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Did Orthodox Jews Beat Academic Bible Scholars at Their Own Game?

Aug. 11 2017

Responding to Joshua Berman’s recent Mosaic essay on the corruption of biblical studies, Michah Gottlieb looks to Samson Raphael Hirsch’s critique of academic scholarship of both Bible and Talmud to argue that there exists an unbridgeable gap between Orthodox Judaism and biblical criticism. Hirsch, a 19th-century rabbi who led German Orthodoxy during the heyday of the Reform movement, admired secular philosophy and high culture, but saw no place for the historical study of Judaism:

For Hirsch (as for Benedict Spinoza, [the founder of biblical criticism]), Orthodoxy and historical scholarship rest on mutually exclusive, utterly irreconcilable premises. Historical scholarship assumes that history unfolds according to natural processes and that all literature is generated by human authors operating within specific historical contexts. When problems such as contradictions, gaps, and repetitions occur in the biblical text, the scholar explains them as the result of errors, multiple sources, competing agendas, and so forth. By contrast, Orthodox Judaism rests on the assumption that the Torah is a unique, perfect text miraculously dictated by God to Moses. The Bible’s contradictions, repetitions, and gaps show that it is not a straightforward text, but rather a hieroglyphic work consisting of multiple levels of meaning that must be deciphered.

[However, Hirsch] claims that in an important respect, Orthodox Judaism approaches the academic ideal of historical accuracy better than [academic] scholarship itself. Historical scholarship seeks to understand texts as they were originally intended. . . . Orthodox Judaism seeks to understand the Bible for a practical purpose, namely as a guide to life. Given that the Bible presents itself as addressing the reader with divine commandments, . . . Hirsch sees Orthodox Judaism’s approach to the Bible as coming closer to the scholarly ideal of understanding texts as they were originally intended.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical criticism, Judaism, Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays, Samson Raphael Hirsch

Getting It Right in Afghanistan

Aug. 23 2017

While praising the president’s announcement Monday night that the U.S. will be sending 4,000 more troops to Afghanistan, Thomas Joscelyn and Bill Roggio express their “doubt [that] this will be enough to win the war.” They also warn against the dangers of a complete or partial American withdrawal and offer some strategic recommendations:

Al-Qaeda is still a significant problem in South Asia—a potentially big one. President Obama frequently claimed that al-Qaeda was “decimated” and a “shadow of its former self” in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That wasn’t true. The Obama administration’s counterterrorism campaign dealt significant blows to al-Qaeda’s leadership, disrupting the organization’s chain of command and interrupting its communications. But al-Qaeda took measures to outlast America’s drones and other tactics. The group survived the death of Osama bin Laden and, in many ways, grew. . . .

Al-Qaeda continues to fight under the Taliban’s banner as well. Its newest branch, Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, is deeply embedded in the Taliban-led insurgency. . . . There’s no question that Islamic State remains a serious problem in Afghanistan and Pakistan, but it still doesn’t threaten the Afghan government to the same degree that the Taliban/al-Qaeda axis does. . . .

Iran remains a problem, too. The Iranian government has supported the Taliban’s insurgency since 2001. Although this assistance is not as pronounced as Pakistan’s, it is meaningful. The U.S. government has also repeatedly noted that Iran hosts al-Qaeda’s “core facilitation pipeline,” which moves fighters, funds, and communications to and from South Asia. Any successful strategy for turning the Afghan war around will have to deal with the Iranian government’s nefarious role. The Russians are [also] on the opposite side of the Afghan war.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Afghanistan, Al Qaeda, Iran, Taliban, U.S. Foreign policy