Jewish Prayer as a Virtue

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.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Judaism, Prayer, Talmud


Iran’s Options for Revenge on Israel

On April 1, an Israeli airstrike on Damascus killed three Iranian generals, one of whom was the seniormost Iranian commander in the region. The IDF has been targeting Iranian personnel and weaponry in Syria for over a decade, but the killing of such a high-ranking figure raises the stakes significantly. In the past several days, Israelis have received a number of warnings both from the press and from the home-front command to ready themselves for retaliatory attacks. Jonathan Spyer considers what shape that attack might take:

Tehran has essentially four broad options. It could hit an Israeli or Jewish facility overseas using either Iranian state forces (option one), or proxies (option two). . . . Then there’s the third option: Tehran could also direct its proxies to strike Israel directly. . . . Finally, Iran could strike Israeli soil directly (option four). It is the riskiest option for Tehran, and would be likely to precipitate open war between the regime and Israel.

Tehran will consider all four options carefully. It has failed to retaliate in kind for a number of high-profile assassinations of its operatives in recent years. . . . A failure to respond, or staging too small a response, risks conveying a message of weakness. Iran usually favors using proxies over staging direct attacks. In an unkind formulation common in Israel, Tehran is prepared to “fight to the last Arab.”

Read more at Spectator

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria