The Medieval Origins of the Kaddish

While the kaddish may be the best known piece of Jewish liturgy, particularly in its function as a prayer for the dead, there is no mention of mourners reciting it until the 12th century, and then only in texts from France and Germany. David Shyovitz, questioning previous theories of the prayer’s origin, suggests his own:

The fact that a prayer for mourners would have been newly introduced in [12th-century Ashkenaz] seems logical. After all, the year 1096 had witnessed a deeply traumatic series of massacres inflicted on the Jews of the Rhineland by armies of Crusaders headed east to the Holy Land, who thought it expedient to wipe out the enemies of Christ living within their borders before pursuing foes beyond them.

The throngs of newly grieving mourners, in this telling, required a ritual outlet, and found one in the kaddish, with its stirring proclamation of divine majesty and promise of impending redemption. . . . This explanation, . . . however, is wholly unsupported by the sources.

The custom is first attested in a copy of Maḥzor Vitri, the liturgical guide composed in the 12th century by Rabbi Simḥa of Vitri, a student of Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi), and the overt and explicit rationale for the practice in this text is not commemoration but . . . redeem[ing] the souls of deceased relatives from suffering in hell. The martyrs of the Crusade massacres were the last people who would have been thought to require such posthumous assistance. . . .

A more compelling explanation for the rise of kaddish as a mourner’s prayer emerges from an analysis of the tale that accompanied the earliest halakhic discussions of the practice. . . [T]his story describes [the 2nd-century sage] Rabbi Akiva’s run-in with a dead man suffering in the afterlife on account of the sinful deeds he committed during his lifetime.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Afterlife, Crusades, Kaddish, Prayer, Rabbi Akiva, Religion & Holidays

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter