Modern Jewish Thought Responds to Christian Critique

Aug. 29 2016

In the 19th and early 20th century, German Protestant theologians and scholars of religion tended to elevate the New Testament at the expense of the Hebrew Bible, to deny or downplay the Jewishness of the historical Jesus, and to denigrate Judaism as primitive, materialistic, and unethical. In Judaism and the West: From Hermann Cohen to Joseph Soloveitchik, Robert Erlewine examines how major Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, including Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, defended Judaism against its detractors. He summarizes his interpretations in an interview with Alan Brill:

[A great portion of] modern Jewish philosophy is very much an attempt to [explain] Judaism in ways that make Christianity inferior to or derivative of it, and [simultaneously] to show how Judaism is an essential component of European modernity. . . .

In different ways, the thinkers [on which Erlewine’s book is focused] are engaged in discussions about the role of Judaism in relationship to the West, with most (but not all) arguing that Judaism is absolutely fundamental to European civilization. In a very powerful way, they offer a [corrective] to the work of [Christian] theologians . . . seeking to exclude Judaism [and] to deny it any place in modern Europe. . . .

In the work of these thinkers, Judaism is made central to how we should envision Europe or the West—or at least all that is good and proper in the West. Christianity, in turn, is regularly criticized for retaining idolatrous elements [of pagan religions or] for undermining individual responsibility through its notions of divine forgiveness.

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More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Christianity, Hermann Cohen, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Martin Buber, Religion & Holidays

Israel’s Nation-State Law and the Hysteria of the Western Media

Aug. 17 2018

Nearly a month after it was passed by the Knesset, the new Basic Law defining Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people” is still causing outrage in the American and European press. The attacks, however, are almost uniformly incommensurate with this largely symbolic law, whose text, in the English translation found on the Knesset website, is barely over 400 words in length. Matthew Continetti comments:

Major journalistic institutions have become so wedded to a pro-Palestinian, anti-Benjamin Netanyahu narrative, in which Israel is part of a global trend toward nationalist authoritarian populism, that they have abdicated any responsibility for presenting the news in a dispassionate and balanced manner. The shameful result of this inflammatory coverage is the normalization of anti-Israel rhetoric and policies and widening divisions between Israel and the diaspora.

For example, a July 18, 2018, article in the Los Angeles Times described the nation-state law as “granting an advantageous status to Jewish-only communities.” But that is false: the bill contained no such language. (An earlier version might have been interpreted in this way, but the provision was removed.) Yet, as I write, the Los Angeles Times has not corrected the piece that contained the error. . . .

Such through-the-looking-glass analysis riddled [the five] news articles and four op-eds the New York Times has published on the matter at the time of this writing. In these pieces, “democracy” is defined as results favored by the New York Times editorial board, and Israel’s national self-understanding as in irrevocable conflict with its democratic form of government. . . .

The truth is that democracy is thriving in Israel. . . .  The New York Times quoted Avi Shilon, a historian at Ben-Gurion University, who said [that] “Mr. Netanyahu and his colleagues are acting like we are still in the battle of 1948, or in a previous era.” Judging by the fallacious, paranoid, fevered, and at times bigoted reaction to the nation-state bill, however, Bibi may have good reason to believe that Israel is still in the battle of 1948, and still defending itself against assaults on the very idea of a Jewish state.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli democracy, Media, New York Times