A 19th-Century Jewish Zealot, Mystic, Promoter of Science, and Universalist

In his Sefer ha-Brit, Pinḥas Eilyahu Hurwitz (1765-1821) aimed to introduce Jews unable (or unwilling) to read European languages to the scientific advances of his day. The book, which became something of a best-seller, also included a second part devoted to kabbalistic piety; this may explain why it remains popular among 21st-century Ḥaredim, being recently republished by a ḥaredi press. The American historian David Ruderman has produced a scholarly study on it. In his review, Yitzhak Melamed explicates Hurwitz’s “counter-enlightenment” outlook and his universalism:

Ruderman’s study of Sefer ha-Brit is an excellent entry into the recent subgenre of microhistories of odd or influential books, and, for the most part, his discussion of Hurwitz’s views is nuanced and precise. . . . [Yet] Ruderman seems to be at a loss to understand Hurwitz’s repeated insistence that the biblical command to love one’s neighbor had as its object all human beings, not merely other Jews. . . .

[As Ruderman notes], chauvinistic and xenophobic views [can be found] in a variety of Jewish literary genres throughout the centuries. . . . Yet he fails to account for the persistence of a universalist—sometimes egalitarian—attitude toward Gentiles at the very core of rabbinic culture.

The command to love one’s Gentile neighbor was hardly Hurwitz’s invention. Consider Leviticus 19:34—“The stranger [ger] who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself”—or Deuteronomy 10:19—“You shall love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Rabbinic commentators on these two verses (as well as the 34 other verses referring to the ger) disagree on whether the word “ger” refers to an alien resident (ger toshav) or to a convert (ger tsedek). [The former interpretation] is not the majority view, but it is not a radical outlier in the tradition, either.

A cursory examination of traditional interpretations of the talmudic notion of “love of human creatures” will yield numerous sources—medieval and early modern—that apply it to all of humanity. Perhaps the best proof that Hurwitz’s preaching of universal love of humanity was not quite as radical as Ruderman suggests is the simple fact that, unlike other claims that Hurwitz makes, there is very little evidence that [the book] provoked any critical reaction from traditionalists, despite its status as a best-seller in their world. Indeed, it may well be that this very section contributed to the popularity of the book in traditional circles.

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More about: Haredim, Haskalah, History & Ideas, Religion & Holidays, Science, Universalism

To Israel’s Leading Strategist, Strength, Not Concessions, Has Brought a Measure of Calm

Aug. 14 2018

Following a long and distinguished career in the IDF, Yaakov Amidror served as Israel’s national-security adviser from 2011 to 2013. He speaks with Armin Rosen about the threats from Gaza, Hizballah, and Iran:

For Israel’s entire existence, would-be peacemakers have argued that the key to regional harmony is the reduction of the Jewish state’s hard power through territorial withdrawals and/or the legitimization of the country’s non-state enemies. In Amidror’s view, reality has thoroughly debunked this line of reasoning.

Amidror believes peace—or calm, at least—came as a result of Israeli muscle. Israel proved to its former enemies in the Sunni Arab world that it’s powerful enough to fill the vacuum left by America’s exit from the region and to stand up to Iran on the rest of the Middle East’s behalf. “The stronger Israel is, the more the ability of Arab countries to cooperate [with it] grows,” Amidror explained. On the whole, Amidror said he’s “very optimistic. I remember the threat that we faced when we were young. We fought the Six-Day War and I remember the Yom Kippur War, and I see what we are facing today. We have only one-and-a-half problems. One problem is Iran, and the half-problem is Hizballah.” . . .

In all likelihood the next Israeli-Iranian confrontation will be a clash with Amidror’s half-threat: the Lebanese Shiite militant group Hizballah, Iran’s most effective proxy in the Middle East and perhaps the best armed non-state military force on earth. . . . “We should neutralize the military capability of Hizballah,” [in the event of war], he said. “We should not destroy the organization as a political tool. If the Shiites want these people to represent them, it’s their problem.” . . .

“It will be a very nasty war,” Amidror said. “A very, very nasty war.” Hizballah will fire “thousands and thousands” of long-range missiles of improved precision, speed, and range at Israeli population centers, a bombardment larger than Israel’s various layers of missile defense will be able to neutralize in full. . . . This will, [however], be a blow Israel can withstand. “Israelis will be killed, no question,” Amidror said. “But it’s not going to be catastrophic.”

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Lebanon