King Saul’s Murderous Mania

Drawing on interpretations offered by Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes in their recent study of the politics of the book of Samuel, Peter Leithart analyzes the corrupting influence of power on Israel’s first king and his disintegration into an obsessive envy of the young David, whom at first he had loved like a son:

[Saul] cannot abide the fact that David is praised more highly than he: “Saul has killed his thousands, David his ten thousands.” In fact, David’s success is Saul’s success, but Saul can’t see it. . . .

Saul’s dread of his younger rival transforms Saul into a power-grasping tyrant. Ignoring the Philistine threat, he wastes time, energy, military resources, and public trust chasing David around the countryside. He slaughters the priests at Nob because they assist David, even though the priests are innocent. . . .

More subtly, as Halbertal and Holmes point out, maintaining power becomes the end of Saul’s reign. Power is supposed to be a means to the substantive ends of justice, harmony, and good order, but Saul inverts means and ends. Everything that should be an end becomes a tool for holding the throne. Saul is even willing to use his daughter Michal’s love for David to trap him. . . .

[Saul’s] is the paranoia of the old toward the young, the pathetic, inverted ambition of those who have arrived and don’t want others to catch up. Teachers experience it as they watch former protégés surpass them in productivity and acclaim. Parents become Sauls, and pastors are notorious for keeping a death-grip on their pulpits long after they have passed their use-by dates. It’s a virulent form of envy, when the old resent rather than rejoice in the success of the young.

Read more at First Things

More about: Book of Samuel, Hebrew Bible, King David, King Saul, Moshe Halbertal, Religion & Holidays

Why Haredi Jews Are Enlisting in the IDF

Unless it can get an extension from the Supreme Court, the Israeli government has until the end of March to formulate a law requiring more haredi Jews to serve in the military. This always contentious issue has become more contentious still with the IDF’s recently announced plan to extend the term of service for male conscripts from 32 to 36 months and to require reservists to spend more time in uniform. All this in addition to the unprecedented demands placed on reservists since the war began and the greater dangers to which troops are being exposed.

At the same time, the war has changed haredi attitudes toward the IDF and the Jewish state, leading some 2,000 young haredi men to volunteer. Cole Aronson interviewed several of them, and describes the attitudes he discovered:

Nobody I spoke to described enlisting as rebellion. These men are proud to serve and proud to be haredi. It is doubtful that their community’s leaders share this dual pride.

They do not care for the Z-word, but the new haredi soldiers I’ve spoken to sound remarkably like pre-state Zionists. Meir of Bnei Brak says he enlisted for the sake of “unity, responsibility, and re’ut.” The Hebrew means “friendship,” but “solidarity” may be more apt in context. However much Jews disagree about their spiritual destiny, they share a physical fate so long as they share a physical home. Of his recent decision to enlist, Meir Edelman of Beit Shemesh says that “this isn’t Zionism, it’s survival,” citing the main justification for the ideology in opposition to the ideology itself.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Haredim, IDF, Israeli society