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How Coffee Paved the Way for Mystical Night Vigils

Oct. 21 2016

A century ago, there was a widespread Jewish custom to stay awake all night on the eve of Hoshanah Rabbah—the final day of Sukkot, which falls this Sunday—and recite a fixed order of scriptural and rabbinic readings known as a tikkun. A similar all-night tikkun is still observed by many on the late-spring festival of Shavuot. Although these practices can be traced back to the middle ages, later kabbalists imbued them with mystical significance. They became widely popular, writes Elliott Horowitz, only when coffee made them possible:

[B]oth these study vigils [on the eve of Hoshanah Rabbah and Shavuot] began to spread through the Ottoman empire during the 16th century, the same century in which coffee first arrived, changing the possibilities, both sacred and profane, of nightlife in such cities as Cairo, Damascus, and even Safed, [the capital of kabbalah at the time]. . . .

In contrast to their rapid reception in Ottoman Jewish communities after the Spanish expulsion, the Shavuot and Hoshanah Rabbah vigils spread more slowly to the Jewish communities of northern Europe, where coffee arrived considerably later as well. This can be seen in the comments of Isaiah Horowitz, whose book Shney Luḥot ha-Brit was completed in Jerusalem during the 1620s and published posthumously in Amsterdam in 1648-1649. Horowitz, who had served as a rabbi both in Frankfurt and in his native Prague, had clearly not encountered the Shavuot vigil in either of those cities, for he described it in his wide-ranging work only as having “spread throughout the land of Israel and the [Ottoman] empire.”

The Hoshanah Rabbah rite was described there similarly as “practiced in the land of Israel, like the night of Shavuot,” but including both study and prayer. Although Horowitz . . . had not encountered either vigil in his native northern Europe, his enormously influential work . . . was instrumental in their spread from the elite circles of Safed kabbalists to ordinary Jews.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hoshana Rabbah, Isaiah Horowitz, Kabbalah, Religion & Holidays, Shavuot

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