At the Heart of the Hanukkah Story is Jewish Chosenness

Dec. 10 2018

In Culture and Anarchy, the great Victorian thinker Matthew Arnold made much of the tension between “Hebraism,” based on law and morality, and “Hellenism,” based on freedom and creativity. Yet, although the historical backdrop to the holiday of Hanukkah does indeed rest largely on the struggle to preserve Judaism against Hellenization, the Hasmoneans didn’t actually reject the entirety of the Hellenic tradition. Mark Gottlieb writes:

[T]he notion that [the Maccabean revolt] was fundamentally a culture clash between Hebraism and Hellenism (a popular motif in Jewish discourse itself from the 1st century CE onwards) doesn’t quite capture the complex nature of the conflict. Importantly, such a view also contradicts the simple meaning of a well-known talmudic teaching—a gloss on Genesis 9:27—that encourages the creativity and beauty of Greek civilization to reside fruitfully within the monotheistic faith of Abraham’s children: “May the beauty of Japheth [ancestor of the Greeks] dwell in the tents of Shem [ancestor of the Hebrews].”

Instead, I would suggest that the crux of the conflict centered on Greek philosophy’s challenge to the election of Israel and its distinctive worldview, both expressed by, and a consequence of, the Torah. The Jerusalem Talmud gestures in this direction in the following cryptic statement: “The Greeks darkened the eyes of the Jews with their decrees, forcing the Jews to write on the horn of an ox: ‘We have no portion in the God of Israel.’”

By the time of the Hasmonean revolt in 167 BCE, most schools of Greek thought [had accepted] some notion of an Unmoved Mover or a Logos at the pinnacle of the Great Chain of Being. [But a divine being] Who loved His creatures, let alone a particular people above all else, was simply scandalous. Israel, God’s firstborn child, had no place in the worldview of Hellas; this the rationalism of the Greeks could not abide. Hence, the persecution of traditionalist Jews (both by Israel’s enemies without and, especially, Israel’s enemies within) took the form of a forced confession: “We have no portion in the God of Israel.”

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Hanukkah, Hasmoneans, Matthew Arnold, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

The Riots on the Gaza Border are Carefully Coordinated Attacks on Israel, and Should Be Treated as Such

Jan. 16 2019

On Friday, the weekly riots at the Gaza security fence resumed in full force: 13,000 people participated, and a Palestinian woman was apparently killed by Israeli gunfire. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) had established a commission of inquiry in May, not long after these riots began, “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human-rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, . . . particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on March 20, 2018.” In a report to the commission, Richard Kemp, a retired senior British officer, concludes, after investigating the situation at the Gaza border, that there is no evidence whatsoever of Israeli wrongdoing, and that the commission is operating under faulty assumptions:

The terms of [the commission’s] mandate are self-evidently biased against the state of Israel and the IDF. The context cited—“the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests”—make clear that the UNHRC either failed to understand what was happening on the ground or deliberately misrepresented the reality. In addition, the commission’s mandate terms the Gaza Strip “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which it is not. . . .

[T]he so-called “civilian protests” in reality were, and continue to be, a deliberate military operation, orchestrated and controlled by Hamas, [a] terrorist group that has been waging an armed conflict against Israel for many years. Their intention was and remains to kill and wound IDF soldiers, to break through the border fence, to murder and maim innocent civilians, to destroy property, and to compel the IDF to take defensive action resulting in the death of Gaza civilians for exploitation in the international arena. [Israel’s] “military assaults” were not what was implied by this prejudicial mandate. They were in fact lawful, proportionate, and restrained defensive actions. . . .

Suggestions that these demonstrations are [protests] against Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip are demonstrably false and easily refuted by cursory viewing of Hamas and other public statements made at the time of the events. . . . Further, it is clear that Hamas intended this violence to continue its long-standing strategy of creating and intensifying international outrage, vilification, isolation, and criminalization of the state of Israel and its officials. . . .

[T]he starkest indication that these events were entirely under Hamas control is the simple fact that, when it suited Hamas’s political interests, the [demonstrations] occurred and were of a violent nature, and when such actions did not serve Hamas’s interests, the border was quiet. As the most recent example of this, in November 2018, Qatar began to make large cash payments to Hamas in Gaza. The most recent payment of $15 million was handed over in December 2018. These payments are reportedly part of an agreement with Hamas to diminish violence along the Gaza border. [After] the first payment, the border violence [was] reduced [and the] demonstrations [became] far more restrained.

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 Colonel Richard Kemp

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, UNHRC