What, Exactly, Does “Hear O Israel the Lord Is Our God the Lord Is One” Mean?

The opening lines of the Sh’ma (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) are among the most famous, and the most important, in Jewish liturgy. Drawing on comparisons to the writings of the ancient Near East, Benjamin Sommer attempts to explain them in their historical context. (Interview by Joanne Palmer.)

[W]hen you look at ancient Near Eastern treaties and contracts, they have a certain number of stock elements—boilerplate language. There is a particular formula for the contract between the emperor and his vassal kings. It often has been noted that the books of Deuteronomy, Exodus, and Leviticus have these elements [of] ancient treaties [throughout, implying that] the entire nation Israel has been put into the role of a vassal king—men, women, and children. [The Sh’ma], very succinctly, is a contract between an emperor and his vassals. . . .

In the ancient world, the treaty had to be read aloud to the vassal king on a regular basis. Part of the vassal’s responsibilities was to hear it recited. In the Sh’ma’s first paragraph, we are [likewise] told that we have to recite it morning and evening. . .

[When they] say that accepting the commandments is “accepting the yoke of heaven,” the rabbis are preserving a much older interpretation. Even when the form was forgotten, the meaning was passed on in the oral tradition. . . . Often the rabbis were preserving an older tradition that goes back to the Bible itself.

Read more at Jewish Standard

More about: Ancient Near East, Deuteronomy, Hebrew Bible, Prayer, Religion & Holidays


Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security