Modern Jewish Thought Responds to Christian Critique

Aug. 29 2016

In the 19th and early 20th century, German Protestant theologians and scholars of religion tended to elevate the New Testament at the expense of the Hebrew Bible, to deny or downplay the Jewishness of the historical Jesus, and to denigrate Judaism as primitive, materialistic, and unethical. In Judaism and the West: From Hermann Cohen to Joseph Soloveitchik, Robert Erlewine examines how major Jewish thinkers of the 20th century, including Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, and Abraham Joshua Heschel, defended Judaism against its detractors. He summarizes his interpretations in an interview with Alan Brill:

[A great portion of] modern Jewish philosophy is very much an attempt to [explain] Judaism in ways that make Christianity inferior to or derivative of it, and [simultaneously] to show how Judaism is an essential component of European modernity. . . .

In different ways, the thinkers [on which Erlewine’s book is focused] are engaged in discussions about the role of Judaism in relationship to the West, with most (but not all) arguing that Judaism is absolutely fundamental to European civilization. In a very powerful way, they offer a [corrective] to the work of [Christian] theologians . . . seeking to exclude Judaism [and] to deny it any place in modern Europe. . . .

In the work of these thinkers, Judaism is made central to how we should envision Europe or the West—or at least all that is good and proper in the West. Christianity, in turn, is regularly criticized for retaining idolatrous elements [of pagan religions or] for undermining individual responsibility through its notions of divine forgiveness.

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Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Christianity, Hermann Cohen, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Martin Buber, Religion & Holidays

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas