The Two Books of Maccabees Show a Familiar Israel-Diaspora Divergence

While the first and second books of Maccabees are the basis for the Hanukkah story, the rabbis excluded them from the Jewish canon. The first of these books is a Greek translation of a no-longer-extant Hebrew work; the second, according to its own preface, was composed in Greek and is an abridgment of an earlier work by a Jew living in what is now Libya. Examining the theological differences between the two, Daniel R. Schwartz argues that one represents the attitudes found in the newly independent kingdom of Judea, and the other those of the Diaspora:

For 1Maccabees, Judeans suffer because the wicked Greek kings and the Judeans’ nasty neighbors persecute them, and they are rescued by the valiant efforts of military heroes, the Hasmoneans.

For 2Maccabees, in contrast, Jews suffer because their sins cause God “to hide His face” (as it is put in Deuteronomy 31:17 and 32:20), i.e., to suspend His providence. They are rescued through the death of Jewish martyrs, which serves as an atonement, and so God’s “wrath turns into mercy,” allowing Judah Maccabee to be victorious

For the diasporic 2Maccabees, whose expected readers—like Christians in the Roman empire—could not contemplate military resistance if ever oppressed, martyrdom, in the hope that it would move God to intervene, is the best they could do and, indeed, it is effective. . . . For 1Maccabees, in contrast, martyrs, who are killed due to their adherence to Jewish religion, accomplish nothing; they are part of the problem, not the solution, and are . . . no more than pious fools.

No one in a Judean state, with a Judean army, could subscribe to the assertion of 2Maccabees that the Jewish soldiers who die in battle must be guilty of a sin, for otherwise God might be suspected of injustice (12:40–41). That can be said only by someone living in the Diaspora interested in inculcating belief in divine providence, who had no need to worry that his son might one day have to fight in a Judean army.

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Read more at theTorah.com

More about: ancient Judaism, Israel and the Diaspora, Maccabees

Gaza’s Quiet Dissenters

Last year, the Dubai-based television channel Al-Arabiya, the Times of Israel, and several other media organizations worked together to conduct numerous interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip, taking great pains to protect their identities. The result is a video series titled Whispers in Gaza, which presents a picture of life under Hamas’s tyranny unlike anything that can be found in the press. Jeff Jacoby writes:

Through official intimidation or social pressure, Gazans may face intense pressure to show support for Hamas and its murderous policies. So when Hamas organizes gaudy street revels to celebrate a terrorist attack—like the fireworks and sweets it arranged after a gunman murdered seven Israelis outside a Jerusalem synagogue Friday night—it can be a challenge to remember that there are many Palestinians who don’t rejoice at the murder of innocent Jews.

In one [interview], “Fatima” describes the persecution endured by her brother, a humble vegetable seller, after he refused to pay protection money to Hamas. The police arrested him on a trumped-up drug charge and locked him in prison. “They beat him repeatedly to make him confess to things he had nothing to do with,” she says. Then they threatened to kill him. Eventually he fled the country, leaving behind a family devastated by his absence.

For those of us who detest Hamas no less than for those who defend it, it is powerful to hear the voices of Palestinians like “Layla,” who is sickened by the constant exaltation of war and “resistance” in the Palestinian media. “If you’re a Gazan citizen who opposes war and says, ‘I don’t want war,’ you’re branded a traitor,” she tells her interviewer. “It’s forbidden to say you don’t want war.” So people keep quiet, she explains, for fear of being tarred as disloyal.

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Read more at Boston Globe

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Palestinian dissidents, Palestinian public opinion