A Medieval Jewish Medical Student’s Letter Home

Nov. 18 2021

Amid the many treasures of the Cairo Genizah—a repository for discarded manuscripts in the Ben Ezra synagogue—is a letter from a young Jewish student who came to the Egyptian capital to study medicine. Like many of the documents in the Genizah, it is written in Judeo-Arabic, that is, Arabic in Hebrew letters. In the letter, addressed to the writer’s mother, he tells her that “the whole world is covered in blackness because of my absence from you.” He then recounts fulfilling his dream of meeting with the great sage Moses Maimonides (1138–1204), who referred him to study with “the elder al-Muwaffaq.” The Princeton Geniza Lab summarizes the rest of the document, and provides pictures of the original:

[The writer] hasn’t started his studies yet, because he has to sort out some family issue involving his brother and maternal aunt and large debts. When he does finally meet his teacher (al-Muwaffaq), he takes advantage of the meeting to ask about “the heat” that has been afflicting him.

Al-Muwaffaq palpates his pulse and inspects his urine and says, “What you have is not a fever (ḥummā)—it is merely a dryness (yabs) in your body. You should take barley gruel (khashk shaʿīr).” A woman named Umm Abū l-Riḍā runs into him and insists that he stay with her till he gets better, and she prepares the barley gruel for him. He gets better!

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More about: Egypt, Jewish history, Medicine, Moses Maimonides

The Attempted Murder of Salman Rushdie Should Render the New Iran Deal Dead in the Water

Aug. 15 2022

On Friday, the Indian-born, Anglo-American novelist Salman Rushdie was repeatedly stabbed and severely wounded while giving a public lecture in western New York. Reports have since emerged—although as yet unverified—that the would-be assassin had been in contact with agents of Iran, whose supreme leaders have repeatedly called on Muslims to murder Rushdie. Meanwhile U.S. and European diplomats are trying to restore the 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran. Stephen Daisley comments:

Salman Rushdie’s would-be assassin might have been a lone wolf. He might have had no contact with military or intelligence figures. He might never even have set foot in Tehran. But be in no doubt: he acted, in effect, as an agent of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Under the terms of the fatwa issued by Ayatollah Khomeini in February 1989, Rushdie “and all those involved in [his novel The Satanic Verses’s] publication who were aware of its content, are sentenced to death.” Khomeini urged “brave Muslims to kill them quickly wherever they find them so that no one ever again would dare to insult the sanctities of Muslims,” adding: “anyone killed while trying to execute Rushdie would, God willing, be a martyr.”

An American citizen has been the victim of an attempted assassination on American soil by, it appears, another American after decades of the Iranian supreme leader agitating for his murder. No country that is serious about its national security, to say nothing of its national self-worth, can pretend this is some everyday stabbing with no broader political implications.

Those implications relate not only to the attack on Rushdie. . . . In July, a man armed with an AK-47 was arrested outside the Brooklyn home of Masih Alinejad, an Iranian dissident who was also the intended target of an abduction plot last year orchestrated by an Iranian intelligence agent. The cumulative weight of these outrages should render the new Iran deal dead in the water.

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Read more at Spectator

More about: Freedom of Speech, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy