The Great Rabbi of the Italian Renaissance

Few rabbinic figures have had so great an impact on both Jewish and non-Jewish intellectual history as Obadiah Sforno, who was born around 1475 in the northern Italian city of Cesena and died around 1550 in Bologna. His commentary on much of the Tanakh—a standard feature of rabbinic Bibles since the 18th century—is characterized, as Tamar Marvin writes, by a search for the text’s “spiritual-ethical” meaning combined with “humanist ideals.” In addition, Sforno wrote philosophical treatises and cultivated relationships with leading Christian intellectuals—which included teaching Hebrew to the pioneering Hebraist and humanist Johannes Reuchlin.

Hailing from a well-heeled, well-educated family, Sforno was trained in traditional Talmud study as well as humanist favorites such as mathematics, philosophy, and philology (which we now call linguistics). He received medical training in an Italian university as well, and his doctorate in artibus et medicina (arts and medicine) has surfaced, dated 1501. Sforno is then attested at Rome, apparently leaving in 1527, when it was sacked by the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Thereafter he settled in Bologna, becoming active in communal affairs and heading the yeshiva there.

The philosophical themes that Sforno returns to in his prose works are interwoven throughout his Tanakh commentary. In this sense, his work as a commentator is a chief conduit of his philosophy. These themes, clearly inflected by the intellectual currents of humanist Italy, include human potential and self-realization and the power and limits of human reason.

This latter theme emerges in full in Sforno’s philosophical treatise, Or Amim (“Light of the Nations”), which he subsequently translated into Latin. There he uses Aristotelian methodology to argue against Aristotelianism, the great intellectual movement of the high and late Middle Ages. This unusual exercise remains of interest to us today. . . . As we try to agree on how we generate facts and what counts as standards of evidence in light of our subjectivity, we can look to a work like Or Amim to show us how one system of meaning is eclipsed by another, and how to carry forward its treasures while being open to future possibilities.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: Aristotle, Christian Hebraists, Italian Jewry, Jewish history, Renaissance

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security