Thursday, December 19, 2019

Again on the Hanukkah hymn, Maoz Tzur - who is the "Red One" named in the sixth stanza?

I wrote on this question on December 14, 2009, and here is the answer once again (slightly edited).

I'm thinking about the words to Maoz Tzur, the Hanukkah hymn. According to the siddur edited by Philip Birnbaum, it was composed in the 13th century (Philip Birnbaum, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem [New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1969] 777). (The article in Wikipedia makes the same statement, based on Zunz). 

The article on Maoz Tzur in refers to an article by Ismar Schorsch, the former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, published in the journal Judaism in the fall of 1988, entitled "A Meditation on Maoz Zur." Schorsch's family escaped from Germany on the first day of Hanukkah of 1938, after his father had been freed (he had been arrested on Kristallnacht). He writes that his family always sang the first five stanzas of Maoz Tzur with great fervor during their Hanukkah celebration (p. 459): "The poem's theme of redemption seemed to offer a poignant comment on our family's experience." They omitted the sixth stanza, however.

He records the history of the poem as follows (p. 460): "In its present form, Maoz Zur consists of six stanzas. Since the days of Leopold Zunz, the first five have been ascribed to an unknown German poet named Mordecai, who lived sometime before the middle of the thirteenth century and whose name survives as an acrostic formed by the first letter of each stanza." Schorsch writes that the poem is written as if shortly after the Maccabees had retaken the Temple from the Syrian Greeks. "The rescue from 'Greek' tyranny triggers a recollection of earlier cases when God's intervention redirects the course of Jewish history." These are in Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia. The fifth stanza describes the "redemption at the time of the Hasmoneans."

The sixth stanza was composed later than the first five, and it is (p. 461) "an unabashed messianic plea for divine retribution upon Israel's Christian oppressors." He comments that it is often left untranslated in modern prayer books (like the Birnbaum siddur, which translates only the first five stanzas). The fifth stanza adds the final subjugator of the Jewish people - Edom (which in rabbinic interpretation is equated first with pagan and then with Christian Rome, thus becoming the code name for Christianity as a whole).

My rough translation (helped by Schorsch's discussion on p. 462):
Reveal your holy arm (cf. Isaiah 52:10) and bring near the day of salvation.
Avenge your servants against the evil kingdom.
The time has lengthened, and there is no end to the evil days.
Destroy the red one (Admon=Christianity) in the shadow of the cross,
and send forth the seven shepherds [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David]
This stanza is a more urgent request for divine salvation - rather than remembering the past salvation from danger and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, it directly calls on God to save his people from the Christians. The term "Admon" (meaning the red one) is an allusion to the biblical name Edom (equated with Esau in Genesis 25), which is understood by the rabbis to refer to the Roman Empire, and then after its Christianization, to Christianity. Schorsch believes that this stanza was also written by an Ashkenazic Jew (p. 463), "stirred by the tremors and aftershocks of the Reformation," who believed that the Christian kingdom could only be overcome by direct divine intervention.

With this understanding of the meaning of the text, it's clear why Philip Birnbaum did not care to translate the stanza into English. Although he does not mention it in his entertaining introduction to the siddur (full of jabs at earlier translations and editions of the prayer book), he refrains from translating quite a number of potentially troublesome passages, particularly mystical ones, and in this case, one that could be viewed as an open attack upon Christianity, something that he presumably thought would be unwise even in the United States.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A disturbing antisemitic assault on the New York City subway.

A disturbing antisemitic assault on the New York subway.

Elad Nehorai (@PopChassid) comments on Reverend Brooks' tweet:

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

B'Tselem: On the Palestinian victims of the Israeli occupation

Just the tip of the iceberg:
One victim a year, times thirty years

December 10, 2019

B’Tselem is marking 30 years since its founding in 1989. As always when reaching a milestone, we debated how, if at all, to mark this anniversary, given that it’s certainly not a happy occasion. In the end, we decided to focus on one issue we have grappled with since day one - the lack of accountability by security forces for harm to Palestinians. The result is this collection of testimonies: “Just the tip of the iceberg: One victim a year, times thirty years.

To write this publication, we went back to the hundreds of files that document in minute detail what has long since become daily life - and death - in the Occupied Territories: cases in which soldiers killed, wounded and beat Palestinians. We selected one incident from each year since our founding, and over the past few months, went back to the victims and their families to learn about how their lives were affected, and to hear their reactions to the fact that no one was held accountable for the harm done to them or their loved ones.

During this process, we quickly learned two things. The first was that confining the conversation in this manner was not possible. The occupation takes control over every aspect of the lives of people living under it, and this gets reflected in what they say: a father whose son was killed by soldiers had to stop working in Israel after his permit was denied and the family was thrown into a life of poverty; a mother who could not visit her wounded daughter in the Jerusalem hospital she had been taken to because the authorities would not give her a permit; a resident of Gaza whose brother was killed when he was a child, and then, after he reached adulthood, his parents were killed in Operation Protective Edge, and many more.

The second thing we learned is that while much has changed since B'Tselem was founded, the main thing remained the same: Israel imposes a cruel and brutal regime of military occupation, which denies millions their fundamental rights. Almost every decision requires Israel’s consent, and Israel, for its part, chooses to ignore the needs of the Palestinians and refuses to see them as human beings who are entitled to everything Israeli citizens are entitled to - first and foremost, life, but also a home, water, privacy and security.

Israel hardly pays a price. Internally, it faces no accountability for its policies (neither criminal nor civilian), and abroad, the international community avoids taking effective action to compel Israel to change its policies. And so, without any significant diplomatic, political or economic repercussions for these policies, Israel really has no incentive to change anything.

Despite all this, the horrific, intolerable reality of occupation has to be changed. The occupation is not fated. It is a policy repeatedly chosen by successive Israeli governments. As such, it can and must be brought to an end, and a different reality must be chosen, one in which all 14 million people living between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River live in freedom and equality.

Yael Stein
Research Director 

Sunday, December 08, 2019

David Rich's comments on the Jewish Labour Movement's submission to the EHRC