Sukkot, the Tower of Babel, and Bringing Nazi War Criminals to Justice

Nov. 24 2020

Seventy-five years ago this month, the war-crimes trials of the leading figures in the Nazi regime commenced in the German city of Nuremburg. The trials concluded the following October, so that the first of the eleven convicts sentenced to the gallows—the propagandist Julius Streicher—was hanged on the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Meir Soloveichik observes:

Every Sukkot, Jews read Ezekiel’s apocalyptic vision of “Gog and Magog.” The prophet describes an international axis of nations that sets out to destroy the Jews, whose ultimate defeat will be marked by the celebration of Sukkot.

This passage was brilliantly explained by Samson Raphael Hirsch, rabbi of 19th-century Frankfurt. The ancient tale of the Tower of Babel, he wrote, describes a pagan, tyrannical society that created an edifice in worship of its own power; it is just such nations that hate the Jews, who preach a God of morality and justice. By celebrating for seven days in what seems to be a mere shack, the sukkah, Jews signify their certainty that the ethos marked by Babel will be ultimately undone. The people who suffered most at the hands of tyranny nevertheless confidently predict that world history, which began with a totalitarian tower, will end in a holiday of huts, a defeat of evil, and a recognition of God as the true source of power and justice.

Thus a sublime symmetry emerges that the Allies could never have foreseen. It was in Nuremberg that [Hitler’s favored architect] Albert Speer had built the “Hall of Honor,” an enormous structure towering over the rally grounds where the Nazis gathered to celebrate themselves. Architecturally celebrated in Germany, the Hall had been inspired by the ancient altar of Pergamon in Greece. To watch film of the Nuremberg rallies in a pagan structure reborn is to see a prophecy pronounced by the 19th-century German-Jewish poet Heinrich Heine terrifyingly fulfilled: “The ancient stony gods will rise from the forgotten debris and rub the dust of a thousand years from their eyes. . . .”

In the end, the Nazi Hall of Honor, like Babel’s tower of old, was undone. . . . . It is fitting then, that the destruction of the Nazi “edifice complex” was to be followed, in the very same city, by a hanging of Nazis on the holiday of huts.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Ezekiel, Nazism, Nuremberg Trials, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Sukkot

Iran, America, and the Future of Democracy in the Middle East

Nov. 23 2022

Sixty-two days after the death of Mahsa Amini at the hands of the Islamic Republic’s police, the regime has failed to quash the protest movement. But it is impossible to know if the tide will turn, and what the outcome of the government’s collapse might be. Reuel Marc Gerecht considers the very real possibility that a democratic Iran will emerge, and considers the aftershocks that might follow. (Free registration required.)

American political and intellectual elites remain uneasy with democracy promotion everywhere primarily because it has failed so far in the Middle East, the epicenter of our attention the last twenty years. (Iraq’s democracy isn’t dead, but it didn’t meet American expectations.) Might our dictatorial exception for Middle Eastern Muslims change if Iran were to set in motion insurrections elsewhere in the Islamic world, in much the same way that America’s response to 9/11 probably helped to produce the rebellions against dictatorship that started in Tunisia in 2010? The failure of the so-called Arab Spring to establish one functioning democracy, the retreat of secular democracy in Turkey, and the implosion of large parts of the Arab world have left many wondering whether Middle Eastern Muslims can sustain representative government.

In 1979 the Islamic revolution shook the Middle East, putting religious militancy into overdrive and tempting Saddam Hussein to unleash his bloodiest war. The collapse of Iran’s theocracy might be similarly seismic. Washington’s dictatorial preference could fade as the contradictions between Arab tyranny and Persian democracy grow.

Washington isn’t yet invested in democracy in Iran. Yet, as Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei has often noted, American hostility toward the Islamic Republic has been damaging. If the theocracy falls, Iranians will surely give America credit—vastly more credit that they will give to the European political class, who have been trying to make nice, and make money, with the clerical regime since the early 1990s—for this lasting enmity. We may well get more credit than we deserve. Both Democrats and Republicans who have dismissed the possibilities of democratic revolutions among the Muslim peoples of the Middle East will still, surely, claim it eagerly.

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Read more at Dispatch

More about: Arab democracy, Democracy, Iran, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy