The Great Italian Jewish Bible Commentator Who Drew on Jewish and Gentile Scholarship Alike

Although Samuel David Luzzatto (1800-1865) was undoubtedly Italy’s leading Jewish scholar in his day, his commentary on the Pentateuch—which was only published after his death—is still rarely studied. Until recently, it was difficult to find a serviceable edition in the original Hebrew, let alone a useful English translation. Martin Lockshin thus praises Daniel A. Klein’s translation-in-progress for remedying the latter problem. In his review, he surveys Luzzatto’s accomplishments:

Samuel David Luzzatto . . . refused to be ordained as a rabbi himself, repeatedly declining the offers of his colleagues. He spent most of his life teaching in the Modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary in Padua, the Collegio Rabbinico. [In addition], he was a respected member of [the founding generation of academic Jewish studies], but at the same time was deeply opposed to [efforts to ground Judaism in] rationalist Greek philosophy, including Maimonides’ approach, on ethical grounds.

Luzzatto’s prolific literary output included an insightful commentary on the Torah that was unique in its time and continues to speak to readers today. It focused on the p’shat (the plain meaning) of the text and on the moral and religious messages that the p’shat contains. That alone does not seem terribly unusual, but Luzzatto was also an expert in Hebrew and other Semitic languages. Well-acquainted with the research of Jews, Christians, traditionalists, and critical scholars, he cited any source . . . that helps advance our understanding of the biblical text.

He was perhaps the first Torah commentator to draw liberally both from the writings of Bible critics and the traditional medieval Jewish commentators. Since his time, very few others have followed that path. A strong defender of the antiquity and divinity of the Torah, he still found insights in the interpretations of Jews and Gentiles who did not share his beliefs.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Biblical commentary, Italian Jewry, Jewish studies, Jewish Thought


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy