After Arriving at the Sea of Galilee, a Group of Early Hasidim Encountered Plague

In 1777, Rabbi Menaḥem Mendel of Vitebsk, the foremost leader of the still-young ḥasidic movement in what is now Belarus, set off with 30 of his followers and their families for the Land of Israel. Among his fellow travelers was another prominent Belarusian ḥasid, Abraham Katz of Kalisk, famous for his fits of wild prayerful ecstasy. They arrived—after an arduous six-month journey over land and sea—in Safed, which two centuries before had been an international capital of Kabbalah. A few years later they relocated to Tiberias, a city with its own rabbinic tradition dating to the 1st century CE. Yitzhak Melamed tells their story:

In 1785, Menaḥem Mendel of Vitebsk built a fine three-floor house. The upper floor served (and still serves) as a small synagogue. But . . . by Purim [of 1786], Tiberias had been stricken by the plague. Menaḥem Mendel sealed himself and ten of his disciples in his newly built house. For more than two months, no one came in or out of the walls of the house. Preparations for Passover, the seder night, the mourning [period following Passover known as the] of the Omer, and the ḥasidic gatherings at the end of the Sabbath were all experienced in quarantine on the shores of the Galilee.

The Kalisker [as Rabbi Katz was known], meanwhile, followed his ailing son to the village of Peki’in, where he himself fell ill. Seeking a place to heal, the Kalisker and his son climbed the mountain and found shelter in a cave, as if reenacting the talmudic story of Rabbi Shimon bar Yoḥai and his son, Elazar, who hid in a Peki’in cave during the Hadrianic persecutions [of the 2nd century]. Following a long illness, which they described as coming in waves, the Kalisker and his son eventually recovered.

For both the Kalisker and Rabbi Menaḥem Mendel, past and present blurred in their thoughts about the plague: the ten plagues of Egypt, Passover, the plague of the disciples of Rabbi Akiva who perished during the Omer between Passover and Shavuot, and their own day-to-day experience of cholera in Tiberias were uncannily fused.

[In 1788], Menaḥem Mendel passed away. The Kalisker succeeded him and led the ḥasidic community in Tiberias for more than twenty years, until his demise in 1810.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Galilee, Hasidism, Ottoman Palestine

Why the White House’s Plan to Prevent an Israel-Hizballah War Won’t Work

On Monday, Hizballah downed an Israeli drone, leading the IDF to retaliate with airstrikes that killed one of the terrorist group’s commanders in southern Lebanon, and two more of its members in the northeast. The latter strike marks an escalation by the IDF, which normally confines its activities to the southern part of the country. Hizballah responded by firing two barrages of rockets into northern Israel on Tuesday, while Hamas operatives in Lebanon fired another barrage yesterday.

According to the Iran-backed militia, 219 of its fighters have been killed since October; six Israeli civilians and ten soldiers have lost their lives in the north. The Biden administration has meanwhile been involved in ongoing negotiations to prevent these skirmishes from turning into an all-out war. The administration’s plan, however, requires carrots for Hizballah in exchange for unenforceable guarantees, as Richard Goldberg explains:

Israel and Hizballah last went to war in 2006. That summer, Hizballah crossed the border, killed three Israeli soldiers, and kidnapped two others. Israel responded with furious airstrikes, a naval blockade, and eventually a ground operation that met stiff resistance and mixed results. A UN-endorsed ceasefire went into effect after 34 days of war, accompanied by a Security Council Resolution that ordered the UN Interim Forces in Lebanon (UNIFIL) to assist the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) in disarming Hizballah in southern Lebanon—from the Israeli border up to the Litani River, some 30 kilometers away.

Despite billions of dollars in U.S. taxpayer support over the last seventeen years, the LAF made no requests to UNIFIL, which then never disarmed Hizballah. Instead, Iran accelerated delivering weapons to the terrorist group—building up its forces to a threat level that dwarfs the one Israel faced in 2006. The politics of Lebanon shifted over time as well, with Hizballah taking effective control of the Lebanese government and exerting its influence (and sometimes even control) over the LAF and its U.S.-funded systems.

Now the U.S. is offering Lebanon an economic bailout in exchange for a promise to keep Hizballah forces from coming within a mere ten kilometers of the border, essentially abrogating the Security Council resolution. Goldberg continues:

Who would be responsible for keeping the peace? The LAF and UNIFIL—the same pair that has spent seventeen years helping Hizballah become the threat it is today. That would guarantee that Hizballah’s commitments will never be verified or enforced.

It’s a win-win for [Hizballah’s chief Hassan] Nasrallah. Many of his fighters live and keep their missiles hidden within ten kilometers of Israel’s border. They will blend into the civilian population without any mechanism to force their departure. And even if the U.S. or France could verify a movement of weapons to the north, Nasrallah’s arsenal is more than capable of terrorizing Israeli cities from ten kilometers away. Meanwhile, a bailout of Lebanon will increase Hizballah’s popularity—demonstrating its tactics against Israel work.

Read more at The Dispatch

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden