Yes, Jews Believe in Heaven

Feb. 21 2019

During his State of the Union address, the president quoted the words of the Holocaust survivor Joshua Kaufman, who was present in the audience, describing his liberation from Dachau: “To me, the arrival of the American soldiers was proof that God exists, and they came from the sky.” To this President Trump added, “They came down from heaven.” The New York Times reporter Annie Karni immediately took to Twitter to suggest to her 75,000 followers that these words were theologically ignorant, if not downright insensitive, because “Jews don’t believe in Heaven.” Rabbi Meir Soloveichik responds:

The Bible describes a heavenly realm as the throne room of God. “Look down from Thy holy habitation, from Heaven,” Deuteronomy beseeches, “and bless Thy people Israel.” . . . For the rabbis of the Talmud, it was in this celestial realm that souls abide after death, until the ultimate resurrection of the dead predicted in the book of Daniel, when “many who sleep in the dirt shall awake.” So central is the concept of Heaven in the Talmud that the word became synonymous with God himself; the central virtue in the Talmud is known as yir’at shamayim, fear of Heaven, and providence is described as occurring bi-ydey shamayim, by the hands of Heaven.

Karni’s tweet, in other words, was utterly untrue. Eventually, she posted a half-hearted addition, without any apology for error. . . . Meanwhile, [the] original posting remained, garnering several thousand retweets and over 10,000 “likes.” The tweet thus reveals that many in the media know little, and care even less, about accurately understanding the beliefs of millions of religious Americans. Karni is herself Jewish; her father is an Israeli. . . .

It is true, of course, that the Jewish notion of Heaven differs from that of Christianity. Judaism denies the doctrine of original sin; we believe the afterlife can be earned, rather than granted purely by grace. We further believe that even as the soul endures, an equally important immortality is achieved through transmission of Judaism to the next generation. . . . The immortality of those who have died thus lies, at least partially, in the hands of the living.

“All is in the hands of Heaven,” Rabbi Ḥanina opined, “except for fear of Heaven.” The [aphorism] emphasizes the dialectic between providence and free will. Jews believe that Heaven has chosen the Jews as an eternal people and vouchsafed them a faith to be transmitted throughout history. But whether the Jews of every generation continue to believe is up to them; assimilation, and rejection of the past, is always possible. We believe in Heaven; but Jews can so easily lose their fear of Heaven.

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More about: Afterlife, Donald Trump, Hebrew Bible, Judaism, Religion & Holiday

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy