In Accepting Aristotle’s Ethical Doctrines, Did Maimonides Contradict the Jewish Idea of Repentance?

One of the great tensions in Western moral philosophy is between the Aristotelian ideal of ethics based on the cultivation of proper moral virtue and the Jewish understanding of ethics as adherence to commandments. As a devotee of both Aristotle and the Talmud, Moses Maimonides tried repeatedly to reconcile the two approaches. But, argues Abraham Socher, Maimonides leaves unresolved the incompatibility between Aristotelian ethics and the Jewish ideal of t’shuvah (“repentance,” or, more literally, “return”), so central to the Days of Awe—even though he himself wrote one of the most penetrating expositions of this ideal. Socher explains:

[Although] the shadings are different, the overall picture of moral life given in [the section of Maimonides’ great legal code titled] “the Laws of Moral Traits” is an Aristotelian one. A good and happy human life is the natural result of the cultivation and exercise of the virtues, which is, more or less, equivalent to following the commandments of the Torah. Indeed, even the afterlife is a natural result of the highest of these virtues, those of the intellect. On such a picture, it is almost as impossible to have a good, flourishing life without a good upbringing, parents, and education as it would be to cultivate a vegetable garden in permafrost. This makes the religious obligation to repent a bit of a problem. . . .

But . . . would one want to live in a moral culture in which repentance was no longer a possibility for those who were badly raised, or fully formed, or near death? Perhaps what Maimonides and the Jewish tradition he is summarizing are suggesting is that if one does not have the resources to change one’s desires, then God will provide them. Or, alternatively, that in insisting that repentance is always both obligatory and possible, and that “the gates of repentance” reopen every year, the tradition itself provides the resources to “stop doing the things that [one] know[s] are wrong,” though it does not guarantee that one will.

What then of Maimonides’s virtue ethics? Perhaps his inconsistent—or at least tension-ridden—system, in which our moral lives are described in terms of both virtues to cultivate and commandments to be obeyed, is closer to our felt experience than either is alone. Moral thinking, it turns out, was always messy.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Aristotle, Ethics, Jewish Philosophy, Maimonides, Religion & Holidays, Repentance

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security