Sorry, “New York Times,” Hanukkah Celebrates Religious Freedom, Not Persecution

On Sunday, the New York Times published an op-ed article titled “The Hypocrisy of Hanukkah,” in which Michael David Lucas—a novelist who this year decided to do some cursory research on the subject—reports discovering that the holiday commemorates a war between radical Hellenizers and those who wanted to preserve Judaism. The author cites Hasmonean efforts to repress Hellenistic Jews while making no mention of the persecution of Jews at the hands of the Syrian Greeks (or “Romans,” as Lucas had it before a correction was published). Jonathan Tobin explains what he gets wrong:

Lucas concludes that . . . he would have identified more with those city-dwellers embracing Hellenistic practices, like eating pork, than with the efforts of “rural religious zealots.” He sees the Maccabean victory as one of “fundamentalism over cosmopolitanism.” Lucas seems to see the victorious Jews as the moral equivalent of red-state evangelical supporters of President Donald Trump, and their opponents as people, well, like him, who have mixed feelings about circumcision, don’t keep kosher, and support Bernie Sanders, whom, [he claims], the Maccabees would have hated.

But the point of the festival isn’t one of warfare against less observant Jews. . . . [W]hat the Jews fighting the Greeks wanted was to be left alone to worship in freedom; [they faced] a foe who didn’t merely disdain their faith, but was actively seeking to repress it. . . . Lucas may think that the Hellenizers were defending diversity, but they—and perhaps the author—were actually too narrow-minded to tolerate those who think or worship differently.

Hanukkah is about the struggle of Jews, both then and now, to refuse to bow down to the idols of popular culture. The miracle is not merely the one about the oil lasting eight days, but the ability of a small ethno-religious [group] both to resist the forces that sought to eradicate their existence and to preserve the flame of Jewish civilization. Hellenism threatened to wipe out a moral vision of the world rooted in the Torah, as well as the autonomy of a small people. Had the Hellenizers, for whom Lucas says he will say a prayer, prevailed, it would not have been a triumph for individual freedom but one in which the right to faith or of a small group to defend its own culture and identity would have been extinguished.

If you can’t sympathize with that cause, then don’t blame Judaism, Hanukkah, or some foolish desire, as Lucas puts it, to “beat Santa.”

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More about: American Judaism, Hanukkah, Maccabees, New York Times, Religion & Holidays

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.

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