Understanding the Sabbath Blessing of Children as a Reenactment of the Binding of Isaac

On Friday nights, many Jewish parents place their hands on their children’s heads and utter a blessing. Meir Soloveichik offers a novel interpretation of this ritual:

The standard form of showing love to our children is through an embrace: the act is possessive in nature, drawing them close to us. To bless our children by extending our hands is the opposite; rather than draw them close, we set them apart, indicating that they belong to Someone other than ourselves. In the Bible, the one ritual comparable to [this] act of blessing is sacrificial in context. The worshipper in the Temple placed his hands on an animal’s head before the [sacrifice] occurred, thereby renouncing his own claim to the offering and dedicating it to God. In a similar sense, to place one’s hands on a child is to recall the Temple and consecrate the child to divine service.

The parallel between biblical blessing and sacrifice is rarely considered. Few scriptural stories are as shocking as the one known as the binding of Isaac, and known to Jews as the akeydah. The liturgy of Rosh Hashanah is dominated by the Bible’s most haunting words: “Take thy son, thy only son.” But the akeydah is, in a sense, recreated every Friday evening in many Jewish homes all over the world, where parents place their hands on their children’s heads, as their ancestors did over offerings in Jerusalem millennia ago. . . .

For many modern Jews, the story of the akeydah is an embarrassing anachronism, and the Torah’s descriptions of animal sacrifice are seen as utterly irrelevant to our lives. The haunting possibility, however, is that these passages are painfully relevant. . . . More than any other, ours is an age that has lavished love on children; they are coddled, cherished, and protected, denied nothing. Yet as Ben Sasse has noted, this has produced a generation of Americans locked in perpetual adolescence, a result of the “creature comforts to which our children are accustomed, our reluctance to expose young people to the demand of real work, and the hostage-taking hold that computers and mobile devices have on adolescent attention.”

It is possible that what we need is less embracing and more blessing; less parental possession and more parental consecration. We must consider, in other words, whether our children are merely extensions of ourselves, or whether they were given to us in sacred trust. Every parent might prefer to ignore the akeydah story. But especially today, and with Rosh Hashanah near, the akeydah continues to call out to us.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Binding of Isaac, Children, Judaism, 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