Did a 13th-Century Rabbi Know about Lightning Rods?

Oct. 13 2021

Baḥya ben Asher, who lived and taught in Saragossa, Spain in the late 13th and early 14th centuries, authored several works of rabbinic scholarship, drawing on philosophical as well as traditional sources. In the most famous of these, his commentary on the Bible, he suggests a surprising reason for the construction of the Tower of Babel:

The men [who built the tower] were wicked and knowledgeable in all wisdoms. They thus made a city and tower in order to be saved from a deluge of fire. Since they knew that the world had previously been destroyed in a deluge of water, they . . . sought to build a place such that if [God] wanted to bring a deluge of fire and burn the world, they could . . . tie up a part of the fire’s core such that it would not come close to the city. This is similar to that which we find even in our generation that some wise men know the power to tie up part of lightning so that it will only go up to a specific boundary.

Some readers, notes Yaakov Taubes, have concluded the Baḥya was referring to the lightning rod, and understood this technology—perhaps from the work of Arab scientists—more than four centuries before Benjamin Franklin. Taubes suggests a more plausible interpretation:

A more likely source for Rabbi Baḥya’s comment may have come from his Christian neighbors. A 15th-century book of Christian liturgical customs from Valencia (not far from where Baḥya spent much of his life) . . . notes that one should ring the bells whenever a storm threatens, and specifies that the number of bells rung is dependent upon the severity of the storm. . . . No less a figure than Francis Bacon, in his Sylva Sylvarum (1626), tried to explain how [ringing church bells could prevent lightning strikes] on a scientific level.

In Baḥya’s time, [indeed], bell ringing appears to have been seen as a scientific or supernatural method of dissipating storms. . . . Baḥya would certainly not ascribe any real power to a Christian religious ritual, but the lines separating magic, religion, and science were not always so clear in the medieval period.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Genesis, Hebrew Bible, Magic, Science, Tower of Babel

Iran’s Dangerous Dream of a Triple Alliance with Russia and China

Aug. 16 2022

Unlike Hamas, which merely receives support from the Islamic Republic, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—with which Israel engaged in a short round of fighting last week—is more or less under its direct control. In fact, the recent hostilities began with a series of terrorist attacks launched by PIJ from Samaria, which might in turn have been a response to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s call “to open a new front in the West Bank against the Zionist enemy.” Amir Taheri writes:

In Gaza, the Islamic Republic has invested heavily in promoting Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. . . . Islamic Jihad is in a minority in Gaza, hence the attempt by Tehran to help it create a base in the West Bank.

Reliable sources in Baghdad say that [Iran’s expeditionary and terrorist paramilitary] the Quds Force has been “transiting” significant quantities of arms and cash via Iraq to Jordan, to be smuggled to the West Bank. The Jordanian authorities say they are aware of these “hostile activities.” King Abdullah himself has publicly called on Iran to cease “destabilizing activities.”

But such schemes, Taheri explains, are part of a larger strategic vision of creating a grand anti-Western alliance even while engaging in nuclear negotiations with the U.S. and Europe:

Last month, Khamenei praised Vladimr Putin for his invasion of Ukraine. And this month, China’s ambassador to Iran, Chang Hua, praised the Islamic Republic for supporting China in “asserting its sovereignty” over Taiwan.

It is clear that some dangerous pipe-dreamers in Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran have fallen for the phantasmagoric vision of “three great powers” banding together and with help from “the rest,” that is to say, the so-called Third World . . . to destroy an international system created by the “corrupt and decadent.”

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: China, Iran, Islamic Jihad, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Russia, West Bank