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

Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy