Sunday, April 25, 2010

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Relevant to today's events: Netanyahu's Speech at the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Day Ceremony

PM Netanyahu’s Speech at the Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’
> Remembrance Day Ceremony
> Tonight, the eve of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day,
> we remember our brothers and sisters who were murdered in the death
> camps, in the forests and in the killing fields. We listen to the
> voices of the survivors who serve as the voice of the millions who
> died. Before their deaths, many of the murdered begged, “Do not
> forget us. Tell our story - tell the world, tell the coming
> generations - how great our suffering was, how terrible the horror
> was, how great our sacrifice was.”
> We are deeply indebted to the survivors for their courage to return
> to life, to establish families, to contribute to building the
> country, and for their courage to speak out and tell their stories.
> It is only during the past several years that we have been doing
> more to help and make things easier for the survivors in their
> twilight years, and we will continue to do so.
> Distinguished guests,
> Several months ago, I headed the Israeli delegation to the ceremony
> marking 65 years since the liberation of the death camps Auschwitz
> and Birkenau. The candle-lighting ceremony took place outside in
> front of the monument. It was 15 degrees celsius below zero, but it
> was still warmer than the terrible winter of 1944-1945 when
> temperatures ranged from 30 to 35 degrees below zero. We stood for
> about 30 minutes during the ceremony, well-dressed for the weather.
> Nevertheless, we were freezing. Suddenly I understood a simple,
> chilling truth about millions of my brothers and sisters who ended
> up in that cursed place: those who didn’t burn, froze; and those
> who didn’t freeze, burned.
> Several months earlier, I visited the Wannsee Villa in Berlin .
> There, I saw the original invitation for the meeting of high-level
> Nazi officials, in which they decided to wipe out the Jewish
> people. On the invitation that was sent by the Deputy Head of the
> SS was written: “The chief of the Reich main security office,
> Reinhard Heydrich, cordially invites you to a discussion about the
> Final Solution to the Jewish problem. Breakfast will be served at
> 09:00 .”
> This is how, in an elegant villa on the shore of a pastoral lake,
> over breakfast and glasses of cognac, 15 men sat and decided how to
> destroy our people. No one batted an eyelid; no one expressed any
> doubt regarding the mission, either its necessity or its justness.
> Immediately after the meal, they began their work to erase the seed
> of Abraham from the Earth.
> As I was walking through the villa, moving from document to
> document, I was filled with a helpless rage, and the feeling
> continued to grow until it became a flood. At the end of the tour,
> my German host asked me to write something in the guest book. I sat
> in the chair and the sadness and the anger rose up and started to
> overflow. And because of the storm of emotions, I wrote only three
> words: Am Israel Chai [the People of Israel live].
> Tonight at Mount Herzl , I say those words again: Am Israel Chai.
> And the people of Israel will continue to live. It re-established
> its country, gathered its exiles, built its army, settled its
> homeland and reunited its capital, Jerusalem . “The Land of Israel
> was the birthplace of the Jewish people.” That is how David Ben-
> Gurion opened the Declaration of Independence. The State of Israel
> was born out of the ruins and the ashes, and today it impresses the
> entire world with the force of its creativity and innovation, with
> its advanced research and knowledge, with the momentum of its
> economy and with its free and democratic society.
> Within several decades, the State of Israel has become one of the
> most advanced countries in the world: Israeli products help cure
> illnesses and feed millions of people; Israeli developments help
> irrigate fields and orchards on every continent; and Israeli ideas
> help save energy in every corner of the globe. Israel is a rich
> source of innovation for the world and is poised for the future.
> Nevertheless, today we must ask the question: have the lessons of
> the Holocaust been learned? I believe that there are three lessons:
> fortify your strength, teach good deeds and fight evil. The first
> lesson - fortify your strength - relates first and foremost to us,
> the people of Israel who were abandoned and defenseless when faced
> with waves of murderous hatred that rose against us time after
> time. “In every generation there are those who stand against us.”
> And in this generation we must fortify our strength and
> independence so that we will be able to prevent the current enemy
> from carrying out its plan.
> Fortifying our strength is the first condition for our existence.
> At the end of the day, it is also a necessary condition to
> expanding the circle of peace with those neighbors who accept our
> existence.
> The second lesson - teach good deeds - means accepting or rather
> teaching to accept the other and differing opinions. This is the
> recognition that every man is created in G-d’s image and that every
> person has full rights to freedom, to life and to choosing their
> own path. This is the essence of a free society. This is the basis
> that prevents the growth of a Nazi ideology or any other fanatic
> ideology that preaches genocide and carries it out. This is what we
> teach the children of Israel , which is a magnificent country, a
> beacon of tolerance in a dark and fanatical region.
> But, ladies and gentlemen, this teaching of good deeds has a
> complementary side, and that is the third lesson of the Holocaust:
> fight evil. It is not enough to simply do good and be tolerant. A
> free society must ask itself what it will do when faced with the
> destructive forces of evil that seek to destroy and trample man and
> his rights. There is no tolerance without boundaries and the
> boundaries of tolerance must be outlined. And all free countries
> must define these boundaries for themselves.
> The historic failure of the free world when faced with the Nazi
> menace was that they did not stand up against it in time, while
> there was still a chance to stop it. And here we are today again
> witnesses to the fire of the new-old hatred, the hatred of the
> Jews, that is expressed by organizations and regimes associated
> with radical Islam, headed by Iran and its proxies. Iran ’s leaders
> race to develop nuclear weapons and they openly state their desire
> to destroy Israel . But in the face of these repeated statements to
> wipe the Jewish state off the face of the Earth, at best we hear a
> weak protest, and even this is fading away. The required firm
> protest is not heard - not a sharp condemnation, not a cry of
> warning. The world continues on as usual and there are even those
> who direct their criticism at us, against Israel .
> Today, 65 years after the Holocaust, we must say in all honesty
> that what is most outrageous is the absence of outrage. The world
> gradually accepts Iran ’s statements of destruction against Israel
> and we still do not see the necessary international determination
> to stop Iran from arming itself with nuclear weapons. But if we
> have learned anything from the lessons of the Holocaust, it is that
> we must not remain silent and be deterred in the face of evil.
> I call on all enlightened countries to rise up to forcefully and
> firmly condemn Iran ’s destructive intentions and to act with
> genuine determination to stop it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
> These are the three lessons of the Holocaust: fight evil, teach
> good deeds and fortify your strength. My friends, where does our
> strength come from? From our unity, from our heritage, from our
> common past and future. Together, we treasure our past. Together,
> we forge the path to our future.
> We are not here by chance. We returned to this land because it is
> our land; we returned to Zion because it is our city. We are paving
> roads north and south, and transforming a barren land into a
> flourishing garden. This is our answer to those who seek our
> destruction.
> As the prophet Isaiah said:
> “Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress, and instead of the
> brier shall come up the myrtle; and it shall be to the Lord for a
> memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off… Even
> unto them will I give in My house and within My walls a monument
> and a memorial…I will give them an everlasting memorial, that shall
> not be cut off.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

The Art of Visiting the Sick: A Practical Guide

A rabbi offers advice about how to perform the mitzvah of visiting the sick with wisdom, discretion, and sensitivity.
By Rabbi Bradley Artson

Abridged from It’s a Mitzvah!, published by Behrman House and the Rabbinical Assembly, 1995. © Behrman House, Inc., reprinted with permission.

1. Upon discovering that someone is sick, send a brief card or a note. Rather than allowing a silence to isolate the sick if you cannot visit quickly, send a note, even a brief one, to provide a sense of contact. Almost every hospital room I’ve visited has cards displayed proudly where the sick person can see them; they are a reminder that people do care.

visiting the sick

2. Alert the sick person’s rabbi. Although a visit from a rabbi is often appreciated, many people forget to notify the synagogue when someone is ill. Before doing so, be sure to consider whether the patient will be upset by having his or her illness made public.

3. Plan to visit the sick. The physical presence of caring people can banish loneliness and provide tangible evidence of a concerned community. A close friend or family member should visit immediately. If the hospitalization will be protracted, others should wait a day or two before visiting. For shorter stays, it is certainly appropriate to visit sooner.

4. Don’t plan on a long visit. Hospital patients have a busy schedule, and sick people often tire easily. It is better to visit briefly but repeatedly than to visit once for a long time. When the patient tires, leave courteously with a promise to return another time.

5. Schedule your visit appropriately. The Talmud counsels not to visit the sick early in the morning or late at night. Most hospitals have visiting hours in order to enable doctors and nurses to perform their tasks unencumbered. Be sure to respect such restrictions.

6. Before visiting the patient, phone ahead to let him or her know you are coming. This simple gesture creates the anticipation of a visit, giving the sick person that much more pleasure. Calling in advance also puts the patient in charge. Being sick often results in a forced passivity. When you phone and ask if it is all right to visit, the patient is able to exercise some control.

7. Prepare for a visit carefully and thoughtfully.

· Don’t wear perfume or after-shave lotion. Illness often makes people more sensitive to smell, and artificial odors can be disturbing to the person who is sick.

· Don’t bring bad news. Try to restrict topics to those that will make the patient feel good.

· Select one or two topics for discussion. (See number 12.)Preparing yourself in this way can help you feel ready to sit and talk.

· Bring the patient a small, practical gift. A newspaper or magazine can reinforce a sense of connection to the outside world and leaves tangible evidence of the visit. As a hospital patient, I cherished a bonsai tree, a gift that linked me to the outdoors and allowed me to feel less trapped.

8. Before entering the patient’s room, be sure to knock and ask for permission to enter. This is another way to allow the patient to feel in control.

9. If there are already many visitors, wait outside until a few people leave. Trying to juggle a room full of friends can be exhausting. If you cannot wait, then say, “I see that you are well cared for now. I wanted you to know I’ll be thinking of you, and I’ll come back when there are fewer people.” Let the patient know when to expect the next visit, and then be sure to visit again.

10. When visiting, help with concrete tasks. One of the crucial aspects of bikkur holim is the kind of caring that can be demonstrated only in person. After getting the sick person’s consent, help by making the bed, watering plants, straightening up the room, or any other chore that helps the sick person or makes the surroundings look well attended.

11. Try to be with the patient during a meal. Eating is a social act, and the presence of company during a meal can communicate additional closeness and caring because it suggests forethought. Be sure to ask whether the patient would like you to stay during the meal.

12. Don’t feel you have nothing to talk about. At the heart of our discomfort with visiting the sick is a sense that we won’t have anything to say. The following specific guidelines might help.

· Be alert to objects in the room that might prompt a pleasant discussion.

· Don’t criticize the hospital, the doctors, the food, or the medical procedures. Criticizing a patient’s care may diminish his or her confidence in it. If the patient is frustrated, then listen sympathetically without committing yourself to agreeing.

· Don’t evaluate a procedure or the veracity of a medical prognosis. At the same time, the patient may want someone who will listen openly, and not brush aside the patient’s feelings of hopelessness or despair.

· Don’t defend God, religion, or nature. Being sick is a legitimate cause for anger, and expressing that anger is the quickest way to be able to move beyond it. We can best help by listening sympathetically and by saying, “It must be very difficult to go through what you are going through. It really isn’t fair. I’d be angry too if I were you.”

13. Don’t be afraid to sit in silence. As with any situation where we are trying to bring comfort and friendship to someone who is suffering, the primary statement we can make is not through any words we speak but through our presence.

14. Listen. Besides demonstrating our involvement by offering our physical presence, we can do so by allowing the sick to speak of their concerns. In fact, this is the main service we can offer. If people who are sick want to speak about their illness -- or about something else, then listen. All of us have a need to be heard most of all when we feel strained or ill.

15. Offer your hand. Don’t hesitate to touch the person. There is no more immediate way to demonstrate that you will not abandon a person to illness than by reaching out and placing your hand on the patient’s shoulder or by taking the person’s hand in your own. The calm, love, and stability that touch provides is without equal.

16. Offer to pray with the patient. Of all the events in a person’s life, illness is one that calls for the assurance of holiness and connectedness that Jewish tradition can provide so well. A willingness to observe Shabbat or other holiday and, more especially, a willingness to pray together can establish a living link to the Jewish community and to God. The rabbis of the Talmud often made a point of praying in the presence of the sick, some even claiming that a visit that did not include a prayer did not constitute bikkur holim.

· Prayer can be informal. A simple wish of refu’ah sh’leimah (“complete healing”) or “God be with you” can bring a level of comfort that ordinary conversation cannot. Jewish tradition offers a brief prayer linking the experience of the individual to the broader community: “May God show compassion to you, together with all the other sick of the people Israel.”

· If possible, visit before Shabbat or a holiday, and bring some item that will allow the patient to celebrate that holiday. Linking your visits to the Jewish holidays is an effective way to combat the disorienting quality of being sick and reconnect the suffering individual to what other Jews are experiencing beyond the walls of the sickroom.

· Read a psalm together. This simple gesture can add tremendous depth to your visit. Psalm 23 (“Adonai is my shepherd”), or Psalm 121 or 130, can be a source of great comfort. By using their words of our forebears, we affirm a community of belonging that transcends illness, sorrow, and pain.

17. Offer to make two specifically Jewish gestures:

· Attend a synagogue worship service and [to] have a mi she-berakh recited after the Torah reading. Mi she-berakh (literally, “may the One who blessed”) is a prayer for the sick. Find out the patient’s Jewish name and those of his or her parents. By asking for a mi she-berakh to be recited, you ensure that the community is informed of the illness, that more people will pray for that individual, and that the sick person has the comfort of knowing that a congregation of Jews cares.

· Make a contribution to a synagogue or a charitable cause in honor of the sick person. In Jewish tradition, tzedakah (a charitable contribution) is a highly cherished form of demonstrating respect and concern.

18. Reestablish the ancient Jewish tradition of va‘ad bikkur holim (“committee to visit the sick”). Bikkur holim is an obligation of all members of a community. Rather than relying on our own personal network of people who will “take care of their own,” it is time to reestablish the va‘ad bikkur holim. Itdemonstrates that Judaism is not just for paid professionals and that the community, as a community, takes care of its members.

19. Visit nursing home residents, long-time hospital patients, and elderly shut-ins. Many people suffer from chronic illnesses for such a long time that we often stop remembering that they need our care. The rules of bikkur holim apply to these people too.

War-torn Israel has become an eco-pioneer

The first Better Place charging system became operational in February, 2010.

War-torn Israel has become an eco-pioneer.

It grows food in sand, powers homes from the sun and this year launches the world's finest city-wide electric car system. So how has war-torn Israel become such an eco-pioneer?

By the end of this year the world’s first all-electric car network will be up and running in one of the most unlikely settings. The cars built by Renault-Nissan need a network of re-charging points and battery changing stations and these are being set up in Denmark, Hawaii, California, Canada and Australia.

But the first place to host a national electric car network will be one that has almost permanently been at war with its neighbours since its inception. This is Israel, which invented the original technology and is home to Better Place, the company that came up with the idea.

“Israel will be the first country in the world with this new technology. Jerusalem will be the first city,” says Better Place boss Shai Agassi, who recently unveiled Israel’s first car charging points. The car looks like a regular Renault Megane except it has no exhaust pipe and an electric socket where the petrol cap should be. It drives noticeably quieter than a regular car and powered by a 450 lb lithium-ion battery it can run for about 140 miles without re-charging, compared with 300 miles for the average family car on a full tank of petrol.

Drivers will plug in their cars to recharge for several hours at home, work or at designated free car parks throughout the country. Or they will swap empty batteries for fully-charged ones at a network of up to 200 “swap stations” throughout Israel. The electricity for the cars will come from solar technology being developed in the desert in southern Israel. Amid the gunfire this tiny country, the size of Wales and with a population of just under 7.5 million, leads the world in developing and exporting green technologies that could save the planet.

Ironically it is precisely because of its precarious position that such eco-inventions have flourished. Surrounded by hostile neighbours, with few natural resources of its own and two-thirds of its area inhospitable desert, Israel has had to use its wits to survive. When Warren Buffett, the world’s wealthiest man, decided to make his first investment outside the United States, he chose Israel. “Some Amerircans have come to the Middle East looking for oil so they didn’t stop in Israel. We came to the Middle East looking for brains and we stopped in Israel,” Buffett explained as he put $4 billion into Iscar, a precision tool maker.

“We found that the real trick in business is not to be a genius yourself but to go around associating with geniuses who are already doing a good job and stay out of their way.” Israeli innovations range from Intel microprocessors to messaging systems that ensure the safety of nearly all the world’s financial transactions. Microsoft Intel, IBM and NDS, a firm that designs TV set-top boxes to unscramble cable and satellite signals, all have research and development centres in Israel drawing on the brainpower of those “genius”.

There are more than 1,000 clean-technology start-up companies in Israel, a country that has attracted more foreign investment in high-tech businesses in the past decade than all of Europe. It has more companies quoted on the high-tech NASDAQ stock exchange in New York than any other country outside the United States. In innovation it outshines all its neighbours. Between 1980 and 2000, Egyptians registered 77 patents in the US, Saudis registered 171, Israelis registered 7,652.

“We are flexible and we are smart because we know that we have to be to survive,” says Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Israeli Manufacturers’ Association. A primary motor of this technical innovation is the Israeli army. Its units cream off the top teenagers, ram them through accelerated university training and give them sophisticated military assignments. Agassi of Better Place, like the founders of computer security pioneers Check-point, demobbed from Unit 8200, a top-secret division of military intelligence where every other soldier is a computer whiz-kid.

TALPIOT, another military programme veiled in secrecy, whips its high-achieving teenagers through electronics, engineering or physics degrees before setting them up in state-of-the-art laboratories to build next-generation defence solutions. “The ingenuity in technology is tremendous. Israel is a fountain of knowledge,” says Avishay Braverman, an Israeli cabinet minister and former World Bank economist.

“The reason for the success in high-tech industry is that the army invested so much in research. Where else do you have men and women operating the most sophisticated computers in the world at such a young age?” The ingenuity and training is mixed with a need to solve Israel’s problems due to its geography and political isolation. Its main water sources are controlled by its enemies, Syria and the Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The land is sandy and infertile. “Israel has become a world power in terms of green technology because of our long experience in dealing with scarcity,” says Jon Medved, head of the pioneering video ringtone company Vringo and an investor in Israeli clean technology companies. “We’ve created these technologies to solve problems that are acute here.”

Israel and experts such as Dov Pasternak lead the world in countering the creeping desertification that has made large swathes of Africa and Asia uninhabitable. Satellite photographs show that only two countries have increased the area of land covered by forest and agriculture – the United States and Israel. Israeli farmers revolutionised the watering of agricultural crops more than 40 years ago through the drip irrigation system which has since been adopted worldwide.

Water is carried directly to the roots of the plant through tiny holes in small tubes that can be easily redeployed according to need. The system is set on a timer, reducing evaporation and eliminating run-off. Because the water is delivered direct to the roots of the crop there is less moisture on the leaves and surrounding soil, suppressing mould and weeds. That reduces the need for chemicals and pesticides.

Netafim, which markets the technology, says it is now used in more than 110 countries and has helped create self-sustaining agricultural communities in drought-stricken areas, particularly in Africa.Israel now recycles 70 per cent of its waste water – a huge amount that puts it way ahead of any other country. The water is used for agriculture, waste management and for fish farms in the desert.

Israel is also a pioneer in geothermal and solar energy. The world’s leading company in geothermal power – harnessing Earth’s heat to generate electricity – is Ormat, an Israeli company. For decades visitors to Israel have been struck by the solar heating panels and water tanks on the top of almost every building. These provide solar-heated water to just about every home and business.

Now Israel is leading the way in a new technology that harnesses solar power for clean electricity production. One company, Solel, was snapped up by the German industrial giant Siemens last year for more than $400 million. It is competing with Brightsource, another Israeli company, for contracts to supply more than two million homes in California with electricity produced without any fossil fuels.

But Israeli ingenuity in electricity is not limited to the sun. Innowattech is developing a system to generate electricity from the pressure of traffic driving along roads. Piezo-electric generators are installed inches beneath the upper layer of asphalt and convert the mechanical energy of traffic passing over them into electrical energy.

INNOWATTECH estimates that its generators placed along a half-mile stretch of a four-lane motorway would produce about 1MWh of electricity – enough to power 2,500 households. It is testing prototypes for roads, railways, pedestrian walkways and airport runways – all of which could generate completely clean electricity.

Before too long it will be possible to drive an electric car powered by a battery whose electricity was generated by the sun or by other cars driving across sub-surface generator, and whose engine is cooled by recycled water.

The derivation of Yiddish

An Introduction to Yiddish

Yiddish originated in Germany, but was eventually spoken by Jews all over Europe.
By Andrew Dalby


For most of their history, Jews have been multilingual. Hebrew is the language of the Bible, the principal language of Jewish liturgy, and the language spoken in modern Israel--but it has been the primary language of only a small percentage of Jews who have ever lived.

The geographical diversity of the Jewish people accounts for its multilingualism. Jews have adopted the various languages of their homelands and also spoken numerous Jewish hybrid languages.

By the beginning of the Common Era, Aramaic had replaced Hebrew as the spoken language of Palestinian Jews. The causes of Hebrew's decline are not wholly understood, but it was certainly hastened by the Babylonian exile in 587 B.C.E. And the continued foreign rule of Palestine during the Second Temple period. Aramaic, like Hebrew, is a Semitic language, and there are many similarities between the two.

Because of Aramaic's prominence during the rabbinic era, it is arguably the second most important Jewish language--though it was spoken by non-Jews as well. The Talmud is written in Aramaic, as is the Zohar, the great medieval mystical text. One of the most well known Jewish prayers, the Kaddish, also is written in Aramaic. During the talmudic era, Hebrew illiteracy was so high that the Shabbat Torah reading was recited along with a verse-by-verse translation into Aramaic.

Jewish hybrid languages have existed for more than two millennia. Linguists have long puzzled with little resolution over whether these tongues should be considered dialects, unique languages, or Creole languages (languages that began as pidgins--simplified forms of speech, often mixtures of two languages--and are later adopted as primary languages).

During the Second Temple Period Judeo-Greek, also known as Yevanic, was spoken by Jews in the Hellenistic world. Over the years many other such hybrid languages emerged. These languages tended to adopt structural and lexical elements of the local languages, mixing them with Hebrew and Aramaic words. They were usually written in Hebrew script.

The Jews of the Middle East and North Africa spoke Judeo-Arabic. As early as the eighth century, Jews of present day Iran and Afghanistan spoke Judeo-Persian. Many Jews in Italy spoke Judeo-Italian, a language featuring early South Italian elements and Hebrew characters. Most of these languages, and many other Jewish hybrid languages, are extinct or almost extinct.

The two most well known Jewish hybrid languages are Judeo-Spanish--better known as Ladino--and Yiddish.

Judeo-Spanish was spoken by the Jews of medieval Spain, as well as their descendants. It received most of its linguistic characteristics from early-medieval Spanish, but it was written in Hebrew characters. Though Ladino is its earliest documented name, the language is also known as Judezmo (which is a linguistic equivalent of Yiddish) and Spanyol.

Today there are still some speakers of Judeo-Spanish in the Balkans, North Africa, and Israel. The Holocaust hastened the decline of the language; the Nazis decimated many Judeo-Spanish speaking communities--particularly in Greece and the Balkans.

In many ways, Yiddish is the German equivalent of Judeo-Spanish. Yiddish is almost wholly German in its linguistic structure and vocabulary, but it is written in Hebrew characters. Yiddish originated in the Rhineland cities of Germany in the early Middle Ages, though the first recognizable Yiddish texts date from the 14th century. Over the next few centuries, Yiddish spread all over Europe, from Eastern France to the Baltics.

More Jews have spoken Yiddish than any other language. Prior to the Holocaust, Yiddish-speakers accounted for 75 percent of world Jewry, but during the Holocaust, about 75 percent of the world's Yiddish speakers were killed. Today, Yiddish is spoken by fewer and fewer people, though it is still the primary spoken language of many ultra-Orthodox Jews, and there are still probably tens of thousands of Yiddish speakers in the former Soviet states.

In addition, the study of Yiddish language and literature is enjoying something of a renaissance on some college campuses. And parts of the language live on in the many Yiddish words that have become part of English vernacular in America, such as nosh (which means to snack) and mentsh (a gentleman).
Andrew Dalby

Andrew Dalby is a linguist and historian; the languages in his repertoire include Sanskrit, Pali, French, Latin, Greek, Portuguese, Romanian, Spanish, German, and Burmese. He is the author of Language in Danger.

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Shlomoh Sherman said on 4-15-10
Karaite Korner is probably the most famous Karaite website on the Internet. Whatever their objections are to "normal" Judaism, they miss an important point. That is, they believe that you can stop a religion from evolving and changing over generations. You can't. This is a point missed by Karaites, Christians, and other "back to old, pure religion." There is no such thing.
Anyone who thinks that there is has to answer why the religion of the Jews, and by that I mean the religion recognized by the majority of people in the world, has changed dramatically over time.
Scholars of THE Jewish religion state, probably correctly, that whatever the Jews' religion was at the time that the Babylonians came down and destroyed Jerusalem, it was different a century later, when jews returned to Judea.
The cream of Jewish crop was taken away captive, and due to the magnanimosity of the Babylonians, were allowed to live together and study together, a new version of the Jews'
religion was born. While the peasants of Judea amd the Samaritans of the north continued to practice an obsolete version of some kind of Israelite religion, the Jews in Babylon had the advantage of having the last of the prophets and their disciples in their midst. And here is the thing about people who complain about "rabbis". The disciples of the prophets took whatever knowledge and traditions they had accumulated about being Jewish, and they studied, together with the priests, and consolidated that knowledge into what ultimately became the Mishnah, THE guide to being Jewish. The disciples of the disciples of the prophets became scribes in Babylon. Upon their return to Judea, the exiles chose in unison to follow the scribes, while the peasants of Judea and the Samaritans had half assimilated into the gentile population and practiced who knows what> The books of Ezra and Hehemiah go so far as to state the the children of the mixed marriages were no longer even able to speak "the Jews' language" [Hebrew]. The scribes disiples eventually became the Pharisees [separatists], following the Biblical mandate to "remove yourselves from the midst and be separate". The Pharisees arose to save the Jewish People after the disasterous war with Rome, and became the rabbis of the Mishnah and Gemarah. So there is a line going back from rabbis to prophets Had it not been for the rabbis, we Jews would have disappeared long ago. So if the Karaites want to believe that they practice the only valid religion,they are practicing Karaitism, not Judaism.

Monday, April 12, 2010

God Only Created People Jews Created Jews

This is an essay from a good friend of mine!

God Only Created People
Jews Created Jews
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
By Shlomoh Sherman

Several weeks ago, a woman very near and dear to me asked why God created gentiles and Jews. My response was that God never created Jew. Jews created themselves. God merely created people. When people formed themselves into states and nations, they became "gentiles", the most common English translation of the Hebrew word GOYIM. But GOYIM's most accurate translation is "nations".

My dear woman then asked me to back up my statement with scripture as though "scripture" would be the final arbiter of the truth of my statement. But be that as it may, the following essays will be my humble [and perhaps feeble] attempt at scriptural "proof" of my assertion.

So here goes.


In the SEDER Hagadah which we recently read, it says:
In the beginning, our ancestors were worshipers of other gods but now HASHEM has drawn us close to His service, as it is stated: "So God, the Lord of Israel, says: 'Your ancestors had always lived beyond the River; Terach, the father of Abraham and Nachor, and they served other gods.
And I took your ancestor, Abraham, from beyond the River and led him through the land of Canaan. I multiplied his descendants and I gave him Isaac.'"
Joshua 24:2-4.

The River which the ancestors lived beyond is the Euphrates, in a place which scripture calls KASDIM, Chaldea, or sometimes the Land of Shinar. It is Sumer, located in present day Southwestern Iraq. Sumer was the first real civilization to arise, long before Egypt left its Neolithic stage.

The ancestors engaged in AVODAH ZARAH [strange worship], a fact that identifies them as nonJews, or gentiles.

Genesis 12:1, without any preamble, simply informs us that "HASHEM had said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I will show you.'"

The abrupt introduction of Abraham into the Genesis narrative reminds me of the abrupt introduction of James into the Acts of the Apostles narrative. Both men are so well known to the members of their respective religious communities as to need no introduction.

But the scripture IMPLIES that God and Abraham had already had an ongoing relationship which finally resulted in Abraham leaving Sumer and moving to another place. Jewish tradition says that Abraham had acknowledged God when he was a child, which tradition is so well known to most Jews, but unfortunately I do not have the time to investigate the scriptural origin of this tradition - which is really not that vital to this essay anyway.

From my very limited knowledge of Sumerian religion, I know that it consisted of a dualistic theology. On the one hand, Sumerians believed in the gods of the State. These gods, or their spirits, resided within stone or wooden statues which we commonly call "idols".

Modern man, including modern Jews, has a very inaccurate understanding of what ancient idolatry was. The ancients were not stupid or illogical as we suppose them to have been. The average Sumerian [as well as others] did not look at the statue and believe it to be his god. No, the statue, or idol, was a kind of little temple for the deity, and as such it was a holy object such as the Ark of the Covenant which Israelites believed to be the residence of the SHECHINAH on earth, But it, the idol, only housed the deity spirit; it was not the deity.

On the other hand, Sumerians believed that each individual had his or her own personal god, an invisible being with whom he or she had a personal relationship. This personal deity was often the personal deity of the individual's family as well. At some point, some critical thinking Sumerians may have come up with the bright idea that all of these invisible personal gods were in reality, the same god which was the Supreme god and at that point, that the gods became God. There is also a reflection of this in the Hebrew term for God [ELOHIM] which is really a plural noun and is also used in the Bible to mean "gods". Then it's possible that Abraham was one gentile among many who believed in God and developed a special relationship with him.

The idea that some gentiles acknowledged the God whom Jews consider God is not alien to Jews. The gentiles in the Hebrew Bible who are worshippers of God play an important part in teaching us something. They include Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, Job, and the people of Nineveh preached to by Jonah. And of course there are the people who "fear God" mentioned in Psalm 115:11,13 and in Isaiah 59:19, and elsewhere.

Around 2150 BCE, a barbarian horde called the Guti descended upon Sumer, destroying many of its chief cities and decimating much of the Sumerian population.. It is probable that many Sumerians wondered why the gods of the state did not prevent this disaster and it is possible that this was a time when many in the defeated population believed that their civilization was coming to an end and that without the protection of the gods, Sumer was no longer a vital place to live. It is also possible that the Guti "encouraged" the upper classes, to which Abraham belonged, to go into exile.

Then according to God's instructions, Abraham and his entourage, consisting of his immediate family and that of his brother Nachor, leave Sumer and journey west until they come to the city of Haran in Aram [Syria]. Nachor and his family decide to remain in Aram while Abraham and his entourage continue on down to the land of Canaan which will later become the Land of Israel.

When they enter the Land, the Canaanites call them "Hebrews". The Hebrew word, IVRIM, means "crossovers". It refers to people who have crossed over the Euphrates to come into the land. It is not a particularly complimentary term. It carries the emotional significance of German 'auslander' or English 'foreigner'. During that time, many peoples comprising a mixed multitude [Sumerians, Akkadians, Elamites, Horites, Hittites, and others] came into the Land and were called Hebrews. It is possible that some of these peoples joined with Abraham's entourage, especially after Abraham gained status due to his exploits to be described below. At this point, HEBREW was merely a less than complimentary geographic designation which later on would take on a completely different, positive meaning.

At this point Abraham is still a gentile in communication with God but there is not as yet any firm foundation for a strong relationship with God on his part save that God has promised him that his descendants will inherit the Land and that the gentile nations of the world will be blessed through him [Genesis 12:1-3]. But there is as yet really no strong definition of a relationship between God and Abraham. Hebrew scripture only tells us that Abraham traveled all over Canaan, setting up altars and sacrificing to God. This takes place at Bethel in northwest Canaan, Ai in northeast Canaan, and "the south", possibly the Negev. These acts serve two purposes, establishing an early primitive, unadorned way of worshipping God, and linking and using these shrines to mark Abraham's possession of the Land [Genesis 12:6-9].

There is here a narrative break and a story of a famine in the Land causing Abraham and his entourage to go down to Egypt till the famine passes. Most Jews I know interpret the story as a prefiguring of Israel also winding up in Egypt due to a famine. But the story has a more immediate implication for what I am discussing. Upon their return to the Land, Abraham and his nephew Lot have a falling out over comfortable living space. Abraham magnanimously offers Lot a choice of where to live, saying that he, Abraham, will take the place which Lot rejects. Interestingly Lot looks toward the great eastward Plain of Jordan which reminds him of the Land of Egypt [Genesis 13:10]. It is in the land of Egypt that Lot saw Pharaoh take Sarah away to his harem, displaying a careless disregard for a man's feelings just to satisfy his own libido. Likewise Lot chooses to dwell in a place "like Egypt" where the residents of those cities put their own sexual desires over
the well being of strangers. In effect, Lot has denied to himself and to his descendents the opportunity to become the People of God. Paradoxically it is from Lot's descendants that the messiah will be born, and eventually, by duress, his descendants will also become Jews in the first pre-Christian century.

Two stories follow which serve to demonstrate the power of Abraham and the acknowledgement of the people of the Land that he is now securely a resident of the Land [Genesis 14]. The first of these stories tells of an attack on Sodom by a confederation of kings of the north, Sumer and Elam, during which Lot and his family are taken captive. Abraham forms his own alliance with certain tribes of the Land and he succeeds in driving off the northern invaders and rescuing Lot and his family. The second story concerns a certain Canaanite priest-king from (Jeru-)Salem, named Melchizedek ["righteous king"] who fetes Abraham after his victory, and to whom Abraham gives tithes. It is interesting that this gentile king of the City which is to become THE Holy Place of the Jewish People is also a believer in "God the Most High" [Gen 14:18].

It is only when we come to chapter 15 of Genesis that we read of Abraham and God entering into a deeper, more serious relationship. Now that Abraham has firmly established himself in the Land promised to him by divine word, that God once again renews His promise that Abraham shall have many descendants and that they shall inherit the Land. Abraham, being old and childless, asks God to show him some sign of evidence that these promises will come true.
And God says:

"Take me an heifer of three years old, and a she goat of three years old, and a ram of three years old, and a turtledove, and a young pigeon. And he took unto him all these, and divided them in the midst, and laid each piece one against another: but the birds divided he not. And when the fowls came down upon the carcases, Abram drove them away. And when the sun was going down, a deep sleep fell upon Abram; and, lo, an horror of great darkness fell upon him .... And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces. IN THE SAME DAY THE LORD MADE A COVENANT WITH ABRAM, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates: The Kenites, and the Kenizzites, and the Kadmonites, And the Hittites, and the Perizzites, and the Rephaims, And the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Girgashites, and the Jebusites."

This is the important first change in the status of Abraham and in his relationship to God. It is a COVENANT between them conferring upon Abraham a special status, still a gentile but a very special one. It is the beginning of the transformation of the term HEBREW into more than just a geographic designation into one of spiritual significance.
In fact the rabbis say that Abraham and his followers were indeed "crossovers" in that they had "crossed over" from being the same as the rest of humanity to being the people
of God.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Samaritan Pentateuch

Article written by Shlomoh Sherman
The Samaritan Pentateuch

I started doing a lot of research into the Samaritans when working on a proposal to encode their writing system into Unicode. Yes, it turns out they're still around, still doing their thing (and more power to them). They preserve a unique perspective on the ancient underpinnings of Judaism (and therefore also Christianity and Islam, which both have roots in Judaism). There is plenty to be said about the Samaritans in general, but for this article I plan to focus on their Torah.

The Samaritan's Holy Writ consists only of the Pentateuch (the Five Books of Moses, the Torah), though they do seem to have some tradition of significance (but not sanctity) to the book of Joshua (or something very much like it). The Samaritans and the Jews parted ways all the way back in Biblical times, so most of our Prophets and Writings are not part of their history. Yet both have the Torah, both started out from the same place. But the Torahs they have are not exactly the same.

Plenty has been written about the differences among various versions of the Hebrew Scriptures, but of course the most striking thing about the differences is how few there are. A cantillation here, a vowel there, occasionally an actual consonantal difference, which is almost always just a matter of full vs. defective spelling, but for the most part the various sources for the Hebrew Scriptures are in agreement. This is because the Hebrew Scriptures were codified by the Jewish community (the Masoretes) and declared fixed and correct, and since then have been preserved with painstaking care and nitpicking detail by each successive generation of scribes. The schism with the Samaritans predates this canonization, though, and the Samaritans themselves never went through one like it, so their version of the Torah is more significantly different from the Masoretic text, and moreover, there are many, many more versions of their text (I read somewhere that estimates run over 6,000), with much more variation among them than is seen among the ancient Jewish sources. And of course, there are and were philosophical differences between the Jews and the Samaritans, which are sometimes reflected in their respective versions of the text.

I knew about some of this even before I started my research. I knew they had a version that differed from the Masoretic version, anyway. And I always wanted to see what the differences were, exactly. In the course of my research, I obtained a copy of a book showing just that: a comparative text of the Torah, with the Masoretic version on one side and the Samaritan version (or rather, one of the Samaritan versions) on the other side, with the differences highlighted. It was published in the sixties by Abraham and Ratson Tsedaka (father and uncle to my own contact in the Samaritan community, Benyamim Tsedaka), and is thus not widely available. And yet it was so interesting! Every page had a difference that made me think. It was too interesting to be so hard to find; I decided to make my own version of it.

The story of the creation of my Comparing Pentateuch is interesting and geeky in its own way, but I don't plan to tell it here. Get your own copy and tell me what you think! Or at least look at the preview.

There are many differences between the two versions, and many of them are as trivial as the ones between Masoretic versions: full vs. defective spellings, slightly different spellings, etc. But there are many differences that are more significant. Some of these can be categorized and generalized a little:

Consistency: This is probably the main distinguishing feature of the Samaritan version, and I suspect some of the other categories I discuss will be included in it. The Samaritan version shows much greater internal consistency than the Masoretic version. And by this I mean not that the plot hangs together better, but that when, for example, an event happens in the text which is then later recounted by someone also in the text, the re-telling and the event are often verbatim copies.

So, for example, one of the most consistent and noticeable differences in the Book of Exodus has to do with the warnings given to Pharoah. In the Masoretic text, we sometimes read “God said to Moses, ‘Say unto Pharoah thus and such....’” in preparation for a plague, and then the text skips ahead to the actual performance of the plague without recounting that Moses did, indeed, relay the message. Or conversely, we read of Moses delivering a warning to Pharoah about an upcoming plague without ever reading that he was commanded to do so by God. The Samaritan text is more consistent: when God tells Moses to relay a message, we then read that Moses relayed the message—in the same words—and then initiated the plague. When Moses warns Pharoah, we read beforehand that God had told him to give that very warning. When the Israelites say to Moses in Exodus 14:12, “Didn't we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’?” in the Samaritan version they did, indeed, say those exact words while still in Egypt, in Exodus chapter 6. The Masoretic version has them saying other things in a similar vein in Egypt, but never exactly that. And presumably if the Bible is considered infallible, how could it say that they said it if they didn't?

The Samaritan Torah is therefore longer, in terms of letter or word count, than the Masoretic version. Whenever a story is retold, whenever something is referred to in the past (e.g., the events of the desert being recounted in the book of Deuternomy), the Samaritan version consistently has the event and the retelling in harmony.

Grammar: This is a different kind of consistency. Samaritan Hebrew grammar is not quite the same as Masoretic Hebrew grammar, and their pronunciation and vocalization are totally different (though that's probably best saved for another article). The Samaritan version is often grammatically neater (and stylistically somewhat later in the development of the language) than the Masoretic version. Similarly, where the Masoretic version has verbs or adjectives in the wrong gender in many places, the Samaritan version has appropriate gender agreement. There are also consistent differences related to the grammatical differences between Samaritan Hebrew and Masoretic Hebrew. So some verbs are conjugated into different forms in the two versions (e.g. וישתחו, “and he bowed” is written וישתחוי in the Samaritan version; instead of צו it has צוי, and a few others. At least in the version I was working from; others have וישתחוה).

There are some grammar differences in the pronouns, some of which affect the spellings of other words. For example, in Samaritan pronunciation, the third-person plural masculine pronoun הם is pronounced imma, and so the Masoretic spelling המה would be redundant, and is not found in the Samaritan version. And the dreadfully confusing spelling of the feminine pronoun היא in the Masoretic text, (sometimes) spelling it identically with the masculine pronoun הוא, is not also found in the Samaritan text (thus providing another example of the consistency of the Samaritan text). The second-person feminine singular past tense conjugation and pronoun in the Samaritan pronunciation preserve the old Hebrew -i ending (found in a few places even in Masoretic texts), and so are sometimes spelled with a final י. This can occasionally be confusing, since it might look at first glance like a first-person singular verb!

Naming Details: There are a few somewhat consistently different names used between the two versions. Probably the most striking is the spelling of one of the tribes of Israel, which is Binyamin בנימין in the Masoretic version and Binyamim בנימים in the Samaritan version, both consistently throughout (and that makes sense: for “the son of one's old age”, as he is called in Genesis 44:20, calling him בן ימים is perfectly sensible: the son of [my many] days). Another one is the spelling of הר גריזים, which is two words in the Masoretic version, but one word, הרגריזים, in at least some Samaritan versions. I'm not sure what the significance of this is. Obviously Mt. Gerizim is of great significance to Samaritans (see below), but I don't understand why spelling it as one word somehow shows more respect or whatever. Maybe that isn't even relevant. The city of “Luz” לוז mentioned in Genesis 28:19 (of the Masoretic version) is consistently “Luzah” לוזה in the Samaritan version, and indeed that is what they call their town on the slopes of Mt. Gerizim (which of course is where the events of Genesis 28 took place according to their tradition) even today.

Philosophical Differences: Some of the distinctions seem to be motivated by (or reflect) the actual philosophical differences between Judaism and Samaritanism. Some of these are glaringly obvious, like the inclusion of a passage in the Samaritan version of the Ten Commandments restating the command to build of an altar on Mt. Gerizim, and stating plainly that Mt. Gerizim is the site at which all future sacrifices are to be offered. Since the location of God's holy site is probably the central original difference between Judaism and Samaritanism, it makes sense that this passage should be in one version and not the other. Along the same lines, wherever the Masoretic text speaks of “the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name” (Deut. 12:11), the Samaritan text has it in the past tense: “the place the LORD your God has chosen....”

Some of the philosophical differences are a little less central. For example, the Samaritan version shows much less anthropomorphism than the Masoretic version. Exodus 15:3 in the Masoretic version reads “The LORD is a warrior,” or more literally the Hebrew says “the LORD is a man of war,” whereas the Samaritan version does not call God a “man,” but says that God is “a hero of war” or “mighty in war.” Perhaps this is also the reason behind the difference of reading in Genesis 48:16, which reads in the Masoretic version המלאך הגאל אתי (“the angel who redeemed me”), while the Samaritan version has המלך instead (“the king who redeemed me”), thus putting the focus on God and not an angel.

When describing the curtains of the Tabernacle, saying they are joined “one to another,” the Masoretic version a rather anthropomorphic idiom for “each other,” saying literally “a woman to her sister” (this sounds less weird in the masculine, like in “between a man and his brother,” but the curtains are grammatically feminine). The Samaritan version here, too, doesn't show the anthropomorphism, but simply says they are joined “one to one.”

Sometimes it just seems to be a matter of clarity. In Exodus 21, where the Masoretic version talks about an ox goring someone the Samaritan version is more inclusive, specifically speaking “an ox or any animal striking” someone.

Non-Consonantal Differences: This really is not a category parallel to the others listed above, but a supercategory containing instances of all of them and others besides—but which I'm not going to deal with in much detail. Naturally, the distinctions shown in my comparing text are only those which are present in the consonantal spelling. And there's a lot more to understanding a text than its consonants, particularly in Hebrew. The Masoretic and Samaritan dialects of Hebrew are not exactly corresponding in the first place, and there are plenty of places where the texts use different grammatical forms from each other. Moreover, there are many words in the Pentateuch whose exact meaning and even whose basic root is not completely obvious, so the interpretation depends greatly on the translation tradition. This leads off into a big discussion on Biblical translation; a discussion I'm not going to have right now. Suffice to say, the Samaritan tradition makes for many significant differences in meaning that are not necessarily reflected in the consonantal text. I am not really qualified to discuss these in detail; maybe I'll write up a few that I happen to know about. I know that there is a comparative English translation in the works, showing the difference between traditional Masoretic/Septuagint translation and Samaritan tradition. I don't yet know when this will be available.

Please note that I have tried to avoid phrasing things in terms of one version or another “adding” or “omitting” things. I am not trying to imply that either version is more authentic than the other. I also believe that this sort of comparison is interesting and worthwhile no matter what one believes (or what is true) about the origins of the Bible. There is no denying that the Bible is probably the most influential text in Western culture, no matter its origin. And it has to be interesting to see how different branches of culture saw fit to preserve it, and the differences that were introduced by the different ways of preserving it.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

No prize

A new biography charts Joseph Pulitzer’s path from immigrant cub reporter to newspaper magnate and boss from hell

By Adam Kirsch | 7:00 am Apr 1, 2010

If you were an immigrant sailing into New York Harbor at the close of the 19th century, the first building to catch your eye would have been the headquarters of the New York World, the tallest structure in Manhattan. Twenty stories high, and topped by a gilded dome that reflected light 40 miles out to sea, the World building was—as James McGrath Morris writes in his new biography Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power—“a temple of America’s new mass media.”

The newspaper printed there was as dominant in the city’s life as the building was in its skyline. Starting in the 1880s, Joseph Pulitzer’s World revolutionized journalism with its signature blend of muckraking investigations, crusading editorials, sensational crime and human-interest stories, and colorful graphics. Selling hundreds of thousands of copies, the World was the kind of newspaper that didn’t just record history, but made it. In the 1884 presidential election, the paper’s support helped Grover Cleveland carry New York State, putting a Democrat in the White House for the first time since the Civil War. In 1898, the World—along with its great rival, William Randolph Hearst’s Journal—led the drumbeat that carried the country into the Spanish-American War.

For that hypothetical immigrant, the power and promise of America could have been summed up in the fact that the World was itself the creation of an immigrant—a Hungarian Jew who arrived in the United States without a penny and without knowing a word of English. Joseph Pulitzer was born in 1847 in the Hungarian town of Mako and spent his childhood in Budapest, where his father was a successful merchant. (The family name came from a town in Moravia, Pollitz, where they had lived generations earlier.) Like most of the Jewish middle class in the Habsburg Empire, the Pulitzers spoke German, and they eagerly embraced Judaism’s new Reform movement. “By the time Joseph reached his teenage years,” Morris writes, “being Jewish remained part of his life, but no longer the center of it.”

Pulitzer might well have remained in this assimilated Jewish milieu if it hadn’t been for the death of his father, when he was 11 years old. This was the most devastating of the many deaths that afflicted the family when Joseph was growing up—of nine children, only two survived to adulthood—and it reduced them to poverty. When Joseph reached the age of 17, in 1864, he decided to strike out on his own. Ordinarily he could not have afforded the passage to America, but thanks to the Civil War recruiters were scouring Europe for young men willing to serve as paid substitutes for Northern draftees. It was on a ship full of these soldiers-to-be that Pulitzer crossed the Atlantic; he ended up serving in the First New York “Lincoln” Cavalry, in one of several German-speaking units.

Because he did not enlist until nearly the end of the war, Pulitzer never saw combat, and he was discharged in June 1865. At loose ends, he decided to strike out for St. Louis, a fast-growing Midwestern city with a large German immigrant population. He soon landed a job as a reporter for a German-language newspaper, the Westliche Post, and became a protégé of the its owner, Carl Schurz, a Union general and future U.S. Senator.

Schurz, Morris shows, was a role model for Pulitzer, proof of how an immigrant (he had fled Germany after the revolutions of 1848) could leverage his community’s clout into a career in journalism and politics. What Morris does not dwell on is the irony that Pulitzer, a Jew, could so easily adopt the German-American community as his own. Back home in Central Europe, Pulitzer’s Jewishness—no matter how assimilated he might be—would have been his defining trait, marking him out permanently from his German and Hungarian neighbors. In America, however, the bonds of language meant more than the divisions of religion and ethnicity, and Pulitzer was accepted, with remarkably little friction, as a spokesman for St. Louis’s Germans.

In 1870, just six years after he arrived in the country, Pulitzer was elected to the Missouri state legislature. His district was populated by German Republicans and Irish Democrats, and he campaigned on straightforwardly ethnic grounds. The Irish, he wrote in a newspaper article, “would vote for the Devil himself in order to defeat the candidates of the Germans. What do our German friends have to say about that?” Later he was appointed to St. Louis’s police commission as holder of its traditionally German seat.

But as Morris shows, in a detailed excursion into post-Civil War political history, Pulitzer’s rise was stalled by the failure of the Liberal Republican movement, which Schurz led as a rebellion against President Ulysses S. Grant. When Pulitzer subsequently changed his party affiliation to Democrat, he was acting on principle—he believed the Republicans had become the party of corruption and the rich—but he was also positioning himself for the future. Just as he moved from the German press to the wider English-language press, so he left behind the Germans’ preferred party. When he bought his first newspaper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, in 1878, he declared it would be “independent with a Democratic leaning,” and for the rest of his life Pulitzer remained an important power-broker in the Democratic Party.

Morris traces the rising arc of Pulitzer’s career, as he turned the Post-Dispatch into a moneymaker and set his sights on the capital of business and journalism, New York City. At the same time, he was leaving his Jewish origins far behind. The woman he married in 1878, Kate Davis, was a distant relative of Jefferson Davis, and the wedding took place in the Episcopal Church of the Epiphany in Washington, D.C. “Success, power, and wealth in the United States had only one place of worship, the Episcopal church,” Morris writes, and for the rest of his life Pulitzer would belong to it. He even encouraged the rumor “that his mother had not been Jewish but rather was Catholic”—though it is doubtful that this would have seemed much of an improvement to America’s WASP elite.

Pulitzer’s Jewishness was an open secret, however, and his enemies were happy to make use of it. Morris quotes a few of their jibes—he was called “Jewseph Pulitzer,” and attention was drawn to his “nasal protuberance”—but on the whole, it is remarkable how mild and ineffective this kind of baiting was, especially compared to the kind of ideological anti-Semitism then being directed against Jewish press figures in Europe. What bothered people about Pulitzer was not that he was Jewish, but that he was so bad-tempered and hard to get along with. As early as 1870, while he was a state legislator, Pulitzer became notorious for shooting a man during a political dispute (the injury turned out to be minor). At the World, he continued to rack up a long list of influential enemies, taking on corrupt politicians or simply political opponents, including Theodore Roosevelt.

More damning, Morris shows, was Pulitzer’s treatment of his own staff and family. In the book’s last third, Morris draws a portrait of Pulitzer as a boss from hell—a micromanager who bombarded his employees with telegrams, even as he refused to set foot in the office. Editor after editor quit the World, often to swell the ranks of Hearst’s Journal, simply because they couldn’t tolerate Pulitzer’s rages and nitpicking. He and his wife eventually led separate lives, and his children were terrified of him. When Pulitzer lost his vision, because of detached retinas, in the late 1880s, he became abnormally sensitive to sound, and he spent millions of dollars buying and renovating houses in a hopeless quest for perfect silence. Eventually he preferred to spend time on his specially sound-proofed yacht, literally cut off from the rest of humanity.

By the time he died, in 1911, Pulitzer’s life had gone from American dream to nightmare. If Orson Welles had made Citizen Kane about Pulitzer instead of Hearst, it would have been just as devastating a parable. It might also have prevented Pulitzer from being so widely forgotten. The World went out of business in 1931, a casualty of the Depression, and the World building was demolished in 1955. (Spare a thought for it if you ever take the car on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge, which was built over its remains.) Today, Pulitzer’s name is remembered primarily because of the prizes he endowed, along with Columbia’s Journalism School, at the end of his life.

What makes Morris’s biography especially timely, however, is that we are now witnessing the death of the whole style of newspaper publishing Pulitzer invented. The big city daily, the kind of newspaper that everyone read because everyone had to read it—from politicians and businessmen to laborers and homemakers—is a thing of the past. So are the profits that such papers used to bring in. Pulitzer’s paper made him the 19th-century equivalent of a billionaire; today, dying papers look for billionaires to bail them out as a public service. A century after Pulitzer’s death, the newspaper now promises to join the other great technologies of the Gilded Age—from railroads to coal mining—on the scrap heap of American history.