The Judeo-Persian Bibles of the British Library

Feb. 14 2017

Much as the Jews of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East used the Hebrew alphabet to write in French, German (or Yiddish), and Arabic, Iranian Jews for centuries have produced religious literature in their vernacular but using Hebrew script. The British library contains one of the world’s largest collections of books in this language, some of which are described here by Ilana Tahan. (Photographs included at the link.)

Judeo-Persian manuscripts and imprints are . . . composed in a Persian dialect that closely resembles “classical” or “literary” Persian, combined with Hebrew words. The practice of writing the Persian language in Hebrew letters has been in use by Jews in Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia for over a millennium. . . .

The 1319 handwritten copy of Torat Mosheh . . . had been unknown in scholarly circles until its acquisition [by the library] in 1898. It has since been acknowledged as the earliest dated Judeo-Persian text of the Pentateuch. The manuscript has been copied on paper and has 124 folios; it is imperfect at the beginning and has many lacunae. For example, the first two chapters of Genesis and the whole of Exodus are missing. So are chapters from Leviticus and Numbers. . . .

Jacob Tavusi’s rendition, [first published in Constantinople in 1546], was long regarded as the oldest surviving Judeo-Persian translation of the Bible. The same text transcribed into Arabic script by Thomas Hyde was reprinted in the famed Bishop Brian Walton’s Polyglot, issued in London 1655-1657. The realization that earlier Judeo-Persian translations of the Scriptures pre-dating Tavusi’s had existed already and may have been used by Tavusi as models came only in the 19th century after the discovery of early Judeo-Persian biblical manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah.

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More about: Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Iran, Language, Persian Jewry, Translation

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