Tom Segev who usually write sharp book reviews almost “phoned this one in” to fulfill his obligation to an editor without stopping to consider the content.Nevertheless, it is nice to see the Chida reviewed in a paper. One does not get a sense that Segev understood the role of an 18th century “Emissary of the land of Israel” as cultural conduit.
Azulai also wrote a text called “Ma’agal Tov,” a kind of travelogue that depicts the ways of life of the several Jewish communities he visited.
Oded Cohen, a doctoral student in Tel Aviv University’s history department who devoted his master’s thesis to “Ma’agal Tov,” described the book as a kind of autobiography. In it, he shows that Azulai curiously investigated art, landscapes, architecture, history and politics. Many of his acquaintances were Muslims and Christians. This social network led him to King Louis XVI.
An article by Cohen about Azulai appears in the new edition of the Ben-Zvi Institute’s bimonthly Hebrew historical journal, “Et-Mol.”
As sometimes happens, the article’s title, “The Jerusalem Rabbi and the French King Meet at Versailles,” promises a bit too much. That meeting took place on January 6, 1778. Azulai was staying at the time in Paris, where he befriended a person he described as a “wise goy from academia,” named Fabri, who was a courtier at Versailles; he took Azulai with him on one of his visits. Before they saw the king, they toured the palace.
“We came to a handsome, adorned room lined with several pillars that were coated with gold on both sides,” Azulai wrote. Finally they reached the hall where Louis XVI was seated – he was surrounded in the gallery by ministers and all sorts of counselor-aristocrats.
“He was dressed in simple red,” wrote Azulai, adding “my blessings to the king.”
Azulai indicated that the king noticed him, and sent one of his men from the court to clarify with Fabri “where I came from as an ambassador.” Azulai’s acquaintance replied that he was not an ambassador, but rather a guest from Egypt, who came out of curiosity. “Then we walked out, and all those who were standing showed respect, and some of the ladies who passed by bowed, as is their custom.”
At the bottom of the Haaretz page is a little review of a book about the area of J-M that we now call Palmach and was originally called Merhavia- and the burning question of why is there a Chopin Street?