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

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University