Moshe Cohen

The meaning of the term “place” and its space for these migrants, from human perspectives in general and from Jewish perspectives in particular.


Doctoral research topic: “Looketh toward Damascus”

Archives of the Jewish-Damascene community in Argentina, from the beginning of the 20th century to the present.

A study of manuscripts from the community’s archives.

Moderator: Prof. Zvi Zohar

Since the independence of Argentina from the Spanish Empire in the 19th century, the young state was characterized by a policy of encouraging migration by providing special benefits for absorption of different populations and for settling and cultivating the vast areas within its borders. The massive migration bells sounded throughout the world and were heard also by many Jewish people who felt that this was an opportunity for them to begin a new life. Upon their arrival in Argentina, those Jews organized into communities by their origin in order to ease the process of absorption, and to preserve the culture and identity which they brought with them.

In our study we deal with the special characteristics of the Jewish community from Damascus, Syria, by studying the community’s archives in Argentina.

In choosing the subject of this study, we address the meaning of the term “place” and its space for these migrants, from human perspectives in general and from Jewish perspectives in particular. The Jews came from a place called ‘Damascus’ (or in their language “Al Sham”) to a different place – Buenos Aires, Argentina. Political, geographical, religious, cultural (linguistic, gastronomic, manner of dress, etc.), and employment contexts, known to them from the place of origin changed dramatically, and the challenge faced by the leadership was to preserve the outlines of group, familial and personal identity in face of the waves of changes.

We were able to save thousands of manuscripts written by their spiritual leaders, most of them in the Hebrew language, some in Arabic, and a minority in Spanish.

Sermons, Torah lessons and eulogies, halachic discussions, correspondence with sages from Syria, Jerusalem and from Argentina itself, wills, vouchers, marriage contracts, records, protocols and more, are part of the types of documents that were found.

Through these documents, we can trace the Torah spiritual life of the community and its leaders and the essential questions which they have been faced with over the years.

For example: – How tradition in the community was encouraged to be preserved, – guidelines to educate the next generation, – education for girls, – the degree of involvement in politics, social life and business with non-Jewish society, – intermarriage and conversion, – mutual relations with other Jewish communities, – relating to the holocaust – relating to Zionism, – halachic rulings, and more.

Research process and study of those documents is especially challenging, as: a-most manuscripts in the Hebrew language are hand-written in script known as “half of the pen” and their deciphering was extremely difficult. And b- the ravages of time and lack of proper preservation of the documents further complicate the work.

Academic qualifications:

BA: Bible, History of Israel, and Jewish philosophy at Bar-Ilan University.

MA: Contemporary Jewry majoring in Jewish Education in the Diaspora, Hebrew University.

MA: History of The People of Israel, and Jewish Education, Lander Institute, Jerusalem.

Recent research projects:

– Kabbala vs. Halacha in the rulings of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

– Moses and Elijah in Pesikta Rabbati.

– The concept of agony and its meaning in the sermons of the author of “Esh Kodesh “.