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

Will Costco Go to Israel?

Social-media users have mocked this week new Israeli finance minister Bezalel Smotrich for a poorly translated letter. But far more interesting than the finance minister’s use of Google Translate (or some such technology) is what the letter reveals about the Jewish state. In it, Smotrich asks none other than Costco to consider opening stores in Israel.

Why?

Israel, reports Sharon Wrobel, has one of the highest costs of living of any country in the 38-member Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

This

has been generally attributed to a lack of competition among local importers and manufacturers. The top three local supermarket chains account for over half of the food retail market, limiting competition and putting upward pressure on prices. Meanwhile, import tariffs, value-added tax costs and kosher restrictions have been keeping out international retail chains.

Is the move likely to happen?

“We do see a recent trend of international retailers entering the Israeli market as some barriers to food imports from abroad have been eased,” Chen Herzog, chief economist at BDO Israel accounting firm, told The Times of Israel. “The purchasing power and technology used by big global retailers for logistics and in the area of online sales where Israel has been lagging behind could lead to a potential shift in the market and more competitive prices.”

Still, the same economist noted that in Israel “the cost of real estate and other costs such as the VAT on fruit and vegetables means that big retailers such as Costco may not be able to offer the same competitive prices than in other places.”

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Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Costco, Israel & Zionism