To One Great Hasidic Thinker, the Shofar Was a Tool to Loosen the Divine from Its Corporeal Shackles

Sept. 26 2019

Rabbi Moshe Ḥayyim Efraim of Sudilkov (ca. 1740-1800) was a grandson and disciple of the founder of Ḥasidism, Israel Baal Shem Tov, and an innovative thinker in his own right. Published in 1810, his collected sermons would become, in Eitan Fishbane’s words, “one of the most popular and influential works of ḥasidic thought.” In a sermon for the Sabbath preceding Rosh Hashanah, the rabbi explicates Psalms 89:16, the verse recited in the synagogue immediately after the holiday’s central ritual, the blowing of the shofar: “Happy is the people who know the blast, Lord; they will walk in the light of Your countenance”—the word rendered here as “blast” (t’ruah) being the standard term for the  trumpeting of the shofar. Fishbane explains the theology animating the homily:

At the heart of . . . ḥasidic teaching is a radical conception of God in which the Divine Being is held to be literally present in the ordinary objects of the material world—as being within the material “garments” and “shells” of apparently mundane things. Thus, the divine life force, by which the world is sustained, is to be found in every aspect of life, “in eating and drinking and business and the like.”

Precisely because God was believed to dwell within all things, including those of this lower world, the task of the individual was to uncover the spiritual inwardness that is “clothed,” or hidden, by the “outer garments” of existence.

Moshe Ḥayyim Efraim concludes his exegesis by arguing that the shofar could strip off this clothing, playing on the Hebrew term for a specific kind of shofar blast, sh’varim, which derives from the word meaning “to break.” As he puts it, Fishbanes’ translation:

The meaning of “Happy is the people who knows the blast” is that they know how to break apart [l’shaber] the natural realm so as to cast away the outer garments. Then “they will walk in the light of your countenance”—in the inner light, which is the Name of God, which is the meaning of the phrase (Proverbs 16:15): “In the light of the King’s face is life.”

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hasidism, Judaism, Kabbalah, Rosh Hashanah, Shofar

Israel’s Friendship with Iraqi Kurds, and Why Iran Opposes It

In May 2022, the Iraqi parliament passed a law “criminalizing normalization and establishment of relations with the Zionist entity,” banning even public discussion of ending the country’s 76-year state of war with Israel. The bill was a response to a conference, held a few months prior, addressing just that subject. Although the gathering attracted members of various religious and ethnic groups, it is no coincidence, writes Suzan Quitaz, that it took place in Erbil, capital of Iraqi Kurdistan:

Himdad Mustafa, an independent researcher based in Erbil, to whom the law would be applied, noted: “When 300 people gathered in Erbil calling for peace and normalization with Israel, the Iraqi government immediately passed a law criminalizing ties with Israel and Israelis. The law is clearly aimed at Kurds.” . . . Qais al-Khazali, secretary-general of Asaib Ahl al-Haq (Coordination Framework), a powerful Iranian-backed Shiite militia, slammed the conference as “disgraceful.”

Himdad explains that the criminalization of Israeli-Kurdish ties is primarily driven by “Kurd-phobia,” and that Kurd-hatred and anti-Semitism go hand-in-hand.

One reason for that is the long history of cooperation Israel and the Kurds of Iraq; another is the conflict between the Kurdish local government and the Iran-backed militias who increasingly control the rest of the country. Quitaz elaborates:

Israel also maintains economic ties with Kurdistan, purchasing Kurdish oil despite objections from Iraq’s central government in Baghdad. A report in the Financial Times discusses investments by many Israeli companies in energy, development sectors, and communications projects in Iraqi Kurdistan, in addition to providing security training and purchasing oil. Moreover, in a poll conducted in 2009 in Iraqi Kurdistan, 71 percent of Kurds supported normalization with Israel. The results are unsurprising since, historically, Israel has had cordial ties with the Kurds in a generally hostile region where Jews and Kurds have fought against the odds with the same Arab enemy in their struggles for a homeland.

The Iranian regime, through its proxies in the Iraqi government, is the most significant source of Kurd-phobia in Iraq and the driving factor fueling tensions. In addition to their explicit threat to Israel, Iranian officials frequently threaten the Kurdish region, and repeatedly accuse the Kurds of working with Israel.

Read more at Jersualem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Iran, Iraq, Israel-Arab relations, Kurds