Understanding the Biblical and Religious Meaning of the Talmud’s Foundational Text

Jan. 13 2023

Compiled in the Land of Israel around 200 CE, the Mishnah is a carefully organized collection of rabbinic statements about halakhah, which would later form the backbone of the Talmud—a work comprising extensive, discursive commentary on the Mishnah accumulated over the subsequent centuries. A series of brief essays on this terse, often puzzling, text by Rabbi Yakov Nagen (né Genack) has recently been published in English translation. Richard Hidary writes in his review:

Despite the wide range of citations and methodologies that Nagen employs, and although it spans topics selected from all of rabbinic law, this book nevertheless bears a consistent message: the Mishnah is not a dry manual of rules and regulations but a masterfully deep wellspring of inspiration encoded within a ritual system and legal tradition. While each essay offers a unique self-contained insight, reading the entire book reveals several themes and methodologies, of which I will explore just three: strategies for Jewish continuity without a Temple, relating oral law to Scripture, and the search for meaning in both daily rituals as well as in life’s milestones and tragedies.

Hidary proffers an example that includes all three themes:

In a splendidly inspiring reading, Nagen demonstrates that the narrative telling of the nightly and morning Temple rituals reenacts a drama from Song of Songs. Tractate Middot describes 24 watchers surrounding the Temple. A chief officer would check on each one―and if he found the watchman sleeping, the chief would beat him for being derelict at his job, strip him, and burn his uniform.

Meanwhile, the priests serving [in the Temple] the next day would sleep in the chamber of the fireplace all night so as to be ready and present for the morning. Any priest who wanted a chance to perform the first [of the many daily rituals], the seemingly menial task of sweeping the ashes off of the altar, would awake before dawn, bathe, and dress in his uniform. The superintendent would then knock on the chamber door around dawn and find the priests bathed, dressed, and ready to perform their service. Past commentators have wondered at this detailed narrative― [uncharacteristically lacking] any argumentation or legal significance―and would question whether this represents actual events or a rabbinic reconstruction.

Nagen brilliantly points to word parallels in Song of Songs 5:2-7, which narrates the lover sleeping as her beloved knocks on the door on a rainy night. Laziness overcomes her―she is not dressed; she already washed her feet―and she delays getting to the door. When she finally gets the strength to open the door, her beloved is gone. She goes out to seek him only to be beaten and stripped by the city watchman.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Judaism, Mishnah, Second Temple, Talmud

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada