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


What Would Happen If Israel Bombs Iranian Nuclear Sites?


Most likely, writes Victor Davis Hanson, Europe and the U.S. will respond with loud condemnation and quiet relief:

The Israelis have taken to heart lots of lessons over the last 70 years. They have concluded that often the world quietly wants Israel to deal with existential threats emanating from the Middle East while loudly damning it when it does. They have learned from the experience of the Holocaust that, for good or evil, Jews are on their own and can never again trust in the world’s professed humanity to prevent another Holocaust. And they are convinced that they can also never again err on the side of the probability that national leaders, with deadly weapons in their grasp, do not really mean all the unhinged things they shout and scream about killing Jews.

Given all that, we should conclude that any deal that leads, now or in the near future, to an Iranian bomb is unacceptable to Israel—a nation that will likely soon have no choice but to consider the unthinkable in order to prevent the unimaginable.

Read more at National Review

More about: Holocaust, Iran nuclear program, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy

Has Tolerance Become a Euphemism for Bigotry?


Perhaps it already has, writes Richard Samuelson, and it certainly will if, for instance, approval of same-sex weddings were to lead to the punishment of clergy who refuse to conduct them:

If our government pursues [such] logic, which follows naturally from Justice Kennedy’s claim in his gay-rights decisions that only invidious animus can explain one’s rejection of gay marriage, it could be used to require all priests, ministers, rabbis, imams, etc. to preform same-sex weddings, or lose their legal ability to officiate at weddings at all. (Sure, the argument would go, clerics are free to believe whatever they want, but the right to sign a marriage license is a right government confers, and, as such, the government ought to deny that right to those who would discriminate in its application). . . .

As the scope of American law has grown, the areas of conflict between the rights of conscience and the demands of law have increased considerably. . . . Meanwhile, the percentage of Americans, particularly in our elite and governing classes, who hold that religions (perhaps only non-progressive religions) are a barbarous relic of a bygone age has increased considerably. Hence they refuse to recognize the rights of conscience.

Seen from this angle, we can recognize that what is called a “culture war” might better be understood as the problems that come with the creation of a post-modern religious establishment—an establishment that takes on most of the roles of the old establishments, yet defines its beliefs, conveniently, as “not religion.” The result is that it feels free to impinge on the rights of conscience in the name of “toleration” and “diversity.”

Read more at Federalist

More about: Freedom of Religion, Gay marriage, Religion & Holidays, Supreme Court, U.S. Constitution


There’s Nothing Jewish about the Welfare State


Many assume that traditional Jewish notions of charity lead naturally to support for the modern welfare state. Hillel Gershuni begs to differ:

The rationale behind the modern welfare state is often explained in terms of “redistributing the wealth.” This [justification for charity] is absent from [traditional Jewish texts] and even contrary to their purpose. . . . [The biblical passages concerning charity] speak of basic compassion between people. There is a commandment to help the poor out of human concern for your brother—but certainly not [a commandment] to redistribute wealth. . . .

Our ancient texts understood a basic concept that many modern thinkers seem to slip up on: economics is not a zero-sum game, in which the poor must lose so that the rich may gain. To the contrary—the existence of rich people is what allows poorer people to live more comfortably than they would without them. Halakhah expressly prohibits one from giving away too much of his property, ruling that . . . a man may not give more than a fifth of his wealth to charity, lest he himself sink into poverty. Here, too, the understanding is that even the voluntary distribution of wealth is not always a welcome thing, and it needs to be done in measured doses.

Read more at Mida

More about: Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Social Justice, Tzedakah, Welfare

Jewish Studies in Words and Pictures


An online exhibit created by the University of Pennsylvania’s Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies presents the evolution of the academic field of Jewish studies from 1818 to the 21st century, with documents and information about such compelling figures as Elia Benamozegh, author and prodigious publisher of Sephardi and Mizrahi liturgical works:

An Italian rabbi, kabbalist, and thinker of Moroccan descent who lived in the Tuscan port city of Livorno, Elia Benamozegh (1823-1900) authored an abundance of works encompassing exegesis, historical studies, and various newspaper contributions, written in Hebrew, Italian, and French. Through his posthumous masterwork, Israel and Humanity (1914), he significantly influenced the Christian-Jewish dialogue in Europe. . . . In his books penned in French or Italian, brimming with references to Western philosophy and literature, he never made mention of his oriental roots and rarely cited contemporary Sephardi authors. . . .

[However], Benamozegh seems to have used his press as a way to publish his likeminded contemporaries, thus mapping out a landscape of modern Sephardi and Mizrahi thought. This is certainly the case for the haggadah revised by Shelomoh Bekhor Hutsin (1843-1892) which Benamozegh published in 1887. This book, printed in Judeo-Arabic, Arabic, and Hebrew, according to the Baghdadi minhag (liturgical custom), lies at the juncture of tradition and modernity. . . . Hutsin . . . was an advocate of a version of Jewish enlightenment that was respectful of Jewish values and modern culture.

Read more at University of Pennsylvania Libraries

More about: History & Ideas, Jewish studies, Mizrahim, Science of Judaism, Sephardim

Blame the Neocons!


In his public defense of the Iran deal, President Obama has repeatedly played on left-wing bile toward neoconservatives, as Eli Lake writes:

It’s true that neoconservatives in 2002 and 2003 supported and argued for the Iraq war. Some of them helped plan the war. But many Democrats also supported the Iraq war. . . . And yet in 2015 many prominent progressives still obsess about the out-of-power neoconservatives, and darkly imply that they undermine the national interest on behalf of Israel.

For Obama’s base, the neoconservatives were not just policy intellectuals on the wrong side of an unpopular war, but were instead agents that pulled off a kind of coup d’état and foisted a war on an unsuspecting public. . . . What a terrifying world! Every election brings with it the prospect that our republic will fall under the power of a bunch of disloyal bureaucrats eager to shed American blood for Israel.

Suggesting that another disastrous war in the Middle East is just a few op-ed columns away, the president can activate progressive bloggers, volunteers, and activists who themselves should be disappointed by Obama’s foreign policy.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Barack Obama, Iran nuclear program, Neoconservatism, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy