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Abraham Isaac Kook’s Enduring Insights into the Paradoxes of Modernity

March 28 2017

Reviewing a recent translation of the writings of Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)—the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi of Palestine and the leading ideologue of religious Zionism—Zach Truboff reflects on how the writings of this original thinker have withstood the test of time:

The philosophy of history offered by Kook has long had its opponents. A central reason for such opposition is that this approach to history has the tendency to deny the autonomy and agency of human actors. . . . [But] perhaps . . . the most damning critique of Kook’s philosophy of history is that it has not yet been fulfilled. The messianic era, which [he claimed was] just beyond the horizon, now appears more distant than ever.

When all is said and done, the most enduring aspect of Kook’s philosophy of history may be its deep grasp of the human condition. Kook’s dialectical thinking allowed him to identify modernity’s radical possibilities along with the dark underside that is all too often ignored. Living at the end of the 19th century, Kook was a witness to the birth of incredible freedoms that facilitated great spiritual possibilities. At the same time, he also saw the terrible disruptions brought about by the forces of modernization. . . .

In [his essay] “The Way of the Renascence,” Kook points out that modernity’s emphasis on intellectual rationalization fails to appreciate the power of irrationality from which spirituality is often drawn. Spirituality, though, cannot be ignored, and any attempt to cordon it off will eventually lead to its reemergence in unpredictable and even uncontrollable ways. In [another essay], Kook identifies the enduring nature of national community. Human beings have an instinctual need for a sense of home, finding great meaning in their identification with a larger collective. Liberal cosmopolitanism, in its attempt to erase national borders and create a universal human identity, often runs against the grain of human nature.

Finally, the most dangerous aspect of modernity is the way in which secularism eliminates the divine idea from human life. Kook noted that all human culture, whether in the realm of economics, science, art, or philosophy, is a manifestation of humanity’s search for transcendent meaning. Secularism, however, limits human endeavor to the pursuit of self-fulfillment. Without transcendent meaning to guide their lives, human beings will descend into anger, frustration, and societal decay.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Abraham Isaac Kook, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Religious Zionism, Secularism

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen