How Judaism Contributed to the History of Humanity

Aug. 10 2016

According to an article by the Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, published last week in Haaretz, Judaism has never been “a major player in the history of humankind.” To make this unlikely conclusion stick, he claims that crediting Judaism with the achievements of Christianity is akin to crediting Newton’s mother with the discovery of modern physics. Jeremiah Unterman points out the absurdity of this analogy:

Harari attributes all of Christianity’s influence on the world to its own contributions, not to anything that it got from Judaism. But what if Newton’s mother had taught Newton the principles of mathematics which led [him to discover] classical mechanics, the laws of motion and universal gravitation, the validity of the heliocentric model of the solar system, how to build the first practical reflecting telescope, etc.? Then surely even Harari would agree that she influenced the world. That is precisely what happened in Judaism’s impact on Christianity—after all, nobody would deny that Christianity started off as a Jewish sect.

Similarly, Harari ignores the many ethical innovations of the Hebrew Bible: human equality, the sanctity of human life, love of the stranger, and even the notion of the weekend. As for Harari’s assertion that such ideas were known to other ancient societies, Unterman writes:

Harari cites the introduction to Hammurabi’s laws in which [the Babylonian king claims that] the gods had instructed him “to prevent the strong from oppressing the weak.” True. But if Harari had actually read Hammurabi’s code, and all the other law collections from Sumer, Babylon, Assyria, and the Hittites (Egypt had no law collections), he would not have found one single law on behalf of the weak or poor (including poor widows and orphans).

Indeed, the Torah is the first to legislate on behalf of the poor. . . . Eventually, these laws would evolve into the Jewish requirement to give charity. Judaism thus directly influenced the concern for the poor in Christianity and Islam.

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More about: Christianity, Ethics, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Judaism

 

The Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy