When a Great German Rabbi Defended the Hebrew Bible While Attacking American Slavery and Liberal Protestantism

In 1840, a fierce debate broke out in the liberal precincts of German Protestantism—pitting the more orthodox against the more rationalist—beginning with a series of sermons and soon sparking a flurry of pamphlets and articles. At issue was the newly emerging source criticism of the Bible, and the relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Soon the controversy was joined by Samson Raphael Hirsch, a pioneering German rabbi associated with what would later become Modern Orthodoxy. Michah Gottlieb explains:

Liberal Christian theologians . . . sought to draw a bright, invidious line between the Old and New Testaments, and hence between Judaism and Christianity. The God of the New Testament was, [they] argued, a rational, ethical God who preached universal love of humanity, while the God of the Old Testament was a tribal God who displayed his power through magic (as evidenced by Moses’ ten plagues), permitted Jews to steal from Egyptians (Exodus 3:21–2), promoted genocide (Numbers 14:15), and put minute religious ceremonies on par with eternal laws of morality.

Hirsch opened his broadside with an explanation for why he was jumping into a debate between Protestants. The Old Testament was, he wrote, “a sacred treasure that millions of people from near and far cling to with every fiber of their being.” Liberal Protestant biblical criticism did not reflect calm, unbiased scholarship. On the contrary, it was animated by an age-old anti-Jewish bigotry that should have been buried long ago: “It is high time for the non-Jewish thinker to set aside convenient pre-judgments and to begin to construct Christendom without having to destroy Judaism. It is high time to do justice to Judaism.”

After challenging accusations of the Hebrew Bible’s inhumanity on textual and theological grounds, Hirsch noted that it was Christians, not Jews, who suppressed heresy, slaughtered members of rival denominations, and persecuted Jews. He then adduced a contemporary example:

As evidence of Christians’ failure to appreciate the full meaning of the Jewish teaching of the one God, Hirsch made a surprising turn to America, the “land of freedom” where white European Christians enslaved black people. He presented American slavery as of a piece with European Christians’ anti-Jewish discrimination.

For Hirsch, Judaism’s teaching of God’s unity was not an abstract idea or dogma to be confessed. It was meant to animate one’s entire life, leading one to treat all human beings with dignity and love. Christians adopted the Jewish teaching of God’s unity as an idea, but most had not adopted it as a living principle. Otherwise, they could never countenance enslaving black people and imposing severe restrictions on Jews while claiming to be good Christians. Hirsch concluded that far from lecturing Jews on how they should be reforming their religion to bring it closer to Christianity, Christians have much to learn from Jews and Judaism.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Biblical criticism, Jewish-Christian relations, Judaism, Samson Raphael Hirsch, Slavery

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict