Judaism, Christianity, and the Afterlife

Oct. 13 2020

While most Jews are only vaguely aware, it at all, of traditional Judaism’s ideas of post-mortem reward and punishment, these subjects are treated extensively in rabbinic literature. Like their Christian counterparts, the rabbis conceived of a hell where the wicked were punished, and an afterlife where the righteous can enjoy their just desserts. Yet these similarities, writes Shalom Carmy, obscure deeper differences:

Jews like me, and our Christian counterparts, are willing to entertain the possibility of eternal punishment for some, whether as a matter of dogma or as a logical entailment of free will; if our decisions are truly momentous, then we are able not only to accept God but also to reject him. At the same time, we aren’t eager to assign people to hell. . . . I and more of my Jewish confreres than I suspect would take a public position are strongly ­influenced by Maimonides. He holds that eternal perdition means losing out on the afterlife rather than being subjected to endless torment.

Although the Jews and Christians I describe seem to think alike, it’s hard to avoid feeling that Jews are simply less apt than Christians to place issues of salvation and eternal damnation at the center of their religious consciousness. Jews given to intense self-examination and criticism often ask themselves how they will render their final accounting before God but rarely ask whether their souls are saved or not. For Christians—and not just evangelicals—such a question appears more customary. There is a gap here, I believe, and I am unsure how to express it. One impediment is that theological formulations are often detached from their experiential contexts.

Carmy goes on to illustrate his point with a sophisticated reading of the commentaries of the Talmud, Maimonides, and the great medieval exegete Rashi on Moses’ famous exchange with God on Mount Sinai, in which he asks “to see God’s ways.”

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Read more at First Things

More about: Christianity, Death, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

 

How China Equips the Islamic Republic to Repress Its People

In its dedication to bringing totalitarianism into the 21st century, the Chinese Communist party has developed high-tech forms of surveillance using facial-recognition software, a vast system of “social credit,” and careful control over its subjects’ cellular phones. Even stricter and more invasive measures are applied to the Uyghurs of the northwestern part of the country. Beijing is also happy to export its innovations in tyranny to allies like Iran and Russia. Playing a key role in these advances is a nominally private company called Tiandy Technologies. Craig Singleton describes its activities:

Both Tiandy testimonials and Chinese-government press releases advertise the use of the company’s products by Chinese officials to track and interrogate Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities in China’s Xinjiang province. According to human-rights groups, Chinese authorities also employ Tiandy products, such as “tiger chairs,” to torture Uyghurs and other minorities.

Iran has long relied on China to augment its digital surveillance capabilities, and Tehran was an early adopter of Beijing’s “social-credit” system, which it wields to assess citizens’ behavior and trustworthiness. . . . Iranian government representatives have publicized plans to leverage smart technologies, including AI-powered face recognition, to maintain regime stability and neutralize dissent. Enhanced cooperation with China is central to those efforts.

At present, Tiandy is not subject to U.S. sanctions or export controls. In light of Tiandy’s operations in both Xinjiang and Iran, policymakers should consider removing the company, its owner, and stakeholders from the international financial system and global supply chains.

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More about: China, Human Rights, Iran, Totalitarianism, U.S. Foreign policy