The Bible’s Defense of Cities

In the book of Genesis, it is the fratricidal Cain who founds the first city, and Sodom and the other “cities of the plain” are dens of sin; by contrast, heroic figures—as is true in other biblical books—tend to be shepherds. Leon Kass has gone so far as to argue that, in the Torah, “the city is rooted in fear, greed, pride, violence, and the desire for domination.” For Kass and others, the best prooftext can be found in a passage read in synagogues last Saturday, where the inhabitants of Babel say, “Let us build a city and tower with its head in the heavens.” Looking to the counterexample of Jerusalem, Yehuda Goldberg attempts a different reading of Scripture’s attitude toward urban life:

The origins of Jerusalem and the Tower of Babel are parallel in many ways. Both arise when there is unity, either in the land or the world at large. The Tower is built as the world begins to gather from scattered settlements and becomes unified around a central city. David builds Jerusalem as he unites his kingdom and attempts to unify his nation around a central city. Both Jerusalem and the Tower are built around a central tower or fortress. . . .

Yet, the story of Jerusalem diverges from that of the Tower of Babel. In the subsequent chapters after the capture of the fort at Jerusalem, one would expect David to consolidate power around his capital. [Instead], his primary preoccupation appears to be ensuring that Jerusalem is the earthly dwelling place of God. First, David brings the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. [Then] David seeks to build the Temple in his new capital, a dream his son Solomon will bring to fruition.

David recognized, as did Aristotle, that the city is a place where human virtue and excellence are uniquely poised to flourish. He also recognized the opportunity that urban life provides to glorify God in the world. . . . City dwellers may not depend on God to send rain in the proper time [as do farmers], but they do rely on God to help protect them from their enemies and to help culture, art, finances, and education blossom. These realms, which supplant mere survival and necessity with human flourishing, are areas where it is often difficult to acknowledge God’s presence in human affairs. Yet, when a city’s inhabitants do manage to recognize the link between the prosperity of the city and God, they are declaring to the world that God’s power spans from the minute to the great, from the farm to the metropolis.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Aristotle, Hebrew Bible, Jerusalem, Leon Kass, Tower of Babel

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

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