How Jewish Is the Book of Ben Sira?

The book of Ben Sira, thought to have been written around 200 BCE, consists mostly of proverbs and aphorisms. While it appears (under the title Ecclesiasticus) in Catholic editions of the Bible, it never entered the Jewish canon and is largely unknown to Jews today. Yet, notes Michael Satlow, Jews continued to read and study it long after it was definitely excluded from Scripture.

Unlike other originally Jewish books now found in the [Christian] Apocrypha, . . . Ben Sira did not exactly fade away. The book continued to circulate and to be read among Palestinian Jews, even though some 2nd- and 3rd-century rabbis explicitly put it in the category of non-holy, even heretical, books. Yet in practice, Palestinian rabbinic literature shows no discomfort with reading and citing the book.

The Palestinian Talmud mentions the book once, in a story in which Shimon ben Shetaḥ quotes from it in order to justify his actions to King Yanai. While the Palestinian Talmud never cites verses from Ben Sira using the traditional terms used to introduce biblical prooftexts, in several places it introduces verses from Ben Sira with a formula like, “Ben Sira said,” as if he himself was a [talmudic] sage like any other. . . .

Indeed, the fact that Ben Sira continued to play an important role in the lives of Palestinian Jews can be attested by the very survival of the Hebrew text in the Cairo Geniza. Portions of five manuscripts were found, all carefully written. We do not know how this community (which had close ties to the Jewish community in the land of Israel) used these books; since they were not written on parchment, it likely did not use them liturgically.


More about: Apocrypha, Ben Sira, Bible, Cairo Geniza, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Toward an Iran Policy That Looks at the Big Picture

On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech outlining a new U.S. approach to the Islamic Republic. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz explain why it constitutes an important and much-needed rejection of past errors:

For too long, a peculiar consensus has suggested that it is possible to isolate the nuclear issue from all other areas of contention and resolve it in a satisfactory manner. The subsidiary [assumption] embedded in this logic is that despite the bluster of Iran’s rulers, it is governed by cautious men, who if offered sufficient incentives and soothing language would respond with pragmatism. No one embraced this notion more ardently than the former secretary of state, John Kerry, who crafted an accord whose deficiencies are apparent to all but the most hardened partisans. . . .

A regime as dangerous as the Iranian one requires no less than a comprehensive strategy to counter it. This means exploiting all of its vulnerabilities, increasing the costs of its foreign adventures, draining its economy, and aiding our allies. Most importantly, the United States must find a way of connecting itself to domestic opposition that continuously haunts the mullahs.

Washington should no longer settle for an arms-control agreement that paves Iran’s path to a bomb but rather a restrictive accord that ends its nuclear aspirations. The United States should not implore its allies to share the Middle East with Iran, as Barack Obama did, but partner with them in defeating the clerical imperialists. And most importantly, the United States should never forget that its most indispensable ally is the Iranian people.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Iran nuclear program, Mike Pompeo, U.S. Foreign policy