What does the mitzvah of Hanukkah teach us about Jewish survival in a world of declining nation-states? And why does the Gemara never even mention the historical circumstances of Hanukka—the military victory and the re-establishment of a Jewish state? It turns out that these two questions are bound up together in some surprising ways.
Jews have historically been habituated to see governments as a hindrance to our well-run society. In Israel, that government is now us. We’ve had nearly 3000 years to learn the lessons of exile, but we’re going to have to unlearn this one in a hurry.
Rav Elli Fischer recently “came out” as an orthodox rabbi willing to perform weddings outside of the official Israeli rabbanut. He joins a number of other rabbis who are taking steps to bypass a rabbanut that is seen by most Israelis as corrupt and detached from the needs of the people. This clash is an unfortunate result of the political reality at the foundation of the modern State of Israel. While Halakhah and the State of Israel are both expressions of the Jewish drive for self improvement, they are built on a opposing organizational structures.
For the past six weeks, I’ve enjoyed a new and very rewarding experience: I participated in an online course with the intriguing title: The Bible’s Prehistory, Purpose, and Political Future. The course, taught by Jacob Wright, argues that the Tanakh was aimed at providing a blueprint for a stateless nation. This idea isn’t new; it is central to the writings of Max Kadushin and Daniel Elazar. But Dr. Wright manages to give concrete and vivid support to the idea. While Kadushin looked at oral traditions that grew out of the Torah, Wright traces historical trends evident in the text itself.
We’re used to hearing that this or that halakhic impasse can be resolved only by the authority of a new Sanhedrin. The problem of course is that a Sanhedrin cannot be set up without a unanimous decision of all the “greats” of a single generation–something that is unlikely to happen in the near future. But is re-establishing the Sanhedrin really such a great idea, even if it were doable?