REVENGE OR RETALIATION?
Reading Brian Blum’s column “My Problem with ‘Maoz Tzur’” (Observations, December 7) was a painful experience that left me profoundly saddened. Blum doesn’t realize that his railing against vengeance was originally a vicious attack on Judaism by the apostle Paul. When Jews rejected Yeshu, Paul left to bring the good news to the gentile and pagan world. He made certain to strike a blow against the God of Israel, the Torah of Israel and the people of Israel.
He coined the idea that Yeshu is the God of love and the God of Israel is the God of Vengeance. He consciously and criminally distorted the meaning, intent and nobility of Torah.
There is a crucial distinction that must be made. If someone strikes me and I strike him back, that’s called retaliation, but if I strike his five-year-old son, that’s revenge.
All the vengeance that Blum talks about is not revenge at all, it is justified retaliation that puts the evil aggressors of the world on notice that there is a heavy price to be paid.
A world without retaliation disintegrates into chaos. That’s what Torah “vengeance” is all about.
God save us from Christian love that spilled oceans of Jewish blood – till our very day.
I would advise Blum and friends not to make any changes to “Maoz Tzur” or “Aleinu.” The Reform movement’s changes all blew up in their face. They removed Israel and Jerusalem from the siddur in the 19th century and had to put it back in the 20th.
A few years in yeshivot Ohr Somayach or Aish HaTorah would go a long way toward helping Blum understand the eternal truth and beauty of Torah.
Brian Blum and the Reform Hebrew Union College have a problem with “Maoz Tzur.” A look into the Otzar Mefarshim Hanukkah (Machon Yerushalayim, 5776), an encyclopedia on “Maoz Tzur” among many other topics, might be of help.
“L’et tachin matbe’ah” (When you prepare a slaughter) has been also understood by our sages as “When you prepare a festive meal for Hanukkah.” This corresponds to the original use of these words in Genesis 43:16.
As far as “mitzar hamenabe’ah” is concerned, since now as ever the Jewish state and Jews worldwide are confronted with not only “barking foes” but also “biting foes” with, God forbid, deadly consequences, there is no need to change our beloved
“Maoz Tzur.” Certainly not in the homeland of the Maccabees.
DR. ZVI BRAUN
HEROES OF OLD
Rabbi Reuven Hammer (“The miracle of Hanukkah,” December 7) seems hesitant about the provenance of the Mishna in Shabbat 21b but sure of its spiritual message.
We cannot rule out another tack; ‘Mai Hanukkah,’ which mentions the oil miracle, is a near copy of the earliest written rabbinic document extant, Megillat Ta’anit, which was composed or redacted by Rabbi Yohanan ben Yehezkel’s group shortly before the destruction of the Temple and about 170 years after the Maccabees. On the other hand, I Maccabees, which is almost contemporaneous, says nothing about the oil.
The rebellion was about preserving Jewish traditions in the face of forced Hellenist paganism which was spreading among the populace. Ironically, the zealots’ descendants, who formed the Hasmonean dynasty, themselves became the most prominent of Hellenists. Worse yet, their political wrangling brought in the hated Roman rulers, who replaced the last Jewish monarchy with their own governors.
Venerating the original zealots, the rabbis had established eight days of “praise and thanksgiving.” Now they were “stuck” with a holiday glorifying the founders of the Hasmonean kingdom. Not able to rescind the holiday altogether, they changed its content by emphasizing the candles, which represent spirituality. In one more generation the rabbis supported yet another failed rebellion by Bar Kochba. Fearing that Bar-Kochba and the Maccabees might inspire more failed uprisings leading to the annihilation of our people altogether, they stressed the spirituality of the holiday.
Thus, the miracle of the oil – whether true or legend – led Diaspora Jews to become martyrs instead of heroes, until modern Zionism resurrected the heroes of old.
Israeli students came to struggle for Soviet Jewry in 1969 (“The Fall of the Communist Garden of Eden,” November 30). They were really very late.
In Britain, the Universities Committee for Soviet Jewry was formed in about 1964. It was led by the late Malcolm Lewis, Gordon Hausman and Jonathan Lewis. It was these three individuals who fought extremely hard to get the Jewish community, by way of the Board of Deputies, to stand up loud and clear for our brethren in the USSR.
I joined the UCSJ in 1965, and we held demonstrations and organized petitions with the eventual help of the Board of Deputies. I clearly remember a major march and demonstration leading to the Soviet Embassy in London in 1968 – a year before the three Israeli individuals mentioned in your article were even involved.
There were also some important Israelis involved way before 1969 when the Israeli students woke up – people such as Aryeh Kroll (who eventually received the Israel Prize), Ephraim Tari (an Israeli diplomat who became Israeli ambassador to Argentina) and Meir Rosenne (later Israeli ambassador to the UN), and many others were working clandestinely for the cause. And one mustn’t forget two other British individuals who did so much for the release of Soviet Jewry, the late Michael Sherborne and also Colin Shindler (who is a regular book reviewer for The Jerusalem Post).
The American students formed a group called the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry. I believe that this was also well before the Israeli students started to get their act together.
Many people fought for the cause of Soviet Jews, but to highlight in your article the three individuals who “came late to the party” seems very odd. It simply is not correct to say that these three individuals persuaded the Israeli government to get involved – see, for instance, Elie Wiesel: A Religious Biography by Frederick L. Downing and The Struggle for Soviet Jewish Emigration, 19481967 by Yaacov Ro’i.