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Maimonides and the Jews of Yemen

Jan. 23 2018

Moses Maimonides’ epistle to Yemen is now considered one of his most important works, one that shows the great philosopher and jurist playing a pastoral role as he addresses the needs and fears of a community in crisis. Shortly before the time of its writing, a charismatic Muslim leader had seized Yemen from the Fatimid caliphate; upon his death, his son and successor began persecuting Yemenite Jews. Dor Saar-Man explains how these circumstances led to Maimonides’ famous letter, and its legacy:

[I]n the year of 1172, a Yemenite Jew . . . presented himself as the messiah, . . . and many Jewish communities started to believe the messiah was actually coming soon and even started to change some of their practices and prayers accordingly. . . . Rabbi Yaakov ben Nathaniel of Yemen wrote to Maimonides with fear about the hard times the community was going through and wondered whether that new person might be the true messiah. Maimonides . . . replied at length, with empathy and attention.

In his detailed response, Maimonides tried to console Rabbi Yaakov and asked him to pray diligently and to keep in mind that troubles come and go and will eventually pass. He urged him not to surrender to persecutions and forced-conversion decrees, as these had happened in the past and yet the Jews prevailed. Maimonides referred to both Islam and Christianity as false religions and urged the Yemenite Jews not to conduct calculations of the end of times. . . . As for the messianic pretender, Maimonides clearly stated that he was a false messiah, a madman not to be trusted. . . .

The messianic enthusiasm in Yemen died out a few years later. . . . Saladin occupied Yemen and founded the Ayyubid dynasty, and everything returned to normal. The Yemen epistle, however, retained its significance and influence for centuries. . . . More than any other Jewish community, the Yemenites studied Maimonides’ work and accepted his theories. In time, two sub-groups were formed among them: the Shami, who partly assimilated into the Sephardi culture and adopted the Sephardi liturgy, and the Baladi, who followed Maimonides, especially the halakhic rulings set forth in his code, the Mishneh Torah.

Read more at Beit Hatfutsot

More about: History & Ideas, Moses Maimonides, Yemen, Yemenite Jewry

The Trump Administration Has Said the Right Things about Syria, but Words Are Not Enough

Jan. 30 2018

While praising the White House for recognizing that Iran poses a major threat to American interests in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella argues that Washington still needs a strategy for countering the Islamic Republic and its allies:

The Trump White House identifies Iran as a primary threat. It has verbally committed to the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad. It claims to prioritize repairing relations with Turkey, seeks to destroy al-Qaeda, and wants to refocus the U.S. on Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. These are the correct goals toward which American policy should strive. . . . The problem is that the strategy Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined [in a January 17 speech] will not accomplish these goals. . . .

American policy in Syria, regardless of any tough administration statements, is to accept Assad and his regime de-facto. . . . The “de-escalation” agreement that President Trump signed in November 2017 with Russia is a surrender not only to Russia, but also to Iran. It heavily favors Assad. In that deal, Russia promised to compel Iran to withdraw its forces from southern Syria. It never happened. Pro-regime forces violate the de-escalation zone with impunity. . . .

Tillerson uses vague terms like “deny their dreams” to describe our strategy against Iran in Syria. He identifies no clear goal against which the U.S. can measure success. He states that the U.S. must deliver an “enduring defeat” to al-Qaeda—and we certainly must. Yet the U.S. Defense Department has offered no vision of how to do that. The strategy Tillerson outlines—and that the U.S. is pursuing—amounts to outsourcing the problem to Turkey, which is actually working with al-Qaeda in Syria. . . .

Two administrations have sought to substitute rhetoric for action and to outsource American interests to local partners. The U.S. must abandon this approach and recognize Syria’s importance to American security.

Read more at Fox News

More about: Al Qaeda, Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy