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The Genesis of Scholarly Bible Studies at Yeshiva

October 21st, 2014 by Libraryblog

 

Chaim Heller

Rabbi Dr. Chaim Heller

As we begin a new cycle of Torah reading, discussion of various ways to study Tanakh is fitting. Rabbi Dr. Bernard Revel, the visionary Rosh Yeshiva of RIETS and President of Yeshiva College, expressed his views on Bible criticism in a letter dated April 10, 1929. Never one to mince words, he described Bible criticism as a threat to Jews and Judaism. Rather than ignoring the challenge, he took action to confront it head-on.    He appointed Rabbi Dr. Chaim Heller as a professor of Bible at Yeshiva. Heller was the founder of the Bet Midrash Elyon in Berlin, where Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik studied in the 1920s.  Revel wrote to Bernard London, a Yeshiva College trustee, to thank him for providing the funding to bring Dr. Heller to Yeshiva and to explain the importance of this educational endeavor.

In Revel’s words:

“The Bible is the source of all Universal Israel has been, has achieved, and has given to the world; it is the very essence of our spiritual and religious being, and the greatest single influence in human progress. Non-Jewish theologians, unwilling to concede mankind’s debt to Israel for the Bible, have during the past century of ‘scientific’ anti-semitism subjected it to violent attacks, denying its Mosaic authorship and its trustworthiness; so that in non-Jewish circles so-called ‘higher criticism’ of the Bible has become a sure mark of scholarship, and even scholars among us cannot resist the temptation of joining this ‘higher criticism’ which often masks a ‘higher anti-semitism’. Some among the heads of our theological seminaries go even further than the Gentile scholars, in assailing the authenticity of the Bible.

This higher criticism, which threatens the very foundations of Jewish spiritual and religious life, cannot be ignored. We must meet the attacks of these enemies of the Bible, within or outside of our ranks, on their own ground, with their own weapons.  We must meet with constructive criticism the destructive Bible-criticism of those misguided – for I will not say malicious – critics. Julius Wellhausen, prophet of this higher criticism, is almost canonized by some Jewish scholars themselves. Torah-Jewry, of which the Yeshiva is the lighthouse in this land, can no longer permit this misrepresentation of what is our very life, our exalted contribution to mankind.

Several Jewish scholars have recently taken up the war for God and his Torah. Foremost among them is Dr. Chaim Heller, Biblical and Rabbinic scholar of the first rank, whose researches in the field of ancient Biblical Versions have proved the worthlessness of some of the fantastic theories of these Bible critics, meeting them as an equal, with a complete critical apparatus, and with love and zeal for God.

It is manifest how valuable such a scholar and influence are to the home of learning, the Yeshiva, from which our spiritual leaders, who are to spread the knowledge of the Bible and be prepared to answer questions and criticisms in regard to it. There are, at the Yeshiva, students already equipped, with knowledge of the Bible and ancient languages, to do constructive scholarly work with Professor Heller.” 

Heller indeed came to Yeshiva in 1929 and was associated with it until his death in 1960.

Revel’s complete letter to London, from the Revel Papers in the Yeshiva University Archives, may be read here:

 Revel to London 5-3-28 page 1 web     

 Revel to London 5-3-28 page 2 web

 

 

 

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

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“Blow the Shofars of Freedom” – Rosh Hashanah 1980

September 18th, 2014 by Libraryblog

 

Blow the Shofars of Freedom SSSJ September 1980

Blow the Shofars of Freedom SSSJ September 1980

In September 1980 the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) called for a massive symbolic shofar blowing ceremony at the Soviet UN Mission. SSSJ sent letters to rabbis immediately before Rosh Hashanah, urging them to encourage congregants to join the gathering to protest an 85% decrease in Soviet Jewish emigration during the previous year.  SSSJ press releases noted that “the shofar blasts … symbolize calls to introspection and to action…” and will “call attention to this potential catastrophe – the closing of the gates just as we beseech G-d to keep them open.”   The phrase “Blow the Shofars of Freedom,” seen on a poster in the photograph of the event, references the blessing in the Shemonah Esreh prayer on the gathering of the exiles – a fitting slogan for the SSSJ. 

   תקע בשופר גדול לחרותנו ושא נס לקבץ גלויותינו 

The photograph is from the SSSJ Records in the Yeshiva University Archives.

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

 

 

From Within the Tent

August 27th, 2014 by Libraryblog

 Mitokh ha-Ohel 

From Within the Tent : the Weekday Prayers (Mitokh Ha-Ohel: tefilot khol) : Essays by the Rabbis & Professors of Yeshiva University. The Michael Scharf Publication Trust of Yeshiva University Press; Maggid Books, 2014.

Mitokh Ha-Ohel includes contributions from members of the faculty and administration of Yeshiva University, exploring different aspects of prayer and focusing on specific prayers recited on weekdays. This is the first book of a three-volume series. The next two volumes, soon to be published, will deal with Sabbath prayers and Holiday prayers. The articles are scholarly and insightful, with authors drawing upon their areas of expertise: halakhah, homiletics, ancient Near Eastern history, philosophy, etc. And it is truly an ohel, an inclusive tent featuring many articles by accomplished scholars, both male and female. The articles are insightful, informative and inspirational.

Posted by Moshe Schapiro.

Welcome Students

August 19th, 2014 by Libraryblog

 

Commentator - September  22, 1954

Commentator – September 22, 1954

We extend a warm welcome to all of our new and returning students. The library is here to help, so please don’t forget to Ask-the-Library. http://www.yu.edu/Libraries/Ask-the-Library/

In September 1954, sixty years ago, Stern College greeted its first freshman class. Perhaps your grandmother was there. The Commentator featured an article about the new school, “the nation’s first Jewish sponsored liberal arts college for Women.”  Another article announced a new Student Council initiative, a guidance program for “frosh,” which would pair Yeshiva College freshmen with seniors majoring in the same subject.

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

Tish’ah be-Av

July 30th, 2014 by Libraryblog

Sefer Minhagim. Amsterdam.  This woodcut is from a Yiddish Minhagim book (book of customs) published in Amsterdam in 1723 by Herts Levi Rofe. It depicts prayers in the synagogue on the fast of Tish’ah be-Av (9th day of Av), the day of mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem. Note the flames in the background, a symbolic representation of the burning of the Temple.

 Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

The Tragedy of a Generation

May 21st, 2014 by Libraryblog

TTOAGThe Tragedy of a Generation : the Rise and Fall of Jewish Nationalism in Eastern Europe, by Joshua M. Karlip. Harvard University Press, 2013.

This book explores a serious attempt at an alternate, non-religious expression of Jewish identity that took place in the last 150 years.

Today the chief forms of communal Jewish identity are either a religious expression through Judaism or identification with the State of Israel, by living there or by supporting the Zionist enterprise.  In the mid-nineteenth century the largest settlement of Jews in the world, Czarist Russia, was marked by attempts at new forms of Jewish identity.  Some Jews sought assimilation and still others acculturation in the general culture.  But the vast majority of Jews leaving the traditional religious community sought more Jewish expressions, such as Zionism, Jewish socialism (the Bund), and the subject of this volume – Jewish cultural and territorial autonomy, also known as Diaspora Nationalism.

The author explores various attempts at Jewish autonomy in Russia and later in Poland. Such attempts were marked by a desire for either cultural autonomy through the official status of the Yiddish language or for territorial autonomy by the creation of a specific autonomous Jewish region other than Palestine. In most cases, efforts at territorial autonomy interfaced with the efforts at cultural autonomy. Dr. Karlip analyzes these attempts at Jewish autonomy through the work and thought of three major representatives of the movement, namely Elias Tcherikower, Zelig Kalmanovitch and Yisroel Efroikin.

Although for a time after World War One it appeared that the movement of Diaspora Nationalism had an optimistic future, it soon fell apart.   Following the end of the First World War Jewish cultural autonomy found a place in the new Baltic republics of Lithuania and Latvia with autonomous Jewish schools, teachers’ colleges, media and theaters. Yiddish was regarded as an official language in these areas. In the case of Latvia, a Lubavitcher Chasid, Mordecai Dubin, became the virtual dictator of “Jewish autonomy”. The short-lived independent Republic of the Ukraine offered Jewish cultural and political autonomy, but the victory of the Red army put this to an end.

The most famous and most tragic attempt at cultural and territorial autonomy was in the USSR. There for a period of about 10 years (1923-1933) Jewish cultural autonomy was implemented in White Russia, the Ukraine and other regions with a large Yiddish speaking population. Yiddish schools functioned and a vast Yiddish literature received government support. In Siberia Stalin even created a Jewish autonomous region, Birobidzhan, with Yiddish as its official language. All of these were doomed to failure.
In Poland and the Baltic Republics Diaspora Nationalism failed because it could not attract the degree of support that Zionism, orthodoxy and socialism did among the Jewish masses. The masses saw Zionism and religion as well as socialism as the solution to the “Jewish problem”.

Dr. Karlip does an excellent job at distinguishing the various strains in cultural autonomy and Jewish nationalism, and at describing the internal rivalries and relationships with other Jewish political movements. He uses his vast knowledge of Yiddish and of East European Jewry to shed new light on a unique moment in Jewish culture and life. This is an informative and fascinating study of a movement that now exists only in the pages of history.

Posted by Zalman Alpert.

May 1958-A Newspaper is Born at Stern College

May 13th, 2014 by Libraryblog

First Step - Stern 1958 web_Page_1

EleanorRooseveltatSternCollege May1958

May 1958 was a month of “firsts” at four-year-old Stern College.   The inaugural issue of the First Step, the College’s fledgling journalistic endeavor, was published.  The paper reported on Stern’s first graduating class of twenty-six students, Eleanor Roosevelt’s “Stern College Month” fireside chat on the future role of women in society, the Middle States evaluation, and even the library’s new microfilm machine.  The paper had its light side:  the creators of the Purim play described its origin: “’if the boys uptown can write satires of school life, why, so could we.’” And in a time before cell phones, a column entitled “Suspense Reigns on Monday Night Until the Telephone Rings” depicted life around the sole telephone in the dormitory.

The editorial commented on Stern College in 1958:  “Four years ago there was no fight at Stern College over the honor system, no griping about the cafeteria line, no $15 fee for scholarship application. … Four years ago there was no Stern College. Today we have a school we can be proud of.”  And today, at age sixty, celebrating its 57th graduating class, Stern College indeed has much to be proud of.

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

“Why No Matzohs?” Dr. Jacob Birnbaum and the Soviet Jewry Movement

April 7th, 2014 by Libraryblog

Jacob Birnbaum - Isaiah Wall Vigil 4-2-66

Dr. Jacob Birnbaum passed away on April 9, 2014, after this was posted.
May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

המקום ינחם אותם בתוך שאר אבלי ציון וירושלים

On Passover, Jews celebrate the Exodus from slavery in Egypt. May 1, 2014 marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of another Jewish saga of deliverance, the story of Russian Jews. The Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry (SSSJ) was born at a student meeting called by Jacob Birnbaum on April 27, 1964. The momentum Birnbaum generated at this gathering culminated a mere four days later in a ”May Day Demonstration” at the Soviet Mission to the United Nations.   This protest, attended by 700 young people carrying handwritten signs with the slogan: “Why no matzohs?” set the pattern for future SSSJ action. Jacob Birnbaum, the founder and creative force behind the SSSJ, unleashed the power of the biblical depiction of the Exodus in the effort to free Jews from the shackles of Soviet Union.  Birnbaum pierced the Iron Curtain by uniting the majesty and awe of Jewish symbols with peaceful, legal, demonstrations and civil rights techniques. This approach galvanized a generation of students, many of them children of Holocaust survivors, determined not to stay silent in the face of oppression of their Jewish brethren.
Yeshiva University awarded Jacob Birnbaum the Mordecai Ben David Award in 1988 and an honorary doctorate in 2007.  The records of the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry, including correspondence, telegrams, photos, audio recordings and video, are housed at the Yeshiva University Archives. This photo of Dr. Birnbaum at the Pre-Passover All-Night Vigil at the Isaiah Wall at the United Nations on April 2, 1966 is just one of thousands of items in the SSSJ Collection.

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger

“Where is it?”

March 19th, 2014 by Libraryblog

whereisitHave you ever looked for items in the Library catalog, only to find that one was “available” in Pollack, the next was “in Library use” in the Rare Book Room, the third was “non-circulating” in Gottesman Reference, and the last was “on reserve” in Stern? “Now what,” you asked yourself, “how am I ever going to find these items?” Great news: in the new YULIS catalog, as part of the information for each item (like Library name and call number) you will see a link that says “Where is it?” Click on that link and it will tell you where you should go to find the item.

Posted by Leah Adler.

A Vision of Purim from Breslau, 1765

March 4th, 2014 by Libraryblog

Mordechai-and-HamanMordechai’s ceremonial ride in regal regalia on a royal horse through the town of Shushan, heralded by Haman at the command of King Ahashverosh, marks a turning point in the story of Purim. The scribe Binyamin Ze’ev (Wolff Jacob) ben Elyakum Getsel Kats of Kempen, depicted the scene in a manuscript written in Breslau (Wroclaw) in 1765. The original illumination may be viewed on the fourth floor of the Mendel Gottesman Library. The complete manuscript and its story are available online: http://www.yu.edu/libraries/memorbuch/
Happy Purim!

Posted by Shulamith Z. Berger