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

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy