What Jews Can Learn from John Locke

Few thinkers have had so great an influence on the American Constitution and regime as the British philosopher John Locke (1632–1704). Among his most prominent works is A Letter Concerning Toleration, which makes one of the earliest and most important arguments for religious freedom. Rafi Eis explores what Jews and the Jewish state can learn from this document:

John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) . . . argues for a kind of separation between church and state based on the idea “that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments, . . . and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls.”

Every few months, the Jewish world and Jewish state is roiled by another religion-state conflict. These disagreements invariably revolve around the autonomy desired by various individuals and communities versus the standards and enforcement powers of the Orthodox rabbinate empowered by the state of Israel. . . . These conflicts would benefit from a reading of Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration.

Locke’s contention that “nobody is born a member of any church” does not reflect a Jewish understanding of religion. Judaism is more than a set of beliefs. We are born as Jews with obligations. While individuals may choose otherwise, that choice is not recognized as halakhically valid. These differences are critical in understanding the tension between individual freedom and national identity today. Israel needs religious toleration, but it must have different underlying principles than those of Locke. As we celebrate the blessing that is Jewish power in a modern nation-state may we also embrace the challenges that such power generates.

Read more at Tradition

More about: Freedom of Religion, John Locke, Judaism in Israel, Tolerance

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict