Sephardi Shavuot Customs and Poetry

June 10 2016

The holiday of Shavuot, which begins Saturday night, celebrates the beginning of the harvest season as well as the giving of the Torah at Sinai. Since the Middle Ages, Jews from Spain and their descendants have marked the holiday by reciting intricate liturgical poems as part of the synagogue service, including a special class of poem called azharot (literally, “warnings” or “commandments”), which list the 613 commandments that, according to rabbinic tradition, are found in the Torah. Ty Alhadeff writes (2015):

[The most] famous [version of] azharot . . . [was written] by the great medieval Spanish poet and philosopher Solomon ibn Gabirol (1021-1058). On the first day of Shavuot, the 248 positive commandments are read, and the 365 negative commandments on the second day. (Later codifiers of Jewish law, such as Moses Maimonides, criticized the various versions of azharot, arguing that the task of categorizing the biblical laws should be left to experts in talmudic jurisprudence rather than poets who may sacrifice legal accuracy for the sake of poetic meter and form.)

Another important Ladino song [for Shavuot] is . . . Ketubah de la Ley (“Marriage Contract of the Law”), an 18th-century kompla (rhymed Ladino poem) by Rabbi Judah Leon Kalai. . . . Kalai found inspiration for this kompla in an earlier, similarly titled Hebrew text, Ketubat a-Torah, meaning “the marriage contract of the Torah,” written by another great Sephardi poet, Rabbi Israel ben Moses Najara of Gaza (active 1580-1625). Both songs describe the covenant made at Sinai metaphorically as a marriage between Israel and the Torah.

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Read more at Stroum Center for Jewish Studies

More about: Israel Najara, Maimonides, Piyyut, Religion & Holidays, Sephardim, Shavuot, Solomon ibn Gabirol

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy