To Believe, or to Seek Knowledge of the Divine?

While credos and catechisms were unknown to the rabbis of the Talmud, some medieval Jewish thinkers sought to identify certain beliefs as foundational and necessary to adherence to the Jewish religion. Most famous of these was Moses Maimonides, who summed up thirteen such principles in one of his early works, and codified theological axioms in his legal magnum opus. Dovid Campbell examines some later rabbis who took a contrary position:

One of the earliest and most powerful challenges to Maimonides’ project came from Rabbi Ḥasdai Crescas (1340–1410). Striking at the root, Crescas claimed that the entire notion of commanded belief was incoherent. Unlike our actions, our beliefs are not something we experience as being chosen. We do not choose to believe that cats exist or that two plus two equals four. Beliefs like these are simply the natural consequences of the facts and experiences we have acquired. It is therefore inconceivable that the Torah would legislate a commandment regarding belief, a commandment we cannot choose to obey or disobey.

Over the centuries, Crescas has found himself in good company. . . . Perhaps the most surprising support for Crescas comes from someone who ostensibly set out to defend Maimonides’ thirteen principles: Don Isaac Abarbanel (1437–1508). While upholding the idea that Exodus 20:2 (“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bondage”) presents us with a biblical commandment, Abarbanel also concedes to Crescas that beliefs are ultimately involuntary and therefore not subject to command. His compromise position, which he attributes to Maimonides himself, presents us with a radically different understanding of what the Torah expects from us.

Abarbanel argues that while beliefs themselves are natural consequences of perceived evidence, the acquisition and investigation of that evidence is certainly a volitional process. It is this process of inquiry—and only this process of inquiry—that is commanded here by the Torah, and our efforts to arrive at ideal beliefs through this process are the sole determinants of our Divine reward (or punishment). In other words, the resulting beliefs are not our problem.

Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: Hasdai Crescas, Isaac Abarbanel, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy