An Apocryphal Book Highlights the Connection between the Binding of Isaac and the Exodus

Written around 170 BCE, the book of Jubilees appears to have been venerated by many Jews (and later Christians) in ancient times, although it never became part of the Hebrew Bible. While its author differs from what would become the rabbinic tradition on several important points, some of its readings of the Bible found their way into rabbinic literature, including one that sees the story of the binding of Isaac as resulting from a challenge (like that in the book of Job) issued to God by Satan. But Jubilees adds an additional twist in its version of the story: Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son took place on Passover. Stuart Halpern comments:

[Jubilees] did this to tie the story, ever so subtly, to another, similar biblical tale, the commandment the Israelites received, in the book of Exodus, to slaughter the paschal lamb and smear the blood on their doorposts. In that tale, a seemingly demonic figure makes an appearance. We read, in Exodus 12:23 [that God] “will see the blood on the lintel and the two doorposts, and the Lord will pass over the door and not let the Destroyer enter and smite your home.”

Whoever, or whatever, the Destroyer was, credited with laying waste to the Egyptian firstborns, he seems to be under the employ of God. Jubilees, not surprisingly, says, in its retelling, that it was the “powers of Mastema” [its name for Satan] who were “let loose” upon the enslavers. (The Passover Haggadah, hundreds of years later, seems to have been so disturbed by the reference to a “Destroyer,” it assures us, repeatedly, that it was none other than God Himself who had done the damage.)

Furthermore, [the author of] Jubilees had noticed something when reading the Exodus story. He had seen this episode before. Here, in Egypt, there was the narrow avoidance of the death of the favored children (Exodus 4:22 has God instructing Moses to tell Pharaoh “Israel is my first-born son”) and the sacrifice, in place of said chosen son, of a lamb.

Though Jubilees never did make it into the Bible, maybe it’s time to restore Satan to the seder. Or at the very least, remind ourselves that on the night that commemorates God’s passing over, in protection, of the houses of Israel, the night the Destroyer didn’t harm us, it was because God asked us to be willing to sacrifice for Him. And we listened. And we were redeemed.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Apocrypha, Binding of Isaac, Exodus, Haggadah, Midrash, Satan

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