The Talmud Seems to Paint an Idyllic Picture of Life in Babylonia. But Is It Accurate?

For at least four centuries, the intellectual center of rabbinic Judaism was located in the Sasanian empire, a pre-Islamic Persian kingdom that included Mesopotamia, home to a vast Jewish population and its flourishing yeshivas. Yet despite the fact that these Jews produced the Babylonian Talmud, several other works, and numerous inscriptions, surprisingly little is known to scholars about how they related to the state that ruled over them. Jeffrey L. Rubenstein reviews a new work by Simcha Gross that attempts to shed light on the subject:

Previously, scholars viewed the Babylonian Jewish community as largely independent, autonomous, and tolerated in the empire. The ruling Sasanians and the local political institutions were seen as remote, operating in the background but not really influencing Jews, who lived at some degree of social and political remove from their neighbors and overlords. Gross rejects this in favor of “a more immanent and integrationist model of Sasanian rule, which Jews could not avoid, and within and against which they positioned and defined themselves.”

The older model of a remote and largely tolerant empire emerged in part due to the relatively few references to the Sasanian court in the Talmud and the fact that when talmudic sources portray the Persian kings, they paint favorable, sympathetic pictures of them.

Likewise, the absence of many reports about persecution, violence, and martyrdom suggested to earlier scholars that Babylonian Jewry was not oppressed. When friction did occur, it was assumed that this was the work of fanatical Zoroastrian priests rather than the fault of the Sasanian kings. Gross is skeptical of this irenic picture, and for good reason.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Ancient Persia, Babylonian Jewry, Jewish history, Talmud

As Hamas’s Power Collapses, Old Feuds Are Resurfacing

In May, Mahmoud Nashabat, a high-ranking military figure in the Fatah party (which controls the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority), was gunned down in central Gaza. Nashabat was an officer in the Gaza wing of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terrorist outfit that served as Fatah’s vanguard during the second intifada, and now sometimes collaborates with Hamas. But his killers were Hamas members, and he was one of at least 35 Palestinians murdered in Gaza in the past two months as various terrorist and criminal groups go about settling old scores, some of which date back to the 1980s. Einav Halabi writes:

Security sources familiar with the situation told the London-based newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat that Gaza is now also beleaguered by the resurgence of old conflicts. “Many people have been killed in incidents related to the first intifada in 1987, while others have died in family disputes,” they said.

The “first-intifada portfolio” in Gaza is considered complex and convoluted, as it is filled with hatred among residents who accuse others of killing relatives for various reasons, including collaboration with Israel. . . . According to reports from Gaza, there are vigorous efforts on the ground to contain these developments, but the chances of success remain unclear. Hamas, for its part, is trying to project governance and control, recently releasing several videos showcasing how its operatives brutally beat residents accused of looting.

These incidents, gruesome as they are, suggest that Hamas’s control over the territory is slipping, and it no longer holds a monopoly on violence or commands the fear necessary to keep the population in line. The murders and beatings also dimension the grim reality that would ensue if the war ends precipitously: a re-empowered Hamas setting about getting vengeance on its enemies and reimposing its reign of terror.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Fatah, Gaza War 2023, Hamas