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.

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Read more at Jager File

More about: Covenant, History & Ideas, Judaism

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism