No, the Name of This Hebrew Month Doesn’t Mean Bitter

Today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Marḥeshvan, often known simply as Ḥeshvan. While its name, like that of the other months on the Jewish calendar, is Babylonian in origin, a popular folk etymology understands it to mean “bitter Ḥeshvan” (from the Hebrew mar, meaning bitter)—a testament to the fact that it contains no holidays. A more playful variant takes advantage of the fact that mar can also be an honorific, in modern Hebrew the equivalent of “mister.” In fact, explains Shlomo Zuckier, Marḥeshvan derives from maraḥ shevan, meaning “the eight month,” which it is if you count from the spring month of Nissan as the Bible and ancient Jewish sources often do:

[The 13th-century rabbi Moses] Naḥmanides expresses a certain discomfort with counting months based on names acquired in exile rather than the earlier biblical practice of simply numbering them, starting from [Nissan], the month of the exodus from Egypt. He justifies the current practice by arguing that using the Babylonian names recalls and appreciates God’s returning the Jewish people to Israel following the Babylonian exile. Some religious Zionists have even proposed reverting to counting from the exodus, both for months and for years.

In a sense, then, Marḥeshvan might be seen as the ultimate month name, in that it manages both to retain the Babylonian name and to count from the month of the exodus from Egypt.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Hebrew, Jewish calendar, Nahmanides, Religion & Holidays


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy