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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Read more at Times of Israel

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

 

The Proper Jewish Response to the Pittsburgh Massacre

Nov. 21 2018

In the Jewish tradition, it is commonplace to add the words zikhronam li-vrakhah (may their memory be for a blessing) after the names of the departed, but when speaking of those who have been murdered because they were Jews, a different phrase is used: Hashem yikom damam—may God avenge their blood. Meir Soloveichik explains:

The saying reflects the fact that when it comes to mass murderers, Jews do not believe that we must love the sinner while hating the sin; in the face of egregious evil, we will not say the words ascribed to Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We believe that a man who shoots up a synagogue knows well what he does; that a murderer who sheds the blood of helpless elderly men and women knows exactly what he does; that one who brings death to those engaged in celebrating new life knows precisely what he does. To forgive in this context is to absolve; and it is, for Jews, morally unthinkable.

But the mantra for murdered Jews that is Hashem yikom damam bears a deeper message. It is a reminder to us to see the slaughter of eleven Jews in Pennsylvania not only as one terrible, tragic moment in time, but as part of the story of our people, who from the very beginning have had enemies that sought our destruction. There exists an eerie parallel between Amalek, the tribe of desert marauders that assaulted Israel immediately after the Exodus, and the Pittsburgh murderer. The Amalekites are singled out by the Bible from among the enemies of ancient Israel because in their hatred for the chosen people, they attacked the weak, the stragglers, the helpless, those who posed no threat to them in any way.

Similarly, many among the dead in Pittsburgh were elderly or disabled; the murderer smote “all that were enfeebled,” and he “feared not God.” Amalek, for Jewish tradition, embodies evil incarnate in the world; we are commanded to remember Amalek, and the Almighty’s enmity for it, because, as Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik explained, the biblical appellation refers not only to one tribe but also to our enemies throughout the ages who will follow the original Amalek’s example. To say “May God avenge their blood” is to remind all who hear us that there is a war against Amalek from generation to generation—and we believe that, in this war, God is not neutral.

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Read more at Commentary

More about: Amalek, Anti-Semitism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays