Pre-Yom Kippur Thoughts about Two Giants of Hebrew Literature, Separated by 900 Years

In his short story “The Sign,” the great Hebrew writer S.Y. Agnon recounts hearing of the murder by the Nazis of the Jews of Buczacz, the Polish city where he was born. The story ends with the narrator sitting in his Jerusalem synagogue, reading one of the works of the great medieval Spanish poet Solomon ibn Gabirol—whose masterful liturgical poems can be found in many prayer books—when Gabirol’s ghost appears to bring him the sad tidings. Stuart Schoffman reflects on the story itself and on the two luminaries of Jewish literature who are its main characters:

The towering medieval poet will be on my mind as I search my soul on Yom Kippur. His best-known work, Keter Malkhut, a magisterial meld of Jewish theology, Ptolemaic cosmology, and personal confession, is read on Kol Nidre night in various communities. A tiny sample, as translated by Peter Cole: “Who could speak of your wonders,/ surrounding the sphere of fire/ with a sphere of sky where the moon/ draws from the shine of the sun and glows?”

Little is known of his life. Born in Malaga in 1021, 1022, or maybe 1026, Solomon ibn Gabirol lived in Saragossa and died circa 1057 or thereafter, maybe in Valencia. . . . He was orphaned young and suffered from a painful skin disease. His massive Az’harot (literally, “Warnings”) is a verse rendition of the Torah’s 613 commandments, all the dos and don’ts in a dazzling acrostic that Gabirol wrote when he was sixteen, or so we are told. . . . Ibn Gabirol was also a prolific secular poet and a neo-Platonic philosopher famed in the Christian world as Avicebron, the author of the treatise Fons Vitae (The Fountain of Life).

Agnon ends “The Sign” in the local shul in Talpiot [the Jerusalem neighborhood where he had settled in 1929], a humble wooden shack where the narrator recites Gabirol’s Az’harot. The doors of the Holy Ark open, and he sees the kingly figure of a man. Gradually he realizes this is Gabirol himself, and weeps. . . . [T]he mystical visitor weaves a memorial acrostic [about Buczacz] that the narrator cannot remember, but “the poem sings itself in the heavens above.” If Rabbeynu Shlomo [“our teacher Solomon,” as Agnon calls him], shows up on Yom Kippur at my shul in Jerusalem—and why wouldn’t he?—I have a question or two to ask him.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hebrew literature, Holocaust, S. Y. Agnon, Solomon ibn Gabirol, Yom Kippur

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada