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

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

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