What Percy Bysshe Shelley Can Teach Us about Hanukkah

In his 1817 poem “Ozymandias,” Percy Bysshe Shelley reflected on a fragment of the colossal statue of Pharaoh Ramses II—the once great ruler of whom “Nothing beside remains.” Two years after composing those verses, Shelley was inspired by a different ancient monument—the Arch of Titus, which portrays Roman soldiers parading the menorah and other items pillaged from the Second Temple—to write two “orations.” Meir Soloveichik comments on them:

The first fragment imagines a 19th-century Jew standing at the Arch of Titus, staring at “the desolation of a city.” The Jew describes himself studying the Roman “procession of the victors, bearing in their profane hands the holy candlesticks and the tables of shewbread, and the sacred instruments of the eternal worship of the Jews.” On the opposite panel, he sees the emperor, “crowned with laurel, and surrounded by the tumultuous numbers of his triumphant army.” Titus, in other words, demands that all in his empire look upon his works and despair. Yet studying the destroyed colosseum nearby, the Jew is struck by a realization: “The arch is now moldering into ruins. . . . The power, of whose possession it was once the type, and of whose departure it is now the emblem, is become a dream and a memory.”

Or to put it differently, when it came to the Roman Empire, “nothing beside remains.”

The same, of course, could not be said for Jewish civilization. The menorah borne aloft to Rome ultimately disappeared when the city was sacked by the Vandals, but it was remembered in lamps relit in Jewish homes throughout the centuries, as it will be this and every year at Hanukkah. And if Jews chose to remember the story of one small flask of oil that somehow endured, it was because they view that tiny miracle as a metaphor for their own national life. Shelley’s Ozymandias is a story not only of Egypt, but of nation after nation throughout history—except one.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ancient Egypt, Ancient Rome, Hanukkah, Poetry

 

Israel Can’t Stake Its Fate on “Ironclad” Promises from Allies

Israeli tanks reportedly reached the center of the Gazan city of Rafah yesterday, suggesting that the campaign there is progressing swiftly. And despite repeatedly warning Jerusalem not to undertake an operation in Rafah, Washington has not indicated any displeasure, nor is it following through on its threat to withhold arms. Even after an IDF airstrike led to the deaths of Gazan civilians on Sunday night, the White House refrained from outright condemnation.

What caused this apparent American change of heart is unclear. But the temporary suspension of arms shipments, the threat of a complete embargo if Israel continued the war, and comments like the president’s assertion in February that the Israeli military response has been “over the top” all call into question the reliability of Joe Biden’s earlier promises of an “ironclad” commitment to Israel’s security. Douglas Feith and Ze’ev Jabotinsky write:

There’s a lesson here: the promises of foreign officials are never entirely trustworthy. Moreover, those officials cannot always be counted on to protect even their own country’s interests, let alone those of others.

Israelis, like Americans, often have excessive faith in the trustworthiness of promises from abroad. This applies to arms-control and peacekeeping arrangements, diplomatic accords, mutual-defense agreements, and membership in multilateral organizations. There can be value in such things—and countries do have interests in their reputations for reliability—but one should be realistic. Commitments from foreign powers are never “ironclad.”

Israel should, of course, maintain and cultivate connections with the United States and other powers. But Zionism is, in essence, about the Jewish people taking responsibility for their own fate.

Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship