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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.

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

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

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