Why the Torah Isn’t a Law Book

The Pentateuch contains hundreds of laws, which today still govern the lives of Jews around the world. Nonetheless, explains Jeremiah Unterman, comparison to the legal codes of the ancient Near East—of which thousands have been uncovered by archaeologists—show various ways in which the Torah is entirely unlike these works. Above all, it is the only one where laws are embedded in narrative. The Torah is also unique in presenting law as something given by God rather than a human ruler; in telling of the law being delivered to the people and regularly read publicly, rather than being the sole domain of royal scribes and officials; and showing concern for the poor. (Interview by Dru Johnson. Audio, 34 minutes.)

Read more at Biblical Mind

More about: Ancient Near East, Jewish law, Torah

How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus