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

Palestinian Leaders Fight Economic Growth

Jan. 15 2019

This month, a new shopping mall opened in northeastern Jerusalem, easily accessible to most of the city’s Arab residents. Rami Levy, the supermarket magnate who owns the mall, already employs some 2,000 Israeli Arabs and Palestinians at his other stores, and the mall will no doubt bring more jobs to Arab Jerusalemites. But the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are railing against it, and one newspaper calls its opening “an economic catastrophe [nakba].” Bassam Tawil writes:

For [the PA president] Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah officials . . . the image of Palestinians and Jews working in harmony is loathsome. . . . Instead of welcoming the inauguration of the shopping mall for providing job opportunities to dozens of Palestinians and lower prices [to consumers], Fatah officials are taking about an Israeli plan to “undermine” the Palestinian economy. . . . The hundreds of Palestinians who flooded the new mall on its first day, however, seem to disagree with the grim picture painted by [these officials]. . . .

The campaign of incitement against Levy’s shopping mall began several months ago, as it was being built, and has continued until today. Now that the campaign has failed to prevent the opening of the mall, Fatah and its followers have turned to outright threats and violence. The threats are being directed toward Palestinian shoppers and Palestinian merchants who rented space in the new mall. On the day the mall was opened, Palestinians threw a number of firebombs at the compound, [which] could have injured or killed Palestinians. The [bomb-throwers], who are believed to be affiliated with Fatah, would rather see their own people dead than having fun or buying attractively-priced products at an Israeli mall.

By spearheading this campaign of incitement and intimidation, Abbas’s Fatah is again showing its true colors. How is it possible to imagine that Abbas or any of his Fatah lieutenants would ever make peace with Israel when they cannot even tolerate the idea of Palestinians and Jews working together for a simple common good? If a Palestinian who buys Israeli milk is a traitor in the eyes of Fatah, it is not difficult to imagine the fate of any Palestinian who would dare to discuss compromise with Israel.

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More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian economy