The Mysteries of the Mishnah, and Its Journey into English

Usually, this daily email seeks to bring you a variety of articles on events in the Middle East, Diaspora communities, religion, literature, and history. In the past week, it has for obvious reasons focused on the paramount issue facing the Jewish people. But it is important not to lose sight of those other aspects of Jewish spiritual life and intellectual heritage—all the more so, I would argue, as we work to defend ourselves.

I thus commend to you this essay by Yitz Landes, in which he reviews a recent academic translation of the Mishnah—the 2nd- or 3rd-century text that forms the core of the Talmud—and places it in the context of prior translations, going back to those made by Christian Hebraists in the late 17th century with help from some Jewish scholars. In religious circles, this dense legal primer, on which the entire postbiblical Jewish tradition arguably rests, is seen as an easier-to-study, if less prestigious, alternative to the Talmud. But for outsiders, as well as for academic scholars, it is, as Landes puts it, “something of a mystery.”

It famously begins, without explanation or preamble, with a question: “From what time of day may the evening sh’ma be recited?” Once this question is raised, the conversation continues for some 180,000 words, covering nearly every facet of Jewish life—from daily prayer to Sabbath observance to how to deal with damages, defilement, divorce, defiant sons, sacrifices, purification rituals, court procedures, and more. By the time the Mishnah was codified, more than a century after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, many of the topics discussed were no longer exactly practical knowledge. Other sections presuppose institutions of Jewish self-rule that may never have really existed. And no matter the issue, there is almost always a multiplicity of opinions—one rabbi says do x, while another says do y, without the Mishnah clearly stating which view should be adopted.

Repeatedly, Landes returns to the theme of the Mishnah’s “poetry”—an odd term to use when describing a famously terse legal code, but undoubtedly an apt one.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Christian Hebraists, Judaism, Mishnah

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