The Prophet Haggai’s (Zionist) Message of Repentance

Aug. 13 2018

The Hebrew month of Elul, which began yesterday, has traditionally been considered a time of soul-searching and self-improvement in preparation for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur—respectively the first and tenth days of the following month. While ancient midrashic sources tie this tradition to an exegesis of the story of Moses at Mount Sinai, Tzvi Sinensky argues that a clearer justification can be found in the minor prophetic book of Haggai, which is set in the land of Israel following the return from Babylonian exile—when the rebuilding of the Temple had been temporarily halted:

The book’s two chapters, particularly the first, are dedicated to urging the people to overcome their hesitation and proceed with the reconstruction [of the Temple]. Haggai delivers his first prophecy on the first day of Elul, repeatedly invoking the language of repentance: “Is it a time for you to dwell in your paneled houses, while this House [of God] is lying in ruins? Now thus said the Lord of Hosts: Consider your ways!” . . . Further, the verses go on to state that “They came and set to work on the House of the Lord of Hosts, their God, on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month” [the Bible’s usual term for the month later named Elul], indicating that Elul opens with a call to repentance and continues with this theme throughout the month. . . .

Seeking to stir the people, Haggai exhorts four times in his book, “consider your ways,” a locution not found elsewhere in Scripture. . . . And it is not so much a spiritual message as a practical, albeit religious, one. Haggai is the pragmatic Religious Zionist, calling on all people to drop their excuses, roll up their sleeves, and engage in the rebuilding efforts.

Why then, did neither ancient nor medieval rabbis cite Haggai in their discussion of Elul’s significance? Sinensky considers several possible reasons, including this:

Haggai’s prophecy was delivered during a period of Judean resettlement, with lessons that were particularly poignant at that time, but less so in later stages of Jewish history. . . . If [this] reason for the historical sidelining of Haggai’s prophecy is correct, today’s period of return to Zion might be precisely the moment to reintroduce Haggai’s clarion call. As Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik argued passionately in his 1956 meditation on Zionism, albeit at a very different moment in Israeli history, we can in no way be lackadaisical in our support of the Jewish state. . . . Further, Haggai’s exhortation of “consider your ways,” an attack on apathy, is acutely relevant in our time, although ironically perhaps most of all in Jewish communities beyond Israel’s borders.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Haggai, Hebrew Bible, High Holidays, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Religion & Holidays, Zionism


Why President Biden Needs Prime Minister Netanyahu as Much as Netanyahu Needs Biden

Sept. 28 2023

Last Wednesday, Joe Biden and Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time since the former’s inauguration. Since then, Haim Katz, Israel’s tourism minister, became the first Israeli cabinet member to visit Saudi Arabia publicly, and Washington announced that it will include the Jewish state in its visa-waiver program. Richard Kemp, writing shortly after last week’s meeting, comments:

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday, however, was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes. But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the state of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign-policy success among a sea of abject failures.

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Biden no doubt played the Palestinian issue up as some kind of Saudi red line and the White House has probably been pushing [Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman] in that direction. But while the Saudis would no doubt want some kind of pro-forma undertaking by Israel for the sake of appearances, [a nuclear program and military support] are what they really want. The Saudis’ under-the-table backing for the original Abraham Accords in the face of stiff Palestinian rejection shows us where its priorities lie.

Israel remains alone in countering Iran’s nuclear threat, albeit with Saudi and other Arab countries cheering behind the scenes. This meeting won’t have changed that. We must hope, however, that Netanyahu has been able to persuade Biden of the electoral benefit to him of settling for a historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia rather than holding out for the unobtainable jackpot of a two-state solution.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship