Tag: Humanities

Olive Trees Were First Domesticated 7,000 Years Ago

Earliest evidence for cultivation of a fruit tree, according to researchers.

A joint study by researchers from Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University unraveled the earliest evidence for domestication of a fruit tree. The researchers analyzed remnants of charcoal from the Chalcolithic site of Tel Zaf in the Jordan Valley and determined that they came from olive trees. Since the olive did not grow naturally in the Jordan Valley, this means that the inhabitants planted the tree intentionally about 7,000 years ago. Some of the earliest stamps were also found at the site, and as a whole, the researchers say the findings indicate wealth, and early steps toward the formation of a complex multilevel society.

The groundbreaking study was led by Dr. Dafna Langgut of the The Jacob M. Alkow Department of Archaeology & Ancient Near Eastern Cultures, The Sonia & Marco Nadler Institute of Archaeology and the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History at Tel Aviv University. The charcoal remnants were found in the archaeological excavation directed by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Institute of Archaeology at the Hebrew University. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports from the publishers of Nature.

‘Indisputable Proof of Domestication’

According to Dr. Langgut, Head of the Laboratory of Archaeobotany & Ancient Environments which specializes in microscopic identification of plant remains, “trees, even when burned down to charcoal, can be identified by their anatomic structure. Wood was the ‘plastic’ of the ancient world. It was used for construction, for making tools and furniture, and as a source of energy. That’s why identifying tree remnants found at archaeological sites, such as charcoal from hearths, is a key to understanding what kinds of trees grew in the natural environment at the time, and when humans began to cultivate fruit trees.”

In her lab, Dr. Langgut identified the charcoal from Tel Zaf as belonging to olive and fig trees. “Olive trees grow in the wild in the land of Israel, but they do not grow in the Jordan Valley,” she says. “This means that someone brought them there intentionally – took the knowledge and the plant itself to a place that is outside its natural habitat. In archaeobotany, this is considered indisputable proof of domestication, which means that we have here the earliest evidence of the olive’s domestication anywhere in the world.”

 

7,000 years-old microscopic remains of charred olive wood (Olea) recovered from Tel Tsaf (Photo: Dr. Dafna Langgut)

“I also identified many remnants of young fig branches. The fig tree did grow naturally in the Jordan Valley, but its branches had little value as either firewood or raw materials for tools or furniture, so people had no reason to gather large quantities and bring them to the village. Apparently, these fig branches resulted from pruning, a method still used today to increase the yield of fruit trees.”

Evidence of Luxury

The tree remnants examined by Dr. Langgut were collected by Prof. Yosef Garfinkel of the Hebrew University, who headed the dig at Tel Zaf. Prof. Garfinkel: “Tel Zaf was a large prehistoric village in the middle Jordan Valley south of Beit She’an, inhabited between 7,200 and 6,700 years ago. Large houses with courtyards were discovered at the site, each with several granaries for storing crops. Storage capacities were up to 20 times greater than any single family’s calorie consumption, so clearly these were caches for storing great wealth. The wealth of the village was manifested in the production of elaborate pottery, painted with remarkable skill. In addition, we found articles brought from afar: pottery of the Ubaid culture from Mesopotamia, obsidian from Anatolia, a copper awl from the Caucasus, and more.”

Dr. Langgut and Prof. Garfinkel were not surprised to discover that the inhabitants of Tel Zaf were the first in the world to intentionally grow olive and fig groves, since growing fruit trees is evidence of luxury, and this site is known to have been exceptionally wealthy.

Dr. Langgut: “The domestication of fruit trees is a process that takes many years, and therefore befits a society of plenty, rather than one that struggles to survive. Trees give fruit only 3-4 years after being planted. Since groves of fruit trees require a substantial initial investment, and then live on for a long time, they have great economic and social significance in terms of owning land and bequeathing it to future generations – procedures suggesting the beginnings of a complex society. Moreover, it’s quite possible that the residents of Tel Zaf traded in products derived from the fruit trees, such as olives, olive oil, and dried figs, which have a long shelf life. Such products may have enabled long-distance trade that led to the accumulation of material wealth, and possibly even taxation – initial steps in turning the locals into a society with a socio-economic hierarchy supported by an administrative system.”

Dr. Langgut concludes: “At the Tel Zaf archaeological site we found the first evidence in the world for the domestication of fruit trees, alongside some of the earliest stamps – suggesting the beginnings of administrative procedures. As a whole, the findings indicate wealth, and early steps toward the formation of a complex multilevel society, with the class of farmers supplemented by classes of clerks and merchants.”

Unprecedented: A Senior Saudi Researcher Contributed an Article to an Israeli Academic Journal

A Historic Moment for Tel Aviv University’s “Kesher” Academic Journal

The latest issue of “Kesher”, an academic journal published by the Shalom Rosenfeld Institute for Research of Jewish Media and Communication at Tel Aviv University, opens with a unique paper, which is unprecedented in an academic journal.

In his first article in Hebrew, Prof. Mohammed Ibrahim Alghbban, head of NELC and Hebrew Studies at the Department of Modern Languages and Translation, at King Saud University in Riyadh, claims that the prophet Muhammad had good relations with Jews and only clashed with them on political grounds, not on religious ones. The article is called “Contribution to Prophet Muhammad’s Image Improvement in the Eyes of the Israeli Public: Muhammad’s Alliances and Mail Exchanges with Jews from the Arabian Peninsula.” The paper was published among increasing calls in Saudi Arabia and the Arab League to use inter-religious understanding for cooperation with Jews and Israel to achieve peace.

The editor of the academic journal “Kesher”, Prof. Gideon Kouts, met Prof. Alghbban at academic Hebrew Studies conferences as well as on his visit to Riyadh in 2015.

According to Prof. Alghbban, he decided to write the article in Hebrew in order to improve the image of the Prophet Muhammad in the eyes of the Israeli public. “Erroneous assumptions about the origins of Islam, proposed by Oriental Studies researchers in the previous century – some of which were written in Hebrew – led to a distorted understanding of manuscripts, wrong methodology, and negative influences on Hebrew speaking Middle Eastern Studies researchers,” writes Prof. Alghbban in the introduction to his article. “Accusing Islam and the Prophet Muhammad of hate speech and racism against Jewish tribes in Hejaz is erroneous. Muhammad treated equally all social groups in Al Madinah and in other places under his control, regardless of race and religion. The misrepresentations in the research are due to the fact that his letters were never translated into Hebrew,” to right this wrong Prof. Alghbban translated them in his article.

King Saud University offers an undergraduate Hebrew Studies program. Prof. Alghbban, head of NELC and Hebrew Studies at the university, incorporates contemporary Israeli literature in the curriculum. The program is taught only to male students, and in its course program one can find works by Israeli writers such as Yosef Haim Brenner, Shmuel Yosef Agnon, and Etgar Keret. Prof. Alghbban says that the Jewish public’s misunderstanding of Prophet Muhammad’s thoughts is rooted in faulty or biased translations into Hebrew, or even lack thereof, of Prophet Muhammad’s letters to Jewish tribes from the Arabian Peninsula and the written alliances he had with them.

Prof. Raanan Rein, head of Shalom Rosenfeld Institute, stresses that this article is mainly important for the unprecedented choice of a Saudi researcher to publish his article in an Israeli academic journal, in order to bring the two nations closer. “I hope that this academic cooperation is another step towards economic and political cooperation.

Rescue Mission: Pioneering TAU Program Preserves Ethiopian Jewish Heritage

“The students understand that if they don’t do it, it simply won’t happen.”

The Department of Biblical Studies at Tel Aviv University’s Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies and Archaeology is launching a new MA program, the first and only one of its kind in the world: Study and research of the Biblical texts of Ethiopian Jewry.

The Program, named “Orit Guardians” after the Ethiopian Bible, aims to study and safeguard the scriptures and culture of Beta Israel, the Ethiopian Jewish community, thus empowering its members and strengthening their status in Israeli society.

Biblical scholar Prof. Dalit Rom-Shiloni, who leads the initiative, explains: “The Scriptures of Beta Israel are accompanied by oral traditions of translation and interpretation, as well as prayers composed by the Kesim [religious leaders] for their communities through the ages. These cultural treasures are in danger of extinction, if an urgent effort is not made to document and preserve them – and this is our main goal. To our great delight, we found enormous enthusiasm among educated and socially aware Israelis of Ethiopian descent, who wish to safeguard their heritage for future generations.”

The students who have just begun their studies in the 2020-2021 academic year are all Ethiopian Israelis with bachelor’s degrees, highly aware of their heritage and eager to take part in the effort to preserve it. Prof. Rom-Shiloni: “The important point is that they are the only ones who can do the job. Unlike researchers who do not belong to Beta Israel, these students speak Amharic, and have access to the elderly Kesim.  This is a novel, pioneering and uniquely inspiring project. The students bring immense motivation and commitment, understanding fully well that if they don’t do it, it simply won’t happen – and this heritage, that is so precious to them, will be lost. We believe that the students’ research projects will contribute to the enhancement of the Jewish identity of Ethiopian Israelis and increase the public’s awareness of their culture, while establishing the heritage of Ethiopian Jews as an academic field of study and research in every aspect – cultural, historical, lingual, religious, spiritual and social – in both Israeli and international academia.”

Support for the Program is provided by the Morris and Rosalind Goodman Family Foundation of Canada.

Prof. Rom-Shiloni: “The volumes of the Hebrew Bible, found in every Israeli household, are all almost absolutely identical, down to the letter. This text, known as the Masoretic Text, was consolidated in Tiberias between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. We know, however, that Biblical textual traditions existed hundreds of years before that time. Research on texts from the Second Temple period, especially the Dead Sea Scrolls, has revealed that in the last centuries BC Jewish communities held various versions of the sacred texts – which were essentially similar, but definitely not identical.

The Jews who came to Israel from Ethiopia brought their own Scriptures, written in Ge’ez – an ancient Semitic language known only to their spiritual leaders, the Kesim. Through the ages, a rich oral tradition emerged alongside the written text, including prayers in Ge’ez, as well as translations and interpretations created by the Kesim for their communities, in languages that they could understand – Amharic and Tigrinya. But Beta Israel’s way of life changed completely when they came to Israel – detracting from the Kesim‘s status, undermining their age-old training processes, and bringing these cultural treasures to the brink of extinction. The Orit Guardians program is, in a sense, a rescue mission undertaken to academically study this important heritage.”

The new Program’s  lecturers and supervisors will be faculty members at the Department of Biblical Studies as well as Dr. Anbessa Teferra, Head of the Semitic Linguistics Program at the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Linguistics, and Dr. Ran HaCohen of the Department of Literature. The Program is supported by an Academic Committee headed by Dr. Diana Lipton and consisting of TAU faculty members from three departments: Biblical Studies, Semitic Linguistics and Literature. The University envisions that the Orit Guardian Program will be expanded to include BA and PhD studies in the near future.

Featured image:

The ‘Orit Guardians’ Program

Antisemitism – Defined, Yet Running Wild

Widespread adoption of working definition of Antisemitism is contradicted by realities on ground.

What do the governments of Canada, German football club Borussia Dortmund and the Global Imams Council all have in common? They have all adopted the Working Definition of Antisemitism. And they’re not alone – a new study from the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University’s Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities has revealed that over the past 5 years more than 450 leading organizations, including 28 countries, have adopted or endorsed the Working Definition of Antisemitism, formulated and officially adopted by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, IHRA, five years ago today. At the same time, however, recent reports indicate a disturbing rise in anti-Semitic manifestations toward Jews in hotspots worldwide. Recent weeks have been characterized by displays of violence, animosity and defamation, worse than those observed during the past year’s pandemic.

Hatred Running Wild

The reports were received from places all over the world, in particular through the international network established by the Kantor Center several years ago, which includes about 60 participants who regularly send in information about antisemitism in their countries of residence. Dr. Giovanni Quer conducted the study and emphasizes that we are facing a mixed trend: On the one hand, we are witnessing a positive development, as in a relatively short period of five years, 456 high-impact international organizations and 28 leading countries have adopted the Definition and are working to eradicate antisemitism; governments have allotted funds for protecting Jewish communities and leaders have professed support for their countries’ Jews. On the other, antisemitism is running wild in the social media and in the streets, and there appears to be a gap between declared policies and events in the field.

Antisemitism Defined

According to the Working Definition of Antisemitism, as phrased by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance: “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilitiesManifestations might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity… Antisemitism frequently charges Jews with conspiring to harm humanity, and it is often used to blame Jews for ‘why things go wrong’. It is expressed in speech, writing, visual forms and action, and employs sinister stereotypes and negative character traits.” Prof. Dina Porat, former head of the Center emphasizes: “All of these have been observed in events now taking place daily all over the world”.

Who have adopted the working definition by IHRA?

The list of countries that have adopted the Working Definition of Antisemitism includes the US, Canada, Germany, Austria, Belgium, the UK, the Netherlands, Hungary, Sweden, Italy, France, Spain, Greece, Czechia, Luxemburg, Kosovo, Cyprus, Argentina, Uruguay and more. The Definition has also been adopted by many organizations around the globe, including dozens of institutions of higher education and student councils, leading religious institutions – including the prominent Moslem organization Global Imams Council, and sports clubs, including Chelsea in the UK and Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich in Germany.  Many business corporations, including Volkswagen, Daimler and Deutsch Bank, have also adopted the Definition. The materials used for mapping the adoption of the Working Definition of Antisemitism were collected in cooperation with students of the Struggle Against Antisemitism Program of the School of Tourism at the University of Haifa, headed by Prof. Gabriel Malka and Dr. Elie Vinocour.

A Useful Tool

Dr. Quer explains that the Working Definition is in its essence a non-legally binding document. Instead, it is a useful tool that can facilitate the effective and accurate identification of certain expressions/activities as antisemitic in nature, as part of the global struggle against antisemitism. Its purpose is to assist entities authorized to enforce already existing laws and regulations – such as courts of law, government offices, police forces, parliaments etc. According to Dr. Quer, once adopted, the Definition is applied in the field in many cases, facilitating lawsuits, the cancellation of demonstrations and events with antisemitic contents, fights against discrimination against Jewish students at universities, and more. Thus, for example, following the adoption of the Definition, mayors and managements of academic institutions in different countries have canceled mass events with antisemitic features that were contradictory to the Definition.

No guard against the “New Antisemitism”

At the same time, Dr. Quer emphasizes that the encouraging trend of the Definition’s expanding adoption is no guard against the growing worldwide phenomenon of “New Antisemitism” – antisemitism disguised as political stances against Israel and Zionism.  “Unfortunately, over the past year we have seen a radicalization of anti-Israel standpoints, which are in fact fully and clearly antisemitic,” he adds. “The reports received at the Kantor Center reveal that in many cases severe manifestations of racism and blatant antisemitism are presented as ‘legitimate criticism’ of the state of Israel and its’ government’s policies.”

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