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

How Lebanon—and Hizballah—Conned and Humiliated Rex Tillerson

Feb. 21 2018

Last Thursday, the American secretary of state arrived in Beirut to express Washington’s continued support for the country’s government, which is now entirely aligned with Hizballah. His visit came shortly after Israel’s showdown with Hizballah’s Iranian protectors in Syria and amid repeated warnings from Jerusalem about the terrorist organization’s growing threat to Israeli security. To Tony Badran, Tillerson’s pronouncements regarding Lebanon have demonstrated the incoherence of the Trump administration’s policy:

[In Beirut], Tillerson was made to sit alone in a room with no American flag in sight and wait—as photographers took pictures and video—before Hizballah’s chief allies in Lebanon’s government, President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law the foreign minister, finally came out to greet him. Images of the U.S. secretary of state fidgeting in front of an empty chair were then broadcast across the Middle East to symbolize American impotence at a fateful moment for the region. . . .

Prior to heading to Beirut, Tillerson gave an interview to the American Arabic-language station al-Hurra, in which he emphasized that Hizballah was a terrorist organization, and that the United States expected cooperation from the “Lebanon government to deal very clearly and firmly with those activities undertaken by Lebanese Hizballah that are unacceptable to the rest of the world.” . . . But then, while in Jordan, Tillerson undermined any potential hints of firmness by reading from an entirely different script—one that encapsulates the confused nonsense that is U.S. Lebanon policy. Hizballah is “influenced by Iran,” Tillerson said. But, he added, “We also have to acknowledge the reality that they also are part of the political process in Lebanon”—which apparently makes being “influenced by Iran” and being a terrorist group OK. . . .

The reality on the ground in Lebanon, [however], is [that] Hizballah is not only a part of the Lebanese government, it controls it—along with all of the country’s illustrious “institutions,” including the Lebanese Armed Forces. . . .

[Meanwhile], Israel’s tactical Syria-focused approach to the growing threat on its borders has kept the peace so far, but it has come at a cost. For one thing, it does not address the broader strategic factor of Iran’s growing position in Syria, and it leaves Iran’s other regional headquarters in Lebanon untouched. Also, it sets a pace that is more suitable to Iran’s interests. The Iranians can absorb tactical strikes so long as they are able to consolidate their strategic position in Syria and Lebanon. Not only have the Iranians been able to fly a drone into Israel but also their allies and assets have made gains on the ground near the northern Golan and in Mount Hermon. As Iran’s position strengthens, and as Israel’s military and political hand weakens, the Israelis will soon be left with little choice other than to launch a devastating war.

To avoid that outcome, the United States needs to adjust its policy—and fast. Rather than leaving Israel to navigate around the Russians and go after Iran’s assets in Syria and Lebanon on its own, it should endorse Israel’s red lines regarding Iran in Syria, and amplify its campaign against Iranian assets. In addition, it should revise its Lebanon policy and end its investment in the Hizballah-controlled order there.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, U.S. Foreign policy