For Moses Mendelssohn, Miracles Could Not Prove God’s Existence

Aug. 25 2017

A major debate among medieval rabbis concerns the question of whether the Torah commands belief in God. To many, the opening words of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God . . . ,” constitute just such an injunction; to others, these are simply a preamble. The 18th-century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn favored the latter view. Drawing on both Mendelssohn’s primary treatise on Judaism, Jerusalem, and on his less-studied commentary on the Torah, Judah Kerbel explains how this opinion reflects his interpretation of revelation itself:

Mendelssohn does not believe that the goal of revelation is to prove God’s existence. A miraculous feat does not prove God’s existence for the current non-believer. . . . Instead, to reach belief in God, one needs to hold a received tradition of God’s existence, to determine this truth independently, or to learn the existence of God from other reliable people, be they older family members or scholars. . . . [O]nly those who already believe in God experience revelation as divine, and that experience requires prior learning by some means or another. . . . Mendelssohn claims that the main purpose of the first statement [of the Decalogue] is “to single out [the children of Israel] as a treasure from all the peoples.” . . .

On the contrary, supernatural proofs of God’s existence, as Mendelssohn writes in his commentary on Exodus, are unpersuasive. Rather, we achieve an understanding of God through the intellect. . . .

Mendelssohn [thus believes] that anyone who was present at revelation may have experienced wonder of some sort at the natural sights, but this would not have convinced anyone of anything new or life-altering unless [belief] “was, perhaps, taught, explained, and placed beyond all doubt by human reasoning” [beforehand]. Mendelssohn explains the verse “I am the Lord” as a historical foundation for the commandments but not as a new truth. . . .

This approach to revelation also informs Mendelssohn’s view of other religions. Since God’s existence is discerned through the intellect, and revelation at Sinai does not serve the purpose of proving this point, Mendelssohn affirms the validity of other religions (although it is fascinating that he strongly condemns atheism, calling it an illness that makes society “sick and miserable, whether it is worn down by cancer or consumed by fever”).

Thus, writes Kerbel, Mendelssohn was able to justify, through his philosophy of revelation, both his devotion to the idea of Jewish chosenness and his radical commitment to tolerance.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Moses Mendelssohn, Religion & Holidays, Ten Commandments, Theology, Tolerance


In Pursuing Peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Demand Reciprocity and Keep the Palestinian Question off the Table

Nov. 22 2017

The recent, unprecedented interview given by the IDF chief of staff to a major Arabic news outlet has fed the growing enthusiasm in Israel about the prospects of a peace treaty and mutual recognition between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Mordechai Kedar urges level heads and caution, and puts forward ten principles that should guide any negotiations. Most importantly, he argues that the two countries normalize relations before coming to any agreements about the Palestinians. To this he adds:

The most basic rule in dealing with the Saudis and their friends is that Israel must not feel that it has to pay anything for peace. . . . If the Saudis want to live in peace with us, we will stretch out our hands to offer them peace in return. But that is all they will get. Israel [has] been a state for 70 years without peace with Saudi Arabia and can continue being a state for another 7,000 years without it. Any desire for a quick peace (as expressed in the disastrous slogan “Peace Now”) will raise the price of that peace. . . .

[As part of any agreement], Israel will recognize the House of Saud’s rule in Mecca and Medina—even though the family does not originate from the Hejaz [where the holy cities are located] but from the Najd highland—in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel’s right to Jerusalem as its historic and eternal capital city. Israel will recognize Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or a state belonging to the Jewish people. . . .

Israel will not allow incitement against Saudi Arabia in its media. In return, the Saudis will not allow anti-Israel incitement in Saudi media. . . .

It is important to keep the Americans and Europeans away from the negotiating table, since they will not be party to the agreement and will not have to suffer the results of its not being honored—and since their interests are not necessarily those of Israel, especially when it comes to the speed at which the negotiations move forward. The Americans want to cut a deal, even a bad deal, and if they are allowed into the negotiation rooms, they will pressure Israel to give in, mainly on the Palestinian issue.

Read more at Israel National News

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia