The Menorah and the True Meaning of Exile and Redemption

Ancient Jewish art contains numerous depictions of the menorah, and it remains an important Jewish symbol today, prominently displayed on the seal of the state of Israel. But the most famous artistic rendition may still be the one on the triumphal arch erected in Rome by Emperor Titus to commemorate his destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. But, writes Meir Soloveichik, the arch might be telling us the wrong story (2008):

It is often assumed that the centerpiece of the Roman victory parade was the menorah. This is understandable enough: during the Second Temple period, the menorah served as the symbol of Jewish sovereignty on coins minted by Jewish kings. It is also logical, given the way the relief on the arch prominently positions the captured menorah to highlight the political subjugation of the Jews. But Josephus, who was an eyewitness of the triumphal procession, insists in his Wars of the Jews that the menorah . . . was not the most salient object on display. . . .

It seems, [rather], that for Titus the most significant of all the spoils taken from Jerusalem was a scroll of the Torah, the book of Jewish law. . . . It was unlikely [this was] merely a scroll stolen randomly from some synagogue in Jerusalem. Rather, like all the other objects in the procession, it must have been a copy of the Law taken from the Temple itself . . . : the source to be consulted in addressing any textual questions that might arise about the law. . . .

No wonder, then, that Titus placed such a high value on the most important Torah in the possession of the Jewish people, the oldest and most authoritative version of the Mosaic law, the one kept in the Temple as a symbol of Jewish chosenness. As if to emphasize the point, Josephus tells us that although the menorah and the other golden vessels were displayed in the [Roman] Temple of Peace, the most valued objects seized by Titus, including the Law and the “purple veils of the holy place,” were kept not there but in the royal palace. Titus knew that his greatest victory was the capture not of Judea but of the Temple, and that his legacy lay first and foremost in the blow he had dealt to the Jewish faith by bringing about the exile of the Torah itself.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ancient Rome, Josephus, Menorah, Religion & Holidays, Second Temple


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7