Sunday, December 24, 2023

How Jews Spent New Years Eve in Berlin, 1936


How Jews Spent New Years Eve in Berlin, 1936

 For video:



I am proud to announce that there is an exhibit that opened this week in Frankfurt, Germany, on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the reestablishing of the Jewish community after the Holocaust.


As  you may know, my father, Rabbi Dr William, or Wilhelm at that time, served as the first State Rabbi of the region of Hesse, the environs of Frankfurt, when the community was reincorporated. This followed his service establishing adult education programs for the survivors in the Displaced Persons Camps in the Salzburg area of Austria.

Here is the invitation, which I share with you:

It’s running from Dec 20 through May 26 of next year.


My father is featured prominently in the opening panels of the exhibit, that refer to the founding years ( and I get “honorable mention” for providing some of that material.

Exhibit Displays

 New Beginnings Exhibit


My father with the great Chief Rabbi of Germany through the Holocaust, Rabbi Leo Baeck.


At the dedication of the Westend Synagog




Here is the recording , broadcast over German radio, as my father lights the Eternal Lamp for the first time in the reconstructed Westend Synagog:



At the dedication of the synagogue




I want to shift the tenor of my talk today, though, away from the heavy lifting that my father was engaged in at that time, to a reflection of a lighter mood in the decade preceding, before anyone could know the severity of the tragedy to unfold.  This last quarter of 2023, or the first quarter of 5784, has been very heavy for us all, especially for our families in Israel, but for us here as well. So, I thought of an unusual document that had been sent me by a researcher in Germany, one that opened a little light in an otherwise already gloomy time.





My father, who had been leader of the Jewish Student Zionist organization in Vienna and then leader of the Jewish student’s organizatiuon in Berlin, had been in studies in Rabbinical school at the Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums in the early 1930’s. However, family funding for his studies had been running out, so he left Berlin for Zurich to earn extra money as a tutor. While there, he basically was caught in a scheme that was intended to bring him back to Berlin and  his studies, but instead, landed him in prison, first in one called Moabit, then later in Brandeburg Prison.

I am surprised what good record keepers the Germans are, till today- I was sent his entire dossier!



 Berlin Kangaroo Court Indictement



          The archivist at Brandenburg found, among the legal documents, a personal letter to my father from a friend of his, Oskar Gellman, dated January 17, 1936, with an extra note by Erna, whom I assume to be his wife.


          His friend not only decided to appraise him of the mundane events of his acquaintances during the time her was in prison, but also to entertain him and keep his spirit up. Why the wardens would have kept just this letter, I have no clue, but the writer is so very vivid and ascerbic in his wit, that perhaps they kept it as an example of how funny these Jews could be. His writing verges on the Rabelaisian and he pokes sharply at his friends and acquaintances.


          It is a window on the mood of Jews in the early years of  the Hitler reign, as the Nuremberg laws were taking effect while the ultimate horror  awaiting them was something as yet unimagineable. Clearly, the author says nothing at all about the Nazi regime, since he is aware that the letter will be read by the authorities and understands the potential impact on my father’s pending appeal of anything at all material to his incarceration. He can only make reference to it as a one –time moment of stupidity that does not match my father’s fine personality and sterling character, which he pointedly emphasizes ( as does Erna). In light of the fun he pokes at his circle of friends, one can see how highly he regards my father in contrast. There is no reference to the status of Jews, per se, but clear references to the general difficulties in finding secure employment or economic security for some of the people involved and a general sense of wishing to leave. The one reference to politics is to the Italian occupation of Ethiopia and the fear of war between the British and French against the Italians in the Mediterranean.

          His language is full of idioms and verbal hyperboles that are sometimes hard to understand ( and hard to read). The text of the letter was transcribed for my by Omer Van Voorden.





My dear Willi,


          In the meantime, since Christmas, there  were only two days that were worthy of note: New Years and my birthday. I didn’t want to celebrate Sylvester [Ed.- New Years] in the way one could understand celebrate. I tell myself- if Willi is not here, but instead he is in B [ Brandenburg Prison], then there is no way to celebrate anything. It was clear that for your sake I could think of no reason I could celebrate. You know that when my sprit is lousy I am against any celebrating. I told to Roman that he and Moehrchen should come and reminisce over a glass of tea. However, I wanted to make Erma happy, so I bought Roman, Morchen, Erma and myself tickets to the Comic Opera at 0.75 ! [ Ed.- 75 pfennig, worth, in todays US dollar, about $5, or about twice the cost of a “Dreigroschenoper”, (Three Penny Opera). I do not know if his “!” is because was so cheap-or so expensive at the time] . However, it worked out differently than I had planned. On New Years eve, at 6 PM, Erna’s ex- husband and his current wife suggested that following the opera they would come to spend New Years with me.


          Out of politeness rather than out of joy about this implausible event, I said yes. Hardly had they come here, than there also appeared a couple from the outskirts of Berlin (whom I myself this summer more or less had befriended) with the same suggestion.

Again I explained the plan, but also gave notice that I would provide no alcohol and for that everyone would need to fend for him. Finally, they also bought tickets for the Comic Opera (at 0.75!). After completion of the cultural event, the whole social gathering took place in my apartment where a table was set. Served were: sausages and potato salad and again sausages and potato salad and for dessert  a salad made with peas and beans was passed around, with what afterwards turned out to have as bad consequences as could be. To my greatest shock I noticed that in addition to other bottles, the provincial couple had brought 2 bottles of whisky, 2 bottles of wine + 3 bottles of champagne to make us foggy.


          Everything naturally fell apart as I take note of my weakness for alcohol.


          Roman tried to get me drunk with downright sadistic pleasure. He cheered me with “prosit” constantly and I had to respond willy-nilly every time with another drink. Erna was soon very tipsy and glowed like a red bulb. (You might think this was due to an intensive sunlamp cure!). I don’t believe it. And you?  Around midnight, the company was already half wobbly and looking for me to systematically finish everything. Lion Braun was pale as a corpse and Roman began to target the wall with pancakes as for a mural. (The traces can still be seen). Here come true the old adage "who digs a pit for others...”


Roman had become totally wasted in the course of the evening. Afterwards, as the senior member here, I went first went for the toilet and, as a decent man, locked the door. I heard an urgent knock from the outside and opened the door.


Who rushed forward to me with a mouth full of seltzer water? The fat Roman! I have never seen anyone so pale... As he lay there, the poor guy and provided me with highly varied companionship. After some time, he gave himself to philosophical considerations about  comparison of human life with the famous “Huehnerleiter” [Ed.- There is a book by Alan Dundes ,Life Is Like a Chicken Coop Ladder , which explains this popular German saying that life is like a chicken coop ladder, full of filth] Is it still the bleakest? The Huehnerleiter got rid of his ruined shirt and ran again as half dull madman by the long corridor, until he fell tired and exhausted on shaking knees at the other end and with his gigantic chest covered the ice cold floor.

…In this mixture of human nourishment and blessed drunkenness, we other weak-kneed creatures let the Colossus sleep up to 4 o’clock in the morning.


Despite our muddled senses, and perhaps because of our heavy mass, we thought of you and communicate with you from a distance as the card that you've certainly received proves.


          We were drinking to your health and our card's contents clearly expressed our deep feelings. I hope our wishes have arrived. In addition, Willi, I personally have found myself completely out of balance since your fall and I must confess that only the idea that still keeps me going, you get the feeling, is that you still have an old friend in Berlin.

          I know that this is illogical, but I hope that my stay here can give you a little bit of calm. If not for you I would have left after Baby was engaged, but I will stay here and wait until you have finished your sentence for this one time nonsense. As I've known you as a constitutionally sound and logical man, I hope to God that you will well weather this difficult time, especially since I was able to convince myself that the institution you are in is very humane and you receive decent treatment. I am convinced that after your release a few weeks of nursing by your mother will be enough to get you afloat again. And I think that your professors and colleagues will forgive this inexplicable and unexpectable prank of yours.


          You are known as a fine and decent human being and I hope that we later will see your act as I see it, as the derailment by unusual circumstances of one fundamentally decent person.


          Now back to the Sylvester. Later on Erna’s sister-in-law and husband and another family known to you came by.


          After having brought Lion in a fully apathetic state to his home, we remained together until the New Year’s morning. The only ones who stayed sober were the provincial couple. They cooked us over stitch and thread and let no one sleep. On the New Year’s morning at 8, we went together to Erna’s in-laws to enjoy a decent breakfast.


          So, the 1st of January was spent in good chit-chat until the evening and then we moved on to our own homes to go to bed as soon as possible.


          One should not plan things; it comes out differently from what is planned.

[The letter goes on with some chit-chat about various and sundry common friends.]





          The world in general is continuing its old routine. Up till the military conflict between Italy and Abyssinia, the world events continue on the same old tune. The members of the League of Nations are striving to resolve the dispute by means of economic sanctions. There are some dark clouds on the political horizon.

One can only hope that after some dramatic moves, considered objectively, a “happy end” will finally be achieved. I personally can hardly believe that there is a serious basis to the threatening portent of a transfer of the conflict to Europe, in which England and France are one side, Italy on the other side coming to blows in the Mediterranean. I believe every European Government would be able to deny a material interest in this.

Italy could act out of desperation in the event that all other ways to back off, but that is not a foregone conclusion.


          ..Now, my dear Willy, don’t let your head hang down, everything will be over and I hope I can soon get from a letter from you. I will visit you again at the next possible opportunity. Goodbye, my good young man! Oskar.


My father was released from prison after hist initial sentence was cut to two years, on the condition that he leave Germany forever. Ironically, because Brandenburg, in this years was a prison focused on rehabilitation, he had relatively easy conditions, and was able to finish his Rabbinical studies by correspondence.  He made his way to Austria, published three essays on the dangers of facing contemporary civilization ( psychological, biological, and economic determinism) , escaped to Czechoslovakia with the Anschluss, and was again caught with the German takeover of Czechoslovakia, and this time, thrown into a notorious prison for subversives, the Spielberg castle of Brno, and then, sent on one of Eichmann’s first trains out to Poland, and form there, escape to the Soviet Union.

Sunday, December 17, 2023

Prime Minister Zaphenath Paneakh How A Jewish Boy Made Good ( Antiquity of the Jews-Part II)


Prime Minister Zaphenath Paneakh

How A Jewish Boy Made Good ( Antiquity of the Jews-Part II)

Link to discussion:



If you have ever driven down the 405 near the airport, you see on the side of the road Hillside Cemetery, a large Jewish cemetery, and right in the center is a large monument to the great entertainer, Al Jolson.


Some years ago, there was a musical show made about Al Jolson called “Al Jolson at the Winter Garden” and in the Los Angeles performance. the star playing Al Jolson was the popular Israeli and Broadway entertainer Mike Burstyn.

 Now to make it a little bit more personal, Mike Burstyn actually served as a Cantor here one year, just when I left HTBE.( PS The producers of the play are our mutual friends, Dan and Zahava Israeli.) I managed to persuade him to help us out and he led services. So, I helped him fulfill part of the role that the original Jolson had when he did The Jazz Singer and ran into the synagogue to save the High Holiday services. That aside, I recall one scene in which Al Jolson is in his last moments, and he is envisioned as climbing up magical staircase, up to the heaven, and saying something like “a Jewish boy made good on Broadway. “

Now this brings me closer to my theme, which is  that phrase of the Jewish boy making it or making good. It certainly was brought home just a few weeks ago when Henry Kissinger passed away. Here is an example of the Jewish boy who made it big but who also had a very disturbing relationship to his own Jewish background. I could say about Jolson that he was always proud of being Jewish and certainly of my friend Mike Burstyn  as well, but Kissinger is a different story.

 I am not going to go into it in great depth, but much has been written about his very problematic relationship to his own being Jewish. He was even quoted as having said, “If it were not for the accident of my birth, I would be antisemitic.” It may have been something tongue in cheek, but it indicates some of the internal weakness of being a member of a minority in a hostile world.

This motif of the nice Jewish boy who makes it big is quite common, certainly in the last century or so, especially in America where Jews were able to succeed in many ways unimaginable before in history.

Except, perhaps, in Germany.

I will just show you some headlines as an example.

Isaac Mizrahi memoir - Nice Jewish boy makes it big (headline in Jerusalem Post)


Nice Soviet Jewish Boys Making It Big in Silicon Valley (headline in Haaretz)


Now it turns out that the phrase “Nice Jewish boy” itself is a very problematic phrase, as it has indicated in the past a sort of very soft , easy going, walk-all-over me type of personality, lacking the essentials of masculinity. In contrast, in European literature, the Jewish woman was always seen as much more alluring—but the Nice Jewish Boys instead went for the European blonds -go figure.  But I will not go into that. It is too complicated. Let us stick to this idea of Jewish success.

One of the prime examples of the use of making it big was by the noted literary critic and editor Norman Podhoretz who had been the editor of Commentary magazine, a major influence in American literary, political and intellectual trends. His book was entitled Making It, and the theme was that of a poor Jewish boy immigrant boy who made it to the pinnacles of American culture.

The pattern has been repeated throughout history- I mentioned a few weeks ago, that the Roman governor of Egypt, and the general who led the battle against Jerusalem, was Jewish, the nephew of the great philosopher, Philo. Muslim Spain had its Jewish viziers, Chasdai ibn Shaprut, advisor to the Caliph of Cordoba, or Shmuel ibn Nagrila, Hanagid, the Prince Vizier and commander of the armies of Granada. Christian Spain had its Don Yitzhak Abravanel who financed the wars against the last Muslim strongholds ( before he was thrown out with all other Jews in 1492) . And so on down till modern times, a Disraeli Conservative, a Trotsky leftist, a Zelensky ,Ukrainian hero.In Mexico, the leading candidate for President, is a Jewish woman, and in Argentina, a non-Jew who wants to be a Jew and visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s grave, is President!? Go figure!

This is a motif than actually appears through much of the Bible.

The most obvious example is that of Mordechai who becomes the Regent under the Shah of Iran, Ahashverosh. There is some historicity to it when we look at archaeological sources in that region and find names of Jews in very prominent positions at the end of the Babylonian empire and into the Persian Empire. The name  Marduka appears as a viziers to the Shah, and there are documents of a major Jewish family dealing in banking( 25 centuries before the Rothschilds!) in that period.


It is evoked again in the story of Daniel, once again the Jewish boy who makes it big as the prophet who denounces Nebuchadnezzar and foretells the fall of the Babylonian empire. We assume it was written much later, in the time of the Maccabees, but again it fits the paradigm.


It seems that in these accounts we are being given a message to the Jews who will be or are at that moment in exile, that they will survive and thrive despite being exiles, despite being cut off from their homeland until the end of days when they will be regathered in to the land of Israel.

But what  better example of this theme of the poor Jewish boy who makes it big in the outside world than the figure in our  reading of today Miketz ,the figure of Joseph.

He is first, the quintessential “ Nice Jewish Boy”, the favorite of his father who is coddled with a special robe, a “Naar”, a youngster, which the Rabbis indicate means “ a dandy”, who curled his hair. He plays the big shot among the twelve brothers. Then, he rises from slave to manager of the boss's household, only to be trapped because of his seductive good looks by the boss’s wife.

Latin inscription to etching: Beautiful happy Joseph


 Finally, he rises from the dungeon again as the Prime Minister of Egypt, the second only to Pharaoh. He now goes by the Egyptian name “Zaphenath Paneakh” and has an Egyptian wife, Asenath (the name of the Egyptian goddess Anat), daughter of the  priest of On, City of the Sun,  Potiphe-Ra, (Ra, reflecting the Sun-god of Egypt) , and two children with definitely Egyptian names. These are interpreted for the Hebrew reader as Menashe- God made me forget my troubles and my father’s house- and Ephraim, God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” This is the quintessential case of the Jewish boy making it big, and, he in the process, hides or forgets or disguises the fact that he is Jewish, especially when he sees his brothers after so many years. The quintessential assimilationist.

This now leads me into my intended theme, on the idea of the Antiquity of the Jews. A few weeks before, I discussed the idea that there were Israelites who were in Israel before there was an Israel. Now, I ask, what do we know, of Israelites, or Hebrews, who were in Egypt?

It was assumed, in the 18th and 19 th century, the age of enlightenment and reason, that all the accounts of the ancients were simply fiction, intended as entertainment. So, for example, the Trojan Wars was nothing more than a tale spun by Homer. Until, in the end of the 19th century, an archaeologist uncovered the real city of Troy and realized that much of Homer reflected actual events.

So too, with the desire to break the influence of Christianity, academicians determined that all the Biblical accounts were purely the inventions of some Jewish priests sitting in Babylonian exile. Undermine the Hebrews and you undermine the Church. Until, excavations throughout the Middle East showed how many terms, phrases, names, and events paralleled much of the Biblical narrative.

So, it goes with Joseph.

How could one possibly take at face value such a story of a slave, from an alien peoples, rising to power in Egypt.

 Until archaeologist found parallels that would indicate that Joseph, the Joseph as we know him through our texts, was reflected in ancient Egyptian texts.

I will share just a few examples from other researchers:

On the Israelites being in Egypt:

That’s not a Chasidic shtreimel on his head.  Proto-Israelites sported a “ mushroom” hairdo, what is now called a “Jewfro”.

Contemporary Egyptian  ( from We Were Slaves to the Hyksos in Egypt, Dr. Joseph Weinstein,


Starting in the late Middle Kingdom, and continuing on into the Second Intermediate Period, the population of the Egyptian Nile Delta was predominantly West Semitic. We know this from extensive excavations in the area, including the 15th dynasty Hyksos capital of Avaris, … Avaris figures prominently in the biblical account, where it is called by its later name of Rameses. …. Many of these sites have also now been excavated or at least surveyed. Some of these can also be correlated with places mentioned in the biblical account.

This large, intrusive West Semitic population was culturally, religiously, and ethnically distinct from the native Egyptian population of southern Egypt. It is easily recognizable by its distinctive burial practices, weaponry, religious architecture and imagery, personal names, pottery, and other artifacts. Some of these personal names are similar to those appearing in the biblical account, such as Yaqub-HER (= Jacob).


It turns out that the Egyptians themselves had accounts of such troublesome foreign invaders, and one early Egyptian source used it to paint the Egyptians as the heroes of the Exodus, because they threw these obnoxious foreigners out and sent them packing to the Land of Israel.


Egyptian version  (Josephus quoting Apion quoting Manetho. Manetho was an Egyptian priest who wrote a history of the Egyptians in the 3rd century.)

 “These people, whom we have before named kings, and called shepherds also, and their descendants . . . kept possession of Egypt five hundred and eleven years.”“. . . the kings of Thebes and the other parts of Egypt made an insurrection against the shepherds, and that there a terrible and long war was made between them.”. . . under a king, whose name was Alisphragmuthosis, the shepherds were subdued by him, and were indeed driven out of other parts of Egypt, but were shut up in a place that contained ten thousand acres; this place was named Avaris.”

…, they came to a composition with them, that they should leave Egypt, and go, without any harm to be done to them, whithersoever they would;and that, after this composition was made, they went away with their whole families and effects, not fewer in number than two hundred and forty thousand, and took their journey from Egypt, through the wilderness, for Syria;… they built a city in that country which is now called Judea, and that large enough to contain this great number of men, and called it Jerusalem. “


So, how does a Jewish boy make good in ancient Egypt? Here is one parallel:


 Joseph and the Famine: The Story’s Origins in Egyptian History, Prof.

Israel Knohl,

The Story of Chancellor Baya

Baya  was an important scribe and palace official of northern origin(i.e., Canaan, Transjordan, or Syria) during the reign of Merneptah’s son Seti II (1203–1197). WhenSeti II died without a clear heir, Baya backed the claim of a boy named Siptah, who became the next Pharaoh.

…During the first few years of his brief reign (1197–1191 B.C.E.), Twosret (or Tausert), the wife (andsister) of Seti II, functioned as his guardian (the same way Hatshepsut did for Thutmose III). At Twosret’s side, serving as chancellor, and to some extent as regent,was Baya.

… Baya’s title was both Treasurer and Vizier or Chancellor (scholars seem to use these translations interchangeably), and in his letter to Ugarit, he signs as Egypt’s Major General.

Baya’s tomb was carved right next to that of Twosret (KV14),Moreover, the immense size of this tomb, with multiple rooms and decorations, is unprecedented for a non-royal.

Finally,the carvings on the walls depict Baya with funerary gods, imagery generally reserved for Pharaohs.


On the name Beya- Baya (b y,  𓃝 𓇌 )

In short, Baya/Beyah has a Yahwistic theophoric name, though it is strange that it contains only the divine element. …It is thus likely that Baya was a proto-Israelite, part of the Jacob-El clan from Nomad-land Yahwa, who migrated to Egypt during the famine.


What can we conclude from this question. Was Joseph Baya? We really can't determine. History is essentially, like so much in science, observing a black box. We can't see what's inside; we can only shake it and guess from the sound it makes what is inside. So too of ancient history; we can't really go back in time, we can't even fully comprehend the intents of the texts that we have, whether our own Hebrew Bible or the texts of the Egyptians, the Hittites, the Canaanites and other peoples of that time. We can however surmise that the intent was to take memories of ancient Israel and turn them from just a series of events chronicles into an actual history. History ultimately, unlike a newspaper,  does not mean a list of events. History means the reading of and the interpretation of events from the past that are intended to guide us to the future.

That is why our commentaries emphasize,”Ein Mukdam u Muchar bamikra”, there is no earlier or later in the text of the Torah, there is no timeline. There is, instead, guidance and interpretation for the future.

So to the story of Joseph and the brothers. What may have been various incidents of ancient tribes entering into Egypt and of members of the tribe reaching high positions in Egyptian society is now understood as being the necessary steppingstone for the next major event, the enslavement of the children of Israel, and then the Exodus, the Revelation at Sinai, and the return to the land of Israel by the liberated slaves and their descendants.

As the great founding scholar of Conservative Judaism taught,” What is past, is prologue.”


Monday, December 4, 2023

The Antiquity of the Jews


Video of the discussion:

The Antiquity of the Jews


Our Torah portion of this morning has a bizarre account in it of a rape committed by the the Prince of Shechem and then a revenge war by the brothers of Dina on the entire city. It is a highly problematic text involving punishing an entire city by a ruse, something that is very common till today in the Middle East. This kind of ruse, for revenge on the capture of one women, is the very theme of the Trojan Wars, by Homer, a war that would have occurred a few centuries after the rape of Dina,  with the ruse of the Trojan horse.  The horror of rape is also the basis for a war inside ancient Israel , for which the tribe of Benjamin is almost eradicated.


One thing we can understand after October 7 is how the rape of women is an outrage and we can understand why such a mass horror maybe unforgivable. Women as victims of rape in war continues till today and certainly the actions of ISIS against conquered Yazidis is one example in recent times. And certainly, the actions of Imperial Japan against China during what is called the Rape of Nanking, in which 20,000 women were raped, in addition to some 200,000 civilians, is another example.


However beside the moral problems involved in this story there is an interesting aside here. Namely that the city of ,Shechem, now Nablus ( Napoli, Naples)  becomes Israelite territory before there is an Israel in Israel. There is a hint of this in Jacob’s final blessing to Joseph, when he says:


וַאֲנִ֞י נָתַ֧תִּֽי לְךָ֛ שְׁכֶ֥ם אַחַ֖ד עַל־אַחֶ֑יךָ אֲשֶׁ֤ר לָקַ֙חְתִּי֙ מִיַּ֣ד הָֽאֱמֹרִ֔י בְּחַרְבִּ֖י וּבְקַשְׁתִּֽי׃ {פ}

And now, I assign to you one portion more than to your brothers, which I wrested from the Amorites with my sword and bow.”



What “portion” is this? The word in Hebrew is a play on the word “Shechem” which refers to the city, which Jacob claims, he took by military might, from the Amorites, the people of Canaan!


Shechem becomes the site of the first ceremony held in the land of Israel under Joshua. It becomes the central sanctuary for the northern tribes. And it remains the sight of the sacred mount for the Samaritan, descendants of the northern tribes. 



1900 years ago, a Jewish general who had gone over to the Roman side, needed to prove to the Roman world how ancient and important the Jews were in history. Josephus Flavius called his book The Antiquity of the Jews and it is a fitting title for what we are facing today in attacks not only on the legitimacy of the state of Israel but even on the role and position of Jews in world history. Even back then, Josephus had to defend the idea that the Jewish people had the right to their place in the land of Israel and he was fighting one of the oldest battles against anti-Semitism in his day.


So nothing is new in history, and as I view the social media debates back and forth on Israel versus the Palestinians and who has legitimacy I recall that this goes far far back. As I mentioned previously the great commentator Rashi, on the opening lines of Genesis, emphasized that the whole purpose of the story of creation was to prove that we Jews had legitimate right to the land of Israel and that we were not thieves. As I understand it, he was writing just as Christians and Muslims were fighting over who would own Palestina, Filastin, Eretz Ysrael.


Academic history on the ancient Middle East, far from being fact-based, has become a veritable volley-ball. At one time there was a major archaeological finding in Syria of a Kingdom called Ebla which would match details from the period of the Patriarchs. In the original excitement of the discoveries the archaeologists involved claimed that they found Biblical Hebrew names, such as Ibrium-Ivri-Hebrew, and references that would indicate that indeed ancient Hebrews were found in this part of Syria at that time. You would think it would be easy to confirm. However the Syrian government immediately interfered.

It is now clear that anti-Zionist political pressures in Syria are attempting to affect the scholarly interpretation of the Ebla tablets. The Syrians are furious that in the West the intense interest shown in this fantastic cache of tablets has focused on their importance for understanding the Bible and Biblical history.


We have the same fight going on about the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, which Mohammed Abbas claims never existed, even though historical Arab and Muslim documents agreed, before the 20th century, Jerusalem was site of  the Jewish Temple. Historical revisionism is in its hey-day.

I came across a debate that took place in writing between a well-respected historian of the Arabs, Philip Hitti, and renowned physicist Albert Einstein and Jewish historian, Eric Kahler. Neither of these were political hacks, like the Syrian government or Mohammed Abbas, but they spoke from their own perspectives.  This took place just as World War 2 and the Holocaust were at its peak, and the United States Congress was looking for a safe haven for Jews and was exploring the idea of a Jewish homeland in what was then Palestine. Hitti rejected the rights of Jews to any part of the land as an independent entity even though it would have perhaps saved millions of Jews.

He derided our delusions:

FROM THE Arab point of view, political Zionism is an exotic movement,  internationally financed,  artificially stimulated,and holds no hope of ultimate or permanent success. Not only to the fifty million Arabs, many of whom are descendants of the Canaanites who were in the land  long before the Hebrews entered Palestine under Joshua, but to the entire Moslem society, of whom the Arabs form the spear­ head, a sovereign Jewish state in Palestine appears as an anachronism… what chance of survival has such  an alien  state amidst a  camp of  a  would-be  hostile  Arabic  and  unsympathetic Islamic world?

This is the response by Kahler and Einstein:

“Both Jews and Arabs are said to stem from a common ancestor, from Abraham, who immigrated into Canaan (i.e., Palestine), and so neither of them seem to have been earlier in the land than the other. Recent views assume that only part of the Israelites migrated to Egypt-as reflected in the Joseph story-and part of them remained in Palestine.  So part of the Canaanite population encountered by the Jews when they entered the Promised Land under Joshua were Israelites, too. Therefore, the Arabs have no  priority  on the land.

To the Arabs Jerusalem is only the third holy city; to the Jews it is the first and only holy city, and Palestine is the place where their original history, their sacred history took place. Besides, to the Arabs Jerusalem is a holy city only insofar as they trace their tradition back to Jewish origins, …

But by their holy war and their  conquest of Palestine the Arabs contributed their share to depriving the Jews of their homeland and so to the making of the Jewish problem, even though one must concede that their share is comparatively smaller than that of other peoples. The stand the Arabs take, however, with regard  to  the Jews, is exactly the one which all peoples of the world are taking. No people, unfortunately, understands why it should contribute anything to. the solution of the Jewish problem. (


          As well known, in 1948, the Jews established, in part of historic Israel, a State, and the Arabs, given the opportunity, refused to establish an indendent state, on the theory that “ no cake” is better than “half a cake”. Israel survived 1948, Nasser’s manipulations in 1956, the Six Day Way, and more. But the questions remained. So, I went back to my notes and I found an essay I have written, when I was still a college undergrad, and was published, in the letters column, by one of the greatest literary journals of the period, the Saturday Review of Literature, April 26, 1969, edited at that time by Norman Cousins. By way of reference, if today, your doctor is treating you, not  only physically, but also on the basis of improving your mood and attitude during severe illness, thank Norman Cousins, who shifted medical attitudes by recording his own battle with severe illness.


So, here is my essay, written just a few years after the 6 Day War, when Israel sat atop Golan, Sinai, and the West Bank, and waited for the Arab nations to sit down and talk peace. There was, at that time, the Khartoum Declaration, 3 Nos: no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it,


I think, for a college junior, I made a great case for the historicity of the Jewish presence in ancient Israel. Keep in mind, that before Google, you had to actually read a book to find information!


Disputed Palestine

DAVID SHOBE [Book Forum, Apr. 12] claims that from 638 to 1250 A.D. Palestine was ruled by Arabs. I will grant that it was ruled by Arabic-speaking peoples, but it was as Moslems that these people viewed themselves, not as Arabs. That is why Saladin, whom Mr. Shobe claims as an Arab, could restore Moslem rule to  Palestine,  even though he was Kurdish,  not  Arabic ,  by birth.


Mr. Shobe plays down the Jewish occupancy, claiming Jewish rule extended from 1020 to 721 B.C. This is ridiculous: 1020 is already halfway into the reign of  King Saul, centuries after the conquest of Palestine by Joshua. I trust more  in  the  record of the Pharaoh Merneptah, who  in  1230 B.C., claimed to have conquered "the people of Israel." Perhaps Mr. Shobe does not consider a people to rule over an area until they are united under a monarchy, in which case one would insist that there never was an ancient Greece , since it was divided into several city-states .

For your reference:


Merneptah Stele Inscription “Israel is laid waste—its seed is no more.”

 This reference is to the existence of Israelites in the land of Canaan even before the conquest by the children of Israel- because we understand from Jacob’s own words, that he had taken Shechem in his day:B’charbi u’bekashti-with my sword and my bow.


The  other  date  Mr.  Shobe  gives  is 721B.C. , but it is only the date  of  the  fall  of the Northern Kingdom ( Israel ) to Assyria. He ignores  the  fact  that  the Southern Kingdom  (Judah)  remained  until  586  B.C., when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians.

How else do we know that there were ancient Israelites and Judeans there, since the Bible is considered a one-sided evidence?

An inscription found in the 1880, in an underground water tunnel, at the Siloam spring( Shiloach), verifying the Bible’s account of the digging of such a tunnel by King Hezekiah.

The Moabite Steel, by King Meesha, paralleling the Israelite version, around 840 BCE. Our version says we won, his version says he won, but otherwise, the accounts agree.

A calendar, in ancient Biblical Hebrew, circa 925 BCE.



However, despite population deportations by the conquerors,  a large  part of the population of both kingdoms  remained behind. With the rise of the Persian Empire, the deported Jews were allowed to return   and   re-establish   a homeland in 538 B.C. ; by 516, they had rebuilt the Temple. Palestine remained occupied by Jews, but under Persian and Greek rule till 167 B.C., when , by revolution , the Jews won their independence; this lasted till 63 B.C.. when the Romans took control.  However, the Jews retained much autonomy till 44 A.D.

Because of increasing Roman oppression there was a revolution  that  lasted from  67 to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. with resistance continuing for three more years till the fall of Masada. This is generally considered the end of Jewish rule; however, from 115-117 A.D. in Egypt, Cyrene, Cyprus, and Mesopotamia And from 132-135 A.D. in Palestine under Bar Kochba, more wars for independence  were fought. Although the deaths from these revolts ran well into the hundreds of thousands , there remained a Jewish community in Palestine, which was ruled by a patriarchate. This government lasted till  425 A.D., when it was abolished by a Christian emperor. The Jewish community itself remained    in   Palestine   until   the  Crusaders wiped  out  a  large  part  of  the population; however,  Jews  soon  returned and re-established enclaves in Palestine that still exist.

Jewish rule, whether as a union of tribes , as a monarchy, or as a patriarchate, lasted from at least 1230 B.C . to 425 A.D., at least 1,655 years, not 200 years as Mr. Shobe claims.

What did we produce in those years the author claimed we had already vanished?

The final consensus body of the Bible.

The Apocrypha, books that were not incorporated into the Bible.

The Dead Sea Scrolls.

Pharisaic Judaism.

Early Christianity ( till it split off).

After the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the rebranding of Judea as Palestina, we continued to produce in the land of Israel:

The pre-Mishnaic codes

The core structure of Jewish prayer, shared by Jews everywhere as well as religious poetry, the Piyutim still used today.

The Mishnah, the foundation of Jewish Law.

The Palestinian, or better, the Yerushalmi ( Jerusalem) version of Talmud.

The major Midrashic compendia.

The authoritative scroll of the Torah, used world wide.

The authoritative punctuated and vocalized edition of the Bible, used world-wide, and the basis for major Bible translations used by Christians today.

Even after the Crusades, which damaged the extent Jewish community heavily, we continued to produce:

The major system of Kabbalah, of the Ari, Lurianic Kabbalah.

The foundation code of Jewish law, the Shulkhan Arukh.

Major works of Jewish liturgy-Lecha Dodi, Yah Ribbon.

Even our Messianic rebellion, under Shabtai Zvi, had its base in, of all places, Gaza!

All of this was done, when even by common belief, Jews were no longer present.


By the way, you may have seen interviews of ordinary West Bank Palestinians, as to what major leaders or figures the people of Palestine have produced ( besides Yaser Arafat, born in Egypt), they will tell you—zilch! You can watch this on your own: Palestinians: Name an important Palestinian in history?



Michael Spear 's prattle about Aryan races [Book Forum, Apr. 12] could only have been taken  from  the  same  experts  that taught Hitler. Mr. Spear knows nothing of either "races" or language groups.


His first term is Hamitic--this is now used to refer to the ancient Egyptians, and today's Coptics and Ethiopians, as a language group. Although the Canaanites were called the "sons of Ham" in the Bible, they were Semites, as were most of the other peoples  Mr. Spear mentioned.


The terms Semites, Aryans, and Hamites are not racial, but linguistic. Semitic languages are spoken today only by the Israelis and the Arabs , but in  the  past,  they  were the languages of the Mesopotamian  valley, the Fertile Crescent, and the Arabian Penninsula. Aryan refers to the language group that originated in the Iranian plateau and spread to Europe,  where  these  people formed the Germanic, Romance, and Slavic languages of today,  and  to  India,  where they developed Sanskrit and modern Hindi. Any linguist will affirm that the resemblance of  Semitic  to  Aryan  languages is nil.   


There were two movements of Indo­ Europeans ( the term is preferrable to Aryan because of the Nazi connotations) into Palestine. The first came in the seventeenth century B.C. ( not 3800 B.C.) and  were soon absorbed by the population. The so­ called "Jewish nose," which appears in only 14 per cent of the Jewish population, is characteristic of this "Aryan" people. The second group were the refugees of the Minoan and Mycenaean civilizations of Crete and Greece, who came to Palestine as the Philistines at the same time that Joshua led the Israelites in.


lt is true that in 3800 B.C. there were non-Semites in the Mesopotamian Valley­ but they were not Aryans. The Sumerians, not the Akkadians, were there, and they spoke a language of an unidentified group. The Akkadians came to Mesopotamia some time afterwards,  and  adopted  the  culture of the Sumerians , but retained their Semitic tongue. Mr. Spear now confuses these Akkadians with the Amorites, who did not appear till the twenty-first century B.C., when they left the desert and overran the Sumero-Akkadians to the east ( Hammurabi, the law-maker of Babylon , was an Amorite) and entered Palestine to the west, to form, with other Semitic predecessors, the Canaanite peoples that greeted Abraham. The Amorites were closely related to the Hebrews - common Amorite names were Abram, Jacob, Benjamin, Zebulun.

The Hebrew tribes were themselves part of a large group of peoples speaking an Aramaic-Semitic dialect. These people came into Syria and Palestine in the second half of the second millennium. The Hebrews, however, adopted  almost  entirely  the language of the Canaanites, and this became Hebrew. Without a doubt, the Hebrews not only adopted the language and the customs, but also absorbed the population by intermarriage.

The Arabs were merely the last wave of Semitic expansion out of the desert.

Just an aside, there is a Palestinian case that their DNA is that of the original Canaanites. That’s their claim, a genetic claim. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty of DNA genealogical research, but Jewish DNA, even the “Ashkenazic” white European colonialists, is basically similar. Palestinians show more input from the Arabian Peninsula, while Ashkenazim show more influence from Italy, La Dolce Vita. However, basing on DNA can be a racist tool. The true question of indigeneity is what culture does the claimant bear? The only peoples who adhere, and have adhered consistently, to the indigenous culture of the land of Israel, are the Samaritans, who bear what may be the traditions of northern Israel, and the Jews, Judeans. We bear in the Hebrew Bible, the traditions of both ancient Israelite kingdoms, the wars against the Canaanite and Phoenician Baal, and the poetry of ancient Canaan. We bear the use of the ancient language of the Land of Israel, Hebrew, as well as the variation of the old alef-bet which we now use. We took the land of Israel with us wherever we went. We refused to give in to the colonizers and conquerors, wherever we were. The Palestinians no longer bear that indigenous heritage, but , to the most part, if they are descendants of the original Israelites, then they betrayed that heritage when they adopted either the Greek and Latin versions of Christianity, or Islam and  the Arabic language.

Mr. Spear mentions the Khibiri ( habiru, hapiru , abiru) of Tel el Amarna fame. However, this  does  not  refer  to  an  ethnic  or  language group, but means a class of wandering laborers, mercenaries, and semi-nomads; each one of the peoples mentioned had their beginnings as Khibiru.

Norbert   Weinberg,

New York, N.Y


I think I did a decent job, at the age of 20, of stating the case for the antiquity of the Jews.