Today on Tablet

Kirsch on the quasi-Jewish Dönme


Today in Tablet Magazine, Adam Kirsch reviews a new book about the Dönme—a small group of Sephardim once based in Salonika, Greece, who subscribed to the teachings of the heretic Sabbatai Zevi and converted to Islam, but also maintained observance of much Jewish ritual. “The Dönme may not have been Jews,” Kirsch writes, “but they functioned in the Turkish imagination as Jews—they were clannish, untrustworthy outsiders, who were actually more threatening than the actual Jews because they had so long pretended to be Muslims.” The Scroll will update you with the latest on Jewish news and opinions all day.

What Has ‘Invention of the Jewish People’ Invented?

Nextbook author Halkin takes prominent book to task

The Western Wall during Tisha B'Av, July 2009.(Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)

Hillel Halkin—whose biography of 12th-century Jewish poet Yehuda Halevi is forthcoming from Nextbook Press—reviews Shlomo Sand’s much-discussed The Invention of the Jewish People in The New Republic. (Evan R. Goldstein reviewed it for Tablet Magazine.) Halkin is not a fan; specifically, he deplores Sand’s allegedly ahistorical charge that Jews only began to conceive of themselves as a coherent people in the mid-1800s. Halkin concludes his review with a mini-manifesto, about Jewish historical writing and its relation to the Jewish present, that is worth flagging:

If Israel is going to be Jewish and fully democratic, it will have to find other ways for non-Jews to become Jews, or to identify with Jews, than the forbidding Orthodox conversion that is currently their sole societal option. A revival of historical interest in how, in certain times and places in the past, non-Jews have been successfully integrated into the Jewish people in large numbers, and without too many questions asked, might be a contribution to such a process.

Indecent Proposal

Related: Yehuda Halevi [Nextbook Press]
Inventing Israel [Tablet Magazine]

Earlier: ‘Times’ Weighs In on ‘The Invention of the Jewish People’

Daybreak: Silicon Valley, Israel

Plus we welcome our robotic Israeli overlords, and more in the news


• David Brooks sees Israel’s economic success and start-up culture as “the fruition of the Zionist dream,” which nonetheless threatens the long-term viability of the state’s secular, modern, and democratic character. [NYT]
• Israel will never give up control of united Jerusalem, including those areas on the Arab side of the Green Line, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asserted. [Haaretz]
• “Israel is developing an army of robotic fighting machines,” this article begins. [WSJ]
• U.S. National Security Adviser Jim Jones arrives in Jerusalem today for government and military talks. [JPost]
• Mina Bern, one of the major stars of the Yiddish stage in Poland, Russia, Israel, and New York City, died at 98. [Forward]
• And, as The Scroll noted last night, Miep Gies, who helped protect Anne Frank’s family and was the one who first recovered her diary, died at 100. [NYT]

Miep Gies Is Dead

Anne Frank protector who saved diaries after arrest was 100

Gies in her Amsterdam apartment in 1998.(

Miep Gies, who with three others sheltered eight Dutch Jews from the Nazis in a secret annex to Otto Frank’s Amsterdam office during World War II, died Monday night at the age of 100. She was an employee of Frank’s business who helped protect the Frank family; another family, the van Pels; and her dentist, Fritz Pfeffer, after the Germans occupied the Netherlands and started deporting Jews in 1942. When the Gestapo raided the annex on August 4, 1944, arresting the hidden Jews and sending them to concentration camps, Gies avoided arrest and saved the papers of the teenaged Anne. After the war, when only Otto Frank returned from the camps, Gies gave him his daughter’s diary, which was first published in the Netherlands in 1947. Gies, who remained anonymous until an American author identified her and helped her publish an autobiography, Anne Frank Remembered, in 1987, was subsequently honored with West Germany’s highest civilian medal in 1989 and knighted by Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands in 1996. “I am not a hero,” she wrote in Anne Frank Remembered. “I stand at the end of the long, long line of good Dutch people who did what I did and more—much more—during those dark and terrible times years ago, but always like yesterday in the heart of those of us who bear witness.”

Miep Gies, Protector of Anne Frank, Dies at 100 [NYT]

Sundown: All Mitchell Is Saying Is Give Peace A Chance

Plus world’s best boxer scared of Jews’ best boxer, and more


• Special Envoy George Mitchell is in Paris, requesting French and European Union support for the new U.S. effort to bring the Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. He is in Brussels tomorrow. [JPost]
• Manny Pacquaio, generally agreed to be the world’s best boxer, did not want to fight his fellow welterweight Yuri Foreman, who is a practicing Orthodox Jew. The Filipino megastar’s main concern is the five-and-a-half inches Foreman has on him. [LAT via JTA]
• A Chabad rabbi in upstate New York pleaded guilty to child endangerment over allegedly touching two boys inappropriately. [WTEN Albany]
• Swastikas and other graffiti were found spray-painted on an Orthodox synagogue in Sacramento, California. [JTA]
• The New York Times Book Review favorably reviewed Tablet Magazine columnist Seth Lipsky’s The Citizen’s Constitution. [NYTBR]

Make Casspi An All Star!

Campaign to send Israeli NBAer to Dallas game


Omri Casspi, the Sacramento Kings rookie who is the first Israeli to play in the NBA, has been tearing it up as of late, averaging a respectable 13 points a game (which is bound to rise now that he’s been starting more and more). So it’s not too late to vote him into the NBA All-Star Game, held next month in Dallas. It is, however, too late to start a special Twitter feed devoted specifically to getting Casspi into the game: Yediot Ahronoth’s has already got that beat covered. Check it out!

Casspi4Allstar (via Kaplan’s Korner)

German Woman Who Conspired Against Hitler Dies

Von Moltke, 98, also essential reading for historians


When one thinks of Righteous Gentiles, one thinks of Raoul Wallenberg or (more complicatedly) Oskar Schindler—non-Jews who saved Jews from the Nazis’ policy of extermination. But expand the definition, and such a one as Freya von Moltke, who recently died at 98, is appropriately included. What Moltke did was join her husband, Count Helmuth James von Moltke, in organizing the so-called Kreisau circle—named after the Moltke family estate at which it convened—to come up with ways to depose Hitler during the war (it is unclear whether her husband was in direct contact with the military conspirators who attempted to assassinate the Führer). The New York Times notes:

Mrs. Moltke could have faced the death penalty simply for serving food and drinks to the conspirators. … She contributed ideas, particularly on legal issues, and her expertise. In an enduring contribution, she gathered up Kreisau circle documents and letters from her husband and hid them in the estate’s beehives. In 1990 she published them as Letters to Freya. The papers have proved valuable to scholars for their gripping portrayal of heroic, almost certainly futile resistance.

Emphasis on heroic.

Freya von Moltke, Part of a Core of Nazi Resistance, Is Dead at 98 [NYT]

The Jewish Taliban

Are the Pashtun people really the Lost Tribe of Ephraim?


An Indian geneticist is conducting serious scholarship over whether the ethnic group that makes up the Taliban descends from the ancient Israeli tribe of Ephraim—serious enough that Israel has given him a generous scholarship to study the matter further with Israeli scientists in Haifa. Under the theory, the Pashtun people, who live in eastern and southern Afghanistan and northwest Pakistan, are Jews twice removed. How? Most in the area accept that the Pashtuns descend from the Afridi Pathans; and the Afridi Pathans, in turn, have been thought for over a millennium to derive from a group of Israelites who migrated east as early as 2700 B.C.E. If it turns out that Mullah Omar is your cousin, expect Mullah Omar to feel at least as uneasy about it as you do.

Are Taliban Descendants of Israelites?

Oliver Stone Calls Hitler ‘Easy Scapegoat’

New documentary may prove slightly controversial

Stone in Pasadena this weekend.(Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images))

We’re guessing this won’t be the last time you hear about this. Oliver Stone has directed a 10-part documentary for Showtime called Secret History of America. It will, among other things, try to draw some revisionist shades of gray when it comes to Adolph Hitler. Said the controversial filmmaker:

Hitler is an easy scapegoat throughout history and it’s been used cheaply. He’s the product of a series of actions. It’s cause and effect … People in America don’t know the connection between WWI and WWII … I’ve been able to walk in Stalin’s shoes and Hitler’s shoes to understand their point of view. We’re going to educate our minds and liberalize them and broaden them. … Go into the funding of the Nazi party. How many American corporations were involved, from GM through IBM. Hitler is just a man who could have easily been assassinated.

Actually, many people in America do know the connection between the two world wars (briefly, the overly punitive peace imposed on Germany in 1919 cultivated a climate well-suited to Nazism). Many are also aware that IBM and others were complicit, or worse, in some of Nazi Germany’s actions. Stone’s “history,” in other words, is hardly “secret.” If he wants a better word to describe it, we have a few ideas.

Oliver Stone’s ‘Secret History’ To Put Hitler ‘In Context’ [The Live Feed via Jeffrey Goldberg]

Today on Tablet

Schmooozin’, Y-A Holocaust novels, and more


Today in Tablet Magazine, on the weekly Vox Tablet podcast, editor, writer, and publisher Daniel Menaker, an amateur chatter of the highest order, discusses fine conversation with Joshua Halberstam, the author of Schmoozing. Parenting columnist Marjorie Ingall asks various writes to recall the young-adult Holocaust novels that traumatized (and morbidly fascinated) them as kids. Josh Lambert anticipates several books for grown-ups set to come out soon. And, to return to the theme of schmoozing, we hope to do the ancient art justice today on The Scroll.

Orthodox Syngagogues Grow in Brooklyn

Does an outer-borough trend have larger meaning?


Over the weekend, in the course of a feature-y “journal” about a fledgling Conservative synagogue in Queens, the New York Times noticed an interesting trend regarding outer-borough Jewish houses of worship:

Conservative and Reform temples have been closing or merging across Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx for decades now as younger non-Orthodox Jews moved away. There are 35 Conservative and 3 Reform synagogues left in Queens, compared with the 43 Conservative and 8 Reform ones of two decades ago … Only Orthodox houses of worship seem to be on the upswing, with 115 synagogues that have attracted not just the adult children of booming pious communities like that in Kew Gardens Hills, but also new immigrants like those from Uzbekistan.

This tendency does not necessarily indicate a larger one across the country (it’s very unlikely, for example, that any other U.S. city experiences anywhere near the influx of foreign Orthodox Jews that New York does). Still, doesn’t the same pattern feel plausible nationally? Jews on the more intense end of the observance spectrum grow yet more observant, while Jews on the less intense end stop observing altogether?

An Old Synagogue Downsizes in a Desperate Bid to Keep Itself Alive [NYT]

Daybreak: An Uprising Will Not Arise

Plus Bush sold Arab states advanced weapons, and more in the news


• Despite fears, most West Bank observers believe that an intifada-style uprising is highly unlikely in the near future. They point to a weak Palestinian leadership, tight Israeli control, and a burgeoning economy. [LAT]
• Obama administration officials have disclosed to Israel that the Bush administration sold advanced air and naval weapons systems to Egypt, Saudia Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The transactions were designed to counteract Iran. [Haaretz]
• Israel approved plans to construct a $1.5 billion security fence on its Egyptian border, to halt the inflow of illegal immigrants and terrorists. [Arutz Sheva]
• Iron Dome, the short-range rocket defense system that Israel successfully tested last week, will take years to implement, Defense Minister Ehud Barak announced. He added that, one in place, it could significantly reduce hostilities. [AP/WP]
• Moises Saba, one of Mexico’s biggest businessmen—he owned a television network, a phone company, and two Acapulco hotels—died in a plane crash. He was 47. [JPost]

Sundown: Al Qaeda Think It’s Too Cool For Hamas

Plus post-Holocaust Picassos, Vampire Weekend’s Jewishness, and more


• A new study argues that al Qaeda has spurned Hamas’s desire for closer cooperation. The global jihadist network is concerned that Hamas’s jihadist intentions are not quite global enough. [Ynet]
• Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her Jordanian counterpart met today in Washington, D.C. They both hit the same note afterward: Israel and the Palestinians should settle border disputes, including East Jerusalem, to the point that they can sit down and talk again. [Haaretz]
• In the 1930s, a German Jew sold three Picassos out of fear that the Nazis would confiscate them. Almost 80 years later, his heirs have finally gotten them back. [CBC News via Vos Iz Neias?]
• Indie band Vampire Weekend’s lead singer and co-songwriter chastised critics who bemoan the band’s “whiteness,” saying, “The two main writers in the band are Jewish and Persian, which is a pretty broad definition of ‘whiteness.’” [Prefix]
• In case you were wondering why every nebbish Jewish guy who is able to attract women owes half their paycheck to Woody Allen, this 1965 Smirnoff ad is why. [Heeb]

A Peace Idea Just Crazy Enough To Work

Did a city councilor just figure out the East Jerusalem problem?


The East Jerusalem issue is perhaps the most contentious divide between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they try to establish the groundwork for peace negotiations. But I’m wondering if we have not just seen the inkling of a too-clever, legalistic, but nonetheless workable breakthrough. Jerusalem Councilor Yakir Segev, whose specific purview is East Jerusalem, asserted yesterday that certain Palestinian neighborhoods that are in East Jerusalem (that is, east of the Green Line) but on the Palestinian side of the separation barrier are “no longer part of the city” (my bold). He added:

The Jerusalem municipality has no hand in managing these neighborhoods, and doesn’t have the power to address the difficult situation facing the 55,000 people who live there. … The State of Israel has given up. [The neighborhoods] are outside the jurisdiction of the state, and certainly the municipality. For all practical purposes, they are Ramallah.

(To be sure, Segev, who is on the right, also defended Jerusalem’s practice of approving Jewish construction in other parts of East Jerusalem.)

Here is the situation: Israel wants Jerusalem to be the undivided capital of the Jewish state; the Palestinians want East Jerusalem—all of the city east of the Green Line (as opposed to the security barrier)—to be within (and likely the capital of) a future Palestinian state. In fact, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has vociferously insisted that East Jerusalem be on the table in any peace talks, and has demanded a construction freeze there before any talks commence.

And here, just maybe, is the solution: Israel defines certain areas of East Jerusalem as no longer Jerusalem. Israel can tell itself that Jerusalem remains its undivided capital. Meanwhile, the Palestinians gain sovereignty over at least some of what has historically been, and could plausibly continue to be considered, the City of Gold.

This would not completely solve the problem. After all, even if Segev’s remarks became official Israeli policy, most of East Jerusalem would remain in Israeli hands. It’s hard to conceive of a final settlement in which those sections of the city are not at least under international control. But might this step—which, whatever you may think of its paltriness, is a concession—be enough to get Abbas to the negotiating table? Salesman’s gotta dream ….

Jerusalem Official: Areas East of Security Boundary Not Part of the City [Haaretz/Forward]
Earlier: Abbas Insists on East Jerusalem
The Road Map to Real Negotiations

A Blog You Should Be Reading (Besides The Scroll)

#FollowFriday: FailedMessiah


Today, the New York Times profiles one of Tablet Magazine’s favorite bloggers: Shmarya Rosenberg, proprietor of FailedMessiah. Born Scott Rosenberg to a Conservative Jewish family, Rosenberg was attracted to the Chabad Lubavitcher sect in his teens (whence the name change), before, several years later, falling out with it over what he considered their inappropriate messianic street (whence the name of his blog), as well as their failure to fervently stand up for Ethiopian Jews wishing to emigrate to Israel.

Since 2004, Rosenberg has document-dumped and muckraked, in the process uncovering various scandals in the Orthodox community:

Operating thousands of miles from the centers of ultra-Orthodox Judaism in Brooklyn and Jerusalem, waking at 3:30 A.M. and working a dozen hours at a stretch in an apartment cluttered with books, Mr. Rosenberg has had his scoops cited by The Wall Street Journal, Columbia Journalism Review, PR Week and Gawker. The national Jewish newspaper The Forward listed him among the 50 most influential American Jews, and the hip, cheeky magazine Heeb put him in its top 100.

So put FailedMessiah on your RSS. It’s on ours.

A Jewish Blogger Finds a Following By Digging in The Dirt [NYT]

Related: FailedMessiah

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.