Was a Famed Hungarian Rabbi and Purported Founder of Orthodoxy a Jewish Edmund Burke?

Throughout the history of rabbinic thought, widely accepted practice has always had a quasi-sacred status, even if it goes against the conclusions suggested by the authoritative texts. Yet rabbis also felt able to criticize popular customs they found contrary to halakhah, and generally distinguished custom from the letter of the law. Moses Schreiber (1762–1839), one of the greatest Central European rabbis of his day, and considered by some historians a founding father of Orthodox Judaism, sought to transform that relationship. Confronting the Haskalah, or Jewish Enlightenment, and the earliest stages of the Reform movement—which he saw as threats to the fundamental integrity of Judaism—Schreiber believed it was necessary not merely to defend halakhah but to prohibit the slightest innovation of any sort.

To this end, Schreiber contended that the distinction between law and custom should be erased, and every custom be considered possessed of the utmost sanctity. Schreiber thus bears some resemblance to the British parliamentarian and thinker Edmund Burke, who—in the face of Enlightenment rationalism—set forth a defense of tradition and prejudice against the onslaught of the French Revolution. Shmuel Ben-Shalom notes both important similarities and differences:

Schreiber’s attitude to custom was a turning point in the history of halakhah. He identified custom as the ultimate rival of modernity and consciously augmented its centrality, turning it into a potent weapon against the Haskalah. Schreiber’s “conservative revolution” reinvented custom, granting it a higher status even than that of halakhah.

[Burke and Schreiber] both identified the danger latent in the dismissal of custom emanating from the revolutionary winds. They both understood that the fundamental problem of the revolutionaries was their primary reliance on reason, which allowed them to wave away customs rooted in the public consciousness of many generations.

At the same time, it is important to distinguish between Burke’s conservatism and Schreiber’s protection of custom. Burke’s approach understands humanity as being a partner in history, part of a great contract between the dead and the living. We are able to repair custom and are even duty-bound to do so yet must be careful not to shatter them; every correction must be undertaken out of respect for the past, cautious advancement, and an empirical examination of results. This permission to change past approaches does not appear in Schreiber’s teachings.

Read more at Tzarich Iyun

More about: Edmund Burke, Halakhah, Haskalah, Orthodoxy, Reform Judaism

How America Sowed the Seeds of the Current Middle East Crisis in 2015

Analyzing the recent direct Iranian attack on Israel, and Israel’s security situation more generally, Michael Oren looks to the 2015 agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program. That, and President Biden’s efforts to resurrect the deal after Donald Trump left it, are in his view the source of the current crisis:

Of the original motivations for the deal—blocking Iran’s path to the bomb and transforming Iran into a peaceful nation—neither remained. All Biden was left with was the ability to kick the can down the road and to uphold Barack Obama’s singular foreign-policy achievement.

In order to achieve that result, the administration has repeatedly refused to punish Iran for its malign actions:

Historians will survey this inexplicable record and wonder how the United States not only allowed Iran repeatedly to assault its citizens, soldiers, and allies but consistently rewarded it for doing so. They may well conclude that in a desperate effort to avoid getting dragged into a regional Middle Eastern war, the U.S. might well have precipitated one.

While America’s friends in the Middle East, especially Israel, have every reason to feel grateful for the vital assistance they received in intercepting Iran’s missile and drone onslaught, they might also ask what the U.S. can now do differently to deter Iran from further aggression. . . . Tehran will see this weekend’s direct attack on Israel as a victory—their own—for their ability to continue threatening Israel and destabilizing the Middle East with impunity.

Israel, of course, must respond differently. Our target cannot simply be the Iranian proxies that surround our country and that have waged war on us since October 7, but, as the Saudis call it, “the head of the snake.”

Read more at Free Press

More about: Barack Obama, Gaza War 2023, Iran, Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy