Defending Judaism in a Postmodern Age

 In his 1930 book Spinoza’s Critique of Religion, the great scholar of political thought Leo Strauss argues that the choice between religion and reason “is ultimately not theoretical but moral.” His aim, writes Jonathan Yudelman, “is to persuade rationalists to take religion seriously.” But at the same time, Strauss’s formulation challenges religious belief, and specifically Orthodox Judaism, the faith of his and Spinoza’s youths. A number of Jewish thinkers take up this challenge in a recent collection of essays titled Strauss, Spinoza, and Sinai: Orthodox Judaism and Modern Questions of Faith. Reviewing this exercise in “the lost literary genre of religious apologia,” Yudelson writes:

A single unspoken point of agreement emerges amid the dizzying plurality of views: today it is postmodernism—rather than science or rationalism—that constitutes the greatest obstacle to faith.

The problem for faith, in other words, is a general skepticism regarding truth. In the postmodern world, orthodox religion suffers less from being thought demonstrably false than from claiming the authority of truth at all. This absence of consensus about truth is evident in the variety of perspectives contained in the volume itself. In confronting faith’s postmodern problem, the contributors demonstrate that it is more or less every believer for himself. And this is hardly a surprise. After all, if religion had a potent stock of ready defenses against postmodernity, we would all know of it.

Any theoretical defense of a religion is necessarily particular to that religion. And even so, the very diversity and variety of the theoretical defenses of Judaism in this volume may well deepen even a committed Jewish reader’s perplexity. This does not mean that people of faith have no common interest or common work. Postmodernism is a challenge to all religion.

Since Orthodox Judaism places less emphasis than Christianity on authoritative articles of faith, and because it regulates the whole of life, it has emerged slightly less damaged from the onslaught of postmodernism. Gil Student and Shmuel Phillips, [two of the volume’s contributors] are right to insist that religions are much less theories than living traditions. What is seldom properly understood is that postmodernism is likewise not primarily a theory, but rather the living practice of counter-tradition.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: Benedict Spinoza, Judaism, Leo Strauss, Postmodernism

The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7