Ignorance over Jews in Israel

THANK YOU: Newton Mearns Synagogue treasurer Brian Fox, right, presents Prof Stefan Reif with a kiddush cup

THERE is well-documented proof of a Jewish presence in Israel over the past 1,000 years.

This fact was illustrated in a lecture given as the first of three in the Newton Mearns Synagogue Engage series last week.

Professor Stefan Reif, emeritus professor of medieval Hebrew studies and Fellow of St John's College Cambridge, gave an insight into the Jewish Homeland 1,000 years ago.

Edinburgh-born Prof Reif said: "There is such gross ignorance about the history of Jews living in Israel.

"Sometimes it's wilful ignorance and at others, it is plain stupidity.

"There was a synagogue in Cairo from at least 1040, where the Cairo Genizah, a burial place for Jewish artefacts was situated.

"A lot of the artefacts came back to Cambridge University thanks to Dr Solomon Schechter.

"In the Cambridge Library today, there are around 200,000 items in the collection. Every aspect of Jewish cultural, social, religious, economic and geographical history has been illuminated by the Cairo Genizah.

"The beginning of Jewish resettlement in Jerusalem came after the Arab conquest of the 7th Century.

"Despite the difficult economic conditions and political upheavals brought about by competing Muslim claims to the territory, Jewish communities grew and flourished.

"Fragments from the Genizah relate to Ramla as the Jewish capital city.

"Hebrew was widely used at an early stage and Tyre, Acre, Tiberias and Ashkelon were Jewish cities.

"What happened to change the status of permanent Jewish presence were the Crusades, which began in 1095. The Jews fought alongside the Muslims because they wanted to maintain the status quo."

He added: "Death and martyrdom was a main feature of this period. Some were killed and others escaped, mainly to Egypt and Syria.

"By the mid-12th century, Egypt was now the leading community and many Jews moved there although, they still called themselves Israeli.

"There was still a Jewish presence in the Crusader kingdom, including in and around Jerusalem.

"The Jews came back with Saladin in 1187 and rebuilt their community there.

"Although their situation was precarious, they were strengthened by the arrival of immigrants from Western Europe."

Prof Reif showed a series of photos of examples of the Genizah documents.

They included a 10th Century sifra midrash; a hechsher for cheese made in Jerusalem; a Palestinian amida and poems by scholars.

Prof Reif was welcomed by Newton Mearns minister Rabbi Eli Wolfson and treasurer Brian Fox presented the speaker with a kiddush cup.

The final lecture is on Wednesday (8pm), when Dayan Ivan Binstock will talk about the development of Jewish customs in Britain over the centuries.

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