For Moses Mendelssohn, Miracles Could Not Prove God’s Existence

A major debate among medieval rabbis concerns the question of whether the Torah commands belief in God. To many, the opening words of the Ten Commandments, “I am the Lord your God . . . ,” constitute just such an injunction; to others, these are simply a preamble. The 18th-century Jewish philosopher Moses Mendelssohn favored the latter view. Drawing on both Mendelssohn’s primary treatise on Judaism, Jerusalem, and on his less-studied commentary on the Torah, Judah Kerbel explains how this opinion reflects his interpretation of revelation itself:

Mendelssohn does not believe that the goal of revelation is to prove God’s existence. A miraculous feat does not prove God’s existence for the current non-believer. . . . Instead, to reach belief in God, one needs to hold a received tradition of God’s existence, to determine this truth independently, or to learn the existence of God from other reliable people, be they older family members or scholars. . . . [O]nly those who already believe in God experience revelation as divine, and that experience requires prior learning by some means or another. . . . Mendelssohn claims that the main purpose of the first statement [of the Decalogue] is “to single out [the children of Israel] as a treasure from all the peoples.” . . .

On the contrary, supernatural proofs of God’s existence, as Mendelssohn writes in his commentary on Exodus, are unpersuasive. Rather, we achieve an understanding of God through the intellect. . . .

Mendelssohn [thus believes] that anyone who was present at revelation may have experienced wonder of some sort at the natural sights, but this would not have convinced anyone of anything new or life-altering unless [belief] “was, perhaps, taught, explained, and placed beyond all doubt by human reasoning” [beforehand]. Mendelssohn explains the verse “I am the Lord” as a historical foundation for the commandments but not as a new truth. . . .

This approach to revelation also informs Mendelssohn’s view of other religions. Since God’s existence is discerned through the intellect, and revelation at Sinai does not serve the purpose of proving this point, Mendelssohn affirms the validity of other religions (although it is fascinating that he strongly condemns atheism, calling it an illness that makes society “sick and miserable, whether it is worn down by cancer or consumed by fever”).

Thus, writes Kerbel, Mendelssohn was able to justify, through his philosophy of revelation, both his devotion to the idea of Jewish chosenness and his radical commitment to tolerance.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Moses Mendelssohn, Religion & Holidays, Ten Commandments, Theology, Tolerance

Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security