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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.

Read more at Times of Israel

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

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen