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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

 

Mahmoud Abbas Comes to the UN to Walk away from the Negotiating Table

Feb. 22 2018

On Tuesday, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, addressed the United Nations Security Council during one of its regular discussions of the “Palestine question.” He used the opportunity to elaborate on the Palestinians’ “5,000-year history” in the land of Israel, after which he moved on to demand—among other things—that the U.S. reverse its recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The editors of the Weekly Standard comment:

It’s convenient for Abbas to suggest a condition to which he knows the United States won’t accede. It allows him to do what he does best—walk away from the table. Which is what he did on Tuesday, literally. After his speech, Abbas and his coterie of bureaucrats walked out of the council chamber, snubbing the next two speakers, the Israeli ambassador Danny Danon and the U.S. ambassador Nikki Haley, . . . [in order to have his] photograph taken with the Belgian foreign minister.

Abbas has neither the power nor the will to make peace. It’s the perennial problem afflicting Palestinian leadership. If he compromises on the alleged “right of return”—the chimerical idea that Palestinians can re-occupy the lands from which they [or their ancestors] fled, in effect obliterating the Israeli state—he will be deposed by political adversaries. Thus his contradictory strategy: to prolong his pageantry in international forums such as the UN, and to fashion himself a “moderate” even as he finances and incites terror. He seems to believe time is on his side. But it’s not. He’s eighty-two. While he continues his performative intransigence, he further immiserates the people he claims to represent.

In a sense, it was entirely appropriate that Abbas walked out. In that sullen act, he [exemplified] his own approach to peacemaking: when difficulties arise, vacate the premises and seek out photographers.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Mahmoud Abbas, Nikki Haley, Politics & Current Affairs, United Nations