A Research Journey: From the Père Lachaise Cemetery to the Waddesdon Manor to Ramat Hanadiv


In my book Ideology and Landscape, which is about reinterring Zionist leaders in the homeland, I devoted a chapter to the reburial of Baron Edmond de Rothschild in Ramat Hanadiv. He and his wife Ada (Adelheid) were reinterred there in April 1954 in an imposing public ceremony. An Israeli battleship brought the coffins from Marseille to Haifa, and from there they were transported to the majestic burial estate south of the Carmel.

Tisha B’Av’s Place in Contemporary Society


Every year camp counselors confront a dilemma: what content is appropriate for Tisha B’Av when this fast day occurs during the camp season. Should the campers be expected to fast? The counselors? In many cases, commemorating Tisha B’Av is reduced to cancelling swimming or programming an activity related to the rabbinic midrash of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza on the destruction of the Temple. What indeed is Tisha B’Av’s place in contemporary society?

Israeli Identity 101


The recent Pew Survey on Israel, conducted from fall 2014-Spring 2015 examined the religious identity of Israelis. The survey was comprehensive in scope – beyond any previous survey of this type. Over 5,500 Israelis were interviewed face to face, some 3,800 Jews and 1,700 non-Jews.

David Raziel: A Pre-State Hero’s Story of Final Rest


In one part of the military cemetery in Jerusalem stands a lone and unusual gravestone, marking the grave of David Raziel, Commander of Etzel (also known as the Irgun, a Zionistparamilitary organization that operated in Mandate Palestine between 1931 and 1948). Not many are aware that this is Raziel’s third resting spot, after he was first interred in a British military cemetery in Iraq and later moved to a Jewish cemetery in Cyprus.

The Book of Chronicles and the Ephraimites that Never Went to Egypt


Did the story of the exodus really happen? Did the entire Israelite people suffer slavery in Egypt before arriving in the land of Canaan? Many historians question this. They point to the lack of solid archeological evidence. More traditional scholars argue that the lack of evidence is an argument from silence. It is only natural that the Egyptian kings and scribes would fail to document the humiliating story of the Israelite rebellion and exodus. There is, however, a third alternative to the question of the exodus’ historicity.

Adding Adar Bet: Striking a Balance


This Hebrew year consists of thirteen months rather than twelve. Jews throughout the world will add (“intercalate”) a second month of Adar this year, in order to insure that Passover falls in the spring. Although we think of it as the Jewish calendar, the calendar of twelve “lunations”, 29 or 30 day months corresponding to the cycle of the moon – whose 354-day years are adjusted to the solar year of 365 days by intercalating a thirteenth month every two or three years – was the most common calendar in the ancient world.

The Menorah: Spanning the Entire Zionist Spectrum from Herzl to HaRav Kook


On Chanukah in the year 1897, shortly after the First Zionist Congress was held, Theodore Herzl wrote an article called “The Menorah,” in which he compared himself to the shamash that lights and wakes Jews of all affiliations. Recent research on Herzl and his family points to the bond between Judaism and Zionism that was the cornerstone of his Zionist thought. Herzl was not raised as an Orthodox Jew nor did he become such, yet the shift in his attitude towards Jews of different stripes represented a move away from the assimilationist stance of his youth, when he was alienated from Judaism.

Uncovering Women’s Lives in the Cairo Geniza


In his monumental work, A Mediterranean Society, S.D. Goitein devoted an entire chapter of Volume III to “The World of Women.” This was an unusual step for any Jewish historian, but Goitein was truly an unusual scholar. He had studied and analyzed an endless number of documents from the Cairo Geniza brought back from Egypt to Cambridge by Solomon Schechter in the late 19th century. Goitein realized that they unearthed information about a medieval society that defied all of the classic expectations regarding Jewish life in the Middle Ages. For him, Geniza society which dated from 950-1250, was a dynamic and surprisingly mobile conglomeration of Jews living in the Mediterranean.

Sukkot: Celebrating Jerusalem as the Center of the Earth


One of the most curious phenomena associated with the rituals of the Second Temple Judaism is the water libation offered at the Temple on Sukkot. The Torah prescribes a very strict and detailed regime of sacrifices: these include offerings of incense and livestock; grain in various forms, sometimes mixed with oil and frankincense; and libations of wine upon the altar. The exact composition of the offering appropriate for each occasion is strictly regulated; violation of these strictures, and the unauthorized offering of sacrifices on the Temple altar, are considered serious offenses.