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.

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

How Israel Can Best Benefit from Its Newfound Friendship with Brazil

Jan. 21 2019

Earlier this month, Benjamin Netanyahu was in Brazil—the first Israeli prime minister to visit the country—for the inauguration of its controversial new president Jair Bolsonaro. Bolsonaro has made clear his eagerness to break with his predecessors’ hostility toward the Jewish state, and Netanyahu has responded positively. To Emanuele Ottolenghi, the improved relations offer an opportunity for joint cooperation against Hizballah, which gets much of its revenue through cooperation with Brazilian drug cartels. In this cooperative effort, Ottolenghi cautions against repeating mistakes made in an earlier outreach to Paraguay:

Hizballah relies heavily on the proceeds of transnational crime networks, especially in the Tri-Border Area [where] Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay [meet], but until recently, Brazilian officials were loath to acknowledge its presence in their country or its involvement in organized crime. [But] Bolsonaro’s top priority is fighting organized crime. Combating Hizballah’s terror finance is a vital Israeli interest. Making the case that Israel’s and Brazil’s interests dovetail perfectly should be easy. . . .

But Israel should be careful not to prioritize symbols over substance, a mistake already made once in Latin America. During 2013-2018, Netanyahu invested heavily in his relationship with Horacio Cartes, then president of Paraguay. Cartes, . . . too, had a genuine warmth for Israel, which culminated in his decision in May 2018 to move Paraguay’s embassy to Jerusalem. Most importantly, from Israel’s point of view, Paraguay began voting with Israel against the Arab bloc at the UN.

However, the Paraguayan side of the Tri-Border Area remained ground zero for Hizballah’s money laundering in Latin America. The Cartes administration hardly lifted a finger to act against the terror funding networks. . . . Worse—when critics raised Hizballah’s [local] terror-financing activities, Paraguayan ministers confronted their Israeli counterparts, threatening to change Paraguay’s friendly international posture toward Israel. [And] as soon as Cartes left office, his successor, Mario Abdo Benítez, moved Paraguay’s embassy back to Tel Aviv. . . . Israel’s five-year investment ultimately yielded no embassy move and no progress on combating Hizballah’s terror network. . . .

Israel should make the battle against Hizballah’s terror-finance networks in Latin America its top regional priority.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Brazil, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Latin America