In Our Abnormal Times, the Jewish Calendar’s Month without Holidays Brings Some Welcome Normalcy

Oct. 20 2020

Yesterday began the second month of the Jewish calendar, known either as eshvan or Mareshvan. While the month’s name derives from the Akkadian, folk etymology explains it as meaning “bitter Ḥeshvan” (mar being the Hebrew word for “bitter”) in reference to the fact that it is the only Jewish month with neither fasts nor feasts, or any special days at all. Tevi Troy reflects:

The emptiness of Ḥeshvan contrasts with Tishrei, the month that precedes it. Tishrei is full of holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and continuing with Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and the lesser-known days of Shmini Atseret and Simḥat Torah. All told, Tishrei has seven holy days on which Jews can do no work, meaning that an observant Jew might have to take off up to seven workdays in a four-week period.

Because it lacks special observances, Ḥeshvan can potentially make Jews feel less connected to God, or to one another. This is especially true now, thanks to COVID-19; the synagogues, if open, are mainly available for truncated outdoor services only, and not for traditional communal activities. Holidays, even if celebrated remotely, can remind us of shared religious connections.

But while this year’s Ḥeshvan still has some of its traditional bitterness, it will also feel less abnormal than the High Holy Day month of Tishrei did. In this year of isolation, these holiday were an especially strange time. Instead of the traditional observances with large crowds in services and meals with friends and extended families, there were Zoom gatherings, outdoor prayers, and meals only with immediate family. A COVID Tishrei feels very different from a regular Tishrei, but a COVID Ḥeshvan feels pretty normal. And in these uncertain times, getting back to normal sounds pretty good.

Read more at First Things

More about: Coronavirus, High Holidays, Jewish calendar, Jewish holidays

In Prospective Negotiations with Iran, the U.S. Has the Upper Hand. President-Elect Biden Is Determined Not to Use It

In a recent interview with a writer for the New York Times, Joe Biden expressed his willingness to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran (formally known as the JCPOA) without new preconditions. Noah Rothman comments:

[S]ome observers believe Biden has provided himself with an escape hatch. Biden reiterated his insistence that there could only be a new deal so long as “Iran returns to strict compliance.” [But if] Iranian compliance were a real sticking point, Biden might have dwelled on—or even mentioned in passing—the kind of inspections regime that would verify such a thing. But he did not.

[Under the terms of the deal], Iran provided inspectors access to declared nuclear sites but not military sites where illicit activities were likeliest to occur. A subsequent agreement allowed inspectors to access suspected sites but only with at least 24-days-notice—enough to dispose of the evidence of small-scale work on components related to a bomb. But functionally, that 24-day timeline could be reset by Iran, which could stretch the delays out for weeks—ample time to deceive inspectors.

The JCPOA was never designed to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear-nation status. It was only aimed at dragging that process out while reshuffling the region’s geopolitical deck in Iran’s favor and ultimately providing a patina of legitimacy to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Any talk about exhuming and reanimating this agreement that glosses over its weak verification regime suggests that the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, will settle for any deal—even a bad one.

Such an approach seems particularly shortsighted when the Islamic Republic has been pushed onto the defensive, reeling from economic woes, the devastating effects of the coronavirus, and a series of assassinations. Rather than press America’s advantage, when “Iran is on the ropes,” writes Rothman, Biden “is committed to negotiating from a position of weakness.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy