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

Close the PLO Office in Washington

April 24 2017

In the wake of the Oslo Accords, and in order to facilitate futher negotiations, Congress carved out an exception to the 1987 Anti-Terrorism Act to permit the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)—a known terrorist group—to open an office in the U.S. capital. The legislation allows the president to extend this “temporary” waiver at his discretion—which every president since Bill Clinton has done. Shoshana Bryen argues that putting an end to the policy is a proper punishment for the PLO’s continued financial support for terrorists and their families.

[The waiver] was conditional on the PLO’s meeting its Oslo Accords obligations, including refraining from terrorism and renouncing international moves that would impede a bilateral agreement on final-status issues. . . .

In 2011, a Palestinian bid for recognition as a full member of the UN failed, but the waiver remained. Over U.S. objections, “Palestine” joined the International Criminal Court in 2015 [in violation of the Accords and thus of the waiver’s conditions]. . . .

[Furthermore], worried about foreign-aid payments from the U.S. and the EU, in 2014 the Palestinian Authority (PA) claimed it stopped paying salaries [to terrorists and their familites] and that future money would come from a new PLO Commission of Prisoner Affairs. . . . [I]n 2015, a year after the PA “officially” transferred authority over Palestinian prisoners to the PLO, it also transferred an extra 444-million shekels (more than $116 million) to the PLO—nearly the same amount that the PA had allocated in the previous years to its now-defunct Ministry of Prisoners’ Affairs. . . .

[T]he U.S. government should let the PLO and PA know that we are onto their game. Disincentivizing terrorism by closing the PLO office in Washington would be a good first step.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, PLO, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy