A Carved Stone Is Changing Scholars’ Conception of the Ancient Synagogue

Discovered in the ruins of a 1st-century synagogue in 2009, a large rock known as the Magdala stone is covered with elaborate carvings that seem to depict the Second Temple in great detail. In studying it, scholars are beginning to reconsider the formation and function of ancient synagogues. Isabel Kershner writes:

Experts have long believed that in the period before the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 CE, synagogues were used as general places of assembly and learning. . . . The more formal conception of a synagogue as a sacred space reserved for religious ritual was thought to have developed later, . . . after the Temple had been destroyed.

But the Magdala stone was found in the center of [an] old synagogue, and [Rina] Talgam, [a scholar who has studied the stone extensively], said it might have been intended to give the space an aura of holiness “like a lesser temple” even while the Second Temple still existed. . . .

The Magdala stone is about the right size for laying down a Torah scroll, so it might [also] have been used as liturgical furniture.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Ancient Israel, Archaeology, History & Ideas, Second Temple, Synagogue


Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security