Thursday, March 13, 2008

Lamentations, Menorahs and Jewish Names

Three interesting articles:

  • R. Dovid Gottlieb about the massacre in Mercaz HaRav (link):
    The thought - which try as I might, I cannot get out of my mind - of yeshiva students sitting in front of their seforim, studying, "talking in learning," and celebrating the onset of Chodesh Adar when the terrorist attacked is just so painful to think about...

    But what message can be taken from such misery?...
  • Click here to read more
  • R. Meir Soloveichik on the menorah and Zionist politics (link):
    With this in mind we can return to the emblem of the modern state of Israel, chosen in order to emphasize the restoration of Jewish sovereignty. As it happens, much debate surrounded the precise configuration of this artifact. Among the proposals submitted at the time, one leading candidate showed the traditional three-footed menorah flanked by two other ancient symbols: a palm frond (lulav) and a ram’s horn (shofar). Although the proposed emblem also incorporated seven stars, a symbol linked to the writings of Theodor Herzl, religious imagery clearly prevailed over political, and the proposal likewise included a Hebrew phrase, “peace over Israel,” taken from Scripture.

    In the end, however, the committee overseeing the choice of symbol declined this proposal, rejecting the biblical phrase, the shofar and lulav, and the tripod menorah, and settling ultimately on the menorah of the arch of Titus flanked by two olive branches signaling Israel’s peaceful intentions. While granting that the pairing of a menorah with two olive branches nods to Israel’s religious history by harking back to imagery from the book of the prophet Zechariah, Mishory writes that the emblem “clearly shows that in the struggle between the ‘secular camp,’ which wanted to emphasize the state’s socialist and democratic present and future, and the ‘religious camp,’ which wished to stress the grandeur of the past and its link to the God of Israel, the former won.”

    Indeed, when the state’s seal was officially announced, Rabbi Herzog, an ardent Zionist, protested on both religious and archeological grounds:
    It is not good what our government does today. Just when we have merited once again the light of Zion that is symbolized by the menorah, [the state] chose specifically the image of the menorah that is on the arch of Titus, which, it appears, was altered by foreigners. . . . And not only this, but an expert in the science of antiquities has testified to me that the menorahs that are formed on the graves in [Jewish] catacombs in Rome . . . are all with three legs, as are all those formed on the mosaics in the remains of ancient synagogues that are in the land of Israel.
    “How right are the words of Rabbi Herzog,” exclaims Sperber, for whom Israel’s choice of emblem was a tragic error. In seeking to restore Jewish political honor, the Jewish state ended up insulting the Jewish faith; in seeking to emphasize Jewish political independence, it ended up selecting a symbol of Judaism’s spiritual servitude.

  • David Zax in Moment about Jewish names (link):
    You may have heard the story of the Jewish immigrant. On the boat to America, a fellow steerage passenger tells him his name sounds too Jewish and suggests that he choose a new one before he arrives in New York. But when the Ellis Island clerk asks him his name, the immigrant becomes flustered, crying out in Yiddish, “Sheyn fergessen!” (“I already forget!”). And so he ends up with a new name—Sean Ferguson.

    Plenty of Jewish and other immigrant families recount such stories. The only problem is, they aren’t true, says Gary Mokotoff, a leading figure in the study of Jewish names and publisher of the genealogical review Avotaynu. “No one ever got their name changed at Ellis Island,” he says. “The Ellis Island process was very mechanical; there wasn’t some Irish clerk saying, ‘What’s your name?’” Rather, the registrar searched for names on the ship’s manifest—recorded back in Europe, where officials were familiar with the spelling of Jewish names. “If you said your name was Sheyn Fergessen, they’d check the list.”...

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