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

March 30 2021

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.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

 

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter