Hanukkah: A Celebration of Religious and Intellectual Creativity

According to ancient legend, the first halakhic dispute between two rabbis occurred during the time of the Maccabean revolt. Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner (1906-1980) adduced this legend in developing his counterintuitive interpretation of Hanukkah, arguing that the eclipse of the law as a result of persecution led to the exciting proliferation of debates and arguments that enliven the Talmud and much rabbinic literature. After providing an introduction to Hutner’s life and thought, Yaakov Elman explicates his original take on the holiday:

Hanukkah represented for [Hutner] a watershed in Jewish history, with [its newfound] appreciation for the individual’s contribution to Judaism’s intellectual life. . . . Hanukkah reflects the transition [from biblical Judaism] to an intellectual rabbinic Judaism, where study and intellectual creativity became the foundation and the hallmarks of Jewish life. Before the early rabbinic sages, the tannaim, we do not hear of individual contributions to Torah study. And it is only with the advent of the tannaitic period that . . . value [is] placed on [the] individual’s contribution, despite the limitations of finite human understanding, [with] its doubts and disputes. . . .

The role of the individual is symbolized by the Hanukkah lights, which [represent] the individual contribution to the intellectual Torah heritage that grows and deepens with each contribution. And, as [Hutner] emphasizes, acknowledging individual contributions, and the unique contribution of each individual, improves the community [and the Jewish people as a whole].

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More about: Hanukkah, Kabbalah, Religion & Holidays, Talmud, Yitzchok Hutner

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times