How Communist Jews Made the Haggadah as Red as the Blood in the Nile

According to this Soviet Russian Haggadah, the eternal revolution of Marx and Lenin was responsible for liberating the Jews from the bondage of the bourgeois...

“Next year in Jerusalem!” cry the multiple voices of Jews around the world when they finally reach the end of the Seder, the ritual meal of Passover. It is during this never ending meal that Jews recount the road out of slavery towards liberty. This is when parents tell their children that in every generation, every Jew, must consider themselves as though they had been freed from the bondage of Egypt.

Except in Soviet Russia, where a special Haggadah was written and distributed in which the cry for revolution, not Jerusalem, was brought to the table. “This year a revolution here; next year – a world revolution!”

The communist Jews of the early Soviet Union put together special propaganda Haggadot in which the old Jewish traditions were decried and the new communist ideas were embraced. One of them was the Komsomolishe Haggadah, published in Moscow in 1922 by Moshe Altshuler.

Cover of the Komsomolishe Haggadah, 1922

One way in which Altshuler portrayed these new ideas was in using the language of Passover to show how communist ideals have and will continue to spread throughout the world. For example, one of the traditions prior to the celebration of Passover is the removal of leavened bread and products made of wheat in general from the home.

They are then gathered in a pile and set on fire so that they can be destroyed. This is called in Yiddish bdikes-khomets, literally meaning, “checking for chametz “, the remnants of bread and wheat products in the home. Altshuler interprets this bdikes-khomets in this way:

“Five years before the first Komsomol Pesach all Russian proletariat and peasants performed bdikes-khomets in the land. They removed all remnants of the rule of the bourgeoisie and landowners, gained power in their hands and defeated the enemy on all fronts.

In the fire of Great Socialistic Revolution they burned kolchaks, yudeniches, vrangels, denikins, pilsudsskis, petlurs, chernovs, gotzs, dans, martovs, abramoviches and said the brokhe: “All landowners, bourgeois and their minions – Mensheviks, SRs, CaDets, Bundists, Zionists, Poale Zions, Tsaire Zions and all other counter-revolutionists, nuisances, ne’er-do-wells and parasites should be burned in the fire of the Revolution. Those who were already burned, shall never rise again, and as to those who will remain, we will sacrifice them and hand them over to the State Political Directorate.”

Removing the bourgeois chametz, Komsomolishe Haggadah, 1922

What else is there to say?

Altshuler wanted to show the younger generation that the old bourgeois ideas were as bad as khometz during Passover. By using the colloquial language, Yiddish, and the older traditional form of the Haggadah, he made the Soviet revolution accessible to every Jew living in Moscow and beyond.

The Haggadah is chock-full of examples where Altshuler appropriated the religious activities and made them communist for the proliferation of communism. Like the splitting of the matzah (Yechatz – יחץ) in which the revolutionary Proletariat split the control of the means of production from the capitalist bourgeois, the wrapping (Korech – כורך) in which the revolution consumes the bosses and oppressors of the working class, and the sacrifice itself, (Korban Pesach – קרבן פסח), which looks shockingly traditional.

Yachatz, Komsomolishe Haggadah, 1922
Korech, Komsomolishe Haggadah, 1922
Korban Pesach, Komsomolishe Haggadah, 1922

Through all of the above the communist ideals of the Soviet revolution were realized.

This article was written with the help of Dr. Yoel Finkelman, Curator of the Judaica Collection of the National Library of Israel.

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Emmy Noether: The Jewish Mathematician Who Changed the World

Emmy Noether faced many challenges on her way to fulfill her passion for mathematics, as an educated and Jewish woman in Germany between the world wars.

Professor Emmy Noether (on the left) with mathematicians at Göttingen, Spring 1931 From the Emmy Noether Mathematical Institute

The Early Years

The mathematician Amalie Emmy Noether was born in 1882 in Erlangen, Germany, to a traditional Jewish family with a passion for mathematics. Her father, Max Noether, was a renowned professor of mathematics, and her younger brother also worked in the field. Noether originally chose to study teaching – a track open to educated women at the time – and specialized in teaching languages. After completing her studies, she decided to dedicate herself to the family business of mathematics.

But how could she study mathematics at university when women were forbidden to do so? Noether came up with a solution. As she was forbidden from registering herself for studies, she attended lectures of the mathematics department as an observer. Many of the lecturers who taught her were friends and colleagues of her father’s. They were very impressed by the younger Noether’s mathematical prowess, and eventually allowed her to sit in on examinations for the courses she took.

Noether completed her doctorate summa cum laude in 1907.

The Fight for Fulfillment

Noether did not make do with a mere certificate. She wanted to continue to study and teach in the field in which she excelled, but the only positions open to her were those of an unpaid teaching assistant. She couldn’t teach under her name, only under the name of other lecturers.

In 1915 she received an invitation from Felix Klein to join the mathematics department at Göttingen University, where the greatest mathematicians in Germany of the time gathered, at least until the Nazi rise to power. In Göttingen, Noether could teach, for no payment, under the name of the mathematician David Hillbert. Hillbert taught the first class of the course and Noether then taught the rest of the classes as a “teaching assistant”.

Her colleagues, Felix Klein and David Hillbert, tried to help her attain permission to teach at the university under her own name, and sent an application to the Ministry of Education requesting that Noether be given a position as an external lecturer. They expressed their concern that if Noether should not receive a permanent position, she will move to another university and Göttingen University will lose a talented mathematician. The response they received from the Ministry of Education proves that it was impossible for women of that time to teach under their own names and to receive a salary for their work. Talented mathematicians, such as Emmy Noether, were simply unable to advance in their profession and make a living from it.

Letter from the Ministry of Education. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Berlin, July 20, 1917

With regard to accepting women to teaching positions, the regulations of Frankfurt University are identical to those of all the universities: women are not allowed to be appointed to positions of external lecturers. It is completely impossible to make an exception to the rule in one university. Therefore, your concern that Miss Noether will leave, move to Frankfurt and receive a position there is completely unfounded: she will not be given the right to teach there, just as she will not receive such a thing in Göttingen or in any other university. The Minister of Education has expressed this time and time again and emphasized that it supports its predecessor’s instructions, and therefore women will not be permitted to receive teaching positions in universities.

Therefore, there is no concern that you will lose Miss Noether as an external lecturer in Frankfurt University.

Two years later, in June 1919, Noether finally received permission to teach under her own name due to changes in legislation that were passed at the end of the First World War. She received the position of an external lecturer with low wages, without tenure, and without any social benefits.

Noether was glad she could remain and teach in Göttingen. The place was a magnet for the foremost minds of the period, with whom she could hold endless discussions on mathematical topics, express her creative mathematical thinking and continue to develop her work on the topic, which was her greatest desire.

March 12, 1918, a letter to Felix Klein, professor of mathematics in Göttingen on the topic of her research. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Noether was a colorful and cheerful figure. She had round glasses perched on her nose and always dressed in loose comfortable clothes. She was very concerned for her sickly father and brothers. Perhaps she dreamed of love or of children of her own, but she never married and never started a family.

The time she taught in Göttingen, between the two world wars, was a period of flourishing for Noether. She was full of inspiration, generous in her ideas for research and advice for her students and colleagues and she cultivated a group of student-admirers known as “Noether’s children”.

The Nazi Rise to Power: Dismissal of the Jews from Göttingen

Emmy Noether’s letter of dismissal. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

Letter of the Prussian Minister for Science, Art and Adult Education, Berlin, September 2, 1933

The Prussian minister responsible for science, art and adult education,

On the basis of article 3 of “The Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” from April 1933, I nullify your teaching permit in Göttingen University.

Signed, Stuckhart, on behalf of the minister


To the external lecturer Professor Ms. Dr. Emmy Noether in Göttingen.

True copy of the report from August 7, 1933.

For your information, please note and carry out.

The wages of Professor Emmy Noether must be ceased as of end of September 1933.

In Göttingen she encountered the work of Albert Einstein and worded the mathematical equations which stemmed from his general theory of relativity. According to “Noether’s theorem” which deals with the relationship between symmetry and the conservation laws of nature “each law of conservation represents symmetry of the nature at its foundation, and every symmetry in nature provides a law of conservation”. These formulae which Einstein himself was unable to phrase in mathematical language, have tremendous impact on modern physics to this very day.

Göttingen served as one of the foremost centers of mathematics in Germany, until the Nazi party rose to power. Like Noether, many of the researchers and teachers in the institution were Jewish. Noether continued to teach there until the publication of the new Nazi racial laws in 1933, which included the “Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service” – a law which led to the dismissal of all the Jews from their positions.

A year after the Jews were dismissed from the institute, the Nazi Minister of Culture Bernhard Rust asked the non-Jewish mathematician David Hillbert (who unsuccessfully fought against the law) about the truth behind the rumor that the mathematic institute suffers greatly since the dismissal of the Jews and their supporters.

Hillbert replied that the institute did not suffer, it simply no longer exists.

Fulfilling the Dream

With the help of Albert Einstein, who had already reached America at that time (and was unable to return to Germany, where the Nazis had dismissed him from his position and burned his works), Noether receive a position in the Bryn Mawr Women’s College in Pennsylvania. She emigrated to America, and for the first time in her life, taught and earned respect, honor and full employment. She was invited to deliver weekly lectures at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, but as a woman could not be appointed for a teaching position at the university.

Noether taught in Bryn Mawr College for a year and a half. In 1935, she became ill and underwent a simple operation that went awry. She died a few days later at the age of 53.

Noether’s picture hangs in almost every room of the mathematics faculty of Bar Ilan University, in the research institute named after her. Students of mathematics throughout the world are familiar with her, but more people should know about the incredible contribution made by Amalie Emmy Noether, who paved a path for women in the world of mathematics and science, and changed the face of the world by giving names and formulae to the physical laws that perpetuate our world. Essentially, modern physics as a whole owes her a debt of gratitude.

Photograph of Amalie Emmy Noether. From the Edelstein Collection at the National Library of Israel

“Within the past few days a distinguished mathematician, Professor Emmy Noether, formerly connected with the University of Göttingen and for the past two years at Bryn Mawr College, died in her fifty-third year. In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

(From the obituary for Professor Emmy Noether written by Albert Einstein in the New York Times, 1935)

Thanks to Chaya Herr from the Edelstein Collection for her help in writing the article.

A Nice Jewish Doll: She Goes By “Barbie”

How Ruth Moskowitz Handler, the Jewish creator of the Barbie doll, changed history and the toy industry forever.

"Barbie Reads Torah" by Jen Taylor Friedman, HaSoferet. Posted with permission

When Ruth Handler (formerly Moskowitz) traveled to Switzerland in 1956 with her family – her husband Elliot and their children Barbara and Kenneth – they came across a small figurine in a shop with a striking appearance: she was blonde, thin, and tall at 11 inches (28 cm). Her name was Lilli.

Bild’s “Lilli”

The Lilli doll was a novelty item for adults. The all-American Barbie doll, named for little Barbara Handler of course, debuted in 1959 would soon become a mass-produced doll for young girls (and also boys, we don’t judge, and neither should you). Barbie eventually solidified her status as the most popular doll in the history of toys. The Ken doll, which debuted a few years later, was named for Ruth Handler’s son Kenneth, of course.

Elliot, Ruth, Barbara, and Kenneth Handler in their home, 1960s. From Ruth Handler’s, “Dream Doll: The Ruth Handler Story”, 1994.

Ruth Handler’s story, and Barbie’s, is part and parcel of the American story. The daughter of Polish-Jewish immigrants, Ruth Moskowitz was born the youngest of 10 children in Denver, Colorado. As a teenager she was sent to be a shop-girl in her aunt’s store, where she not only learned the basics of running a business, she fell in love with it.

During her marriage to Elliot Handler, the two formed a plastic and wood business, making props and toys for Hollywood studios and toy shops nationwide. Along with another business partner, the Handlers formed “Mattel”.

In 1959, after three years of development, Barbie sprang fully formed into the world, bathing suit and all. Barbie was a child’s toy with adult outfits, accessories, and most importantly – a job.

The first Barbie, 1959

Handler herself wrote in her autobiography, “Dream Doll”:

“The idea had been the result of the many times I had observed my daughter Barbara playing with paperdolls with her friends… Barbara and her friends always insisted on playing with adult female paperdolls. They were simply not interested in baby paperdolls or even those representing ten-year-olds, their own age… I discovered something very important: They were using these dolls to project their dreams of their own futures as adult women.”

The Barbie doll was the first “adult” doll intended for girls – not a doll in the shape of a baby or a child, but one with which the young girl could play at being a grown up. Barbie was a loyal, mature companion.

Contemporary Barbie

The Barbie doll may not have a particularly Jewish “look”, but her heritage is Jewish and full of chutzpah. Ruth Handler was ambitious and held her own in the male-dominated world of business. She thought of young girls not merely as consumers, but as the future generation of women in America and all around the world. Well, almost all. Back in 2003 Saudi officials declared the “Jewish Barbie Dolls” a threat to morality.

You can’t please everyone.

Though Barbie’s Jewish roots may be bleached blonde, they are undeniable. Just by immigrating from Europe, changing her name and weaving herself into the very fabric of American life, the Barbie doll became an international sensation – a cultural icon that is both inspired and inspirational.


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That Time Seinfeld Did a Gig for the Maccabiah

This is how Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher and Billy Crystal found themselves telling jokes about Jews and sports in order to raise money for the 12th Maccabiah Games

Jerry Seinfeld fundraises. Photograph: Joe Seligman

One evening in 1985, Billy Crystal, Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld, along with other Jewish comedians, all got together. The purpose of this meeting: Fundraising for the American delegation to the Maccabiah. We are proud to present you photographs of that fundraising evening, which took place four years before ‘Seinfeld’ was first aired.

“During the 1980’s I worked as a television producer and producer of stand-up comedy events, and I was looking for new ways to raise money for the American delegation to the Maccabiah. Friends suggested I put on a stand-up comedy evening, and I decided to go for it,” Joe Seligman explains how one fine day, Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Mahler and Billy Crystal found themselves telling jokes about Jews and sports to raise money for the 12th Maccabiah Games.

Seligman was active in ‘Maccabi’ for many years, and even participated in several Maccabiahs himself. In 1973, Seligman was a member of the American cricket team in the 9th Maccabiah, after he left a career as a baseball player. “I thought, how hard can it be to play cricket? It’s just English baseball. It turned out in the end that it’s definitely not English baseball,” he relates. He soon discovered that his first hurdle was to find other Jewish American players who were familiar with cricket, a mission which turned out to be much more complex than he had originally envisaged.

At the end of the day, most of the cricket players he located were former baseball players, and the American delegation struggled to play against more experienced teams such as India, England and South Africa – losing every game they played. Despite the dismal results, Seligman became hooked on Maccabiah, and has taken part in organizing the American delegation to each subsequent Maccabiah.

In 1985 he came up with the idea to put on a comedy evening to raise money for the 12th Maccabiah. Now, over thirty years after the event we are pleased to share the pictures from that evening.

The first evening was held in February 1985, at the Improv club in Los Angeles, (which is now a chain of stand-up comedy clubs, with branches in Chicago and New York as well). The event was emceed by the comedian Norm Crosby and the star of the Los Angeles Riders football team, Lyle Aldazo. On the stage appeared: Jerry Seinfeld, Bill Maher and Billy Crystal, all young and talented Jewish comedians, alongside such veterans as Shelley Berman and Dick Shawn. At the time, Jerry Seinfeld was a talented comedian who appeared in clubs and had made appearnces on the Tonight Show with Jonny Carson, but “Seinfeld” the sitcom would only go on the air four years later. Crystal and Maher were also well on their way to becoming major stars of the comedy scene.

The efforts were not in vain, and the evening was an overwhelming success: “There was room for 224 people in the club, and we sold 227 tickets – and there were those who managed to sneak in,” Seligman explains.  The American delegation was the largest delegation at the 12th Maccabiah, though it’s hard to say of the comedy fundraising event can be credited directly for that….

While we unfortunately, we do not have video footage of this memorable evening avialable, we can at least we can enjoy some photographs:

Billy Crystal takes part in the fundraising event. Photograph: Joe Seligman
Bill Maher in the service of the Maccabiah. Photograph: Joe Seligman
Billy Crystal, the club owner Bud Friedman and his wife Nancy. Photograph: Joe Seligman

The evening’s success led Seligman to initiate several more fundraising evenings for the subsequent Maccabiah games, which also featured big names.