Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Chanukah 5769: The Strong always in the Hands of the Weak?

You in your abundant mercy rose up in their time of trouble, delivered the strong in the hands of the weak, the many in the hands of few, the impure in the hands of the pure, the wicked in the hands of the righteous, and insolent ones in the hands of those occupied with Torah.

This past week I've been struggling with the meaning of the military victory of Chanukah.

On the one hand it seems clear; the few against the many, the strong against the weak, the good against the bad demonstrates that if justice is on our side we need to stand firm and fight.

However minimal our chances might seem, whatever the geo-strategic forecast, we need not compromise on our values, whatever the potential cost.

Because with God's help, we will be victorious.

Yet I'm still uncertain.

Because for every Judah the Maccabee who fought against all odds and successfully freed his people from an occupying empire (Greece), there is a Bar-Kokhba whose revolt against an occupying empire (Rome) ended in defeat and mass slaughter and expulsion.

And apart from the result, is there genuinely any qualitative difference between these two stories?

In addition, are these models really better than that of Yochanan Ben Zakai who, when faced with a Roman siege of Jerusalem, acquiesced to the temple's destruction and requested only the small town of Yavneh and its students?

When all is said and done, who can say when we should fight and when we should compromise?

And if we do fight, who's to know it will lead to a famous victory or a terrible defeat?

Jared Diamond in his book Collapse discusses the case of five small eastern European countries who were faced with the overwhelming might of the Russian / Soviet armies;

The Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians surrendered their independence in 1939 without a fight (a la ben Zakai);

The Finns fought in 1939-40 and preserved their independence (a la Maccabe's);

The Hungarians meanwhile fought in 1956 and lost their independence (a la Bar Kokhba).

Who are we to say which country was wiser?

And who could have known beforehand that only the Finns would 'win' their gamble?


Anonymous said...

I have also been thinking about this since reading the JPost lately- especially an article by the columnist Freund who wishes to exhort us to be like the Maccabees-and take over Gaza and then resettle it like the model Jews of yore did. I think I now see better what those who believe in directly applying the stories of the Bible to Israel 2008 wish for: subdue a hostile population into suing for peace as their biblical heroes did. All well and good, but let's get a little more specific and think of issues where the Bible provides us with no road map. There are, in fact, millions of people in Gaza and the West Bank. It is simply delusional to believe Israel should aim to subdue them into being pacified and acquiescent. I won't deny that ethnic cleansing has defacto prevailed for peoples and states in the past. But what has -never- worked is to seek to occupy hundreds of thousands (in Israel's case millions) of people and at the same time keep them apart and unintegrated and pacified too. The blueprint of those who would like to see Israel and Jews be like the heroes of the Bible seems to be just that- have the fortitude of spirit to act on the offense and not worry about the world's reaction. I'll grant that part might work. But what follows is dysfunctional and has never worked-keep the millions of people who live in these lands apart, with no rights to Israeli citizenship, and no responsibility on the part of the state to look after the welfare of those whose borders Tsahal controls. There's a hard choice to be made- and it involves adopting a modified version of the Jewish dream. Modified to say- yes to a Jewish homeland, yes to a vibrant functioning Jewish state called Israel, but the vision of Eretz Yisrael on the lands of the Bible with the Temple rebuilt will have to wait for Moshiach.

Calev said...

I think rather than genuinely and honestly trying to work out what our past tells us about how we should act in the present, more often than not people simply look to the sources to justify what they believe…(a la Freund)

I don’t think this in itself is necessarily a problem – I just think people should be more honest about what they're doing, and admit that our past offers us a series of paths to choose from, and that we can never have the confidence that just because something worked over a thousand years ago, it will work again today

Anonymous said...

I think we should push them into the sea.

And eat doughnuts.

Also, the Finns are mad. Watch here: