Benzion Netanyahu - Academic Career

Academic Career

Having previously struggled to fit into Israeli academia, perhaps the consequence of a combination of personal and political reasons, Netanyahu nonetheless continued his academic activities upon his return to the Jewish State. For various reasons, he still did not manage to integrate into the academic faculty of the Hebrew University, but his mentor Joseph Klausner recommended him to be one of the editors of the Encyclopaedia Hebraica, and upon Klausner's death Netanyahu became chief editor.

He returned to Dropsie College in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, first as professor of Hebrew language and literature, and chairman of the department, (1957–1966), then professor of medieval Jewish history and Hebrew literature, (1966–1968). He moved first to University of Denver as professor of Hebraic studies, (1968–1971), then returned to New York in order to edit a Jewish encyclopedia and eventually take a teaching job at Cornell University as professor of Judaic studies and chairman of department of Semitic languages and literatures, 1971–1975. Following the death of his son Yonatan during the Entebbe hostage rescue operation in 1976, he and his family returned to Israel. At the time of his death Netanyahu served as an associate professor at the Academy for Jewish Research, a member of the Academy for Fine Arts, and a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Cornell University.

Specializing in the golden age of Jewish History in Spain, Netanyahu is best known for his magnum opus, the Origins of the Inquisition in Fifteenth Century Spain. His publisher and friend Jacob Epstein wrote

The 1,400-page work of scholarship overturned centuries of misunderstanding, and predictably it was faintly praised and in a few cases angrily denounced or simply ignored by a threatened scholarly establishment. Dispassionate scholars soon prevailed, and today Benzion’s brilliant revisionist achievement towers over the field of Inquisition studies.

A New York Times obituary noted: "Though praised for its insights, the book was also criticized as having ignored standard sources and interpretations. Not a few reviewers noted that it seemed to look at long-ago cases of anti-Semitism through the rear-view mirror of the Holocaust." Indeed, quite generally, Netanyahu regarded Jewish history as "a history of holocausts". Origins led Netanyahu into scholarly dispute with Yitzhak Baer. Baer, following earlier views, considered the Anusim (forced converts to Christianity) to be a case of "Kiddush Hashem" (sanctification of the name : i.e., dying or risking oneself to preserve the name of God). According to Baer, therefore, the converts chose to live a double life, with some level of risk, while retaining their original faith. Netanyahu, in contrast, challenged the belief that the accusations of the Inquisition were true, and considers the majority of converts to be "Mitbolelim" (assimilationists), and willing converts to Christianity, claiming that the small number of forced converts who did not truly adhere to their new religion were used in a propagandistic fashion by the Inquisition to allege a broader resistance movement. According to Netanyahu, Christian society had never accepted the new converts, for reasons of economic and racial envy.

Netanyahu was a member of the American Academy for Jewish Research, the Institute for Advanced Religious Studies and the American Zionist Emergency Council.

Read more about this topic:  Benzion Netanyahu

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