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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

Hamas’s Dangerous Escalation in Gaza

June 22 2018

As Hamas has stepped up its attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip—using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons—Israel has begun to retaliate more forcefully. In response, the terrorist group has begun firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Yoav Limor comments:

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border [since 2014], this time it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed ‎to Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave. ‎Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of ‎the familiar “rules”—only [firing] at night and only at the ‎ communities in the vicinity of Gaza, and apparently while also ‎trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further ‎escalation. ‎. . .

The first reason [for the shift in tactics] is Israel’s own change of policy ‎with regard to kite terrorism. It took Israel far ‎too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary ‎kites sent over the border as actionable acts of ‎terror, but once it did, the IDF began ‎systematically countering them, including firing ‎warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting ‎Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.‎

The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and ‎distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was ‎launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives ‎have been killed and the Israeli military has ‎carried out over 100 strikes on Hamas positions in ‎the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to ‎show for it. ‎In this situation, Hamas is searching for [some sort of victory] by declaring that “bombings will be ‎met with bombings,” as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum ‎said Wednesday, in order to portray itself as defending Gaza from ‎Israel.‎ . . .

Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military ‎campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its ‎focus from the [developments in Syria], but it is sorely ‎mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain ‎kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new ‎equation it has presented. ‎At some point, Israel’s patience will expire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security