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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

Israel’s Economy Thrives While the Middle East Disintegrates

Jan. 19 2018

Now that the data have come in from 2017, it is clear that the Israeli economy had another successful year, expanding at a rate higher than that of any other advanced country. Israel’s per-capita GDP also grew, placing it above those of France and Japan. Daniel Kryger notes some of the implications regarding the Jewish state’s place in the Middle East:

The contrast between first-world Israel and the surrounding third-world Arab states is larger today than ever before. Israel’s GDP per capita is almost twenty times the GDP per capita of impoverished Egypt and five times larger than semi-developed Lebanon.

Like any human project, Israel is a never-ending work in progress and much work remains to integrate ḥaredi Jews and Israeli Arabs into Israel’s knowledge economy. Properly addressing Israel’s high costs of living requires more economic and legislative reforms and breaking up inefficient oligopolies that keep the prices artificially high. However, by any standard, the reborn Jewish state is a remarkable success story. . . .

Much has changed since OPEC launched its oil embargo against the West after the failed Arab aggression against Israel in October 1973. Before the collapse of the pro-Arab Soviet empire, China and India had no official ties with Israel and many Western and Japanese companies avoided doing business with Israel. Collapsing oil prices have dramatically eroded the power of oil-producing countries. It has become obvious that the future belongs to those who innovate, not those who happen to sit on oil. Israel has today strong commercial ties with China and a thriving partnership with India. Business delegations from Jamaica to Japan are eager to do business with Israel and benefit from Israel’s expertise. . . .

[For its part], the boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) movement may bully Jewish and pro-Israel students on Western campuses. However, in real life, BDS stands no chance of succeeding against Israel. The reason is simple: reborn Israel has . . . become too valuable a player in the global economy.

Read more at Mida

More about: BDS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Middle East, OPEC