The Last Great Medieval Jewish Philosopher’s Reflections on the Meaning of Passover

Around the year 1400, Rabbi Ḥasdai Crescas, the chief rabbi of Aragon, delivered a Passover sermon in which he outlined the principles that would form the basis, about a decade later, of his major theological treatise, The Light of the Lord. Roslyn Weiss comments on the work and its historical context:

This book, which is often described as the last great work of medieval Jewish philosophy, was an attempt to illuminate that ground by refuting Moses Maimonides’ Aristotelian reconstruction of Judaism and restoring what he saw as authentic Jewish tradition. In his brilliant critique of Maimonides, Crescas replaced the self-intellecting intellect that was Aristotle’s God with the God of Israel, whose essential nature, he argued, was one of unbounded and unfailing love.

Although Crescas’s arguments in Light of the Lord were the intricate work of a philosophical master craftsman, his conclusions spoke to the urgent needs of an imperiled Jewish community. In 1391, the Jews of Barcelona fell victim to horrific anti-Jewish riots, which quickly spread, leaving thousands of Jews dead, including Crescas’s only son. Approximately 150,000 Jews converted to Christianity, most by force or out of fear.

In the Passover sermon, Crescas expounds on the nature of Jewish faith, based on his conclusion that

we cannot will ourselves to believe, but we do choose how we believe—we may be joyful or resentful; we may diligently seek to understand what we believe, or we may want nothing to do with. . . . We are not rewarded for faith itself but for the delight we take in it and our industriousness in pursuing its truth. This [fact] also reveals the special importance of Passover and the centrality of the exodus to Jewish experience. . . . Passover reenacts the joy the Israelites felt after the exodus. Passover takes us back to the thrill of the first stirrings of our love of God and to the joy we therefore feel in the observance of His commandments.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Hasdai Crescas, Jewish Philosophy, Middle Ages, Moses Maimonides, Passover

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship