Palestinian rioters on the Israel-Gaza Strip border, Oct. 12, 2018. Photo: Reuters / Ibraheem Abu Mustafa.
The New York Times devoted a lot of resources to its investigative project
about the death of a 20-year-old Gaza medic named Rouzan al-Najjar. The
article runs at the top of the front page of the Sunday newspaper and
then consumes an additional three full broadsheet pages inside. It
carries the front-page bylines of five Times reporters (at least one a veteran of Al Jazeera) and also credits inside an additional five named Times journalists and a photographer.
Alas, however, rather than being a Times tour de force, a display of the newspaper at its best, the article ends up as a flop, a demonstration of the Times at its worst. The Times
may use thousands of words, millions of dollars worth of highly paid
journalists, and elaborate computer graphics to convey its message. But
strip away the attempt at a dignified presentation, and the message is
effectively the same as a sign scrawled by some ignorant far-left or
far-right Israel-hater at some extremist Christmas-season rally — Jews,
this libel goes, are guilty, blood-drenched killers.
The problems with the article begin with the front-page subheadline: “Israel Killed a Medic. Was It an Accident?” Journalism is supposed to answer questions, not interrogate readers. Usually the question headline is a veil for journalism that falls short of reaching a conclusion. In this case, the Times wants to accuse Israel of murdering this woman, but it can’t quite prove its case, so it hides behind the question headline.
It’s not only punctuation marks that the Times uses to perform this two-step move of accusing Israel of murder while not quite coming all the way out and forthrightly saying so. The Times also hides behind the weasel word “possibly.” A graphic claims “a New York Times investigation shows that the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime,” language that is repeated in the article. As a reader, I want the Times to report on what happened, not on what “possibly” happened. Otherwise, there’d be no end to speculative Times articles. If ten Times journalists can’t find a genuine war crime, just “possibly” a war crime, possibly they should find something else to write about.
The Times poses as evenhanded. “Each side is locked into an unending and insolvable cycle of violence,” the Times
claims, using a cliche of moral equivalence. It adopts an
above-the-fray pose, like the umpire at a tennis match: “To the
Palestinians, she was an innocent martyr killed in cold blood…To the
Israelis, she was part of a violent protest aimed at destroying their
But a closer examination shows the Times isn’t really evenhanded at all.
The Times, for example, describes Israel as “the far
stronger party” relative to the Palestinians. But there are somewhere
between 1.5 billion and 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, and around 14
million Jews. There are about 50 Muslim-majority countries, and one
small Jewish state. The Muslims also have a lot of the oil. It may be
convenient for the Times to stir sympathy for the Palestinians by depicting them as the underdogs, but it’s not as clear-cut a factual matter as the Times describes it.
The Times describes the conflict as “insolvable,” but it
also complains that Israel “continues to focus on containment rather
than finding a solution.” It seems unfair to criticize Israel for
failing to solve a problem that the Times itself concedes is “insolvable.”
Another sign of Times bias is the way it uses language to exculpate Palestinian Arab terrorism. The Times
reports, “rocket attacks and bombings after the Second Intifada erupted
in 2000 prompted Israel to cordon off the strip and eventually abandon
its settlements there.” Later on in the story the Times writes,
“then came the rockets,” as if the rockets just arrived on their own,
immaculately. The rocket attacks and bombings just “erupted” on their
own, to hear the Times tell it, rather than being launched or perpetrated by Palestinians with violent, murderous intent. The Times
doesn’t tell us about the victims of those rocket attacks and bombings.
It is, however, happy to dwell on “the Palestinian death toll” of
“victims” in Gaza protests. Writes the Times, “the victims
include two women and 32 children. Journalists. A double-amputee in a
wheelchair…” How sexist and able-ist of the usually hyper-woke Times
to imply that women or amputees can’t be formidable combatants. Sheik
Yassin, the founder of Hamas, was a quadriplegic, but that didn’t make
him any less evil or deadly.
Nor is this the only way that the Times violates its own
liberal principles in its depiction of Gaza. Writing about Rouzan
al-Najjar’s aunt being pushed down a staircase by Rouzan al-Najjar’s
grandmother, the Times reports of the aunt, “Both she and the
fetus she was carrying were killed.” Never mind that the entire
editorial column of Sunday’s Times is devoted to the first in a multipart series
reporting that “the creation of the legal scaffolding for the idea that
the fetus is a person has been the steady work of the anti-abortion
movement” and about “a deep shift in American society, away from a
centuries-long tradition in Western law and toward the embrace of a
relatively new concept: that a fetus in the womb has the same rights as a
fully formed person.” Times readers might wonder, in the
context of abortion rights in America, about whether a fetus can be
“killed” if it isn’t alive to begin with. But when it comes to depicting
Gaza as a hellhole for which Israel is largely to blame, the Times won’t even let otherwise precious liberal axioms such as fetal non-personhood get in the way.
The Times article concludes by claiming that Najjar “has
become a symbol, perhaps not of what either side had hoped, but of a
hopeless, endless conflict and the lives it wastes.”
That’s a dodge, because the gist of the rest of the piece is that
it’s not the “conflict” that killed her, but an Israeli sniper, in what
was “possibly a war crime.” And now, thanks to the work of at least ten Times
journalists and whatever editors decided to set them loose on this
story and to give it prominent play, her life isn’t a “waste,” but
rather has become a valuable propaganda tool for the Palestinian Arabs,
who can now use her death to depict Israel to the Times audience as reckless murderers, and Israelis as war criminals, or at least “possibly” war criminals.
None of this is to say that the Israeli troops defending the border
with Gaza performed perfectly, or that there isn’t room for journalism
that can help Israel do a better job at it going forward. No human is
perfect. US police and American troops accidentally kill people, too,
and Palestinian Arab terrorists intentionally kill people. For whatever
reason, though, the Times has decided that this Gaza death is
worth the time of ten journalists and three pages of the Sunday
newspaper, while the death of an Israeli American, Ari Fuld, wasn’t deemed fit to print by the Timesat all.
If one were to take a Timesian approach, one would write it with a question headline: “Times Pays More Attention To a Palestinian Death Than to an Israeli American One. Was It an Accident?” And then one would weasel around the issue: “the Times journalism appears to have been careless at best, and possibly a blood libel.” But I’ll reject that approach and be more direct and forthright. The New York Times “investigation,” for all its dignified trappings, is just the same old Israel-bashing you can get for free on any extreme right or extreme left Internet site or social media feed. Save yourself the time and the money and the heartburn and skip it.
The entrance to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.
by Ben Cohen
– Imagine that you are a Jewish doctor in a Nazi concentration camp.
About 100 of your fellow inmates suffer from diabetes, and you only have
a limited supply of insulin, with no guarantee of more on the way. Do
you give each patient the same amount regardless of individual need,
knowing that all of them will likely die within a month? Or do you
reserve your supply for those with a greater chance of survival, meaning
that those with severe diabetes will die much sooner as a result?
Or imagine that you are the Greek Jewish teenager from Salonika who’s
picked up enough German from polishing the boots of the Nazi officers
occupying your city that when you are eventually deported to Auschwitz,
your linguistic abilities land you a low-level clerical job, instead of a
spot in the gas chamber. In the camp administrative office, you have
access to the index-card system that assigns each prisoner to a
different slave-labor brigade — most of which involves punishing
physical work in the freezing outdoors, with the risk of frostbite,
pneumonia, beatings, or even execution for those deemed by the guards to
be slacking off.
One of your fellow prisoners, who is near death, begs you to sneak
his card into the box of a different brigade, one with lighter duties.
As long as your Nazi overlords don’t catch you, it’s in your power to do
that. But if you decide to help your friend, then you have to switch
his card out with that of another person from the same brigade, and
then that person spends his or her days facing snow, ice, and
death from starvation. What do you do? And, come to think of it, how on
earth did you end up in this position?
The above documented examples are what many Holocaust scholars and
educators like to describe as “choiceless choices” — appalling moral
dilemmas faced by a people that were systematically dehumanized by the
Nazi regime, and who knew that they faced death at any second. They
formed part of an intense, enriching four days that I spent with a small
group of other writers and journalists at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official
Holocaust commemoration museum, memorial, and institute that was
established in 1953 through a law passed by the Knesset.
We were there to study and discuss many aspects of the Holocaust —
from “choiceless choices” to archive management to Holocaust art — but
we did so from a starting point that the way we teach younger
generations about the Nazi attempt to destroy the Jews of Europe and
North Africa is changing radically.
Holocaust survivors have all reached advanced ages, meaning that
there won’t be any in-person testimonies to listen to within a few
years, even if we are left with their accounts captured on video,
holograms, or other forms of visual reproduction. Since 1945, countless
other genocides have wreaked havoc in the Balkans, much of Africa, Asia,
and the Middle East, while a few of those that occurred before — the
Herero nation slaughtered by German colonists in southern Africa, the
Armenians annihilated by Turkey — to this day remain under-recognized.
Is the Holocaust, it is often asked, any more important than these other
demonstrations of inhumanity in the world?
And there’s more, much more. In countries like Lithuania and Ukraine,
wartime collaborators with the Nazis are now being lionized as
anti-Communist heroes. The Israeli government walks an undignified
diplomatic tightrope with these states, having to balance present-day
bilateral relations with guardianship of the Holocaust’s truths.
Elsewhere, some Holocaust-commemoration activities are so fixated with a
universalist approach that basic facts about the Jewish character of
the genocide — like the young diarist Anne Frank having been Jewish, and
being deported because she was Jewish — are buried in a bid to be
“meaningful” to “everyone.”
Meanwhile, in Western Europe and the United States, social protest
movements like the “Yellow Vests” in France and the Women’s March in
America have been penetrated by Holocaust-deniers, antisemitic
conspiracy-mongers, and advocates of Israel’s elimination. And that’s
not to mention those who don’t deny the Holocaust, but delight in
invoking the Nazis as a metaphor for Israeli policies towards the
Palestinians or go the whole hog by — check out the French “comedian”
Dieudonné M’bala M’bala — making fun of it in front of receptive crowds
In the recent past, perhaps the key Holocaust debate was why the
Allied powers did so little to stop it. During our group’s exchange with
Avner Shalev, the chair of Yad Vashem who pioneered its renewal over
the last two decades, he related the story of guiding President George
W. Bush around the institute’s impressive museum. When they reached the
exhibit about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s response to the
Holocaust, Bush turned to his then national security adviser Condoleezza
Rice and asked: “Why didn’t FDR bomb the camps? He should have.”
But that burning question has been superseded by an even more vexing
one: Why should we seek to educate about the Holocaust in a world where
the phrase “Never Again” sounds farcical to many people? There are many
answers, and to my mind, there are three key ones.
First, there are still some survivors of the Holocaust. I think
specifically of a man named Albert de Leeuw and 150 other former child
laborers in the Amsterdam ghetto, who have still not received proper
compensation from the German government, and continue fighting for that
recognition in the twilight of their lives. To abandon them now would be
Second, however much people believe politics has changed with the
rise of populism on left and right in the last several years, the
Holocaust remains a truly foundational moment of our era and the source
of many of the international institutions that, for good or ill, manage
international relations today. Look back and you will see that the
Holocaust changed a good deal more than we realize — for example, how we
look at art and music, or our relationship with technology and our
agonizing about inclusiveness in our society. As we prepare in 2019 to
mark the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, expect much
more reflection on all that.
Thirdly, if we are to teach our children the basic facts of the
Holocaust, they can be boiled down like this: Six million Jews died
because they were dehumanized for being Jews. Many of them resisted, in a
variety of ways. And far too many were faced with the “choiceless
choices” that symbolize the reality of the Holocaust.
Ben Cohen writes a weekly column for JNS on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, The New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications.
Even the researchers could hardly believe the findings: 23% of Latin America’s urban population could be descendants of Conversos – Spanish Jews forced to convert to Christianity
For centuries, the Americas – the New World – were a place of refuge for people fleeing the Old World. It offered them the chance to start a new life far from the rules and restrictions of life in Europe. The continents of North and South America were “discovered” by Christopher Columbus, after being dispatched on behalf of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, in 1492 – the same year the Spanish monarchs declared that all their country’s Jews must either convert to Christianity or be expelled. It’s no surprise, then, that many of those who immigrated to the Americas were Spanish Conversos, the “New Christians,” who had given up practicing Judaism under duress but still sought to escape the terror of the Inquisition.
Estimates still vary as to how many of these New Christians crossed the ocean. A study published this month in the scientific journal Nature Communications presents an extensive analysis of the genetic history of Latin Americans, and finds that nearly one-quarter have significant genetic roots linking their family to the southern and eastern Mediterranean basin, including to the Jews of Spain. The authors of the study say this is a much more widespread phenomenon than previously thought, and note that the genetic presence of descendants of the Conversos is even more prominent in Latin America than in Spain and Portugal.
Margalit Bejarano of the Hebrew University’s Spanish and Latin American studies department, who was not involved in the study, explains that immigration by New Christians to America began while Spain was building its colonial empire. These converts were legally prohibited from emigrating, but the law was not always enforced. Yet one consequence of the ban is that there is no consensus today as to how many of them did in fact migrate.
“We were not surprised by
the presence of Sephardic ancestry in Latin America, since historical
documents hint at a possible migration of Conversos, despite records
being scarce,” says Dr. Kaustubh Adhikari of University College London, a
statistical geneticist, and one of the study’s lead authors. “We were
surprised, however, at the broad extent of its presence, as there was no
previous indication of this broad magnitude. We thus performed
extensive tests to verify that what we observed was not some mere
artifact of our analysis.”
“Not all of those New Christians were crypto-Jews,” says Bejarano, in an interview with Haaretz, adding that some Spanish Jews genuinely embraced Christianity even as others continued to observe some of the Jewish commandments in secret. But even in the New World, those who fled the Inquisition weren’t necessarily safe. Agents of the Spanish Inquisition arrived in the Americas too, and secret Judaizers who were caught were burned at the stake. In 1570, offices of the Inquisition were opened in Mexico and in Lima, Peru; in 1603, a third was opened in Cartagena (in modern-day Colombia). The agents would roam the streets of the colonies, urging locals to denounce any neighbors whose customs suggested that they were crypto-Jews. The fate of secret Jews in the Portuguese colonies wasn’t much better. The Portuguese Inquisition did not have an outpost in Brazil, but its emissaries came from Lisbon to search for Jews who were concealing their religious practices, and anyone who was caught was sent to Portugal to stand trial and sometimes subjected to auto-da-fé as well.
The stories of some of those who endured such a fate were recorded by contemporaries and later became well known. One such person was Francisco Maldonado da Silva, who was burned at the stake in Lima in 1639. His story was recorded by another Converso, Isaac Cardoso, and published 40 years later. Cardoso describes what became of Maldonado: “This great interpreter of the Torah, who was imprisoned for 13 years and did not consume meat in all that time but only a bit of corn flour… He grew his beard and his hair like a nazir [Jewish ascetic] and circumcised himself with a knife… He changed his name from Maldonado da Silva to Eli Nazareno… The theologians and agents of the Inquisition summoned him many times to persuade him to abandon his faith, but he debated with them in writing and verbally. He wrote many essays in his cell, having put together used pieces of paper that wrapped items he requested.”
Another famous Converso who was a victim of the auto-da-fé was Luis de Carvajal, a Jewish trader who was arrested around 1590 in New Spain (later Mexico). In his cell, Carvajal wrote a memoir that is considered the first written record of Jewish life in the Americas. In his diary, whose original manuscript was missing for years, although found and returned to Mexico last year, he calls himself Joseph Lumbroso (“illumined one”) and describes how he learned from his father that he was Jewish, how he circumcised himself (with an old pair of scissors) and how he began secretly observing the Jewish commandments and trying to convince his brothers and sisters to return to Judaism. The Inquisitors released Carvajal from prison for a time, perhaps so they could track him and thus find other individuals practicing Judaism in secret. During this time, he managed to complete his memoir, before being imprisoned again and burned at the stake on December 8, 1696, at age 30.
Most of the Conversos and their descendants integrated into Latin American society, and were distinguishable only by certain family traditions that recalled Jewish practices, and that differed from those of their neighbors. It wasn’t until the 20th century, says Bejarano, that people in various parts of Latin America began to associate their family traditions with Jewish roots.
the realm of science and academia in general, the history of Spanish
Conversos in Latin America is an increasingly popular subject of study.
Dr. Shai Carmi of the Hebrew University, an expert in population
genetics, says that previous research conducted with small samples found
genetic links between Latin Americans and Sephardi Jews. In research on
genetic diseases prevalent among Ashkenazi Jews (who share certain
mutations with Sephardim), for example, mutations that are virtually
nonexistent in other populations have been detected in various locales
in Latin America.
Genes and migration
The study reported in Nature
Communications, which involved more than 6,000 subjects from Mexico and
further south – as well as more than 2,000 subjects from around the
world who served as the “source population,” for the sake of comparison –
provides a much more accurate and detailed picture than was previously
available. Carmi, who did not participate in the study, but is familiar
with its result, explains that the method used by the researchers was
based on the same genetic principles used by companies that analyze
individuals’ genetic origins, but with the addition of advanced
statistical tools that make it possible to home in to a very high degree
on the geographic origin of each part of the genome.
Adhikari notes that the
study does not reflect a representative sample of all Latin Americans
because it focused on subjects who live in urban areas (near the
universities where the research was conducted). “Given how heterogenous
Latin American countries are, it is not appropriate for us to
over-generalize and assign a single number [percentage] to the overall
population of Latin America. For example, the Andean residents of Peru
have much lower non-native ancestry, and thus lower Sephardic ancestry
as well, if any. Thus the sentence can perhaps be modified this way:
Almost a quarter of the Latin Americans studied have Jewish roots,” he
researchers focus on a very small part of the genome, which is known to
vary significantly between different people (99.9 percent of the genome
of any two people is generally identical). The researchers say the
advanced statistical methods they used enabled them to achieve a very
high level of geographical resolution – i.e., to differentiate between a
genome typical of northern Spain, as opposed to southern Spain, and to
follow the process by which the different populations settled across
Latin America, which is in the main congruent with the historical
One of the most important
findings concerned the relatively large proportion of subjects with
Spanish-Jewish genetic roots specifically, or from the Mediterranean
basin generally. According to the study’s authors, 1 percent of the
Brazilian subjects, 4 percent of the Chileans, 3 percent of those from
Mexico and 2 percent of the Peruvians were of Jewish or North
African-Eastern Mediterranean descent. The study’s authors say that at
least 5 percent of the genome that originates in these areas was
detected in 23 percent of all the subjects. Among that 23 percent, 12.2
percent of the genome, on average, had a non-European Mediterranean
origin, and about two-thirds clearly showed Spanish-Jewish descent.
The study also found that in
the case of 19 of the 42 subjects for whom more than a quarter of their
genome indicated non-European Mediterranean origins, the genealogical
information they provided (as far back as their grandparents) suggested
that there had been migration in earlier generations. But for the rest
of the subjects with Jewish roots, no genealogical information was found
that indicated migration occurred in the past 100 years. Moreover, the
genetic analysis of the origin of these roots indicates that the
migration event paralleled the appearance of other genetic sources from
the Iberian Peninsula – i.e., showing that (Converso) Jews arrived with
other Spanish and Portuguese citizens when the Americas were settled in
the 16th and 17th centuries.
In 16th-century Spain, there was also a significant Muslim population that converted (by coercion, or otherwise) to Christianity. But the data from the new study indicate that most of the “New Christians” who immigrated to the Americas were Jews (even though they made up a smaller percentage of the population in Spain).
Bejarano says that this result agrees with historical findings. “We don’t really have evidence of persecution by the Inquisition of secretly practicing Muslims in the Americas,” she notes, even though crypto-Muslims were persecuted in Spain.
The study under review did not, however, focus solely on the Jewish background of Latin Americans. The researchers also took a bold look at the connection between certain genetic heritages and external physical characteristics, some quite surprising. For example, they found that in a mixed population with a higher rate of northwestern European roots, skin color was lighter on average. The researchers also looked at two population groups in which clear genetic differences were found – one group related to the indigenous Mapuche people (who are native to Chile and southern Argentina) and the other related to inhabitants of the central Andes. The study revealed that, in addition to having a different genetic profile than the residents of the Andes, these descendants of the Mapuche also have flatter and broader noses. They ascribed this to evolutionary adaptation of life in the Andes at relatively high altitudes where the air is thinner.
For his part, Adhikari notes
that since the rate of Jewish genetic origin was relatively low, the
tools used in the study were not sufficient to link Jewish roots with
any physical characteristics, but, he says, “This is a very interesting
topic though and we hope to come back to it in future studies.”
Despite the greater precision of the new findings, Carmi warns against taking the numbers cited by the researchers at face value, adding, “It’s hard to accurately gauge percentages.” However, he says that the study does appear to support earlier data and that its very broad scope (thousands of subjects, each with a detailed genetic and genealogical profile) enhances the significance of the findings. Perhaps the study, yet another example of the use of genetic information as a means for deciphering human history, will spur people throughout Latin America to search for their Jewish roots.
Hebrew University professor cites lack of reliable source for conversion story
Did the Khazars convert to Judaism? The view that some or all
Khazars, a central Asian people, became Jews during the ninth or tenth
century is widely accepted. But following an exhaustive analysis of the
evidence, Hebrew University of Jerusalem researcher Prof. Shaul Stampfer
has concluded that such a conversion, “while a splendid story,” never
Prof. Shaul Stampfer is the Rabbi
Edward Sandrow Professor of Soviet and East European Jewry, in the
department of the History of the Jewish People at the Hebrew
University’s Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies. The research has just
been published in the Jewish Social Studies journal, Vol. 19, No. 3
(online at http://bit.ly/khazars).
From roughly the seventh to tenth
centuries, the Khazars ruled an empire spanning the steppes between the
Caspian and Black Seas. Not much is known about Khazar culture and
society: they did not leave a literary heritage and the archaeological
finds have been meager. The Khazar Empire was overrun by Svyatoslav of
Kiev around the year 969, and little was heard from the Khazars after.
Yet a widely held belief that the Khazars or their leaders at some point
converted to Judaism persists.
Reports about the Jewishness of
the Khazars first appeared in Muslim works in the late ninth century and
in two Hebrew accounts in the tenth century. The story reached a wider
audience when the Jewish thinker and poet Yehudah Halevi used it as a
frame for his book The Kuzari.
Little attention was given to the issue in subsequent centuries, but a
key collection of Hebrew sources on the Khazars appeared in 1932
followed by a little-known six-volume history of the Khazars written by
the Ukrainian scholar Ahatanhel Krymskyi. Henri Gregoire published
skeptical critiques of the sources, but in 1954 Douglas Morton Dunlop
brought the topic into the mainstream of accepted historical scholarship
with The History of the Jewish Khazars. Arthur Koestler’s best-selling The Thirteenth Tribe
(1976) brought the tale to the attention of wider Western audiences,
arguing that East European Ashkenazi Jewry was largely of Khazar origin.
Many studies have followed, and the story has also garnered
considerable non-academic attention; for example, Shlomo Sand’s 2009
bestseller, The Invention of the Jewish People,
advanced the thesis that the Khazars became Jews and much of East
European Jewry was descended from the Khazars. But despite all the
interest, there was no systematic critique of the evidence for the
conversion claim other than a stimulating but very brief and limited
paper by Moshe Gil of Tel Aviv University.
Stampfer notes that scholars who have contributed to the subject based their arguments on a limited corpus of textual and numismatic evidence. Physical evidence is lacking: archaeologists excavating in Khazar lands have found almost no artifacts or grave stones displaying distinctly Jewish symbols. He also reviews various key pieces of evidence that have been cited in relation to the conversion story, including historical and geographical accounts, as well as documentary evidence. Among the key artifacts are an apparent exchange of letters between the Spanish Jewish leader Hasdai ibn Shaprut and Joseph, king of the Khazars; an apparent historical account of the Khazars, often called the Cambridge Document or the Schechter Document; various descriptions by historians writing in Arabic; and many others.
Taken together, Stampfer says, these sources offer a cacophony of distortions, contradictions, vested interests, and anomalies in some areas, and nothing but silence in others. A careful examination of the sources shows that some are falsely attributed to their alleged authors, and others are of questionable reliability and not convincing. Many of the most reliable contemporary texts, such as the detailed report of Sallam the Interpreter, who was sent by Caliph al-Wathiq in 842 to search for the mythical Alexander’s wall; and a letter of the patriarch of Constantinople, Nicholas, written around 914 that mentions the Khazars, say nothing about their conversion.
Citing the lack of any reliable source for the conversion story, and the lack of credible explanations for sources that suggest otherwise or are inexplicably silent, Stampfer concludes that the simplest and most convincing answer is that the Khazar conversion is a legend with no factual basis. There never was a conversion of a Khazar king or of the Khazar elite, he says.
Years of research went into this paper, and Stampfer ruefully noted that “Most of my research until now has been to discover and clarify what happened in the past. I had no idea how difficult and challenging it would be to prove that something did not happen.”
In terms of its historical
implications, Stampfer says the lack of a credible basis for the
conversion story means that many pages of Jewish, Russian and Khazar
history have to be rewritten. If there never was a conversion, issues
such as Jewish influence on early Russia and ethnic contact must be
Stampfer describes the persistence of the Khazar conversion legend as a fascinating application of Thomas Kuhn’s thesis on scientific revolution to historical research. Kuhn points out the reluctance of researchers to abandon familiar paradigms even in the face of anomalies, instead coming up with explanations that, though contrived, do not require abandoning familiar thought structures. It is only when “too many” anomalies accumulate that it is possible to develop a totally different paradigm—such as a claim that the Khazar conversion never took place.
Stampfer concludes, “We must admit that sober studies by historians do not always make for great reading, and that the story of a Khazar king who became a pious and believing Jew was a splendid story.” However, in his opinion, “There are many reasons why it is useful and necessary to distinguish between fact and fiction – and this is one more such case.”
Diario Judío México – Escuché en una emisora radial de Amplitud Modulada (AM 740) una serie de comentarios que me llevaron a buscar aquellas referencias que mencionaban, y sus posibles derivaciones.
Caí en una serie de publicaciones, que con una redacción pseudo-científica, relatan historias vinculadas a una red de judíos, descendientes del obscuro pueblo Jázaro o Kázaro.
Mientras hablaban de la Reserva Federal de EE. UU., uno de los locutores dijo que la misma está manejada por los “judíos Jázaros”. En la página “Mente Alternativa” (https://www.mentealternativa.com/jazaros-reserva-federal/) hay un relato que, en resumen, dice así: En “La Guerra de Divisas (2007)…, Song Hongbing desarrolla el argumento de que los países occidentales, y particularmente los Estados Unidos están controlados por una élite de banqueros internacionales que usan la manipulación de divisas para enriquecerse. Uno de los ejes de la teoría que vincula a jázaros y sionistas con el control de los centros de poder del sionismo internacional, es que el padre de Netanhayu al igual que Jabotinsky como ideólogo del sionismo, y todo el grupo liberal de Likud y los Rothschild, tienen ascendencia jázara. Además de la casualidad que, de los 13 bancos de Nueva York, 10 están en manos de los sionistas cuya mayoría son jázaros. Lo mismo sucede con la Reserva Federal de los Estados Unidos, desde Allan Greenspan, está en manos de jázaros, como Ben Shalom Bernanke y Janet Yellen quien además trajo a Stanley Fischer de la banca de Israel.”
El argumento central es el siguiente:
Todos los que manejan la Reserva Federal tienen ascendencia judía askenasin y/o georgianos,
La Reserva Federal es la culpable de la crisis de los mercados emergentes y de la miseria del pueblo. Entonces:
Todos los que tienen ascendencia judía askenasin y/o georgianos son los culpables de las crisis de los mercados emergentes y de la miseria del pueblo.
El argumento es tan sencillo como peligroso, y su repetición a través del tiempo implica que sigue siendo efectivo.
La relación existente entre la maldad del colectivo Askenasin y Georgiano está presente desde la edad media y su vinculación con el imperio Jázaro es lineal.
La tesis central del argumento antisemita radica en el odio racial, por tanto, la vinculación del colectivo atacado con una determinada estirpe, involucra a una etnia determinada.
Veamos: Jazaria o Kazaria tiene importancia al estudiarse el origen del idioma Idish. La idea de que este idioma eslavo es un dialecto fue impuesta por el antisemitismo alemán, así como la afirmación de que se trataba de una lengua muerta. Los estudios históricos sobre el reino Jázaro son filtrados a través de varios elementos. Por ejemplo, el lingüístico “Diccionario Jázaro” de Milord Pavić, el literario de la mano de la novela: “Los Jázaros” de Marek Halter y el político: “Judíos kázaros: La Decimotercera Tribu” de Arthur Koestler. En estos textos, más allá de su intención y enfoque, coinciden al afirmar que el Idish es el idioma de este imperio y, por tanto, carece de ese carácter de apéndice del alemán.
La desconfianza que se tiene a la judería del norte de Europa, en detrimento de las del mediterráneo es notable; inclusive, el ataque principal de los jerarcas fascistas (Franco, Musolini, Hitler y sus delegados, con excepción del régimen de Portugal) tenían su principal objetivo en la rama Askenasin y otras parecidas que tenían al Idish como idioma en común.
La notable diferencia que Franco (Fascista Español) hacía respecto a “sus judíos” expulsados en 1492 y su revisión del Sefarad con los del norte del Europa, lo puso en crisis con sus aliados, ya que le exigían la deportación indiscriminada. Situación diferente a la vivida por los italianos y griegos que fueron deportados a partir de 1942 a una muerte segura en los campos de concentración.
Más cerca a nuestra época, la responsabilidad de estos Askenasin y georgianos como arquetipo del judío, barbado, encorvado, sucio, con pelos en la nariz (tradicionalmente de gancho) sobre todas las plagas sufridas por el pueblo se fue sofisticando. De considerarseles responsables por las epidemias, tormentas, terremotos e incendios, pasaron a ser culpables de los efectos del capitalismo salvaje, personificado en los banqueros. Esta figura, la de los banqueros, ya estaba presente en el Sefarad. Pero, al convertirse en la sombra invisible que manipula a los gobiernos, elevándolos o derrocándolos, aparece en el escenario tomado de la mano con la familia Rothschild.
Más allá del mito, ésta familia judía Askenasin, y por tanto, Jázara, fue la principal responsable de la caída alemana ante los aliados en la primera guerra mundial. A través de ella se unía a fascistas y bolcheviques, siendo estos la máxima expresión del mal. Por tanto, ser judío vino a ser sinónimo de riqueza; riqueza era sinónimo de Rothschild, y éste de lo que era ser Jázaro,
“todos los judíos jázaros son ricos como lo eran los banqueros”
Esta posición llevada al paroxismo trascendió todos los niveles: el sionismo, como único factor político que llevó adelante la creación de un estado nacional judío, fue el producto de los jázaros y, ello implica de los Askenasin, por tanto, una vez creado el nuevo estado, la oposición interna consistió en decir no a la implementación del Idish como idioma nacional.
A su vez, Jázaro y Askenasin, son sinónimos de gueto y de holocausto y por ello, aun el fundamentalismo ortodoxo (muchos, de ese presunto mismo origen) sostiene que éste fue el producto de malos judíos.
De hecho, el rabino Yosef Tzvi ben Porat sostuvo, entre muchas otras cosas, que tanto Hitler como el músico Wagner no perseguían a los judíos por su religión, ya que los odiados eran los bolcheviques y los asimilados; personificando en Trosky y Mendelson esas dos ideas, insultando al gobierno israelí laborista por ocultar los textos de estos dos pensadores que enfatizan su respeto por aquellos que cumplen con la Torá y con los principios defendidos por ellos.
A su vez, la izquierda reinterpreta esas palabras y las expone más o menos del siguiente modo: los jázaros askenasin no son judíos de raza, por tanto, no son semitas sino europeos que descienden de una tribu que proviene del Mar Negro que con el tiempo se convirtió al judaísmo y siguió la agenda de la especulación financiera tomándose de la mano con la familia Rothschild, (https://www.mentealternativa.com/hitler-judios/).
Ante este tipo de afirmaciones surgen algunas preguntas pendientes: Hitler, ¿tendría razón al perseguir la eliminación sistemática de estos individuos denominados jázaros?, La Shoah, entonces, ¿estaría justificada?
El énfasis entre el negacionismo de la Shoah, hasta su justificación se centra en una serie de argumentos xenófobos que consiste en que sus víctimas son culpables, y que por ello, su eliminación está justificada.
Si nos centramos en los argumentos principales de los holocaustos modernos, vemos que la planificación para exterminar a un sector de la población, por motivos de raza, sexo o religión por parte del estado, se funda sustancialmente en la creencia de los argumentos de la mayoría. Primero, se crea la conciencia sobre los defectos e inflexiones del colectivo a eliminar; después, con el apoyo social y normativo se lleva a cabo. (Conf., Daniel Feierstein, Seis Estudios sobre el Genocidio -2007- e Introducción a los estudios sobre genocidio -2016-)
Tanto los argumentos de los fundamentalistas judíos o árabes, como la historia reciente de la Shoah, se fundan en la imposición social y cultural de una maldad que se le atribuye al pueblo judío, en especial a los del norte de Europa, zona de los Montes Cárpatos y del Río Volga ligados a dudosos trabajos sobre estudios de ADN que, a veces encuentran por un lado un vínculo semita y, por otro lo desconocen.
El argumento de la izquierda populista latinoamericana, tan absurda como contradictoria, recoge este esquema de pensamiento y reaviva la vieja idea de los judíos ricos que se comen a los pobres del continente, a través de los centros del capitalismo, como es la Reserva Federal de los EE. UU. y los Bancos Centrales del Reino Unido, a través de la Banca Rothschild.
El argumento central a favor de la demonización de los judíos askenasin consiste en su ubicación en la diáspora. Pero lo cierto es que tanto en Alemania como entre los mares Caspio y Negro, se trata de un pueblo nómada que se movió por las tierras del imperio Romano; primero de oriente y después de occidente y, para los fundamentalistas, fue el sionismo que nació, se desarrolló y obtuvo su resultado en la creación del actual Israel dentro de los mismos límites en que nació el movimiento Masorti o Conservador, que no pone énfasis en la cuestión genética racial.
La fobia al judío, presuntamente Jázaro, es equivalente en los fundamentalistas, a la que los presuntos rabinos ortodoxos xenófobos le tienen al movimiento conservador, que cumple con la Tora y cumple con los mandatos de los profetas, muy a diferencia de la gran mayoría de la ortodoxia que desconoce aquellas mitzvot que no acepta.
La intolerancia de los grupos extremistas, como lo son los fascistas, los bolcheviques y los fundamentalistas judíos, árabes y sus colaboradores, tienen los mismos orígenes: el oscurantismo, el dogmatismo y el fanatismo, que se reflejó en la literatura, la política y hasta la misma historia.
Si soy una judía con pleno derecho, ¿por qué no soy suficientemente buena como para casarme con alguien de la tribu sacerdotal?
Por Aron Moss
Me convertí al judaísmo y estoy muy feliz. Siempre me he sentido acogida por la comunidad. Pero estoy molesta por la ley que dice que una conversa no puede casarse con un cohen. Si soy una judía con pleno derecho, ¿por qué no soy suficientemente buena como para casarme con alguien de la tribu sacerdotal?
Una conversa puede casarse con un rey. Una conversa puede casarse con un profeta. Una conversa puede casarse con un rabino, el escalón más alto de la sociedad judía. Por lo tanto, no tiene sentido decir que una conversa no puede casarse con un cohen porque son ciudadanas de segunda clase. Debe haber alguna otra razón.
Cuando la Torá prohíbe un matrimonio, nunca es porque una de las
partes no es lo suficientemente buena para la otra. Es porque las partes
no se corresponden entre sí. No son almas gemelas. En el caso del cohen
y la mujer conversa, las dinámicas de sus almas chocan, sus energías
espirituales se contradicen, y por eso no pueden casarse.
La santidad del cohen es hereditaria. Si tu padre es cohen, eres cohen. El sacerdocio es un derecho de nacimiento que no se logra a través del esfuerzo ni el mérito. Es un honor que se otorga al nacer.
La santidad del converso es exactamente lo contrario. El converso no nació judío. Él o ella lo eligió. Ellos logran el judaísmo por su propia iniciativa y con trabajo duro. Son almas hechas a sí mismas.
Entonces estas dos almas, el Cohen y el converso, se mueven en direcciones opuestas. El Cohen recibe su poder desde arriba. El converso crea su propia energía del alma desde abajo. El Cohen tiene la habilidad de traer bendiciones a otros, al igual que su alma le fue dada como una bendición. El converso tiene el poder de la innovación, de la iniciativa, de crear santidad desde cero. Por esta razón, sus almas no son pareja.
Tanto los cohenim como los conversos tienen una santidad impresionante. Es un gran privilegio ser dotado con el alma de un Kohen. Sin embargo, el alma de un converso que se ha hecho a sí mismo tiene un nivel de experiencia con la que la santidad heredada no puede competir. Sin duda no son almas de segunda clase.
El cohen está coronado con un legado de generaciones pasadas. Un converso crea su propio legado para las generaciones futuras. El pueblo judío es más rico contando con cada uno de ellos.
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo: This, I think, has created tremendous problems, because what we’re taking the halakha which developed in the diaspora for the last 2000 years, and we’re bringing it to the State of Israel, and applying it as if we are still living in the diaspora—when we are not. And therefore there are constantly problems in Israel about halakha, because the customary halakha speaks as if nothing has happened in Jewish history since 1948. But the truth is that the whole situation has radically changed. So the Shulkhan Arukh is in many ways outdated. And I’m sure that if Maimonides, or Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Shulkhan Arukh, lived today, they would say, “We never wrote our codifications for a time when the State of Israel would be established, why do you still apply our rulings which were meant for the time we lived in the diaspora?”
In last week’s Thoughts to Ponder
(no 623), we published the first half of an interview with Rabbi
Cardozo. At the end of his observations, Rabbi Cardozo discussed the
codification and dogmatization of Jewish Law and religious beliefs as
they took place in the diaspora and showed that these developments did
not do justice to—and in fact opposed authentic Judaism. Here is the
continuation of his arguments.
Interviewer: But the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides talks about the laws of the Temple and other areas of Jewish life in the land in the future!
NLC: Yes, but that is about the time after the coming of the mashiach. But Maimonides never wrote about a secular Jewish state before his coming.
That possibility was never contemplated. (The late chief rabbi of
Israel) Rabbi Yitzhak Ha-Levi Herzog writes in one of his letters, that
the halakha is not ready to take on the State of Israel. Because we
never developed the halakha in the diaspora to deal with a situation
where we’re running our own (secular) country. We were always under the
administration of the non-Jewish world.
The Shulkhan Arukh
starts by saying that in the morning we have to get up, and we must
imagine God before us and go to synagogue to pray. But let’s ask an
important question: What are the conditions where you’re able to get up
in the morning and go to synagogue to pray? It requires that the Turkish
government, under which the Shulkhan Arukh was written in
Safed, under Ottoman rule, will have created a legal system that enables
you—as a Jew—to get out of bed in the morning and walk to synagogue
without being attacked. So you have already taken on all sorts of
guarantees from a secular administration to allow you to adhere to your
religious obligations. But that was the Ottoman government. The
situation in Israel today is again drastically different. We have an
independent secular democratic state which, if it wants to survive,
needs to be deeply Jewish and influenced by the great foundations of
what is needed is to liberate the Halakha as it developed in the
diaspora, where it had to deal with anti-Semitism and the need of the
Jewish people to survive the Diaspora. And as I mentioned before, this
often meant that it became artificial, defensive, and not true to its
authentic nature. To allow it to become itself again, one needs to
return to its original disposition, which by definition is organic and
impossible to irrevocably codify. Only a few poskim fully understood
this. I mention two: Rabbi Chaim Hirschensohn (1857-1935) in his classic
work: Malki BaKodesh and Rabbi Shmuel Moshe Glasner, Chief
Rabbi of Klausenburg (1856-1924) in his powerful introduction to the
Talmudic Tractate Chulin, called, Dor Revi’i. But these were the exceptions to the rule. Till this day most poskim will go back to the Shulkhan Arukh and still see it, with some exceptions, as the final word in Halakha.
I have been attacked by some rabbis for making these claims. This
demonstrates their ignorance. If they would survey works like the ones I
just mentioned, (by the way, both of these poskim saw themselves as
ultra-orthodox), they would realize that the story is very different
from what they think. (The same is true when I bring some Chassidic
interpretations of narratives such as the sacrifice of Yitzchak, which
are out of the box, but no doubt fully acceptable.) While they have the
right to disagree, they cannot use the cheap argument that I am
undermining the Jewish Tradition. In fact, it is very clear that I only
strengthen orthodox Judaism with these observations, because they show
the enormous flexibility and power of this tradition. For all of my
observations, I have rabbinical sources which, it seems, they have never
seen. What these rabbis have to understand is what Eric Hoffer once
said: “Far more crucial than what we know or do not know is what we do
not want to know.” It is much more comfortable not to have to
deal with unusual ideas. It does not disturb one’s comfort-zone. But it
is a deviation of the truth and most dangerous. I really pity these
The Role of the Posek
Should a modern posek (halakhic scholar) relate to halakha as
precedence law that must be consulted before ruling, or can they
approach the halakhic inquiry directly from their knowledge of the
Talmud? How much of the millennia of Shut (halakhik Q&A) should a
modern posek take into consideration?
There’s no straight answer to this. Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z.l. would
sometimes make rulings directly from the Talmud. The Rogatchover Gaon
z.l. (Rabbi Joseph Rosen, 1858-1936) would often rule from the Talmud.
Rav Ovadia Yosef z.l., although he tried very hard to get the Shulkhan Arukh
to become the absolute voice within the Sephardi world, constantly
contradicted himself, in the sense that on one side he wanted to go by
the Shulkhan Arukh, and at the same time, he constantly put it aside and went directly to the Talmudic source.
feeling is that some poskim today are overwhelmed by their knowledge,
and they drown in it. And therefore they can’t think creatively any
more. If you have too much knowledge, then you can’t think on your own
anymore, because your mind is taken up by this encyclopedic amount of
knowledge; you can’t step out of the box. This is not only true of
halakha, it is true in many other departments of human knowledge as
well. We know so much, and therefore we get completely overwhelmed and
we no longer have space left in our brains to come up with something
new. This has been happening with poskim for quite a while now.
the biggest religious Jewish scholars are not necessarily the greatest
poskim. But if you go one step below—and in Israel you have quite a few
of them—you will find people who know halakha very well, but they are
not stagnated by this staggering amount of knowledge. So they are
probably much better equipped to respond to the needs of the day.
only mention a few: Rav Daniel Sperber, Rav Yuval Cherlow, Rav Yoel Bin
Nun, Rav Ariel Holland, and Rabbi David Bigman. In Israel which is the natural ground in
which halakha can develop organically, you have people who think on
their own, have a lot of knowledge, and they can examine issues with a
of these rabbis have come up with some unprecedented rulings, too many
to mention here. Sure, one can also go overboard. It all needs careful
consideration, which requires much knowledge, creativity, a proper
understanding of what real halakha is all about and obviously a lot of Yirat Shamayim, the awe of Heaven.
Electricity and Shabbat
When Edison invented the electric bulb, discussion began among US Jews
whether or not electricity is fire. It determined the appearance and
behavior of Shabbat for the next century. Today, when we have moved away
even from the light-bulbs with heated coils, and with solid state
devices, even issues of the labor of construction on Shabbat are no
longer present, and with major poskim already saying that devices like
the telephone are only a problem because of the danger of a slippery
slope — is it time to do away with our fear of the Shabbat slippery
Think about another challenge: the “shabbat car”. I have not the
slightest doubt that in the nearby future, we will develop a car which
is completely automatic and which could bring you to the synagogue
without your ever having to transgress Shabbat. If you would ask me
whether I am in favor of allowing such cars to drive, or turning on
lights on Shabbat? My answer is No, but not for halakhic reasons—because
there are really no halakhic reasons to forbid it. My reason is this:
the fact that I’m not allowed to use electricity creates a certain
atmosphere, which I need and I think my fellow Jews need, to observe
Shabbat in the right spirit. Not because it is halakhically
forbidden—there are enough reasons to rule that using electricity does
not contradict the prohibitions of Shabbat.
The same is true of the “shabbat car”. Not all halakhic matters are pure halakha.
They have to do with ideology. How are we creating the spirit of
Shabbat? What is required there? Therefore, we may say, listen, let’s
not use electricity on Shabbat. This is what Shabbat has stood for, for
thousands of years. In the olden days there were candles, which were
prohibited to be lit. Over the years, this was applied to electricity as
well. So unless there are very specific circumstances where there is
really no solution but to use electricity, I would say, don’t turn on
electric lights. And do not use this kind of car unless there is no
other way to come to the synagogue. Nobody is paying a big price for
this. There’s no moral issue here. Let’s keep the system as it is.
This is the reason why I claim that the highest standards of Torah reaches beyond the boundaries of strict Halakha. If we would use halakhic criteria alone, we would destroy Judaism, and with it, the Halakha itself.
for example the case of the “Shabbat goy”, a non-Jew doing work for us
on Shabbat. I think that the use of a Shabbat goy in Israel is highly
unnatural and unhealthy. After all, it still means that we are depending
on the non-Jews, even when we are living in an independent Jewish
state. In other words: We still need to have Arabs sitting in the
electric cooperation on Shabbat to make sure that we Jews have light on
Shabbat. I put a very big question mark behind this. I don’t see it as a
healthy situation. Perhaps we should find the technological means for
Jews to do this work themselves without transgressing Shabbat. There are
surely ways by which we can do this, and we don’t need non-Jews to do
it for us.
brings me to the following: As long as they are not terrorists but law
abiding citizens, Arabs are surely welcome in our State. But what we
have to realize is that they are not our servants.
using them as the Shabbat goy on Shabbat, we are giving the impression
that the non-Jew is seen as a second class citizen—what we can’t do, he
has to do. In other words, we are the so-called Chosen People, and we
need to be served by the non-Jews. Now I know that this is not the
intention of the Jewish tradition, and I personally know non-Jews who
are very proud to be a Shabbat goy. But it can’t be denied that this law
created a negative attitude towards non-Jews in the orthodox Jewish
community—especially in Israel. It is very problematic and highly
un-Jewish. With tongue in cheek, I would love to see a “Sunday Jew”,
where we Jews can do some work for the non-Jews on their day of rest.
Then at least we would be equals without losing our specific identities.
Equal but different—the “dignity of difference” to use an expression by
Lord Rabbi Jonathan Sacks!
You also have thousands of religious kids who are texting on Shabbat.
Judging by the articles I’ve read on this issue I get the impression
that it’s the norm rather than the exception in certain religious youth
It’s a great tragedy, because it’s a sign that these young people are
bored on Shabbat, that they don’t have something which replaces their
smartphone, and we are remiss in offering educational ways by which to
keep young people engaged so they wouldn’t even touch those devices on
Shabbat. When you take something away from somebody, you have to replace
it with something even better. And if you don’t do that, then you get
these situations, which in the Modern Orthodox world has become a real
in the Lithuanian Jewish world, there’s a lot of spirituality and
inspiration missing—the excitement about being a Jew, about wanting to
observe the commandments. Real authentic Hasidism had a much better
handle on this. Whether it still has, I do not know. The original
Hasidic thinkers of two hundred years ago, like Rabbi Tzadok Hacohen or
the Mey Hashiloach (Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Izbica)—were able to
give the Jewish Tradition a new spirit. They knew exactly what they
were writing about, even being prepared to take risks and to be highly
controversial. They stated what they believed, and because of that, the
Hasidic world has given a spirituality to Judaism which the Lithuanian
world did not offer us and still does not.
Kashrut and Animal Suffering
Int: Should the suffering of meat animals influence their kashrut standard?
I have doubts about the kashrut of kosher slaughtering of animals in
America and here in Israel. The meat industry today has overwhelmed us.
The number of cows and chickens which have to be slaughtered every day
is so enormous that I can’t see how this will ever work halakhically.
The method of shechita at the time was meant for a small town,
where once in a while, people would eat a piece of meat. You can’t
compare it with the reality of the meat industry today, where tens of
thousands of cows and chickens are killed every day.
I believe that the prohibition of tza’ar ba’ale chaim,
the needless suffering by animals, makes our whole system highly
problematic and probably non-kosher. Again this is not a pure halachic
issue; it is a Jewish religious-ideological issue. Because if indeed
there’s a lot of needless suffering of animals taking place, and I’ve
seen this personally—the way they deal with those animals is beyond all
description—then the Rabbinate should say: No way are we going to permit
Now this is a very complicated story, because since we are a meat-eating society, we have to produce an amount of meat that the shechita laws can’t live up to. It has to go too fast. Too many animals get hurt before they undergo shechita. I don’t know how many shochtim there are in Israel—there must be lots of them—but how is it possible that the shechita
will nearly always go well? You can use statistical rules of thumb, you
can cite a permission here and an allowance there, but how far does
that go, especially when we are bound by laws about how to treat animals
mercifully? I don’t believe that any piece of meat today is Kasher l’mehadrin (perfectly kosher).
should start educating people to no longer eat meat. Or to replace it
with lab-grown meat. This is a process—an educational process. The
trouble is that if we slowly start to diminish the amount of meat which
we require, we’ll have an economic problem on our hands. What’s going to
happen to all of the people who are making their living from this
industry? And there are lots of them: Shochtim, butchers, supervisors
and lots of other people. You’ll have to find a financial solution for
these people; you can’t just say, we should stop eating meat. We have to
find a slow way by which we will get people off of eating meat. Finding
solutions to the financial problems of the people who will be left
without their livelihoods is going to take fifty, sixty years if not
longer. The trouble is that I’ve never seen the rabbinate or the
rabbinic courts really dealing with these issues.
Dismantle the Chief Rabbinate
Int: Do we really need the Chief Rabbinate in Israel?
We need to end the Institution of the Chief rabbinate in Israel.
Although I strongly disagree with some halakhic rulings or proclamations
of the current Chief rabbis, I am sure they mean well. But they are the
victims of a system that isn’t working. The truth of the matter is that
the Rabbinate in Israel is the Knesset, and not the Chief rabbis. It is
a political institution. Some people in the Knesset are telling the
Rabbinate what they should say and do. There is corruption taking place.
The institution is no longer functioning. It was meant for the general,
often secular Israeli population. But it has been taken over by the
Haredim, the ultra-orthodox. This was not the intent when the Israeli
Chief Rabbinate was first instituted, because the Haredim have their own
Rabbinate which is absolutely fine.
Chief Rabbinate lacks halakhic poskim of great enough stature to deal
with some very urgent issues: conversions, agunot, feminism, kosher
slaughtering, democracy, running a modern state. All of which require
these people to be great authorities in halakha and be creative
thinkers, and the chief rabbis of today are not up to this. They don’t
seem to possess the prerequisite knowledge. Neither do I, but I never
made myself a candidate to become the Chief Rabbi.
Chief rabbis are not like the famous Rav Avraham Yitschak Kook, Rav
Isaac Yitschak Herzog, or Rav Shlomo Goren. Most important is to realize
that in the Sefardi community there were Chief Rabbis such Rav Benzion
Uziel, Rav David Halevy of Tel Aviv, and the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Rav
Joseph Mashash. All of them had a whole different approach to Halakha,
and were prepared to think out of the halakhic box. They came up with
the most far-reaching decisions and solutions which the Ashkenazi
community never contemplated, and in fact rejected (a huge mistake).
Int: So you would replace the Chief Rabbinate?
Sure. The last Knesset had already decided that every local rabbinate
should be autonomous, and would have its own conversion system in their
own cities, no longer subject to the control of the chief rabbinate.
Orthodox rabbis who have the authority should decide in their own cities
who are the people eligible to become converts. This should not be left
up to the chief rabbinate, because the chief rabbinate doesn’t know
these people. So how can they decide without actually knowing the people
who are eligible for conversion?
am of the opinion, as is the well-known Israeli Rabbi Yoel Bin Nun,
that we should try to convert the nearly four hundred thousand Russians
of Jewish decent in Israel in a mass conversion, even though a priori
it’s not the best manner of conversion according to halakha. The reason
why I am in favor of this is this: if we do not convert these people,
they’ll marry our children, and in no time we’ll have a million halakhic
non-Jews here, to the point where it could undermine the security of
the State of Israel. It can create enormous social problems. So, here
you have to consider not just the halakhic religious conversion issue,
but the security of the state, too. A halakhic state issue. By
the way, the first mass conversion took place when the Israelites left
Egypt, or at mount Sinai when the Torah was given! No doubt, not
everyone was willing to accept all the commandments. But they all became
Jewish! Something to think about!
State of Israel is no longer a diaspora reality where you decide on
halakha for individuals who are Torah observant. We are dealing here
with the State of Israel, which requires that we remain a unified
political entity, and that we can marry each other and secure the State
But it seems that the Chief Rabbinate hasn’t even considered this point of view. That is a serious dereliction of duty.
Beauty of the Jewish tradition is that it is not always precise and
consistent,” says Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo. “And that is a very
wise thing. You have to have flexibility, because life is not clear-cut
or coherent. Moving here, moving there, you work out the different
opinions somehow, and you let it be. As such Jewish Law and beliefs stay
fresh and thriving. A musical symphony. But the moment we codify or
dogmatize it all, we are basically destroying it”.
of the areas where Dutch-Israeli Orthodox rabbi, philosopher, and
Jewish scholar Nathan Lopes Cardozo differs from the Orthodox mainstream
is the Torah’s commandments to annihilate whole peoples, such as the
nations of Canaan and the mythical nation of Amalek, God’s proverbial
Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cardozo: I believe that in
the case where moral issues come up, there, even where the Torah says
that we have to annihilate these people, whether it is Amalek or the
nations of Canaan, my feeling is that these were challenges given to
Moses and the people to see how they would react, in the same way as
Abraham reacts in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah. God says, I’m going to
wipe them out, and Abraham responds: Will the Judge of the world do
such a thing? And God responds by saying, You have a point, let’s see
what we can work out.
And then you get this incredible dialogue,
between Abraham and God on how many righteous people you need so He will
keep the inhabitants alive… I think that should be the point of
departure whenever we discuss moral issues in the Bible, related to our
fellow man. There my feeling is that even when the Torah sometimes comes
with requirements which are problematic from a moral point of view,
that we have the option or even obligation, like Abraham, to say to God:
Sorry, this won’t go with us. And my reading, which I understand is
controversial, is that God is challenging these people: Let Me see how
they’ll respond. Did you, people, understand My larger picture of
righteousness? Are you understanding what I’m trying to say ? And as I
did in the case of Abraham, when I challenged him by telling him I’m
going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, and Abraham correctly said, No, or
at least he was willing to fight it, so I hope and expect you do as well
whenever I want you to annihilate people.
We see this reflected
in the sages’ opinion that these nations no longer exist and by doing so
they declared these laws inoperative. After all such a law can’t
operate unless you hear such a command from God Himself and not by
tradition. (And how will you ever know that it is really God speaking?)
Thirdly, did you object and fiercely protest?
yet shortly thereafter, God tells Abraham to execute his son Isaac, and
gives him kudos for the fact that he tried to comply.
I am of the opinion that Abraham, by being prepared to do so, to
sacrifice his son, failed the test. I think that the reading of the
binding of Isaac should be different from the conventional approach as
some chassidic texts indeed seem to suggest . For an excellent overview
read: The Fear, the Trembling and the Fire by my dear friend, Professor
Jerome (Yehudah) I. Gellman, published by University Press of America in
Int: God no longer speaks directly to Abraham after the binding of Isaac. Does he lose his prophecy?
It seems he did. There are all sorts of psychological issues which take
place after the incident with the binding of Isaac, which seem to mean
that God was not so pleased with the outcome, even though He says, Now I
know that you have fear of Me, but that may have a different meaning.
It may even mean something like, now that you went for it, you showed
you had the correct intentions, but you got My message wrong.
keep the following in mind, I only suggest such a reading when speaking
about moral problems, but when you speak about Shabbat, holidays and
other mitzvot, where there are no issues between the individual and his
fellow man, there we do not have the right to say, we’re changing the
commandments or refusing to accept these laws because they’re not
CAN JEWS PERPETRATE A HOLOCAUST?
the story of the prophet Shmuel and King Shaul, where Shaul has spared
the life of Agag, king of Amalek, and Shmuel takes a sword and finishes
the job — did Shmuel fail?
NLC: What was it that Shaul did
wrong, and why did God object to it? It seems that Shaul was more
concerned with the animals he had acquired and kept alive than about the
people he had killed. There is where the moral failure lies. It seems
that Shmuel was of the opinion that Agag was liable for the death
penalty. This is a very complicated story. I don’t think that Jewish
tradition is always consistent, very often it is not. And I think
there’s a reason for that, because it shows different sides of a very
complex situation. The Russian British philosopher Isaiah Berlin, who
was not religious but remained very close to his Judaism, has an essay
about morality where he says that morality is much more complex than
most people think it is. There’s no black and white — this is moral and
this is immoral. It depends on your perspective, on how you walk into
the problem. So there are cases where the complexity is so big that
whatever you do, from one point of view it is morally correct and from
another point of view it is absolutely morally unacceptable. So Berlin
speaks about a trade-off, which every judge and every legal system has
to make, to find a compromise: how much justice, how much mercy? A way
in-between, by which you remove excessive damage on both sides and
you’re left with a compromise which is far from ideal, but that’s part
of the human condition.
There is no such thing as black and white
responses to these sorts of issues, and I think that plays a role in
Jewish law as well. We have to deal with clashing Jewish moral forces.
are reasons to annihilate Amalek and there are reasons why not to do
so, especially when it comes to their women and children. (I even wonder
whether this really happened since there are sources that Amalek is a
theoretical concept and not a physical reality.) But because there’s
this tension of how you look into the story, which is purely subjective,
therefore in the end you will have to find a way in-between. Shmuel is
right and wrong at the same time. God says to him, Shmuel, I understand
your point of view, I will let you get away with it. But don’t think
that this is the ideal outcome. Under human circumstances we have to
wipe out these people of Amalek, they are very dangerous, even in the
future, and at the same time we have to keep them alive because who can
say that all of them will be evil? Some may study Torah in Bnei Berak!
Int: What do you mean? Amalek’s grandchildren studied Torah and were religious Jews?
Jewish Law discusses the question of what to do in case an Amalekite
wants to become Jewish, and several authorities believe that we have an
obligation to convert him as long as he has no blood on his hands!! The
Talmud in Gitin (57b) and in Sanhedrin (96b) makes the observation that
the grandchildren of Haman, the Amalekite, were studying in the Beth
Midrash in Bnei Berak. This observation is most telling. It shows the
ambivalence of the Jewish tradition towards its arch enemy. Shall we
really annihilate this nation and its children? See what happened to its
descendants!!! They were great Talmudic scholars!
THERE’S MORE TO JUDAISM THAN MITZVOT
Int: Are you suggesting that there is a Jewish morality outside the realm of the commandments?
I think there is, in the sense that there are certain intuitive moral
feelings that human beings have, Jews and non-Jews, which are of great
importance, and which do play a role in the halakhic decision making
process. While there is no doubt that our moral instinct is often very
subjective and we may often disagree, there are surely cases where we do
agree. Killing innocent children and women is one of them. Still there
is much in the Jewish tradition which believes that our moral intuition
may be the voice of God even in cases which are not as extreme. If you
look into the works of the great poskim (halakhic authorities), you see
differences of opinions between them. It is because of their intuitive
moral approach to certain issues. Sometimes a posek will say, I have to
find a heter (lenient ruling) for this problem. He may even have made up
his mind how he wants the decision to be before he starts to
investigate. And then he looks around all the arguments to justify his
position and puts it in an halakhic framework, after which he exclaims:
You see, I was right in what I said at the beginning! He knows quite
well that the arguments were all colored by his need to come to a
lenient conclusion. And the beauty of this is that this is completely
legitimate within Judaism.
You see it with Rabbi Moshe Feinstein,
you see it in some very Haredi literature as well, it all has to do with
a philosophical and ideological attitude which is deeply influenced by
the moral intuition of these particular people, and that’s also why
there are tremendous differences between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardi
poskim. The Ashkenazi outlook to life is much more pessimistic than the
Sephardi one. This has its roots in their different experiences in the
countries from which they hail, and consequently we find different
There’s an ideology to halakha. And there are
different opinions as to what that ideology is. The halakha tells us
what to do and what not to do. But it is often a much larger
weltanschauung, an outlook to life, which lies behind these halakhic
requirements. They are never clearly stated anywhere in the Torah,
unless they are stated in very general terms, such as ‘you must be
holy’, but that still requires an explanation about what holiness really
is. So ideologies play a great role. The ideological differences
between the Haredi and the national-religious rabbis concerning the
State of Israel’s religious meaning is a good example.
Int: Are we practicing halakha the way we should?
me tell you an interesting story. Rav Haim Zimmerman z.l. (1914-1995)
was one of the greatest Talmudic geniuses in our generation. In his
later years he lived here in Jerusalem. I was told that he was the study
partner of the famous Reb Shimon Shkop (1860-1939) back in Lithuania. I
met him once or twice. He had all of the Talmud at his fingertips. He
wasn’t so well known because he belonged to the Zionist camp and not to
the Chareidi one. He once gave a class and he quoted Maimonides and he
said, “Maimonides agrees with me.”. So his students objected and said,
“You mean to say that you agree with Maimonides.”. So he said, “No,
Maimonides agrees with me. I am today the living authority, Maimonides
is no longer alive. So he has no power any more to decide on halakhic
matters — I do. And if Maimonides wishes to disagree, please, let’s hear
his point of view, but I have the same say in this matter as Maimonides
himself had in his days and therefore I could overrule him. Today I am
the halachic arbitrator, not Maimonides.”
I think that is a most
important statement, which the yeshiva world has totally forgotten. And
this has a lot to do with the codification problem. I’ve written at
length about this problem. See my new book: Jewish Law as Rebellion.
Urim Publications) The Shulkhan Arukh (“Set Table,” the most widely
consulted Jewish legal code, published in 1563) was meant at the time to
be the abbreviated halakhic guide for the layman. It was the product of
an historical development. Since we were living in the Diaspora, we had
to make sure that Jews would somehow live within the same framework
where they were doing more or less the same things, to keep this little
nation alive. It required erecting big walls around us to keep the
non-Jews and their influence out. So the Shulkhan Arukh, a basic Jewish
code, is a typical sociological outcome of a diaspora condition . The
Shulkhan Arukh at the time correctly said, we need to make sure that we
all operate within the same framework and that requires conformity. This
is the only way we can create the powerhouse required to keep us alive
among a largely anti-Semitic world.
Both the Shulkhan Arukh and
earlier Maimonides’ famous codification of Jewish Law, the Mishneh Torah
(“Repetition of the Torah,” a code of Jewish religious law compiled
between 1170 and 1180) are tremendous scholarly achievements. But what
Maimonides did was extremely dangerous. By writing down the Mishneh
Torah, Maimonides finalized the halakha. He basically said, this is the
halakha and nothing else. He even wrote in the forward to this
masterpiece, that there is no longer any need to study the Talmud
because he had put it all in front of us. Here it is! For once and for
all. He provides no minority opinions, and decides on his own, as the
greatest talmudic genius of his time, and we—after a period of
resistance when his books were burned in some communities—have turned
him into an halachic idol: If Maimonides says so, then there’s nothing
left to discuss. We canonized him.
We never had, as the Catholic
Church did, a particular body such as a conclave which decided these
matters. Not even in the days of the Sanhedrin. With us it was always
fluid. A matter of moving forward and going back and so on. You actually
see it if you look in the Shulkhan Arukh, and you look into Maimonides,
the commentators around the texts often take issue with them. But they
can’t stand up against Maimonides; he is too overpowering. The same is
true with his famous thirteen principles of faith: he dogmatizes Jewish
belief and by doing so creates a crisis in Judaism for which we still
pay a heavy price. Since when are there finalized Jewish beliefs? There
Enlace Judío México.- Mi visita a Cuba en marzo de 2017 me llevó a un notable descubrimiento personal que iba en contra de todo lo que leí antes del viaje. Hoy, los judíos de Cuba, alguna vez llamados un remanente de la comunidad de 15,000 miembros, demuestran un fenómeno de renacimiento y reinvención. La pequeña comunidad de 1,000 en la isla de 11 millones de personas es robusta, tiene un fuerte sentido de identidad y es muy diferente de la comunidad judía antes de la revolución de 1959.
“Ser cubano y ser judío es ser dos sobrevivientes“.- Maritza Corrales, The Chosen Island
Escena de la calle de la Habana. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
La narrativa judía cubana contemporánea
muestra una trayectoria fascinante. Primero, un descenso de la vitalidad
y la prosperidad al casi olvido después del éxodo masivo de la década
de 1960 y los años de ateísmo impuesto. Luego, un reciente ascenso
repentino para convertirse en una “Celebridad de la Diáspora Tropical“,
podría decirse que es la más visitada y fotografiada de las comunidades
judías del mundo. La historia judía cubana no refleja una sola
comunidad, sino más bien un mosaico de varias, muy variadas en sus
idiomas y culturas, y que fue construida por cinco oleadas distintamente
diferentes de inmigrantes criptojudíos y judíos.
Llegan los conversos
Cuba ha sido un refugio acogedor para los judíos desde 1492, cuando los conversos buscaron refugio seguro de la Inquisición española.
No hay evidencia documentada que demuestre la llegada de los primeros
criptojudíos a Cuba. Sin embargo, supuestamente el primer colono europeo
en Cuba fue el converso Luis de Torres, nacido Yosef ben Levy Ha-Ivri. Un explorador y traductor, navegó con Colón en la Santa María,
y se le atribuye ser la primera persona de descendencia judía que se
estableció en la isla. ¡Además, de Torres a menudo se proclama que fue
el primer judío en poner un pie en las Américas! La sinagoga Luis de Torres
en Freeport Bahamas recibió su nombre. Muchos conversos se
establecieron en Cuba siguiendo a Torres, pero se sabe poco acerca de
ellos y su ascendencia judía. Los registros de la Inquisición de las Indias Occidentales contienen listas de presuntos judaizantes. Uno de esos marranos, Hernando de Castro,
construyó el primer ingenio cerca de Santiago y es considerado el
pionero de la industria azucarera en la isla. Los registros de la
Inquisición también muestran detalles de varios juicios y ejecuciones de
judaizantes cubanos, como la muerte en la hoguera en 1613 de un rico
terrateniente Francisco Gómez de León. El Santo Oficio en las colonias españolas fue abolido solo en los primeros años del siglo XIX, y hasta el final de la Guerra Hispanoamericana
de 1898, solo se permitieron los servicios religiosos católicos. Lo que
querían los colonos cubanos de ascendencia judía era mezclarse con los
españoles y “desaparecer” en Cuba.
Y lo hicieron.
El criptojudío más famoso de Cuba fue …
… el propio Fidel Castro,
que admitió en algunas ocasiones que sus propios antepasados eran de
origen judío. Patrick Symmes, en su notable estudio sobre Cuba, The Boys
from Dolores (2008), citó a los compañeros de Castro que recordaban que
el joven Fidel afirmó que, aunque muchos jóvenes de la década de 1930
estaban fascinados con Hitler, Franco o Mussolini, él nunca pudo serlo
porque esos líderes eran antisemitas. Y, como Fidel explicó, no podía
estar “en contra de los judíos” ya que él, Fidel, era uno: descendió a través de sus abuelas de los judíos de Galicia y Canarias.
monumento de Fidel Castro en el cementerio de Santa Ifigenia. Creció en
la plantación de caña de azúcar cercana a Santiago y estudió en el
colegio jesuita de élite, el Colegio Dolores, en la ciudad. El
legendario dictador admitió en algunas ocasiones que sus propios
antepasados eran descendientes de judíos. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
La historia judía del siglo XX antes de la revolución de Castro
Nuestra primera parada en Cuba fue
Santiago, la ciudad que lleva a los peregrinos de la historia a las
raíces mismas de la historia cubana y judía. Colón
desembarcó en 1492 a unos 200 kilómetros al este de lo que es hoy
Santiago, que se convirtió en uno de los primeros asentamientos
españoles en la isla. En julio de 1898, la caballería de Teodoro Roosevelt
atacó la colina de San Juan y capturó la ciudad, poniendo fin a la
dominación española en Cuba y consiguiendo la victoria final tanto en la
Guerra Hispanoamericana como en la Guerra de Independencia de Cuba.
Los judíos estadounidenses comenzaron a llegar poco después. Fueron los
primeros judíos “reales” que se establecieron en la isla como parte de
la comunidad de expatriados estadounidenses, mucho más grande y de
rápido crecimiento. Atraídos por las oportunidades de inversión y la
promesa de riqueza, se vieron a sí mismos como los primeros y más
importantes estadounidenses, y buscaron replicar su entorno
estadounidense en Cuba. En 1904, fundaron la primera sinagoga en La
Habana, una Congregación de la Unión Hebrea reformada,
y en 1906 adquirieron una parcela para un cementerio judío. Estos dos
eventos a menudo se consideran el comienzo oficial de la comunidad judía
cubana, una comunidad judía cubanoamericana de habla inglesa para ser
precisos. Surgió una isla estadounidense dentro de la isla de Cuba. Y
los judíos estadounidenses crearon su propio rincón cómodo dentro de
Los judíos sefarditas llegaron a continuación, en su mayoría refugiados de Turquía.
Hablando ladino, no tenían el mismo idioma o barreras culturales que
los otros grupos de inmigrantes judíos, por lo que les resultaba más
fácil aclimatarse a su nuevo hogar. El grupo más grande se estableció en
La Habana. En 1914, los sefardíes establecieron su propia organización
comunal Jevet Ajim
para proporcionar servicios religiosos ortodoxos a toda la comunidad
sefardí de Cuba. Construyeron su propio rincón seguro dentro de la “isla
judía” de Cuba, firmemente enraizada en estrictas tradiciones y
Escapándose de la escalada del rabioso antisemitismo y los violentos pogromos en Rusia y Polonia,
los judíos asquenazíes comenzaron a llegar a Cuba a comienzos del siglo
XX hasta finales de la década de 1920. Los lugareños los llamaron
“Polacos” (polacos) a pesar de que muchos no eran de Polonia. A
diferencia de los sefardíes, los ashkenazim vieron su época en la isla
como una breve parada antes de entrar a Estados Unidos. Llamaron a Cuba Ajsanie Kuba
(“Hotel Cuba” en idish). En 1924, cuando las leyes de inmigración de
los Estados Unidos se pusieron rígidas, la laguna cubana se cerró. El
“hotel” judío cubano tenía que convertirse en un hogar.
Nacionalismo y la trágica historia del San Luis
Con el declive económico de finales de
la década de 1920, se produjo un renacimiento nacionalista centrado en
devolver a los cubanos sus derechos sobre su propio país. El
antisemitismo surgió de forma natural. Instigado por los nacionalistas
cubanos en cooperación con la Embajada nazi alemana en La Habana, la
hostilidad hacia los inmigrantes judíos de Europa alimentó tanto el
antisemitismo como la xenofobia. Estas actitudes jugaron un papel
importante en el trágico caso infame del transatlántico St. Louis, cuando este barco con sus 937 pasajeros a bordo, la mayoría refugiados del Tercer Reich, no pudo desembarcar en La Habana y se vio obligado a regresar a Europa.
Escapar del Holocausto
La quinta y última oleada de inmigrantes
judíos en Cuba trajo refugiados europeos y sobrevivientes de los campos
antes, durante y después de la Segunda Guerra Mundial.
A pesar de las actitudes antisemitas y el endurecimiento de las leyes
de inmigración en Cuba, más de 10.000 refugiados judíos lograron
ingresar al país entre 1933 y 1944. Después de la guerra, menos del 15
por ciento de ellos permanecieron en Cuba.
Comunidad de comunidades
La judería cubana permaneció dividida en
tres grandes sectores: estadounidenses, otros judíos asquenazíes (en su
mayoría de origen europeo oriental) y sefardíes. Cada comunidad se
mantuvo como una entidad separada en su rincón seguro de una “isla judía”
más grande dentro de la isla de Cuba; cada uno cómodo con sus propios
cementerios y servicios, necesidades y deseos, actitudes y expectativas.
Cuba los tomó a todos con tolerancia y aceptación, en su mayor parte. Las acciones de varios dictadores cubanos, como el infame Batista,
no afectaron a las comunidades judías: la mayoría de los judíos cubanos
se mantuvieron alejados de la peligrosa política en su isla natal.
Estaban bien y contentos, y querían que sus pequeñas “islas” seguras
duraran por la eternidad. Pero la revolución de Castro de 1959 había
destruido por completo su mundo, y parecía para siempre.
La Revolución y el ‘Triunfo’
Castro reinventó la historia y el
calendario. El año de 1959 se convirtió en el Año de la Revolución y los
años posteriores se llamaron Época del Triunfo.
Para los judíos de Cuba, estos eventos alimentaron un verdadero éxodo
y, a principios de la década de 1960, la comunidad judía de Cuba dejó de
existir. En palabras de Ruth Behar, una antropóloga renombrada de la
Universidad de Michigan y una judía cubana cuya familia huyó a los
Estados Unidos, “la disolución de la comunidad fue rápida como una vela
encendida inhalada por el viento” (An Island Called Home, 2007). Las
políticas de Castro nunca fueron antisemitas; más bien fue su
destrucción socialista de la clase media lo que incluyó a muchos judíos
que eligieron huir. De casi 15,000 judíos, menos de 1,000
permanecieron. La nueva Constitución declaraba que cualquier religión
era ilegal como manifestación de actitudes y acciones
contrarrevolucionarias. La mayoría de las sinagogas y las escuelas
judías estaban cerradas o abandonadas. El estado totalitario nació y los
judíos tuvieron que asimilarse y adaptarse una vez más. Ya no eran
judíos, sino ciudadanos y camaradas cubanos. Al igual que otros cubanos,
tuvieron que acostumbrarse a la pobreza y las raciones, el ateísmo
revolucionario y el temor a la persecución política. También se
enfrentaron con actitudes feroces anti-israelíes y retórica después de
que Castro rompió con Israel en 1973.
Sin embargo, la historia judía de la
isla desafía la racionalización. ¿Cómo se explicaría el hecho de que los
judíos restantes fueron señalados como el “pueblo elegido”
para un lujo raro? Durante nuestra conversación con el vicepresidente
de la sinagoga Beth Shalom en La Habana, aprendimos sobre …
La carnicería kosher
Protegida por una carta personal de 1962
de Fidel Castro, esta pequeña tienda sobrevivió a través de los años de
acciones gubernamentales para extinguir cualquier observancia
religiosa. La tienda está ubicada en el corazón del antiguo barrio judío
en la calle Cuba, a la vuelta de la esquina de la única sinagoga
ortodoxa en La Habana: Adat Israel. Nos enteramos que la tienda nunca
dejó de suministrar carne kosher a los judíos de La Habana.
Nuestro guía nos dijo que la carne de res es una rareza preciosa y se
asigna a los escolares solo como parte de su almuerzo gratis. Las vacas
se consideran propiedad del estado. Matar a una vaca sin permiso
especial es un delito federal. El gobierno decide no solo dónde y cómo
viven y trabajan las personas, sino también qué y cuánto consumen. La
libreta, o un libro de raciones, permite que cada persona reciba cada
mes seis libras de arroz, dos litros de aceite y 20 onzas de granos.
Cuando la carne está disponible para los titulares de libretas (o ahora,
para los que tienen dólares), es carne de cerdo. ¿Por qué Fidel
simpatizaba con la ley dietética judía? ¿Fue porque quería demostrar
buena voluntad a los pocos judíos que quedaban? ¿O fue por su reconocida
Milagro del renacimiento: la historia del siglo XXI El Periodo Especial
La Unión Soviética colapsó a principios de la década de 1990, y la economía cubana se vino abajo. El “triunfo” de Fidel cambió a lo que él llamó el Período especial en el Tiempo de Paz.
En realidad, esa fue una profunda crisis económica definida por un
colapso casi total del transporte y la agricultura. Una de nuestras
guías cubanas compartió que su bebé murió durante el Período especial,
posiblemente por inanición: la leche desapareció. Otras guías nos
explicaron que el tráfico era ligero porque la gasolina y el combustible
diésel eran difíciles de encontrar y muy costosos. Desde 1959, los
cubanos aprendieron lo que los judíos habían sabido durante 2,000 años:
lo que se necesita para mantenerse a flote. La vida continuó y todos en
Cuba, incluidos los judíos, tuvieron que adaptarse para sobrevivir.
Ha vuelto la Navidad
En 1992, Castro creó un milagro: para
cambiar la economía de la dependencia de los soviéticos a la dependencia
del turismo, especialmente del turismo estadounidense, usó palabras
mágicas para enmendar la Constitución. Cuba se convirtió en un estado
“secular” frente al anterior “ateísta”. Luego, los “enemigos del pueblo”
que inmigraron después de 1959 se convirtieron en la “comunidad en el
exterior”. Una nueva ley permitió incluso a los miembros del Partido Comunista
participar en las celebraciones religiosas. Ir a una sinagoga o iglesia
ya no fue castigado con graves repercusiones. El pueblo cubano recuperó
la Navidad y los judíos cubanos podrían volver a ser judíos.
Entrando en la Cuba judía
sinagoga de Santiago. Fundada por los sefardíes en 1924, se cerró en
algún momento después de la revolución, y se volvió a abrir en 1996 para
dar servicio a su comunidad de aproximadamente 90 miembros. Pero en
marzo de 2017, las puertas se cerraron de nuevo: la última familia, nos
dijeron, se fue a Israel. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
La primera sinagoga cubana que visitamos
estaba en Santiago. Fundada por los sefardíes en 1924, se cerró después
de la revolución y volvió a abrirse en 1996 para atender a su comunidad
de alrededor de 90 miembros. El santuario estaba cerrado, pero el salón
comunal estaba bien conservado, y ver las fotos de los antiguos
congregantes en la pared fue una experiencia extraña y agridulce. Los
judíos cubanos están vivos y bien, simplemente no están en Cuba. La
Habana, sin embargo, nos presentó una historia completamente diferente.
Nuestra entrada a la Habana judía
comenzó en un lugar bastante inusual: ¡un hotel judío! El último
ocupante de ese hermoso edificio de estilo Art Nouveau fue la oficina de
la industria alimenticia, y luego, en la década de 1970, cayó en mal
estado. Pero con el gobierno poniendo en juego el crecimiento del
turismo, especialmente el de los grupos judíos de EE.UU., renació como
un hotel bellamente restaurado que lleva el nombre de la matriarca de la
Biblia: Raquel. El interior del edificio se asemeja a un museo de arte:
símbolos judíos entrelazados a la perfección y con buen gusto con los
exquisitos elementos de Art Nouveau. Cada habitación lleva el nombre de
una heroína de la Biblia, y el restaurante sirve guefilte fish y
El Hotel Raquel,
un establecimiento temático judío, es un edificio Art Nouveau
bellamente restaurado en la Habana Vieja. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
Para conocer a los judíos cubanos de hoy, dejamos la Habana Vieja y nos dirigimos al Vedado, un barrio formalmente exclusivo para visitar la bella sinagoga Beth Shalom. Construida a principios de la década de 1950 por los judíos ricos de Cuba o “mecenas” (el segundo nombre de la sinagoga es “Patronato“), Bet Shalom fue restaurado a su grandeza formal a principios de la década de 1990 por el American Joint Distribution Committee y la Miami Jewish Federation. El complejo ocupa casi un bloque completo.
del Hotel Raquel: símbolos judíos entrelazados a la perfección y con
buen gusto con los exquisitos elementos Art Nouveau. Cada habitación
lleva el nombre de una heroína de la Biblia y el restaurante sirve
platos judíos como guefilte fish o blintzes. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
Aprendiendo sobre los judíos de hoy
Nos encontramos con el vicepresidente del Patronato,
David Prinstein, quien nos mostró la sinagoga y compartió parte de la
historia de la sinagoga y su familia. Su abuelo llegó de Polonia; sus
padres se convirtieron en miembros fundadores del Partido Comunista de Cuba,
revolucionarios apasionados. Cuando la religión se consideraba un
crimen, nos dijo David, la mayoría de los judíos, como otros cubanos, se
separaron de la religión. Muchos nacieron en matrimonios mixtos y a
menudo se casaron con no judíos. La segunda esposa de David, Marlen, no
es judía de nacimiento. Pero incluso entonces, la vida judía se mantuvo a
flote al sobrevivir los recuerdos familiares y las personas mayores que
llegaban a sus destartaladas sinagogas. Tres sinagogas sobrevivieron en
La Habana después de la revolución: Adas Israel (una congregación ortodoxa), el Centro Sephardico y la más grande de La Habana: Patronato (una congregación conservadora).
David Prinstein, el vicepresidente de Beth Shalom. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
Un judío asimilado, David volvió a sus
raíces en la década de 1990, a través del estudio y la participación en
la vida de la sinagoga, y finalmente se convirtió en su líder. Su
familia vive prácticamente en Patronato.
Todos sus hijos tuvieron su bar mitzvá allí y están muy involucrados en
la vida de la sinagoga. Marlen, quien se convirtió al judaísmo, a
menudo dirige los servicios de Shabat el sábado. Ella también enseña
hebreo en la escuela dominical. Para la mayoría de alrededor de 800
miembros, Patronato es un segundo hogar. La comunidad judía se ha
convertido en un lugar para ir, estudiar, orar, celebrar, comer y
obtener medicamentos. Beth Shalom cuenta con el apoyo del American Joint Committee (“el Joint”) y recibe numerosas donaciones, incluidos suministros médicos, de varios grupos.
No hay ningún rabino en Cuba, pero el
Joint apoya visitas regulares del rabino de Chile. A menudo vienen
rabinos de Miami y Nueva York. David estima que actualmente hay 1.200 judíos
en Cuba, la mayoría viviendo en La Habana. La judeidad se define de
manera diferente en Cuba: con supuestos solo 20-25 judíos de sangre pura
en el país (nacidos de dos padres judíos), el resto son aquellos que
tienen ascendencia judía o, como Marlen Prinstein, convertidos en judíos
por elección. La mayoría proviene de un conocimiento mínimo del
judaísmo, pero todos están comprometidos con el estudio intenso y la
construcción de una vibrante vida judía.
Entrada principal a Beth Shalom. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
Regresamos al vestíbulo y miramos las
fotografías de Fidel Castro en Beth Shalom. Hay numerosas fotografías
del líder cubano, que visitó el Patronato después de que lo invitó Adela
Dworin, entonces vicepresidente de la comunidad judía. “¿Por qué nunca visitaste nuestra sinagoga?“, preguntó una vez durante una reunión con los funcionarios del gobierno. “Nunca me lo pediste“,
bromeó Fidel. Así que en 1998, Castro comunicó al mundo su apoyo al
renacimiento religioso asistiendo a Beth Shalom durante lo que llamó una
“fiesta revolucionaria” de Januca y encendiendo una menorá.
imagen de Fidel Castro y Adela Dworin, uno de los principales líderes
de la comunidad judía cubana, se exhibe de manera prominente en el lobby
de Beth Shalom. En 1998, Castro comunicó al mundo su apoyo al
renacimiento religioso asistiendo a Beth Shalom durante lo que llamó una
“fiesta revolucionaria” de Hanukkah e iluminando una menorá. (Foto por
También visitamos el Centro Hebreo Sefaradi,
que tiene una pequeña exposición dedicada al Holocausto. Centro Hebreo
es la única institución que conserva el legado de los sefardíes cubanos.
Su antigua sinagoga, Jevet Ajim, ha estado cerrada durante años y está
en ruinas. La tercera sinagoga de La Habana es el pequeño shul ortodoxo Adath Israel, que mantiene la única mikve en
Cuba y supervisa la carnicería kosher. Ni Centro Hebreo ni Adath Israel
reciben la misma atención de los grupos judíos que están de gira, pero
sin embargo ambos prosperan.
La exposición del Holocausto en el Centro Sefaradi. (Foto por Alex Shaland)
Mientras un número creciente de familias judías, especialmente jóvenes, hacen aliá a Israel, el tamaño general de la comunidad se mantiene más o menos igual: Cada vez más personas pasan por la oficina de la sinagoga para averiguar qué pasos deben tomar para convertirse en judíos por elección o para hablar sobre su ascendencia judía. ¿Se sienten atraídos por la promesa de una buena comida algunas veces a la semana en un país de tiendas vacías, acceso a medicamentos cuando incluso una aspirina es una rareza y acceso a computadoras en una ciudad sin abundantes conexiones a internet? Quizás. Pero, sobre todo, lo que atrae a las personas a Beth Shalom es la idea de pertenecer a algo más grande que uno mismo: una comunidad sólida, más secular que religiosa, con un sentido de identidad orgulloso y líderes fuertes.
En la primera década del siglo XXI, la
comunidad judía de Cuba no solo renació, sino que se reinventó por
completo. Los judíos de Cuba, la más pequeña de las minúsculas minorías
en esa isla, se han convertido en lo que nunca habían sido: una entidad
unificada. También involuntariamente se convirtieron en una atracción
clave en La Habana para numerosas giras judías; apenas hay una sinagoga o
una federación judía en los EE.UU. que no organice viajes con temática
de herencia judía a Cuba casi todos los años.
Los judíos de Cuba, habiendo sobrevivido a la Inquisición y la revolución de Castro, ahora son una comunidad poderosa, no en números, sino en espíritu.
According to Jewish law, tribal affiliation (including whether one is a kohen)
follows the direct paternal line, while the question of Jewishness
follows the maternal line. Does this mean that genetic testing is a
valid way of ascertaining whether one is Jewish or a kohen?
First, some basics. Females have XX chromosomes and males have XY.
All females carry one X chromosome from their mother and one X
chromosome from their father. Males, on the other hand, get their X
chromosome from their mother and their Y chromosome from father. Since
these chromosomes are passed from one generation to the next, it is
theoretically possible to identify one’s ancestors through genetic
Jewish Ancestry and Mitochondrial DNA
As mentioned, Jewish identity follows the maternal line. If your
mother is Jewish, you’re Jewish. However, there is no such thing as a
“Jewish gene,” so genetic testing cannot conclusively state whether a
person is Jewish.
However, there does seem to be at least one way in which genetics may
be used to help determine a person’s Jewishness. This involves using
what is called mitochondrial DNA (or mtDNA), which is passed exclusively
from the mother through the female line.
In a fascinating study published in 2006, it was shown that 40% of all Ashkenazi
Jews are descended from just four Jewish women who lived more than
1,000 years ago. The study concluded that if someone bears specific
mitochondrial DNA markers, there is a 90-99% chance that he or she is
descended from one of these Jewish women.1
Of course, there are the other 60% of Ashkenazi Jews who do not come from these four women, as well as Sephardic Jews and converts.
Nevertheless, although still a matter of debate, there are some who
hold that in a case where there is some evidence of Jewishness but no
iron-clad proof, having this marker in conjunction with other supporting
evidence can be used to conclude that the person is indeed Jewish.2
(As a disclaimer, this article is for informational purposes only.
All practical questions regarding one’s Jewish identity should be
directed to a qualified rabbi.)
The Kohen Gene
We can now turn to the question of kohanim (Jewish priests).
All kohanim are directly descended—on their father’s side—from Aaron the High Priest (Moses’
brother). Knowing that a copy of the Y chromosome is passed from father
to son, Dr. Karl Skorecki, together with other colleagues, conducted a
study in the 1990s to analyze and compare the Y chromosomes of kohanim with those of the non-kohen Jewish population.
In addition to the genes in the Y chromosome that determine if a
person is male, the chromosome mostly consists of non-coding DNA, which
tends to accumulate mutations. Based on the fact that the Y chromosome
is passed down the paternal line without recombination, the genetic
information on a Y chromosome of a man living today is basically the
same as that of his ancient male ancestors, except for the rare
mutations that occur along the hereditary line. A combination of these
neutral mutations, known as a haplotype, can serve as a genetic
signature of a man’s male ancestry.
Looking at six kinds of the YAP haplotype of the Y chromosome and comparing their frequency in kohanim and Jewish non-kohanim, Dr. Skorecki found that the majority of self-identified kohanim,
both those of Sephardic as well as Ashkenazi descent, are all descended
from the same person who lived roughly 3,000 years ago.
It should be noted that this marker was found in a much lower frequency among Jews who had no tradition of being kohanim, and in an even lower rate among non-Jews (although interestingly, it was found in a higher rate among the Lemba tribe in Africa, who have a tradition of being descendants of Jews).3
However, kohen status is dependent not only upon being the
biological descendant of Aaron, but upon numerous other factors as well.
For example, if a kohen marries a divorcée (or certain other women), their offspring would not be kohanim. So if one carries the genetic marker of kohanim, then perhaps he had a kohen in his ancestry, but he himself may not be a kohen or even Jewish, since that is dependent upon the mother.
Our sages tell us that when Moshiach comes, he will clarify our lineage and determine who in fact is a kohen, Levite or Israelite.4 May we merit the messianic era speedily in our time!