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 Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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 Foreign Policy

More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey