The Simple Grain That Saved the State of Israel from Starvation

During the period of austerity which accompanied the early years of the State of Israel, the Hadassah organization fought to allow for the import of Bulgur to Israel from the United States.

In 1948, while the fledgling state of Israel was facing a period of austerity and found itself carefully distributing rations, the United States of America was experiencing a surplus of agricultural goods. Among these copious amounts of excess food was a large quantity of the simple cereal grain known as Bulgur.

While Bulgur has only become globally popular in recent years, the grain finds its origins in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Bulgur was long considered a poor man’s food among Middle Eastern Jews as it was often served to impoverished Jewish communities in Yemen and Kurdistan, paired with other ingredients to round out the meal.

In an attempt to resolve the agricultural surplus problem without letting the food go to waste, the US government passed a law that would allow for excess food products to be made available to those in need across the globe through registered volunteer agencies. Crates of food would be made available for the needy – all the agencies had to do was cover the cost of shipping.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America founded by Henrietta Szold, recognized that this new legislation presented a unique opportunity to help the fledgling State of Israel in its time of need. Hadassah was originally founded in order to raise funds for medical care in Israel. In order to make the move over to shipping surplus food, they needed to become a registered voluntary agency and receive approval from the United States State Department – a process that proved to be rather difficult.

Henrietta Szold, founder of Hadassah. From the Schwadron Portrait Collection, the Pritzker Family National Photography Collection at the National Library of Israel.

In his memoir, “Life’s Voyage: Dedicated to Making a Difference”, Maurice D. Atkin who served as Executive Officer and Agriculture Advisor of the Israeli Mission (later, the Israeli Embassy) to the United States, reflects on the action taken by Hadassah to become a Registered Voluntary Agency so they could ensure that parts of the food surplus would be sent to Israel.

“The office of American Voluntary Foreign Aid within the State’s Economic Cooperation Administration set up every obstacle it could think of to hinder if not block the process…After several months and many meetings, Hadassah was approved as a Registered Voluntary Agency entitled to receive surplus commodities for relief distribution abroad.”

After receiving their approval, between 1951 and 1953, Hadassah worked to ship over $20 million worth of surplus food to Israel with similar numbers arriving in subsequent years. With the help of the Jewish Agency who agreed to cover the shipping costs, Hadassah distributed food to absorption centers, welfare agencies, schools and hospitals both Jewish and Arab throughout the country.

US Senator Hubert Humphrey, recalls Atkin, was helpful in ensuring the inclusion of Bulgur in the surplus food program. Humphrey, who would later serve as Vice President, made a statement regarding the par-boiled cracked wheat on the floor of the Senate and, interestingly enough, when the statement was entered into the congressional record, the word was written in Hebrew making it the first instance that the Hebrew language was included in the written congressional record.

The cover of the cookbook “Yemenite and Oriental Food” by Naomi and Shimon Tzabar. From the National Library of Israel collection.

Bulgur has remained a popular food item in Israel and with the rise of healthy eating movements across the western world, the grain has been incorporated into diets in many different countries and cultures. The grain has proven to be very versatile, taking center stage in dishes from simple salads to savory dishes that are cooked for many hours.

One of the first cookbooks published on Jewish food traditions stemming from Middle Eastern traditions, “Yemenite and Mizrahi Foods,” a copy of which is now kept in the National Library of Israel, includes an entire section dedicated to the wonder that is bulgur – or as it is called in the book, Rifot. Feel free to try it and let us know how it turns out!

Recipe for Haris from the cookbook “Yemenite and Oriental Food” by Naomi and Shimon Tzabar. From the National Library of Israel collection.


2 cups of Rifot (Bulgur)

500 grams of beef bones

Whole Onion

Whole Tomato

Hawaij (spice mix)


Clean and rinse the bulgur. Boil half a pot of water. After the water boils, add the bones, the onion, the hawaij and the salt. Stir and add the tomato and the bulger. Cover the pot and move it to a small flame to cook overnight. Serve hot.

Bonus recipe! 

Meat and Beans:

400 gram of meat (lamb or beef) sliced

200 gram dry white beans

3 tablespoons margarine

2 tablespoons tomato paste

Chopped onions


Black Pepper

Cook the beans in salt water for 30 minutes. Stop cooking them and pour out the water. Sauté the meat in the margarine until lightly browned. Add the onion and sauté for 5minutes until everything is well browned. Add the beans, tomato paste, salt, pepper and water. Cover the pot and cook on a medium flame until the meat and the beans are completely softened.


Discover a world of Jewish cooking:

Exploring the Mysteries of Jewish Cuisine

The Book That Taught Europeans How to Cook in Palestine

The Strange Connection Between a Medieval Shopping List and a Divorce Contract


The Nuremberg Laws: The Ban Against Jewish Blood

At an assembly of the Nazi Party in September 1935, the Reichstag passed laws that stripped German Jews of their citizenship

From the moment of their appearance on the stage of history, the National-Socialist Movement, its leader, Adolph Hitler, and his immediate associates left no room for doubt regarding their racist views, mainly concerning Jews. The anti-Semitic assassinations carried out by the Nazis already in the days of the Weimar Republic was certainly not exceptions to the rule, and Hitler himself often referred to Jews in both his speeches and his writings. The Nazi leader and his supporters believed that the Jews were responsible for a long succession of ailments in German society in particular, and in human society overall.

These crude and unsophisticated ideas were fed by old anti-Semitic prejudices that had existed in various European societies from as early as the Middle Ages. Beginning in the last years of the 19th century, various racial theories gradually gained acceptance among Western anthropologists, and many believed that the health of the human race depended upon the preservation of “racial purity.” When this thinking even became a field of academic research, Nazi hatred of “the non-German races” found very fertile ground in which it could take root.

With the Nazi rise to power on January 30, 1933, aggressive anti-Semitism became a guiding principle for the official policy of the German authorities towards Jews. Already in April 1933, a law was passed enabling the termination of employment of all state employees of Jewish origin. The new rulers of Germany and the inhumane steps they took caused many German Jews to immigrate to other countries including the Land of Israel.

Beginning in 1927, members of the National-Socialist Party started convening in Nuremberg for their annual assemblies. Over time, Nuremberg became the permanent site of the party’s assemblies, which were held there consecutively from 1933-1938. For the seventh assembly of the Nazi Party, in September 1935, thousands of supporters of the regime gathered as usual, and at the last moment, all members of the Reichstag – the German parliament, or, more precisely, the grotesque political body that remained after the Nazis took care to fill the entire chamber from their own ranks – were also invited. In a supposedly democratic move, the heads of the Nazi party introduced three laws for a vote in the Reichstag: the law concerning the German flag, the Reich Citizenship Law, and the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honor.

The three laws were brought up for vote with full Nazi regalia serving as the decorative backdrop, at a mass, showcase event. The members of the Reichstag, needless to say, approved the three laws unanimously. All three pieces of legislation received the status of “Basic Laws”, laws with a fundamental and special significance in terms of the constitutional structure of the country. For those living at the time in Germany – Jewish and non-Jewish citizens alike – the significance of the new legislation was not sufficiently clear. It quickly transpired, however, that the laws passed at Nuremberg, which later were named after the city, in effect brought an end to the process of the emancipation of German Jewry, while stripping them of their citizenship.

One of the first editions of the Nuremberg Laws, including legal interpretation. From the National Library collections.

The practical significance was that the laws derogated the basic rights of Jews, such as the right to vote in political elections, and prohibited marital and extra-marital relations between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans. Persons caught in such relations with a Jew were subject to punishment, and new marriages between Jews and German became impossible. Any new couple of this type was considered guilty of “blood defilement” (Blutschande). Later, terminology was devised for various gradations of “Jewish blood” based on one’s family tree, and categories were established such as “full Jew” (Volljude), “half-Jew” (Halbjude) and “quarter Jew” (Vierteljude), in order to define to whom exactly the Nuremberg Laws applied. During the years of the Nazi regime, these categories determined who would live and who would die, and tremendous numbers of people were influenced by them since they were dependent on the legal status accorded to them by the laws.

Understandably, within Nazi Germany, no voice of protest against the Nuremberg Laws was sounded, but outside of Germany, the laws and their ramifications still aroused no outcry or noteworthy public response. Less than one year after the Nuremberg Laws went into effect, most of the world did not see cause to refrain from participating in the Berlin Olympic Games, and today, it is known that many of the delegations adhered to the racist German policy: not only did Germany prevent Jewish athletes from participating in the competitions, but even the American delegation hesitated to allow for Jews to appear in the games.

The Nuremberg Laws remained in effect until the end of the Third Reich and were also implemented in Austria after it joined Germany in 1938, as well as in all of the territories occupied by Germany during WWII. In September 1945, these laws were annulled by the Allied Powers while they were administering occupied Germany. Both the Nazi assemblies in Nuremberg and the demonstrative act of legislating the Nuremberg Laws in the same city, served as criteria for the selection of Nuremberg as a symbolic site for the foundational event at the end of the war: the trials against the heads of the Nazi regime and its chief criminals, which began in November 1945, were held in the same city whose name signified the race laws. Now, the city would be forever branded by the expression “The Nuremberg Trials.”

Wilhelm Stuckart and Hans Globke’s interpretation of the race laws, 1936. This copy was part of the chief prosecutor’s library in Vienna, even before Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938, as can be seen by the seal.

In this context, it is fitting to tell the story of one Dr. Hans Globke, a legal expert who was among those quick to praise the Nuremberg Laws in 1935, yet when they were canceled with the defeat of Germany, his legal career did not end.

As a senior official in the Prussian Ministry of the Interior, Globke was one of the first lawyers to publish a scholarly interpretation of the Nuremberg Laws. In 1936, together with Wilhelm Stukart, he published a detailed commentary with a long introduction, a text that exuded Nazi ideology. However, with the end of WWII, his great legal knowledge opened new horizons for him in the “new Germany.” After 1949, he became a close associate of Chancellor Adenauer and ultimately, and was ultimately even appointed Chief of Staff of the Chancellory of West Germany in 1953. Globke served in this key role until Adenauer’s resignation in 1963.

The burgeoning career of a person who had been an ardent supporter of the Nazi race laws aroused grave doubts among many in Germany and the world as to the reliability and validity of the “new Germany” that emerged after WWII and the Third Reich.


If you liked this article, try these:

All that Remains of “The Great Unknown”

These Currency Bills Were Used in the Theresienstadt Ghetto

The Jewish Lawyer Who Drafted the Constitution of the Weimar Republic

Four Ketubot and a Wedding

Okay, two weddings, but this is still the strangest story you will have heard in a while...

By Chen Malul

A ketubah is a traditional Jewish wedding contract. As such, it is not a particularly romantic item, and not just for the obvious reasons. Consider, for example, the four ketubot that were recently unearthed by the staff of the National Library’s Manuscripts Department on an old microfilm reel. These four documents appear to attest to a strange sequence of events, and they unfortunately represent the only evidence available…

The first ketubah from Trieste

The story begins in Italy. The year was 1842, and in the port city of Trieste (which served as a free-trade zone of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) the dear bride-groom Jehoiakim ben Shimon Schulhaff was being wed to the honorable virgin Leah bat Yaakov Gabriel. The groom’s signature and that of the two witnesses at the bottom of the ketubah sealed its validity. But, apparently, the groom did not hold up his end of the bargain, failing to financially support his bride, and soon enough she was married to another suitor.

A year and a half after the lavish seaside wedding at Trieste, a second ketubah was inscribed, but not signed, in another Italian port city, Ancona. On the thirteenth day of the month of Iyar, in the year 5604 (1844), the same young lady – Leah bat Yaakov Gabriel – was to be married once again. This time, the groom answered to the name Joseph ben Yehuda Schwarzenberg.

The second ketubah from Ancona

Neither the groom’s signature, nor the two required witness signatures appear in this second ketubah. This made it a matter of no consequence whatsoever for our honorable bride to be married yet another time, this time to (according to our best estimation) the former groom’s brother – Gershon ben Yehuda Schwarzenberg. Did this unusual arrangement for a wedding offer any benefit to the Schwarzenberg family? Perhaps they got a better deal on the catering? Whatever the reason – the ketubah indicates that this festive event took place on the sixteenth day of Iyar, only three days after the date on the previous ketubah. This time, the wedding was supposedly held on the Mediterranean island of Corfu, raising the possibility that the whole episode was a ruse meant to disguise the smuggling of the couple out of Italy. The third ketubah is also unsigned, meaning the union was never given the kosher seal of approval, the document remaining null and void.

The third ketubah from Corfu

This fact, however, served to enable the existence of the aforementioned fourth ketubah! This wedding would be held even further away from Italy, on the shores of the same sea but on a different continent. The event was to be set in Alcara (near Fustat), part of modern-day Cairo in Egypt.

Ketubah number four was composed and signed on the 29th of the same month and year as the previous two. The newlyweds were the same couple appearing on the Corfu ketubah – Gershon ben Yehuda Schwarzenberg and Leah bat Yaakov Gabriel. This time, the document was signed. Incidentally, in the ketubah we see here, the groom’s last name was written incorrectly (“Schwarsenbilgi”), indicating that the scribe was not familiar with Ashkenazi surnames.

The fourth ketubah from Alcara

The National Library’s Manuscripts Department is at a loss as to the meaning and significance of this strange affair. They even declined to comment for this article. At any rate, mazal tov to the newlywed couple!


The National Library of Israel is in possession of the largest collection of ketubot in the world. You can browse through them here.


If you liked this article, try these:

The Jewish Connection of a Jamaican Almanac

The Package is Secure: How Jewish Women Were Smuggled to Safety in 19th Century Italy

Spotting a Fake: The Flourishing Industry of Jewish Manuscript Forgeries


Hermitage Exhibit to Display NLI Afghan Geniza Treasures for First Time

The exhibition "Life in Medieval Khorasan. A Geniza from the National Library of Israel" is on display at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

Documents from the historic Afghan Geniza. Photo by Polina Aizenberg, the National Library of Israel

Some two dozen extremely rare treasures from the National Library of Israel’s Afghan Geniza collection are being displayed to the public for the first time as part of “Life in Medieval Khorasan. A Geniza from the National Library of Israel” at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg. The exhibition also features rare artifacts from the Hermitage’s collections that will give a fuller sense of life in Medieval Khorasan.

The exhibit featuring the National Library’s Afghan Geniza documents at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia

The Afghan Geniza presents virtually the only original documentation about this once-thriving Jewish community on the Silk Road, as well as the region’s Islamic and Persian cultures prior to the devastating Mongol invasion. The 11th-13th century documents provide an unprecedented glimpse into the day-to-day life, society, and economy along the Silk Road, the ancient highway which once linked Europe and China.

A page from an account book containing information about the economic activity of its owner, “Yehuda son of Daniel”, from the early 11th century. The many names of individuals and localities recorded in the book attest to strong ties between this Jewish trader and the Muslim rural and urban populations of Bāmiyān. The National Library of Israel

The National Library of Israel’s Afghan Geniza holdings comprise nearly 300 pages, some 250 of which were acquired in 2016 with the generous support of the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Salomon Fund. It is considered perhaps the most important find of Hebrew manuscripts since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th century.


Much of the collection comes from an archive of the eleventh-century Abu Netzer family of Jewish traders living in and around the city of Bāmiyān, a once-bustling commercial center located on the Silk Road.  One fragment represents the earliest evidence of a rabbinic text found in Persian-speaking lands to the East of the rabbinic centers of Babylon. The collection, written in Persian, Arabic, Aramaic, and Judeo-Persian, also includes legal documents, liturgy, poetry, texts of Jewish law, a historical chronicle, and biblical passages.

This fragment of Tractate Avoda Zara from the Mishnah represents the earliest evidence of a rabbinic text found in Persian-speaking lands to the East of the traditional rabbinic center in Babylonia. The National Library of Israel

“This is a particularly impressive find related to the lives and culture of Jews from this part of the world from the beginning of the second millennium,” explained Prof. Haggai Ben Shammai, a world-renowned expert on Jews of the Islamic world. According to Ben Shammai, the collection is of exceptional importance due to the previous dearth of first-hand accounts and evidence of Jewish life under local dynastic rule. Literary source materials had also been severely lacking until this discovery.

Another portion of the collection contains documents dating from the early 13th century, chronicling the broader Islamic culture on the eve of the devastating Mongol conquests of 1221. As a result of the destruction wrought by Genghis Khan and his army, almost no documentation of the Persian and Arabic culture and language of the region exists besides these documents.

The first few lines of a letter sent by a woman named Nāzuk, daughter of Yosef, to Yehuda, son of Daniel. Nāzuk was either a member of Yehuda’s family or a close friend. For example, she mentions Bā (=Abū) ʿImrān Moshe, probably Yehuda’s son, who came to visit her. This is the only known letter from the family archive thus far to be sent by a woman, though it is not clear if she wrote it herself (early 11th century). The National Library of Israel

Many items in the collection had been part of a local administrator’s archive, and contain administrative documents and fragments of religious and literary works, mainly in Persian. This material provides an unparalleled view into the workings of government administration, politics, and law in the region.

Though later Muslim scholars have written histories of the Islamic dynasties who reigned over the region, this singular collection of primary sources has shed light on uncharted areas of research including economics and geography, as well as  social and political history.

A tax receipt concerning the delivery of 240 mann of wheat to the “royal granary” (anbār-i khāṣṣā) by Aḥmad b. Abū Bakr, an inhabitant of Funduqistān (in the Ghūrband valley). The collection contains around thirty receipts issued in the years 564–566/1169–1171 and 579–581/1183–1185, which provide valuable information regarding the tax collection system of Ghurid Bāmiyān. The National Library of Israel

NLI has digitized the materials and made them available to the international community of scholars and the general public. They will be preserved and displayed in the National Library of Israel’s new landmark campus, now under construction adjacent to the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem.

David Blumberg, Chairman of the National Library of Israel Board of Directors, said, “We are grateful to our partners at the Hermitage for this historic collaboration. The exhibit highlights the National Library of Israel’s role as a dynamic international cultural center dedicated to promoting discourse and opening access to knowledge. It reflects the timeless Jewish values of treasuring the power of texts to unify, educate, and inspire.”

David Blumberg, chairman of the National Library of Israel board of directors, and Mikhail Piotrovsky, director of the State Hermitage Museum, officially open the exhibit

The exhibition curator is Anton Pritula, leading researcher in the State Hermitage Museum’s Oriental Department, PhD in Philology. You can read more about the exhibition here.

The exhibition has been made possible with the generous support of Barbro and Bernard Osher and The David Berg Foundation.


Information on the Afghan Geniza documents included in the captions above is based on research conducted by Ofir Haim.


If you liked this article, try these:

A First Glimpse into the Treasures of the Afghan Geniza

A Personal Story of Migration as Told in a 1000-Year-Old Jewish-Afghan Letter

Rare: A Remnant of One of the Oldest Yom Kippur Prayer Books in the World