What Medieval Rabbis Learned from Muslim Mystics

While the influence of Islamic philosophy, science, poetry, and linguistics on the Jewish thought of the Middle Ages is well known, less attention has been given to the influence of the less rationalist strains of Islamic thought. The best example of this is Abraham Maimonides—son of the famous rabbi and philosopher and his successor as the leader of Egyptian Jewry—who believed that both the ideas of and practices of the Muslim mystics known as Sufis could be adapted to fit Judaism. Another example, writes Rachel Goldberg, is the Spanish sage and rabbinic judge Baḥya ibn Paquda (ca. 1050-1120), whose work Duties of the Heart remains popular in yeshivas today.

Duties of the Heart is organized into a series of “gates” that lead the reader along a spiritual path at the end of which he will discover, as the tenth gate states, “true love for God may He be exalted.” The structure is analogous to Sufi doctrine, which posits stations whose purpose is to bring the believer gradually to the exact same point. Originally written in Judeo-Arabic, the book uses Islamic and non-Jewish expressions to describe God.

In addition to the Islamic phrases, Ibn Paquda quotes Islamic sources as validation for his own words. For example, he quotes the Egyptian Muslim mystic Dhul-Nun al-Misri (d. 859) in a chapter dedicated to proving God’s presence in the world: “He who knows God best is the most humble in relation to Him.”

The [reason this work has proved more popular than that of Abraham Maimonides] is that, while Abraham Maimonides wrote with the goal of educating his immediate community, Ibn Paquda wrote for a more generalized audience of Jews, regardless of their existing spiritual knowledge or understanding.

Read more at Librarians

More about: Jewish Thought, Jewish-Muslim Relations, Middle Ages, Sufis

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship