The Story of Cyrus the Great, Invoked by Harry Truman, Is a Cautionary as Well as a Hopeful Tale

Speaking to a Jewish group after the end of his presidency, Harry Truman famously declared “I am Cyrus!”—referring to the Persian emperor who in the 6th century BCE permitted Jewish exiles to return to the Land of Israel to rebuild the Temple. Meir Soloveichik examines this invocation of “the most celebrated non-Jew in the Hebrew Bible” by a president himself deeply familiar with Scripture, and its lesson for the future of U.S.-Israel relations:

Cyrus’s story hints at an extraordinary occurrence unparalleled in Jewish history: the existence of millions of Gentiles who are Zionists, Americans whose attachment to Hebraic texts is the foundation of their love for the Jewish state. . . . The American founders, and many of their successors, were dramatically affected by the Tanakh, but there is no guarantee that America will remain this way. Here Cyrus’s story offers a cautionary example.

The book of Ezra reports that although Cyrus proclaimed the Jewish return, the rebuilding of the Temple was then halted by those who bribed members of Cyrus’s court and lied about the Jews’ motivations. This was the first movement against the Jewish right to Jerusalem, and it existed in Cyrus’s empire 2,500 years ago. The message is clear for our time: a world power that is moved by the story of biblical Israel can also become unmoored from the values of biblical Israel. The [story of Cyrus] is, perhaps, a hint to a future where millions of Gentiles would revere the Hebrew Bible and the land of Israel; but it can also be seen as a reminder that countries whose leaders were once inspired by the word of God can cease to be so.

The question we face is whether the Hebrew Bible will continue to speak to America, or whether, as in suddenly secular Europe, America will amputate this aspect of its identity entirely from itself.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ancient Persia, Harry Truman, Hebrew Bible, US-Israel relations

 

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism