A Rare Document from One of the Greatest Jewish Mystics

In his short life, Isaac Luria (1534–1572) managed to become one of the most consequential figures in the history of Jewish religious thought, cultivating a novel approach to kabbalah that became immensely popular among rabbis from Iran to Amsterdam and that had a profound role in shaping Hasidism as well as both Ashkenazi and Sephardi liturgical practices. Luria wrote very little; it was his disciples who put his teachings on paper. Like many of his contemporaries, he held no official rabbinic position but supported himself through his business endeavors.

Those endeavors are the subject of a rare letter in his own hand, found in the Cairo Genizah. Ben Outhwaite describes this document:

Luria . . . spent most of his working life in Egypt, mainly in Cairo. . . . According to Lawrence Fine, Luria supported himself through trading in “pepper, wine, cucumbers, wheat, and leather”—for which, all bar the cucumbers, we have documentary evidence.

The letter is interesting for the simple details it records about the business activities of the mystic and sage, but also for the colorful Hebrew language in which he communicates them. Luria doesn’t refer to “summer” and “winter,” but to the seasons of heat and the “mightiness of rains.” A relative’s marriage is celebrated in proverbial terms, and he wishes his business associate to “ride upon the heights of prosperity.” He’s polite and witty, and using Hebrew from a variety of sources, even in a run-of-the-mill business communication. Ultimately, from reading this, the impression I get is that it’s a shame that he didn’t write more in his lifetime, since he was evidently a talented writer in Hebrew.

Read more at Cambridge University Library

More about: Cairo Geniza, Isaac Luria, Jewish history, Kabbalah


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict