Lessons in Friendship and Tolerance from Moses Mendelssohn

Born to an unremarkable Jewish family in Germany, Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786) acquired both Jewish and general educations and became an active participant in Berlin’s Enlightenment circles, while remaining a strictly observant Jew. He was also a major early proponent of the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment. Throughout his career, he maintained a close friendship with the Gentile philosopher and playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. Yuval Levin, noting the tremendous impact of this friendship on both thinkers, explains the connection between friendship and tolerance in Mendelssohn’s work:

Again and again, Mendelssohn found himself confronted by well-meaning Christians, even friends, who argued that he was simply too wise and sensible to remain a Jew, and pressing him to explain his resistance to their Christianity. He also gave thought to the related set of pressures on the Jewish world more generally in an era of self-confident enlightenment, which threatened to draw Jews away from their traditional communities.

Mendelssohn proposed a set of responses to these broader pressures that combined traditional practice and the confident assertion of the word of God as Jews understood it with a forthright case for toleration in the intellectual sphere. . . . [And] he denied the charge, leveled by some of those who sought his conversion, that the dictates of reason—the very Enlightenment ideals he championed—demanded that he abandon the faith of his fathers. . . .

But toleration, [in Mendelssohn’s view], did not amount to peaceful mutual disdain. It could be much more than that precisely because of friendship. Indeed, the idea of friendship was central to Mendelssohn’s response to the pressures he confronted. Friendship could help avoid turning disagreement into hostility. In making this argument, he flaunted his friendship with Lessing, publishing a kind of essay on friendship (formulated as a letter to Lessing) that offers an intense, idealized treatment of the possibilities of friendship as a source of both intellectual camaraderie and human meaning. It proposes the possibility of intellectual friendship overcoming differences of doctrine and belief without demeaning them, and so serving as a bridge in practice between conflicting and equally unpalatable alternatives that seemed unbridgeable in theory. And it is clearly a response, as well, to the pressures for conversion directed at Mendelssohn—pressures often offered in friendship, but which he implies risked running counter to the very idea of friendship. . . .

[Today], our society’s secular culture is constantly pressing in on those who espouse pre-liberal faiths. What it says—in its most inviting and least hostile forms—is basically that these believers are surely too wise and sensible to remain people of faith. Our progressive society thinks religious people should be able to reason their way to its own practices and beliefs, which it takes to be obvious rational truths, and morally superior, too. It sounds like some of what Mendelssohn heard from his friends.

Read more at Comment

More about: Enlightenment, German Jewry, Haskalah, History & Ideas, Moses Mendelssohn, Religion, Tolerance


Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security