How Joseph B. Soloveitchik Responded to the Challenges of Nietzsche’s Critique of Religion

Dec. 21 2021

It would seem difficult to believe that the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche—who assailed Judeo-Christian morality, urged that following the “death of God” it would be necessary to will new values into being, and occasionally dabbled in anti-Semitism—would have much in common with Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, the great religious thinker of American Orthodoxy. Yet Soloveitchik received the bulk of his secular education studying philosophy in Weimar Germany, where the influence of Nietzsche’s writings could still be felt. And as much as Nietzsche has been credited as an intellectual harbinger of fascism, he preferred the Old Testament to the New, and was even more contemptuous of anti-Semites than he was of Jews. Alex Ozar, reviewing a new book by Daniel Rynhold and Michael Harris on the two thinkers, writes:

Soloveitchik, writing in the 1940s, includes Nietzsche in a list of those philosophers whose “veneration of instinct, the desire for power, the glorification of the emotional-affective life and the flowing, surging stream of subjectivity,” among other things, have “brought complete chaos and human depravity to the world. And let the events of the present era be proof!” The stakes of the conflict are thus urgent in tenor and civilizational in scope. “Rome against Judea, Judea against Rome,” as Nietzsche puts it.

And yet, Rynhold and Harris show in their masterfully executed work, it is a fact that Soloveitchik’s writing evinces real affinities with Nietzsche’s, affinities too pervasive and substantial to be merely incidental. It is clear, in fact, that Soloveitchik not only looks past Nietzsche’s blistering critique of religion but largely embraces that critique, arguing only that halakhic Judaism, suitably interpreted, can and ought to escape it. Nietzsche diagnoses religion as a pathological retreat from the world, writing that “It was the sick and decaying who despised body and earth and invented the heavenly realm,” and that the very concept of God is a “counter-concept to life.”

And with respect to most religious forms, Soloveitchik seconds the charge: “Christians,” for instance, “developed a theory of contempt for this world,” Soloveitchik says. “Indeed some went and developed the doctrine of hatred for this world.” Indeed, the vicious rejection of worldly reality is intrinsic to religion considered in its generic form: “The ethical and religious ideal of homo religiosus is the extrication of his existence from the bonds of this world.” For Soloveitchik, however, just the opposite is true of Judaism.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Friedrich Nietzsche, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Philosophy

 

Europe-Israel Relations Have Been Transformed

On Monday, Israel and the EU held their first “association council” meeting since 2012, resuming what was once an annual event, equivalent to the meetings Brussels conducts with many other countries. Although the summit didn’t produce any major agreements or diplomatic breakthroughs, writes Shany Mor, it is a sign of a dramatic change that has occurred over the past decade. The very fact that the discussion focused on energy, counterterrorism, military technology, and the situation in Ukraine—rather than on the Israel-Palestinian conflict—is evidence of this change:

Israel is no longer the isolated and boycotted outpost in the Middle East that it was for most of its history. It has peace treaties with six Arab states now, four of which were signed since the last association council meeting. There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to major cities in the region and a burgeoning trade between Israel and Gulf monarchies, including those without official relations.

It is a player in the regional alliance systems of both the Gulf and the eastern Mediterranean, just as it has also become a net energy exporter due to the discovery of large gas deposits of its shoreline. None of this was the case at the last council meeting in 2012. [Moreover], Israel has cultivated deep ties with a number of new member states in the EU from Central and Eastern Europe, whose presence in Brussels bridges cultural ideological gaps that were once much wider.

Beyond the diplomatic shifts, however, is an even larger change that has happened in European-Israeli relations. The tiny Israel defined by its conflict with the Arabs that Europeans once knew is no more. When the first Cooperation Agreement [between Israel and the EU’s precursor] was signed in 1975, Israel, with its three million people, was smaller than all the European member states save Luxembourg. Sometime in the next two years, the Israeli population will cross the 10 million mark, making it significantly larger than Ireland, Denmark, Finland, and Austria (among others), and roughly equal in population to Greece, Portugal, and Sweden.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Abraham Accords, Europe and Israel, European Union, Israeli gas