The Benefits, and Dangers, of Rational Religion

On the Sabbath before Rosh Hashanah, synagogues traditional read the section of the Torah known as Nitsavim (Deuteronomy 29:9–30:20), which includes Moses’ admonition, “For this commandment which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, that we may hear it, and do it?” Thanks to its use in a famous talmudic discussion, the phrase “it is not in the heavens” has come to signify the principal that Scriptural interpretation is a task for human reason. Moshe Taragin examines the power of this rationalist strain in Judaism, as well as its pitfalls:

Our belief that Torah isn’t in the heavens, but subject to human analysis, grounded Jewish practice and Jewish culture in reason and logic. More so, as a people who practiced a rational system of halakhah, we also applied our rational minds to the world around us. We excelled in professions which demanded rational analysis.

Our rationalism also helped us wrestle with a hostile world. Facing constant historical setbacks, we didn’t sink into hollow despair, but devised practical workaround solutions to our predicaments and disabilities. Our rational bent—derived from Moses’ proclamation that Torah isn’t in the heavens—created a sturdy and logical process of Jewish halakhah and also generated a hardy rational-based Jewish culture, capable of surviving very difficult . . . conditions.

At the same time, Taragin observes, Judaism has always had its mystical tendencies, existing alongside the legal and logical:

Unfortunately, we are gradually losing transcendence. Judaism is becoming too grounded on earth and is quickly losing altitude. In a hyper-empirical world—refashioned by the scientific revolution—religious rituals seem irrational to many, who sadly have walked away from classic ritual behavior.

Even Orthodox Jews—who steadfastly maintain religious traditions and rituals—have crafted a highly rational form of religious experience, while deemphasizing the esoteric parts of religion. Too often, we justify faith and religion purely in “earthly” and human terms: religion provides meaning, values, social welfare, familial bliss, Shabbat respite, personal discipline, healthy relationships, and tikkun olam [repairing the world]. All this may be true, but all these values are grounded in our world. We have clipped the wings of religion and, rarely, do we fly to heaven.

Read more at Jewish Link

More about: Deuteronomy, Judaism, Rationalism

To Save Gaza, the U.S. Needs a Strategy to Restrain Iran

Since the outbreak of war on October 7, America has given Israel much support, and also much advice. Seth Cropsey argues that some of that advice hasn’t been especially good:

American demands for “restraint” and a “lighter footprint” provide significant elements of Hamas’s command structure, including Yahya Sinwar, the architect of 10/7, a far greater chance of surviving and preserving the organization’s capabilities. Its threat will persist to some extent in any case, since it has significant assets in Lebanon and is poised to enter into a full-fledged partnership with Hizballah that would give it access to Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee camps for recruitment and to Iranian-supported ratlines into Jordan and Syria.

Turning to the aftermath of the war, Cropsey observes that it will take a different kind of involvement for the U.S. to get the outcomes it desires, namely an alternative to Israeli and to Hamas rule in Gaza that comes with buy-in from its Arab allies:

The only way that Gaza can be governed in a sustainable and stable manner is through the participation of Arab states, and in particular the Gulf Arabs, and the only power that can deliver their participation is the United States. A grand bargain is impossible unless the U.S. exerts enough leverage to induce one.

Militarily speaking, the U.S. has shown no desire seriously to curb Iranian power. It has persistently signaled a desire to avoid escalation. . . . The Gulf Arabs understand this. They have no desire to engage in serious strategic dialogue with Washington and Jerusalem over Iran strategy, since Washington does not have an Iran strategy.

Gaza’s fate is a small part of a much broader strategic struggle. Unless this is recognized, any diplomatic master plan will degenerate into a diplomatic parlor game.

Read more at National Review

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