Lag ba-Omer’s Zionist Rebirth

Today the minor holiday of Lag ba-Omer is being celebrated in Israel with picnics, bonfires, and pilgrimages to Mount Meron in the Galilee, the purported burial place of the 2nd-century sage Simon bar Yoḥai. While this holiday, which marks the 33rd day between Passover and Shavuot, is ancient, its exact origins remain something of a mystery to historians and rabbinic scholars alike. One possible interpretation, which gained prominence only in the wake of the Jews’ return to Israel, connects it to the failed anti-Roman rebellion of Simon bar Kokhba in 132-35 BCE, which was the last credible attempt to restore Jewish sovereignty by force of arms prior to 1948. Eli Kavon writes:

With the founding of the state of Israel, it is fascinating how Simon bar Kokhba has become the epitome of heroism. Rabbinic views of bar Kokhba are critical of this military leader, [seen by some rabbis as] a failed messiah [and] the source of great suffering. That negative assessment of bar Kokhba endured for 1,800 years.

While messianic activism has many dangers, of which bar Kokhba should be a reminder, the Zionist movement has actually done history a great service by rehabilitating this military leader. Indeed, while his revolt was eventually crushed, it was a success for two years and caused great loss and suffering to the Roman empire’s best legions.

Bonfires and field days are the perfect antidote to a malignant understanding of that rebellion solely as a failed messianic adventure that was doomed from the start.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Bar-Kokhba, Israel & Zionism, Jewish holidays, Lag ba'Omer, Religion & Holidays


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount