Unlike the Ancient Greeks, Jews See in Fire a Symbol of Divine Benevolence

Nov. 22 2021

The holiday of Hanukkah, which begins this weekend, celebrates the victory of Jews committed to maintaining their unique traditions against the overwhelming cultural force of Hellenistic civilization—and the powerful empire behind it—with the lighting of candles. For Meir Soloveichik, it is thus an opportunity to contrast the Hellenic and Judaic attitudes toward fire:

According to Greek myth, Prometheus and Epimetheus were charged by the gods with creating man. Zeus gave man fire, but then Prometheus taught humankind to sacrifice animal bones to the gods and keep the best meat for themselves. Furious at the deception, Zeus took fire away, but Prometheus hid it in a reed and bore it away from Olympus. In response, Zeus chained Prometheus to a rock and sentenced him to having his liver pecked out by an eagle over and over.

It is . . . fascinating that in talmudic tales, we find a rabbinic story about the origins of fire that is a mirror image of the Prometheus story. Adam and Eve are banished from the garden and enter a dark and unredeemed world. But in a great act of love, the Talmud tells us, God took two stones and instructed Adam in the art of creating fire. Whereas the Greeks see in fire the story of a rebellion against the gods, and a world where power prevails, fire for Jews epitomizes God’s mercy, as well the existence of the divine-human partnership.

The contrast between the fire of Greece and the flames of the Talmud allows us to understand that for Jews, to light the menorah is to do more than mark a miracle; it is to look at those small flames and ponder what biblical monotheism bequeathed to a pagan world, and the miraculous endurance of the tiny people that brought this message to humanity.

We are indeed forever indebted to Athens for its intellectual achievements, but the menorah’s flames remind us of the insights found not in Athens but Jerusalem—that human beings are created in the image of God, and therefore precious and inviolable; that history has purpose; and that countries stand under the judgement of a good and just God.

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More about: Fire, Hanukkah, Hellenism

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Lahav’s Newsletter

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror