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

 

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy