Lessons in Political Humility from the Talmud’s Tale of the Temple’s Destruction

A historian answering the question of why the Second Temple was destroyed might cite changes within the Roman empire itself, religious and political conflict among the Judeans, and even anti-Semitic unrest in Egypt. By contrast, the Talmud presents a much narrower explanation, imbued with its own theological notions about history. The Israeli general and strategist Gershon Hacohen examines this passage in search of political wisdom:

The aggadot [rabbinic legends] about the destruction begin with a general statement: “Rabbi Yoḥanan said: Blessed is the man who is always wary.” With these opening words, Rabbi Yoḥanan offered an interpretive key to the aggadot. Without going into details, a basic idea is presented in the [tale of two men, named] of Kamtsa and Bar Kamtsa, that posits that Jerusalem was destroyed because of an error in an invitation to a party that resulted in an undesirable person attending it. The unwanted guest ended up being thrown out in disgrace. But how is it that connected to the destruction of Jerusalem?

The story illustrates the way minor events—the kinds of everyday trifles that experts do not generally regard as worthy of attention—can spin out of control and have unforeseen consequences. These kinds of factors can erode a strategic situation assessment, allowing the situation it was designed to control to descend into chaos.

The upheavals in the Middle East initially dubbed the “Arab Spring” help to clarify the strategic outlook put forward by the sages. In December 2010, in a small, unknown town in southern Tunisia, Muhammad Bouazizi set himself alight after the police destroyed the illegal vegetable stand that was his livelihood. [Like the tale of Kamtsa and Bar Kamtsa, stories such as Bouazizi’s] make it easier to explain how great events can begin with small matters that gather steam and lead to tremendous upheaval. The problem with such events is that they usually remain minor, and it is only a unique and random concatenation of circumstances that turns one rather than another into a catalyst for wide turmoil.

From this observation, Hacohen goes on to apply some talmudic wisdom to the coronavirus pandemic:

[I]n light of the global reach of the [COVID-19] crisis, with its full economic and social repercussions, it is worth returning humbly to the simple truth taught by the sages: situations can spin out of control, and not every solution is in our hands. This is not just a theological maxim. When the leaders and citizens of a country take into account the full complexity of a reality and acknowledge that, when it comes to worldwide social and economic phenomena, not everything is under their control, they can bring to view what is happening differently. . . . By recalibrating expectations in this way, the state—as a governmental system—forswears its image as the citizens’ Rock of Salvation.

Read more at BESA Center

More about: Arab Spring, Coronavirus, Grand Strategy, Second Temple, Talmud


Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy