Sephardi Shavuot Customs and Poetry

June 10 2016

The holiday of Shavuot, which begins Saturday night, celebrates the beginning of the harvest season as well as the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Since the Middle Ages, Jews from Spain and their descendants have marked the holiday by reciting intricate liturgical poems as part of the synagogue service, including a special class of poem called azharot (literally, “warnings” or “commandments”), which list the 613 commandments that, according to rabbinic tradition, are found in the Torah. Ty Alhadeff writes (2015):

[The most] famous [version of] azharot . . . [was written] by the great medieval Spanish poet and philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1058). On the first day of Shavuot, the 248 positive commandments are read, and the 365 negative commandments on the second day. (Later codifiers of Jewish law, such as Moses Maimonides, criticized the various versions of azharot, arguing that the task of categorizing the biblical laws should be left to experts in talmudic jurisprudence rather than poets who may sacrifice legal accuracy for the sake of poetic meter and form.)

Another important Ladino song [for Shavuot] is . . . Ketubah de la Ley (“Marriage Contract of the Law”), an 18th-century kompla (rhymed Ladino poem) by Rabbi Judah Leon Kalai. . . . Kalai found inspiration for this kompla in an earlier, similarly titled Hebrew text, Ketubat a-Torah, meaning “the marriage contract of the Torah,” written by another great Sephardi poet, Rabbi Israel ben Moses Najara of Gaza (active 1580-1625). Both songs describe the covenant made at Sinai metaphorically as a marriage between Israel and the Torah.

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Read more at Stroum Center for Jewish Studies

More about: Israel Najara, Maimonides, Piyyut, Religion & Holidays, Sephardim, Shavuot, Solomon ibn Gabirol

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East