Why the Talmud Rejected the Greek View of Divine Law

In What’s Divine about Divine Law?, Christine Hayes explores the talmudic sages’ understanding of the divinity of halakhah, and emphasizes the differences between their approach and that of Greek and Roman thinkers who made a clear distinction between divine law, which is made evident by nature, and human law. Benjamin Silver writes in his review:

[T]he rabbis of the Talmud were, like Paul, Philo, and numerous other Jews of the time, . . . responding to the Hellenistic dichotomy of human and divine law. Hayes brings down a mountain of evidence—from the Palestinian Talmud, from the Babylonian Talmud, from early and late midrashic works, and from the Qumran texts (popularly known as the “Dead Sea Scrolls”)—to demonstrate that the sages of the Talmud were well aware of the Hellenistic view, that they considered it seriously, and that they found it lacking.

The result is a law that was authored by God and yet remains, in certain respects, flexible, particular to the Jewish community, irrational, and, interestingly, untrue (insofar as Jewish law does not always align with logical, metaphysical, or empirical “truth”). For the rabbis, these characteristics were not cause for concern; rather, they were precisely evidence of the law’s divinity. This is not a law that would fit into the legal typology provided by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa, or any other subsequent Western legal philosophy or theology. Though the contours of such a view are disorienting to thoroughly Greek-influenced readers like us, Hayes takes pains to trace those contours carefully and clearly.

Though it’s never stated explicitly, the most significant academic conclusion to be drawn from Hayes’s characterization of this intellectual history is that the sages of the Talmud, in contrast to Paul and Philo, were presenting a view of divine law more conceptually faithful to Hebrew Scripture precisely because they rejected a Hellenistic dichotomy which is alien to Scripture.

Read more at First Things

More about: Ancient Greece, Halakhah, Judaism, Natural law, Philo, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship