American Jewish Thought Is Incredibly Rich. But Can It Succeed Without a Shared Sense of Commandedness?

April 20 2021

Reviewing a new anthology titled American Jewish Thought since 1934, David Wolpe finds much worth reading and thinking about, from the works of the “great triumvirate” of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, and Joseph B. Soloveitchik to essays by such thinkers as José Faur, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt. But amid this intellectual feast, he finds evidence of the fundamental fragility of modern Jewish theology:

Jewish thinkers were once more preoccupied with explaining what God commands than why. . . . That there were commandments and a legal system that spelled them out was not really in doubt. This was not just a matter of theory; it was a matter of social fact. Jews lived in communities in which observance of the mitzvot was a way of life.

However, once the life of mitzvot is not a communal given and the notion of a divine Being who cares about what one eats becomes difficult to believe, the burden on Jewish religious thinkers is not merely to find symbolic or pragmatic reasons for the commandments but to justify them as commandments at all. “Because He—or the authoritative tradition He authorized—said so” no longer serves, and the main problem is only secondarily the male pronoun.

Thus, most modern Jewish thinkers have turned from explanations of obedience to ideologies of encouragement: you should make this practice part of your life for the following reasons . . . But none of these reasons is as compelling as a divine command, and liberal theology, and to some extent even Orthodox theology, has been a series of attempts to craft a rationale that delivers some sense of obligation. Yet “you should” will never be as compelling as “you must.”

Although there are, as evidenced in this anthology, serious and brilliant contemporary liberal Jewish thinkers, the number of serious liberal Jews is shrinking. [Thus] many Jews find that what they believe cannot be transmitted, and what can be effectively transmitted they cannot believe.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Hannah Arendt, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Leo Strauss, Mitzvot, Mordechai Kaplan

 

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela