There’s Room for Creativity in Modern Bible Commentary, but It Should Be Combined with Textual Rigor

Reviewing in-depth studies of the biblical books of Joshua and Judges by the rabbi Michael Hattin, Francis Nataf writes:

Hattin’s approach is defined by two parallel endeavors. The first is to teach the major themes as culled from the Jewish interpretive tradition. . . . The other major strand of his work is to provide new and creative readings strongly anchored in the text, thereby providing a new layer of interpretive activity that expands upon, and provides additional depth to, the messages of the past.

Hattin [thus] allows his creative juices to flow, treating us to some truly fascinating readings along the way. His comparison of Joshua’s decree against taking booty from [the conquered Canaanite city of] Jericho (Joshua 6:16-19, 26) to the laws of an idolatrous Jewish city (Deuteronomy 13:13-19) puts a new spin on the reason for Joshua’s prohibition. Indeed he draws two important conclusions from the similarities in the laws and wording of these two passages. The first is that the war being waged against the Canaanites is primarily an ideological war meant to uproot idolatry from the Jews’ new habitat. Coming off of this conclusion, the second is that with such an understanding, “an Israelite city that endorses idolatrous worship is no different than its Canaanite counterparts and will suffer the same ignominious fate.”

However, the flip side of Hattin’s creativity is that it leads him to develop theories that rely on little objective evidence. . . . If some interpretive mistakes are the price we must pay for new and creative readings, I believe it is well worth it. Rare indeed is a writer who engages in one without the other. But there is something missing in this equation.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical commentary, Book of Joshua, Book of Judges, Hebrew Bible

How Israel Can Break the Cycle of Wars in Gaza

Last month saw yet another round of fighting between the Jewish state and Gaza-based terrorist groups. This time, it was Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) that began the conflict; in other cases, it was Hamas, which rules the territory. Such outbreaks have been numerous in the years since 2009, and although the details have varied somewhat, Israel has not yet found a way to stop them, or to save the residents of the southwestern part of the country from the constant threat of rocket fire. Yossi Kuperwasser argues that a combination of military, economic, and diplomatic pressure might present an alternative solution:

In Gaza, Jerusalem plays a key role in developing the rules that determine what the parties can and cannot do. Such rules are designed to give the Israelis the ability to deter attacks, defend territory, maintain intelligence dominance, and win decisively. These rules assure Hamas that its rule over Gaza will not be challenged and that, in between the rounds of escalation, it will be allowed to continue its military buildup, as the Israelis seldom strike first, and the government’s responses to Hamas’s limited attacks are always measured and proportionate.

The flaws in such an approach are clear: it grants Hamas the ability to develop its offensive capabilities, increase its political power, and condemn Israelis—especially those living within range of the Gaza Strip—to persistent threats from Hamas terrorists.

A far more effective [goal] would be to rid Israel of Hamas’s threat by disarming it, prohibiting its rearmament, and demonstrating conclusively that threatening Israel is indisputably against its interests. Achieving this goal will not be easy, but with proper preparation, it may be feasible at the appropriate time.

Revisiting the rule according to which Jerusalem remains tacitly committed to not ending Hamas rule in Gaza is key for changing the dynamics of this conflict. So long as Hamas knows that the Israelis will not attempt to uproot it from Gaza, it can continue arming itself and conducting periodic attacks knowing the price it will pay may be heavy—especially if Jerusalem changes the other rules mentioned—but not existential.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israeli Security, Palestinian Islamic Jihad