Your Daily Phil: A purchase of biblical proportions + Rabbi Sacks-inspired Shavuot guide

Good Thursday morning!

Ed. note: In observance of Shavuot and Memorial Day, the next issue of Your Daily Phil will arrive on Tuesday, May 30. Chag sameach and Shabbat shalom!

In today’s edition of Your Daily Phil, we report on a new Shavuot study guide based on the teachings of the late Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, and feature an op-ed from Andrés Spokoiny. Also in this newsletter: Yael Schoultz, David Ben-Gurion and Amichai Chikli. We’ll start with an interview with former Ambassador Alfred Moses, who recently purchased the Codex Sassoon on behalf of ANU: Museum of the Jewish People.

For less-distracted reading over the weekend, browse this week’s edition of The Weekly Print, a curated print-friendly PDF featuring a selection of recent Jewish Insider, eJewishPhilanthropy and The Circuit stories, including: ‘Times’ reporter goes inside Israel’s identity crisis, 75 years in the making; A pro-Israel progressive, Joe Vogel seeks to make history in Maryland; and Mike Feuer pitches L.A. voters on three decades of ‘idealism.’ Print the latest edition here.

When investor Jacqui Safra put the Codex Sassoon, a 1,100-year-old near-complete copy of the Tanakh, up for sale in mid-February, Alfred H. Moses – a longtime attorney, former U.S. ambassador to Romania and a former president of the American Jewish Committee – decided, without too much deliberation, that he wanted to buy it. And Moses knew where he wanted it to go: Tel Aviv’s ANU: Museum of the Jewish People, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

Last week, at the auction at Sotheby’s in New York, Moses did just that, bidding $33.5 million. Adding in the additional fees and costs, he ended up paying $38.1 million for the Codex Sassoon, also known as “Codex S1” and “Safra, JUD 002,” making it the most expensive bound book ever purchased, or the second-most when accounting for inflation (after an original copy of the Book of Mormon that was sold in 2017). Moses had never seen the Codex Sassoon when he purchased it, and even now, after paying $38.1 million for it, he still hasn’t.

This week, eJP spoke with Moses, 93, to understand why and how he made up his mind to purchase the codex for ANU.

Judah Ari Gross: Like the rest of the world, we saw your purchase of the codex last week. How did you get involved? Why did you decide to make this gift specifically to ANU?

Alfred Moses: Well, I only bought it because of ANU. I wanted it to be somewhere where it would be available to the Jewish people, not in some rich person’s bank vault. I had been working with ANU for some years. I thought it was the right place. So it’s now available for everyone to see.

JAG: And what do you hope that those Jews get out of this, get out of seeing the book?

AM: I hope that seeing the book will give them a sense of the history of the Jewish people. This is the foundational book of our civilization, of our religion, but also our broader civilization. It encompasses the first 2,000 years of Jewish history. And it’s the only book that’s close to complete. And there is no book that is as old as the Codex Sassoon. So I think people will look at it with pride and, if I may say so, with awe.

Read the full interview here.

Coming soon

White House set to release antisemitism strategy ahead of Shavuot

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas at the Grand Staircase of the White House on May 24, 2023, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The White House’s much-anticipated national strategy to combat antisemitism is set to be released today after months of behind-the-scenes work and input from more than 1,000 Jewish community members, reports Marc Rod for eJewishPhilanthropy’s sister publication Jewish Insider.

IHRA vs. Nexus: An individual familiar with the strategy told JI that supporters of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism — which has become a key sticking point in recent weeks — have been “reassured” by the White House that they will be “pleased” by the final product and that “we have nothing to worry about.” The comments follow a JI report that the White House was planning to feature the IHRA definition prominently but also reference the Nexus Definition, an alternative promoted by progressives.

A national effort: The sources said the strategy includes efforts as diverse as pushing for $360 million in funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program and full funding for the Jabara Heyer NO HATE Act; expanding access to kosher food in U.S. Department of Agriculture food assistance programs; and taking action in departments as wide-ranging as Veterans Affairs, the President’s Council on Sports, Fitness and Nutrition, the President’s Council on Arts and Humanities and the National Endowment for Humanities.

Campuses too: To address antisemitism on campus, the strategy includes an awareness and education campaign for university, elementary and secondary education through the Department of Education. To tackle workplace antisemitism, the administration will be advancing programs in the Small Business Administration and Department of Labor, such as working to ensure that antisemitism is included in diversity, equity and inclusion programs.

Read the full story here.

Considering covenant

Rabbi Sacks Legacy launches new Shavuot guides based on his teachings

Mijal Bitton, right, meets with Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, center-left, and his wife, Lady Elaine Sacks, left, in New York, in an undated photograph. (Courtesy/Rabbi Sacks Legacy Trust)

As Jews around the world prepare to hold a Tikkun Leil Shavuot, an all-night study session for this week’s Shavuot holiday, they will have two new resources to consider this year based on the teachings of the late British Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, reports eJewishPhilanthropy’s Judah Ari Gross.

For adults and teens: The guides, one written for adults and the other for teenagers, were produced by Rabbi Sacks Legacy this year by two members of the first cohort of Sacks Scholars, a new initiative that officially launches next month, which brings to 27 Jewish academics and educators who had personal connections with Sacks. Drawing on Sacks’ writing, biblical sources, oral Torah and contemporary writers, Mijal Bitton and Michael Rainsbury created source sheets and study guides to have people consider the significance of receiving the Torah and the covenant between the Jewish people and God. Bitton’s is meant for adults, while Rainsbury’s is geared toward teenagers. Both guides are available in English, Hebrew, Spanish and French. The teen guide is also available in German. They were written to be accessible, with follow-up questions and “points to ponder.”

Who we want to be: “Shavuot is an interesting holiday. I don’t think it’s one of the top holidays for American Jews, who tend to observe Hanukkah or Passover, but I think actually when it comes to notions of Jewish observance it’s absolutely critical,” Bitton told eJP this week. “This is really the holiday in which the Jewish people were asking not only where they came from, but who they want to be, and what they want to create in the world.”

Read the full story here.


Shavuot, or why Sinatra was wrong

Gary John Norman

“The famous song ‘My Way,’ popularized by Frank Sinatra, is problematic… For starters, the music belongs to a 1967 French song called ‘Comme d’habitude’ (as usual) by Jacques Revaux. Paul Anka bought the rights, and after a dinner with Frank Sinatra and ‘a couple of mob guys’ in Florida, wrote a new version of the lyrics that, he thought, would fit Sinatra’s persona,” writes Andrés Spokoiny, president and CEO of Jewish Funders Network, in an opinion piece for eJewishPhilanthropy.

An enduring hit: “Since its release in 1969, the song has been an enduring hit. That isn’t surprising, for it reflects something very deep about the self-consciousness of the modern individual: the fact that we are the architects of our lives, that we owe nothing to others, and that our successes and achievements are all our own doing.”

An emblematic song: “Most probably Paul Anka didn’t mean for it to be interpreted this way, but ‘My Way’ has become the anthem, the emblematic song, of one of the most selfish periods in human history. We live in times in which the ruthless, the corner-cutter, the egotist and the callous are lionized. For an entire segment of society, the dystopian dreams of Ayn Rand and the ‘greed is good’ ethos of Gordon Gecko have become gospel. Demanding an absolute right to do what I want is behind many popular policies today. The idea that freedom is absolute license to exercise power as though the rights of others don’t exist is now dominant.”

The Shavuot connection: “But if you are with me in that retrenching camp, fear not, because every year, Shavuot comes to our rescue and reminds us that freedom can’t exist without law, that liberty is not an end but a means, and that as soon as we left Egypt, we needed to receive the norms that would rule our coexistence.”

Read the full piece here.

Worthy Reads

When David Ben-Gurion Went to College: In the Jewish Quarterly Review, Adam Ferziger explores a visit by then-Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion to the United States in 1960 and his interactions with American Jewish college students, encouraging them to spend time in Israel while not explicitly pushing them to make aliyah (to respect his decade-old agreement on the subject with then-AJC leader Jacob Blaustein). “The aspect of Ben-Gurion’s 1960 vision that came to fruition most clearly was his focus on American Jewish undergraduates spending a year of study in Israel. It would be inaccurate to credit him exclusively with this achievement. Yet his efforts certainly drew considerable attention to the idea of dedicated Israel study programs, sparking American Jewish youth to take this path and challenging the heads of Jewish institutions to facilitate their requests, eventually creating an entire educational industry. As such, one of the upshots of the discussion here is to recognize Ben-Gurion’s poignant role in the evolution of what has become one of the central vehicles for nurturing deep connections between diaspora Jews and Israel.” [JewishQuarterlyReview]

The Brothel Whisperer: In the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Dinah Spritzer profiles an Orthodox woman who launched a nonprofit to help Prague’s sex workers. “Not long after she puts away her silver Shabbat candlesticks and home-baked challah, Yael Schoultz walks through a cavernous hallway, and up a set of gray concrete stairs. Past a door, she finds a group of heavily made-up women in red and black G-strings and spike heels, listlessly beckoning men for sex in return for cash… It’s a typical Saturday night post-Shabbat routine for Schoultz, an Orthodox Jewish South African who recently launched L’Chaim, an organization dedicated to helping sex workers in the Czech Republic… Schoultz, who has been visiting Czech brothels since she moved to Prague in 2011, is not a mere purveyor of gifts. Her goal is to establish a rapport with the women she meets so that they can leave the business of sex work if they so wish. And her Jewish faith is a core driver of Schoultz’s quest to provide a better life for the sex workers.” [JTA]

Around the Web

The Plaza Jewish Community Chapel in Manhattan announced a three-year partnership with the Shomer Collective to support its What Matters: Caring Conversations About End of Life program, which leads discussions about death and dying in synagogues and Jewish community centers…

The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg interviewed Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs and Combating Antisemitism Amichai Chikli about his decision to defend Elon Musk in the face of criticism over the tech billionaire’s claim that George Soros “hates humanity”…

The Starr Foundationdonated $2 million to Yale University’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute in support of its Global Diplomacy Initiative…

Jewish leaders and antisemitism watchdogs around the world are again criticizing former Pink Floyd frontman Roger Waters for his use of Nazi imagery and his comparison of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh to Anne Frank in a recent concert in Berlin…

Pic of the Day


Members of the iCenter’s iFellows program pose for a photograph following a three-day gathering this week in Chicago.


Nick Grace/Getty Images

Pitcher in the Boston Red Sox organization who had two effective appearances for Team Israel at the 2017 World Baseball Classic qualifiers, Ryan Sherriff

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