On the way to the Western Wall, 1967, the Bitmuna Collections
“Jerusalem Day,” or “Jerusalem Reunification Day,” is an officially recognized national holiday in Israel which enjoys broad acceptance in the country today. But, it has not always been so. In the year following the reunification of Jerusalem in the Six-Day War, the Prime Minister of Israel and the mayor of Jerusalem openly objected to the creation of the holiday. It was only after the public itself made its opinion clear in favor of a new national holiday that the municipal and governmental institutions followed suit.
Following Israel’s War of Independence in 1948, Jerusalem was a divided city. For 19 years, West Jerusalem belonged to Israel, while East Jerusalem was held by Jordan. It was only in 1967, or more precisely, on the third day of the Six-Day War, that the soldiers of the IDF Paratroopers Brigade, commanded by Col. Motta Gur (a future Chief of Staff), broke through the Jordanian defenses and took the Old City and East Jerusalem. The reunification of Jerusalem was completed with Motta Gur’s now famous declaration “The Temple Mount is in our hands!”
Following the war, a desire emerged to establish a special day dedicated to the unified city of Jerusalem, the capital of the State of Israel. The first initiative came from the Chief Rabbinate on the first anniversary of the city’s reunification. The heads of the Rabbinate sought to establish the 28th day of the Hebrew month of Iyar as a day of thanksgiving for the miracles that resulted in the city’s unification under Israeli control.
The Jerusalem Municipality followed up on the rabbinical initiative, announcing its celebrations to mark the new Jerusalem Day holiday, but the Israeli government immediately attempted to have the decision cancelled, refusing to offer any funding for the ceremonies being planned.
Even the mayor of Jerusalem, Teddy Kollek, requested that his own municipal authorities cancel their plans for fear that the festivities would offend the Arab population of East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Levi Eshkol was also reluctant to hold the ceremony in its intended format. The Office of the Prime Minister released a statement that Eshkol would decline the “honorary citizenship” that the Jerusalem Municipality intended to award him at the ceremony.
Despite the reluctance shown by Levi Eshkol and Teddy Kollek, the municipal authorities decided to move forward with the ceremony.
A great sense of national joy served as the driving force behind the festivities, which were, in the end, held as planned, including the awarding of an honorary citizenship to the Prime Minister. Jerusalem was illuminated and decorated with an exuberance that rivalled that of the famously uninhibited Independence Day celebrations.
However, unlike Independence Day, the first Jerusalem Day celebration took on a more spontaneous character. Aside from the municipality, one of the only official bodies involved in the preparations was the Chief Rabbinate, which organized a mass prayer at the Western Wall.
Various delegations converged on the capital city, including groups of students from Bar-Ilan University and Haifa’s Technion institute, who tried in vain to sweep up the local students of the Hebrew University in their excitement. A wide variety of grassroots events were held throughout the city: marches, public assemblies, school activities, as well as “ordinary” excited crowds who came streaming into the capital. There were also a number of memorial events for fallen soldiers.
It was only a full four months later that the Israeli government finally agreed to declare the 28th of Iyar as “Jerusalem Day”, with the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, adding its approval even later still.
Today, Jerusalem Day is a national holiday. It is marked by celebrations in cities throughout Israel, in schools, in the media, and in Jerusalem itself. Few are aware of the resistance that preceded the first celebration of the holiday, and that its marking should not be taken for granted.
A Diary from Jerusalem Under Siege
“I’m very thirsty and there isn’t a drop of water in the house. I must go down to the street, perhaps I'll find something to drink, and thus I must cease my writing.” A peek into the siege diary of Menachem Zvi Kadari, a resident of the Old City during Israel's War of Independence.
Menachem Zvi Kedari's diary, the National Library of Israel
Today the residents learned that the Jerusalem front suffered a new heavy blow: the Old City has fallen … the defenders surrendered after half a year of resistance and heroic defense, when few stood against many, without weapons and equipment in the face of a well-equipped enemy. It is indeed interesting that the fall of the Old City didn’t make as much of a sad impression on the city as the previous difficult blows (Gush Etzion, Sheikh Jarrah, etc.), as if there was even a certain sense of relief: finally, it’s over, the women and children were spared, most of the defenders also remained alive, even if they will spend some time in captivity; Thank God, for that too—such are the thoughts, more or less, of a simple Jerusalemite.
With these words, Menachem Zvi Kadari describes one of the most difficult and desperate moments in the battle for Jerusalem during the Independence War. The 23-year-old, Hungarian-born Kadari, a student of Bible Studies and Hebrew at the Hebrew University, kept a diary detailing the sequence of events throughout the period of the siege of the Old City. In clear and beautiful handwriting, on the back of small index cards, accompanied by delicate illustrations, he provides a vivid and authentic account of public opinion among the people of the besieged Old City, and from the cards, colorful and fascinating Jerusalem characters spring to life. Here are some of them:
At the corner of HaRav Kook Street I suddenly see the old Yemenite man sitting by the wall and reading from the holy Zohar with amazing diligence; everything remains the same with him, he sat and read here before the siege and continued in times of danger, through the heaviest bombardment, and continues to sit here even now.
The boys in the student dormitory on Jaffa Street had a private laundress, a Kurdish woman who always came to collect the laundry and two days later, she would return it clean and neat. […] Every time she heard about young people who died, her heart seemed to sink. She has no children of her own, but all of Jerusalem’s youth are hers and she feels pain and sorrow over the loss of each of them […] When we asked her “When will you bring our clean laundry,” she answered, looking up with her eyes: “Can one say today when I will come? God knows when I will be able to come.” […] The last time, a few days before the cease-fire, she took the laundry, but did not bring it back again … a wicked shell hit her … her husband brought our clean whites, which her own hands were not favored to bring back [to us] … Many have been your casualties Jerusalem; all have fallen in the fulfillment of their duties, who in defense, who at work … May they atone for our sins!
(Entry from June 15th, 1948)
On August 8th, during the second break in the fighting, Kadari sees:
Four young men with beards and sidelocks, dressed in caftans and beaver hats, walking in front of me along the street—they were Neturei Karta Hasidim—and behold the wonder, a truly strange and unusual sight: they are holding rifles in their hands! […] Can this really be true? Parading about the streets of the city of Jerusalem are young men in hasidic garb carrying guns and other weapons of destruction! Who could have prayed that something like this would ever happen?
But beyond the characters, Kadari best describes Jerusalem shifting between despair and hope. He tells of the eyes turned to the great powers, the ambivalence of the Jerusalem street towards the offers of the U.N. mediator Count Folke Bernadotte, the reactions of the Arab countries, the rationing of food, and the tense hours of waiting – for bread and sustenance, but even more so – for news and information about what was going on in the rest of the country. Thus, for example he describes his own dismal situation, while reporting on the announcement from Tel Aviv:
This Sabbath was especially eventful, a historic day in Jewish history: the State of Israel was declared and immediately recognized by America and 38 other countries. Yet, there are two sides to every coin: the armies of the Arab countries began their invasion from all directions and there are already bitter consequences: they have conquered several settlement points […] the battle in Gush Etzion is completely over. The entire area has been captured and the fighters taken captive. Oh! Ten years of hard work have come to nothing! Three settlements of the religious Kibbutz movement , to which the eyes of the youth in the Diaspora were drawn, were wiped off the map […] Oh, what has befallen us! (“I’m very thirsty and there isn’t a drop of water in the house. I must go down to the street, perhaps I’ll find something to drink, and thus I must cease my writing.”).
(Entry from May 16th, 1948)
The siege of the Old City lasted until the 11th of June, during which there was a terrible shortage of food (“the bread ration was reduced to one hundred and fifty grams and in a few days will be reduced to one hundred grams per person; oh well, this is real hunger, but one can suffer a bit more!” [June 6]. Following the end of fighting in Jerusalem, the situation improved significantly, (“In exchange for work they pay forty grush along with breakfast and dinner every day. By this arrangement, after just two days I have already been able to loosen my belt buckle and I can’t complain about hunger” [June 25th]).
It is not only existential distress that emerges from the pages of Kadari’s diary, but also his personal thoughts about his future and studies, which were interrupted by the war. He attends political meetings and cultural conferences, keeps himself busy with matters of language (“This afternoon I decided to go home, despite the danger of bombardment—they have already invented a new word for the concept: hafgaza [shelling]; indeed, this is the Jerusalem spirit!”). And once in a while he visits the Jerusalem homes of his teachers Gershom Scholem, Moshe Zvi Segal and others. One of the topics woven throughout the journal is the growing gap between Tel Aviv, the city where the declaration of the State had just been celebrated, and Jerusalem, which is under siege:
It truly seems from the papers that there is still life in Tel Aviv, despite everything. Only today was the public prohibited from going to the beach; the theaters and cinemas are running as usual […] only in Jerusalem we sit for months on the watch, on the frontline. The first to be tested is the city of Jerusalem. Perhaps it will be the first to be redeemed?
(Entry from June 9th, 1948)
The institutions of the young state and the IDF (which until the day before was the “Haganah”), are concentrated in Tel Aviv, while Jerusalem is still sympathetic to members of the underground. With the outbreak of the fighting, Kadari, the native of Tel Avivi, was “stuck” in Jerusalem, and throughout the diary, he describes attempts to return home. His description of one of the most famous affairs of the period—the firing on the Irgun ship Altalena as it approached the shores of the coastal city, is mixed with a dose of racism:
There is explosive news on the internal political front: the Irgun, which declared its joining the ranks of the Haganah and full obedience to the Jewish government institutions, brought an arms ship for itself and began unloading it, with the clear intent of violating the truce […] war is these people’s life, war for the sake of war. Internal danger awaits the Yishuv, heaven forbid, from these ne’er do wells, and careless adventurers. […] No wonder that most of the members of the Irgun and Lehi come from the Sephardic communities, and if so, it is clear from whence the fanaticism and blind enthusiasm for their actions, good or bad.
(Entry from June 23rd, 1948)
Kadari’s diary ends with his departure for Tel Aviv on August 18th. After the fighting ended, he renewed his studies at the university. Kadari submitted his doctoral dissertation in 1953 and later was appointed a lecturer at Bar Ilan University. In 1971 he became rector of the university and a member of the Academy of the Hebrew Language. In 1999, he was awarded the Israel Prize for Study of the Hebrew Language.
“The opinion of a simple Jerusalemite”
Menachem Zvi Kadari died in 2011. His personal archive was recently deposited in the National Library and includes, besides this diary, fascinating documents about underground rescue activities in which he took part in Hungary and Romania after the Nazi invasion, in addition to drafts of his research papers and lectures, as well as personal documents and correspondence.
Kadari’s full diary is held in the archives of the National Library of Israel.
The Italian manuscript A General Response to the Desecration of Sanctity in the Hebrew Books (henceforth Response), now kept by the National Library of Israel, provides an important example of Catholic book censorship in the modern age. Written by an anonymous Jewish author in Ferrara during the seventeenth century, this document focuses on religious disputes concerning the accusation of blasphemy made by the censors of the Roman Inquisition against rabbinical literature.
The accusations made against Hebrew texts refer especially to Talmudic works whose reading could lead to negative interpretations of Christianity.
In order to effectively forbid these texts, Catholic censors needed to control any source of Jewish culture which could be spread easily among Christians. The printing of books and documents in the modern age revealed itself to be an excellent means of canonization. The main problem concerning Hebrew texts in the modern era was related to their availability as they were often limited to Jewish communities. The view held by the Catholic Church regarding Jews and Judaism was strongly conditioned by the polemic work “Pugio Fidei,” or, in English, “Dagger of Faith,” written by the Dominican friar Ramon Martí. It’s possible to identify two interpretative lines about Judaism in this document: the first interpretation is founded on the idea that holy Jewish books are full of useful evidence of religious truths, thanks to the many resemblances with Christianity, while the second traces a negative connotation of Hebrew texts, with emphasis on the Talmud. The negative inclination in the Pugio reclaims the traditional thesis on the vanity of Talmudic literature, that is seen as a blasphemous attack on Christians. The success of the negative narrative posed about Judaism led to the censorship of Jewish texts.
Since the above-mentioned manuscript is a “general response” to the Roman Inquisition, let us now examine its structure in order to better understand its content.
General Analysis of the General Response: A Philosophical and Philological Profile
One interesting aspect worthy of consideration in the manuscript is the use of philosophical reasoning to argue the theory that Hebrew texts do not contain negative remarks about Christianity. In order to support this thesis, the anonymous author of the code presents eight “universal reasons” that would demonstrate the unfoundedness of the accusations against rabbinic literature.
The first universal reason explained by the author focuses on the importance of prayer in Jewish tradition, whose history is proved through important textual references from Flavius Josephus or from Philo of Alexandria, who describes the devotion of Jewish prayer in his “De Legazione ad Caium Imperatorem”. These references serve as fundamental proof of the benevolence Jews had towards other nations and their leaders, even during and after the destruction of Jerusalem, as Josephus’ Bellum Iudaicum shows. Words like “idolaters” and “heretics” begin to appear in the first two pages of the manuscript to exhort the readers to understand that such terms refer to Babylonians and Romans, who are seen as idolatrous pagans. Hence, definitions such these can’t and mustn’t be seen as reffering to Christians, according to the author.
The second universal reason is founded on a syllogism. It states that all people who follow the seven laws of Noah will partially enjoy Heaven. As Christians follow the seven laws of Noah, they, according to Jewish beliefs, will partially enjoy Heaven. The consequence of this reasoning confirms again that Christians cannot be percieved as idolaters or heretics by Jews, also because they share a common concept of blasphemy. In fact, in both Christian and Jewish holy texts it is forbidden to be involved in actions that offend God, including idolatry, homicide, adultery or theft.
It’s also clear that, although Christians share some religious beliefs with Jews, they don’t necessarily observe all the same rules. For example, the precepts regarding the eating of meat from a slaughtered animal aren’t part of Christian orthodoxy, but yet Christians still are till given the opportunity to achieve “eternal happiness”. This is possible because they are seen as “good and pious.” The author focuses his attention on the meaning of the expression “good and pious”, and dedicated his third in argument to this point. Since Christians believe that the seven laws of Noah came from God, the requisite of being “good and pious” is fulfilled. In addition, it is not necessary to follow all the seven laws given to Noah as long as one of them is observed with “good intention.” Moreover, the author explains a passage from the ninth psalm of David, recalling that these verses describe the fate of those who are not “good and pious,” pointing out that the expression “all people who leave God” (Obliviscuntur literally means “they forget” and can be interpreted as “ they leave” in a figurative sense) is meant for those who are neither good nor pious, seeing as they deny the glory of God.
For what concerns the goodness of Christians, in the manuscript it is written that the Ten Commandments they follow are thought to have come from God and this proves a convergence between Jewish and Christian beliefs: the Ten Commandments given to Moses include many precepts shared with Judaism and given the fact that Christians follow many precepts of Mosaic Law with good intentions , consequently they can’t be described as heretics or idolaters.
In the Response, the theme of religious observance is often reiterated through references to Don Isaac Abarbanel, a philosopher, statesman and biblical commentator, King David (in his fourteenth psalm), or the prophet Isaiah, whose verses are mentioned to affirm the need to follow even just one precept to avoid damnation. Proceeding in the analysis of the manuscript, the author explains that the rabbinic doctrine on intention in religious observance is surely influenced by the moral philosophy of Aristotle. His theory of purpose is founded on the notion of prudence, as explained in the sixth book of Nicomachean Ethics, where it is written that each moral virtue depends on prudence, defined as the “common form of virtues.”
The anonymous author presents a fourth universal reason, maintaining that there are three aspects to be considered for a correct evaluation of rabbinical texts including when these books were written, who wrote them, and for whom. Following this argument, words like “idolaters” or “heretics” are to be intended for those people living when “ancient rabbis” instituted their doctrines, and without any doubt, in that historical period, Christianity wasn’t yet established. In particular, Babylonian and Roman ceremonies are seen by the ancient Jewish sages as examples of idolatry and blasphemy. In addition, a certain passage from Saint Augustine (De Civitate Dei, 23) is mentioned, which describes both the Babylonian captivity of the Jews and the destruction of the 2nd temple of Jerusalem under the Roman Empire. The first event happened before the emergence of Christianity, while the second was the result of an expansionist policy led by the Roman Empire when Christians communities were persecuted as well.
The author also states that most of the content reffering to rabbinical texts is unclear, containing many ambiguous terms and figures that are easily misunderstandable, and for this reason they are percieved as offensive by Christians, even if they not addressed to them. Additionally, the author describes Christianity as a religion which is very close to Judaism, since it shares many common beliefs. He even argues that Judaim holds a benevolent attitude towards Christianity. The word “idolaters” therefore appears to be associated with “gentiles.” The term “goyim” refers to a non-Jewish nation and in the manuscript, this definition is used in reference to the Babylonians people. The author’s fifth argument make the case that none of these words refer to Christians, since Christians were called “Nazarenes”, and this epithet is significant since it distinguishes “orthodox” Christians from Arian Christians, who are mentioned as heretics in the manuscript/
This point is strictly related to the sixth argument brought forth by the author, in which he writes that the above-mentioned terms are so generic that they can easily refer to other nations or groups of non-Christian people: these words even can be associated to communities inside Judaism.
Given the fact that the above-mentioned epithets are ambiguous, it cannot be concluded that they are addressed to someone in particular, as illustrated by the seventh argument; furthermore, blasphemy is assumed to be founded on a malicious intent, therefore something that is never verified cannot be presumed without evidence, in accordance with the eighth argument.
After the presentation of all the eight “universal reasons,” the last page of the manuscript seems incomplete; nevertheless, it makes sense to affirm that the anonymous author of this code managed to discuss all the eight points of his reasoning with historical, theological, philological and philosophical references that together contribute to a better perspective on the relationship between Jewish and Christian traditions.
The Nazi Guide to Finding the Proper Spouse
These "10 commandments" for building a good relationship were found in a pamphlet distributed to all students graduating from a trade school under the Nazi regime.
“I found this on the shelf and thought you might know what to do with it,” she said as she handed me a thin paperback pamphlet with a German title and a swastika embossed on the cover.
Apparently, spring cleaning in the office can lead to some interesting discoveries when you work in the National Library of Israel Digital Content Department.
The book I now held in my hand was a copy of “Du Und Dein Volk,” or in English, “You and Your People,” a widely spread piece of Nazi propaganda that was published in early 1940 and distributed by the Reich Education Ministry to young adults finishing their education. Thousands of copies of this pamphlet were printed and distributed across Nazi Germany, providing the young graduates with an easy to read, condensed version of the Nazi doctrine that all Germans were required to know.
This particular copy of the pamphlet found on our shelves was bestowed to a graduate of the “Berufsschule für Tischler,” vocational school for carpentry in Vienna, named August Feigel. His name was written in cursive in blue ink on the first page of the book. It appears there alongside the name of his school, the date the book was gifted (July 6, 1940), and the signature of the school’s headmaster, suggesting this book was given as a gift to all graduating students.
Upon further inspection, and with a lot of help from my German-speaking colleagues, I understood that this “light reading” contained a general summary of Nazi ideology that outlined the responsibilities of the average German citizen, encouraging the youths to marry and have many children while warning them of the dangers of marrying someone improper, including those without the proper German mindset or someone who is not of Nordic blood.
In a section entitled, “Your Marriage and Your Children,” the text emphasizes the importance of marriage and of bearing as many healthy children as possible, to maintain and strengthen the right racial components for the good of society.
“Your genetic line is like roots underground. When two such roots meet and unite, a person grows like a plant and breaks through the soil,” reads the text. “The sun smiles upon it, rain falls, it’s blown by storms, it wilts and withers, and finally dies a human death. Yet the genetic stream flows on long after the sun and rain and storms of that one life have passed.”
The section goes on to discuss the importance of maintaining a clean genetic pool and the critical nature of choosing an appropriate spouse who has within them the appropriate racial ancestry, as well as the responsibility that lies with every individual to strengthen the Aryan race by producing healthy children. The chapter concludes with a summarized and condensed list of the ten key commandments to follow when choosing a spouse with which to build and strengthen German ideals.
“You now know how to choose your spouse and understand the meaning of the following principles from the Reich Office for People’s Health,” reads the text. It then goes on to list the 10 commandments for finding a spouse:
Always remember that you are a German.
Be sure to marry if you are genetically healthy.
Ensure that you keep your body clean.
Keep your soul and spirit clean.
As a German, you should only take a spouse of German or Nordic blood.
When deciding on a spouse, investigate his or her ancestry.
Physical health is the prerequisite for outward beauty.
Marry only for love.
In relationships, do not seek a temporary plaything, look for a partner for marriage.
You should want as many children as possible.
This emphasis on maintaining the proper bloodline and increasing the pure German population was a key point for graduating students as they moved out of the structured environment of their education to the real world where they would fend for themselves.
After listing the ten initial commandments, the text adds an important warning to the reader: “People of absolutely pure blood are rare among us.” Just because someone matches the external criteria of the Aryan race, “that does not mean that he necessarily possesses all the spiritual characteristics that correspond to the physical appearance.”
“Enough advice and warnings,” concludes the section. “If you understood these rules, you can be assured that your instincts will lead you in the right direction. You should not marry out of the calculation, but rather from love!”
A few pages later, the pamphlet includes a photo depicting the ideal family, featuring a blonde woman surrounded by her children. The text goes on to describe the importance of family before switching to a discussion of “The Jewish Question” and preventing the birth of genetically ill offspring.
The final pages in the pamphlet include a template for the student to fill in his own family tree, leading back to his great grandparents, so that he could prove his pure lineage. August Feigel, the recipient of this book, did not take advantage of this opportunity.
“Woe to the generation that is given clarity and does not make use of it,” concludes the text. “There are only two options: to climb to liberating heights or to decline. We choose the first path, though we know it brings sacrifices and challenges, though it is difficult and will take more than one or two or three generations.”
Looking back over the last three generations, the Nazis did not achieve their goals in “purifying” the genetic pool but this pamphlet, now preserved in the National Library of Israel, stands as a witness to the dangers of racism and anti-Semitism that are still apparent today.
Special thanks to Dr. Stefan Litt for his help in writing this article.
This post was written as part of Gesher L’Europa, the NLI’s initiative to connect with Europe and make our collections available to diverse audiences in Europe and beyond.