The Tenth Commandment as the Key to Social Harmony

Jan. 29 2016

“Thou shalt not covet,” the last of the Ten Commandments—read in synagogues around the world this Sabbath—is something of an outlier, writes Jonathan Sacks. Prohibiting envy, not an activity but a natural human emotion, it seems less grave than “Thou shalt not murder” or “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.” Sacks, however, considers it in light of the overall biblical narrative and of Jewish history, and argues for its paramount importance:

[E]nvy is one of the prime drivers of violence in society. It is what led Iago to mislead Othello with tragic consequences. Closer to home, it is what led Cain to murder Abel. . . . Most poignantly, envy lay at the heart of the hatred of the brothers for Joseph. They resented his special treatment at the hands of their father, the richly embroidered cloak he wore, and his dreams of becoming the ruler of them all. That is what led them to contemplate killing him and eventually to sell him as a slave. . . .

Jews have special reason to fear envy. It surely played a part in the existence of anti-Semitism throughout the centuries. Non-Jews envied Jews their ability to prosper in adversity. . . . They also and especially envied them their sense of chosenness (despite the fact that virtually every other nation in history has seen itself as chosen). . . .

So the prohibition of envy is not odd at all. It is the most basic force undermining the social harmony and order that are the aim of the Ten Commandments as a whole. Not only, though, do they forbid it; they also help us rise above it. It is precisely the first three commandments, reminding us of God’s presence in history and our lives, and the second three, reminding us of our createdness, that help us rise above envy.

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Read more at Rabbi Sacks

More about: Anti-Semitism, Exodus, Hebrew Bible, Religion & Holidays, Ten Commandments, William Shakespeare

Will America Invite Israel to Join Its Multinational Coalitions?

From the Korean War onward, the U.S. has rarely fought wars alone, but has instead led coalitions of various allied states. Israel stands out in that it has close military and diplomatic relations with Washington yet its forces have never been part of these coalitions—even in the 1991 Gulf War, when Iraqi missiles were raining down on its cities. The primary reason for its exclusion was the sensitivity of participating Arab and Muslim nations. But now that Jerusalem has diplomatic relations with several Arab countries and indeed regularly participates alongside them in U.S.-led joint military exercises, David Levy believes it may someday soon be asked to contribute to an American expedition.

It is unlikely that Israel would be expected by the U.S. to deploy the Golani [infantry] brigade or any other major army unit. Instead, Washington will likely solicit areas of IDF niche expertise. These include missile defense and special forces, two areas in which Israel is a world leader. The IDF has capabilities that it can share by providing trainers and observers. Naval and air support would also be expected as these assets are inherently deployable. Israel can also provide allies in foreign wars with intelligence and cyber-warfare support, much of which can be accomplished without the physical deployment of troops.

Jerusalem’s previous reasons for abstention from coalitions were legitimate. Since its independence, Israel has faced existential threats. Conventional Arab armies sought to eliminate the nascent state in 1948-49, 1967, and again in 1973. This danger remained ever-present until the 1978 signing of the Camp David Accords, which established peace between Egypt and Israel. Post-Camp David, the threats to Israel remain serious but are no longer existential. If Iran were to become a nuclear power, this would pose a new existential threat. Until then, Israel is relatively well secured.

Jerusalem’s new Arab allies would welcome its aid. Western capitals, especially Washington, should be expected to pursue Israel’s military assistance, and Jerusalem will have little choice but to acquiesce to the expeditionary expectation.

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Read more at BESA Center

More about: IDF, U.S. military, U.S.-Israel relationship