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Ecclesiastes Is an Affirmation of Life and the Power of Wisdom, Not an Expression of Despair

Oct. 10 2017

The book of Ecclesiastes—traditionally read in many Jewish congregations on the holiday of Sukkot—purports to be the reflections on life of an aging king, identified as “Kohelet son of David” and traditionally believed to be King Solomon. While the book is often understood by modern readers as being at odds with the rest of the Hebrew Bible, sharing more in common with ancient Greek or pagan thought than with Judaism, Ethan Dor-Shav argues that it in fact rejects pagan attitudes and presents a uniquely Jewish view of life (2004).

Whereas all the great emperors and kings of old strove to achieve eternal life by erecting grand monuments to themselves, Kohelet understands that such attempts are illusory. He is therefore forced to pose the elementary question: if I die anyway, why does anything matter? His first word, however, is not his last. For there are numerous passages in Ecclesiastes that move in the opposite direction. They affirm, for example, the positive value of a joyful life. The same Kohelet who appears to say so often that “all is vanity” [or, in more modern translations, “futility”], also exclaims that “there is nothing better than man rejoicing,” and that “nothing is better for man under the sun than to eat, drink, and be joyful.” . . . Similar verses can also be found that affirm the importance of action in this world, as well as the acquisition of wisdom—verses that do not square well with the belief that all is vanity. . . .

Ultimately, if there is an underlying message in the book of Ecclesiastes, it is this: that only in understanding the transience of life do we attain the beginning of wisdom; and, in turn, only through the wisdom derived from our experience of life can we in some way take part in that which is eternal. The importance of wisdom is mentioned repeatedly in Ecclesiastes. . . . Kohelet realizes that true wisdom is the one thing that is not dependent on transient circumstances. Yet all of the transient circumstances in this world serve as the means of acquiring it. . . .

Neither Solomon’s riches, nor his power, nor even his monumental temple in Jerusalem survived under the sun. What has indeed lasted, however, is the legacy of his wisdom, embodied in the book of Ecclesiastes. This belief in knowledge as the highest form of spirituality has served as the Jewish torch throughout the ages. And no small measure of that light is reflected in the understanding that only ideas can defy time, transforming the world.

Read more at Azure

More about: Ecclesiastes, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

Europe Has a Chance to Change Its Attitude toward Israel

Dec. 15 2017

In Europe earlier this week, Benjamin Netanyahu met with several officials and heads of state. Ahead of his visit, the former Italian parliamentarian Fiamma Nirenstein addressed a letter to these European leaders, urging them to reevaluate their attitudes toward the status of Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Israel-Palestinian peace process, the gravity of European anti-Semitism, and the threat posed by Hamas and Hizballah. In it she writes:

For years, the relationship between Europe and Israel has been strained. Europe tends to criticize Israel for simply defending itself against the continual threats and terrorist attacks it faces on all its borders and inside its cities. Europe too often disregards not only Israel’s most evident attempts to bring about peace—such as its disengagement from Gaza—but also chides it for its cautiousness when considering what solutions are risky and which will truly ensure the security of its citizens.

The EU has never recognized the dangers posed by Hamas and Hizballah, as well as by many other jihadist groups—some of which are backed by [the allegedly moderate] Fatah. The EU constantly blames Israel in its decisions, resolutions, papers and “non-papers,” letters, and appeals. Some of Europe’s most important figures insist that sanctions against the “territories” are necessary—a political stance that will certainly not bring about a solution to this conflict that . . . the Israelis would sincerely like to resolve. Israel has repeated many times that it is ready for direct negotiation without preconditions with the Palestinians. No answer has been received.

The European Union continues to put forth unrealistic solutions to the Israel-Palestinian issue, and the results have only aggravated the situation further. Such was the case in 2015 when it sanctioned Israeli companies and businesses in the territories over the Green Line, forcing them to close industrial centers that provided work to hundreds of Palestinians. The Europeans promoted the harmful idea that delegitimizing Israel can be accomplished through international pressure and that negotiations and direct talks with Israel can be avoided. . . .

[Meanwhile], Iran’s imperialist designs now touch all of Israel’s borders and put the entire world at risk of a disastrous war while Iran’s closest proxy, Hizballah, armed with hundreds of thousands of missiles, proudly presents the most explicit terrorist threat. Europe must confront these risks for the benefit of its citizens, first by placing Hizballah on its list of terrorist organizations and secondly, by reconsidering and revising its relationship with Iran.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Europe and Israel, European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy