Ultra-Orthodox Jews Confront the Philosophy of Freedom

Having recently taught an intensive two-day seminar on the idea of freedom in modern Western thought to a group of male Israeli Ḥaredim—most of whom had had little or no secular education—Peter Berkowitz reflects on the experience:

The students were particularly intrigued by the limits on the exercise of individual rights that John Locke grounded in God’s sovereignty, the priority that the U.S. Constitution gives to the protection of religious freedom, and Alexis de Tocqueville’s insistence that religion makes a surpassing contribution to political stability in America by remaining separate from politics.

Passions flared when we turned to John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty. Students readily appreciated the importance of a public sphere—newspapers, broadcast media, and parliament—in which the condition of their freedom of speech was the freedom of speech of all others. After all, the ultra-Orthodox, too, have interests to advance through the political process. At the same time, they immediately grasped the danger to their way of life posed by the vigorous promotion within the private sphere, embracing their families and communities, of Mill’s core conviction—indeed the conviction at the core of all moral and political education worthy of the name—that “he who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that.” Exposing their sons and daughters to Mill’s case for the sovereign individual, they justly feared, might weaken their children’s attachment to the stringent ultra-Orthodox interpretation of God’s commandments. . . .

Ultimately, both the ultra-Orthodox and broader Israeli society stand to profit from rapprochement. The ultra-Orthodox can acquaint themselves with the pleasures and the pride that stem from developing skills valued by the workplace, providing for one’s family, and contributing to the national defense. And Israel’s secular majority, who—like America’s—tenaciously seek fame and fortune, rigorously choreograph leisure, and restlessly chase after quiet time, can enliven their imagination and deepen their understanding of human diversity by acquainting themselves with those devoted to fulfilling God’s law.

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Alexis de Tocqueville, Freedom, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Religion & Holidays, Ultra-Orthodox

Israel Has Survived Eight Years of Barack Obama’s False Friendship

Jan. 20 2017

In his speech justifying America’s decision to allow passage of the UN Security Council resolution declaring it a violation of international law for Jews to live in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, or the Golan Heights, Secretary of State John Kerry declared that “friends need to tell each other the hard truths.” John Podhoretz comments:

The decision in December by President Obama to abstain on the UN Security Council vote . . . marked the moment he crossed the finish line in the course he had charted from 2008 onward. The turn against Israel was complete. And, as he had when he began it, in farewell interview after farewell interview he characterized his assault on the legitimacy of the Jewish presence in the Holy Land as an act of tough love. . . .

Which raises the key question: why [only] abstain [from the resolution]? If “hard truths” define friendship, then by all means they should have made the truths as hard as possible. If Barack Obama and John Kerry truly believe the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem is illicit, then they should have voted for the resolution. Instead, they took the coward’s way out. They opened the vault to the criminals and placed the jewels in their hands while wearing white gloves so there would be no residual trace of their fingerprints. The abstention was in some weird sense the mark of their bad conscience. They wanted something to happen while maintaining some historical deniability about their involvement in it.

In the eight years of the Obama presidency, war broke out twice between the Palestinians and the Israelis and nearly broke out a third time. In each case, the issue was not the West Bank, or east Jerusalem, or anything near. . . . The idea that the settlements and the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem are the main barrier to peace between Israel and the Palestinians was proved to be a lie right before Obama’s eyes in 2009, and 2012, and 2014. And he didn’t care to see it, because he is blinded by an antipathy he wishes to ascribe to Israeli action when honesty would compel him to find it in his own misguided leftist ideology—or within his own soul.

Israel has survived the horrendous blessing of Barack Obama’s false friendship.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Barack Obama, Israel & Zionism, John Kerry, U.S. Foreign policy, US-Israel relations