Why Do Religions Need Rules?

April 10 2018

Among religions, Judaism is hardly unique in having commandments, but the number of these, and Judaism’s insistence upon their importance, certainly distinguish it from other faiths. Reuven Ziegler, drawing on the thought of Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, seeks to explain why this is so:

The fact that it is more likely that actions will influence emotions than the reverse explains why halakhah devotes its primary attention to actions. If religion does not provide man with an objective framework of action containing specific divine norms, it will—at best—be vague and transient. At worst, it will lead to the most horrible excesses.

Soloveitchik believed that it is not only undesirable for one to try to escape his corporeality, it is also impossible. Any ideology based on the premise that a human can become a purely spiritual creature is doomed to failure. By focusing solely on the person’s contemplative–spiritual side, [such an ideology] fails to acknowledge the strength of his or her inner drives and passions. Seeking to do the impossible, it fails to do what is necessary, namely, to restrain and channel a person’s drives and use them positively. Freedom from the authority of specific norms, and from a sense of coercion in following them, leads to moral anarchy and finally degeneracy. By becoming concrete, objective, and specific, religion becomes strong enough to affect one’s entire life, to withstand temptation, to endure regardless of the individual’s mood, and to survive from generation to generation.

A religion that focuses solely on inner experience may lead to an “extravagant religious individualism” that is not geared toward the formation of a community. And as Soloveitchik notes in The Halakhic Mind, “the force and effectiveness of religion grows commensurately with increasing participation of the entire society in the religious drama.” Furthermore, an inner religion that is not expressed as a way of life attenuates one’s connection not only to one’s contemporary community, but also to one’s historical community.

Read more at First Things

More about: Halakhah, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Religion & Holidays


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy