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

June 22 2021

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.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

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

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism