When It Comes to Judaism’s Claims to the Truth, Jews Don’t Have to Choose between Maimonides and Judah Halevi

July 20 2022

In his new book We Are Not Alone, the Israeli-American philosopher Menachem Kellner seeks, through a study of Jewish theological texts, to resolve a tension between two competing inclinations: “I want to claim,” he writes, “that Judaism . . . is true but I do not want to claim that other religions are false.” At the heart of his book is a debate between two of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages, both born in Spain: Judah Halevi and Moses Maimonides. Shai Held observes in his review:

As Kellner has put it elsewhere, Halevi sees Jewishness as a matter of hardware; Maimonides insists that it’s software. As Kellner presents this issue, Jews who want to affirm the idea of chosenness are forced to choose between Maimonides and Halevi. For a serious reader of the Bible, however, these are not the only options; indeed, neither option is biblical.

According to the book of Deuteronomy, the Jews were chosen because God fell in love with them. Deuteronomy goes to great lengths to emphasize that the setting of God’s heart on Israel was not a consequence of this Israelite quality or that; there was nothing about the Jews that made them uniquely lovable. To put the matter in [Christian] theological terms, God’s choice of the Jews was an act of pure grace, and we cannot learn anything about Israelite superiority from the choice.

A genuinely biblical view of election would embrace Halevi’s insistence that it was God who chose Abraham, but it would endorse Maimonides’ view that there was nothing inherent in the Jews, and surely nothing biological, that made God’s choice somehow necessary or inevitable. Kellner is a thoroughgoing rationalist, so he may find the biblical idea of a God who “set His heart” (the Hebrew word ḥashak has distinctly erotic connotations) upon a particular people both implausible and unpalatable, a troubling image calling for ingenious interpretation. But it’s worth remembering that both Maimonides and Halevi evade the unique vision that the Bible itself offers.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Chosen people, Deuteronomy, Jewish Philosophy, Judah Halevi, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

Why the Leader of Hamas Went to Russia

Sept. 30 2022

Earlier this month, the Hamas chairman Ismail Haniyeh and several of his colleagues visited Moscow, where they met with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other Russian officials. According to Arabic-language media, Haniyeh came seeking “new ideas” about how to wage war against the Jewish state. The terrorist group has had good relations with the Kremlin for several years, and even maintains an office in Moscow. John Hardie and Ivana Stradner comment on the timing of the visit:

For Moscow, the visit likely reflects a continuation of its efforts to leverage the Palestinians and other issues to pressure Israel over its stance on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and Israel built friendly relations in the decades following the Soviet Union’s dissolution. After Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Jerusalem condemned the war, but made sure to tread carefully in order to preserve working ties with Moscow, lest Russian military forces in Syria disrupt Israel’s strategically important air operations there.

Nevertheless, bilateral tensions spiked in April after Yair Lapid, then serving as Israel’s foreign minister, joined the chorus of voices worldwide accusing Russia of committing war crimes in Ukraine. Jerusalem later provided Kyiv with some non-lethal military aid and a field hospital. In response, Moscow hardened its rhetoric about Israeli actions in the Palestinian territories.

The Palestinian issue isn’t the only way that Russia has sought to pressure Israel. Moscow is also threatening, on seemingly spurious grounds, to shutter the Russian branch of the Jewish Agency.

Moscow likely has little appetite for outright conflict with Israel, particularly when the bulk of Russia’s military is floundering in Ukraine. But there are plenty of other ways that Russia, which maintains an active intelligence presence in the Jewish state, could damage Israel’s interests. As Moscow cozies up with Hamas, Iran, and other enemies of Israel, Jerusalem—and its American allies—would do well to keep a watchful eye.

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Read more at Algemeiner

More about: Hamas, Israeli Security, Russia