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

 

Iran’s Defeat May Not Be Immediate, but Effective Containment Is at Hand

Aug. 20 2018

In the 1980s, the U.S. pursued a policy of economic, military, and political pressure on the Soviet Union that led to—or at least hastened—its collapse while avoiding a head-on military confrontation. Some see reasons to hope that a similar strategy might bring about the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Frederick Kagan, however, argues against excessive optimism. Carefully comparing the current situation of Iran to that of the Gorbachev-era USSR, he suggests instead that victory over Tehran can be effectively achieved even if the regime persists, at least for the time being:

What must [an Iran] strategy accomplish in order to advance American national security and vital national interests? Regime change was the only outcome during the cold war that could accomplish those goals, given the conventional and nuclear military power of the Soviet Union. Iran is much weaker by every measure and much more vulnerable to isolation than the Soviets were. . . . Isolating Iran from external resources and forcing the regime to concentrate on controlling its own population would be major accomplishments that would transform the Middle East. . . .

It is vital to note that the strategy toward the Soviet Union included securing Western Europe against the Soviet threat and foreclosing Soviet efforts to pare America’s allies, especially West Germany, away from it while simultaneously supporting (in an appropriately limited fashion) the Solidarity uprising in Poland and the anti-Soviet insurgency in Afghanistan. It is not meaningful to speak of a victory strategy against Iran that does not include contesting Iranian control and influence in Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq while strengthening and hardening the Arab frontline states (including Oman and Qatar) against Iranian influence.

Syria is Iran’s Afghanistan—it is the theater in which Iranian forces are most vulnerable, where Iranian popular support for the war is wearing thin, and where the U.S. can compel [Iran] to expend its limited resources on a defensive battle. Iraq is Iran’s Poland—the area Iran has come to dominate, but with limitations, and a country Iran’s leaders believe they cannot afford to lose. The U.S. is infinitely better positioned to contest Iran’s control over Iraq than it ever was in Poland (and similarly better positioned in Syria than it was in Afghanistan).

A long-term approach would focus on building a consensus among America’s allies about the need to implement a victory strategy. It would deter the Russians and Chinese from stepping in to keep Iran alive. It would disrupt the supply chain of strategic materials Iran needs to advance its nuclear and conventional military capabilities. And it would force Iran to fight hard for its positions in Iraq and Syria while simultaneously pressing the Iranian economy in every possible way. Such a strategy would almost certainly force the Islamic Republic back in on itself, halt and reverse its movement toward regional hegemony, exacerbate schisms within the Iranian leadership and between the regime and the people, and possibly, over time, and in a uniquely Iranian way, lead to a change in the nature of the regime.

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More about: Cold War, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Soviet Union, U.S. Foreign policy