A New Look at a Popular Hanukkah Song’s Mysterious, and Controversial, Final Stanza

Last night, many Jewish families sang the song “Ma’oz Tsur” (usually translated as “Rock of Ages”), authored by a medieval poet about whom nothing is known save his name, Mordechai. The song—of which the first stanza is the best known—describes various historical incidents where the Jews were oppressed and then triumphed, culminating with the Hasmonean victory over the Seleucid monarchy. The sixth and final stanza refers to the future, messianic redemption and the end of the exile, yet there is an ongoing debate among modern scholars about whether this was a later addition. Yitz Landes suggests a literary solution to the puzzle:

In the first stanza Mordechai writes in the second person and beseeches God to rebuild the Temple. Looking forward to that moment, the poet declaims that “it is then that he will finish with song and psalm,” the dedication of the altar. But this line can also be read as a meta-poetic comment, in which Mordechai is referring not only to the incomplete nature of the Temple’s past dedication, celebrated on Hanukkah, but also to the unfinishedness of his own poem.

In other words, Mordechai wrote a poem that is intentionally missing a final stanza. In this reading, Mordechai left out a concluding stanza, for it is only at that future time, when God ends the exile, that the poet can return to finish the poem. . . . In exile, not only is history unfinished, but so is poetry; . . . one day, the song will be complete, and we can all eat our latkes in peace.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hanukkah, Hebrew poetry

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security