How Ancient Hebrew Poets Commemorated Hanukkah Even When Rabbis Ignored It

Dec. 18 2017

One of the enduring puzzles of the Hanukkah holiday is the scant attention paid to it in the Talmud: it receives only passing mention in the Mishnah (the Talmud’s earlier stratum), and most of the comment on it in the Gemara (the later stratum) is confined to a single two-page discussion. By contrast, even the similarly minor holiday of Purim gets its own tractate. But while the rabbis seemed content to downplay Hanukkah, the liturgical poets of the same era composed numerous prayers (piyyutim) celebrating it. Examining the works of Galilean poets from the 5th through 7th centuries, Ophir Münz-Manor writes:

[Liturgical poetry] in some senses is even more useful than rabbinic literature for understanding Jewish society in Palestine [during this time]. Unlike rabbinic texts, which for the most part were intended for a limited community consisting primarily of learned men, piyyutim were aimed at a much more diverse audience of male and female synagogue-goers. . . .

The [poets of the 6th and 7th centuries] composed lengthy piyyutim for Hanukkah. The bulk of these are dedicated to the inauguration [ḥanukkah] of the tabernacle in the wilderness [as described in the books of Exodus and Leviticus]. . . . When we reach the [famed 7th-century poet] Eleazar ben Kalir, we find that the events and practices of Hanukkah itself begin to play a more prominent role.

Like his predecessors, Eleazar composed several poems that focus on the dedication of the tabernacle. Yet . . . he found a way to weave in the practices and commemorations of the festival by introducing a typological scheme in which the rededication of the Temple in the days of the Hasmoneans is the penultimate phase in a series of earthly salvations and inaugurations, including (1) the “inauguration” of the world in the six days of creation, (2) the inauguration of the tabernacle, (3) [its re-inauguration by King David when it was relocated to Jerusalem], (4) the inauguration of Solomon’s Temple, (5) the inauguration of the Second Temple in the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, (6) [its re-inauguration by] the Hasmoneans, and subsequently, (7) the world to come. . . .

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now


More about: ancient Judaism, Hanukkah, Hebrew poetry, Judaism, Piyyut, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Israel Should Try to Defang Hamas without Toppling It

Feb. 22 2019

For the time being, Hamas has chosen to avoid outright war with the Jewish state, but instead to apply sustained, low-intensity pressure through its weekly border riots and organizing terrorist cells in the West Bank. Yet it is simultaneously engaged in a major military build-up, which suggests that it has not entirely been deterred by the previous three Gaza wars. Yaakov Lappin considers Jerusalem’s options:

In recent years, the Israel Defense Force’s southern command, which is responsible for much of the war planning for Gaza, identified a long-term truce as the best of bad options for Israel. This is based on the understanding that an Israeli invasion of Gaza and subsequent destruction of the Hamas regime would leave Israel in the unenviable position of being directly in charge of some two-million mostly hostile Gazans. This could lead to an open-ended and draining military occupation. . . .

Alternatively, Israel could demolish the Hamas regime and leave Gaza, putting it on a fast track to a “Somalia model” of anarchy and violence. In that scenario, . . . multiple jihadist armed gangs lacking a central ruling structure would appear, and Israel would be unable to project its military might to any single “return address” in Gaza. This would result in a loss of Israel’s deterrent force on Gaza to keep the region calm. This scenario would be considerably worse than the current status quo.

But a third option, in between the options of leaving Gaza as it is and toppling Hamas in a future war, may exist. In this scenario, the IDF would decimate Hamas’s military wing in any future conflict but leave its political wing and police force in place. This would enable a rapid Israeli exit after a war, but avoid a Somalia-like fate for Gaza with its destructive implications for both Israelis and Gazans. . . .

On the one hand, Hamas’s police force is an intrinsic support system for Gaza’s terrorist-guerrilla forces. On the other hand, the police and domestic-security units play a genuine role in keeping order. Such forces have been used to repress Islamic State-affiliated cells that challenge Hamas’s rule. . . . Compared to the alternative scenarios of indefinite occupation or the “Somalia scenario,” a weakened Hamas might be the best and most realistic option.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security