‘The Rabbi of Timbuktu’ to speak at Canton synagogue – Wicked Local Randolph

Posted By on September 27, 2020

Professor William Miles, who wrote The Rabbi of Timbuktu, will speak at an event held by Cantons Bnai Tikvah Adult Education at 8 p.m. Oct. 16 via Zoom.

Until joining the Peace Corps after college and being sent to rural Niger in West Africa, Miles had no idea that his Jewish education would facilitate his entre into a traditional Islamic society. But from the outset, his religious studies proved to be a great asset.

Even before we had finished our Peace Corps training in Niamey, Nigers capital, said Miles, a professor in the Political Science Department at Northeastern University, in a previous interview, one of my Nigrien language instructors informed me that we were cousins. Why? Because as a Fulani, one of Africas great nomadic peoples, he had grown up with the teaching that his was a tribe that, unlike the other Israelite ones, had travelled west during the Exodus rather than east, towards the Land of Israel.

That the Fulani had long since become Muslim was beside the point; what mattered was the belief in a common ancestral heritage. Even today, Miles also observed, rural Fulani live more Biblically than do modern-day Jews.

Knowing Hebrew greatly aided my learning of Hausa, the lingua franca of Niger, Miles goes on. A Hamitic language, Hausa shares several distinctive grammatical similarities with Hebrew. The vocabularies, too, have much overlap, on account of Arabic influence and shared religious terminology.

One of Miles first publications as an assistant professor at Northeastern more than 25 years ago related these and his other Afro-Judaic observations in an article, Jewish in Muslim Black Africa, for the African Studies Association. Since then, Miles has expanded his research and writing to encompass Jewish themes not only elsewhere in Africa but throughout the Jewish and African diasporas more widely.

He also has written on Holocaust commemoration in post-communist Poland and Germany, the treatment of Jews under Vichy in the French Caribbean, judaizing of the Rwandan genocide, and Holocaust denial in Iran. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. selected him to spend a summer seminar for faculty at its Center for Advanced Study.

Miles is a professor of political science at Northeastern University. He is a five-time Fullbright Scholar and author.

The will program will follow the 7 p.m. Shabbat services.

For more information, call 781-828-5250.

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'The Rabbi of Timbuktu' to speak at Canton synagogue - Wicked Local Randolph

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