Norman Lamm’s Theology of Moderation

Aug. 19 2022

In his ethical writings, Moses Maimonides puts great emphasis on the virtue of moderation—drawing in equal measures on Aristotle, rabbinic writings, and biblical wisdom literature. In recent times, the late Norman Lamm, a leading American Orthodox rabbi and the former president of Yeshiva University, spoke often about this same virtue, its importance in both public and personal conduct, and its theological implications. He even took to dubbing his preferred sub-denomination as “Centrist Orthodoxy” in a nod to the importance of the middle path. Tzvi Sinensky traces the development of Lamm’s thinking about moderation, and its relation to politics and to the interconnected virtue of civility:

[Lamm] acknowledged that some may contend that Maimonides’ middle path is limited only to individual character, [rather than public life]. Yet he rejected this view on the basis of a number of arguments. First, prima facie there is no reason to distinguish between the private and public levels; if anything, mass extremism is more dangerous than its individual counterpart. Second, Maimonides’ own approach to matters of public policy, such as his tolerant attitude toward the Karaites, was characterized by precisely the sort of levelheaded balance Rabbi Lamm advocated. Third, Lamm noted that one of Maimonides’ biblical sources for the Golden Mean was drawn from Abraham’s path of righteousness and justice (ts’dakah u-mishpat), which the Torah connects with his advocacy on behalf of the people of Sodom; thus, the very source for following the middle path is drawn from a scenario of public policy!

In 1989, Lamm dedicated a full essay to the theme of Centrist Orthodox and moderation, or what he now preferred to call “moderationism.” Pushing back firmly against those who misconstrued the idea as a sorry compromise, Lamm argued that it was anything but—and that, in fact, the dynamic act of weighing what was made such judiciousness “the way of the Lord.” Lamm cited his mentor Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s interpretation that Maimonides was not simple-mindedly requiring one to fall in the middle in each individual scenario, but rather over the course of one’s life.

As Lamm summarized the point, “The key to character for Maimonides is not the mean as such, but this weighing and measuring and directing, the conscious use of reason rather than passively following Nature blindly and supinely. . . . The process of arriving at a determination of one’s own life and character is more important than the results.”

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Modern Orthodoxy, Moses Maimonides

Strengthening the Abraham Accords at Sea

In an age of jet planes, high-speed trains, electric cars, and instant communication, it’s easy to forget that maritime trade is, according to Yuval Eylon, more important than ever. As a result, maritime security is also more important than ever. Eylon examines the threats, and opportunities, these realities present to Israel:

Freedom of navigation in the Middle East is challenged by Iran and its proxies, which operate in the Red Sea, the Arabian Sea, and the Persian Gulf, and recently in the Mediterranean Sea as well. . . . A bill submitted to the U.S. Congress calls for the formulation of a naval strategy that includes an alliance to combat naval terrorism in the Middle East. This proposal suggests the formation of a regional alliance in the Middle East in which the member states will support the realization of U.S. interests—even while the United States focuses its attention on other regions of the world, mainly the Far East.

Israel could play a significant role in the execution of this strategy. The Abraham Accords, along with the transition of U.S.-Israeli military cooperation from the European Command (EUCOM) to Central Command (CENTCOM), position Israel to be a key player in the establishment of a naval alliance, led by the U.S. Fifth Fleet, headquartered in Bahrain.

Collaborative maritime diplomacy and coalition building will convey a message of unity among the members of the alliance, while strengthening state commitments. The advantage of naval operations is that they enable collaboration without actually threatening the territory of any sovereign state, but rather using international waters, enhancing trust among all members.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Abraham Accords, Iran, Israeli Security, Naval strategy, U.S. Foreign policy