How Judaism Gave Western Civilization the Ideas of Human Freedom and the Ordered Universe

Drawing on the work of the mid-20th-century Christian theologian Claude Tresmontant, Samuel Gregg explains how the ideas of the Hebrew Bible made possible the achievements of European civilization:

The Jews . . . believed that the material world was not evil or beset by demonic contests. [The] universe is presented in the Hebrew Scriptures as ultimately permeated with order—not chaos and incomprehensibility. Much of this universe was thus understandable by the human beings made by God in His image and similarly suffused with His order.

This belief in a good and ordered world challenged the supposition of the surrounding religions that the material world itself is malevolent—a view that was not clearly rebutted by Greek philosophers such as Plato. The Hebrews insisted that this material world was made for man and that its goodness would unfold under his cultivation. This Jewish emphasis on the order built into a created world of which man is the apex had two critical consequences. First, Judaism’s audacious confrontation of idolatry and pagan mythology was a powerful affirmation of man’s rationality. . . . The Jews’ liberation of human reason from mythology and nature-worship amounted to one of humanity’s most powerful “enlightenments.”

The second important consequence of Judaism’s understanding of the created universe was its accent on human freedom. In the Hebrew Scriptures, human mistakes and errors are not caused by capricious Greek and Roman deities manipulating men. Nor did Judaism see human events as determined by fate, which characterized the pagan religions.

Read more at Acton Institute

More about: Ancient Greece, Judaism, Western civilization

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood