A Defense of Reason Rooted in the Talmudic Conception of Law

In legal philosophy and theory, a foundational debate exists between proponents of “legal formalism” and “legal realism.” Haym Soloveitchik, a leading historian of medieval halakhah, explains the positions thus:

The formalists contend that the judge only applies the rules of the system to a specific case, while the realists contend that, in the final analysis, the judge rules, be it only unconsciously, in accordance with his personal and ideological inclinations.

In other words, formalists believe judges first decide how they want to rule—often based on political goals—and then marshal the law to support their position. Which, then, best describes Jewish law? Soloveitchik first encountered the question as a student in the 1960s, when he first read, “with excitement,” the works of the realists:

I realized that, [if the realists were right], the mode of argument in [the talmudic tractates dealing with civil law], which are goal-oriented, would differ fundamentally from most arguments in the [tractates devoted to ritual law]. . . . I was unable to discover such a difference in my yeshivah days and have not succeeded in discovering it in all the intervening years, and not for lack of trying. Indeed, I would say that I have turned repeatedly to this problem over the course of my academic career.

This conclusion, in turn, leads Soloveitchik to a defense of reason itself: in the long run, it doesn’t matter what motivated Rabbi Moses Maimonides or Chief Justice John Marshall to rule a certain way, what allows their opinions to endure is that logical reasoning each used in support of his respective positions:

Many of Marshall’s greatest decisions had a clear political purpose, [which was] part and parcel of the agenda of the Federalist party to which he belonged. . . . Yet, because of their power and cogency, they carried the day. . . . Judges are deemed great and their decisions read and held binding because of the force of their arguments, arguments which have held, at times, for centuries.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Halakhah, Judaism, Law, Supreme Court, Talmud

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security