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 Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank