The Return of Communal Challah Baking

This week, Jews all over the world attended cooking classes and bake-offs as part of what has become known as the “Great Challah Bake.” Abby Schachter, drawing on her own experience at Great Challah Bakes, comments on these events and their rapid spread over the past few years:

In recent years, communal challah baking has expanded beyond the Orthodox community and Chabad, as Reform synagogues and others have joined the party (or thrown their own). This year, there was even a Great British Baking Show-style competition at a local Reform synagogue, perhaps sparked by an episode [of the television series] where challah was curiously called “a plaited loaf.”

Every one of these events—which I have attended variously as a participant, table captain, or Martha Stewart-like demonstrator—has been an event unlike any other I have attended in a life of attending Jewish events. The crowd is (largely) female; the age range is wide, as is the level of expertise. The crowd includes Israeli émigrés [and] secular, affiliated, post-denominational, traditional, and ḥaredi participants.

The women from across the Jewish spectrum who gather together at these events are participating in what is more conventionally a solitary experience, conducted in one’s own kitchen with a good cookbook propped up on the counter next to a bag of flour. But maybe the current fad of group baking can be understood not as innovation so much as a modification of practices that reach back to an earlier time. Indeed, baking used to be only communal, as towns and hamlets ordinarily would have had one baker who baked loaves for everyone.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish food, Judaism, Sabbath

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security