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Joseph, Natan Sharansky, and a Hanukkah Miracle for Our Time

Dec. 14 2015

The yearly cycle of readings from the Torah is arranged so that the story in Genesis of Joseph interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams almost always coincides with Hanukkah. Dore Feith elicits from this reading a hidden message about the holiday and relates it to the story of how the Israeli public figure Natan Sharansky, as an imprisoned Soviet dissident in the 1980s, succeeded in lighting a menorah in the Gulag:

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams by explaining that the seven fat cows and seven healthy sheaves represented years of plenty, or satiety, while the seven lean cows and seven ill-looking sheaves represented years of famine. The roots of the Hebrew words for “seven” and “satiety” are nearly identical, and they are written identically in the Torah’s un-vocalized text. The two words appear next to each other several times, suggesting a relationship between the notion of satisfaction and the number seven.

The number seven signifies wholeness in nature. . . . Though we usually associate Hanukkah with the number eight, the miracle’s essence relates to the number seven, not eight. The Maccabees expected the oil to burn for just 24 hours, so [arguably] the first day was unremarkable.

But there’s a further lesson. By recalling the miracle of Hanukkah, we can recall, and appreciate, the satisfaction experienced both by the Jews of biblical times and by modern Jews who have witnessed the formation and rise of the state of Israel: [then and now], there was, in fact, a profound happiness—or, satisfaction—that came with winning national freedom against terrible odds. . . .

This point is driven home by a story of another Jew who, like the biblical Joseph, advanced on the path from prison to a high seat in government. Like Joseph, Natan Sharansky, who was charged with spying for the United States, was imprisoned for a crime he didn’t commit. . . . In his memoir . . . Sharansky describes one Hanukkah in which he managed to light a makeshift hanukkiah in his cell until the guards confiscated it on the sixth night. In protest, Sharansky declared a hunger strike. . . .

Read more at Tablet

More about: Genesis, Hanukkah, Joseph, Natan Sharansky, Religion & Holidays, Soviet Jewry

 

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals