What's an Angel of Rain Doing in a Jewish Prayer?

Oct. 14 2014
About Philologos

Philologos, the renowned Jewish-language columnist, appears twice a month in Mosaic. Questions for him may be sent to his email address by clicking here.

A traditional prayer for rain, recited on this week’s holiday of Shmini Atzeret, invokes a mysterious angel named Af-Bri. It seems this angel is the joint product of a 6th- or 7th-century poetic genius, Eleazar Kalir, and a particularly recondite verse in the book of Job. According to Philologos:

In the sense of an angel, [the name Af-Bri] seems to have originated with Kalir himself—or at least there is no older source to which it can be traced. But the word af-bri can be found in one place in the Bible, in the book of Job. There, in Chapter 37, in a passage describing God’s rain- and storm-making powers, there is a verse that reads in Hebrew “Af-bri yatriah av, yafitz anan oro.” In English this can be translated as— well, if anyone knew for sure how to translate it, we wouldn’t need angels to help us out.

Kalir . . . clearly was not satisfied with any of the explanations of af-bri that were known to him, and so he came up with one of his own—to wit, that an angel called Af-Bri made the rain clouds. A belief in angels who performed God’s bidding and administered various aspects of Creation was all but universal in Kalir’s day, both in Judaism and other religions, and although Af-Bri would have been an unusual name for an angel, the idea of a celestial being responsible for precipitation would not have seemed outrageous.

Read more at Forward

More about: Angels, Eleazer Kalir, Jewish holidays, Jewish liturgy, Poetry, Sh'mini Atzeret

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood