Jewish Prayer as a Virtue

Jan. 30 2023

Described in the Talmud as “the service that is in the heart,” prayer has a somewhat anomalous status in Jewish law: the medieval rabbis dispute to what extent there is a biblical obligation to pray at all, and the tradition has always struggled to strike a balance between the need for spontaneity and sincerity, on the one hand, and the need for regulation and routine on the other. Natan Oliff suggests trying to understand Jewish prayer not so much as a required activity but as the cultivation of a virtue. He begins by examining a debate among the ancient sages over which verse is the Torah’s most important:

Ben Zoma argues for the opening line of Sh’ma—the theological pillar of Judaism—and Ben Nanas argues for “Love thy neighbor as thyself,” the ethical pillar of Judaism. In contrast, Ben Pazi points to the more humdrum command to bring the twice-daily sacrifice. A tangible act of devotion, the sacrificial order served as the building block of ancient Judaism. In Ben Pazi’s eyes, the sense of constancy and commitment that underlies the sacrificial order makes this the most important verse in the Torah. Following the destruction of the Temple, prayer replaced the sacrificial order. Thus, precise as the ticking of a clock, [the faithful Jew] prays three times a day. His schedule flows around the fixed times of prayer as river rapids swirl around a rooted tree, yet this sense of commitment flows beyond the floodgates of the synagogue walls.

Another consideration . . . is the connection one builds with God through prayer. Often, in human relationships, the goal of an interaction is to get requests fulfilled. . . . A worker rejoices when his request for a raise is fulfilled. . . . The human-Divine relationship reverses this [state of affairs]. The Psalmist (116:1) confesses that: “I love the Lord for He hears my voice, my pleas; for He turns His ear to me whenever I call.” The Psalmist rejoices because God hears his voice. In other words, God responds, and the fulfillment of the request is merely the proof that God heard one’s voice. [The] pinnacle of prayer is not the fulfillment of requests, but the affirmation of connection.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Judaism, Prayer, Talmud

An Emboldened Hizballah Is Trying to Remake the Status Quo

March 23 2023

Two weeks ago, a terrorist—most likely working for Hizballah—managed to cross into Israel from Lebanon and plant an explosive device near Megiddo that wounded a civilian. The attack, according to Matthew Levitt, is a sign of the Iran-backed militia’s increasing willingness to challenge the tacit understanding it has had with the IDF for over a decade. Such renewed aggression can also be found in the rhetoric of the group’s leaders:

In the lead-up to the 2006 war, [Hizballah’s] Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah famously miscalculated how Israel would respond to the cross-border abduction of its soldiers. According to Israeli analysts, however, he now believes he can predict the enemy’s behavior more accurately, leading him to sharpen his rhetoric and approve a series of increasingly aggressive actions over the past three years.

Nasrallah’s willingness to risk conflict with Israel was partly driven by domestic economic and political pressures. . . . Yet he also seemed to believe that Israel was unlikely to respond in a serious way to his threats given Hizballah’s enlarged precision-missile arsenal and air-defense systems.

In addition to the bombing, this month has seen increased reports of cross-border harassment against Israelis, such as aiming laser beams at drivers and homes, setting off loud explosions on the Lebanese frontier, and pouring sewage toward Israeli towns. Hizballah has also disrupted Israeli efforts to reinforce the security barrier in several spots along the Blue Line, [which serves as the de-facto border between Lebanon and the Jewish state].

This creeping aggressiveness—coupled with Nasrallah’s sense of having deterred Israel and weakened its military posture—indicate that Hizballah will continue trying to move the goalposts.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security