The Conquerors of the Land Photographed in the Shade
The First World War was the first time in world military history that soldiers of all armies could carry a personal camera with them and document not only the fierce battles they encountered, but some of their unit’s experiences in their free time.
For the Protestant British soldiers stationed on the front line in the Middle East who beheld the Land of Israel for the first time, this was a golden opportunity: a combination of religious fervor (which intensified as the capture of Jerusalem became increasingly imminent) together with a healthy dose of curiosity about the new-old world which surrounded them, caused many of those equipped with cameras to document, in many dozens of albums, the natives of the land, its exotic scenery, as well as “down time” between resting, training and fighting.
Several of the private albums of soldiers from both sides of the conflict are stored in the National Library. One of the most interesting of them was given a name in the Library catalog which conceals this fact: “The Photographs of a British Soldier from the First World War in the Land of Israel”.
As the album name reveals – the photographer’s identity is unknown, but it appears to be a soldier in the 74th cavalry battalion of the British Army. The soldier, presuming that it is a single soldier, mapped out the route his unit advanced through photographs which he took and pasted into an album.
Most of the photographs are from Jerusalem and the surrounding area – with captions stating the subject of the photograph.
As we delve further into the album we discover that the writing disappears and the photographs depicting central sites in the Land of Israel are replaced by a different type of photograph; depicting daily life in the battalion, and primarily the various ways the soldiers passed their time. The majority of the photographs appear to have been taken in Alexandria in Egypt, where the British Army camped prior to setting out to capture the Land of Israel in 1917.
“I was happy and joyful as my beloved daughter was born…and died on the night of the 5th”
For thousands of years, Jews and Christians alike have turned to the Bible as a means of resolving the many contradictions in their lives. In the 17th century, the Rabbi and diplomat Menasseh Ben Israel turned the tables: he wrote a book named El Conciliador (The Conciliator), in which he attempted to resolve the contradictions within the Bible itself. This was a tremendous task, and his target audience did not consist only of fellow Jews.
In El Conciliador, Menasseh Ben Israel addresses two potential audiences: Christian scholars and clergymen interested in gaining more knowledge about the Jewish faith, and the descendants of the Conversos in Spain and Portugal. The latter wished to return to their Jewish roots after many generations during which they (and their ancestors) were forced to live as Christians.
The book follows a consistent pattern: the author presents two contradictory Biblical verses, describes the precise contradiction he found in them (as the reader does not necessarily spot the contradiction or in some cases he or she may identify another contradiction instead), and then attempts to “resolve” the contradiction: he makes use of both Jewish and non-Jewish sources, occasionally quoting luminaries such as Seneca or Plato, thereby displaying extraordinary in-depth knowledge coupled with interpretive skills.
It is interesting to note that when Menasseh Ben Israel refers to Plato as an authority he does not hesitate to claim that the father of philosophy was directly influenced by the Jewish religion and that many of his conclusions are based on the Bible.
Like many of Menasseh Ben Israel’s endeavors, El Conciliador was crowned a tremendous success. The book was re-published over the years in a number of editions, and was even translated into other European languages. It established its author as an authority on Jewish sources, and earned him the title “Ambassador of the Jews”. In the wake of the book’s success, an extensive exchange of letters began between Menasseh Ben Israel and Christian scholars throughout the continent. It took over 200 years for El Conciliador to be translated into Hebrew.
“Resolving” the Contradictions of the 19th Century in Hebrew
Little is known about the life of Mr. Raphael Kirchheim, who translated El Conciliador into Hebrew. We know even less about why this 19th century German-Jewish scholar chose to undertake this task. It is possible that as a Jew affiliated with the Reform movement, which attracted many German Jews in the 19th century, he saw the translation of El Conciliador as a project with personal and general-Jewish significance, especially when considering the period in which he was active.
After all, the time in which Kirchheim lived was a period in which the unity which had characterized the Jewish people for much of their history was irreparably ruptured, a century replete with novel Jewish figures: enlightened Jews fighting to reform education and the Jewish library; Hassidim searching for a new spiritual experience; Orthodox Jews struggling to maintain the status quo; and toward the end of this tumultuous century: Zionist pioneers.
Reminiscent of the author of the work he translated into Hebrew, Kirchheim’s translation tells us a thing or two about his own boldness. Kirchheim did not suffice with simply translating, he also wrote his comments (and often reservations) on El Conciliador’s conclusions alongside various paragraphs. In one section, for example, the translator notes that “What the author writes in Rabban Gamliel’s name is a lie, and he said the opposite to his disciples”, and in a later place in the manuscript he notes that “His [Menasseh Ben Israel] words are the opposite and are not found without each other”.
It is unclear whether Kirchheim intended to publish his translation: the manuscript is full of erasures, amendments and internal glosses. Additionally, at the end of the manuscript, Kirchheim documents the names of his relatives, the deaths of his father and his two wives over ten years apart. He does not forget to record the births of his son and daughter. When writing about his daughter, for example, Kirchheim writes “The 3rd of Adar 5601 [February 2, 1841] – was happy and joyful for me because my beloved daughter Mina was born”, two days later he added the heartbreaking words, “And (she) died on the night of the 5th”.
Most of the details surrounding the Ben Israel/Kirchheim manuscript are still unknown to us.
However, the more pressing question is undoubtedly: can the resolution of the many contradictions in the Bible truly bring about friendship between the various members of this tumultuous nation?
A First Glimpse into the Treasures of the “Afghan Genizah”
A first glimpse into a few fascinating documents that reveal the life of the Afghan-Jewish communities during the 11th-13th centuries
This discovery will keep the Library and researchers busy for years to come and enables a rare view of the Jewish-Afghan community and the rich Muslim cultures that lived in that region. Meanwhile, here is a first glimpse to several special documents from the “Afghan Genizah”.
Mishnah Seder Nezikin
It is clear that the scribe of this Mishnah was deft in his craft: In dense hand writing, while being entirely coherent, the scribe copied the Seder Nezikin regarding idol worship from the Mishnah. The scribe differentiated sentences with a colon, for two possible reasons: first, it is commonly used in scripture; and second, in order to use as much of the page he had at hand.
Among the documents within the “Afghan Genizah” procured by the National Library are two Haftarot taken from Jeremiah 17 (the first pair of pages) and from Zechariah 2 (the second pair of pages). It is interesting to note that every verse is translated into Aramaic. What does this inform us regarding the prevalence of Hebrew among the members of the Jewish-Afghan community in the 11th-13th centuries?
Not a lot survived from this nearly 1000 year old page, and yet, we can identify that it is a part of a copy of the Book of Proverbs (chapters 22-23).
Siddur for Shabbat Prayers
This is an interesting siddur for Shabbat, on the first page presented here, the Kiddush for Shabbat ends with a special wording taken from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 9, verse 14: “And madest known unto them Thy holy Sabbath, and didst command them commandments, and statutes, and a law, by the hand of Moses Thy servant” (Trans. 1917 JPS).
This is an uncommon ending to the prayer and is an example of the small, yet significant differences within the Afghan Siddurim of the 11th-13th centuries.
Commentaries on the Torah in Jewish Persian (Leviticus 11)
The parchment presented here in Jewish Persian (Persian written in Hebrew letters) and it contains commentaries for verses 21-22 from Leviticus 11. The verses that survived the passage of time are part of a Halakhic discussion regarding the kosher slaughtering of animals. Most of the writing has faded and damaged, and we can only decipher a few words here and there.
A Trader’s Notebook
This is a fully preserved page from a trader’s notebook. This notebook belonged to a Jewish merchant known as Abu Nasser from the 11th century; it sheds light on the economic and business life of the Jews that lived by the Silk Road. The notebook recounts a number of business transactions that occurred between Jews and Muslims in the region.
The National Library of Israel is grateful to the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Salomon Fund for their generous support of this acquisition.
The Initial Proposals That Fell Short: How the Israeli National Emblem Was Chosen
It was a close competition between artists to see who would receive the honor of designing the National Emblem
Two days before the declaration of independence of the State of Israel, the members of the People’s Administration realized that they forgot a rather important detail about the polity about to be formed: They had yet to decide on the State’s name. Various suggestions were tabled at that meeting: Judah, Zion, and of course, the eventual winner – Israel.
Three weeks after the State’s establishment, the interim provisional government invited the citizens of Israel to propose a design for the national flag and emblem. The design guidelines left the competing artists with room for creative license.
The guidelines specified which colors were to be used: sky-blue and white “and any other color as per the artist’s taste” and the emblem was to feature a seven-lamp candelabra and seven stars. The guidelines also stated that, “Any other suggestion or idea is welcome,” and included the disclaimer that, “The government is not obliged to accept any of the suggestions received.”
No inscription was specified and no guidelines were given regarding borders or framing of the emblem.
The final date for submissions was June 14, 1948.
The Provisional Government’s call yielded 450 proposals submitted by 164 applicants. One by one they were all rejected by the committee established for the purpose. A second ad calling for submissions was published. In the second round, the proposed emblem by Gavriel and Maxim Shamir of Shamir Brothers Studio carried the day. The combination of five elements in the Shamir Brothers proposal convinced the commission members that they had found a winner:
The menorah and the stars appeared as required by the tender. The Shamir brothers added three additional elements: The olive branches, the heraldic shield and the colors.
They chose to design the menorah in a modern fashion. “Our intention was to create a modern symbol and forego the traditional element,” they revealed in an interview to ‘Maariv’ (Hebrew). The olive branches were added as the brothers found them to be “the most appealing expression of the love of peace among the People of Israel.” In the same interview the brothers told of how they had thoroughly studied all the emblems of the countries of the world.
In the course of their research they discovered that no country had a candelabra in its emblem, but one country did have a six-pointed star, like the “Star of David”. It is most likely that they also learned that the vast majority of national emblems were in the shape of heraldic shields, such as those used by royal and noble houses since the middle ages.
Although the design had been approved, the Shamir brothers were asked to make some changes to the emblem. Firstly, to add the name “Israel.” Second, to replace the modern menorah with the one carved into the Arch of Titus in Rome. After examining two versions prepared by the brothers, the committee decided to drop the stars. The final proposal was submitted to the commission on February 10, 1949 and was approved unanimously.
Two days later the official newspaper of the Provisional Government published an announcement of the national emblem signed by the commission’s chairman, Yosef Sprintzak. A few months later, the Shamir brothers prepared a final version of the emblem, in which the base of the menorah was embellished.
The unveiling of the emblem brought with it both praise and criticisim. The critique focused on the graphic design and the choice of the menorah from the Arch of Titus, which is at odds with the description of the temple menorah as described in the bible. “Apparently foreign hands have been involved, and it is not all in accordance with the sacred text,” was the ruling of Chief Rabbi Isaac HaLevi Herzog.
An article published on February 21, 1949 in the ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’ newspaper posited: “What would the artists prefer: A design that was approved, yet critiqued, or one that was rejected and acclaimed by all? We would safely guess that the Shamir Brothers would choose the former.”
About the authors of the article
Daniella Gardosh-Santo formerly served as head of the Children and Youth Department for Israel’s public broadcaster Channel 1. She is the daughter of renowned cartoonist ‘Dosh’ – Kariel Gardosh. Along with her brother she initiated the Dosh prize for cartoonists. Daniella and Yoram Shamir were co-curators of the exhibit “More Than Just an Emblem” at The Israeli Cartoon Museum in Holon.
Yoram E. Shamir has been studying graphics for the past decade. He recently curated (along with Rotem Kislev) an exhibit on the National Library website titled “Football Under the Auspices of His Majesty.” Over the last three years Shamir has edited two books on graphics as well as a website devoted to the works of his father and uncle – The Shamir Brothers.