A Great Jewish Scholar’s Rediscovered Lecture on Civil Religion and the American Constitution

March 16 2021

In the 1950s and early 1960s, the German-born scholar of political philosophy Leo Strauss gave a series of lectures for Jewish students at the University of Chicago’s Hillel House. These talks focused primarily on what Strauss called the theological-political problem: the question of how to reconcile the demands of God with the demands of secular citizenship. In “Religion and the Commonweal,” which he delivered in 1963, Strauss expounded on the nature of the civil religion, beginning with such thinkers as Aristotle and Thomas Hobbes, but then addressing the problem of church and state in the American founding and thereafter. Samuel Goldman explores this essay, which was only recently published. (Interview by Will Lombardo and Bradley Davis. Audio, 85 minutes. A recording of Strauss’s lecture can be found here.)

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More about: Civil religion, Leo Strauss, Political philosophy, Religion and politics

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia