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.