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The Danger of Reducing the Bible to a Political Fairytale

April 20 2017

In The Beginning of Politics, Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes seek to identify the political lessons of the biblical book of Samuel. David Wolpe argues that this approach, although it yields some worthy insights, is inherently flawed:

Some of [the authors’] observations are deep and resonant. But throughout they struggle with the slippery reality that a great story resists reduction of this sort. Classic narratives defeat analysis by those who view such stories through too narrow a lens. Fairy tales have morals; more complex stories must embrace human contradiction.

As we would expect with two such able observers . . . there are many penetrating observations here about dynasties, their dangers, and the rippling effects of attaining and losing power. . . . But at too many other moments Halbertal and Holmes descend into the pedestrian. They do not have much that is original to say on their subject. They observe that “when it helps consolidate rather than undermine the ruler’s hold on power, justice is much more likely to be done.” Well, yes. Or this: “Where the choice comes down to killing or being killed, the very distinction between the moral and the instrumental, so important to those of us uninvolved in power politics, may effectively disappear.” I would hazard a guess that when it comes to killing or being killed, the distinction between the moral and the instrumental disappears for those not involved in power politics [as well].

Read more at Commentary

More about: Biblical Politics, Book of Samuel, Hebrew Bible, King David, Religion & Holidays

Israel’s Success Has Surprised Everyone

April 20 2018

On the eve of Israel’s decision to declare statehood, 70 years ago, the CIA estimated that a Jewish state couldn’t hold off its Arab enemies for more than two years, while the famed Haganah commander Yigael Yadin told David Ben-Gurion that their chances of victory were fifty-fifty. Daniel Gordis describes just how wildly the country has managed to outpace expectations:

In 1948, there were some 650,000 Jews in Israel, who represented about 5 percent of the world’s Jews. Today, Israel’s Jewish population has grown ten-fold and stands at about 6.8 million people. Some 43 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel; this population overtook American Jews several years ago and is now the world’s largest Jewish community. . . .

Beyond mere survival, the other challenge that the young Jewish state faced was feeding and housing the hundreds of thousands of Jews who were flocking to its borders. At times, financial collapse seemed imminent. Food was rationed and black markets developed. Israel had virtually no heavy machinery for building the infrastructure that it desperately needed. Until Germany paid Holocaust reparations, the young state’s financial condition was perilous.

Today, that worry also feels like a relic from another time. Israel is not only a significant military power, but also a formidable economic machine. A worldwide center for technology that has more companies listed on the Nasdaq than any country other than the U.S., Israel’s economy barely hiccupped in 2008. The shekel, its currency, is strong. Like other countries, Israel has a worrisome income gap between rich and poor, but fears of an economic collapse have vanished.

Israel has become an important cultural center, vastly disproportionately for a country whose population approximates that of New York City. When the five finalists for the Man Booker literary prize were announced last year, two were Israelis who write in Hebrew: David Grossman and Amos Oz. Grossman won. . . . Today, Americans and Europeans alike wait hungrily for new episodes of Israeli shows like Fauda, while others (like Homeland and The A-Word) have been remade into American and British series.

On the occasion of Independence Day, Israelis are fully conscious—and deeply proud—of the fact that their country has exceeded the ambitions of the men and women who founded it seven decades ago.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: David Ben-Gurion, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli Independence Day, Israeli literature, Israeli society