A New History of Judaism and Its Lessons for Today’s Intra-Jewish Conflicts

Aug. 28 2018

In A History of Judaism, the British scholar Martin Goodman traces the religion’s development from the 1st century CE to the present day. Praising the book, Elliot Jager describes it as a “clear, skillfully synthesized one-volume work” that tells its story with “just the right amount of razzle-dazzle.” One theme that emerges from Goodman’s book, Jager writes, is Judaism’s emphasis on the covenant:

For Goodman, there can be no Judaism without the covenant, and his history grapples with how Jewish civilization has interpreted the covenant over time. Judaism has never been static, yet it has a core. He writes: “At root, certain religious ideas percolate through the history of Judaism and render contemporary notions such as secular Judaism, an affiliation divorced from any belief in God, problematic.”

This claim reminds me of how the eminent psychologist Carl Jung put it: “Bidden or not bidden, God is Present.” For Goodman, the covenant binds God “specifically to the Jewish people and lays special duties on them in return.” For me, the covenant is broader: the contractual relationship between the God of Israel, the people of Israel, and the land of Israel. It is a triad that expresses the foundational myth of Judaism. . . .

Another theme Jager detects is the emphasis on mentshlikhkayt—a Yiddish term Jager renders as “human decency”—in so many traditional Jewish texts. On this note, the book also conveys some lessons that might be helpful in today’s era of Jewish disunity:

Can today’s progressive and traditionalist Jews show mentshlikhkayt toward each other? It seems that [various] streams of Judaism coexisted during the Second Temple era. Pharisees emphasized an oral tradition and introduced . . . the idea of reward and punishment of souls in an afterlife. The probably more marginal Sadducees rejected the legitimacy of non-written traditions and believed that God did not directly intercede in human events. These camps shared space in the Temple, Goodman writes.

Read more at Jager File

More about: Covenant, History & Ideas, Judaism


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount