Is Jewish Law an Expression of Heavenly Ideals or a Pragmatic Measure for Bringing Order to Society?

In this week’s Torah reading of Mishpatim, God communicates to Moses a catalogue of civil laws, addressing such issues as torts, property, punishments for theft, and so forth. The German-born Spanish rabbi Jacob ben Asher (ca. 1269-1343), in the introduction to his codification of the corresponding body of talmudic law, attempts to explain the purpose of judges, courts, and the legal system itself, arguing that without such institutions, society would disintegrate into a war of all against all. Contrasting Jacob ben Asher’s approach with that of another Spanish talmudist, Nissim of Gerona (1320-1376), Shlomo Zuckier examines their radically different interpretations of Jewish law:

[Nissim] argues that, in actuality, there exists [in the Torah’s view] a dual rather than a singular system, one based on a rule of the judge and the other based on the law of the king. Judges and courts are enjoined to apply the laws according to their pristine truth, on the basis of the rules stated in the Torah, while the king . . . is charged with ensuring an orderly society.

These two branches of government are supposed to complement one another: the goal of the courts is to live up to the Torah’s theoretical ideals and to bring the divine bounty into the world through their implementation. As the societal effects of this limited application of the law . . . do not necessarily ensure that society is properly organized, the role of the king is to fill the void and take all necessary actions to ensure a safe and healthy society. . . [In fact, Nissim] goes out of his way to note that the judge is considered a partner with God in Creation for bringing God’s justice into the world “whether or not he succeeds in bringing order to society.”

Thus the approaches of the rabbis are directly opposed to one another in their understanding of the purpose of justice. Jacob ben Asher has a very pragmatic view that law creates order, while Nissim has an idealistic or metaphysical view of law as bringing a perfect, theoretical divine vision of justice into the world. In several cases, they treat the same talmudic prooftexts in fascinatingly divergent fashion. . . .

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Jewish law, Judaism, Law, Middle Ages, Religion & Holidays

UN Troops in Lebanon Don’t Just Ignore Hizballah. They Protect It

Dec. 18 2018

Two weeks ago, IDF officers showed the commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) the tunnels that Hizballah has dug into Israeli territory. UNIFIL, whose primary mission is to keep Iran-backed jihadist group from using southern Lebanon to attack Israel, responded with a statement that failed even to name Hizballah. Not only is UNIFIL useless at doing its job, writes Evelyn Gordon, but its very presence helps Hizballah, since countries that contribute troops are afraid to put them in harm’s way by aggravating the terrorists they’re meant to contain.

It’s no coincidence that the major contributors to UNIFIL . . . oppose listing Hizballah in its entirety as a terrorist organization. The only EU country that does blacklist the entire organization is Holland, which has exactly one soldier in UNIFIL.

The EU and its other member states blacklist only the [organization’s] military wing, not the political wing. And that’s fine with Hizballah because, as the organization itself admits, any distinction between its political and military wings is purely fictitious. Thus, so long as the political wing is legal, Hizballah can still fundraise and recruit freely in Europe.

A complete ban, however, would genuinely hurt Hizballah. According to a 2017 German intelligence report, Germany alone has [on its soil] some 950 Hizballah operatives actively fundraising and recruiting for the organization. Much of that money is raised through charitable donations, but another significant source is organized crime. An EU report published in August described “a large network of Lebanese nationals offering money-laundering services to organized crime groups in the EU and using a share of the profits to finance terrorism-related activities. . . . An EU ban on Hizballah would thus put a serious crimp in its operations.

UNIFIL, by contrast, hasn’t put the slightest crimp in them. . . . To be fair, expecting UNIFIL to stop Hizballah was never realistic. As a senior Israeli official acknowledged this week, few countries would be willing to contribute troops to a mission that actually involved fighting Hizballah. . . . [Yet] UNIFIL has no problem making accusations against Israel. [A] November report that couldn’t “substantiate” Hizballah’s [illegal] arms transfers declared that UNIFIL had recorded 550 Israeli violations of Lebanon’s airspace and demanded their “immediate cessation.”

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Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: European Union, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Lebanon