The Meteorologist-Turned-Professor Who Discovered the Parallels between Talmudic and Zoroastrian Law

Aug. 22 2018

For the first century-and-a-half of academic Jewish studies, scholars approached the Talmud armed primarily with knowledge of Judaism and of Greco-Roman antiquity. Such knowledge is undoubtedly necessary for studying the Mishnah (the older stratum of the Talmud) and the Jerusalem Talmud, both of which were produced in Roman-ruled Palestine. But the far more significant Babylonian Talmud reflects the teaching of rabbis who lived in Persian-ruled Mesopotamia during the 3rd through 6th centuries, a place where the dominant religion was Zoroastrianism and the literary language Persian. The late Yaakov Elman, an Orthodox Jew who had been a meteorologist, bookseller, and publisher before turning to fulltime scholarship, rought knowledge of this period in Iranian history to the study of Talmud. Shai Secunda reminisces about Elman, who died last month at the age of seventy-four:

While [Elman’s] early work was strictly philological and focused on topics such as the relationship between the early rabbinic compilation known as the Tosefta and the Babylonian Talmud, he moved on ingeniously to combine Iranian and talmudic studies in a hybrid that became known as Irano-Talmudica. Elman was the not the first scholar to realize that studying Babylonian Jewry’s Persian context could illuminate the Babylonian Talmud, but he is the one who built it into a real movement of flesh-and-blood people from different fields. . . .

Yaakov began this Irano-Talmudic stage of his career at age fifty, on a fellowship at Harvard. There he befriended professor Oktor Skjærvø, a tall, wry Norwegian master of Indo-Iranian languages. Oktor and Yaakov . . . soon became inseparable, spending many hours each day studying Middle Persian in Skjærvø’s large, book-lined office. Occasionally attending faculty parties in the evening, they appeared as the ultimate odd couple. . . .

Traveling the world for Jewish and Iranian studies conferences, Yaakov became a tireless evangelist for reading the Talmud alongside Middle Persian texts, regularly launching into detailed discussions of Zoroastrian law and describing it, to the astonishment of many, as “halakhic,” “rabbinic,” and “strikingly parallel” to Jewish law. . . . The tiny field of Old Iranian studies, which had been languishing due to lack of interest, gained tremendously from the sudden, unexpected infusion of these Talmud scholars.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, History & Ideas, Jewish studies, Talmud

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy