The Limits of Reason


A life of Jewish faith brings with it the need to defend propositions that many of the supposedly best minds of the era deny or reject.

Read more at Torah Musings


Will the U.S. Abandon Israel at the United Nations?


Since Benjamin Netanyahu’s electoral victory, leaks have been emanating from the White House that the U.S. may cease using its veto power at the UN Security Council to counter anti-Israel resolutions. John Bolton explains that these threats are about much more than punishing the Israeli prime minister for remarks not to the administration’s liking:

President Obama’s post-election statements demonstrate something much deeper than just animosity toward Netanyahu. The president said that “Israeli democracy has been premised on everybody in the country being treated equally and fairly. If that is lost, then I think that not only does it give ammunition to folks who don’t believe in a Jewish state, but it also, I think, starts to erode the meaning of democracy in the country.”

With these comments, the president is criticizing not just Netanyahu, but the very legitimacy of Israel’s democracy, giving an implicit green light to those prepared to act violently against it. . . . [He] is thus going well beyond acting unpresidential or even immature. Whether one takes his or Netanyahu’s side, the administration’s approach is now squarely contrary to America’s larger strategic interests. And the global harm that will be done to common U.S. and Israeli interests through Security Council resolutions if Washington stands aside (or worse, joins in) will extend far beyond the terms of one prime minister and one president.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, United Nations, US-Israel relations

Explaining the Ten Plagues


Scholars have interpreted the account of the ten plagues in the book of Exodus with reference to ancient Egyptian ecology, by theorizing that the plagues are structured as a polemic against the Egyptian pantheon, and in various other ways. Ziony Zevit argues instead that the best explanation comes from within the biblical text, and that the ten plagues are meant as a mirror-image of the creation story:

At the end of the narrative in Exodus, Israel looks back over the stilled water of the sea at a land with no people, no animals, and no vegetation, a land in which creation had been undone. Israel is convinced that her redeemer is the Lord of all creation. It is this implicit theological principle that motivated the explicit creation of the literary pattern [connecting the ten plagues to the creation story]. He who had just reduced order to chaos was the same as He who had previously ordered the chaos.

One question still remains. What is the significance of the number ten in the Exodus tradition? Why ten plagues? The answer, I believe, is clear. The number of plagues in Exodus was meant to correspond to the ten divine utterances by which the world was created and ordered. The destruction of Egypt was part of the redemption of Israel, so the Exodus narrator tied his story of redemption to the story of creation through subtle echoes and word plays.

Read more at Bible History Daily

More about: Creation, Egypt, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Pharaoh, Religion & Holidays

A Science-Fiction Classic’s Bizarre Obsession with Jews


In his novel Dune, Frank Herbert depicts a future where today’s great religions have been “scrambled” into new faiths. Judaism, however, appears in the book’s sixth and final volume as having remained unchanged for thousands of years. Michael Weingrad notes that “Herbert’s portrait of the Jews owes more than a little to anti-Semitic stereotypes,” and explains what’s behind it:

Why this eruption of hoary anti-Jewish stereotypes in a futuristic epic? It seems to derive not from contempt for the Jews, but from Herbert’s envy of them. On the one hand, Herbert’s portrayal of the Jews as an unchanging relic, the only stagnant group in a universe of change, is an old trope, given repeated modern expression from [G. W. F.] Hegel to [Arnold] Toynbee and reflecting supersessionist Christian claims that the Jews have had their day but are no longer a living part of history’s drama.

But the flip side of this denigration of the Jews as a “fossil-people” is a Christian anxiety that the Jews—who claim biological kinship with the patriarchs, prophets, and messiah—naturally possess that with which Christians have a more uncertain relationship. Herbert’s Dune novels are all animated by the conviction that the truth is in our genes. The problem Jews pose for Hebert, then, is not that they are unnecessary to his fictional universe, but that they appear to anticipate it because of their familial, corporeal relationship with the divine. . . . There appears to be a kind of theological resentment at work.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Anti-Semitism, Arts & Culture, Dune, Philo-Semitism, Science fiction, Supersessionism

Desmond Tutu, Liberation Theology, and Anti-Semitism


The South African clergyman Desmond Tutu has made himself the patron of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, a Christian organization whose goal is to encourage churches to boycott Israel. Christine Williams explains the theological roots of this particular form of hatred for the Jewish state:

Liberation theology is a radical movement that originally developed in South America before making its way to South Africa. The movement was apparently created in response to poverty and ill-treatment of ordinary people. It was caricatured in the phrase, “If Jesus Christ were on earth today, he would be a Marxist revolutionary.”

Liberation theology subsequently became influential in the churches under South African apartheid. Black theologians, to answer the religious questions of the poor and oppressed, confronted the theology of the Christian status quo, which tended to align with the prevailing institutions of power. . . . To [these] theologians, [liberation theology] was a challenge to the church to rise up against apartheid. [However,] what was once crafted as a just challenge to the Church in 1985 . . . became warped into [anti-Israel] propaganda in 2009. . . .

As the patron of Sabeel Center, Tutu . . . disregards the countless Christians being slaughtered in Muslim states, the black slaves still being held in Muslim states such as Mauritania, the forcible taking of “infidel” slaves and sex slaves by Boko Haram and Islamic State, the racist genocide in Darfur, and the millions of Muslims slaughtered by other Muslims since 1948.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, Jewish-Christian relations, Liberation theology, Middle East Christianity, South Africa

Documenting the Musical Heritage of Moroccan Jewry


Vanessa Paloma Elbaz has dedicated years to collecting and performing Moroccan Jewish music. She recently presented some of her findings at the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca:

“Many young people [in Morocco today] have never heard of Judeo-Arab music,” Paloma says. . . . In the 1950s, the kingdom [of Morocco] had nearly 300,000 citizens of the Jewish faith. But successive Arab-Israeli conflicts, calls to emigrate to Israel, and many departures to France and Canada in particular have brought this presence to less than 5,000. Moroccan Jews, however, remain the largest Jewish community in North Africa. . . .

The sound library [assembled by Paloma] includes two types of records: songs and popular Moroccan Jewish music in a commercial format and recorded stories told by Moroccan Jewish families.

The Museum of Moroccan Judaism, founded in Casablanca by the Moroccan writer and politician Simon Levy, has a large display of clothing, jewelry, and handicrafts . . . [and] is the first of its kind in the Arab world.

Read more at The View from Fez

More about: Arts & Culture, Jewish museums, Jewish music, Mizrahi Jewry, Moroccan Jewry