How the Biblical Conception of Repentance Revolutionized Ethics

July 31 2020

Even in our secular age, the Hebrew Bible’s ideas are so deeply rooted in the minds of both Jews and Gentiles that it is hard to see what a stark departure they were from pagan thinking. Jeremiah Unterman shows this to be the case with regard to the Torah’s teachings about penance and forgiveness:

According to the Torah, no remorse or confession is acceptable once a perpetrator has already been apprehended—for the Bible’s innate and wise psychological assumption is that such an expression of regret would be insincere and simply a ruse in order to get a reduced punishment. (Why such expressions are not forbidden in modern criminal trials at the sentencing phase is incomprehensible).

Examining in detail the laws of property theft found in Leviticus, Unterman notes a stepwise restitution process with profound moral meaning:

True repentance requires that the wrongdoer not only confess his or her crime but must make restitution to the victim; repentance mitigates the penalty payable to the victim—from the value of the stolen object plus a 100-percent fine to the value of the stolen object plus a 20-percent fine; . . . a reparation offering is made by the perpetrator at the sanctuary. . . . The reparation offering was an ethical obligation, because in the Torah a crime against a human is a crime against God.

The restitution to the victim precedes the reparation offering at the sanctuary—therefore, compensation to the victim takes precedence over reparation to God! This . . . innovation reverses the sacrificial norm in the ancient world—that offerings to the deity take priority over the needs of humans. Only in the case of repentance in the Torah’s laws do obligations to humans—in the form of restitution to victims—delay the duty to God. For the first time in the ancient world, repentance as an act of social justice is perceived as required by God and sacrifice placed in a secondary position—even though that sacrifice is necessary. . . .

To put it differently, in the case of restitution as part of repentance, one’s ethical responsibility to one’s fellow human takes priority over one’s ethical responsibility to God.

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Read more at Center for Hebraic Thought

More about: Ancient Near East, Hebrew Bible, Jewish ethics, Repentance, Sacrifice

 

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy