Would God Rather Be Abandoned Than His Law Disobeyed?

Nov. 30 2021

As a young man, Shalom Carmy found himself impressed by the radical skepticism embraced by so many great philosophers, including Socrates and René Descartes. Even as his own attitude to these philosophers became more nuanced, Carmy recalls that he still believed the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” At the same time, he writes,

I took seriously the comment of my revered mentor Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein that this sentiment, however noble, was not the way to be followed by Jews, who are “believers, the sons of believers.” I have pondered, without coming to a settled opinion, what exactly he meant by this. . . .

The tension between doubt and conviction can be painful, which is why we often avoid confronting it with an eye toward resolution. As a participant in, and commentator on, religious life, I was, from an early age, aware that many practicing Jews, and many Christians for that matter, do not enjoy a robust intellectual commitment to the principles of their faith. Even on an emotional or experiential plane, they are often divided between affirmation and doubt. What was I to make of this situation? Many seem to have furnished themselves with a comfortable niche of intellectual and religious indecisiveness. They are more interested in what they can wryly or dramatically doubt than in agonizing and struggling over the life-and-death questions that are answered by our religious traditions.

Pace Rabbi Lichtenstein, I could not help judging that among those who classified themselves as “honest doubters” were some who led more strenuous, perhaps more authentic spiritual lives than did their placid neighbors, who practiced their religion either blissfully ignorant of, or willfully oblivious to, the questions and crises that should have troubled their serenity. Lichtenstein himself acknowledged this reality. If one must choose between a religious life of commitment marked by anguished doubt or one of observant superficiality, then the former seems the better path, the one that promises richer and more ennobling spiritual rewards.

Jeremiah rebuked his generation, accusing them of “abandoning Me” (that is, God) and “not observing my Torah,” implying that violating the Torah is somehow worse than departing from God inwardly (2:12). Well-known rabbinic statements elaborate. They explain that God would rather be abandoned than that His Torah be disobeyed, because people who persist in their engagement with the Law may be brought back to God through the illumination that such a life provides.

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Read more at First Things

More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, Faith, Jeremiah, Judaism, Philosophy

UN Peacekeepers in Lebanon Risk Their Lives, but Still May Do More Harm Than Good

Jan. 27 2023

Last month an Irish member of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was killed by Hizballah guerrillas who opened fire on his vehicle. To David Schenker, it is likely the peacekeeper was “assassinated” to send “a clear message of Hizballah’s growing hostility toward UNIFIL.” The peacekeeping force has had a presence in south Lebanon since 1978, serving first to maintain calm between Israel and the PLO, and later between Israel and Hizballah. But, Schenker explains, it seems to be accomplishing little in that regard:

In its biannual reports to the Security Council, UNIFIL openly concedes its failure to interdict weapons destined for Hizballah. While the contingent acknowledges allegations of “arms transfers to non-state actors” in Lebanon, i.e., Hizballah, UNIFIL says it’s “not in a position to substantiate” them. Given how ubiquitous UN peacekeepers are in the Hizballah heartland, this perennial failure to observe—let alone appropriate—even a single weapons delivery is a fair measure of the utter failure of UNIFIL’s mission. Regardless, Washington continues to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into this failed enterprise, and its local partner, the Lebanese Armed Forces.

Since 2006, UNIFIL patrols have periodically been subjected to Hizballah roadside bombs in what quickly proved to be a successful effort to discourage the organization proactively from executing its charge. In recent years, though, UN peacekeepers have increasingly been targeted by the terror organization that runs Lebanon, and which tightly controls the region that UNIFIL was set up to secure. The latest UN reports tell a harrowing story of a spike in the pattern of harassment and assaults on the force. . . .

Four decades on, UNIFIL’s mission has clearly become untenable. Not only is the organization ineffective, its deployment serves as a key driver of the economy in south Lebanon, employing and sustaining Hizballah’s supporters and constituents. At $500 million a year—$125 million of which is paid by Washington—the deployment is also expensive. Already, the force is in harm’s way, and during the inevitable next war between Israel and Hizballah, this 10,000-strong contingent will provide the militia with an impressive human shield.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hizballah, Lebanon, Peacekeepers, U.S. Foreign policy