At the Heart of the Hanukkah Story is Jewish Chosenness

Dec. 10 2018

In Culture and Anarchy, the great Victorian thinker Matthew Arnold made much of the tension between “Hebraism,” based on law and morality, and “Hellenism,” based on freedom and creativity. Yet, although the historical backdrop to the holiday of Hanukkah does indeed rest largely on the struggle to preserve Judaism against Hellenization, the Hasmoneans didn’t actually reject the entirety of the Hellenic tradition. Mark Gottlieb writes:

[T]he notion that [the Maccabean revolt] was fundamentally a culture clash between Hebraism and Hellenism (a popular motif in Jewish discourse itself from the 1st century CE onwards) doesn’t quite capture the complex nature of the conflict. Importantly, such a view also contradicts the simple meaning of a well-known talmudic teaching—a gloss on Genesis 9:27—that encourages the creativity and beauty of Greek civilization to reside fruitfully within the monotheistic faith of Abraham’s children: “May the beauty of Japheth [ancestor of the Greeks] dwell in the tents of Shem [ancestor of the Hebrews].”

Instead, I would suggest that the crux of the conflict centered on Greek philosophy’s challenge to the election of Israel and its distinctive worldview, both expressed by, and a consequence of, the Torah. The Jerusalem Talmud gestures in this direction in the following cryptic statement: “The Greeks darkened the eyes of the Jews with their decrees, forcing the Jews to write on the horn of an ox: ‘We have no portion in the God of Israel.’”

By the time of the Hasmonean revolt in 167 BCE, most schools of Greek thought [had accepted] some notion of an Unmoved Mover or a Logos at the pinnacle of the Great Chain of Being. [But a divine being] Who loved His creatures, let alone a particular people above all else, was simply scandalous. Israel, God’s firstborn child, had no place in the worldview of Hellas; this the rationalism of the Greeks could not abide. Hence, the persecution of traditionalist Jews (both by Israel’s enemies without and, especially, Israel’s enemies within) took the form of a forced confession: “We have no portion in the God of Israel.”

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Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Hanukkah, Hasmoneans, Matthew Arnold, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine