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.”

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Read more at Torah Musings

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

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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Read more at New York Times

More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East