To One Jewish Philosopher, the Coronavirus Epidemic Demonstrates Humanity’s Vulnerability—and Its Moral Potential

In an interview by David Horovitz, the philosopher, ethicist, and theologian Moshe Halbertal explores how Jews, and Israelis in particular, should think about COVID-19:

We are experiencing our utter, utter vulnerability. As [Ashkenazi Jews] say in the [High Holy Day prayer] Un’taneh Tokef, we’re “like a passing shadow, like a fleeting dream.”

There is no inherent rationale to [the epidemic]. But there is an inherent message: here we are, horribly vulnerable. . . . But vulnerability doesn’t mean fatalism. And now I am talking Jewishly, from the deepest impulse of tradition.

You can say we are vulnerable and we are in the hands of God, and resign from the world . . . or move to some kind of stoic withdrawal. [Jewish tradition rejects this response.] Rather than fatalism, vulnerability should breed introspection and self-reflection. Moses Maimonides says that in times of calamity, the community has to repent; apathy to calamities is “the cruel path.” [Calamity] should breed reflection that, in turn, has to bring about action.

One other thing: there is something admirable about the global reaction [to the crisis]. Really admirable. And that is the prioritizing of life over the economy. Whether the response is right or wrong, even in terms of saving lives, is a different question. We don’t know yet. But we do know the numbers; we know the patterns. And resisting leaving the weak and deserting the elderly, the vulnerable, is really an amazing moral moment.

It’s all mixed in, as usual with humans, with very dark aspects [of human nature]. In Jewish tradition, but not only Jewish tradition, what is the test of respecting human dignity? It is seeing humans not merely as instruments. That is why the relationship to the elderly is always an interesting, deep test of the respect for human dignity, because the elderly don’t have a function in many ways. It’s as if they are superfluous. [The behavior of many countries is] a great moral moment, because it’s not only a rejection of Darwinism, but also of utilitarianism as a form of moral calculus.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Coronavirus, Jewish Philosophy, Morality, Moses Maimonides, Moshe Halbertal, Theodicy

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount