Medieval Ashkenazi Women Pietists

In medieval Germany and northwestern France—an area then known as Ashkenaz—a number of Jewish women began putting on t’fillin, wearing garments with ritual fringes (tsitsit), and performing other religious rituals generally reserved for men. What’s more, they did so with rabbinic approval. This phenomenon, the subject of a new book by Elisheva Baumgarten, was a female version of medieval Jewish pietism, which—for both men and women—often involved adopting practices not required by the letter of Jewish law. Julie Mell writes in her review:

[M]edieval women’s active assumption of “time-bound commandments,” commandments from which they were legally exempt, was not a form of proto-feminism. As Baumgarten never fails to remind her readers, medieval Ashkenaz was a staunchly hierarchical and patriarchal society. Neither the halakhic authorities nor the women about whom they wrote ever questioned the categorical divide between men and women, even when they permitted women’s observance of those commandments reserved for men.

In fact, the same pious impulse that led women to break the gender boundary also led women to impose upon themselves what today would be considered gender exclusion. Particularly pious Jewish women, for instance, began absenting themselves from the synagogue in the late 11th and 12th centuries when their menstrual cycle rendered them impure. By the late 13th and 14th centuries, this became the norm for all Ashkenazi women, [although ceasing to be so in later centuries]. . . .

Baumgarten blazes a trail in the field of medieval Jewish history and law [by arguing that texts] and halakhah do not shape life and practice, but rather it is the other way around. Social custom and contemporary cultural settings led medieval rabbis to discover new things in old texts.

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: Ashkenazi Jewry, Halakhah, History & Ideas, Judaism, Middle Ages, Women in Judaism

 

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela