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

Aug. 24 2018

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.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Binding of Isaac, Children, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror