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A Talmudic Scholar’s Appreciation of the American Constitution

Sept. 5 2017

Orthodox Jews in the United States remember Moses Feinstein (1895-1986) as a preeminent halakhist who brought his immense erudition to bear on the thorniest questions of Jewish practice. But when, in March 1939, America celebrated the 150th anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution, he delivered a sermon displaying a rarely noted political awareness. As Elli Fischer observes, his encomium to the wisdom of the American system of government must be read in the context of rising Nazi and Communist threats to Jews and to the world in general. Herewith, quoted by Fischer, the sermon’s key passage:

Every superstition and every nonsensical opinion in the world claims to bring light to the world and creates beautiful things to deceive and win over adherents. However, since many do not espouse [these beliefs, their followers] compel anyone they can, with sword and spear, to adopt their views. This is true in all times, with respect both to matters of faith and to matters of ideology, past and present, and especially in Russia and Germany. . . . Ultimately, all that is left is wickedness, not the ideology it was fashioned to support; what need do they have for [ideology] once they have swords and spears? . . . In the end, only the sword and spear remain, while the light is completely extinguished, as we see in the extremes of Germany and Russia.

Therefore, no sovereign power should accept one single faith or one single ideology, because ultimately only the power will remain, without an ideology, and this leads to destruction, as we see with our very eyes . . . . Rather, [a regime] must only serve its function, which is to see that no one perpetrates injustice against another, steals, or murders, for, [as the Talmud states] if not for the fear of the regime, people would swallow one another alive. However, with regard to opinion, religion, and speech, everyone shall be free to do as he wishes.

Therefore, the United States, which established in its Constitution 150 years ago that it will not uphold any faith or any ideology, rather, that each person shall do as he desires, and the regime will see that people do not molest one another, is carrying out God’s will. It is for that reason that it has succeeded and become great in our times.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Moses Feinstein, Religion & Holidays, Totalitarianism, U.S. Constitution

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