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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Times of Israel

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

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at 19FortyFive

More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship