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A Protestant’s Reflections on the Jewish Message of Christmas

Contemplating the fact that the Christmas story is one in which all the main characters are Jewish, Walter Russell Mead explores the problem Jewish particularity poses for Christian theology:

New Year’s Day has long been celebrated [by Christians] as the Feast of the Circumcision, the day on which the baby Jesus underwent the traditional rite that, from the time of Abraham, was seen as proclaiming the special relationship between the Jewish people and God. . .

[The] real question here [is] not so much about why the Jews were chosen as about why there should be a chosen people at all. Why would a universal God who presumably loves all people equally choose one people with whom to have a special relationship? How can we reconcile the claims of this special relationship with God’s [purported] commitment to universal justice? . . .

So when we speak of God “choosing” the Jews, the most perplexing problem is less about the specific people God chose than about why God would contribute to the formation of these national and cultural identities that have been responsible for countless wars.

These reflections lead Mead to address the modern problem of nations and nationalism in today’s interconnected world:

It is self-evidently true that our global economy and the many interests the world’s countries have in common demand more complex forms of international cooperation than ever before. . . . But I don’t think the world is going to learn Esperanto anytime soon. The pull of national and religious identity is too strong to be ignored—and the pull of cosmopolitan civilization and universal institutions is ultimately too weak to call forth the kind of economic and political solidarity that some kind of world government would need. Germans don’t want to pay the bill for early-retiring Greeks in the EU; they have even less solidarity with Uganda and Laos.

We are stuck with nationalism and other irrational but deeply held identities and values; we must learn to work through them rather than against them. We think of the tradeoff between local identities and universal values as a modern problem, but it is deeply rooted in human experience. In the ancient world, where tribal and family affiliations were very strong, many cultures shared a strong belief in the moral duty of hospitality to strangers, whatever their tribe. Day-to-day life revolved around your own group of close associates, but the duty of hospitality required a willingness to look beyond these limits to recognize the common humanity and worth of all people.

Read more at American Interest

More about: Chosen people, Christianity, Christmas, Circumcision, Nationalism, Religion & Holidays

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