What Medieval Rabbis Learned from Muslim Mystics

Nov. 22 2022

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

American Aid to Lebanon Is a Gift to Iran

For many years, Lebanon has been a de-facto satellite of Tehran, which exerts control via its local proxy militia, Hizballah. The problem with the U.S. policy toward the country, according to Tony Badran, is that it pretends this is not the case, and continues to support the government in Beirut as if it were a bulwark against, rather than a pawn of, the Islamic Republic:

So obsessed is the Biden administration with the dubious art of using taxpayer dollars to underwrite the Lebanese pseudo-state run by the terrorist group Hizballah that it has spent its two years in office coming up with legally questionable schemes to pay the salaries of the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), setting new precedents in the abuse of U.S. foreign security-assistance programs. In January, the administration rolled out its program to provide direct salary payments, in cash, to both the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Internal Security Forces (ISF).

The scale of U.S. financing of Lebanon’s Hizballah-dominated military apparatus cannot be understated: around 100,000 Lebanese are now getting cash stipends courtesy of the American taxpayer to spend in Hizballah-land. . . . This is hardly an accident. For U.S. policymakers, synergy between the LAF/ISF and Hizballah is baked into their policy, which is predicated on fostering and building up a common anti-Israel posture that joins Lebanon’s so-called “state institutions” with the country’s dominant terror group.

The implicit meaning of the U.S. bureaucratic mantra that U.S. assistance aims to “undermine Hizballah’s narrative that its weapons are necessary to defend Lebanon” is precisely that the LAF/ISF and the Lebanese terror group are jointly competing to achieve the same goals—namely, defending Lebanon from Israel.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, U.S. Foreign policy