What’s a Rational Monotheist to Do with Biblical Angels?

Despite the image bequeathed to us by medieval Christian artists, the cherubim of the Hebrew Bible are never depicted as rosy-cheeked or childlike. In the vision of Ezekiel, which gives the only detailed biblical account of their appearance, they are described as having the faces of various creatures and four wings each. James A. Diamond explains the significance of these angelic beings in Jewish thought, and the struggle of ancient and medieval thinkers to place them into a monotheistic cosmology:

Considering their mythic overtones, the classical rabbis were . . . anxious about the possibility of angels becoming, in the popular consciousness, demigods or autonomous divine beings, sharing or competing with God’s governance. This fear resonates in a caution cited in the name of God, “If a person is in trouble, he should cry neither to Michael nor to Gabriel, rather he should cry to Me and I shall answer him immediately.” (Talmud, Brakhot 9:1). . . . It reaches its height in no less than Maimonides’ thirteen principles of faith, where the fifth admonishes worshipping only God to the exclusion of any intermediaries.

Cherubim are particularly crucial in the angelic hierarchy geographically, architecturally, and oracularly. Their debut performance on the biblical stage is as fearsome armed guardians stationed at a specific location barring re-entry to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24). Subsequently, their images adorned the ark situated in the inner sanctum of the portable desert Tabernacle and the Holy of Holies of the later-established Temples, the holiest space known to Judaism, where God Himself is thought to reside. As such, there is palpable rabbinic angst at the idea of a pagan incursion into the very heart of Jewish worship to the point where the possibility is canvassed that these icons contravene one of the cardinal Ten Commandments prohibiting the sculpting of graven images.

So dangerous is this idolatrous presence that the rabbis worry about it setting a precedent for those institutions that fill the vacuum left by the destroyed Temple. They thus prohibit their deployment in the future design of synagogues and rabbinic academies.

From the medieval theologians, Diamond goes on to examine how the image of “the iron cherub of Acra” in the Holocaust poetry of the Romanian Jewish writer Paul Celan.

Read more at Marginalia

More about: Angels, Hebrew Bible, Holocaust, Moses Maimonides, Theology

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy