A Great Rabbi and His Surprising Interactions with Renaissance Humanists

On the final page of an autograph book (a bit like a modern-day yearbook) belonging to the Huguenot humanist Jacques Bongars is a note in Hebrew signed by Judah Seligmann Wahl of Venice and dated 1585. Seligmann—who identifies himself as a rabbinic judge in the city of Prague—states that he taught Hebrew to Bongars and another French Protestant and trained them in reading the Jewish Scriptures at the suggestion of Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague, better known as the Maharal. Joanna Weinberg considers what this document, and other evidence she has gathered about the Maharal and his interactions with Christians, suggest about his views of the non-Jewish world:

The Maharal was famous or notorious both for his uncompromising legal rulings . . . and for his promotion of an enlightened educational program that overturned traditional modes of study. . . . [H]is writings defy quick generalizations. A systematic theologian, the Maharal viewed the world both celestial and human through the prism of opposites that may complement or contradict one another. On the whole he used the classical rabbinic sources as the backdrop for his longwinded and inelegant but original discourses. Though he discouraged the study of humanist literature, he permitted the pursuit of scientific disciplines such as astronomy, which, [he believed, could] enrich understanding of Torah and aid the upstanding Jew in combating philosophical ideas inimical to Judaism.

Within [the Maharal’s theological] system there was a clear and distinct polarity between Jew and Gentile, who, according to the Maharal, reside on different levels of existence. . . . [Nonetheless, the historian] Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson . . . argued that the Maharal’s notion of the nation as a kind of natural organism suggests that he had somehow imbibed the arguments of [certain] Christian confessions and sects, particularly those of Bohemia and Moravia. . . .

Bartholomäus Scultetus, the mayor of the town of Görlitz, a renowned astronomer [and] cartographer, and a colleague of Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler . . . kept a diary. On March 6, 1585, he entered a rather surprising bit of information—that on his way from Prague to Poland the Maharal had met him in the Blue Lion Inn in Görlitz and proceeded to give him a lecture on the Jewish calendar, part of which Scultetus incorporated into [one of his works]. Apparently, the meeting went well, for in the entry for April 15, 1600—that is, fifteen years later—Scultetus jotted down casually: “This evening Rabbi Judah, the Loew, dropped by to see me.” . . .

[It seems, then, that] the Maharal’s theological ideology [about the innate difference between Jew and Gentile] remained purely theoretical in multinational Prague, where he not only prayed and served his community but strayed into the worlds of the other.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Christian Hebraists, History & Ideas, Maharal, Renaissance

Hamas Won’t Compromise with the Palestinian Authority, and Gazans Won’t Overthrow Hamas

July 24 2017

Since the terrorist organization Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007, much of Israeli strategy toward it has stemmed from the belief that, if sufficient pressure is applied, the territory’s residents will rise up against it. Yaakov Amidror argues this is unlikely to happen, and he also doubts that improved living conditions for ordinary Gazans would deter Hamas from terrorism or war:

The hardships experienced by the Strip’s residents, no matter how terrible, will not drive them to stage a coup to topple Hamas. The organization is entrenched in Gaza and is notorious for its brutality toward any sign of dissidence, and the Palestinians know there is no viable alternative waiting for an opportunity to [take over].

[Therefore], it is time everyone got used to the idea that Hamas is not about to relinquish its dominant position in the Gaza Strip, let alone concede to the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas. . . . [Yet the] assumption is also baseless that if Gaza experiences economic stability and prosperity, Hamas would refrain from provoking hostilities. This misconception is based on the theory that Hamas operates by governmental norms and prioritizes the needs and welfare of its citizens. This logic does not apply to Hamas. . . .

[Hamas’s] priorities are to bolster its military power and cement its iron grip. This is why all the supplies Israel allows into Gaza on a daily basis to facilitate normal life have little chance of reaching the people. Hamas first and foremost takes care of its leaders and makes sure it has what it needs to sustain its terror-tunnel-digging enterprise and its weapon-production efforts. It then sees to the needs of its members, and then—and only then—what little is left is diverted to rehabilitation efforts that benefit the population.

This is why the argument that Israel is responsible for Gaza’s inability to recover from its plight is baseless. Hamas is the one that determines the priorities by which to allocate resources in the enclave, and the more construction materials that enter Gaza, the easier and faster it is for Hamas to restore its military capabilities. Should Israel sacrifice its own security on the altar of Gazans’ living conditions? I don’t think so.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security