Did an East European Rabbi Resolve One of Moral Philosophy’s Oldest Problems?

In a recent essay, Abraham Socher explored how Moses Maimonides dealt with some of the thorniest questions of modern ethical thought: how to square the fact that people want to do good with their inability to do so, and, if being a good person means not just following rules but possessing inner virtues, how is the movement from non-virtue to virtue—that is, repentance—ever possible? While Socher concludes that such paradoxes may be ultimately unsolvable, Andrew Koss sees a possible answer in the work of the Russian-born rabbi Eliyahu Dessler (1892-1953):

How does someone without virtue, or without a particular virtue, truly repent—not in the sense of acknowledging wrongdoing after the fact and begging forgiveness from God and man, but by actually improving himself or herself?

It so happens that the cultivation of inner virtue was a prime concern of Dessler and his fellow [devotees of the rabbinic movement known as musar], who were fixated—perhaps excessively—on obtaining purity of motive and thought. It’s hard to believe that he didn’t see [repentance] as involving some sort of inner change as well. But how? While Dessler doesn’t say so explicitly, I think the answer comes from another rabbinic statement: “One should always study Torah and fulfill commandments for ulterior motives, since, by doing them for ulterior motives one will ultimately come to do them for pure motives.” To put it differently, good outward actions can foster inner virtue; the means justify the ends.

And if the appeal to talmudic authority doesn’t convince you, modern psychology has come to the same conclusion. According to what’s known as dissonance theory, when a person’s belief is out of sync with his behavior, the most likely outcome is that his beliefs will change to accord with his actions. . . .

The interesting thing is that Aristotle had a similar view of how to develop character: “[B]y refraining from pleasures,” he writes, “we become temperate, and once having become temperate we are most capable of refraining from them.” Indeed, the Ethics puts a great deal of emphasis on habit, and it’s no coincidence that the words for “character” and “habit” are nearly identical in ancient Greek—both transliterate as ethos. And Aristotle, whose virtue ethics philosophy professors like to contrast to the “deontological” (i.e., law-based) system preferred by Judaism, concludes the Ethics by discussing the potential of laws to render people virtuous.

To which Socher replies:

It may be useful as a tool for moral self-improvement to see oneself as adjudicating between opposing forces within one’s breast or brain, [as does Dessler, along with Plato and many others], though where precisely the adjudicator, or charioteer, resides is more than a moot point. But I’m afraid I don’t see how such a picture reconciles virtue ethics with an ethics of obligation, or solves the puzzles in moral psychology to which the experience of weakness of the will and the moral phenomenon of repentance give rise. More generally, I think ethical life is best described at the level of the conscious individual, the moral agent.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Aristotle, East European Jewry, Moses Maimonides, Musar, Repentance

 

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