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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

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians