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

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict