How Coffeehouses Came to Jerusalem

July 27 2021

At Jerusalem’s Museum of Islamic Art, a new exhibition focuses on the history of coffee-drinking in the city, which developed under the combined influences of both Europe and the Middle East. The first cafés appeared in the Levant in the 16th century, shortly after coffee itself arrived in the region. Ronit Vered speaks to some of the experts about the beverage’s history, citing first Amnon Cohen of Hebrew University:

“One of the reasons that the institution of the café was so successful in the Middle East, a region heavily populated by Muslims, who are prohibited from drinking wine, was people’s hunger for a place where they could simply meet and talk. Muslim cities of the period had hardly any public places—apart from the mosque—where social activity could be conducted,” [said Cohen]. In the Muslim world, then, coffee took the place of wine as a psychoactive substance that inhibits hunger, raises the spirits and “quiets the vapors of the brain.”

“The first Hebrew mention of a coffeehouse appears in Safed in the 1560s,” says Professor Yaron Ben-Naeh from the department of Jewish history at the Hebrew University. “The Safed café is mentioned as having a dubious reputation, or in the words of the text, it was a place of ‘frivolous company.’ The religious arbiters of Judaism, like their Muslim counterparts, are undecided about whether it is permitted to drink coffee. Isaac Luria, . . . the greatest of the kabbalists, rules that drinking coffee is forbidden, but the believers simply ignore it. No one abides by the prohibitions.”

The coffee culture continued to take root in the 17th century, [the historian Shai] Vahaba relates. “Someone in Jerusalem who wants a cup of coffee can now get one from a street-seller who carries a large ibbrik, a coffee pot, on his back, or a copper tray with finjans, small cups, on his head. He can also get a cup of coffee in tiny shops—small rooms with two or three places to sit where coffee pots are placed on a rented stove—or in the spacious cafes where people sit on benches, pillows, or low stools. But the great innovation of the century was that people were already starting to make themselves coffee at home.”

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Read more at Haaretz

More about: Halakhah, Isaac Luria, Islam, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Ottoman Empire

 

The End of the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the Rise of the Arab-Israeli Coalition

Nov. 30 2022

After analyzing the struggle between the Jewish state and its Arab neighbors since 1949, Dan Schueftan explains the current geopolitical alignment and what it means for Jerusalem:

Using an outdated vocabulary of Middle Eastern affairs, recent relations between Israel and most Arab states are often discussed in terms of peace and normalization. What is happening recently is far more significant than the willingness to live together and overshadow old grievances and animosities. It is about strategic interdependence with a senior Israeli partner. The historic all-Arab coalition against Israel has been replaced by a de-facto Arab-Israeli coalition against the radical forces that threaten them both. Iran is the immediate and outstanding among those radicals, but Erdogan’s Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean, Syria—and, in a different way, its allies in the Muslim Brotherhood—are not very far behind.

For Israel, the result of these new alignments is a transformational change in its regional standing, as well as a major upgrade of its position on the global stage. In the Middle East, Israel can, for the first time, act as a full-fledged regional power. . . . On the international scene, global powers and other states no longer have to weigh the advantages of cooperation with Israel against its prohibitive costs in “the Arab World. . . . By far the most significant effect of this transformation is on the American strategic calculus of its relations with Israel.

In some important ways, then, the “New Middle East” has arrived. Not, of course, in the surreal Shimon Peres vision of regional democracy, peace, and prosperity, but in terms of a balance of power and hard strategic realities that can guardrail a somewhat less unstable and dangerous region, where the radicals are isolated and the others cooperate to keep them at bay.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Accords, Israel-Arab relations, Middle East, Shimon Peres, U.S.-Israel relationship