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.

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

No, Israel Hasn’t Used Disproportionate Force against Hamas

Aug. 15 2018

Last week, Hamas and other terrorist organizations in Gaza launched nearly 200 rockets and mortars into Israel, in addition to the ongoing makeshift incendiary devices and sporadic sniper fire. Israel responded with an intensive round of airstrikes, which stopped the rockets. Typically, condemnations of the Jewish state’s use of “disproportionate force” followed; and typically, as Peter Lerner, a former IDF spokesman, explains, these were wholly inaccurate:

The IDF conducted, by its own admission, approximately 180 precision strikes. In the aftermath of those strikes the Hamas Ministry of Health announced that three people had been killed. One of the dead was [identified] as a Hamas terrorist. The two others were reported as civilians: Inas Abu Khmash, a twenty-three-year-old pregnant woman, and her eighteen-month daughter, Bayan. While their deaths are tragic, they are not an indication of a disproportionate response to Hamas’s bombardment of Israel’s southern communities. With . . . 28 Israelis who required medical assistance [and] 30 Iron Dome interceptions, I would argue the heart-rending Palestinian deaths indicate the exact opposite.

The precision strikes on Hamas’s assets with so few deaths show how deep and thorough is the planning process the IDF has put in place. . . . Proportionality in warfare, [however], is not a numbers game, as so many of the journalists I’ve worked with maintain. . . . Proportionality weighs the necessity of a military action against the anguish that the action might cause to civilians in the vicinity. . . . In the case of the last few days, it appears that even intended combatant deaths were [deemed] undesirable, due to their potential to increase the chances of war. . . .

The question that should be repeated is why indiscriminate rocket fire against Israeli civilians from behind Gazan civilians is accepted, underreported, and not condemned.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict