Persia’s Talmudic-Era Jewish Kingdom

April 26 2016

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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria