In Conceding Defeat, Yohanan ben Zakkai Paved the Way for the Restoration of Jewish Sovereignty

Dec. 17 2021

A few weeks ago, Israeli archaeologists announced that they had discovered numerous artifacts of Roman-era Jewish life in the city of Yavneh, famous as the meeting place in the Sanhedrin, or high rabbinic council, in the aftermath of the Second Temple’s destruction. According to the Talmud, Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, the leading rabbi at the time, realized that the Romans were going to defeat the internally divided Jewish rebels, and negotiated permission to maintain “Yavneh and its sages”—that is, rabbinic life and study in the absence of political independence or the Temple. Both his detractors and defenders have, in recent times, depicted ben Zakkai as a sort of Jewish Quisling. Meir Soloveichik explains that he was nothing of the sort:

The story of Yoḥanan ben Zakkai has been misused for years by those who seek to attack the modern Jewish state. The anti-Israel historian Arnold Toynbee asserted that ben Zakkai “took the momentous decision to break with the tradition of militancy which Judas Maccabaeus had inaugurated” in facing down the Seleucid empire in 165 CE. Ben Zakkai, in Toynbee’s estimation, “was proclaiming his conversion from the way of Violence to the way of Gentleness; and through this conversion he became the founder of the new Jewry which survived—albeit only as a fossil.” Decades later, Peter Beinart, arguing for a binational state, asserted that when Yoḥanan ben Zakkai “asked the Roman emperor to give him Yavneh, he was acknowledging that a phase of Jewish history had run its course. It was time for Jews to imagine a different path.”

This is preposterous. The very same talmudic texts that describe ben Zakkai’s fleeing Jerusalem also inform us that he obligated Israel to commemorate Temple rituals in the hope that . . . the Temple in Jerusalem would soon be rebuilt, believing that Jews must be eternally prepared for the moment when Jerusalem is restored as the capital of Judea, and of Judaism. Indeed, the very rabbinic faith of which Yoḥanan was patriarch and progenitor celebrated throughout the centuries the victories of Judas Maccabeus. One of the other requests ben Zakkai and others made of Rome was to allow them to preserve the office of nasi, Jewish patriarch. It was held by descendants of King David and thus served as a tangible link to Jerusalem. The Jewish liturgy, formulated in Yavneh, pleads with God for the restoration of Jerusalem and the Davidic dynasty.

Yet the hard truth is that it is not only antagonists to Zionism who have misunderstood the legacy of Yavneh; even some of the founders and leaders of modern Israel itself failed to understand him or to celebrate him properly.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Archaeology, Israel & Zionism, Judaism, Sanhedrin, Talmud, Yohanan ben Zakkai

 

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia