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

Nikki Haley Succeeded at the UN Because She Saw It for What It Is

Oct. 15 2018

Last week, Nikki Haley announced that she will be stepping down as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations at the end of the year. When President Trump appointed her to the position, she had behind her a successful tenure as governor of South Carolina, but no prior experience in foreign policy. This, writes Seth Lispky, turned out to have been her greatest asset:

What a contrast [Haley provided] to the string of ambassadors who fell on their faces in the swamp of Turtle Bay. That’s particularly true of the two envoys under President Barack Obama. [The] “experienced” hands who came before her proceeded to fail. Their key misconception was the notion that the United Nations is part of the solution to the world’s thorniest problems. Its charter was a vast treaty designed by diplomats to achieve “peace,” “security,” and “harmony.”

What hogwash.

Haley, by contrast, may have come in without experience—but that meant she also lacked for illusions. What a difference when someone knows that they’re in a viper pit—that the UN is itself the problem. And has the gumption to say so.

This became apparent the instant Haley opened her first press conference, [in which she said of the UN’s obsessive fixation on condemning the Jewish state]: “I am here to say the United States will not turn a blind eye to this anymore. I am here to underscore the ironclad support of the United States for Israel. . . . I am here to emphasize that the United States is determined to stand up to the UN’s anti-Israel bias.”

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More about: Nikki Haley, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations, US-Israel relations