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History,Tel Aviv University

Former president of TAU wins Washington Institute Book Prize

Prof. Itamar Rabinovich’s book about Itzhak Rabin was awarded the gold medal

Prof. Itamar Rabinovich’s book “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman” was awarded the gold medal in The Washington Institute’s 2017 Book Prize competition, the Middle East policy think tank announced today. Prof. Rabinovich is a world-renowned historian and professor emeritus of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Middle Eastern and African History. He has previously served as Tel Aviv University’s sixth president, as well as Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

In its gold prize commendation, the judges wrote: “Rabinovich, a distinguished historian, rescues Rabin from the many self-serving legends of Rabin. His is an unfailingly accurate portrait that draws upon new documents, but also distills four years of personal observation: The author served as Rabin’s ambassador in Washington. Rare insights abound in this admiring but acute telling of Rabin’s unlikely journey from hawkish soldier to world statesman. While the peace Rabin sought remains elusive, not so Rabin, whose puzzle has been solved by Israel’s leading scholar-witness.”

The book “Yitzhak Rabin: Soldier, Leader, Statesman” is published by Yale University Press. Prof. Rabinovich will receive a $25,000 prize, as part of the gold medal award.

About the Washington Institute Book Prize

The year 2017 marks the tenth anniversary of the Book Prize, which honors outstanding scholarship on the Middle East in the English language. “The Washington Institute Book Prize has always highlighted books that both illuminate the Middle East for an American audience and provide practical insights for policymakers,” said Institute Executive Director Robert Satloff, the Howard P. Berkowitz Chair in U.S. Middle East Policy. “It is fitting that Ambassador Rabinovich, a man who is both a scholar and a diplomat, receives the gold prize for this outstanding work”.

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History

Celebrating a 100 Year Old Milestone

TAU honors the sixty-seven word declaration that changed the course of Jewish history

The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History hosted a symposium marking the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration, the British government’s historical letter penned by Lord Arthur James Balfour to Lord Walter Rothschild, supporting the creation of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Over 100 people, mainly groups from Australia, attended the event held in the newly dedicated The Fabian-Cyril Boisson Auditorium.

Prof. Israel Gershoni of the Department of Middle Eastern and African History lectured on “The Historical Impact of the Balfour Declaration,” while PhD student Hagit Krik of the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies spoke on  “A Bible and a Mandate: How the British Saw Palestine.”

Australian Ambassador to Israel, Chris Cannan, accompanying the large contingent of his fellow countrymen and women, talked about the unshakeable bonds of friendship between the two nations, recounting with pride his country’s role in the famous 1917 Battle for Beersheba. He also spoke about Australia being the first to vote “yes” at the UN in 1947 to the establishment of the State of Israel, and of all the areas of mutual cooperation such as defense, counterterrorism and innovation.  “Our friendship goes from strength to strength,” said the Ambassador.  

TAU Rector Prof. Yaron Oz and Peter Smaller, National President, JNF Australia each gave brief opening remarks. The guests were treated to a warmly received musical interlude by two students from the Buchmann-Mehta School of Music, singer Chen Holtzman and keyboardist Niv Yehuda, as well as a guided tour of the museum by Prof. Tamar Dayan, Chair of the Steinhardt Museum. 

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History,Tel Aviv University

Moshe Dayan Center Marks Its Jubilee

Israel’s leading think tank for Middle Eastern Studies has played a major role in research and regional policy analysis for 50 years

featured image: Yitzhak Rabin speaks at the Dayan Center in November 1994, exactly one year before his assassination

What do Henry Kissinger, Condoleezza Rice and Yitzhak Rabin have in common? They, along with dozens of other world statesmen and leaders, regularly appeared at Tel Aviv University’s Moshe Dayan Center across the decades.

This month, the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies celebrated 50 years of research activity and influence. The occasion was marked at a conference attended by former directors of the Center and current director Prof. Uzi Rabi, who shared insights on the Center’s work against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Middle East.

Founded in 1966, the Dayan Center’s mission is five-fold: to serve Israeli and international practitioners, policymakers and scholars by providing accurate and timely analysis of the contemporary Middle East and Africa; to contribute to public and scholarly discourse surrounding regional issues of critical importance to Israel; to forge partnerships with leading international thought leaders; to seek peace through understanding between Israel and its neighbors; and to act as an incubator of excellence for future generations of scholars.

Today, the Dayan Center pursues its mission along a number of complementary tracks. It releases papers on regional developments on a monthly and bi-monthly basis, and publishes numerous books and monographs annually.

The Center hosts a varied program of lectures, conferences and other activities, and provides essential support and mentoring to affiliated researchers wishing to publish in leading academic journals and presses. Internship and visiting scholar programs offer students and scholars from around the world an opportunity to study and conduct research at TAU.

Informing policymakers

Dayan Center experts are frequently asked to give private briefings to the policymaking community, including the Israeli defense establishment, Knesset committees, the Foreign Ministry, members of foreign diplomatic missions, and international public forums. These scholars include Prof. Ofra Bengio, head of the Kurdish Studies Program and one of the world’s leading experts on the Kurdish issue today; Dr. Hay Eytan Cohen Yanarocak, who has become a regular fixture in the Israeli media for his commentary on contemporary Turkish politics; Center Director Prof. Uzi Rabi, who similarly appears on a weekly basis in a variety of Israeli media outlets speaking on regional developments, and many other Center researchers.

 

Moshe Dayan Center Marks Its Jubilee

Henry Kissinger with then TAU President Haim Ben-Shahar at a Dayan Center event in 1994 

Members of the Dayan Center have held key diplomatic posts, including former Director Prof. Itamar Rabinovich who served as Israeli Ambassador to the United States, and Prof. Shimon Shamir, Co-Chair of the Center’s Egypt Forum, who served as Israel Ambassador to both Egypt and Jordan.

The Dayan Center runs a number of innovative research programs, among them the Doron Halpern Middle East Network Analysis Desk, which analyzes – both qualitatively and quantitatively – social network activity among Arab, Persian, and Turkish users.  This enables researchers to reach a depth of analysis not easily found elsewhere.

Center scholars frequently lecture at the English-language International MA Program in Middle Eastern Studies, run by TAU International, the University’s overseas school. The Center also invites students enrolled in the program to gain practical experience at an active research center.

World’s largest Arabic press archives

The Moshe Dayan Center is home to one-of-a-kind resources. Its Arabic Press Archives hold more than one thousand reels of microfilmed newspapers, the earliest of which appeared in 1887. The collection comprises some 10,000 individual titles of newspapers, magazines, and periodicals in Arabic, Turkish, Persian, English, French and other regional languages, such as Tamazight (Berber).   

The Center’s library houses an extensive collection of journals, articles, books, interviews, and other reference material that are of great value to students and researchers alike. 

The Dayan Center was founded as the Reuven Shiloah Research Center in 1959, and was initially a non-profit association located within the Israeli Directorate of Military Intelligence and under the sponsorship of the Israeli Oriental Society.  Led by Yitzhak Oron, the objective of the Shiloah Center was to conduct research on contemporary regional issues to which the intelligence apparatus was not able to devote adequate time, and to fill a gap in the Israeli academic discourse. Upon its incorporation into Tel Aviv University in 1966, the Shiloah Center was dissolved and its scholars and collections became part of the newly founded Shiloah Institute. Prof. Shimon Shamir, formerly a faculty member at Hebrew University, transferred to TAU to become the Center’s first director. In 1983, following the passing of Moshe Dayan, the Center acquired its current name. 

The important work of the Moshe Dayan Center is independently funded from the generous contributions of individuals and institutions from around the world. The Center looks forward to another half-century of service to Israel and the field of Modern Middle Eastern Studies.

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History

Exodus: History and myth, then and now

Tel Aviv University researchers shed light on the origin and symbolic meaning of the story of Passover

Exodus, the story at the center of the Passover holiday, represents a transition from slavery to freedom, but is there historical truth to it? Very soon Jewish families around the world will gather to celebrate the Passover Seder, and read about the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt, their march through the wilderness and arrival in the Promised Land.

A story with a message of hope

According to the Biblical story, Jews resided in Egypt for centuries and were enslaved. God spoke to Moses and commanded him to demand that Pharaoh release the people of Israel. When Pharaoh refused, God punished Egypt with a series of plagues, and after the tenth one Pharaoh agreed to let the Jews leave Egypt. However, the Egyptians gave chase and the Jews survived only thanks to the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea.

The Torah commands an annual celebration of Passover: “Observe the month of Aviv and celebrate the Passover of the Lord your God, because in the month of Aviv he brought you out of Egypt by night. 2 Sacrifice as the Passover to the Lord your God an animal from your flock or herd at the place the Lord will choose as a dwelling for his Name. 3 Do not eat it with bread made with yeast, but for seven days eat unleavened bread, the bread of affliction, because you left Egypt in haste—so that all the days of your life you may remember the time of your departure from Egypt. 4 Let no yeast be found in your possession in all your land for seven days. Do not let any of the meat you sacrifice on the evening of the first day remain until morning.” (Deuteronomy 16: 1-4)

This is the story many of us know from childhood, but is there any historical truth to it? Is it possible that a group of people wandered the desert for 40 years, and were they the forefathers of the Jewish faith? We talked to Prof. Israel Finkelstein, a senior researcher at the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University and one of the most prominent scholars in the field of biblical archeology today.

“The question of historical accuracy in the story of Exodus has occupied scholars since the beginning of modern research,” says Prof. Finkelstein. “Most have searched for the historical and archaeological evidence in the Late Bronze Age, the 13th century BCE, partly because  the story mentions the city of Ramses, and because at the end of that century an Egyptian document referred to a group called ’Israel‘ in Canaan. However, there is no archaeological evidence of the story itself, in either Egypt or Sinai, and what has been perceived as historical evidence from Egyptian sources can be interpreted differently. Moreover, the Biblical story does not demonstrate awareness of the political situation in Canaan during the Late Bronze Age – a powerful Egyptian administration that could have handled an invasion of groups from the desert. Additionally, many of the details in the Biblical story fit better with a later period in the history of Egypt, around the 7-6th centuries BCE – roughly the time when the Biblical story as we know it today was put into writing.

“However, this was not a story invented by later authors, since references to the Exodus appear in Hosea and Amos’ chapters of prophecy, which probably date to the 8th century BCE, suggesting that the tradition is ancient. In this sense, some scholars propose that the origin lies in an ancient historical event – the expulsion of Canaanites from the Nile Delta in the middle of the second millennium BCE. In any case the Exodus story is layered and represents more than one period.

“It seems that the story of the exodus was one of the founding texts of the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and that it came to Judah after the destruction of Israel. It is possible that in the later days of Judah, a time of approaching confrontation with Egypt, the story expressed hope, showing a clash with mighty Egypt of the distant past, in which the Children of Israel prevailed. Later the story held a message of hope for those exiled in Babylon, that it was possible to overcome exile, cross a desert and return to the land of the forefathers. Above all, the story of Exodus has been an eternal metaphor for escaping slavery for freedom, in Jewish and other traditions.”

Slavery and the yearning for redemption – then and now

We also met with Prof. Ron Margolin, of the Department of Jewish Philosophy and the MA Program in Religious Studies, and head of the Ofakim program, who talked about the meaning of the Exodus story in our lives today:

“Exodus is the foundational myth of Judaism after the destruction of the Second Temple, and in many ways its parallel in the Christian world – that differs from it significantly –is the myth of Christ’s crucifixion,” Prof. Margolin said. “The first reflects a belief in personal and national redemption and an optimistic future for one and all on the basis of commitment to upholding the laws of the Torah and their spirit. The second reflects a belief in personal salvation for the whole based on empathy with the suffering god-man.

“The importance of the story of Exodus is in its existential meaning for the individual and the people. Exodus is liberation from bondage for the Jews, but its purpose is also to shape the life of the individual as the Haggadah demands: ‘In each and every generation a person is obligated to see himself as if he went out of Egypt.’ This means that every person should see themselves, on Passover and all year round, as one who is redeemed, i.e., left Egypt. In the Bible, the requirement to ‘Remember that you were slaves in Egypt’ (Deuteronomy 5: 15) is the most common reasoning for the moral commandments. Those who were freed from slavery must remember the taste of it so they can have empathy for those who are in bondage now. ‘If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and sell themselves to you, do not make them work as slaves. […] Because the Israelites are my servants, whom I brought out of Egypt, they must not be sold as slaves. Do not rule over them ruthlessly, but fear your God’ (Leviticus 25: 39-43). ‘Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt ’ (Exodus 22: 21).

“The Passover Haggadah was formulated after the destruction of the Second Temple as a substitute for the Passover sacrifice. In light of the subjugation to the Romans, the authors emphasized the hope for the people’s redemption – what we now call national redemption.  The realization of that hope was the establishment of the State of Israel. But Judaism does not separate the redemption of the group from that of the individual, and there is no point in national redemption if individuals continue to act as slaves. Today, more than ever, it is important not to forget the educational role of the Seder.

“Along with giving thanks for the end of the national plight, it’s important to note the existential and moral implications of the exodus story through the ages. Leaven (“chametz”) originates from the yeast that ferments and sours the dough, which was used as a metaphor for evil inclination as early as the days of the sages. Kabbalistic-Hassidic writings deepened this meaning. Destroying leaven became a symbolic expression of internal detachment from evil within the individual, from the soured heart. Eating matza during Passover expresses the longing for a new beginning that characterizes the spring. Slavery has, as I’ve said, two meanings – the national-political and the individual-moral. Slavery is slavery to habits, difficult traits, personal memories, impulses and excessive passions. The yearning for redemption is a yearning for the redemption of all, but this cannot be realized without the redemption of individuals from their personal enslavements.”

Whether the story occurred in the distant past, or whether it’s really a parable or myth, Tel Aviv University would like to wish everyone a happy Passover, and may we all be liberated from our personal, social, physical and psychological enslavements towards the spring of freedom and new beginnings.

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