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


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria