The Italian Rabbi Who Dismissed Ecclesiastes as Heretical, and Later Recanted

Two talmudic passages suggest that ancient rabbinic authorities considered removing the book of Ecclesiastes from the canon, and the standard midrashic commentary on the book states outright that some of its ideas “lean toward heresy.” While medieval exegetes found ways to harmonize the book with accepted doctrines, one brilliant and idiosyncratic Italian rabbi simply threw up his hands. Martin Lockshin writes:

Samuel David Luzzatto (Shadal; 1800–1865) was a prolific poet, thinker, linguist, and scholar who composed Bible commentaries that, while rejecting most of the teachings of 19th-century biblical criticism, had a decidedly modern flavor. Most of his life, he taught Bible in the modern, Orthodox rabbinical seminary in Padua.

When he was twenty years old, he wrote a commentary on Ecclesiastes which he did not publish. . . . Luzzatto [therein] argues that Ecclesiastes rejects divine personal providence and feels that what happens to people is a result of fate. . . . Luzzatto opposes the final decision of the classical rabbis to include Ecclesiastes in the canon, and he supports the earlier rabbis at the beginning of the first millennium, who, according to classical rabbinic literature, wanted to exclude Ecclesiastes from the Bible.

Thirty-six years later, a mature Luzzatto sent the manuscript to a publisher, with a note explaining that his views of the book had changed, and that he had a newfound appreciation for it. To some extent Luzzatto’s new view mirrors the traditional understanding that King Solomon wrote the Song of Songs in his youth and Ecclesiastes in his old age. Luzzatto wrote:

I hereby apologize and ask forgiveness from the author of Ecclesiastes (whoever he may be). For in the days of my youth . . . I was angry at [him] for saying “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What benefit do people receive from all their efforts?” (1:2–3). . . . Of all the many books that I have seen and read, very few were as valuable to me as the book of Ecclesiastes. . . . From it, I derived the approach that guides me to this very day, that for people whose lives are dedicated to their own benefit, they are vanity and their existence is vanity. But people whose lives and efforts are dedicated to helping others, their lives are not vanity.


More about: Biblical commentary, Ecclesiastes, Talmud


Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy