A Biblical Lesson about the Difference between a Democrat and a Demagogue

This week’s Torah reading of Numbers 16–18 begins with a rebellion against Moses’ authority led by his cousin, Korah. Although Korah incurs God’s wrath and receives a terrifying punishment, his rhetoric seems, especially to the modern reader, a noble expression of egalitarian ideals. After accusing Moses of nepotism in appointing his brother Aaron as high priest, Korah declares, “All the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?”

Howard Kreisel examines various ancient and medieval rabbinic attempts to find evidence of Korah’s wickedness, and then turns to a talmudic passage holding up Korah’s revolt as “a dispute not for the sake of heaven,” which it contrasts with the “dispute for the sake of heaven” exemplified by that between the respective schools of the early rabbis Hillel and Shammai.

A clue to how to differentiate between these two types of disputes comes from a different [talmudic statement], also reflecting on the controversies between Hillel and Shammai. After noting a dispute between the two schools of the two sages regarding what is permitted and forbidden in certain cases of levirate marriage, we read [that] “the school of Shammai did not refrain from taking wives from the school of Hillel, and the school of Hillel did not refrain from taking wives from the school of Shammai.”

[A] colleague of mine told me a poignant story. On one of his travels, he met two Ḥasidim who belonged to a dynasty which currently is suffering a severe schism. . . . They saw him studying Talmud in the airport lounge, and they fell into conversation. The Ḥasidim related to him that the schism has become so severe that members of one faction will have nothing to do with members of the other, neither marrying them or doing business with them. My colleague was surprised by this and cited the [passage] about the schools of Hillel and Shammai.

“I see you missed the main point,” the elder Ḥasid responded. . . . “When a controversy is for the sake of heaven, then neither party has any difficulty in maintaining close ties with the other; both sides are united in their quest for truth even if they do not see eye to eye. But when the controversy is not for the sake of heaven, as is the case here, but for the sake of wealth and power, then neither side wants to have anything to do with the other.”

Read more at theTorah.com

More about: Hebrew Bible, Hillel, Numbers, Talmud


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy