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