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Rabbis, monks and bats: A religion scholar and a zoologist find a new way to map early Jewish-Christian relations

(JTA) — What did rabbis of late antiquity know about Christianity?

To find out, an Israeli religion scholar turned to an Israeli zoologist who studies bats.

Their strange-bedfellows paper on the topic uses network analysis — a mathematical field used to visualize data — to map the connections of the rabbis of the Talmud with Christians who were writing and teaching at the same time, including new insights into how the literature of Christian monks made its way into Jewish thought.

Michal Bar-Asher Siegal, a scholar of rabbinic Judaism at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, and Yossi Yovel, a zoologist from Tel Aviv University, say their approach, once it becomes widely used, could revolutionize the field of Jewish-Christian studies.

Their visualizations — picture color-coded dots representing rabbis and church elders connected by a spider web of relationships — are “a snapshot of a multi-faceted reality spread over many decades and thousands of kilometers in which Jews and Christians interact in various ways with one another,” they wrote in the May 2023 issue of Human and Social Science Communications. 

The Babylonian Talmud, a vast anthology of rabbinic law and lore, was produced in present-day Iraq between the 3rd and 7th centuries CE. At the same time, Christianity was evolving from a heretical Jewish sect to a religion with growing influence across the waning Roman Empire. Like most scholars of rabbinic Judaism, Bar-Asher Siegal rejects a dated theory that Jews and Christians “parted ways” in the early centuries of the Common Era and had limited contact. But she also wanted proof beyond the painstaking scholarly method of comparing passages in Jewish and Christian texts. 

For that, she approached Yovel, who works at the Bat Lab (full name: The Bat Lab for Neuro-Ecology at the Sagol School of Neuroscience). There, he uses network analysis to understand the social structures of a colony of Egyptian fruit bats. The lab’s live Bat Cam broadcasts 24/7

For the Talmud study, he and Bar-Asher Siegal gathered rabbinic texts that seemed to have some knowledge of Christian sources and mapped the relationships among them. The results show, for example, how one rabbinic source might be familiar with many other Christian traditions, or how many rabbinic traditions showed familiarity with one Christian source.

In one example, they demonstrate the extent to which the “Sayings of the Desert Fathers” — a 5th-century collection of Christian monastic literary traditions — feature in multiple rabbinic passages. 

“The application of network analysis makes it possible to identify the most influential texts — that is, the key ‘nodes’ — testifying to the importance of certain traditions for both religious communities,” Bar-Asher Siegal said in a statement from BGU. “What did the Jews know? The New Testament or later sources? And which parts of the New Testament? This leads to interesting scholarly questions: why these texts and not others? How did they know and how did they react to this knowledge?” 

The authors acknowledge that their paper is only a “proof of concept” and that traditional methods have long revealed the different types of literary interactions between the rabbis and Christians, from fierce anti-Christian polemics to shared theological concepts to the occasional parody.  

But they assert that network analysis, combined with extensive human input, can produce more data in less time and provide a more complete picture of the complex interplay between the two religions. 

Other humanities scholars have used network analysis to study the relationships between characters in modernist novels, the family ties of prominent Britons and the relative complexity of Shakespeare’s tragedies.

The Talmud study, said Yovel, “is a good example of how interdisciplinarity and the use of tools from one scientific field can enrich another.”


The post Rabbis, monks and bats: A religion scholar and a zoologist find a new way to map early Jewish-Christian relations appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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The Implications of Rafah’s Cross-Border Tunnels

Israeli soldiers operate at the opening to a tunnel at Al Shifa Hospital compound in Gaza City, amid the ongoing ground operation of the Israeli army against Hamas, in the Gaza Strip, Nov. 22, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

JNS.orgAn estimated 50 cross-border tunnels link Gaza to Egypt’s Sinai, enabling Hamas to smuggle weapons, funds and personnel, and black-market traders to import a range of goods to the Strip.

Yoni Ben Menachem, a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, said that since the Israel Defense Forces has not yet captured all of Rafah and the Philadelphi Corridor, aka the Philadelphi Route or the Saladin Axis (the narrow strip of land along the 8.7-mile border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt), the estimate for the number of tunnels could easily rise.

The current IDF operations have focused on specific points such as the Rafah crossing and parts of the Philadelphi Corridor, as well as eastern Rafah, but they are due to expand shortly.

According to Ben Menachem, the tunnels serve purposes beyond smuggling weapons. These include the transportation of “prohibited goods such as luxury goods, cigarettes and pornographic materials, which are then sold on the black market in Gaza at high prices,” he noted, highlighting the financial aspect of the smuggling operations.

He also said there was likely high-level corruption at the Rafah crossing, where bribes are paid to Egyptian security officials to facilitate smuggling.

“According to Palestinian reports, bribery of senior officials at the Rafah crossing and Egyptian military officers on the Philadelphi Route enabled the transport of goods and weapons,” he said, underscoring the extensive network supporting smuggling activities, which he said has been occurring both over and underground.

As such, Ben Menachem said, the tunnels are part of a larger industry that includes the transfer of residents of Gaza into Egypt and beyond.

Ben Menachem referred to reports that claim Mahmoud el-Sisi, the son of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, is heavily involved in these operations.

“According to Palestinian claims, Mahmoud el-Sisi, the powerful figure in Egyptian intelligence, is behind a front company named Hala, which organizes the passage of Gaza residents into Egypt,” he said. Gazan families pay thousands of dollars to leave Gaza, he added.

“I believe we are at this stage of still fighting in a limited area of Rafah, and have yet to conduct the large operation there. Israel is preparing to stay in Rafah, and wishes to destroy these tunnels. Israel cannot at this stage risk a direct diplomatic clash with Egypt over this, so the Americans will, I believe, deal with this on Israel’s behalf,” Ben Menachem assessed, referring to smoothing over security ties.

“The Egyptian army will have an financial problem, because they are being disconnected from the smuggling, an important income source,” he added.

Resolute in its fight

Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay, a senior research fellow at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Reichman University in Herzliya, served as deputy head of the National Security Council of Israel between 2007 and 2009.

He told JNS that the Gaza-Sinai tunnels have been a longstanding issue, particularly active during the rule of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and the brief presidency of Muslim Brotherhood figure Mohamed Morsi. “It is likely that many tunnels were operational during Mubarak’s era and certainly during Morsi’s short rule,” Shay explained.

Since the elder el-Sisi came to power as deputy prime minister in 2013 and then as president in 2014, Egypt has made significant efforts to combat terrorism and reduce the number of tunnels. Shay said, “El-Sisi’s government has been resolute in its fight against Islamist terrorist groups, including the Islamic State in Sinai and the Muslim Brotherhood, and part of these efforts included tackling the tunnel networks.”

Despite these efforts, “achieving 100% success is improbable,” Shay added.

He highlighted the strategic importance of maintaining good relations between Israel and Egypt, particularly in the context of the ongoing conflict against Hamas and humanitarian efforts.

“There is a clear strategic interest for both Israel and Egypt to maintain good relations, as evidenced by the cooperation on humanitarian activities through the Rafah crossing and Egyptian mediation regarding hostages,” Shay said.

The tunnels, he added, represent a concern for both countries, necessitating cooperative efforts.

“The IDF must decide on its next steps carefully to avoid jeopardizing relations with Egypt,” Shay cautioned, emphasizing the necessity for joint efforts to curtail the smuggling and promote regional stability.

The post The Implications of Rafah’s Cross-Border Tunnels first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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Erdoğan and the Essential Hypocrisy of Antisemitism

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 3, 2022. Photo: Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

JNS.orgIt often feels as if a global contest is underway over who can engage in the most depraved antisemitic invective. The competition is fierce. Everyone from celebrity activists to Hamas terrorists to campus thugs is in the running. The resulting pyrotechnics have been impressive. Indeed, one has rarely seen a group of human beings so enthusiastic about diving headfirst into raw sewage. As yet, however, no clear frontrunner has emerged.

But there does seem to be one who stands out from the rest. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had not covered himself in glory before the Israel-Hamas war started. The venerable Islamist antisemite has dominated Turkish politics through populist Jew-hatred for a generation.

The laundry list of Erdoğan’s demented ravings is too long to detail here. Suffice it to say that he regularly accuses Israel of innumerable crimes against humanity. He has called Israel’s leaders Nazis and, at times, asserted that they are worse than the Nazis. He has a particular obsession with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he regularly burns in rhetorical effigy.

This orgy of racist invective has been underway for years, but it hit a new peak of defamation and incitement during Israel’s current war.

In this, Erdoğan is not unusual. The blood libel is perhaps more popular today than it ever was. But Erdoğan may be the foremost example of it because he is so paradigmatic. In many ways, he literally personifies today’s antisemitism. In particular, he embodies perhaps its most essential aspect: hypocrisy.

Antisemites used to be fairly open about the fact that their attitudes were evil. They reveled in the race hatred to which they freely confessed. This is not the case today. Our era’s antisemites always couch their genocidal seethings in the language of peace, justice, human rights and so on. Even when pinned down, the best they can muster up is a wan moral equivocation. Back then, Louis-Ferdinand Céline could proudly declare, “A pile of a million dead stinking yids is not worth the life of a single Aryan.” Today, his heirs simply mumble, “It depends on the context.” Celine was a monster, no doubt, but at least he had the courage of his hideous convictions.

In Erdoğan’s case, hypocrisy does not just typify his antisemitism, it defines it. He falsely accuses Israel of Nazism (which is antisemitic in and of itself) while he engages in regular antisemitic demonization. He does so while supporting Hamas, which is as inspired by Nazism as by radical Islam. He accuses Israel of infinite crimes against humanity because of a war Israel launched in response to a rampage of crimes against humanity committed by the group he proudly supports.

Erdoğan clearly thinks that his defamation helps delegitimize Israel. In fact, it delegitimizes nothing so much as his own country. Because whether Erdoğan likes it or not, Turkey is a nation with a long history of heinous crimes against humanity.

Turkey, we should not forget and Erdoğan surely knows, is the rump of what was once the Ottoman Empire. That empire was one of the most brutal and rapacious of its kind in history. Emerging out of the steppes of the East, it rampaged westward, conquering enormous swaths of territory in the Middle East and North Africa. It then turned towards Europe, slaughtering its way through the Balkans before finally being turned back at the gates of Vienna.

Along the way, the Ottomans exterminated the Christian Byzantine Empire and committed cultural genocide by conquering Constantinople and forcibly converting the centuries-old Hagia Sophia church into a mosque. The Ottomans also sponsored mass piracy in the Mediterranean and one of the world’s most brutal slave trades. Perhaps unsatisfied with mere forced labor, the Ottomans subjected many of their slaves to mass castration.

Lest one labor under the misapprehension that all this ended along with the Ottoman Empire, modern Turkey was, in many ways, built on genocide. While the extermination of the Armenians is well-known—though still denied by the very Turkish government led by Erdoğan—there was also mass slaughter of the Anatolian Greeks and other minorities. As for Turkey’s Kurdish minority, they have been the target of decades of attempts at cultural genocide and innumerable state atrocities.

In one of the Turkish government’s few concessions to common decency, Hagia Sophia was transformed into a secular space rather than an exclusively Muslim house of worship. Erdoğan, however, recently reversed that policy, apparently believing that he has the right to appropriate what centuries of Christian labor brought into being.

All of this reveals the heart of the modern antisemite: Erdoğan accuses Israel of infinite crimes while standing on ground stolen from Greeks, Armenians, and other non-Muslims. He does so while continuing to deny the historical crimes his own country has committed. He does all this while supporting genocidal terrorists. He is, in other words, a hypocrite on a world-historical scale.

There is hardly a country in the world without skeletons in its closet. All empires are built and maintain themselves by ugly and often reprehensible means. As Balzac said: Behind every great fortune lies a crime. What makes Erdoğan and indeed all of today’s antisemites so particularly obnoxious is not that they have a sinister past but that they refuse to admit it. Instead, they project their own crimes onto Israel and the Jews. Convinced of their own infinite sainthood, they feel no compunctions about committing any atrocity necessary to expiate themselves of their own unacknowledged sins. Nothing soothes pain more effectively than inflicting it.

Erdoğan is not alone in this. The Arab world was also partly built on imperialism, settler-colonialism and genocide. The radical left has tens of millions of deaths on its conscience thanks to Stalin, Mao and others. This, again, does not make them historical anomalies. However, it ought to give them pause. It might be better if they acknowledged their past crimes and did the work necessary to make amends rather than spend their time defaming others.

This world-historical hypocrisy teaches us that whatever the antisemites’ absurd pretensions to sainthood, we do not have to accept them. It is unlikely that saints actually exist, but if they did, they would not be guilty of genocide, imperialism, setter-colonialism or antisemitism for that matter. The saints of antisemitism can howl and wail, but their hypocrisy proves that we are under no obligation to listen to a word they say.

The post Erdoğan and the Essential Hypocrisy of Antisemitism first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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IDF Locates Rocket Launching Parts in Gazan School

Palestinians gather at the scene where senior commander of Islamic Jihad militant group Khaled Mansour was killed in Israeli strikes, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, August 7, 2022. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

i24 NewsThe Israel Defense Forces said the 98th Division discovered dozens of components needed to launch rockets in a warehouse within a school complex in Jabaliya, the northern Gaza Strip, according to a press release Sunday.

Using military intelligence, the 460th Brigade raided a school complex in Jabaliya and located a military warehouse where the rocket parts were found, providing further proof of Hamas using civilian infrastructure for terrorist use, the military said.

Meanwhile in Rafah, the Nachal, Givati, and 401st brigades killed terrorists who tried killing Israeli soldiers and located several tunnel shafts. Assault rifles, RPGs, grenades, and other explosives were found.

The 99th Division is likewise continuing to operate in the center of Gaza, eliminating several terrorists.

Fighter jets and various aircraft attacked and destroyed more than 50 terrorist targets throughout the Gaza Strip over the past day.

Among the targets that were attacked were military buildings, IDF sites and warehouses, rocket launchers, observation posts, terrorist squads and other military infrastructure.

Two rocket launchers were attacked in the Rafah area, aimed at the Kerem Shalom area.

The post IDF Locates Rocket Launching Parts in Gazan School first appeared on Algemeiner.com.

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