse. In these columns this Sunday, I will try to reflect on possible elements of an agenda for a government specifically to defend and promote secularism.

In this most pluralist of countries in the world, the large majority of people of varied faiths have once again, during the recent general election, opted for politics which does not divide people on the basis of their beliefs and cultural practices. The government must shed its reticence and place high on its agenda the active further strengthening of the secular fabric of our land. It cannot allow itself to be confused and diverted any longer by spurious debates about “pseudo-secularism”. In an ancient tradition that has endured and evolved with the passage of millennia, people in India have practised secularism not as the denial of religious faith, but as equal respect for every faith — including always also the absence of faith. It is a way of life which is founded on understanding, respecting and indeed celebrating differences of belief and culture; one that does not mandate allegiance or subservience to any majoritarian system of mores and practices as a pre-requisite of full and equal citizenship.

Highest claim

In defending and advancing this precious tradition of uniquely Indian secularism moulded to the context of a modern democratic polity, for me the first and highest claim is of our children. Succeeding governments have declared their commitment to universalising primary and secondary education, and a bill that makes education a fundamental right has been delayed far too long in Parliament. But as the new government passes this bill, it must reflect also on the kind of education that it will guarantee to all our children.

It has taken privileged schools in the national capital six decades since Independence to open their doors for children of less privilege, but even this is only for separate afternoon classes of reduced standards and in the Hindi medium of instruction. The government must guarantee a fundamental right to education which is of the same standard to all children. It must also ensure that children born into diverse levels of wealth, caste, ethnicity and religious community, study in the same classrooms, shoulder to shoulder. Recurring bouts of communal violence have pushed more and more Muslim people into ghettoes. One outcome of this is that children of different faiths no longer learn together. This enables fostering of communal and caste stereotypes in young minds and hearts. The government must actively promote mixed schools of high educational accomplishment, where Hindu, Dalit, and Muslim students, and those of diverse faiths and ethnicities, study and play together.

Over many decades, an array of communal organisations has systematically penetrated into many forest settlements, villages and slums across the land. They have converted the classroom into a site of communal politics, in which communal, caste and gender stereotypes are actively promoted. Seeds of difference, suspicion and hate, based on diverse identities, are vigorously planted and often take deep root in impressionable minds. The government must regulate the school curricula of these communal and sectarian organisations, like Ekal Vidyalayas, Saraswati Shishu Mandirs, Banvasi Kalyan Ashrams, the Islamic Research Foundation, and other similar formations, and bring all schools under the regulatory purview of an empowered national autonomous body. It must also actively advance in all government and private schools teaching caste, communal and gender equity and tolerance, and what Nehru called “the scientific temper”.

The government must be consistent in its opposition to all forms of religious fundamentalism and obscurantism, majority and minority. Most religious fundamentalists, of every faith, have discriminated against women. If one major faith denies women rights to maintenance, another discriminates in inheritance and against widows. The government must demonstrate the courage to enable voluntary access of all to a gender-just common civil code.

In his first term, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh constituted a committee chaired by Justice Sachar to investigate into conditions of Muslims, and with painstaking empirical detail, the committee established that on most socio-economic parameters, Muslims stand on par with disadvantaged Dalits. Despite this, the government has not crafted a strategy to redress this enormous injustice comprehensively. A paramount priority of the government must be to enable an estimated 140 million disadvantaged citizens to advance in education, healthcare and employment.

The government must also redeem its unfulfilled promise to enact a law to prevent mass communal crimes. In communal pogroms such as in Delhi in 1984 and Gujarat in 2002, many public officials were guilty of complicity in mass crimes by simply failing to act effectively and promptly in controlling the violence. It is difficult to prosecute people in command responsibility like Chief Minister Narendra Modi for their manifest crimes against humanity, because failing to act is not explicitly designated a crime. Minorities in India can feel safe only by a law which holds governments and officials directly accountable to protect citizens from communal and caste violence, and penalises them for wanton failures to act.

Governments have also been partisan in extending rehabilitation to survivors of communal violence, again based on their ethnicity and faith. The law therefore must ensure a right to relief and rehabilitation for all survivors of communal, ethnic and caste violence on standards and levels which are binding on every government, regardless of who are the victims of the violence. The core principle of rehabilitation should be that the State government must ensure that survivors are restored at least to the situation they were in before the riots, and preferably better off.

Healing past wounds

There are many unhealed wounds of past communal massacres which a caring government must address. It must set up a special cell and mandate prosecution and legal aid for all survivors who wish to pursue justice. I have in recent years visited the sites of many communal carnages of the past; and found consistently that for the survivors, the suffering does not end even decades later. The government must set up a special fund for those widowed and orphaned by conflict in the last 30 years; also a special package for all widows, half-widows and orphans of Jammu and Kashmir and troubled States of the Northeast.

But even more important is for the government to acknowledge and redress grave mistakes of governments of the past. I think the time is ripe for a Congress government to institute a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the 1984 Sikh massacre in Delhi. Likewise, the wounds of the incendiary dispute around the mob demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 will continue to fester unless the Supreme Court of India is encouraged to pass a legally just ruling on a dispute that tore apart the nation for two decades.

The government which has been recently returned to power must remember that there can be no closure to innocent blood spilt, and no sense of equal citizenship, without justice done, and seen by all to be done. And there can be no healing without caring. Our secular polity is the most precious legacy of our struggle for freedom. It stands today contested and battered, but endures ultimately because our people live by secular convictions. The government must demonstrate the same conviction, and the compassion and courage required to restore secularism and equal citizenship as the foundations of public life in India.

Face book; an experiment in pluralistic democracy

Face book; an experiment in pluralistic democracy
By Mike Ghouse, the Pluralist
Dallas, Texas

Face book is a market place which is open and free to individuals who want to be a part of it. Open just about anyone's profile, you will find pictures of people from different races, faiths, ethnicities, cultures and nationalities as their friends. Almost every one has a friend from several different groups.

Face book has broken all the barriers and continues to bring people together regardless of their affiliations. It is a true experiment in Pluralism - i.e., developing an attitude of accepting the otherness of other and respecting the God given uniqueness of each one of the seven billion of us, in this case 20 million of us on the Face book. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nk2W73D7eHQ

The spiritual Masters have worked very hard to create a world where one accepts the otherness of other; mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill. Their notion of One Causer (or the big bang), One beginning, One Source of Creation, One creator, One God, One nation, One world, One community - was essentially to create a diverse but conflictless world.

Zarthustra, Confucius, Abraham, Krishna, Rama, Moses, Dao, Buddha, Mahavir, Jesus, Mohammad, Nanak, Bahaullah, Gandhi, MLK and many more in native African, American, Asian and other traditions brought that message to have a world of justice for every one of God’s creation. Together they served the whole humanity; the creator did not miss out any. Krishna in Bhagvad Gita says something to this effect “whenever the civilness in a society is lost, I will emerge and restore that balance..” and Allah in Qur’aan says “ to every nation, every community and every tribe, I have sent a messenger to teach harmony and co-existence; to learn about each other and to live in peace and harmony… and further adds; those who do good (taking care of others that surround them; life and environment) will earn the peace of mind and balance they deserve. You will find the same message in every tradition (due to space, I am just quoting the two traditions at this time - you are welcome to share your tradition in the comments below)

Face book is doing just what the spiritual master did; it has given the freedom to every member to express her/his thoughts, and share his or her uniqueness. You are free to be a friend and free to un-friend; and you are free to accept the otherness of other and be friends with. Some members on the Face book have over 5000 friends and some just 5, it is all about the time you have avaialble and are willing to be in a global movment of democractic pluralism.

However, the world we live in is composed of the good, bad and the ugly. 99% of the posting (Face book has to verify this) are about people and goodness, and less than 1% of the postings are about maligning others - and that is how many extremists in the world are; less than 1/10th of 1% of any grouping. It is ironic that those who label themselves with a religion, do the maligning. That is not being religious. Religion is about creating peace and balance for one and all.

Face book has a whole lot of freedom for the individual to express;
a majority of them get it right, some don’t,
It is not the face book
It is the individuals who abuse that freedom;

Cities regulate traffic laws for the safety of every citizen;
a majority of them get it, some don’t.
It is not the city,
it is the individual that violates the rules;

Religions teach one to gain one’s balance with the self and its surroundings;
a majority of them get it, some don’t;
It is not the religion,
it is the individual who goes to the extremes;

Criminal Laws of every community are built for the security of every citizen;
a majority of them get it, some don’t.
It is not the laws books,
it is the individual that commits the crimes;

Thank Goodness, 99-9/10th % of the humanity is made of good and caring people. That is not good enough, if you cannot speak out or stop some one from doing wrong. Let’s learn to speak up and let's be a contributor towards the goodness.

ABOUT THE FACE BOOK:

Getting away from the routines of life for a moment,
everyone ought to live in illusory Maya for a moment,

Face book has become a source of solace,
with no obligation and no pressure,
and we open the book, and then close it with ease.

Every one of us has a moment with each other's face;
it is one of the best things we have seen in years.

The Foundation for Pluralism (www.FoundationforPluralism.com) is committed to providing the media and world leaders with insights, and policy solutions to effectively managing the multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-cultural societies. Dr. Abusaleh Shariff and Mike Ghouse are committed to developing solutions for pluralistic governance of diverse people.

In democratic politics, pluralism is a guiding principle which permits the peaceful coexistence of different interests, convictions and lifestyles. Unlike totalitarianism or particularism, pluralism acknowledges the diversity of interests and considers it legitimate for members of society to work for their realization, to represent them and to articulate them in a process of conflict and dialogue. In political philosophy, those who embrace pluralism are often described as liberals, while those who take up a more critical attitude towards the diversity of modern societies are often called communitarians. (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

The Memnosyne Foundation is committed to providing the mankind with the means to encourage positive, peaceful global collaboration in all areas of knowledge. MaryAnn Thompson-Frenk leads this organization with seven centers of learning. Mike Ghouse co-chairs the center for Interfaith inquiry, one of the seven centers of learning of Memnosyne Foundation.

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker and a Writer. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, interfaith, Islam, India, Peace, political and civic issues. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed on his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Jewish and Muslim women on same page

Moroccan Women Religious Leaders Find Common Ground with US Jewish & Muslim Women Leaders on Advancing Equality, Tolerance, & Families

http://sev.prnewswire.com/publishing-information-services/20090520/DC2073920052009-1.html


Visiting 'mourchidates,' or women religious counselors, share views at Interfaith Forum on women's role in strengthening communities, combating domestic violence, building more progressive societies

WASHINGTON, May 20 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- This morning, Moroccan women religious counselors visiting the US shared personal experiences and perspectives with American Muslim and Jewish women leaders at an interfaith forum in Washington, DC, to discuss how advancing women's rights is building stronger families and safer communities, across continents and around the world.

(Photo: http://www.newscom.com/cgi-bin/prnh/20090520/DC20739)

"In Islam, women have always served a vital and multi-faceted role," said Ilham Chafik, a visiting mourchidate and PhD in Arabic Linguistics, who coordinates outreach programs for the blind in Rabat/Sale, Morocco. "The mourchidate program in Morocco institutionalizes the role that women have always played, by inviting, training, and recognizing women as leaders in our communities responsible for providing spiritual support as well as health and wellness assistance."

The interfaith breakfast panel discussion was organized by the Moroccan American Cultural Center (MACC) to highlight Morocco's mourchidate initiative, begun in 2006, to elevate the status of women and promote religious tolerance by training and certifying female religious counselors to work alongside imams (traditional male religious leaders in Islam) in the 40,000+ mosques in Morocco.

The lively panel discussion noted the significant progress already made and challenges still facing communities in Morocco, the US, and the Arab/Muslim world. Among the panelists were Loribeth Weinstein, Executive Director of Jewish Women International, a leading Jewish organization empowering women and promoting healthy families, and Salma Abugideiri, Co-Director of The Peaceful Families Project, an organization devoted to ending domestic violence in Muslim families by facilitating awareness workshops for Muslim leaders and communities.

"All of us assembled here are focused intently on how to most effectively address the serious problem of domestic violence and struggling families in our communities," said Weinstein, whose organization leads the Interfaith Domestic Violence Coalition, a national effort for faith-based organizations from 20+ faith traditions to provide policy and legislative guidance on domestic violence issues. "All of us share a common goal and common ground with the mourchidate program in Morocco, which is to increase leadership roles for women in our religious communities as an effective preventive tool."

Also in attendance at this morning's breakfast were representatives from leading government agencies and NGO's, including USAID, Peace Corps, National Endowment for Democracy, AMIDEAST, National Democratic Institute, the International Monetary Fund, and the Heritage Foundation as well as members of the press.

"We're proud to welcome the mourchidates in Morocco and help them share their fascinating story of women's and faith-based community empowerment with US government, community, and religious leaders," said Jean AbiNader, executive director of the Moroccan American Cultural Center (MACC). "This is an appropriate time and great opportunity to highlight the mourchidates, whose overwhelmingly positive example of tolerance and leadership is elevating the role of women in Muslim societies."

Earlier this month, the White House announced that President Barack Obama would deliver his much-anticipated address reaching out to the Muslim world in early June during a stop in Egypt, which has initiated its own mourchidate program similar to Morocco's initiative.

During their visit to the US, the visiting mourchidate delegation from Morocco has met with US State Department officials, Members of Congress and their staffs, and attended worship service at Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church, home of Washington, DC's oldest African-American AME congregation. On Thursday, the delegation will be the guests for a panel discussion in New York City on "Women's Spiritual Voices - Crossing Continents, Finding Common Ground: Exploring the roles of women religious leaders in Islam, Judaism, and Christianity," co-sponsored by MACC and the American Jewish Committee.

The Moroccan American Cultural Center (MACC) is a not-for-profit 501 c(3) organization which works to build stronger cultural and educational ties between Morocco and the US through its support of programs that enhance bilateral relations and cooperation. Created in 2003 as an initiative of His Majesty King Mohammed VI, MACC has undertaken a range of projects which include hosting events that celebrate and share the rich diversity of Moroccan culture, and supporting programs that enhance cultural and educational ties between the US and Morocco as well as across the Maghreb. For more information, go to www.moroccanamericanculture.org.
Website: http://www.moroccanamericanculture.org

Friday, May 15, 2009

Zionism - Definition and History

Note: Finding the truth is your own responsibility, I have always believed that we have to criticially examine an idea, if it will affect how we view others. We owe it ourselves to search and look at different readings on the subject. - There was another good piece on the subject at: http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/Articles/Zionism-a-new-Zionist.asp

Zionism - Definition and History
by Zionism - Definition and History Friday, May. 15, 2009 http://cleveland.indymedia.org/news/2009/05/38986.php

Want to know about Zionism? Ask a Zionist!

http://www.mideastweb.org/zionism.htm

The word "Zionism" has several different meanings:

1. An ideology - Zionist ideology holds that the Jews are a people or nation like any other, and should gather together in a single homeland. Zionism was self-consciously the Jewish analogue of Italian and German national liberation movements of the nineteenth century. The term "Zionism" was apparently coined in 1891 by the Austrian publicist Nathan Birnbaum, to describe the new ideology, but it was used retroactively to describe earlier efforts and ideas to return the Jews to their homeland for whatever reasons, and it is applied to Evangelical Christians who want people of the Jewish religion to return to Israel in order to hasten the second coming. "Christian Zionism" is also used to describe any Christian support for Israel.

2. A descriptive term - The term "Zionism" was apparently coined in 1891 by the Austrian publicist Nathan Birnbaum, to describe the new ideology. It is also used to describe anyone who believes Jews should return to their ancient homeland.

3. A political movement - The Zionist movement was founded by Theodor Herzl in 1897, incorporating the ideas of early thinkers as well as the organization built by Hovevei Tziyon ("lovers of Zion").

(more Definitions of Zionism )

"Zionism" derives its name from "Zion," (pronounced "Tzyion" in Hebrew) a hill in Jerusalem. The word means "marker" or commemoration. "Shivath Tzion" is one of the traditional terms for the return of Jewish exiles. "Zionism" is not a monolithic ideological movement. It includes, for example, socialist Zionists such as Ber Borochov, religious Zionists such as rabbi Kook, revisionist nationalists such as Jabotinsky and cultural Zionists exemplified by Asher Ginsberg (Achad Haam). Zionist ideas evolved over time and were influenced by circumstances as well as by social and cultural movements popular in Europe at different times, including socialism, nationalism and colonialism, and assumed different "flavors" depending on the country of origin of the thinkers and prevalent contemporary intellectual currents. Accordingly, no single person, publication, quote or pronouncement should be taken as embodying "official" Zionist ideology.

Background history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism *

Zionism did not spring full blown from a void with the creation of the Zionist movement in 1897. Jews had maintained a connection with Palestine, both actual and spiritual, even after the Bar Kochba revolt in 135, when large numbers of Jews were exiled from Roman Palestine, the remains of their ancient national home. The Jewish community in Palestine revived and, under Muslim rule, is estimated to have numbered as many as 300,000 about 1000 AD, prior to the Crusades. The Crusaders killed most of the Jewish population of Palestine or forced them into exile, so that only about 1,000 families remained after the reconquest of Palestine by Saladin. The Jewish community in Palestine waxed and waned with the vicissitudes of conquest and economic hardship, and invitations by different Turkish rulers to displaced European Jews to settle in Tiberias and Hebron. At different times there were sizeable Jewish communities in Tiberias, Safed, Hebron and Jerusalem, and numbers of Jews living in Nablus and Gaza. A few original Jews remained in the town of Peki'in, families that had lived there continuously since ancient times.

In the Diaspora, religion became the medium for preserving Jewish culture and Jewish ties to their ancient land. Jews prayed several times a day for the rebuilding of the temple, celebrated agricultural feasts and called for rain according to the seasons of ancient Israel, even in the farthest reaches of Russia. The ritual plants of Sukkoth were imported from the Holy Land at great expense.

From time to time, small numbers of Jews came to settle in Palestine in answer to rabbinical or messianic calls, or fleeing persecution in Europe. Beginning about 1700, groups of followers led by rabbis reached Palestine from Europe and the Ottoman Empire with various programs. For example, Rabbi Yehuda Hehasid and his followers settled in Jerusalem about 1700, but the rabbi died suddenly, and eventually, an Arab mob, angered over unpaid debts, destroyed the synagogue the group had built and banned all European (Ashkenazy) Jews from Jerusalem. Rabbis Luzatto and Ben-Attar led a relatively large immigration about 1740. Other groups and individuals came from Lithuania and Turkey and different countries in Eastern Europe.

At no time between the Roman exile and the rise of Zionism was there a movement to settle the holy land that engaged the main body of European or Eastern Jews. The condition of Jews both in Europe and Eastern countries made such a movement unimaginable. Many, however, were attracted to various false Messiahs such as Shabetai Tzvi, who promised to restore Jews to their land. For most Jews, the connection with the ancient homeland and with Jerusalem remained largely cultural and spiritual, and return to the homeland was a hypothetical event that would occur with the coming of the Messiah at an unknown date in the far future. European Jews lived, for the most part in ghettos. They did not get a general education, and did not generally engage in practical trades that might prepare them for living in Palestine. Most of the communities founded by these early settlers met with economic disaster, or were disbanded following earthquakes, anti-Jewish riots or outbreaks of disease. The Jewish communities of Safed, Tiberias, Jerusalem and Hebron were typically destroyed by natural and man-made disasters and repopulated several times, never supporting more than a few thousand persons each at their height. The Jews of Palestine, numbering about 17,000 by the mid-19th century, lived primarily on charity - Halukka donations, with only a very few engaging in crafts trade or productive work.

Proto-Zionism history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism *

Following the French Revolution and the emancipation of European Jewry however, the vague spiritual bonds of the Jews to the "Holy Land" began to express themselves in more concrete, though not always practical ways. About 1808, groups of Lithuanian Jews, followers of the Vilna Gaon (a famous rabbi and opponent of Hassidism) arrived in Palestine and purchased land to begin an agricultural settlement. In 1836, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer petitioned Anschel Rothschild to buy Palestine or at least the Temple Mount for the Jews. In 1839-1840, Sir Moses Montefiore visited Palestine and negotiated with the Khedive of Egypt to allow Jewish settlement and land purchase in Palestine. However, the negotiations led to nothing, possibly frustrated by the outbreak of an anti-Semitic blood-libel in Damascus. Thereafter, Montefiore continued with less ambitious philanthropic schemes in Palestine and in Argentina. In the 1840s,

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Zionism: Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer

Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalischer

British Zionism - The idea of a Jewish restoration also took the fancy of British intellectuals for religious and practical reasons. It had been championed by Protestants since the seventeenth century. The restoration was championed in the 1840s by Lords Shaftesbury and Palmerston, who in addition to religious motivations, thought that a Jewish colony in Palestine would help to stabilize and revive the country, Jewish national stirrings were also voiced by novelists and writers such as Lord Byron, Benjamin Disraeli, George Eliot and Walter Scott. (see also British Zionism and off-site: Christian Zionism)
Zionism: Rabbi Solomon Hai Alkalai

Role of Sephardic Jews - Through an accident of history, European (Ashkenazy) Jews took the lead in organized Zionism for many years. However, Sephardic (Spanish) Jews and Jews in Arab lands maintained a closer practical tie with the holy land and with the Hebrew language than did Ashkenazy Jews and also influenced and participated in the the Zionist movement from its inception. Sarajevo-born Judah ben Solomon Hai Alkalai (1798-1878,) is considered one of the major precursors of modern Zionism. Alkalai believed that return to the land of lsrael was a precondition for the redemption of the Jewish people. Alkalai's ideas greatly influenced his Ashkenazy contemporary, Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Kalischer. Alkalai was also a friend of the grandfather of Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism. Another Sephardi Jew, David Alkalai, a grand-nephew of Judah Alkalai, founded and led the Zionist movement in Serbia and Yugoslavia., and attended the first Zionist Congress in Basel (1897).
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Rabbi Solomon Hai Alkalai
Early Zionists

The modern formulation of Zionism was at least partly divorced from religious aspirations. The rise of modern nation states and the 18th and 19th century enlightenment and emancipation movements allowed the Jews to leave the ghettos of Europe for the first time, catalyzing a host of changes in Jewish society and culture, many of which were expressed in the Haskalah movement. While the Haskalah movement in Germany promoted assimilation, Haskalah in Germany and later in Russia also set in motion a number of processes that would ultimately make possible a Jewish national movement, including the study of Hebrew as a secular language, the creation of a Hebrew press and literature, the creation of a Jewish cultural life outside the framework of rabbinical and religious Judaism, and the movement to bring Jews into "productive" occupations and agriculture.

Some Jews converted to Christianity and assimilated to surrounding society. Others, exposed to a general education, dropped their religious beliefs, but considered themselves Jews, and understood that others still considered them to be Jews. This suggested a conundrum. If one could be a non-believer and still be a Jew, then "Jew" must be more than just the name of a religion. German racists solved this conundrum by inventing a racial theory, which lacked any real scientific basis. Socialists cited the aberrant class structure of Jewish society and labeled Jews a "caste." Zionists solved the conundrum by declaring that Jews are a people, a fact implicit and explicit in the Jewish biblical and cultural concept of "t;am Yisrael." The Jews were a people without a country however, and would remain politically powerless as long as they did not have a national home. They would be guests everywhere and at home nowhere, according to Zionist ideology. This homelessness was the cause of the "Jewish Problem," and it could not fail to be exacerbated by the rise of nationalism and nations in the 19th century. This explained why, paradoxically, anti-Jewish sentiment might become more pronounced in "enlightened" Europe than it had been in previous centuries, when nationalism had been less pronounced.

Moses Hess, a relatively secular Jew and a socialist, was probably the first to enunciate these ideas in so many words in his book Rome and Jerusalem: The Last National Question, published in 1862, calling for a Jewish national movement similar to the Italian risorgimento nationalist movement. These and similar sentiments were adopted by numerous small groups that formed primarily in Eastern Europe, but also in Britain and in the United States.

The "first aliya" - The first groups of immigrants who came to the land of Israel (it had no official name in the Ottoman Empire) with the idea of turning the land into a national home for the Jews are known as the "first Aliya." "Aliya" literally means "going up" and it is a term Jews have used for a long time for coming to the holy land. Beginning in the 1870s, religious and nonreligious Jews established several study groups and societies for purchasing land in Palestine and settling there. In 1870 the Alliance Israelite, an ostensibly non-Zionist organization, founded the Miqveh Yisrael agricultural school near Beit Dagan.

In 1882, the BILU (an acronym for "Beyt Ya'akov Lechu Venelcha" - House of Jacob let us go) and Hibbat Tziyon (love of Zion) groups were established. They were inspired by the impetus of the wave of anti-Jewish violence that had swept Russia in 1881. Hibbat Tziyion began as a network of independent underground groups. These and similar groups established a number of early Jewish settlements including Yesod Hamaalah, Rosh Pinna, Gedera, Rishon Le Tziyon, Nes Tziyonna and Rehovot on land purchased from Arab owners with the aid of Jewish philanthropists, chiefly Lord Rothschild. Joel Solomon led a group of orthodox Jews out of Jerusalem to found Petah Tikva in 1878.
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Zionism - Petah Tivka settlers

Petah Tiqva

The settlements were characteristically vineyards and orange orchards. The settlers were mostly religious Jews at least nominally, though the religious Jewish establishment frowned on Zionism. In 1882, 150 Yemenite Jews also found their way to Palestine. The first Aliya numbered about 25,000 persons, primarily from Eastern Europe. Many of them returned home defeated by disease, poverty and unemployment.

Revival of Hebrew - Among the first arrivals of the first Aliya was Eliezer ben Yehuda (Perelman). Inspired by European, particularly Bulgarian nationalism, Ben Yehuda was moved to settle in Palestine. He arrived in 1881 and undertook to revive the Hebrew language. With the help of Nissim Bechar, principal of a school operated by the Alliance Israelite Universelle, Ben Yehuda began teaching Hebrew. Later he founded and published the Hatzvi newspaper, and set up a linguistic council. Ben Yehuda's work was the major force in the revival of Hebrew as a modern language.

Leon Pinsker and Hovevei Tziyon - Inspired by the anti-Semitic violence in Russia, Leon Pinsker formulated the modern idea of Zionism in a small pamphlet called Auto-Emancipation, published in 1882. Pinsker believed that anti-Semitism was inevitable as long as Jews were guests in every country and at home nowhere, and wrote that the Jews' only salvation lay in liberating themselves and settling in their own country. Pinsker favored Argentina or other countries as sites for the Jewish homeland. However, Western Jews who might have favored this idea rebuffed him. In his native Russia, however, his ideas were well received, but they were channeled to settlement in Palestine. In 1882, Pinsker was made head of the Hovevei Tzion organization, which united many small and scattered groups, primarily in Russia, into a single organization. Pinsker favored "political Zionism," that is, organization of Jews in Europe and petitioning the great powers for land on which to establish a national home. However, his efforts in this direction were rebuffed by the Russian government. Instead, he directed his energies to the gradual purchase of land and settlement of small groups in Palestine.

Early settlers faced innumerable cultural and economic difficulties. In 1800, the ravages of misadministration and war had reduced the population to about 200,000. By the 1880s, the land had recovered somewhat, but it was still poor and disease ridden. The total population was about 450,00. Jerusalem was a small town of 25,000 inhabitants, slightly more than half Jewish. The first settlement of Petah Tikva in 1878 failed and was later refounded. The Ottoman government barely tolerated the settlers, especially those who retained their foreign nationality, and occasionally the government restricted immigration. Settlers who adopted Ottoman nationality were liable for the Turkish draft. Disease, poverty and unemployment caused many to leave.
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Zionism - Early Jewish Settlers

Early Jewish Settlers
Theodore Herzl and the Foundation of the Zionist Movement

The Dreyfus Affair, in which a Jewish officer of the French army was falsely convicted of treason in 1894, initiated waves of anti-Semitism in the French press and in the street. It cast doubt on the notion that Jews could achieve acceptance in modern liberal democracies, and made Western European Jews conscious of their national identity. In particular, it affected a young Vienna journalist, Theodor Herzl . His pamphlet Der Judenstaat, The Jewish State, was published in 1896. Herzl's plan for creating a Jewish State, arrived at after contemplating other solutions as well, provided the practical program of Zionism, and led to the first Zionist Congress in Basle, Switzerland, in August, 1897.

After the first Basle Congress, Herzl wrote in his diary, “Were I to sum up the Basle Congress in a word- which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly- it would be this: ‘At Basle, I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. If not in 5 years, certainly in 50, everyone will know it.’”
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Zionism: Theodor Herzl
Theodor Herzl

There had been lesser Zionist political gatherings with the same aims in the years just prior to the Zionist Congress, but they did not attract the attention that Herzl's congress did, and were largely forgotten. The Basle congress marked the foundation of Zionism as a world political movement.

In 1902, Herzl published a utopian novel to popularize the Jewish state, Altneuland, (old-new land) a vision complete with monorails and modern industry. The novel concludes, "If you will, it is no legend."

Herzl thought that diplomatic activity would be the main method for getting the Jewish homeland. He called for the organized transfer of Jewish communities to the new state. Of the location of the state, Herzl said, "We shall take what is given us, and what is selected by public opinion."

Herzl attempted to gain a charter from the Sultan of Turkey for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, then ruled by the Ottoman Empire. To this end he met in 1898 with the German Kaiser, Wilhelm II, in Istanbul and Palestine, as well as the Sultan, but these meetings did not bear fruit.

Herzl negotiated with the British regarding the possibility of settling the Jews on the island of Cyprus, the Sinai Peninsula, the El Arish region and Uganda. After the Kishinev pogroms, Herzl visited Russia in July 1903. He tried to persuade the Russian government to help the Zionists transfer Jews from Russia to Palestine. At the Sixth Zionist Congress Herzl proposed settlement in Uganda, on offer from the British, as a temporary "night refuge." The idea met with sharp opposition, especially from the same Russian Jews that Herzl had thought to help. Though the congress passed the plan as a gesture of esteem for Herzl, it was not pursued seriously, and the initiative died after the plan was withdrawn. In his quest for a political solution, Herzl met with the king of Italy, who was encouraging, and with the Pope, who expressed opposition. A small group, the Jewish Territorial Organization ("Territorial Zionists") led by Israel Zangwill, split with the Zionist movement in 1905, and attempted to establish a Jewish homeland wherever possible. The organization was dissolved in 1925.

The insistence of Eastern European Jews on Palestine as the Jewish homeland, coupled with the failure of alternatives, maintained the focus of the Zionist movement on Palestine.
The Second Aliyah and Socialist Zionism ry zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism *

The "political Zionism" approach originally tried by Montefiore, Pinsker and Herzl, which attempted to obtain a Jewish homeland from colonial powers, failed to attain results at least initially. Meanwhile, however, practical settlement efforts gradually increased the Jewish population of Palestine from about 25,000 in 1882 to approximately 85,000 to 100,000 just prior to World War I.

A fresh wave of anti-Semitic pogroms in Russia provided the impetus for a second wave of immigration, beginning about 1904 and called the Second Aliyah. At the same time, the rise socialist - Zionist stirrings had inspired several socialist Zionist movements. Thousands of new immigrants dedicated to the conquest of labor ethic and socialist ideals arrived in Palestine. Their Zionism was typified by the thinking of men like Ber Borochov andA.D. Gordon,. Hapoel Hatzair, ("The young worker") was founded by A.D. Gordon, Poalei Tziyon ("workers of Zion") , and later Hashomer Hatzair ("the young guard) were inspired by Ber Borochov. Borochov, an ideologue of the Poalei Tziyon movement, did not cite anti-Semitism as the basis or motivation of Zionism. According to him, the Diaspora produced aberrant social conditions that made Jews economically inferior and politically helpless. The normal organization of society was a pyramid, according to Borochov, with a large body of workers and smaller groups of intelligentsia, land owners and capitalists. The Diaspora had created an 'inverted pyramid' in Jewish society, with no Jewish peasant or worker class. Self-liberation of the Jews would come about by proletarianization of the Jews in their homeland, and the nascent Jewish proletariat would join the socialist international. Similarly, A.D. Gordon, inspired by 19th century romanticism, called for a Jewish return to the soil and virtually made a religion of work. These ideas fused into the ideals of "productivization" (returning the Jews, who engaged mostly in professional and mercantile trades, to productive labor) and "conquest of labor" ( Kibbush Haavoda). "Conquest of labor" later took on additional meanings. (See also Labor Zionism and Socialist Zionism )
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Labor Zionism - Meeting of Hapoel Hatzair in 1909
Labor Zionism - Detail of photo showing delegates to the fourth meeting of the Hapoel Hatzair, about 1909. Click here for full photo and more about Labor Zionism and socialist Zionism.

The new immigrants arrived with the ideals of socialist Zionism, but reality was not favorable to implementing those ideas. The Zionist movement attempted to find them work. but the new immigrants , who had no training in agriculture and poor physical stamina, were unable to compete with Arab peasants. Arabs certainly would not hire Jewish workers, who could not work well and could not speak Arabic. Arab labor was also preferred by the plantation and vineyard owners of the first Aliya. Arabs were experienced and hard workers, and were able to work for much lower wages because they were often members of an extended family that made its main income from sharecropping. The plantation owners had also developed a superior colonialist mentality which suited the hiring of "natives," and clashed with the egalitarian ideas and social demands of the newly arrived socialists.

The socialist Zionist movements tried to force plantation owners to grant higher wages, and also began to insist that plantation owners hire only Jewish workers. This aspect of "conquest of labor" was controversial within the socialist-Zionist movements because it engendered lack of solidarity with the Arab working class and was discriminatory. One labor Zionist leader wrote:

"How can Jews, who demand emancipation in Russia, rob rights and act selfishly toward other workers upon coming to Eretz Israel? If it is possible for many a people to hide fairness and justice behind cannon smoke, how and behind what shall we hide fairness and justice? We should absolutely not deceive ourselves with terrible visions. We shall never possess cannons, even if the goyim shall bear arms against one another for ever. Therefore, we cannot but settle in our land fairly and justly, to live and let live. "
(Meir Dizengoff (writing as "Dromi") "The Workers Question," Hatzvi, September 21, 22, 1909)

At the same time, Conquest of Labor was a central part of Labor Zionist ideology, as a means of rebuilding the Jewish people, not a discriminatory ideology. A.D. Gordon wrote:

But labour is the only force which binds man to the soil… it is the basic energy for the creation of national culture. This is what we do not have, but we are not aware of missing it. We are a people without a country, without a national living language, without a national culture. We seem to think that if we have no labour it does not matter - let Ivan, John or Mustafa do the work, while we busy ourselves with producing a culture, with creating national values and with enthroning absolute justice in the world.
(A.D. Gordon, "Our Tasks Ahead" 1920)

The boycott of Arab labor, only partly successful, was carried out reluctantly as a matter of necessity, and because the establishment of Jews as a class of colonial plantation owners seemed worse than the alternative. The discriminatory program of "conquest of labor" also provoked bitterness among some Arabs, particularly watchmen who lost their jobs to Jews. In the main however, the "conquest of labor" movement was initially unsuccessful, nor could it have much real influence on the economic prospects of Arabs. Only a few thousand Jewish workers were involved. Gershon Shafir (Land, Labor and the Origins of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, 1882–1914, University of California Press, 1996) estimates that about 10,000 such workers passed through Palestine in the second Aliya, many leaving in discouragement. Other sources claim there were about 3,000 workers out of approximately 33,000 who came to Palestine in the second Aliya. Because of the wage differential and because of the expertise of Arab workers, Arab labor continued to find employment in Jewish settlements. It was only with the massive Jewish immigration of the 1930s, coupled with Arab unrest and sabotage attempts, that Jewish workers began to replace Arab workers in most of the Jewish economy. Of course, few Jews worked in the Arab economy.

The kibbutz collective settlements were started as a practical method of settling Jewish laborers on the land and overcoming the preferences of plantation owners for Arab labor. A small group of Jewish immigrants was settled in an economic cooperative in Sejera, later founding Kibbutz Degania in 1909. The arrangement, originally thought to be temporary, proved to be practical, as well as suited to the socialist ideals of the new settlers and the practical requirements of Zionism. It soon inspired several other kibbutzim (collective farms). The kibbutz movement was to become the backbone of Labor Zionism in Palestine, and eventually provided political and military leadership. Kibbutzim provided ideal places for hiding arms from the British and recruiting and training troops, as well as for organizing local defense and guarding borders.
Zionism: Chaim Weizmann, First President of Israel

The Zionist movement did not give up efforts to find a political solution. The political Zionism and practical settlement approaches were merged into "Synthetic Zionism" advocated by Chaim Weizmann . The efforts ultimately bore fruit in the Balfour Declaration, a promise by Britain to further efforts for a Jewish national home in Palestine. and in the League of Nations Mandate,which give international sanction to the Jewish national home. Weizmann became head of the Zionist organization and later was the first President of Israel.
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Chaim Weizman

Zionism and the Arabs

When Zionism had its first beginnings, in the early 19th century, there were about 200,000 Arabs living between the Jordan river and the Mediterranean in the approximate area that later became "Palestine," mostly concentrated in the countryside of the West Bank and Galilee, and mostly lacking in national sentiment. Palestine was, in Western eyes, a country without a nation, as Lord Shaftesbury wrote. Early proto-Zionists did not trouble themselves at all about the existing inhabitants. Many were heavy influenced by utopianism. In the best 19th century tradition, they were creating a Jewish utopia, where an ancient people would be revived. They envisioned a land without strife, where all national and economic problems would be solved by good will, enlightened and progressive policies and technological know-how. Herzl's Altneuland was in in fact just such a utopia. In the novel, Herzl envisioned a modern pluralistic society, in which Jews and Arabs had equal rights. A demagogic politician who wanted to form a narrow hyper-nationalist Jewish state, was defeated in elections.

In reality, Jewish population grew, but Arab population grew more rapidly. By 1914, there were over 500,000 Arabs in Palestine, but only about 80,000 to 100,000 Jews. Arab opposition to Jewish settlement grew as Arabs perceived that the Zionist goal was more than just a myth, and as they increasingly identified Zionism with British interests in the Middle East.

At the same time, early Zionist pronouncements and outlook were often frankly colonialist, especially when addressing leaders of foreign powers. The plantations sponsored by Baron Rothschild were modeled on plantation settlement in Algeria and other colonies. Colonialism was fashionable and "progressive," and some early Zionist leaders saw nothing wrong in assimilating this idea to Zionism along with other modern ideas such as socialism, utopianism and nationalism.

Later Zionists were heavily influenced by socialism and embarrassed at the colonialist aspects of the Zionist project. They were also aware, of course, that Palestine was already occupied by Arabs. Many however, including the young David Ben-Gurion, who headed the Executive committee of the Zionist Yishuv (Jewish community) in Palestine and was later the first Prime Minister of Israel, initially thought that the Arabs could only benefit from Jewish immigration and would welcome it. Others, such as Eliezer ben Yehuda, frankly envisioned removal of the Arabs from Palestine.

One of the earliest warnings about the Arab problem came from the Zionist writer Ahad Ha'am (Asher Ginsberg), who wrote in his 1891 essay "Truth from Eretz Israel" that in Palestine "it is hard to find tillable land that is not already tilled", and moreover:

From abroad we are accustomed to believing that the Arabs are all desert savages, like donkeys, who neither see nor understand what goes on around them. But this is a big mistake... The Arabs, and especially those in the cities, understand our deeds and our desires in Eretz Israel, but they keep quiet and pretend not to understand, since they do not see our present activities as a threat to their future... However, if the time comes when the life of our people in Eretz Israel develops to the point of encroaching upon the native population, they will not easily yield their place.

Ahad Ha'am, believed that the Jews would need to first build a strong Jewish culture abroad, and that this culture and awareness would then make the dream of a Jewish homeland possible. The Jewish community in Palestine, he felt should be a cultural center for Jews of the Diaspora, that would catalyze this revolution in Jewish life and eventually bring about mass Jewish support for the Zionist project. Contrary to the impression that some modern interpretations give, Ahad Ha'am was not anti-Zionist and was not an opponent of the formation of a Jewish national home. In fact, he was an enthusiastic supporter of Zionism. Hed wrote an article eulogizing Leon Pinsker in glowing terms and he emigrated to Palestine and lived in Tel Aviv.

Arab opposition to Zionism grew after 1900. The birth of Arab nationalism and Arab political aspirations in the Ottoman empire coincided with the arrival of fairly sizeable number of Zionists with the announced program of settling the land and turning it into a Jewish national home. In his book, Reveil de la Nation Arab in 1905, Najib Azouri stated that the Jews want to establish a state stretching from Mt Hermon to the Arabian Desert and the Suez Canal. Azoury wrote:

Two important phenomena of the same nature but opposed, are emerging... They are the awakening of the Arab nation and the latent effort of the Jews to reconstitute on a very large scale the ancient kingdom of Israel. These movements are destined to fight each other continually until one of them wins.

(Mandel, Neville, The Arabs and Palestine, UCLA, 1976)

Rashid Khalidi (Palestinian Identity, Columbia, 1997) notes that beginning about 1908 Palestinian newspapers offered extensive evidence of anti-Zionist agitation. Actual conflicts flared up because the Zionists purchased large tracts from landowners and subsequently evicted the tenant farmers. The former tenants, though they had received some compensation, continued to insist that the land was theirs under time honored traditions and tried to take it back by force. A notable case was Al-Fula, where Zionists had purchased a large tract of land from the Sursuq family of Beirut. Local officials took the side of the Arab peasants against the Zionists and against the Ottoman government, which upheld the legality of the sale. 150 Palestinian notables cabled the Ottoman government to protest land sales to Jews in March 1911. Azmi Bey, Turkish governor of Jerusalem responded:

We are not xenophobes; we welcome all strangers. We are not anti-Semites; we value the economic superiority of the Jews. But no nation, no government, could open its arms to groups... aiming to take Palestine from us.
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(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 62)

Likewise, the "conquest of labor" movement displaced some Arab watchmen and led to violence. While the actual number of persons displaced or dispossessed may have been small, and may have been offset by real economic benefits and increased employment provided by Zionist investment, the feeling grew among the Arabs that the Zionists had arrived to dispossess them. A Nazareth group complained that the Zionists were "a cause of great political and economic injury... The Zionists nourish the intention of expropriating our properties. For us these intentions are a question of life and death." (Morris, loc cit.) As the conflict intensified, the Zionists formed a guard association, Hashomer, to guard the settlements in place of Arab guards. The attempts to retake land and disputes with Jewish guards led to increased violence beginning in the second half of 1911. ry zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism * history zionism *

Following World War I, Palestine came under British rule. Even before they had conquered Palestine from the Ottoman Turkish Empire, owing to the efforts of Zionists, the British government declared its intentions, in the Balfour declaration, of sponsoring a "national home" for the Jews in Palestine. Britain was given a League of Nations Mandate to develop Palestine as a Jewish National home. The Arabs of Palestine were appalled at the prospect of living in a country dominated by a Jewish majority and feared that they would be dispossessed. Anti-Jewish rioting and violence broke out in 1920 and 1921. By this time, Zionist leaders could no longer ignore the conflict with the Arabs. By 1919, representatives of the Jaffa Muslim-Christian council were saying

"We will push the Zionists into the sea or they will push us into the desert"

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 91)

Arab opposition to Zionism was not based only on economic and social issues. It was colored by the traditional Muslim vision of the Jews as second class citizens. By the 1920s, it was also motivated by a strong admixture of Western anti-Semitism. In 1920, Musa Kazim El Husseini, deposed as Mayor of Jerusalem because of his part in riots earlier that year, told Winston Churchill:

The Jews have been amongst the most active advocates of destruction in many lands... It is well known that the disintegration of Russia was wholly or in great part brought about by the Jews, and a large proportion of the defeat of Germany and Austria must also be put at their door.

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 99)

It is not clear how Churchill received this amazing and unwitting testimonial to the aid proffered to his country's war effort by the Jews, or what Husseini thought to accomplish by it. Aref Dajani had earlier voiced similar sentiments to the King- Crane Commission

It is impossible for us to make an understanding with them or or even to live with them... Their history and all their past proves that it is impossible to live with them. In all the countries where they are at present they are not wanted... because they always arrive to suck the blood of everybody...

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 91)

While Palestinian Arabs viewed themselves as a small group of helpless victims of powerful British and Jewish "interests," the Zionists saw the opposite side of the coin. The militant Zionist leader, Vladimir Jabotinsky, asked in 1918:

The matter is not ... an issue between the Jewish people and the Arab inhabitants of Palestine, but between the Jewish people and the Arab people. The latter, numbering 25 million, has [territory equivalent to] half of Europe, while the Jewish people, numbering ten million and wandering the earth, hasn't got a stone...Will the Arab people stand opposed? Will it resist? [Will it insist] that...they...shall have it [all] for ever and ever, while he who has nothing shall forever have nothing?

(Caplan, Neil, Palestine Jewry and the Palestine Question, 1917-1925, Frank Cass, 1978)
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Zionism: Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Vladimir Ze'ev Jabotinsky

Soon after World War I, Zionist leaders clearly recognized the problem. David Ben Gurion told members of the Va'ad Yishuv (the temporary governing body of the Jewish community in Palestine) in June 1919:

But not everybody sees that there is no solution to this question. No solution! There is a gulf; and nothing can bridge it.... I do not know what Arab will agree that Palestine should belong to the Jews...We. as a nation,. want this country to be ours; the Arabs, as a nation, want this country to be theirs.

(Benny Morris, Righteous Victims, Knopf 1999 Page 91)

In 1923, in his Iron Wall article, Jabotinsky replied to his own question. He asserted that agreement with the Arabs was impossible, because they:

...look upon Palestine with the same instinctive love and true fervor that any Aztec looked upon his Mexico or any Sioux looked upon his prairie. To think that the Arabs will voluntarily consent to the realization of Zionism in return for the cultural and economic benefits we can bestow on them is infantile.

Jabotinsky, was initially against expulsion of the Arabs, which he was "prepared to swear, for us and our descendants, that we will never [do]". Rather in The Iron Wall, he claimed that the Jewish presence should be imposed by a strong defense that would show the Arabs that the Jews could not be forced out of Palestine. However, while The Iron Wall expressed a comprehensive philosophy, its practical background and intent were much more limited. Jabotinsky wanted the British authorities to allow the Jews to form a separate defensive force under British supervision, to combat attacks such as the riots that had occurred in 1920 and 1921. The British refused, and the Zionist organization resigned themselves to the British decision, but Jabotinsky wanted to continue with the formation of such a force. Though the Haganah defensive underground was founded in 1920 by Jabotinsky, it didn't become a major project of the Zionist movement until after the riots of 1929. These riots, and not any intrinsic aspect of Zionist ideology, were the real trigger for the birth of militant Zionism as a political force, as well as the progressively more important role played by self-defense and military prowess in Zionist thought, action and society.

Meanwhile the Arab and Jewish communities grew progressively apart. Arabs refused to participate in a Palestinian local government which gave equal representation to the Jewish minority. The British, nearly bankrupt after WW I, insisted that the mandate should be self-sufficient. Mandate services were paid for from taxes paid by the Jewish and Arab inhabitants of Palestine. Additional services were funded by philanthropists from abroad and from membership dues in various organizations. Zionist philanthropy and organization far-outstripped what Palestinian Arabs could provide. Neither Arabs nor Jews wanted integrated schools. Zionist groups funded religious, secular and labor-Zionist educational networks for Jewish children in Hebrew, but few comparable schools were set up for Arabs. The Zionists founded the Histadruth Labor federation to encompass Jewish workers, providing Hebrew education, medical care, worker-owned enterprises and cultural facilities as well as representation of labor rights. No comparable association was created by the more numerous Arabs of Palestine, though the Histadruth made some efforts to organize Arab labor beginning in 1927, and the Palestine Communist party attempted to represent both Jewish and Arab labor.

As the conflict unfolded, attitudes hardened on both sides. Some Zionist factions called for expulsion or "transfer" of Arabs "voluntarily" or otherwise. Beginning with the Husseini clan led by Hajj Amin El Husseini, the Grand Mufti, different factions of Palestinian Arabs, successively allied themselves with Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and, after WW II with communist countries. Arab rhetoric became increasingly colored by European anti-Semitism, and adopted many of the claims and ideas of Holocaust deniers such as Roger Garaudy as well as the anti-Zionist ideology of radical Jewish intellectuals.

The conflict was intensified and complicated by the 1948 war. About 700,000 Palestinian Arabs fled or were expelled during the war, and Israel did not allow them to return. Many Palestinian refugees were settled in camps under miserable conditions, where they have remained for several generations. The Israeli point of view had in mind the recent convulsions of World War II, and the exchange of populations that occurred when India and Pakistan were created. Most Israelis believed the Palestinians became refugees through their own fault. Their exile was the result of the war which the Palestinians themselves had started by rejection of the UN partition plan, just as, for example, the Germans of Sudetensland, who helped instigate the German occupation of Czechoslovakia, were eventually banished as the result of their own mischief. For the Arabs of Palestine, their Nakba, or catastrophe, vindicated their fears that the Zionists were bent on dispossessing them.

www.mideastweb.org/zionism.htm

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Rabbis of Muslim Empire

Note: I have not verified the authenticity of the following article, please take the responsiblity to write a note in the comment section to make any corrections. Thank you - Mike Ghouse

Great Rabbis of the Muslim Empire
by Dr. Ezra Chwat,

Hebrew University of Jerusalem

In 657, when Ali ibn Abu Talib — the fourth Caliph to rule after the death of Mohammed — extended the Muslim conquest into Iraq, he was greeted wholeheartedly by the Jews there, then the most important of the world's Jewish communities. Ali saw the Jews of Iraq as a natural ally and granted them autonomy. This was the dawn of a new era of Jewish cultural creativity, one that lasted almost 600 years and was central in the development of Judaism.

The Academies of Babylon

Jewish life in Iraq (Babylon) focused on the yeshivot (religious academies). At the beginning of the new era, the academies were in the final process of editing the Babylonian Talmud — a colossal work of discourses on almost every discipline, accumulated over the previous four centuries. From this point on, the Rabbis would relate to the Talmud as a closed text (even though, for the most part, it did not appear as a written book for some centuries). The headmasters of these yeshivot were called Geonim, and their eminence was such that the first half of the classic Muslim era is referred to as the Geonic period (mid-7th century to mid-11th century) in Jewish history, a period which spans the entire Abbasid dynasty.

It was through the Abbasid empire that the Geonim disseminated the Talmud to the increasing Jewish communities. They started by moving their yeshivot to Baghdad, the Abbasid capital. From there they sent rabbis to other Diaspora communities, who would convene in Baghdad for the semi-annual yarhei-callah (month-long Talmud study sessions during agricultural off-seasons). These rabbinic emissaries brought with them religious issues which had come up in their communities, as well as funds raised for the maintenance of theyeshivot. The issues would be dealt with by the hierarchy of the yeshiva, up to the Gaon. The answers to these inquiries would be immediately published and had the effect of religious decree. Thus, the Geonim used the new technologies of communication and travel which had developed in the Muslim Empire for transmitting knowledge over a vast area, reaching as far as the frontier of the Empire in Spain, and, to a limited degree, as far as Northern Europe. They were the first to publish the Oral Law in book form, primarily as Talmuddigests. The Talmud itself was disseminated in written form, along with glossaries and basic commentaries. Thus, the Geonim retained religious centrality to a degree reminiscent of the sages in the ancient Land of Israel.

The Land of Israel

In fact, the only rival to the supremacy of the Geonim were the yeshivot in the Land of Israel. In the Muslim period, this community was smaller than the one in Babylon, and poorly organized due to centuries of persecution at the hands of the Byzantine rulers, who regarded the Oral Law as the antithesis of Christian dogma and severely punished anyone who studied it. Thus the Jerusalem Talmud (referred to as "the Jerusalemite Discourse") appears "crippled" and fossilized in comparison to the Babylonian Talmud, which is composed in a flowing dialectic style. Because the Jerusalem Talmud lacked the continuity of the Babylonian Talmud, the Geonim in Babylon considered theirTalmud to be the exclusive carrier of Jewish tradition.

Nonetheless, the Jews of the Land of Israel never relinquished their local traditions, nor their Talmud, even when it differed from the Babylonian tradition. While the Babylonian academies took advantage of their seat at the hub of the Muslim Empire, the Jews in the Land of Israel were far from the center of influence. Consequently their yeshivot were relatively small. They maintained some of the international ties they had established in the pre-Muslim era, such as those with Italian Jewry, whose descendants founded the Northern European communities and created a religious heritage known as the Ashkenazic tradition. Some customs, particularly of the synagogue service, can be traced to this line. The religious culture in the Land of Israel flourished at the end of the Geonic period (10th-11th centuries), during the peak of the Fatimid Caliphate, when the Land of Israel became an important center of trade. The Fatimids considered the Jews of the Land of Israel one of their non-Sunni cultural allies. At that point, the Babylonian yeshivot lost their centrality, as well as their exclusivity in Jewish tradition.

Symbiosis

For the most part the two parallel traditions — that of Babylon and that of the Land of Israel — lived side by side. An harmonic symbiosis was generally maintained between the two central communities, which emphasized the strengths of each. All Jews continued to consider the Land of Israel as the source of Divine wisdom, even when normative Jewish Law was decreed in Babylon. The Babylonian Jews recognized that they were a temporary Diaspora, and that Judaism could formally function as a nation only in the Land of Israel, regardless of how small or uninfluential the community there was. Decisions regarding the Jewish calendar, for example, were relegated exclusively to the rabbinic authorities in the Land of Israel.

The Muslim conquest enabled Jewish life to flourish anew in the Land of Israel, and many Babylonian Jews emigrated to what they still considered to be their homeland. They brought with them their Talmud and religious heritage, which created a process of cross-pollination between the two traditions. The first Gaon to publish a post-Talmudic work — R. Ahai of Shabha — was one such immigrant. Although his work, the She'iltot (Inquiries), largely consists of excerpts from the Babylonian Talmud, it was disseminated exclusively along the same path as other works of the tradition of the Land of Israel — in Europe.

Because the Talmudic development of the scholars in the Land of Israel had been stunted in the pre-Muslim era, they compensated by developing other cultural fields, such as mysticism, poetic liturgy and a uniquely creative biblical historiography called the Midrash All of these flourished in the Land of Israel in the early Muslim era, while they were relatively neglected in Babylon, where scholars concentrated primarily on the Talmud and religious law. The poetry of Yose ben Yose, the earliest liturgical poet known by name, who lived in the Land of Israel in the 4th or 5th century, and Eleazar Kallir, who lived in the eighth century in Tiberias, ultimately became an integral part of the Jewish festival liturgy. To this day, much of the source material for rabbinical sermons is taken from the Midrashim composed in Israel in the period immediately following the Muslim conquest. Some, such as Pirkei deRabbi Eliezer (Sermons of R. Eliezer), deal quite favorably with Ishmael — the father of the Arab nations, as opposed to the Esau — father of the Roman-Christian nations. These works, as well as the early mystic works Sefer HaYetzirah (Book of Creation) and Hechalot (Temples), were to become the basis for theKabbalah, and many centuries later inspired modern Hassidism.

Codification
In the academies of Babylon, however, the Talmud — the most expansive treasury of Jewish wisdom, knowledge, folklore and law — remained the focus of study and discourse. For the Geonim throughout this period the Talmud served as the exclusive basis for decision-making in halacha. Yet, ironically, as the influence of the Babylonian academies spread, it became clear that the Talmud was simply too vast to transmit. To address this problem, the Geonim employed a technique newly developed in the Muslim world: codification. Of the innovations that the rabbinic world inherited from the Muslim empire, this probably had the greatest impact.

Essentially, the Talmud discourse is structured not in topical order, but in an associative order, which rambles from one item to the next. The Geonim considered the ancient sages of Israel who composed this esoteric structure to be of so high a spiritual and mystical level that their work could no longer be understood by most scholars of later years. So, while at the central yeshivot the Talmud retained its original structure, to the rest of the Diaspora it was transmitted in condensed or encyclopedic form. The original 50 volumes were reduced to a codex that dealt only with the laws pertinent to day-to-day life. Thus the commandments and laws that related to the Temple, for example, were not included. For the first time, the Oral Tradition was arranged in the textual form suitable for a written book. This codex was the first non-biblical text that could be easily copied and distributed, easily mastered by a novice rabbi far from the yeshiva and without the direct tutelage of the Geonim.

This revolutionary step could only have been taken by a Gaon with the stature of absolute rabbinic authority. Such was the position of R. Yehudai ben Nahman (Yehudai Gaon) in the 8th century, whose students published the first such codex 'Halakhot Pesukot' (Decided Laws). Blind from birth, R. Yehudai was the universally acclaimed Talmud authority. He served as headmaster of both of the majoryeshivot, and was virtually unopposed: a rare phenomenon in rabbinical history. Only such an authoritative figure could publish a law book which decisively presented only one opinion on each issue. True to the its title, Halakhot Pesukot differs drastically from theTalmud in that it contains very little dialectic deliberation. The text is based on the Talmud, but the Talmud passages are rearranged in vernacular Aramaic in a structure manageable to the layman. Subsequent generations produced numerous editions of Halakhot Pesukotthat differ in style and order. Hilkhot Riu ('Riu' Lawbook) is an edition translated into Hebrew. Some editions had Arabic translations interspersed between paragraphs of the original text, or glossaries in the margins.

The most popular version, Halakhot Gedolot (Great Law Book), was published two generations later, by R. Shimon Kiara. This edition contains extensive additional material, including passages of R. Ahai's She'iltot previously mentioned. Kiara's Halakhot contains moreTalmud passages than the original Halakhot, and they are presented in a form that is closer to the original Talmud language and dialectic structure.

In later editions of Halakhot Gedolot, the encyclopedic order is integrated with the original Talmud order. This pattern continues over the years until the final version of Halakhot — Hilkhot Rabbati (Great Lawbook) by R. Yitzhak Alfasi in the 11th century, which is a condensed Talmud interspersed with latter-day decisions. This reversion can be explained in different ways. The later versions were distributed among a public more erudite and familiar with the original Talmud, including the newly established Jewish communities of Germany and France. Another explanation is that the Halakhot books actually dethroned the Talmud as the standard text used by law-makers, to the extent that they evolved into texts that could function as an updated Talmud.

Geonic Monographs
The adaptation of the prevalent method of codification became more complete in another genre of Rabbinic literature — the Geonicmonographs. These topical codes evolved in later generations, starting with the works of R. Saadiah AlFayumi (Saadiah Gaon) in the 10th century. Each book analyzes just one subject of Jewish law, by dividing it into pre-arranged numbered categories and devoting one succinct chapter to each. The author supplies the reader with a detailed introduction and table of contents. The most interesting feature of this genre is its language — Arabic in Hebrew letters. Apparently this had become the vernacular of study, in lay circles, and among rabbis who functioned outside the central yeshivot. Saadiah's monographs provided halachic knowledge even to students who had only a shallow Talmudic background — a phenomena which had become more common as the rabbinic world continued to grow away from the central yeshivot. Saadiah and his students also composed glossaries, translating and explaining difficult terms in the Mishna (the code of law which acts as the skeletal basis of Talmudic discourse) and in the Halakhot Pesukot, both of which were apparently more commonly studied than the Talmud.

R. Saadiah, as opposed to most other Geonim, was unique in that his expertise was not limited to the field of Talmud and halacha. He was raised in the West, and from there he brought to Babylon knowledge in Biblical exegesis, poetic liturgy, Hebrew grammar andKabbalah ( Jewish mysticism). In addition to halachic monographs, Saadiah wrote essays and books, also in the Judeo-Arabic vernacular, in each of these fields. His erudition in the Midrash (produced in the Land of Israel), supplementing his Talmudic knowledge, equipped Saadiah with the tools to master a field completely new to the rabbinic world — philosophy. This was largely neglected prior to the Muslim era, when the Rabbis considered themselves the intellectual superiors of the surrounding pagan and Christian cultures. By now though, the Jews had been reduced to a small minority, spread in a vast empire of rival monotheists.

R. Saadiah answered this challenge in his masterpiece Kitab alA'manat wall'tikadat (Book of Beliefs and Opinions) by describing Judaism as a belief (not only a nation). His Western upbringing also brought him into contact with the Karaite sect — Jews who rejected the tradition of the Oral Law. While still a youngster, Saadiah debated against the elders of this sect, proving the direct chain of legal and cultural derivation from the Judaism of the Bible to rabbinic Judaism.

R. Saadiah was also a pioneer in the field of rabbinic poetry. Familiar with the classics produced in the Land of Israel in the previous generation, R. Saadiah added poetry to his prayer book, Kitab Jami' al-Salawat wa al-Tasibih' (The Book of Collected Prayers and Praise). This was against the rulings of the Babylonian Geonim restricting additions to the prayer book. Unlike the classical Hebrew poets, Saadiah employed the Arabic rules of poetry and wrote at great length on the application of these rules to Hebrew poetry. This legacy was continued not in Babylon, but by Saadiah's disciples in Andalusia, Spain, especially by the leader of this rising community, Hisdai ibn Shaprut. The early Andalusian school, centered in Cordoba and Granada, took great interest in the application of the Arabic method of analyzing grammar and conjugation to biblical Hebrew. The most famous works in this field were written by the poet Dunash ibn Labret and by Menachem ibn Saruk. These works were to become central elements in the biblical commentaries of Abraham ibn Ezra of 12th century Spain.

Ironically, because R. Saadiah wrote in Arabic, most of his works have been virtually forgotten. By the end of the Middle Ages, when rabbinical classics were committed to print, few people read literature in Arabic. But in his time, R. Saadiah's writings were crucial for Jewish survival.

Some of the paths that were first tread by R. Saadiah were continued by his disciples in the academy of Sura, primarily R. Shmuel ben Hophni (d. 1013). Like R. Saadiah, R. Shmuel too wrote a commentary on the Bible. He also wrote the first detailed introduction to theTalmud, Madkal Ali AlMishna walTalmud (Introduction to the Talmud and the Talmud), containing over 145 chapters. It became the scientific methodology of Talmud study. But it was in the field of legal monographs that R. Shmuel was most prolific. Scores of his books are listed in the library catalogues of his era, in all imaginable fields of Jewish law. R. Shmuel listed and analyzed virtually all the Talmudicstatements on any given topic, and codified them in so manageable a way that they rival even today's modern Jewish encyclopedias. For example, his Kitab Ahkam A-Zujia (Book of Marital Law) covers the stages of the marital ceremony in some 35 chapters, not including topics like changes in legal status, marital financial law and divorce; on these he wrote other volumes. He employed R. Saadiah's method of precise topical composition, but made one major change. Whereas R. Saadiah paraphrased the Talmud in Arabic, R. Shmuel was the first to quote the Talmud in the original Aramaic or Hebrew.

This change is historically significant: for the first time, the Talmud was related to as an iconoclastic, written literary text, not as a loosely worded oral tradition. This innovation was also utilized in the works of R. Sherira ben Hanina Gaon (906-1006) and his son R. Hai Gaon (939-1038), who headed the rival yeshiva of Pumpedita. There are many manuscript copies of these works that have survived, testifying to their popularity. Nonetheless they were forgotten, for the most part, doomed as other texts written in Arabic. Only a few books merited a Hebrew translation.

This is not to say that the 10-11th century Geonim had little effect on Jewish tradition. They played an immeasurable role in Jewish law, through the hundreds of responsa that they published. Here they addressed specific issues raised by the ever-expanding Jewish communities.

Yet, dominant as these Geonim were, they were to be the last generation of centralized Jewish lawmakers. By the end of the 10th century, the Fatimid dynasty had moved the center of world power, trade and influence westward to North Africa, thereby also diminishing the centrality of Baghdad for Jews. For the first time in seven centuries, the study of the Talmud, and the attendant dynamic development of the Jewish legal heritage, were no longer exclusive to Babylon. This shift was instrumental in the opening of a new stage in the history of Talmud study.

Exegesis of the Talmud
The style, language and structure of the Talmud had now become archaic, due to geographic and cultural factors, not to mention the passing of time since its production. The academy of Kairouan (in present-day Tunisia) produced the first commentaries that were written, as separate books — of exegesis — external to the Talmud itself.

R. Hananel ben Hushiel (990-c.1053) and R. Nissim ben Ya'akov ibn Shahin (990-1062), both of whose parents were disciples of R. Hai, wrote these first commentaries. The commentaries furthered the ability of students to handle the literary peculiarities of the Talmud. In Fatimid North Africa, the Babylonian Talmud shared equal stature with the Jerusalem Talmud. Thus, an important nuance in the works of R. Hananel and R. Nissim is their side-by-side comparison of the two Talmuds, often using the Jerusalem Talmud to supplement the Babylonian.

Though lacking an authoritative center, the new academies of North Africa did not lack means of distribution of knowledge: Jewish traders, who were instrumental to the Fatimid caliphs in their contacts with ports around the Mediterranean, even as far as Barcelona and Marseilles. Thus, unlike the Arabic texts of the Geonim, these new works had great influence on the new academies in Spain, Provence and the Rhine Basin. Previously, these communities had no local yeshivot, and were dependent on Babylon and the Land of Israel for their knowledge, either through the Halakhot texts published there or through direct correspondence. The Kairouanin commentaries were instrumental in the ability of new yeshivot to study the Talmud and decide new laws independent of central authority.

Muslim Andalusia

In 10th-12th century Muslim Andalusia (in southern Spain), the cross-cultural interaction between the rabbinic world and the Muslim surroundings reached its summit. The society was rich in knowledge and the sciences. Their religious leadership followed in the path of R. Saadiah and delved into all possible fields of knowledge, including the arts, in addition to the Talmud.
Their interest and activity in linguistics may have been an answer to the linguistically-pure Koran. Shmuel ibn Nagrela (Abu Ishak Ismail) (993-1056) was one scholar who studied these subjects. He is known to have debated with the Muslim theologian Ibn Hazzam about the relative merits of the Bible and the Koran. He was appointed Rais alYehud (Head of the Jews), for which he is better known by the Hebrew title Shmuel Hanagid. He served the Berber King Habus for 19 years as Foreign and Interior Minister, and commanded the army of Granada, which became the dominant power in Andalusia. He corresponded with R. Hai Gaon and with the masters of the Kairouan school. In addition to books of poetry and Hebrew grammar, Shmuel Hanagid published a code of Talmudic law oft-cited by subsequent Spanish Talmudic authorities.

But it was not until the arrival of R. Yitzhak Alfasi (1013-1103) that Andalusia developed a yeshiva of the magnitude reminiscent of the ancient yeshivot of Babylon. A disciple of R. Hananel, he arrived at Lucena, an exclusively Jewish town near Cordoba, around 1078. The academy founded there was to become the world center of Talmudic activity until it was destroyed in the Almohad uprising in 1148. Alfasi's Hilkhot Rabbati (Great Lawbook) became the final work of this genre, giving him the historical stature of `batrai' — the bottom line of Talmudic law. Knowledge of the Alfasi code was a standard requirement for rabbinical ordination throughout the Jewish world for the next five centuries. In fact, it was copied and studied more often than the Talmud itself. This masterpiece combines an abridged Talmud updated with latter-day decisions of the Geonim and the commentaries of R. Hananel. Alfasi's outstanding longevity bridged the last generation of the Geonim with the generation of the great European commentators.

One of Alfasi's most famous disciples at Lucena was Yehudah Halevi Abu-al-Hassan (c. 1075-1141). Halevi's contribution to Jewish life was not in the area of halacha, but in poetry. He is probably the best known Jewish poet, biblical and classical liturgists from the Land of Israel included. Some 750 of his poems are extant; many have found their way into the standard Jewish prayer book, particularly his festival hymns. Among these hymns are poems portraying the innermost yearnings of Jews to return to the Land of Israel. Some 35 of these poems are known to us; many are recorded in the Tisha Be'Av service. They reflect a rekindling of the Zionist spirit at a time when Jews watched the struggle between the Crusaders and the Muslims over the Jewish homeland. According to legend, Halevi achieved his highest aspiration by immigrating to Israel towards the end of his life. Zionism was also a central motif in Halevi's philosophical treatiseKitab alHujja waDlil fi Nsar aDin Aldh'lil (Book in Defense of the Downtrodden Religion). Here, the basic tenets of Jewish belief and worship are set in a polemic drama, recounting how the King of the Asian Kuzari tribe chose Judaism over Christianity and Islam.

Maimonides

In the mid-12th century the Andalusian-Jewish civilization was demolished at the peak of its creativity by the Almohad uprisings and the Christian reconquisita. But scions from this great era resettled, primarily in Christian Northern Spain. The most outstanding of them wasMoshe ibn Maimon (1135-1204) — Maimonides — who fled eastwards to Egypt and the Land of Israel. Like his predecessors,Maimonides was well versed in the most advanced studies of the Muslim world — the sciences of mathematics, astrology and medicine, as well as the physics and astrophysics of Aristotle. He served as court physician of the Sultan of Egypt and held the office of Rais alYehud. However, despite his public service, he also produced three important classics that are found to this day in virtually every Jewish library. Each reflects the turbulence of the times, which required innovative literature.

In Dalalat al-Ha'rin (Guide for the Perplexed), Maimonides conveys Jewish philosophy in Aristotelian terms. The study of Greek philosophy was then at a peak in the Arab intellectual world as well, in the wake of Averroes. Maimonides' confrontation with and adaptation of rationalism and philosophy was to earn him much criticism, primarily in Europe, where the rabbinic leadership preferred inward-looking Jewish mysticism to the study of universal philosophy.

Maimonides completed A-Siraj (The `Beacon' — clarification), his commentary on the Talmud, before he was 20. Written in Arabic, it is essentially a summary of the Talmudic understanding of the Talmud — the primary code of halacha, codified in the Land of Israel in the third century. Talmud study had become uncommon in Muslim lands, in the wake of persecution and religious turbulence. Maimonides felt that the study of his annotated Talmud, supplemented by the study of the Alfasi code, would lead to continuity of Jewish study.

It was towards this same goal — the continuity of Jewish study — that Maimonides created his magnum opus — the 14-volume Mishneh Torah (Restatement of the Torah). Like R. Saadiah's monographs, each topic is methodically codified in usable order, and the archaicTalmudic language and debate are avoided. The Mishneh Torah is written in clear, precise Hebrew. In fact, of all Maimonides' major productions, this is the only one written in Hebrew, because it was intended to replace the entire Oral Law not only for his disciples but for the entire Jewish world, and not only for his generation, but for generations to come.

This also explains why Maimonides' code covers virtually every field of Jewish law, for the first time since the Talmud. Over a third of the code deals with laws that only apply in the Land of Israel in the presence of the Temple. Clearly, he intended to present the Jewish people with an immortal code, for he felt that he lived at the end of an era. It was no longer enough, in his time, to enhance Talmud study; instead it was his stated aim to replace the Talmud. It is no accident that the final volume of the Mishneh Torah ends with the laws regarding the arrival of the Messiah. Maimonides' work was to give the Jews a legacy of hope, that even as they were fluttering on the waves of history, they were approaching the gates of redemption.

The Cairo Genizah

Most of our knowledge of this era is not recorded by historians, but gleaned from material written by the rabbis themselves, or copyists of their times. Though most of the written material was no longer in existence by the time the first Jewish books were printed, they have been preserved for the modern researcher in manuscript form in the Genizah of Fustat in Cairo. Jewish law requires that written material which includes texts from the holy scriptures be buried or entombed, not destroyed. At the time, this applied to everything written in Hebrew characters, even if the language was Arabic. Fustat was the central station from which the rabbinic literature and correspondence was transmitted in this era, and local scribes often made a copy for themselves before sending the material to its destination. These copies were preserved in the Genizah.

In the early 20th century, most of the Genizah was plundered or taken out of Egypt by collectors and the documents can now be found in various centers of learning, mostly in Europe or America. The largest collections of Genizah material can be found in the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the Russian National Library and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

The Lasting Contribution of the Jews of the Muslim Empire

For over 500 years, the Jews of the Muslim Empire enjoyed stability, prosperity and religious autonomy. As opposed to the oppressive atmosphere in Northern Europe, the Jews lived, for the most part, in a tolerant civilization, one that valued excellence in the arts, the sciences and trade. In these fields the Jews were welcome participants. Thus Judaism developed as part of society, not as a secluded ghetto-culture as was the case in Christian Europe.

The cultural cross-pollination benefitted both sides. Because of the dialogue with Islam, the Jews became more aware of their philosophic and linguistic heritage. The new methods that developed in the vast Muslim Empire for the communication of knowledge and the codification of law were employed by the Rabbis in order to keep in contact with the ever-expanding Jewish Diaspora. Thus, they could preserve and sustain Talmudic Law, while creating new vistas of Jewish literature and thought which were instrumental in forming the structure of Judaism as it is today.

Source: Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs