Orthodox Judaism Responds to the Challenge Posed by Leo Strauss

April 12 2022

The German-American philosopher Leo Strauss is best known for his emphasis on esoteric readings of the great works of Western political philosophy, his writing about natural rights, and his insistence that modern scholars can recover a tradition of political rationalism from classical antiquity. But he was also a proud Jew and Zionist, whose thinking about Judaism was deeply intertwined with his thinking about the fundamental problems of political theory. His work thus provides a springboard for a recent collection of essays titled Strauss, Spinoza & Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith. Nathan Laufer writes in his review:

In his preface to the English edition of Benedict Spinoza’s “Critique of Religion,” Strauss made the somewhat surprising claim that Jewish Orthodox belief in Divine revelation was as defensible as Spinoza’s unbelief in revelation. For Strauss, neither believers nor nonbelievers in divine revelation could know that they were correct; neither could credibly argue that the position that each of them espoused was the true one. However, Orthodox believers had as good a case for their belief in the Divine revelation of the Torah and the Orthodox practice that followed from it, as Spinoza and his secular followers had in their refusal to believe in Divine revelation and their resultant secular beliefs and lifestyle.

In stating so, Strauss pushed back against the academic mainstream of his time that relied on Spinoza and his intellectual heirs to mock Orthodox belief in Divine revelation and the tenets of traditional religion as just so much archaic superstition.

Although Strauss was raised in a nominally Orthodox home in Germany, he himself was not an Orthodox Jew. Yet this essay had a profound influence on many of its readers including the lead editor of this volume, Jeffrey Bloom. When, shortly after graduating from college, Bloom began taking his first, tentative steps towards Orthodox Jewish observance, Strauss’s essay helped to launch his spiritual journey on rational grounds.

After the passage of a couple of decades, Bloom asked himself whether Strauss’ argument, persuasive as it was for him as a young man, was the best argument that could be made today in defense of Orthodox Judaism. Was the best that can be said about contemporary Orthodoxy is that it was no less reasonable than contemporary secularism? Or was the case for Orthodox Judaism today a much stronger one than the one that Strauss posited over a half century ago? To help him answer that question he turned to seventeen prominent Orthodox Jewish scholars, including his co-editors, Rabbi Alec Goldstein and Rabbi Gil Student, to analyze, respond to, and build on Strauss’s argument.

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Read more at Jewish Link

More about: Benedict Spinoza, Judaism, Leo Strauss, Orthodoxy

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter