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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].

Read more at Tablet

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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen