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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

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

Saudi Arabia Should Open Its Doors to Israeli—and Palestinian—Pilgrims

On the evening of June 26 the annual period of the Hajj begins, during which Muslims from all over the world visit Mecca and perform prescribed religious rituals. Because of the de-jure state of war between Saudi Arabia and the Jewish state, Israeli Muslim pilgrims—who usually number about 6,000—must take a circuitous (and often costly) route via a third country. The same is true for Palestinians. Mark Dubowitz and Tzvi Kahn, writing in the Saudi paper Arab News, urge Riyadh to reconsider its policy:

[I]f the kingdom now withholds consent for direct flights from Israel to Saudi Arabia, it would be a setback for those normalization efforts, not merely a continuation of the status quo. It is hard to see what the Saudis would gain from that.

One way to support the arrangement would be to include Palestinians in the deal. Israel might also consider earmarking its southern Ramon Airport for the flights. After all, Ramon is significantly closer to the kingdom than Ben-Gurion Airport, making for cheaper routes. Its seclusion from Israeli population centers would also help Israeli efforts to monitor outgoing passengers and incoming flights for security purposes.

A pilot program that ran between August and October proved promising, with dozens of Palestinians from the West Bank traveling back and forth from Ramon to Cyprus and Turkey. This program proceeded over the objections of the Palestinian Authority, which fears being sidelined by such accommodations. Jordan, too, has reason to be concerned about the loss of Palestinian passenger dinars at Amman’s airports.

But Palestinians deserve easier travel. Since Israel is willing to be magnanimous in this regard, Saudi Arabia can certainly follow suit by allowing Ramon to be the springboard for direct Hajj flights for Palestinian and Israeli Muslims alike. And that would be a net positive for efforts to normalize ties between [Jerusalem] and Riyadh.

Read more at Arab News

More about: Israel-Arab relations, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians, Saudi Arabia