Monday, October 10, 2005

THE STANFORD REVIEW (an alternative student newspaper at Stanford University) has published an article ("Joel Beinin Doesn’t Deserve Tenure") criticizing the teaching about ancient Judaism by Joel Beinin, a tenured history professor and former president of MESA, in an online course. The author, Daniel H Jacobs, MD, writes:
Beinin teaches an online course sponsored by Stanford, Oxford and Yale entitled “Palestine, Zionism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict.” Beinin prepared a syllabus and a videotape that was mailed to students that introduced the material for each of the ten weekly classes. The rest of the class consisted of readings, a weekly online chat, and an open bulletin board, that was monitored by a young Ph. D.

The bulletin board allowed students the opportunity to correct countless mischaracterizations by the teacher. A few examples are mentioned below. In the video narrative by Beinin for the first week, Beinin stated that, following the destruction of the Jewish Second Temple by the Romans in the year 70, C.E., Jews had next come to Palestine in the sixteenth century, at the invitation of the Moslem Turks, “to study religious books and to be buried there.”
A poster noted that, in fact, the past two millennia in Palestine that Beinin had implied had little Jewish history were actually chock-full of events. These included Jewish revolts, for over five centuries; the writing and the publication of the Jerusalem Talmud and later, the Shulhan Aruch; and the establishment of a synagogue in Jerusalem by Nachmanides after 1270, a city in which Jews have lived since. Only during the First Crusades, when the Jewish community was burned alive, was there a brief period in which Jerusalem did not have a Jewish community.

Beinin lectured that the “only” remnant of the Herodian Jewish Temple was the “Wailing” Wall (an archaic term) and that the Haram, or the Moslem holy site, was located above. A post reminded the class that, actually, the whole Western and Southern Walls were remnants of the Herodian temple, and that the area above had been the Jewish Temple seven centuries before Mohammed was born. A link was presented to pictures of excavations with Hebrew inscriptions such as the Trumpeter’s stone covering an area about ten times larger than the one Beinin incorrectly described.

There's more, but this is the part that has to do with ancient Judaism. A couple of problems occur to me. The Shulhan Arukh was published by Joseph Caro in Safed in the mid-1500s, so it's not a useful counter example to what Professor Beinin is reported to have said. Also, Nachmanides died in 1270 (in Palestine), so he wasn't founding any synagogues after that. These are small points, but they do show a certain carelessness in the article.

That said, if the statements of Professor Beinin have been represented accurately, they are disturbing. It is certainly bizarre to say that there were no Jews in Palestine between 70 CE and the sixteenth century.

The course description has been taken down, but here is the Google cache archived page. I don't have access to the course materials or the online chat archive and I can't judge whether the presentation here is fair and accurate. If anyone out there took the course, let me know what you think.

UPDATE (14 October): More here.

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