Moses Mendelssohn, Idolatry, and Baseball Cards

Reminiscing about his childhood enthusiasm for collecting baseball cards, Abraham Socher notes that he and his friends imbued these objects with an almost-metaphysical connection to the players depicted upon them. In this way, a card was not unlike an idol that, “in representing the god, . . . becomes a conduit for its power.” The connection puts Socher in mind of the 18th-century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn’s theory of idolatry, which connects the phenomenon to the development of writing itself with the help of a speculative history in which primitive man discovered how to express himself through ever-greater abstraction:

[F]irst, [according to Mendelssohn], “images of the things” replaced the things themselves; then, “for the sake of brevity,” came rapidly sketched outlines and, finally, further stylized hieroglyphics. Such abstraction made knowledge and its transmission possible, but “as always happens in things human, what wisdom builds up in one place, folly readily seeks to tear down in another.” In its progress from the thing itself to the abstract symbol, the sign became opaque, and this led to a new kind of religious error.

“The great multitude,” Mendelssohn writes, “saw the signs not as mere signs, but believed them to be the things themselves.” Hieroglyphics made this both better and worse. They were plainly not faithful images of the thing they represented. [But] the very mystery of an abstract glyph which could almost magically summon up its referent led to “all sorts of inventions and fables,” which were then, according to Mendelssohn, encouraged by . . . manipulative priests.

An idol, then, is a symbol whose referential function has been lost, misunderstood, or deliberately mystified.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Baseball, Idolatry, Moses Mendelssohn

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy