Persia’s Talmudic-Era Jewish Kingdom

In the middle of the 5th century CE, the Persian empire, which until then had been benevolent toward its large Jewish population, began to persecute Judaism and Christianity alike. The empire then entered a period of instability, brought about by internal fighting and external attack. In response to both the chaos and the persecution, the exilarch—the temporal leader of Mesopotamian Jewry—established a short-lived independent Jewish kingdom. Eli Kavon tells the story:

Together, [the exilarch] Mar Zutra II and [his grandfather] Rabbi Ḥanina, [a leading rabbinic authority], took advantage of the disorder that broke out throughout the Persian empire. Mar Zutra raised a small army and founded a kingdom with its capital in Maḥoza, [now part of the city of al-Mada’in, Iraq].

He proceeded to levy taxes and wage wars with his Jewish army. From 495 to 502 Mar Zutra II ruled with the complete support of his grandfather. . . . But the Persian king Kavadh I, who had been deposed during the disorder, regained his throne and destroyed Mar Zutra II’s Jewish state.

Both Mar Zutra II and Ḥanina were crucified by the Persian authorities.

The defeat was devastating. The rabbis had to establish academies out of the reach of the central Persian government. Eventually, however, life returned to normal for a short period under the Persian king and Jews were even drafted to serve as soldiers in the Persian army. A surviving son of Mar Zutra II, Mar Zutra III, escaped death by making his way to the land of Israel as a young man and gained prominence there.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, Exilarch, History & Ideas

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship