Mazel Tov Gifts is a Judaica store located next to the Kosher 18 Restaurant in a strip mall off Scottsdale Road, anchored by the Chabad movement. Miriam and I enjoy spending time browsing there, and invariably I find a book (or two) worthy of purchase (surprise, surprise!). Our first trip during this year’s mini-sabattical in Arizona was no exception, and led me to a slender volume of 132 pages authored by Jonathan Rosen, The Talmud and the Internet, that dates back to the year 2000. Chances are that I browsed it in the Judaica House in Teaneck when it first came out, but it didn’t speak forcefully enough to me to buy it at the time.
I’ll open at the book’s end, with its Acknowledgments page that begins: “Even a short book accumulates large debts”. Whatever debts Rosen owes to his sources, I owe him my appreciation for an insightful volume digested during the wee hours of the morning overlooking mountains in the shape of camels with a cup or two of Starbucks in hand. Much of Rosen’s mini-tome is a reconciliation of opposites, inspired by his two sets of grandparents and their diverse backgrounds. He frames this in the context of the timelessness of rabbinic crowdsourcing, destined to become Pages through the Ages for the Jewish people, a forerunner to the hyperlinked branching of the Internet. There is much to consume in this small volume but I’ll jump to the last chapter (VI), which has a special significance that you’ll see in a moment, and begins as follows:
“A few years ago my wife and I spent the summer in Scotland … Scotland has always played a mythic role in my imagination because it is where my father spent the Second World War. Lord Balfour had given over Whittingehame House, his estate in the Lowlands, for some seventy boys and girls from Austria and Germany who had, like my father, escaped their native countries on a Kindertransport … Before setting out on our drive, my wife and I spent a few days in Edinburgh. When I told my father’s story to the proprietors of our bed-and-breakfast they insisted that I call the present Lord Balfour – the son of the man who had, in a sense, taken in my father sixty years before … To my amazement, Lord Balfour was listed in the telephone directory. I phoned, and a man with a cough and a plummy English accent answered. It was, in fact, Lord Balfour himself.”
The good Lord invited Rosen and his wife to visit. As they entered the front lobby of the grand house, turned into a Balfour museum of sorts, his wife was overcome with emotion looking at a document under glass. It was written by their host’s great uncle, a Foreign Secretary for the United Kingdom, in that very house in 1917.
A Reverend Roberston who lived on the grounds, together with a friend of the good Lord’s great uncle, Chaim Weizmann, influenced Balfour to write the letter under glass to Lord Walter Rothschild for transmission to the Zionist Federation of Great Britain and Ireland. This became known as The Balfour Declaration, paving the way for Jews to carve out a homeland in Palestine that would ultimately become the State of Israel. In February of this year, British prime minister Theresa May invited Israeli prime minster Benjamin Netanyahu to take part in events marking the centennial of the letter. He will be departing next week to honor the 100th anniversary of what prime minster May referred to as “one of the most important letters in history.”