In Commanding Us to Become Prophets, the Torah Demands That We Cultivate Our Ethical Sensibilities

According to the great 20th-century sage Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism considers prophecy a “norm,” such that “each person is obliged to aspire to this rank [of prophet], that every man should make a supreme effort to scale the mountain of the Lord, until he reaches the pinnacle of revelation of the Divine Presence.” Behind this claim is Soloveitchik’s belief that Judaism is “democratic to its very core,” and therefore prophecy must at least potentially be available to every Jew. Alex Ozar delves into this argument, its precedents and parallels in Jewish thought, and its implications:

Soloveitchik argues [that] prophecy must be practical in nature: that is, while prophecy certainly may involve non-normative elements as well, “any encounter with God . . . must be crystallized and objectified in a normative ethico-moral message.” Because anyone can understand concrete moral instruction—and can in principle come to learn it on his own—prophecy is democratic and thus halakhically legitimate insofar as it is realized in the form of concrete moral instruction. “The democratization of the God-man confrontation was made possible by the centrality of the normative element in prophecy.”

But, notes Ozar, there is a problem inherent in this claim: the talmudic doctrine that Moses alone of all the prophets received legislation from God. The Almighty will not issue further laws through subsequent prophets. So how can prophecy be “normative” if it does not involve halakhah?

If prophecy is to take the form of concrete instruction, therefore, it must take some form of concrete instruction other than that of commandments, or statutory rules, per se. . . . In the background here is a distinction between two modes of reality. There is the realm of objective, impersonal, external fact—that part of reality ascertained by a detached observer and describable in terms of mathematical formulas. And there is the realm of the personal, subjective, and spiritual. . . . Think of the experience of a sunset versus an analysis of the wavelengths and refraction dynamics at play, or of building a relationship with someone versus manipulating his behavior through mechanical stimuli.

For Soloveitchik, it is in the subjective, spiritual, and qualitative world, rather than in the quantitative one, where we meet God and hear His word.

As Rabbi Abraham Isaiah Karelitz (a/k/a the Ḥazon Ish) puts it, “The good cannot be known by the root of the intellect alone. Rather, [one must] choose the good until one is fit for the prophetic faculty, and then God will command him as to the prohibited things from which he must desist and the good acts which he is obligated to do.” There is no comprehensive manual of rules for the moral life to which we enjoy access. To be morally responsible, therefore, we must commit to the good in advance of grasping its requirements in full; in doing so, we open ourselves to the divine insight we need in order to progress further.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Jewish ethics, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Prophecy

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

More about: Gaza War 2023, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy