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

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security