Understanding the Last of the Great East European Rabbis

March 28 2022

On March 19, hundreds of thousands of mourners flooded the streets of the Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak to pay their respects to Chaim Kanievsky, the leading rabbi of Israel’s non-ḥasidic or “Lithuanian” Ḥaredim. Born in Pinsk in 1928, Rabbi Kanievsky is one of the very last great sages to have hailed from Eastern Europe, and was the son, nephew, and son-in-law of highly distinguished talmudic scholars. He held no formal position, dedicating himself night and day to study, writing, and answering halakhic queries, and he avoided taking on a leadership role until one was thrust upon him; thereafter ḥaredi politicians turned to him as their chief religious authority. In recent years, he received attention outside of his community for his initially dismissive attitude toward the coronavirus pandemic, and then his rapid about-face as he advised his followers to observe public-health measures scrupulously, to avoid communal prayer, and to take the vaccines.

Shlomo Zuckier analyzes Kanievsky’s legacy, beginning with his talmudic work, which aimed above all to

make sense of the language of the text, with the goal of ultimately arriving at halakhic conclusions. . . . Interestingly, Reb Chaim, [as he was known to his followers], was also very much open to using manuscripts and other modern methods in study. The best example of this might be his writing a commentary on M’khilta d’Rashbi [an ancient commentary on Exodus], which was fully reconstructed in the 19th and 20th centuries on the basis of sporadic manuscripts and citations.

Reb Chaim had two sides—a Torah side and a political side. What is fascinating is how little connection there was between the two; . . . in many ways the two are in great tension with one another. Precisely because of Reb Chaim’s . . . constant study, he was not acquainted with worldly matters. Some of his rabbinic peers described him as ignorant of the names of streets in his own neighborhood (where he lived nearly his entire life), and all the more so of recent trends in Israeli culture and politics.

It is worth noting that Reb Chaim’s self-understanding, the way he viewed his own contribution, was as a teacher of Torah rather than as a communal leader.

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Read more at Jewish Press

More about: Haredim, Rabbis, Talmud

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela