Friday, August 3, 1919
THE DETROIT JEWISH NEWS
iigypt . . Museums, Mummies, Mosques and Moses
By LEONARD N. SIMONS
(Copyright 1979, JTA, Inc.)
Immediately, upon the exciting news that, at long last,
.gypt and Israel had signed a peace treaty, a group of us
ram Wayne State University who were to attend the ninth
.nnual Jerusalem International Book Fair arranged a
topover in Egypt.
We spent about a week sight-seeing in Cairo and in
41 ' uthern Egypt. We took a ship up the Nile — to go south!
As a lover of history and especially Jewish history, I
mild now fulfill my long dreamed about visit to Pharaoh-
and. Egypt is the birthplace — the matrix — of our Bible
.iistory. Our Jewish patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
- Joseph, Moses, all these and more, lived in this land.
The Egyptians call Abraham the first prophet of
God. After him, they substitute Ishmael for Isaac.
They consider sacred and revere such places as the
_ Chapel of The Burning Bush, the site where God first
revealed Himself to Moses; the Springs of Moses,
where Moses drew water when he struck the rock
with his rod; Mount Moses (or Mt. Sinai or Mt. Horeb),
where God gave Moses the Ten Commandments.
Some say the Egyptian name, Moses, is derived from
the last half of the name "Thutmosis." There were four
kings with this name in their famous XVIII Dynasty
(1575-1308 BCE). Mises was born about this time. This
also was when King -Akhenaton introduced monotheism to
The Exodus, under Moses' leadership, took place in
this time period. The importance of the Exodus_ in Jewish
theology is well known and Egyptian sources have numer-
ous details of the Bible story. But, no direct Egyptian refer-
ences to the Exodus have been found.
In the great Egyptian Museum of Antiquities there are
countless statues, monuments, fragments of ancient relics
and artifacts, mummies, jewelry, etc. About one-fourth of
the exhibits are devoted to King Tut. There is one stela, an
upright sculptured slab of stone, called the Victory Stela of
King Merneptah II (corisidered the pharaoh of the Exodus).
It has the only known mention of Israel on any Egyptian
monument. Carved into the stone is the wording that he
had wiped out the Hebrews. "Israel is laid waste . . . corn-
pletely destroyed. Their nation exists no more, etc." That
was about 3,000 years ago. How wrong King Merneptah
Before World War II, as‘ many as 100,000 Jews
lived in Egypt in peace, as citizens. There are not 150
left someone recently wrote. I was told by an
Egyptian-Jewish merchant that he believed the
number to be about 1,500.
In old Cairo, the walled city of antiquity, we visited the
oldest synagogue in Egypt, formerly called the Synagogue
of the Prophet Jeremiah. It is now the Ben Ezra Synagogue,
named after Rabbi Abraham Ben-Ezra who rebuilt it
around the year 1,000. The shammas said the congregation
has 42 families as members.
The synagogue interior was attractive but was so
covered with dust, sand, and dirt it looked pathetic. It was
hard for me to believe any Jews would permit their
sanctuary for worship to God to be so unclean. Some -soap,
water and dust cloths would do wonders. On the other hand,
with all their troubles of the past 30 years, these Egyptian
Jews probably had all they could do to stay alive while
worrying about the safety of their families.
The Ben Ezra Synagogue is where the famous Geniza
(safekeeping) was discovered. It was rediscovered in 1896
by Rabbi Solomon Schechter. A veritable treasure-trove of
over 200,000 pages from sacred Jewish books, scrolls, liter-
ary works, and historical documents was found in the attic.
The oldest document is dated in the year 750.
I checked my Encyclopedia Judaica: "This
synagogue was originally built in 882 on the ruins of a
Coptic church which was sold to the Jews." Old Cairo
was formerly called Fostat. That was where the great
sage, Maimonides and his family, lived.
We were told: The Ben. Ezra Synagogue was built on
the very site where Moses was found in the Nile River
bulrushes. Our guide took us down some steps on the out-
side of the building where we saw an old wall. This was the
remains of the earlier house of prayer. Alongside, to your
right, was a small branch of the Nile. In that water, at that
spot, the founder of the Mosaic religion was found. The
Egyptian Jews believe that is so. And it could be. Why not?
We were also told that the main synagogue of Cairo is
open but not functioning and that some of the other old
synagogues have become mosques.
The spectacular sight of the Giza (land of Goshen)
LEONARD N. SIMONS
Pyramids and Sphinx on a moonlit night at a "sou et
lumiere" performance is truly awe-inspiring. The Cheops
pyramid is one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
It is about as tall as a 48-story skyscraper. Each stone is as
high as a man. They say it took three million such stones
weighing five million tons, and 100,000 men working 20
years to build it 5,000 years ago.
When Menahem Begin was there for the peace treaty
talks, he said to Mr. Sadat that some of our ancestors helped
build the pyramids. With all due respect to Mr. Begin, I
doubt that there were any Jews in Egypt at that time.
Jewish history is definitely intertwined with Egyptian his-
tory going back a long, long time, but not 5,000 years ago.
Their current guide books have practically no
Ecology Has Roots
in Pages of the Bible
From Israel Digest
JERUSALEM -- The
roots of ecology go back to
the Bible when — with the
emergence of a belief in one
God — there also emerged
an awareness of the inter-
relationship of organisms
and their environment as
forming a unity, created
and set in motion by one
(Ecclesiastes Rabbah 7:13)
tells how God showed Adam
the beauty of the Garden of
Eden, and said to him: "See
how lovely and how worthy
of praise are My works.
They have all been created
for your sake. Take care not
to spoil or destroy My
world." We can only inter-
pret this to mean that
Jewish teachings prohibit
man's exercising the kind of
uncontrolled exploitation of
nature that, if persisted in,
will eventually destroy the
world and man himself.
There were many rules
laid down to protect the
environment, even in
rabbinic times, for in-
stance those dealing with
waste disposal. We learn
that saintly men would
bury broken glassware
deep in their own fields
(Bava Kama 30a).
A dovecot was not to be
kept within 50 cubits of a
town. Carcasses, graves and
tanneries were to be kept at
least 50 cubits from a city,
with the tannery set up in
such a way that the winds
would not waft unpleasant
odors to the city.
mention of Egyptian Jews. I think the publishers de-
liberately omitted all references to Jews on in-
structions from their government — except as Jews
are identified with ancient Egyptian history. The
400-page book I bought, under the caption Popula-
tion, said, "Lastly, Jews, who at all times formed an
important minority in Egypt, have, for the most part,
left the country and their community is on the way to
extinction." To which I add, "Perhaps this will be so in
Egypt. But, if it is — it will be their loss. From what I
saw of Egypt's economy, etc., it desperately needs
Jewish ingenuity, intelligence and vital progressive-
ness as well'as Jewish ethical and moral values."
Egypt (Arabic name, MASR) has been called a giga -. c.
open air museum — the land of museums, mummies
mosques. It has the longest river in the world, the Nile,
except for its palm-lined shores that form a band of fertility,
the color of Egypt is sandy brown with very, very little
green. Camels, water buffalo and donkeys help work these
narrow strips of green fields. The weather is extremely hot
and dry — only about five days of rain all year.
Modern Cairo is jam-packed with about nine million
people. Some say it is on its way to becoming the "Calcutta
of Africa." The poverty of the city remains insoluble .. .
unemployment and inflation are at terrifying levels .. .
public utilities are temperamental servants . . . the cars
you see are old and decrepit . . . the noisy, snarled traffic is
unbelievable, as it tries to get through the narrow streets
. . . but the population remains cheerful.
There are some excellent hotels. The food is quite good.
Prices are reasonable, one of the few places in the world
where they are still so. The Egyptians were all very
friendly even after they found out we were Jewish. They
trier hard to make us welcome. We experienced no rancor.
They seemed very anxious for peace. The veiled woman has
almost vanished from the streets. Generally speaking the
country and the people look impoverished. Children are
constantly harassing you on the streets, begging for "Bak-
sheesh" — money.
There are young and old peddlers everywhere,
plaguing the tourists with what I call "junk jewelry."
In Cairo and throughout Egypt, near the tombs and
museums, they hawk their wares, calling out "One
dollar for the whole schmeer — five pieces." They also
sell postcards, film, slides, etc. To get along you need
to know two words — "showkrun" — thanks, and
"lah-ah" — no:
The most impressive feature of Egypt is its fantastic
5,000-year-old human history of civilization and art — a
great deal of which remains. It is thrilling to know that it
can be seen and appreciated in the 20th Century. The
mighty tombs of the Pharaohs and their queens, the -mas-
sive temples which they built as tributes to their gods, the
reliefs, the colorful, detailed paintings and hieroglyphs
that line many walls and ceilings of the tombs have been
preserved for about 5,000 years. It all sounds impossible
and improbable . . . but, thank goodness, all still exists.
Egypt is for the serious tourist rather than frivolity. It
is a strenuous trip but definitely and truly memorable,
enchanting and exciting.
* * *
The Mishna (Bava
Kama 7:7) also ruled that
goats or sheep should be
raised in the uncultivated
areas of the Land of Israel
because of the damage they
might cause to young
Deuteronomy 20:19 pro-
hibits destroying fruit-
bearing trees and, in fact,
destroying anything of
value — known in rabbinic
traditions as "bal tashhit"
(do not destroy)!
The Bible teaches us that
man can remain a harmoni-
ous part of his environment
only so long as the culture
he develops_ is consistent
with nature. Psalm 104 is a
paeon of praise:
You make springs gush
forth in the valleys .. .
They give drink to every
beast of the field .. .
The trees of the Lord are wa-
The cedars of Lebanon
which He planted
In them the birds build their
nests .. .
The high mountains are for
This new sign, in Hebrew, Arabic and English,
the wild goats.
The rocks are a refuge for the has been posted at the Israel Foreign Ministry in
THE CONSULAR DIVISION
APPLICATION FOR ENTRY
VISAS To EGYPT