How Coffeehouses Came to Jerusalem

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.”

Read more at Haaretz

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

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy