Rare Photos Taken Right After the Unification of Jerusalem

In the Six Day War of 1967, the entire city of Jerusalem came under Israel's control, including the Old City and the Western Wall. These pictures captured the emotions of the days which immediately followed...

Everyone – men, women and children, soliders and civilians, they all wanted to see the holiest of holy places with their own eyes. The photographers of the day understood the historical significance of the moment and made the most of it. They shot picture after picture, capturing and documenting the hundreds of thousands of visitors who traveled to the Western Wall. They also documented the clearing of the rubble that surrounded the Wall and the beginning of work on the plaza soon to be in place, which would mark the spot as a site of pilgrimage.

In those first few days following the war, the Jewish state’s leaders arrived to pray at the Wall, among them President Zalman Shazar who insisted on going to Jerusalem before the war was over and even donned a helmet. David Ben-Gurion arrived at the Wall the day after the war was declared over.

The photographs in the album were taken by the IPPA agency, founded by photographer Dan Hadani.  The Dan Hadani Collection, which documents the life and times of the State of Israel, as well as Israeli society and culture in the twentieth century, includes approximately one million historic photographs. It was acquired by the National Library of Israelin September, 2016.


How Did Jewish Children Learn to Write a Thousand Years Ago?

How did children practice their Hebrew letters in Medieval times? A glimpse through the Cairo Geniza offers us an answer and reveals that not much has changed.

How do children practice writing the Hebrew alphabet?

By writing each letter, one at a time, over and over again, of course. This is common practice today and it was common practice back in the middle ages. There are several pages preserved in the Cairo Geniza which contain these types of children’s writing exercises. The Cairo Geniza is a famous collection of ancient Jewish manuscript fragments that was originally stored in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue. It contained around 300,000 items, some of them over a thousand years old.

Practice sheets: Cambridge manuscripts T-S H 5.17


Practice sheets: Cambridge manuscripts T-S H 5.19

Often a child would learn the entire alphabet and practice writing all the letters in a row. You can see that kind of practice sheet here, accompanied by children’s drawings drawn on the margins of the page.

Practice sheets with children’s drawings: Cambridge manuscripts T-S H 5.19


Practice sheets with letters and nikkud, the signs representing vowels in Hebrew: Cambridge manuscripts T-S K 5.25

More skillfully written letters may have been inscribed by the Sofrim (scribes of religious scrolls) in order to teach the children the most correct way to write Hebrew.

Letters outlines and colored in: Cambridge manuscripts T-S K 5.13


Practice sheet with a Torah blessing on the bottom: Cambridge manuscripts T-S K 5.10

As Geniza scholar S. D. Goitein remarks, “Even then they understood that the most efficient way to teach is by making it into a game. The letters were written in different colors, the teacher would stencil large outlines of letters and the child would fill them in with red, brown, green, and any of the other abundant colors… or the other way around, the teacher would draw letters in black ink and the child would give it a colorful frame.” (From S.D Goiten’s book:  Jewish Education in Muslim Countries, Jerusalem 1962)

These practice sheets that show the methods used a thousand years ago were discovered in the Cairo Geniza.

Practice sheets signed by the writer, Saadia Bar Yehuda: Cambridge manuscripts T-S NS 110.11


The child wrote the sentence over and over again: Cambridge manuscripts T-S NS 129.11


Cambridge manuscripts: T-S AS 118.272

Translated and abridged from the original Hebrew article by Prof. Shulamit Elizur, researcher of Hebrew piyyut and poetry from the Late Antique Period until the Middle Ages.

Chilling Testimonies: How Christians Twisted the Talmud to Harm the Jews

For centuries, scholars deliberately distorted Jewish teachings to confirm their antisemitic views

A theological debate between Jews and Christians, 1483, unknown artist

Just like the Jews who own and study them, the books of the Talmud have also experienced challenging times. They were also burned at the stake in town squares, such as in Paris in 1240 and Rome in 1553.

The physical assault on the Talmud was usually preceded by attacks regarding the work’s content. Jew-haters understood that the books themselves could be used to harm the Jews.

The topic often arose in debates between Christians and Jews, such as in Paris, Barcelona and Tortosa, when Christians or apostate Jews accused the Talmud of containing anti-Christian content. Many clergymen tried their luck at studying Talmud, even learning Hebrew and Aramaic for this purpose. It was easier for them to make claims against the Talmud if they were armed with “knowledge” of its content, even if they did not always interpret it correctly. One of the first Christians familiar with the Talmud who recorded its teaching was a Spanish Dominican monk named Raymundus Martini (1220-1285). He wrote two anti-Jewish works. One of them was called “The Dagger of Faith Against the Moslems and the Jews” (Pugio fidei adversus Mauros et ludaeos), in which Martini attempts to prove the falsehood of the Jewish religion. The lion’s share of the book is dedicated to quotes from our Sages. Martini claims that the Jewish sources collaborate the authenticity of Christianity, and that the Tosefists and the rabbinic commentaries distort the truth.

Pugio fidei adversus Mauros et ludaeos, Leipzig 1687

Many anti-Talmudic works were written, and the invention of the printing press enabled these slanderous works to reach wider audiences. The sources were usually distorted and falsified. Even when exact quotes were supplied, they were usually taken out of their original context, or partially translated, translated erroneously, or related to and interpreted in a modern way despite being ancient texts.

Martin Luther was an expert in utilizing the invention of the printing press to promote the ideas behind his reform. Toward the end of his life, the founder of Protestantism published a treatise called “On the Jews and Their Lies”. In this treatise, Luther attacks the Talmud, describing the work as “Idolatry, lies, curses and apostasy.” Some consider Luther’s works to be the basis of German antisemitism.

Luther was not the first German to print works against the Talmud. In 1475, the Catholic writer Peter Schwartz published the book “The Star of the Messiah”, in which he writes, among other things: “The cursed book – the Talmud, which German princes should no longer tolerate, but rather should burn forcibly”. It is interesting to note that the first Hebrew letters printed in Germany appear in this antisemitic book.

Another German, Johann Christoph Wagenseil (1633-1705), despite having a close relationship with several Jews and even studying Hebrew, wrote against the Jews, mentioning the Talmud as well. He published his views in his book Tela ignea Satanae. Among other things, he translated the Talmudic tractate of Sotah into Latin. Photographs of Jewish manuscripts which Wagenseil owned and which he used to get to know his “enemy” are kept in the National Library.

The greatest attacker of the Talmud in Germany and overall was Johann Andreas Eisenmenger, who was born in Germany in 1654. He was educated in England and Holland, where he learned Hebrew and other Semitic languages.

In 1700, Eisenmenger published his magnum opus in Frankfurt, Entdecktes Judenthum – “Judaism Unveiled”. In this work, he attacks the Jewish religion, and claims that Jewish literature such as the Talmud and Midrash spread nonsense about belief in God, defame Christianity and Jesus and permit the Jews to relate to Christians in a hurtful and derisive manner.

This work was printed in two thick volumes and is approximately 2,000 pages long.

Entdecktes Judenthum, Frankfurt 1700

In this book, he compiled quotes from 193 Jewish sources in Hebrew, Aramaic and Yiddish, such as the Babylonian Talmud, the Zohar, prayer books, the works of Maimonides and Nachmanides.

Eisenmenger read the sources as they are and refused to interpret them in the historical context they were written in. He claimed that Jews are commanded to take false oaths, to murder children who converted to another faith, to test medication on Christians and to sell them rotten meat.

Emperor Leopold’s court Jew, Rabbi Samson Wertheimer (an ancestor of the author of this article), requested that the Emperor halt the circulation of the book. Later, the Austrian banker and diplomat Samuel Oppenheimer persuaded the Emperor to confiscate all two thousand copies. After Eisenmenger’s death, his successor printed new copies of the book in 1711. In 1740, the confiscated books were released from the Emperor’s storehouses, where they had been kept under lock and key. One complete copy is currently found in the Gershom Scholem Collection at the National Library.

Edtdecktes Judenthum, Frankfurt 1700

Eisenmenger’s book was the first attempt to publish a “scientific” book which quotes the very Jewish sources which ostensibly attack Christianity and Christian society. It was followed by other books printed in various countries.

However, there were also other ways to “prove” the authenticity of Christianity: in 1836 in England, a missionary named Alexander McCaul printed a weekly journal named The Old Paths. The journals were later compiled into a book which was also translated into Hebrew by a Jew who had converted to Christianity. As a missionary trying to bring Jews closer to Christianity, McCaul did not attack Jewish literature, attempting instead to write in a more pleasant manner and to prove the veracity of Christianity. The book contains quotes from the Bible, Talmud, Maimonides, Arbah Turim and the Shulchan Aruch.

The Old Paths, London 1837
Netivot Olam – the Hebrew translation of The Old Paths, London 1851

Isaac Baer Levinsohn of Kremenetz was one of the foremost Russian Maskilim and had close ties with the Czar and the Russian government. In 1863, he wrote his book Zerubbabel refuting McCaul’s claims. A comment at the beginning of a later edition of the book states that McCaul rescinded his claims about the Jews before his death.

The Slyness of the Talmud’s Opponents Is Revealed

Two blood libels revealed the true faces of the Christian slanderers: antisemites who distort Jewish literature to prove whatever they desired at any price.

In 1871, August Rohling, a professor of ancient Judaism in Prague, published Der Talmud-Jude, which contains distorted and falsified quotes from the Talmud. The book was mainly a copy and re-working of Eisenmenger’s work, to such an extent that some even claim it to be plagiary. Rohling was so sure of himself and of the things he wrote that he challenged Austrian Jewry to find mistakes or lies in the book. Rabbi Shmuel Yosef Bloch raised the gauntlet and accused Rohling of ignorance and lies. Rohling sued Bloch but withdrew the suit from fear of undesirable exposure. Rohling was a witness in the blood libel in the Hungarian village of Tiszaeszlar in 1882, where he testified that the Talmud commands Jews to use Christian blood.

Der Talmud-Jude, Leipzig 1891

Another famous Talmudic scholar is Father Justinas Pranaitis (1861-1917), a Catholic priest and professor of the Hebrew language in Saint Petersburg. In 1892, he wrote a book in Latin named Christianus in Talmude Iudaeorum, where he brings quotes in Hebrew and Aramaic with their Latin translation. He took most of the material from Eisenmenger. There are indeed sharply worded expressions in the Talmud against apostates, Kutim [non-Jews settled in the Land of Israel by the King of Assyria after the exile of the Ten Tribes], Amei ha’Aretz [uneducated people] and idolaters. Pranaitis considered all the above to be synonyms for Christians, hence his desire to attack.

Like Rohling, Pranaitis was called on as an expert witness in a blood libel case. This time it was the Beilis Trial in 1912 in Russia, in which a Jew named Menachem Mendel Beilis was claimed to have murdered a Christian child in order to use his blood to bake Matzah. Pranaitis’s expertise was challenged during the trial after it became clear that he did not know the names of the Talmudic tractates. This is most surprising, as the names of the tractates appear at the beginning of his book. He also claimed the Pope’s letter opposing blood libels to be a forgery. The documents were proved to be genuine – which again damaged the expert witness’s legitimacy.

Christianus in Talmuda Iudaeorum, Petropoli 1892

But make no mistake, even after the two modern slanderers of the Talmud were exposes as frauds, the Talmud continued to come under attack from Jew-haters and the negative attitude toward it (and the Jewish people in general) went from bad to worse. In the next article, we will examine the Nazis’ approach to the Talmud.


Hava Nagilah – The Birth of a Song

The story of ecstasy that produced the most famous Jewish song in the world.

General Allenby entering Jerusalem, and the famous song inspired by the event

During the First World War, the small Jewish settlement in the Land of Israel experienced a series of tragedies which threatened its very survival. The residents of Jaffa and Tel Aviv were expelled from their homes, export to Europe – the new settlement’s source of financial support – was completely ceased, and the threat of a repeat of genocide to the Jews of the Israel seemed more and more like a practical reality. There were very few reasons for happiness and rejoicing during that time, but this was all soon going to change.

The arrival of the British forces in the Land of Israel in late 1917 was the development which led to cautious hope in the hearts of many people in the Jewish Yishuv and throughout the Jewish world. There were those who translated this hope into bold deeds: the N.I.L.I network led by the Aaronsohn brothers and their friend Avshalom Feinberg who acted against Ottoman-ruled Palestine, others in the Jewish world in Europe and the USA enlisted in the British army. There were those who chose to exploit their natural talents to encourage the armed forces, and as soon as the British fight to capture the Land of Israel ended – to celebrate the new state of affairs.

The researcher, composer and music teacher Avraham Zvi Idelsohn belonged to the latter group. Idelsohn may have encountered General Allenby’s name for the first time when hearing about the victories in his glorious campaign of conquests throughout the Land of Israel but, this did not prevent him from being swept away by the waves of enthusiasm which flooded his city of Jerusalem with the two great tidings of 1917 – the Balfour Declaration on November 2 and the surrender of Jerusalem to the British on December 9.

A portrait of Avraham Zvi Idelsohn, from the Schwadron Collection in the National Library

The musicologist Eliyahu HaCohen fills in details about the writing of the song Hava Nagilah: “When they began to celebrate the day of redemption in Jerusalem, all eyes turned to Idelsohn, in the hope he would provide the ultimate song to express the events and the public emotion” (quoted from: Eliyahu HaCohen, ‘The First Ten Years: From the Songs of Jerusalem at the Beginning of the Mandate Period, 1918-1928’, Jerusalem During the Mandate Period: Activity and Heritage, 2003, pp. 480-481).

Avraham Zvi Idelsohn was a great researcher and scholar of Jewish music.  Idelsohn published ten volumes of tunes which he compiled from the various musical traditions under the title “Otzar Neginot Yisrael”, the first five volumes of which were dedicated to the Jews from the East and the remaining five volumes to the music of European Jewry. The original tune appears in the tenth volume of the “Otzar” of Hassidic tunes which was only published in 1932, but was written years earlier. The original tune is number 155, but in the song Idelsohn switched the parts of the tune.

The original notes

Idelsohn was also a cantor, music teacher and composer. He was an avid Zionist and wanted to create Israeli music based on traditional Jewish music. So, consciously or unconsciously, he grafted the words “Hava Nagilah” “Uru Achim” onto the Hassidic niggun he had heard from Hassidim.

As a researcher of Jewish music responsible for the revival of the Jewish source in the age of Zionist renewal, Idelsohn chose, instead of composing a completely new tune, to graft new words onto an old Hassidic niggun which he most likely heard in the ‘Tiferet Yisrael’ synagogue of Sadigura Hassidim in Jerusalem as early as 1915. Eliyahu HaCohen suggests two accounts of the manner the words of the song were composed – either Idelsohn alone or with the help of his students in the Lemel School in Jerusalem. Either way, the new words hint to verse 24 of chapter 118 of the book of Psalms, “This is the day God made, let us rejoice and exult in it’.

Let’s rejoice, let’s rejoice

Let’s rejoice and exult.

Let’s sing, let’s sing,

Let’s sing, let’s sing,

Let’s sing and rejoice.

Awaken my brothers with a glad heart.