The Politics and Poetry of Byzantine Jews

The codification of the Jerusalem Talmud at the end of the 4th century CE marked decisively the decline of Jewish life in the Land of Israel, which had begun with the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70. From the 5th through the 11th centuries, Babylonia would be the demographic, religious, and intellectual center of Jewish life; the Babylonian Talmud (likely completed in the 6th century) would reign supreme; and the g’onim (heads of rabbinic academies) would be held up as religious authorities across the Jewish world. Yet Jewish life continued in what was then the Byzantine province of Palestine, as Tamar Marvin writes:

The Roman administration of the Land of Israel at first recognized officially the nasi, the continuation of the office of the head of the Sanhedrin (Jewish supreme court of 70), which went back to Second Temple times. In the early 5th century, when the “last nasi” Rabban Gamliel VI was accused of abrogating the types of laws [that both protected Jews and maintained their inferior status], recognition and Roman protection of the n’siut, or patriarchate, was withdrawn. The historical record is poor for the next several centuries, . . . but it seems that a yeshiva functioned in Tiberias in northern Israel.

Sometime after that, the title of the person at the yeshiva’s helm settled at ga’on, just like his colleagues in Babylonia, now Iraq. However, the ga’on of the academy of the Land of Israel combined the roles of two separate offices that existed in Babylonia, that of the spiritual leader and exilarch, [or lay leader]. In other words, he was a political representative to the government after the Muslim conquests as well as the leader of the yeshiva.

An additional form of leadership that developed during this early medieval period in Eretz Yisrael was the spiritual leadership of composing poetic prayers (piyyut), many of which remain with us and on our lips to the present day. Written in dense, exceedingly difficult Hebrew dotted with neologisms . . . and drawing upon Midrashic language, piyyut is hauntingly beautiful and tricky to navigate. The later poets of medieval Spain would largely eschew [this style] for what they considered purer and clearer biblical idiom, but the classical poets’ language remains breathtaking and unique.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: ancient Judaism, Byzantine Empire, Piyyut, Sanhedrin


Hamas’s Hostage Diplomacy

Ron Ben-Yishai explains Hamas’s current calculations:

Strategically speaking, Hamas is hoping to add more and more days to the pause currently in effect, setting a new reality in stone, one which will convince the United States to get Israel to end the war. At the same time, they still have most of the hostages hidden in every underground crevice they could find, and hope to exchange those with as many Hamas and Islamic Jihad prisoners currently in Israeli prisons, planning on “revitalizing” their terrorist inclinations to even the odds against the seemingly unstoppable Israeli war machine.

Chances are that if pressured to do so by Qatar and Egypt, they will release men over 60 with the same “three-for-one” deal they’ve had in place so far, but when Israeli soldiers are all they have left to exchange, they are unlikely to extend the arrangement, instead insisting that for every IDF soldier released, thousands of their people would be set free.

In one of his last speeches prior to October 7, the Gaza-based Hamas chief Yahya Sinwar said, “remember the number one, one, one, one.” While he did not elaborate, it is believed he meant he wants 1,111 Hamas terrorists held in Israel released for every Israeli soldier, and those words came out of his mouth before he could even believe he would be able to abduct Israelis in the hundreds. This added leverage is likely to get him to aim for the release for all prisoners from Israeli facilities, not just some or even most.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security