Telling the Story of Talmudic Stories

In a recent book, Migrating Tales: the Talmud’s Narratives and Their Historical Context, Richard Kalmin seeks out the origins of numerous tales told in the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled in the Persian empire around the year 500 CE. Kalmin argues that most are traceable not to Babylonian sources but to Jewish and non-Jewish sources in the eastern Mediterranean, then under the influence of Rome. In his review, Amit Gvaryahu discusses some implications that Kalmin may have overlooked:

Kalmin expertly uses the examples in his book to claim that the borders of empires [during this time period] were porous, and that ideas and traditions moved freely between them. This is undoubtedly correct and an important corrective to the inward gaze of rabbis . . . celebrated in scholarship in recent decades. But more than the borders of empire were porous, the Jews were tight-knit within themselves [even across political boundaries]. Any evaluation of the migration of traditions from the Roman East to Babylonia on biblical and Jewish themes must consider the possibility that these ideas were born and transmitted within the confines of the Jewish community, even though they may also be found in works associated with other groups, most notably Christians (to whom Kalmin points often in the book). . . .

In other words, even if many of these legends were likely influenced by Greek, Roman, or even early Christian sources, most originated among rabbis living in the land of Israel.

Read more at Marginalia

More about: Ancient Near East, Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, History & Ideas, Talmud

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy