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Why Didn’t God Give the Torah to Everyone? And What’s Wrong with Religious Coercion?

Each of these two questions relates to the other, according to Francis Nataf. In one talmudic passage, God threatens to drop Mount Sinai on the heads of the Israelites if they do not accept the Torah; in a second passage, God chooses the Jews to receive the Torah because of their stubbornness. Over the centuries, rabbis have tried to synthesize the two:

[The 18th-century rabbi] Yaakov Yehoshua Falk . . . explains that the stubborn (or, better, “determined” or “brazen”) nature of the Jews is actually the reason that it made sense to force them [to accept the Torah]. . . . [I]t was only due to the characteristic determination of the Jews that they would subsequently . . . delve into the Torah they had received by force, and eventually accept it voluntarily (as the talmudic sages say happened subsequently). . . . According to Falk, if coercion can eventually lead to voluntary observance, it would be not only legitimate but absolutely necessary. . . .

But why, then, does God not force the Torah on everyone? Nataf continues:

Perhaps . . . the Jews are made the agent of bringing about an engagement of mankind with God’s will, an engagement that can eventually lead to voluntary acceptance. . . . [T]he coercion of the Jews can get the ball rolling for non-Jews as well; once the Jews are involved with Torah and accept it, the Torah—with its highly unusual people—piques the curiosity of all those who come into contact with it. . . . And the march of Western history has shown that, like it or not, the Gentiles have responded to the call of the “God of the Jews.”

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: Religion & Holidays, Shavuot, Sinai, Talmud, Universalism

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals