The Bible’s Enduring Legacy in American Public Life, from a Jewish Perspective

Oct. 26 2022

In America’s Book: The Rise and Decline of a Bible Civilization, 1794-1911, the historian Mark Noll picks up where his previous volume on the Bible in colonial America left off. Yisroel Ben-Porat, in his review, comments on the special place Noll assigns to the debates over slavery in the decades leading up to the civil war:

Both sides, as Lincoln famously observed in his Second Inaugural Address, marshaled the Bible to support their views on slavery. In a stunning example of intellectual candor, Noll retracts his earlier position that the pro-slavery advocates held the intellectual upper hand over abolitionists. Instead, he maintains, “the Bible in antebellum America, and understood in traditional terms, offered wider, deeper, and more thorough support for abolition than for slavery. Contingent historical circumstances, rather than the intrinsic credibility of the arguments, created the opposite impression.”

Ben-Porat then turns to the question of where the Jews fit in a biblical, Christian-majority, civilization:

While one might assume that the People of the Book would have outsized importance in a history of the Bible in America, Noll relegates Jews to a place alongside several other minority groups such as African Americans, Catholics, and Native Americans. Overall, Noll’s story is largely a Protestant one, but the balance of material is perhaps justified by the relative size of denominational populations and the undeniable influence of Protestantism.

The stakes of America’s Book are more than merely historical. Noll argues that the Bible not only was important in American history, but that it still is (though not in the same way and to the same extent), and that it should remain a source of wisdom and inspiration. “Christian and Jewish adherents of scriptural religion,” he remarks, “have not been wrong to think that democratic self-government requires virtues of the kind encouraged by biblical teaching; . . . a democratic republic needs something like the Bible more than Bible believers need a democratic republic.”

Notwithstanding Noll’s optimistic outlook, I would like to add a word of caution to those who seek to mine the Bible as a political text for the 2020s. . . . The Bible does not neatly align with any political theory, position, or party. . . . Cherry-picking an individual verse (whether from the Hebrew or Christian Bible) to score culture war points, on either side, cheapens Scripture. To borrow the Sages’ phrase, we should never instrumentalize the Bible as “a spade to dig with.”

Read more at Tradition

More about: Abraham Lincoln, American Religion, Bible, Civil religion

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