The Greatest Jewish Bible Commentator May Have Engaged in Anti-Christian Apologetics

While some medieval Jewish exegetes explicitly set out to counter Christian interpretations of certain biblical passages, Rashi (1040-1105)—the most influential of them—only appears to have done so once, with a reference to the beliefs of the “sectarians.” Yedida Eisentstadt argues, however, that on several occasions Rashi offered implicit evidence against supersessionism, the belief of some Christian theologians that, because Jews rejected Jesus, they were sent into exile and lost their chosen status, which then passed to the Church.

Most illustrative, writes Eisenstadt, is Rashi’s commentary to Deuteronomy 4:25-26, which reads: “When you have begotten children and children’s children and are long established in the land, should you act wickedly and make for yourselves a sculptured image in any likeness, . . . you shall quickly perish from the land.” Rashi here, as he often does, cites an earlier rabbinic commentary, but rather than summarizing or quoting it directly, he expands upon it in a way that suggests a broader point:

Although the [biblical] passage sounds like a warning (if you do x, then God will do y), it can be understood as a prediction: once generations of Israelites are settled in the promised land, they will be led astray to worship forbidden images and thereby anger the Lord. . . .

According to classical Jewish theology, both Jewish exiles were a punishment from God. . . . After [the destruction of the First Temple and] the first exile, God allowed Israel to return to the land and rebuild the Temple. The second exile [at the hands of Rome] is meant to last until the messianic age, after which the people would return to the holy land as they did after the end of the first exile. But Christian theologians offered a different understanding of the exile. In light of Deuteronomy’s theology of reward and punishment—and passages like the one above that threaten divine rejection—ancient and medieval Christians interpreted the writings of the apostle Paul and historical events to bolster their claim that they are God’s new covenantal people. . . .

In his comment on Deuteronomy 4:25, Rashi may have been responding to Christian interpreters who viewed the Hebrew Bible through supersessionist eyes. Reading the threats in Deuteronomy as referring to the permanent exile after the destruction of the Second Temple, Christian exegetes interpreted this exile as punishment for the Jewish rejection of Jesus as messiah. By [citing the talmudic teaching that] Moses’ prophecy in these verses was [fully] realized in the first, Babylonian exile, Rashi subtly suggests that the prophecy cannot refer to the subsequent Roman destruction and exile, which, according to Augustine, was emblematic of God’s rejection of the Jews. Moreover, if God brought on the Babylonian exile early in order to avoid having to fulfill the promise of destruction, [as Rashi claims], then God never did and never will abandon Israel.


More about: Hebrew Bible, Jewish-Christian relations, Rashi, Religion & Holidays, Supersessionism

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus