Charles Krauthammer’s Reflections on Israel, Zionism, Judaism, and God

June 25 2018

Last week, Charles Krauthammer, one of America’s most incisive and influential political analysts and a profound thinker on issues pertaining to Judaism and the Jewish people, passed away at the age of sixty-eight. In 2016, Krauthammer engaged in an extended conversation with Roger Hertog based on his 1998 essay “At Last, Zion,” on the future of the Jewish people in American and Israel. At the conversation’s end, Krauthammer elaborates on a remark he once made that “I don’t believe in God, but I fear Him greatly.” (Video is available here.)

Long ago, when I was very young, I went from being a fervent believer to being not so much a non-believer as a skeptic. My theology can be summed up [thus]: the only theology I know is not true . . . is atheism. Everything else I’m unsure about. . . . The idea [espoused by] Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins that . . . there is nothing except what we see, and that’s it, is to me the most implausible, arrogant. It just can’t be, because things don’t create themselves. . . .

I have a deep belief in a transcendent “out there.” I don’t particularly believe in the mythologies that are told by any of the religions. I have an enormous attachment to the Jewish tradition and to the depth and the subtlety of its understanding of life, morality, and of metaphysics. I’ve always been interested in it, and to me . . . it is important for Jews to try to continue that tradition, to make sure it lives, and to make sure that culture is nourished. . . .

As to my own idea [that even if there is no God], “I fear Him greatly,” it’s because I believe in transcendence, some transcendence. [Since] I will never—we will never, as a species—be able to grasp what it is, there is a certain trepidation. In Judaism it’s called the fear of heaven. . . . I’m not really afraid, but in some ways you tremble when you look at the universe and you think, “I think I understand things.” . . . Human beings need to tremble when looking at the universe. If not, they don’t understand what’s going on. That’s sort of the key: to understand how little we can understand. . . .

[But] I didn’t raise my son to believe that. . . . The religion of the family was Judaism. I wanted him to have exactly what I was given, which was traditional, orthodox, literal. You’ve got to learn the texts; you have to know the Talmud; you have to be able to read Rashi; you have to know what’s there. . . .

[W]hat I myself believe would mean the end of the Jewish people. . . . It’s not satisfying. You try to teach a respect and love for the tradition, and a respect for the majesty of the culture, but that’s a pretty abstract and detached idea, it’s not something you can transmit.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Jewish education, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Theology

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF had been drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed in the raid, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events, beginning with the more recent:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror