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

Pick
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

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy