Lot’s Child Sacrifice—and Abraham’s

This week’s Torah reading begins with Abraham’s reception of three mysterious guests, a gesture held up in rabbinic literature as a model of righteous hospitality. It then juxtaposes two of the most dramatic stories in Genesis: the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Binding of Isaac. Sarah Rindner notes important parallels between these passages. In Sodom, Abraham’s nephew Lot imitates his uncle’s hospitality by inviting the same mysterious guests into his home, but when a mob of Sodomites demands that he turn them over, he engages instead in his own act of child sacrifice:

Many read the story of the Binding of Isaac as an act of blind and heroic faith on the part of Abraham. Others understand it to be an articulation of the Torah’s supersession of the pagan custom of sacrificing one’s firstborn. This second group focuses on the moment when God tells Abraham that he does not need to sacrifice his son. Yet, in interpreting the story and Abraham’s actions here, it may be instructive to examine the only other case of child sacrifice we see in the book of Genesis—when Lot offers up his daughters to the mob. For Lot, this is the ultimate act of generosity, of giving up something that is dear to him to satisfy the imperative of hospitality.

When Abraham is asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, perhaps he also interprets this request in a similar vein as reflecting the darker side of . . . self-abnegation and sacrifice, of the intertwining of the death-instinct with the life-instinct. The triumph of the story is that Abraham learns that . . . that his generosity toward God does not have to involve losing something of himself. . . . Hospitality is in some ways the inverse of sacrifice; it represents the possibility of giving without depletion. The Binding of Isaac represents one powerful paradigm for understanding the life of faith, and too often in Jewish history we have seen our own Isaacs bound and led to slaughter. We should not forget, however, that Abraham is defined primarily by his expansive and life-affirming hospitality, and this, too, can enrich our sense of the Jewish mission in the world.

Read more at Book of Books

More about: Abraham, Binding of Isaac, Genesis, Morality, Religion & Holidays, Sodom

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security