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Adapted by Aaron Posner from the novel by Chaim Potok Directed by Aaron Posner Produced by Theater J Dramaturgy Packet
Table of Contents About the Authors……………………………………...3 Glossary of Terms……………………………………...6 The Origins of Hasidism…………………………….…9 An “Observer of the Commandments”…………….….12 Yiddish…………………………………………….…..13 Williamsburg, Brooklyn…………………………….….15 The Study of Talmud……………………………….…19 Israel and Zionism……………………………………..24
About the Authors
Excerpted and adapted from Margalit Fox. “Chaim Potok, 73, Dies; Novelist Illumined the World of Hasidic Judaism.” New York Times, July 24, 2002 by Margot Melcon, Dramaturg, Marin Theatre Company
Herman Harold Potok was born in the Bronx on Feb. 17, 1929. His parents were traditional Hasidic Jews, immigrants from Eastern Europe. As a boy, his daily life centered on the local yeshiva where in addition to secular subjects, the focus was on studying sacred Jewish texts. As a boy, Potok showed proclivity for drawing and painting, and dreamed of becoming an artist. This was not popular at home. In the Orthodox tradition, the arts were dismissed as narishkeit (Yiddish for foolishness), any occupation that distracted from the study of Torah and Talmud. Visual art was also a violation of the second commandment, the taboo against the making of graven images. He turned instead to literature devouring secular books at the local library. While his parents tolerated his interest in literature—the written word, after all, was the foundation of Judaism—it was, they made clear, no fit occupation. By the time he was an undergraduate at Yeshiva University, an Orthodox Jewish school in Upper Manhattan, Potok had begun to write short stories. He continued on to the Jewish Theological Seminary, a Conservative Jewish institution near Columbia University. To his family and friends, his choice to pursue a non-fundamentalist education was a serious betrayal. Potok received his master’s degree in Hebrew literature from the seminary in 1954. With it came ordination as a 3
Conservative rabbi; he served as a United States Army chaplain in Korea. After his Army service, Potok went on to earn a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania and continued to write as well as teach. As his literary reputation grew, Potok was able to devote himself to writing full time. Potok came to international prominence in 1967 with his debut novel, The Chosen, the first American novel to make the fervent, insular Hasidic world visible to a wide audience. In his books, he drew readers —Jews and non-Jews alike—into a world that few had ever encountered. There, bearded, black-garbed men kept alive an ecstatic brand of Judaism--born in 18th-century Eastern Europe--that centered both on a charismatic spiritual leader and on an individual’s direct relationship to God. Potok’s heroes, mostly adolescents on the brink of manhood, feel both sustained and suffocated by their traditional communities. Though they never consider abandoning Judaism, they agonize over whether they dare seek lives in the larger world, knowing full well that if they do, they will be branded apostates. My Name is Asher Lev, written in 1972, explores the struggle of self-discovery while remaining faithful to tradition. With his writing Potok tapped into something universal. Although some critics would fault him for revisiting again and again the struggle between faith and secularity, it was his repeated exploration of this tension, he would say, that allowed him to explore a range of additional questions: familial obligation, the role of religion in contemporary society, the meaning of human suffering. Chaim Potok on Writing If I had [the resolution of THE CHOSEN] in mind when I started the book, why in heaven's name would I go through the process of writing the book? Chaim Potok on writing THE CHOSEN. In the video link below, Chaim Potok reflects on his writing process and how he developed characters for some of his greatest novels. http://wejew.com/media/2996/Chaim_Potok_Talks_On_Being_A_ Writer_/ Other Works by Chaim Potok Novels and Novellas: 4
The Chosen, 1967 The Promise, 1969 My Name is Asher Lev, 1972 In The Beginning, 1975 The Book of Lights, 1981 Davita's Harp, 1985 The Gift of Asher Lev, 1990 I Am the Clay, 1992 Old Men at Midnight (3 novellas), 2001 Nonfiction: Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews, 1978 Tobiasse: Artist in Exile, 1986 The Gates of November, 1996 Potok also published short stories and many essays and articles. Read more about Potok’s life and work here: http://potok.lasierra.edu/menu.html
Aaron is a nationally recognized award-winning director, playwright, and teacher. He has been the Artistic Director of two LORT theatres and directed at major regional theatres across the country including The Arden, The Alliance, Portland Center Stage, Seattle Rep, Milwaukee Rep, Actor's Theatre of Louisville, The Folger Shakespeare Theatre, California Shakespeare Theatre, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, Arizona Theatre Company, Delaware Theatre Company, Roundhouse Theatre, Woolly Mammoth Theatre, and many others. His adaptations of literature -- which include Chaim Potok's novels The Chosen and My Name Is Asher Lev, Ken Kesey's Sometimes A Great Notion, and a musical of A Murder, A Mystery & A Marriage by Mark Twain (with music by James Sugg) -- have been produced by more than 40 professional theatres from coast to coast (including many of those listed above as well as Steppenwolf Theatre, Writers Theatre,
Cleveland Playhouse, Florida Stage, and many others) as well as major professional theatres in Canada, Israel, and South Africa. Three are published by Dramatists Play Service. Aaron is the founder and former artistic director of the Arden Theatre Company in Philadelphia. He won two Barrymore Awards for playwrighting and two Helen Hayes Awards for directing, is an Eisenhower Fellow, and is originally from Eugene, Oregon.
Glossary of Terms for THE CHOSEN
(adapted from the Steppenwolf Theatre study guide for THE CHOSEN and The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion) Apikorsim: A derogatory term used to refer to secular or less observant Jews—usually by an Orthodox Jew. The word translated literally means an unbeliever or heretic. Eretz Yisroel: [Hebrew] Literally, the Land of Israel. A special term for the area which Jews believe God promised them in the Torah. Gematriya: A method of interpreting a biblical word based on the numerical value of its letters in the Hebrew alphabet. This discipline of Jewish mysticism seeks to find hidden meanings of words through numerology. See the Hebrew letters and their associated numbers, below.
Goyim or Goy [Yiddish]: Non-Jews; Gentiles. Haganah: (Hebrew: literally, defense) was a militia founded in Palestine in the 1920s to protect Jewish settlers from attack by Arab Palestinians. At various times, Haganah cooperated with the British Army (which controlled Palestine prior to the formation of Israel); but the group also help Jews illegally immigrate during the 1930s. After 1948, Haganah was transformed into the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), the Israeli army. Hasidism: An Ultra-Orthodox denomination, founded in Europe in the 18th century. Hasidism places greater emphasis on ecstatic worship and spirituality than on the Talmudic scholarship of Orthodoxy. Irgun: A Zionist rebel group, also known as Etzel. Irgun was considered a radical fringe organization by some; freedom fighters by others. Kosher: (or Kasher, literally: fit, proper) Ceremonially clean according to Jewish law. Often refers to food, but can be used more broadly—to designate the ritual fitness of any object according to Jewish law. Macher: [Yiddish] An important person; a big shot. Meshugunah: [Yiddish] Crazy.
Modern Orthodox: The Modern Orthodox movement developed in the mid 18th century as a compromise between the Ultra-Orthodox movement and the liberal Reform movement. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch led the movement. He differed from the advocates of Reform Judaism in that he took a literalist approach to the biblical narrative and divine revelation, insisting that the written and oral law are eternally authoritative for all Jews. However he differed from traditionalist Orthodox leaders in his readiness to harmonize traditional Judiasm with modern life in dress, speech, forms of worship, and a positive attitude toward the society and culture of 19th Century Europe. Modern Orthodoxy requires a strict adherence to Jewish law and practice, yet at the same time it encourages secular studies, including history and philosophy. Payos: Earlocks or sidecurls. Many strictly observant Jewish men wear their earlocks long in accordance with a passage in the Torah. Rabbi: Literally, a teacher. A rabbi is a scholar and an expert in Jewish law. Rabbis serve as the spiritual and religion leader of their congregation. Shabbat or Shabbas: A day of rest and contemplation; the holy day of the Jewish week, commemorating God's day of rest after creating the world in six days. Shabbat lasts from sundown on Friday night until sundown on Saturday. Orthodox Jews believe that no work should be done on Shabbat, including driving, preparing food to be cooked, or lighting a fire or stove. Shul: A common term for an Orthodox synagogue. Literally, a school. Synagogue: A Jewish house of worship. Talmud: (literally: Teaching) The book of Jewish law and commentaries on the Torah by learned rabbis. The name applies to each of the two great compilations, the Talmud Yerushalmi and the Talmud Bavli—in which are collected the teachings of the major Jewish scholars who flourished between 200-500 CE, the classic period of rabbinic Judaism. Torah: A term applied to both the entire corpus of sacred literature and to the first section of the Hebrew Bible (which is known to Christians as the Old Testament) Tzaddik: A righteous man, often considered to possess spiritual or mystical power. Not all tzaddiks are rabbis, but the leading rabbi of a Hasidic community is deemed a tzaddik. According to Hasidism, the 8
Tzaddik is the intermediary between God and man, the "soul of the world. Tzitzit: The fringes of the tallit, a shawl that Orthodox and Hasidic men and boys wear beneath their clothes. The fringes extend beyond the edges of the outer garments in order to remind the wearer of the commandments. Yeshiva: A school where students study sacred texts, particularly the Talmud. Yeshiva Bocher: [Yiddish] A student at a Talmudic academy; literally: young man Zionism: A political movement founded in the 19th century, dedicated to the creation of a Jewish state in Israel. The Zohar: A mystical commentary on the Torah.
The Origins of Hasidism
Satmar Hasids in Brooklyn
Much of the conflict within The Chosen comes from the fundamental differences between Hasidic Jews and their Jewish neighbors. In the play and novel, Reuven Malter, the teenage narrator, befriends Danny Saunders, the son of Reb Saunders, the leader of a Hasidic sect in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the novel, Reuven goes to his father with a question about his new friend, and his father explains to him how Hasidism developed and why Danny’s family lives the life that they do. Below is a summary of that explanation, combined with other research. The italicized portions are quotes taken directly from the novel. The movement that would come to be known as Hasidism has its roots in 18th century Eastern Europe. Jews had been firmly established in Poland, the Ukraine, and other areas of Eastern Europe for nearly 500 years. Polish nobles were eager to have Jews settle in their country. They came by the thousands from western Europe, especially from Germany. They ran the nobles’ estates, collected their taxes, developed Polish industry, and stimulated her trade. Poland became a kind of Jewish Utopia. But that Utopia was destroyed in the mid-1600s when a rebellion initiated by the Cossacks was joined by various Orthodox Christian classes. The Jews were marked, not only because of their religion, but because they worked closely with the ruling nobility. Nearly all of the Jewish communities in the Ukraine were devastated. We are like other people, Reuven. We do not survive disaster merely by appealing to invisible powers. We are as easily degraded as any other people. That is what happened to Polish Jewry. By the eighteenth century, it had become a degraded people. 10
Deep-seated discontent, both physical and spiritual, led to a gradual shift by many Jews from exclusively rabbinical learning and toward a kind of mysticism. Seeking spiritual relief, some Jews turned to Israel ben Eliezer, a spiritual master and guide sometimes referred to as Baal Shem Tov (Master of the Name), abbreviated as Besht. Israel ben Eliezer's fame as a healer and spiritual teacher grew and spread. His charisma and power as a communicator put him in the role as leader of a new era in Jewish mysticism. He taught that service to God did not consist solely of religious scholarship but a sincere love of God and the willingness to devote your life to him. He taught them that the purpose of man is to make his life holy —every aspect of his life: eating, drinking, praying sleeping. Gods is everywhere, he told them, and if it seems at times that He is hidden from us, it is only because we have not yet learned to seek him correctly. This put Hasidic Jews, as the followers of ben Eliezer’s teachers would eventually be called, at odds with the Rabbinical establishment. Some were opposed to a sect that put emotion and passion before Jewish rites; others were opposed to what they saw as a departure from reason and scholarship. Others found more fundamental problems with Hasidic beliefs. For example: Doesn’t the belief that God is in all things contradict the principle of faith that God is not physical, and make such a belief heretical? Jews had been excommunicated and exiled from the Jewish faith for similar beliefs. This split away from orthodoxy is not unlike the evangelical movement in Christianity in the 20th century. While to outside eyes, Hasidic Jews may seem even more conservative than their Non-Hasidic, UltraOrthodox Jewish neighbors--this is only partially true. In reality their beliefs are founded on passion, and Hasidic life and worship can consist of drinking, dance, and song in ways that defy the stereotype of the ultra-religious. Upon Israel ben Eliezer’s death, his core circle of followers decided to split Eastern Europe, each moving to a different area to spread Hasidic belief. Over the next century, Hasidic dynastic courts were consolidated across Europe, with each one being named after the shtetl of its origin. Leadership of each court was passed down the family line. One of the most significant innovations Hasidism was the doctrine of the Tzaddik. Known to his followers as Rebbe "Master" to
distinguish him from orthodox Rabbis, the Tzaddik was revered by his followers, almost to the point of worship Each Hasidic community had its own tzaddik, and his people would go to him with all their problems, and he would give them advice. They followed these leaders blindly. The Hasidim believed that the tzaddik was a superhuman link between themselves and God. Every act of his and every word he spoke was holy. Even the food he touched became holy. Hasidism declined throughout the 19th century, struggling against a world where progressive social ideas often conflicted with the Hasidic way of life. The majority of Hasidic Jews in America today are from courts that arrived in America shortly following the devastation of World War II.
Satmar Hasids at the funeral of Rabbi Teitelbaum
Most of the approximately 165,000 Hasidim in the New York City area live in three neighborhoods in Brooklyn: Williamsburg, Crown Heights, and Boro Park. Each of the three neighborhoods is home to Hasidim of different courts, although there is overlap and movement between them. There are approximately forty-five thousand Satmar Hasidim in Williamsburg, over fifty thousand Bobover Hasidim in Boro Park, and at least fifteen thousand Lubavitch in Crown Heights. The population of each of these groups has increased dramatically since the first American Hasidic communities were formed in the late 1940s and 1950s, with especially rapid growth in the last two decades.
A gathering of Satmar Hasids for a wedding celebration
The Lubavitch court is considered the most open because their members actively try to convert other Jews to Hasidism. Consequently, they have a significant online presence. If you’d like to take a crash course in Jewish history as written by the Lubavitchers, go here: (http://www.aish.com/jl/h/cc/) The image of Hasidic Jews, striking and stark against the colorful backdrop of New York City, draws the attention of photographers-professional and otherwise--here. (http://fiveprime.org/hivemind/Tags/brooklyn,hasidic)
Satmar Hasids watch the funeral procession of Rabbi Teitelbaum
An “Observer of the Commandments”
Daniel stared at his father. His eyes were wet…Reb Saunders looked at him. “You will remain an observer of the commandments?” he asked softly. Daniel nodded again. Chaim Potok, THE CHOSEN When the term “observer of the commandments” is used in the novel and the play adaptation of THE CHOSEN, it refers to the 613 mitzvot (commandments) to which Jews are expected to adhere. The entire body of rules and practices that Jews are bound to follow--including biblical commandments, commandments instituted by the rabbis, and
binding customs—is called Halakah, which literally means “the path that one walks”. These 613 commandments are listed and annotated here, separated into categories based on their concerns. There is no single definitive list of the commandments. According to Rabbi Mendel Weinbach, 248 of these mitzvoth are positive commands and 365 are negative ones. The positive mitzvot equal the number of parts of the body and the negative mitzvot correspond to the number of days in the solar year. Because of this —“613” is considered to be a magic number for Torah scholarship and Jewish living. Weinbach’s explanation of the 613 commandments and his chart outlining Maimonides' Division of the Mitzvot can be viewed online, here. (http://ohr.edu/judaism/articles/taryag.pdf) Things get a little more complicated when we look at the relationship between non-Jews and these commandments. According to traditional Judaism, God gave Noah and his family seven commandments to observe when he saved them from the flood. These commandments, referred to as the Noahic commandments, come from Genesis Chapter 9, and are as follows: 1) to establish courts of justice; 2) not to commit blasphemy; 3) not to commit idolatry; 4) not to commit incest and adultery; 5) not to commit bloodshed; 6) not to commit robbery; and 7) not to eat flesh cut from a living animal. These commandments are fairly simple and straightforward, and most of them are recognized by most of the world as sound moral principles. Again--according to Observant Jewish beliefs—these seven commandments are binding to all people, Jews and NonJews alike, because all are descended from Noah and his family. The 613 mitzvot of the Torah, on the other hand, are only binding to the descendants of those who accepted the commandments at Sinai (those of Jewish decent) and to those who have chosen to convert to Judaism.
All About Yiddish (Or, You Want We Should Talk About Yiddish?) I was an apikoros to Danny Saunders, despite my belief in God and Torah, because I did not have side curls and was attending a parochial school where too many English subjects were offered and where Jewish subjects were taught in Hebrew instead of Yiddish…” Chaim Potok, THE CHOSEN
Adapted from THE JEWS: THEIR RELIGION AND CULTURE: Yiddish Literature, by Yudel Mark and THE OXFORD DICTION ARY OF THE JEWISH RELIGION (Werblowsky and Wigoder)
The Roots of Yiddish Language is one of the main elements that distinguishes the Ashkenazic Jews (a term that originally applied to all Jews whose religious and cultural traditions had their origins among German Jews, now a term generally used to refer to all Jews of the Western tradition) from the Sephardic Jews (an identifier for Jews whose roots originated in Spain, which now refers to Jews of Eastern countries who follow the Spanish tradition). The language of the Ashkenazim is Yiddish; that of the Sephardim, Judesmo (Ladino). Prior to World War II more than 10,000,000 persons--about two-thirds of all the Jews in the world--spoke or at least understood Yiddish. Yiddish emerged about a thousand years ago, when emigrants from northern France who spoke a version of old French settled in a number of cities on the Rhine and adopted the German dialects of the area. In taking on these dialects, they adapted a new language to their old speech patterns and created a unique mixture of German dialects. In addition, Hebrew had an influence on the hybrid language from the start, because it (together with Aramaic) was the language of religion and scholarship. As a result, lexical, syntactical, and even morphological elements of Hebrew-Aramaic were also absorbed by Yiddish. Later, the Slavic languages (Czech, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian) influenced Yiddish as well. Thus Yiddish is considered the result of a fusion of the many above-mentioned linguistic elements. It developed its unique characteristics due to the cultural isolation of the Jews. Yiddish suffered a huge blow with the holocaust--when six million Jews, nearly all native speakers of the language, perished. However, Yiddish continues to thrive among Hasidic groups. In addition, there are groups of nonreligious adherents of the language who pursue it as a spoken language and as a focus of literary, cultural, linguistic and/or scholarly activity.
Yiddish Literature Yiddish Literature is only slightly younger than the Yiddish language. It traveled along with the Ashkenazic Jewry as they moved around the world. When Ashakenazic Jews arrived in sixteenth-century Italy it became, for a short time, a center of Yiddish literary work. When an Ashkenazic community flourished in seventeenth-century Amsterdam, it became a hub for the printing of Jewish books; it was also in Amsterdam that Yiddish Theatre was developed and the first Yiddish newspaper founded. When the focus of Jewish life shifted to the Slavic countries, they in turn became centers for Yiddish literature. Yiddish literature came to the United States with the East European immigrant masses, and the same is true in the Argentine, South Africa, and Australia. Yiddish Today In April 2010 online magazine Tablet reported on a New York Times article which named Yiddish as one of the tongues that the City University Graduate Center would include in its new endangered-languages program. Tablet writers were quick to point out that while Yiddish is like many of the other featured languages in that it is spoken more in New York City than in its historic areas—central and eastern Europe, and Russia—it is dissimilar from the obscure Istro-Romanian language of Vlashki or Chamorro of the Mariana Islands because Yiddish is actually thriving in New York City, and elsewhere—primarily because of the ultra-Orthodox communities. CUNY Professor David Kaufman explained “It used to be a language of literature, but now it’s being kept alive by the Hasidic community—which views literature as competition to Torah.” From More Information: Search for Yiddish on the MLA Languages map here. (http://arcgis.mla.org/mla/default.aspx) Maybe you know Yiddish! Check out this site, which defines the Yiddish words most incorporated into American English. Have you ever shleped a load of luggage? Called your annoying neighbor a nudnik? See—you know Yiddish! (http://yiddishacademy.com/schtick-yiddishculture/yiddish-slang/) Enjoy traditional Yiddish songs, presented here with their Yiddish lyrics and translations, along with commentaries from their contributors. (http://yiddishsong.wordpress.com/) “The Yiddish Radio Project” from NPR. Click on the speaker icons or the word to hear actor David Rogow and Pearl Sapoznik (mother of series 16
producer Henry Sapoznik) define and pronounce selected Yiddish words, and use them in the correct context, here. http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/yiddish/words.html
A History of Williamsburg, Brooklyn
(adapted from The Brooklyn Public Library, “Our Brooklyn” site)
The sidewalks of Williamsburg were cracked squares of cement, the streets paved with asphalt that softened in the stifling summers and broke apart into potholes in the bitter winters. Many of the houses were brownstones, set tightly together, none taller than three or four stories. In these houses lived Jews, Irish, Germans, and some Spanish Civil War refugee families. Chaim Potok, THE CHOSEN In 1792 real estate speculator Richard M. Woodhull purchased land surrounding North 2nd Street, Brooklyn, had it surveyed and then divided into city lots. His aim was to attract urban New Yorkers to what was then “the suburbs”. He established a horse ferry from the foot of North 2nd Street to Grand Street in Manhattan, and opened a tavern. In 1800, he named the area Williamsburgh. As it turned out, Woodhull's business tactics were ahead of his time and in 1811 he suffered financial failure. Subsequent ventures by other developers also failed until roads were built in the early 1800s that connected the coast to the interior. Commuting became much easier, and interest in living and working in Williamsburgh increased. 17
By 1827, Williamsburgh was incorporated as a village. A real estate crash in 1837 slowed development, but little by little infrastructure was put in place to make Williamsburgh a city in its own right. On January 1, 1852, Williamsburgh received a city charter, but three years later it was consolidated into the City of Brooklyn. At the time of consolidation the "h" was dropped from the neighborhood's name. During the 1830s, Irish, German and Austrian capitalists established their businesses and homes in Williamsburgh. It became a fashionable resort that attracted such notables as Commodore Vanderbilt, Williams Whitney and railroad magnate James Fisk. Some of the largest industrial firms in the nation grew here, such as Pfizer Pharmaceuticals (1849), Astral Oil (later Standard Oil), Brooklyn Flint Glass (later Corning Ware) and the Havemeyer and Elder sugar refinery (later Amstar and Domino). Breweries such as Schaefer, Rheingold and Schlitz, docks, shipyards, refineries, mills and foundries opened along the waterfront. In 1851, the Williamsburgh Savings Bank, the Williamsburgh Dispensary, the Division Avenue ferry and three new churches were established. With the building of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1903, thousands of Lower East Side Jews crossed the river to make their homes in Williamsburg. Between 1900 and 1920, Williamsburg's population doubled. Immigrants arrived from Eastern Europe, including Lithuania, Poland and Russia. A large number of Italian immigrants settled in the Northside.
Williamsburg, Brooklyn: Circa 1910
By 1917, the neighborhood had some of the most densely populated blocks in all of New York City. A single block between South 2nd and South 3rd Streets housed over 5,000 persons. In the 1930s, large numbers of European Jews escaping Nazism fled to Williamsburg and established an Hasidic enclave.
From the mid-1930s to the 1960s, public housing projects replaced thousands of decaying buildings. In 1957, the building of the BrooklynQueens Expressway cut through the Williamsburg (as well as Red Hook and Greenpoint) community, destroying huge numbers of low-income, single and two-family homes.
Williamsburg Bridge, 1937
With the 1960s came thousands of Puerto Ricans, drawn by the many factory jobs. Through the 1980s the Hispanic community grew to include Dominicans and other Latin Americans. In 1961 Williamsburg had 93,000 manufacturing jobs; by the 1990s, the number had decreased to less than 12,000. The decline in manufacturing left thousands of Hispanics unemployed. In the Southside of Williamsburg, the Hasidic community continued to grow. Tensions increased between the Hispanic and Hasidic communities over government money and housing. In recent years, there have been some improvements in relations between these two groups. Since the early 1990s Williamsburg has become home to a new set of "immigrants", which has altered the face of the neighborhood. Many artists, writers and performers were attracted to the (comparatively) low rents and large light-filled lofts of Williamsburg’s former factories, and they moved into the area. Galleries, restaurants and shops opened which catered to these new residents and made it a destination spot for many 20 and 30-somethings with a distinct sense of style—earning it the nickname “hipster heaven”—for better or for worse. The landscape of today’s Williamsburg, Brooklyn is very different from the one in which Danny Saunders and Reuven Malter lived—but it is precisely this juxtaposition that continues to make it a place that is at once vital and new, and simultaneously seeped in tradition and history. Danny's block was heavily populated by the followers of his father, Russian Hasidic Jews in somber garb, whose habits and frames of reference were born on the soil of the land they had abandoned. They drank tea from samovars, sipping it slowly through cubes of sugar held 19
between their teeth; they ate the food of their homeland, talked loudly, occasionally in Russian, most often in a Russian Yiddish, and were fierce in their loyalty to Danny's father. Chaim Potok, THE CHOSEN Irving Herzberg (1915-1992) documented the neighborhoods, subways and boardwalks of Brooklyn beginning in the early 1950s until his death at the age of 77, when he bequeathed his life's work-about 2,300 photographs, negatives and slides-to Brooklyn Public Library's Brooklyn Collection. Herzberg, who lived in Brighton Beach for thirty years, was drawn to Hasidic Williamsburg after a chance visit to the neighborhood in the early 1960s. During a decade of Sunday visits he became a familiar figure, at first photographing street scenes but gradually gaining entry to businesses, schools and the inner life of the community. http://www.brooklynpubliclibrary.org/ourbrooklyn/williamsburg/herzber g-photo.jsp#id=herzberg&num=1
Williamsburg, Brooklyn and the Jewish Community
Adapted from the Steppenwolf Theatre’s study guide for THE CHOSEN "Long ago, in The Chosen, I set out to draw a map of a New York world through which I once journeyed. It was to be a map not only of broken streets, menacing alleys, concrete- surfaced backyards, neighborhood schools and stores… a map not only of the physical elements of my early life, but of the spiritual ones as well.”
Williamsburg Brooklyn in the 1940s
Reuven and Danny grow up within five blocks of each other in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York during the 1940s. The boys' lives center on the blocks near Lee Avenue, where the population was primarily Jewish immigrants from Poland and Russia. The first synagogues in Williamsburg were built in the nineteenth century, but the 20
Jewish population did not become large until 1903, when the completion of the Williamsburg Bridge linked the neighborhood to Manhattan's Lower East Side. Prior to the opening of the bridge, most of Williamsburg's residents were second and third generation German and Irish immigrants, but the bridge brought many poor and working class Jews, drawn to the neighborhood’s low rents. The influx was so notable that the bridge was often referred to as "The Jews’ Highway"; the newcomers soon dominated the neighborhood. After World War II, the Hasidic population of Williamsburg grew abruptly as survivors of the Holocaust came to the United States seeking a place to rebuild their decimated communities. Today, most of the Hasidim in the U.S. live in Brooklyn. Walking through Williamsburg today, you can see many signs of the Hasidic community. There are men in hats and dark suits speaking Yiddish on the street and dishes on the counters at shops to allow merchants and customers to exchange money without touching hands -- Hasidic Jews do not touch people of the opposite sex except for their spouses. There are many adaptations in the neighborhood to accommodate the restrictions of Shabbat. The Torah forbids carrying objects outside the home on Shabbat, so many of the buildings in the area have combination locks so that observant Jews can come and go without keys. Some areas are enclosed by an eiruv, a symbolic fence which extends the area of "home" so that carrying is permitted. Some tall buildings have "Shabbas elevators" which stop automatically at all floors on Saturday. Williamsburg has always been an ethnically mixed area, and the various groups living there have often clashed. Until recently, the major tension has been between Hasidic Jews, who are the majority of the population, and immigrants from Latin America. In recent years, however, many artists and "hipsters" have begun moving to Williamsburg, attracted by its low rents and proximity to Manhattan. A vibrant art scene is flourishing in the neighborhood, with new galleries, restaurants, and shops. Because these newcomers tend to have more money than the established residents, rents have been climbing, an issue of especial concern to the Hasidim, whose closed community tends to keep them earning little money and who often have large families. Since Hasidim must be able to walk to their shuls on Shabbat, they cannot move to another, cheaper neighborhood unless the entire congregation goes as a group. In January 2004, a small rally was held in Williamsburg to protest the influx of new residents, and organizers
distributed a printed prayer entitled "For the Protection of Our City of Williamsburg From the Plague of the Artists".
The Study of Talmud
(Adapted from the Steppenwolf Theatre study guide for THE CHOSEN. The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion, and www.aish.com)
A page of Talmud
The Talmud is known as the "Oral Torah." God taught the Oral Torah to Moses, and it was passed down through the generations. For centuries rabbis resisted recording the Oral Torah, because they believed that teaching the law orally would help to maintain Jewish tradition. The Great Revolt in 66 CE and the Bar Kokhba Revolt in 132 CE resulted in the death of over a million Jews and the destruction of the leading yeshiva. Rabbi Judah haNasi felt that with the decline in knowledgeable Jews, the Oral Torah must be written down. In the second century, the oral law was compiled and written down by learned rabbis. The writing of the Talmud was completed in the fifth century. It contains the Misnah (The Laws) followed by the Gemara (The Commentaries). The Talmud also includes into ethical guidance, medical advice, historical information, and Jewish folklore. Observant Jews often take the practice of studying a page of Talmud every day.
Among Orthodox Jews, accomplished Talmudic scholars are regarded with awe and respect.
What is the Mishnah? Religion Jews believe that at Mount Sinai the Jewish people received the Written Torah and the Oral Torah. The Oral Torah was the oral explanation of how the written laws should be executed and followed. The Oral Torah passed from generation to generation and was never written down. Why? Because the Oral Torah was meant to be fluid. The principles stayed the same, but the application of those principles was meant to be adapted to all types of new circumstances. This worked exceptionally well as long as the central authority ― the Sanhedrin ― remained intact, and the chain of transmission was not interrupted. (But in the days since the destruction of the Temple, the Sanhedrin had been repeatedly uprooted and teachers had to go into hiding. Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi realized that things might not get better any time soon. He saw that the Temple would not be rebuilt in his generation and possibly in many generations to come. To make sure that the chain of transmission would never be broken, he decided that the time had come to write down the Oral Torah. This was a mammoth undertaking. Although much of the work may have already been done by previous generations of rabbis, the monumental task of editing, explaining and organizing this vast amount of material was left to Rabbi Yehudah. The end result of this massive undertaking was a definitive, yet cryptic (the basic principles were all there yet a teacher was still required to elucidate the material) version of the entire Oral Law called the Mishnah. (Incidentally, the
word Mishnah means "repetition" because it was studied by repeating; Mishnah then, by extension, means "learning.") Maimonides, in his introduction to his Mishnah Torah, explains it as follows: He gathered together all the traditions, enactments, and interpretations and expositions of every position of the Torah, that either come down from Moses, out teacher, or had been deduced by the courts in successive generations. All this material he redacted in the Mishnah, which was diligently taught in public, and thus became universally known among the Jewish people. Copies of it were made and widely disseminated, so that the Oral Law might not be forgotten in Israel. Six Categories of Jewish Law The Mishnah, which is written in Hebrew, is divided into six basic segments or "orders" and further subdivided into 63 tractates with a total of 525 chapters. These 6 segments dealing with six basic areas of Jewish law: • Zeraim, literally "seeds," covering all agricultural rules and laws for foods as well as all blessings • Moed, literally, "holiday," dealing with the rituals of Shabbat and other Jewish holidays • Nashim, literally "women," examining all the issues between men and women such as marriage, divorce, etc. • Nezikin, literally "damages," covering civil and criminal law • Kodshim, literally "holy things," concerning laws of the Temple • Taharot, literally "pure things," concerning laws of spiritual purity and impurity Not long after the death of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, the period known as the era of the Tannaim came to a close. The term Tanna, is derived from the Aramaic word "to teach" and covered a period of 200 years from ca.10 B.C.E. to 200 C.E. beginning with Rabbi Shimon the son of Hillel the Elder and ending with Rabbi Yossi ben Yehuda. Writing The Talmud During the centuries following the completion of the Mishnah, the chain of transmission of the Oral law was further weakened by a number of factors: Economic hardship and increased persecution of the Jewish community in Israel caused many Jews, including many rabbis, to flee the country. Many of these rabbis emigrated to Babylon in the Persian Empire. The role of the rabbis of Israel as the sole central authority of the Jewish people was coming to an end.
This decentralization of Torah authority and lack of consensus among the rabbis led to further weakening of the transmission process. It became clear to the sages of this period that the Mishnah alone was no longer clear enough to fully explain the Oral Law. It was written in shorthand fashion and in places was cryptic. This is because it was very concise, written on the assumption that the person reading it was already well-acquainted with the subject matter. They began to have discussions about it and to write down the substance of these discussions. Since at this time a significant portion of the Jewish population was living in Babylon, which was outside the bounds of the Roman Empire, the rabbis there put together their discussions, the end product of which was called Talmud Bavli or the Babylonian Talmud.
The Babylonian Empire
Even before this process had begun in Babylon, in the land of Israel, another set of discussions took place and the end result was Talmud Yerushalmi or the Jerusalem Talmud. (Incidentally, the Jerusalem Talmud was not written in Jerusalem; it was written in Tiberias, the last place where the Sanhedrin sat, but was called the Jerusalem Talmud in deference to the Sanhedrin's rightful home.) Due to persecution of the Jewish community in Israel the Jerusalem Talmud, completed in the mid 4th century C.E., was never completed or fully edited. The Jerusalem Talmud is much shorter (it contains only four of the six sections of the Mishnah and is more cryptic and harder to understand than the Babylonian Talmud. The situation of the Jews in Babylon was much more stable and the rabbis in Babylon had considerably more time to edit and explain the subject matter. Although there are two Talmuds, they are not really separate. The Rabbis of Babylon had access to the Jerusalem Talmud while they were working on their text. But if there is dispute between the two Talmuds, the Babylonian Talmud is followed. Both because Babylonian Talmud is considered more authoritative and the Jerusalem Talmud is more difficult to study, Jewish students pouring over the Talmud in yeshiva are using chiefly the Babylonian Talmud.
The Talmud also contains a lot of agadata ― these are stories that are meant to illustrate important points in the Jewish worldview. These stories contain a wealth of information on a wide range of topics. This information was vital to the Jewish people because Jewish law was never applied by reading a sentence in the Torah and executing it to the letter. Take for example, "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth." It was never Jewish law that if someone blinded you, that you should go and blind him. What is the good of having two blind people? It was always understood on two levels: 1) that justice must be proportional (it's not a life for an eye) and 2) that it means the value of an eye for the value of the eye, referring to monetary damages. Thus, the Talmud presented the written and oral tradition together. To read the Talmud is to read a lot of arguments. On every page it seems that the rabbis are arguing. This kind of argument ― the purpose of which was to arrive at the kernel of truth ― is called pilpul. This word has a negative connotation outside the yeshiva world, as people read these arguments and it seems to the uneducated eye that the rabbis are merely splitting hairs, and that some of the arguments have absolutely no basis in everyday life. But this is not so. The reason why the rabbis argued about things that may not have any application to everyday life was to try to get to truth in an abstract way – to understand the logic and to extract the principle. Another important point is that much of the discussion and dispute is focused on relatively minor points while the larger issues are generally not disputed. You don't see a single argument as to whether or not you eat pork, or whether or not you can light a fire on the Sabbath. These things were a given, they were totally agreed upon. Only small points were subject to discussion. Gemara When you look at the page of the Babylonian Talmud today, you will find the Hebrew text of the Mishnah is featured in the middle of the page. Interspersed between the Hebrew of the Mishnah are explanations in both Hebrew and Aramaic which are called the Gemara. The Aramaic word Gemara means "tradition." In Hebrew, the word Gemara means "completion." Indeed, the Gemara is a compilation of the various rabbinic discussions on the Mishnah, and as such completes the understanding of the Mishnah. The texts of the Mishnah and Gemara are then surrounded by other layers of text and commentaries from a later period.
The text of the Mishnah is quoting rabbis who lived from about 100 BCE to 200 CE. These rabbi are called the Tanaim, "teachers." In this group are included such greats as Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Rabbi Akiva, and of course Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi. (In the Gemara, they usually have the title Rebbe before their first name although there are many exceptions such as the names: Hillel, Shamai, Ben Azai and Ben Zoma.) The text of the Gemara is quoting the rabbis who lived from about 200 CE to about 500 CE. These rabbis are called, Amoraim, "explainers" or "interpreters." In this group are included Rav Ashi, Reb Yochanan, etc. (Names of the Babylonian Amoraim usually are preceeded by the title Rav as opposed to the Amoraim of Israel who continued to use the title Rabbi/Rebbe. This is because the authentic institution of smicha – rabbinic ordination ― was only done in the Land of Israel.) The surrounding text of today's Talmud also quotes Rishonim, literally "the first ones," rabbinic authorities (from c. 1,000 C.E. until 1,500 C.E.) who predated Rabbi Joseph Caro, the 16th century author of the code of Jewish law known as the Shulchan Aruch. Among the most prominent Rishonim are Rashi, his students and descendants who were the chief authors of the Tosafos, Maimonides and Nachmanides. Talmudic Humor (Ha!) After months of negotiation with the authorities, a Talmudist from Odessa was finally granted permission to visit Moscow. He boarded the train and found an empty seat. At the next stop, a young man got on and sat next to him. The scholar looked at the young man and he thought: This fellow doesn't look like a peasant, so if he is no peasant he probably comes from this district. If he comes from this district, then he must be Jewish because this is, after all, a Jewish district. But on the other hand, since he is a Jew, where could he be going? I'm the only Jew in our district who has permission to travel to Moscow. Ahh, wait! Just outside Moscow there is a little village called Samvet, and Jews don't need special permission to go to Samvet But why would he travel to Samvet? He is surely going to visit one of the Jewish families there. But how many Jewish families are there in Samvet? Aha, only two -- the Bernsteins and the Steinbergs. But since the Bernsteins are a terrible family, so such a nice looking fellow like him, he must be visiting the Steinbergs. But why is he going to the Steinbergs in Samvet? The Steinbergs have only daughters, two of them, so maybe he's their son-in-law. But if he is, then which daughter did he marry? They say that Sarah Steinberg married a nice lawyer from Budapest, 27
and Esther married a businessman from Zhitomer, so it must be Sarah's husband. Which means that his name is Alexander Cohen, if I'm not mistaken. But if he came from Budapest, with all the anti-Semitism they have there, he must have changed his name. What's the Hungarian equivalent of Cohen? It is Kovacs. But since they allowed him to change his name, he must have special status to change it. What could it be? Must be a doctorate from the University. Nothing less would do. At this point, therefore, the Talmudic scholar turns to the young man and says, "Excuse me. Do you mind if I open the window, Dr. Kovacs?" "Not at all," answered the startled co-passenger. "But how is it that you know my name?" "Ahhh," replied the Talmudist, "It was obvious."
Israel and Zionism
A Timeline: A History of Israel and the Palestinian Territories We’ve adapted this timeline from the BBC News Article: A History of Conflict, and from multiple other sources. Creating a comprehensive timeline that encompasses the history of this much-contested land is no easy task--here, even a timeline becomes a political statement. We’ve attempted to report the events as neutrally as possible, and to take into consideration the viewpoint of each group of people for whom this part of the world remains an indelible part of their history. The land that now encompasses Israel and the Palestinian territories has been conquered and re-conquered throughout history. Details of the ancient Israelite states are derived for the most part from the first books of the Bible and classical history. Some of the key events include:
A map of the recorded land of Canaan Biblical times • 1250 BC: Israelites began to conquer and settle the land of Canaan on the eastern Mediterranean coast. • 961-922 BC: Reign of King Solomon and construction of the Temple in Jerusalem. Solomon's reign was followed by the division of the land into two kingdoms. 586 BC: The southern kingdom, Judah, was conquered by the Babylonians, who drove its people, the Jews, into exile and destroyed Solomon's Temple. After 70 years the Jews began to return and Jerusalem and the temple were gradually rebuilt.
A mosaic depicting Alexander the Great Classical period • 333 BC: Alexander the Great's conquest brought the area under Greek rule. • • • 165 BC: A revolt in Judea established the last independent Jewish state of ancient times. 63 BC: The Jewish state, Judea, was incorporated into the Roman province of Palestine 70 AD: A revolt against Roman rule was put down by the Emperor Titus and the Second Temple was destroyed. This marks the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora, or dispersion.
118-138 AD: During the Roman Emperor Hadrian's rule, Jews were initially allowed to return to Jerusalem, but - after another Jewish revolt in 133 - the city was completely destroyed and its people banished and sold into slavery. 351 AD: Jewish revolt to end foreign rule; Roman Empire adopts Christianity
Ottoman Palestine Middle Ages • 638 AD: Conquest by Arab Muslims ended Byzantine rule (the successor to Roman rule in the East). The second caliph of Islam, Omar, built a mosque at the site of what is now the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem in the early years of the 8th Century. Apart from the age of the Crusaders (1099-1187), the region remained under Muslim rule until the fall of the Ottoman Empire in the 20th Century. • 1517 AD: Following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, the Land was divided into four districts, attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. At the outset of the Ottoman era, some 1,000 Jewish families lived in the country. The community was comprised of descendants of native Jews, as well as immigrants from North Africa and Europe. Orderly government, until the death of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, brought improvements and stimulated Jewish immigration. Some newcomers settled in Jerusalem, but the majority went to Safed where, by the mid-16th century, the Jewish population had risen to about 10,000. The town had become a thriving textile center as well as the focus of intense intellectual activity.
An early Jewish settlement Modern Era • 1799: Napoleon conquers Palestine, but is then defeated at Acre
1858: Ottoman land reform creates a landowning, urban leadership that supplants tribal leadership and ushers in the modern era in Palestine. 1878: The first Zionist colony is founded near Jaffa. Thirty Zionist colonies would be founded by 1914. At that time the Jewish population reached 80,000. Zionism, the national liberation movement of the Jewish people, derives its name from the word "Zion", the traditional synonym for Jerusalem and the Land of Israel. The idea of Zionism - the redemption of the Jewish people in its ancestral homeland - is rooted in a deep attachment to the Land of Israel. 1882: First Aliyah (wave of Jewish Immigration to the region) 1903: Second Aliyah: Russian and Eastern European Jews flee pogroms 1908: The Palestinian journal Al-Karmil is founded in Haifa to oppose Zionist developments 1909: Founding of the city of Tel Aviv 1908-1914: Friction grows between Istanbul and Arab Provinces as the government espouses Turkish nationalism. Arabs, including many Palestinians, form the Arab Nationalist movement to seek autonomy.
• • • • •
Shifting sands • 1914 August: World War I begins. At the time of World War I the area was ruled by the Turkish Ottoman empire. Turkish control ended when Arab forces backed by Britain drove out the Ottomans. Britain occupied the region at the end of the war in 1918 and was assigned as the mandatory power by the League of Nations on April 25, 1920. During this period of change, three key pledges were made: o In 1916 the British Commissioner in Egypt promised the Arab leadership post-war independence for former Ottoman Arab provinces. o However, at the same time, the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement between war victors, Britain and France, divided the region under their joint control. o Then in 1917, the British Foreign Minister Arthur Balfour committed Britain to work towards "the establishment in
Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people", in a letter to leading Zionist Lord Rothschild. It became known as the Balfour Declaration. The Balfour Declaration promises a national home for the Jews in Palestine and protection of the civil and religious rights of the non-Jewish inhabitants.
Babies born on a kibbutz in the 1920s Arab discontent • 1922: a British census showed the Jewish population had risen to about 11% of Palestine's 750,000 inhabitants. More than 300,000 immigrants arrived in the next 15 years. Some 35,000 who came between 1919 and 1923, mainly from Russia, strongly influenced the community's character and organization. These immigrants laid the foundations of a comprehensive social and economic infrastructure, developed agriculture, established unique cooperative forms of rural settlement the kibbutz and moshav - and provided the labor force for building houses and roads. • 1929: Jewish-Arab antagonism boiled over into violent clashes in August 1929 when 133 Jews were killed by Palestinians and 110 Palestinians died at the hands of the British police. 1936: Arab discontent again exploded into widespread civil disobedience during a general strike in 1936. By this time, the Zionist group Irgun Zvai Leumi was targeting Palestinian and British sites with the aim of liberating Palestine and Transjordan (modern-day Jordan) by force. July 1937: Britain, in a Royal Commission headed by former Secretary of State for India, Lord Peel, recommended partitioning the land into a Jewish state (about a third of British Mandate Palestine, including Galilee and the coastal plain) and an Arab one. Palestinian and Arab representatives rejected this and demanded an end to immigration. Violent opposition continued until 1938 when it was put down with reinforcements from the UK.
A map of the proposed partition of Palestine UN partition of Palestine • 1947: Britain handed over responsibility for solving the Zionist-Arab situation to the United Nations in 1947. The territory was plagued with chronic unrest pitting the Arab population against the Jewish immigrants (who now made up about a third of the population). The situation had become more critical with the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Jews fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe. The UN recommended splitting the territory into separate Jewish and Palestinian states. Palestinian representatives, known as the Arab Higher Committee, rejected the proposal; their counterparts in the Jewish Agency accepted it. The partition plan gave 56.47% of Palestine to the Jewish state and 43.53% to the Arab state, with an international enclave around Jerusalem. In November 1947, 33 countries of the UN General Assembly voted for partition, 13 voted against and 10 abstained. The plan, which was rejected by the Palestinians, was never implemented. • 1948: Britain announced its intention to terminate its Palestine mandate on May 15, 1948 but hostilities broke out before the date arrived. Both Arab and Jewish sides prepared for the coming confrontation by mobilizing forces.
Declaration of the State of Israel Establishment of Israel
May 1948: The State of Israel was proclaimed at 16:00 on May 14, 1948 in Tel Aviv. The declaration came into effect the following day as the last British troops withdrew. Palestinians refer to May 15 as "alNakba", or the Catastrophe; Israelis generally refer to the day as the beginning of the Israeli War of Independence. The year had begun with Jewish and Arab armies each staging attacks on territory held by the other side. Jewish forces, backed by the Irgun and Lehi militant groups made more progress, seizing areas allotted to the Jewish state but also conquering territories allocated for the Palestinian one. Underground Zionist groups attacked the village of Deir Yassin near Jerusalem on April 9. Word spread among Palestinians and hundreds of thousands fled to Lebanon, Egypt and the area now known as the West Bank. The day after the state of Israel was declared Arab armies from Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq invaded Israel but were repulsed, and the Israeli army crushed pockets of resistance. Armistices established Israel's borders on the frontier of most of the earlier British Mandate Palestine. Egypt kept the Gaza Strip while Jordan annexed the area around East Jerusalem and the land now known as the West Bank.
PLO leader Yasser Arafat addressing Palestinian children Formation of the PLO • Post-1948: After 1948 there was fierce competition between neighboring states to lead an Arab response to the creation of Israel. • January 1964: Arab governments - wanting to create a Palestinian organization that would remain essentially under their control - voted to create a body called the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But the Palestinians wanted a genuinely independent body. This was the goal of Yasser Arafat, who took over the chairmanship of the PLO in 1969. His Fatah organization was gaining notoriety with its armed operations against Israel. Fatah fighters inflicted heavy casualties on Israeli troops at Karameh in Jordan in 1968.
The Mandelbaum Gate separated East and West Jerusalem
The 1967 War • June 1967: Mounting tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors culminated in six days of hostilities starting on June 5, 1967 and ending on June 11 - six days which changed the face of the Middle East conflict. Israel seized Gaza and the Sinai from Egypt in the south and the Golan Heights from Syria in the north. It also pushed Jordanian forces out of the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Mandelbaum gate was the main passage between West Jerusalem (belonging to Israel) and East Jerusalem (belonging to Jordan). The gate was torn down by Israeli forces, thus reuniting Jerusalem. Borders were thus reopened; those who had been previously exiled were allowed to return to see their homeland. • November 1967: The UN Security Council issued resolution 242, stressing "the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war and the need to work for a just and lasting peace in which every State in the area can live in security". According to the UN, the six-day war displaced 500,000 Palestinians who fled to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Eleven Israeli athletes were killed at the Olympics in 1972 The 1970s: Continued Tensions • 1972: Under Yasser Arafat's leadership, PLO factions and other militant Palestinian groups launched a series of attacks on Israeli and other targets. One such attack took place at the Munich Olympics in 1972 in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed. But while the PLO pursued the armed struggle to "liberate all of Palestine", in 1974, Arafat made a dramatic first appearance at the United Nations mooting a peaceful solution. He condemned the Zionist project, but concluded: "Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand."
An Israeli soldier leads blindfolded Egyptian prisoners-of-war in the Sinai Desert during the Yom Kippur War. The Yom Kippur War
1973: Unable to regain the territory they had lost in 1967 by diplomatic means, Egypt and Syria launched major offensives against Israel on the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. The clashes are also known as the Ramadan war. Initially, Egypt and Syria made advances in Sinai and the Golan Heights. These were reversed after three weeks of fighting. Israel eventually made gains beyond the 1967 ceasefire lines. Israeli forces pushed on into Syria beyond the Golan Heights, though they later gave up some of these gains. In Egypt, Israeli forces regained territory and advanced to the western side of the Suez Canal. The United States, the Soviet Union and the United Nations all made diplomatic interventions to bring about ceasefire agreements. Egypt and Syria jointly lost an estimated 8,500 soldiers in the fighting, while Israel lost about 6,000. Soon after the war, Saudi Arabia led a petroleum embargo against states that supported Israel. The embargo, which caused a steep rises in gas prices and fuel shortages lasted until March 1974. In October 1973 the UN Security Council passed resolution 338 which called for the combatants "to cease all firing and terminate all military activity immediately... [and start] negotiations between the parties concerned under appropriate auspices aimed at establishing a just and durable peace in the Middle East". 1977: Egyptian President Anwar Sadat stunned the world by flying to the Jewish state and making a speech to the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem in November 1977. Sadat became the first Arab leader to recognize Israel, only four years after launching the October 1973 war. Egypt and Israel signed the Camp David accords in September 1978 outlining "the framework for peace in the Middle East" which included partial autonomy for Palestinians. A bilateral Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty was signed by Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin in March 1979. The Sinai Peninsula was returned to Egypt. Arab states boycotted Egypt for breaking ranks and negotiating a separate treaty with Israel. Sadat was assassinated in 1981 by Islamist elements in the Egyptian army, who opposed peace with Israel, during national celebrations to mark the anniversary of the October war.
The intifada was meant to send a message to both the PLO and Israel The First Intifada • 1987: A mass uprising - or intifada - against the Israeli occupation began in Gaza and quickly spread to the West Bank. Protest took the form of civil disobedience, general strikes, boycotts, graffiti, and barricades, but it was the stone-throwing demonstrations against the heavily-armed occupation troops that captured international attention.
The Israeli Defense Forces responded and there was heavy loss of life. More than 1,000 died in clashes which lasted until 1993.
The famous handshake between the then PLO leader, Yasser Arafat, and Yitzhak Rabin, the then Israeli prime minister, at the Clinton White House in 1993. The Oslo Peace Talks • January 1993: The election of the left-wing Labour government in June 1992, led by Yitzhak Rabin, triggered a period of Israeli-Arab peacemaking in the mid-1990s. The government - including the "ironfisted" Rabin and doves Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin - was uniquely placed to talk seriously about peace with the Palestinians. The PLO, meanwhile, wanted to make peace talks work because of the weakness of its position due to the Gulf War. The secret "Oslo track" - opened on 20 January 1993 in the Norwegian town of Sarpsborg - made unprecedented progress. The Palestinians consented to recognize Israel in return for the beginning of phased dismantling of Israel's occupation. Negotiations culminated in the Declaration of Principles, signed on the White House lawn and sealed with a historic first handshake between Rabin and Yasser Arafat watched by 400 million people around the world. • May 1994: Israel and the PLO reached an agreement in Cairo on the initial implementation of the 1993 Declaration of Principles. This specified Israel's military withdrawal from most of the Gaza Strip, excluding Jewish settlements, and from the Palestinian town of Jericho in the West Bank. Negotiations were almost derailed on February 25 when a Jewish settler in the West Bank town of Hebron fired on praying Muslims, killing 29 people. The agreement itself contained potential pitfalls. It outlined further withdrawals during a five-year interim period during which solutions to more challenging issues were to be negotiated - such as the establishment of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem, Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories and the fate of more than 3.5 million Palestinian refugees from the 1948 and 1967 upheavals. Many critics of the peace process were silenced on July 1 as jubilant crowds lined the streets of Gaza to cheer Yasser Arafat on his triumphal return to Palestinian territory. The returning Palestinian Liberation Army deployed in areas vacated by Israeli troops and Arafat became head of the new Palestinian National Authority (PA) in the autonomous areas. He was elected president of the Authority in January 1996.
The funeral of Yitzhak Rabin Oslo II and Rabin’s Assassination • 1995: The first year of Palestinian self-rule in Gaza and Jericho was dogged by difficulties. Bomb attacks by Palestinian militants killed dozens of Israelis, while Israel blockaded the autonomous areas and assassinated militants. Settlement activity continued. The Palestinian Authority quelled unrest by mass detentions. Opposition to the peace process grew among right-wingers and religious nationalists in Israel. Against this background, peace talks were laborious and fell behind schedule. But on September 24 the so-called Oslo II agreement was signed in Taba in Egypt, and countersigned four days later in Washington. The agreement divided the West Bank into three zones, with 7% going to full Palestinian control; 21% under joint IsraeliPalestinian control; and the remaining territory staying in Israeli hands. Oslo II was greeted with little enthusiasm by Palestinians, while Israel's religious right was furious at the "surrender of Jewish land". Amid an incitement campaign against Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, a Jewish religious extremist assassinated him on November 4, sending shock waves around the world. The dovish Shimon Peres, architect of the faltering peace process, became prime minister. • 1996: Conflict returns with a series of devastating suicide bombings. • 1999: Ehud Barak, who pledges to "end the 100-year conflict" between Israel and the Arabs within one year, wins the Israeli election.
A scene from the Second Intifada The Second Intifada • 2000: Initial optimism about the peacemaking prospects of a government led by Ehud Barak proved unfounded. Barak concentrated on peace with Syria - also unsuccessfully. But he did succeed in fulfilling a campaign pledge to end Israel's 21-year entanglement in Lebanon. After the withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, attention turned back to Yasser Arafat, who was under pressure from Barak and Bill Clinton to launch an all-out push for a final settlement at Camp David. Two weeks of talks failed to come up with acceptable solutions
to the status of Jerusalem and the right of return of Palestinian refugees. In the uncertainty of the ensuing impasse, Ariel Sharon, the veteran right-winger who succeeded Binyamin Netanyahu as Likud leader, toured the al-Aqsa/Temple Mount complex in Jerusalem on September 28. Sharon's critics saw it as a highly provocative move. Palestinian demonstrations followed, quickly developing into what became known as the al-Aqsa intifada, or uprising. Gaza withdrawal • 2005: By now, the former general Ariel Sharon was Israeli prime minister. In 2005 he abandoned the policy he had followed all his life-that of holding onto the West Bank and Gaza at all costs. Instead, he announced that Israel would leave the Gaza Strip and would build a wall and fence to defend itself against suicide bombers and separate the Palestinian territories from Israel. The withdrawal went ahead, but Gaza later became the scene of a power struggle between the Palestinian Authority, representing the old guard of the secular PLO, and the newer Islamic-inspired forces of Hamas. Hamas prevailed. The Oslo accord all but disappeared. At the end of 2005 Sharon suffered a massive stroke and went into a coma; he remains in this condition even today.
Israelis lay flowers on the grave of a fallen soldier in April 2007 Lebanon War • 2006: Eight Israeli soldiers were killed and two captured by the Lebanese group Hezbollah. Israel and Hezbollah engaged in a 33-day war in which Hezbollah fired a hail of rockets into Israel and the Israelis bombed Lebanese towns and infrastructure but made little headway in ground operations. The war ended inconclusively but with Hezbollah largely intact.
The Zionist Movement Adapted from Zionism by Prof. Binyamin Neuberger; and UltraOrthodox & Anti-Zionist by Dr. Aviezer Ravitzky The idea of Zionism is based on the connection between the Jewish people and its land, a link which began almost 4,000 years ago when Abraham settled in Canaan, later known as the Land of Israel. Central to Zionist thought is the concept of the Land of Israel as the historical birthplace of the Jewish people and the belief that Jewish life elsewhere is a life of exile. Over centuries in the Diaspora (scattered communities of Jews outside of Israel) Jews maintained a relationship with their historical homeland, manifesting this connection through rituals and literature. Modern Zionism in part owes its success as an active national movement to anti-Semitism and persecution. Over the centuries, Jews were expelled from almost every European country--a cumulative experience that had a profound impact, birthing influential Jewish leaders who turned to Zionism as a result of the anti-Semitism in their respective societies. Thus Moses Hess, shaken by the blood libel of Damascus (1844), founded Zionist socialism; Leon Pinsker, shocked by the pogroms (1881–1882) which followed the assassination of Czar Alexander II, lead the Hibbat Zion movement; and Theodor Herzl, who experienced the venomous anti-Semitic campaign of the Dreyfus case in Paris (1896), organized Zionism into a political movement. Rise of Political Zionism Political Zionism emerged in the 19th Century within the context of the liberal nationalism then sweeping through Europe. Although Zionism was basically a political movement aspiring to a return to the Jewish homeland, it also promoted a reassertion of Jewish culture. An important element in this reawakening was the revival of Hebrew, long restricted to liturgy and literature, as a living national language.
Most of the founders of Zionism knew that Palestine had an Arab population (though some spoke naively of “a land without a people for a people without a land”). Still, only a few regarded the Arab presence as a real obstacle to the fulfillment of Zionism. Many Zionist leaders believed that since the local community was relatively small, friction between it and the returning Jews could be avoided. However, these hopes were not fulfilled. During the years 1936–1947, the struggle over the Land of Israel grew intense. Arab opposition became more extreme with the increased growth of the Jewish community. At the same time, the Zionist movement felt it necessary to increase immigration and develop the country’s economic infrastructure in efforts to save as many Jews as possible from Nazi-dominated Europe. The clash between the Jews and the Arabs brought the UN to recommend, on November 29, 1947, the establishment of two states in the area west of the Jordan River—one Jewish and one Arab. The Jews accepted the resolution; Arabs rejected it. On May 14, 1948, in accordance with the UN resolution of November 1947, the State of Israel was established.
Orthodox Opposition to the State of Israel Many Ultra-Orthodox Jews are anti-Zionist because they believe that the redemption of the Jews must come through the agency of the Messiah rather than through any actions of the Jews, and more so, that it cannot come about as a result of a secular (non-religious) political organization such as Zionism. Therefore, these groups perceive the establishment of the State of Israel as an anti-messianic act. In the words of the Midrash, the Jewish people were adjured not to return collectively to the Land of Israel by the exertion of physical force, nor to “rebel against the nations of the world,” nor to “hasten the End;” rather they were required to wait for the heavenly, complete, and miraculous redemption that is distinct from the realm of human endeavor. According to this logic, any Jewish state prior to the messianic age undermines and denies the Torah and takes a stand against halakhah (Jewish law).
Anti-Zionist, Ultra Orthodox Jews march in support of the Palestinians
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