In the Jewish Tradition, Teachers—Not Kings, Saints, or Prophets—Are the Greatest Heroes

July 22 2020

Nahum Eliezer Rabinovitch, a revered Canadian-born Israeli rabbi, died on May 6 at the age of ninety-two. A halakhic authority and an expert on the writings of Moses Maimonides, Rabinovitch also held doctorates in both statistics and philosophy. Herewith, a eulogy by one of his most prominent disciples, the former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks:

Only when I became his student did I learn the true meaning of intellectual rigor. . . . I remember writing an essay for him in which I quoted one of the most famous of 19th-century talmudic scholars. He read what I had written, then turned to me and said, “But you didn’t criticize what he wrote!” He thought that in this case the scholar had not given the correct interpretation, and I should have seen and said this. For him, intellectual honesty and independence of mind were inseparable from the quest for truth which is what Torah study must always be.

He himself, in his early thirties, had been offered the job of chief rabbi of Johannesburg, but turned it down on the grounds that he refused to live in an apartheid state.

I believe that Judaism made an extraordinarily wise decision when it made teachers its heroes, and lifelong education its passion. We don’t worship power or wealth. These things have their place, but not at the top of the hierarchy of values. Power forces us. Wealth induces us. But teachers develop us. They open us to the wisdom of the ages, helping us to see the world more clearly, think more deeply, argue more cogently, and decide more wisely.

“Let the reverence for your teacher be like the reverence for Heaven,” said the Sages. In other words: if you want to come close to Heaven, don’t search for kings, priests, saints, or even prophets. They may be great, but a fine teacher helps you to become great, and that is a different thing altogether.

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More about: Judaism, Rabbis, South Africa

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror