How a Set of Springtime Mourning Rites May Have Originated as Celebratory Customs

In the mid-9th century, Natronai Ben Hilai Gaon—one of the leading rabbis of Babylonia—answered a query about the origins of the custom of not holding weddings or betrothals in the seven weeks between Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. Natronai explained that this period—known as s’firat ha-omer because of the ritual of counting (s’firah) of the nights between the holidays—is a period of mourning for the students of Rabbi Akiva, who died in a plague during this time of year. Leead Staller explores the development of this custom over the centuries, and discusses an alternate theory of its origins:

According to Moses Naḥmanides (1194–1270), . . . s’firah was originally considered a joyous period for the Jewish people. [In ancient Israel], the grain harvest was bookended by the holidays of Passover and Shavuot. Based on this, Naḥmanides suggests that this entire season was one of celebration of the harvest, beginning with Passover and ending with Shavuot, with the days of s’firah in between being like ḥol ha-mo’ed [the intermediate days of the Passover and Sukkot festivals, during which activities prohibited on the first and last days are permitted] for the extended harvest holiday.

[T]he earliest and most consistent practice of s’firah is that of refraining from hosting weddings during this period. In fact, a restriction against weddings is also characteristic of the celebration of ḥol ha-mo’ed.

The custom was [originally] a natural outgrowth of the joy felt around the harvest season and the associated Temple rituals. But as the Jewish people were exiled, and they lost both their farmland and their Temple, the natural feeling of excitement for the harvest stopped being relevant, and the original cause for celebration was lost. By the time of [Natronai], people were left wondering why we even had these practices in the first place.

Thus . . . without the Temple, the practice of observing s’firat ha-omer as a minor holiday—a ḥol ha-mo’ed for the joy the Jewish people felt during the harvest—was flipped into a custom of mourning for a period of loss.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Jewish calendar, Nahmanides, Passover, Shavuot

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security