How the Sh’ma Was Transformed from a Prayer to a Totem

“Hear O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4), combined with three biblical passages, constitutes one of Judaism’s best-known prayers. An exhibit at the Israel Museum focuses on the way Jews used the words of the sh’ma as a sort of magical inscription. In her review, Jessica Steinberg, like the exhibit itself, begins with at 1,500-year-old silver armband that experts believe served as an amulet:

The silver cuff—wide, durable, and covered with Greek script—was part of a bequest of artifacts that arrived at the Israel Museum several years ago. The museum staffer Nancy Benovitz . . . deciphered the Greek text over the course of two years, and discovered that it consisted of the sh’ma. . . . She eventually concluded that the inscribed cuff was a Jewish take on a Christian amulet, probably owned by a wealthy Jew living in a Greek-speaking community, possibly in Egypt, with access to a now-lost translation of the Bible that his community was using—and he put the words of the sh’ma on his amulet.

From there, the exhibition shows other amulets used and created by early Jews. One is a tiny gold plaque with the sh’ma written on it in small Greek letters. It had been rolled up and folded in a minuscule silver capsule, and was found in the grave of a baby that was discovered in an excavation.

Amulets were used as jewelry in the ancient world, and are in the modern world as well, from Yemen, Iran, and Israel. . . . The exhibit includes birth amulets illustrated with the figure of the mythological Lilith and other demons, along with illustrated manuscripts for the birth bed, including the text of the sh’ma for the birthing mother to recite.

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: ancient Judaism, Archaeology, Jewish museums, Magic

The New Iran Deal Will Reward Terrorism, Help Russia, and Get Nothing in Return

After many months of negotiations, Washington and Tehran—thanks to Russian mediation—appear close to renewing the 2015 agreement concerning the Iranian nuclear program. Richard Goldberg comments:

Under a new deal, Iran would receive $275 billion of sanctions relief in the first year and $1 trillion by 2030. [Moreover], Tehran would face no changes in the old deal’s sunset clauses—that is, expiration dates on key restrictions—and would be allowed to keep its newly deployed arsenal of advanced uranium centrifuges in storage, guaranteeing the regime the ability to cross the nuclear threshold at any time of its choosing. . . . And worst of all, Iran would win all these concessions while actively plotting to assassinate former U.S. officials like John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and [his] adviser Brian Hook, and trying to kidnap and kill the Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad on U.S. soil.

Moscow, meanwhile, would receive billions of dollars to construct additional nuclear power plants in Iran, and potentially more for storage of nuclear material. . . . Following a visit by the Russian president Vladimir Putin to Tehran last month, Iran reportedly started transferring armed drones for Russian use against Ukraine. On Tuesday, Putin launched an Iranian satellite into orbit reportedly on the condition that Moscow can task it to support Russian operations in Ukraine.

With American and European sanctions on Russia escalating, particularly with respect to Russian energy sales, Putin may finally see net value in the U.S. lifting of sanctions on Iran’s financial and commercial sectors. While the return of Iranian crude to the global market could lead to a modest reduction in oil prices, thereby reducing Putin’s revenue, Russia may be able to head off U.S. secondary sanctions by routing key transactions through Tehran. After all, what would the Biden administration do if Iran allowed Russia to use its major banks and companies to bypass Western sanctions?

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Read more at Dispatch

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