A Letter, Hidden in a Bookbinding for Centuries, Provides a Rare Glimpse at the Life of Judaism’s Greatest Mystic

Born in Jerusalem and educated in Egypt, Isaac Luria (1534–1572), also known as the Arizal, was one of the foremost rabbinic thinkers of his day, and his kabbalistic theories formed the basis for virtually also subsequent Jewish mysticism. Yet he left behind no written works, and his teachings are known solely through the writings of his disciples. Any contemporary documents connected to him are therefore precious to historians, as Hanan Greenwood explains:

[T]he National Library of Israel has revealed a letter sent to the rabbi during his sojourn in Egypt in the 16th century that discusses everyday matters, providing new firsthand evidence about his life. . . . The writer, a man named David, wrote to Luria to enlist his support for an emissary who had been dispatched from Safed to raise money among Diaspora Jews for Jews living in the Holy Land. Although the kabbalist was known for his simple, even ascetic, lifestyle, he was an important figure whom Jews asked for advice, even on financial and national matters.

The letter was preserved because it had been used to bind another book, a common practice before the invention of cardboard. Bookbinders would take paper or vellum pages from worn-out volumes and stick them together into dense stacks that would serve as stiff enough material for book covers.

The National Library is making the letter to Luria public for the first time in honor of the late Jerusalem collector Ezra Gorodesky, who devoted his career to the painstaking work of picking apart the old bindings and revealing the treasures within.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Isaac Luria, Kabbalah, Rare books

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