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Amira Hass, columnist at HaAretz, recently wrote a column where she not only defended rock-throwing Palestinians, but encouraged them to continue it. I know that Hass doesn’t harbor any warm feelings for Israel or the Israeli society, even less for the settlers, which are an expression of colonialism according to her opinion, as well as I know that she sympathizes strongly with the Palestinian cause, so much that she now lives in Ramallah. That I don’t have a problem with, I actually sympathize with the Palestinians as well, though not so much that I hate Israel and the Israeli society (true, there are elements I would love to be without, but no society is perfect).
Hass is entitled to her opinions on Israel and the conflict, and I can understand some of them, though agreeing with her in general is hard. When she objects to, and criticizes Israeli violence I agree, and I believe it should be condemned. So, for example, when Israeli soldiers are beating up Palestinian children (how often or not it might happen), or when settlers attack innocent Palestinians, on their way to their fields or just passing by. But her condemnations and criticism just underscore the amazing hypocrisy of hers. How in the world can you on one hand condemn violence and on the other hand encourage it? Particularly after the incidents that have passed lately, where we have seen a three-year old girl surviving only by a miracle, after stone-throwers caused the girl’s mother to crash with a truck!
I know what Hass would say; that it’s tragic and unfortunate, but that it’s the parents fault for bringing her there, being in the West Bank is cause of danger for Jews (or should be according to her opinion apparently), and to bring a girl there is the fault of those bringing her. Her flawed logic screams to heaven, here are some reasons why:
First, how did the stone-throwers know that there were Jews in the car? True, you can see whether the car is Israeli or Palestinian, based on the color of the number plates, but Palestinians with Israeli citizenship drive in Israeli cars, and as such can also be targeted. If this had been a Palestinian girl, rather than a Jewish, what would her explanation and reaction be? No need to guess, Israel would have been blamed for this, since the stone-throwers only throw stones as a reaction against Israeli occupation, leaving the stone-throwers as beings without any ability to reflect and think independently.
Second, that she finds it okay to target Jews, is in itself disgusting. If I can find some reason to justify the means, is it then okay to target Palestinians, women, Buddhist, or whatever I can think of, only based on my dislike towards a certain group, making all members of this group responsible for the actions of the few? Or is it up to Hass to decide when it is moral and when not?
Let us turn it around for a moment. Is it really a wise advice she gives the Palestinians? Is it something which will improve their situation? No, not really. Here are some reasons for that:
First, we already have enough violence, the last intifada should be proof enough for anyone that violence is not the answer, that violence only hardens the attitude of the Israelis, who need to be part of a stable agreement ending the conflict, making it harder for any Israeli political attempts to improve the situation.
Or let us say, for the sake of argument, that the Israeli politicians don’t want peace. Still, these actions of violence juts gives them excuses for not doing anything to improve the situation. Whether the one or the other, these actions of violence will backfire.
Second, the youth (and yes, we are talking mostly about youngsters, who most likely are bored and think that they actually are doing a great deed for the Palestinian cause) are endangering themselves. Make no mistake, some settlers are armed, and very ready to use their weapons in self-defense. Note; self-defense. Hass is encouraging young people to put their life at risk, for her confused sense of justice, knowing very well that stone-throwers most likely won’t make any changes, besides worsen the situation for the Palestinians. How I can know that? You don’t see her with the Palestinians throwing stones, she knows very well the dangers connected to doing this.
But here is the worst reason why Hass’ encouragement is despicable. She could be a bridge, she could connect the two sides, be an intermediate partner for peace, taking advantage of her knowledge and status in order to promote actions, where people from both sides could create something together and improve relations. Instead of that she chooses to encourage to violence and by that saw hatred on both side.
Hass is not among the “disciples of Aharon”, those striving for peace, ready to put themselves out there, risking themselves, in order to connect striving parties, creating communications and establishing friendship on the two sides, such as for example the late R. Froman, z”l, was. She is rather among the followers of Korach, who rebelled against the establishment of the Jewish people, not in order to promote justice, but in order to gain prestige and honor not deserved.
And why a newspaper like HaAretz wants to take part in this, is above me to understand.
It has been some time – as usual – and I am as always terrible sorry for it.
The war is on break for now, people are back to normal, or at least as close you can come to normal here.
The studies are going on as usual as well, stressing me and leaving me with a lot of pressure, as well as a son soon to be born, BE”H. But I am grateful, very grateful.
I have been thinking about the comparative study, and how we teach about religions. One thing that has struck me is that we often teach about the religions for themselves, that is, instead of comparing some interrelated fields, we study them unrelated to each other. Take for example philosophy in religion (or religious philosophy). When we study Jewish philosophy, most often it is only rarely related to Islamic or Christian philosophy, but in order to get a good understanding of Jewish philosophy we need to relate it to other players in the field. Maimonides, for example, is influenced by a number of Islamic philosophers (as well as Greek), and has himself influenced both Christian and Muslim philosophers.
Another example is the role of central figures and how to understand them. Often we are told that Muhammad is to Islam what Moses is to Judaism, but is that really so? I have more and more thought about this issue, that we need to have the comparative element integrated into the general study and teaching of religions, in order both to understand the religions in and of themselves, as well as in their relation to other religions. I will try to give a small example on how this can be done in the following:
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all three religions based on one or more central figures. In all of them one person stands out of centrality compared to other central figures. In Judaism Moses is of great central importance, in Christianity Jesus has the same centrality, and in Islam it is Muhammad. What is interesting in this respect, is not so much how these characters are viewed and understand in the other respective religions – though that certainly also is of importance – but how they are central in comparison of other central figures in the respective religions, as well as how they are understood in comparison to how the central characters are understood in the other religions.
Moses, for example, is far from the only central character in Judaism, we can easily mention both Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Isaiah, David, and Salomon as examples on other very central characters. And that is just in the Bible itself, would we expand our focus to other Jewish materials, then we would find Hillel and Shamai, Yehudah haNasi, Maimonides, and so on. And furthermore, though I believe that Moses is the most central character in Judaism (except God Himself, of course), I am not sure of how strong his centrality is compared to the centrality of the other characters. For example, where Moses is very central and of crucial importance when it comes to the implementation of law in Judaism, he doesn’t hold the same level of importance when it comes to the establishment of Israel as a people. There Abraham might be of greater centrality. Or Moses compared to David in the establishment of the kingdom of Israel. And so on. Yet, I still believe that Moses overall is of greater central importance than other characters are.
We see the same with Christianity, where Jesus is far from the only central figure. Take characters like Paul, Peter, and John. Or the various church fathers. Or even Luther. In both these cases, though there would be no Judaism without Moses, and no Christianity without Jesus, their central importance is to some degree matched by other characters, though the two religions might have existed in some form or another without them.
It seems to me that Muhammad enjoys a much greater centrality and importance when it comes to Islam. Though references are abundant to other characters in the Qur’ân, Muhammad is still the receiver of the Qur’ân, and in the early times he was the leading figure when spreading Islam, at least till his death. In this context we don’t see Moses or Jesus spreading their respective religions, which can be part of the reason that Muhammad is more central in Islam than the two in their respective religions. Of course there are other important characters, the four righteous caliphs, the founders of the legal schools, the philosophers, and so on, but put notice on how Muhammad is in focus, both when it comes to the role as the receiver of the Qur’ân as well as when it comes to the Hadith-literature. In comparison, the Mishnah is not ascribed to Moses, and the letters in the New Testament is not ascribed to Jesus. Where Moses mostly is of crucial central importance to the written Torah in Judaism, and Jesus plays somewhat the same role in Christianity, neither of them are ascribed to the “oral tradition” (the Mishnah/Tosefta in Judaism, and the letters in Christianity), while this is the case for Muhammad in Islam.
This is one aspect. Another aspect is how we view them, how we describe them. This can teach us a lot about how the followers of the respective religions understand their religion and their role as followers of the religion in question. I am not going to too much into how followers are relating to them, just use the most used examples.
Moses is – by Jews – described as “teacher”, Moshe Rabenu. This is very crucial for the Jewish conception. He teaches us and we learn from him. He has a role not unlike the rabbis, as the chief rabbi, and this – I believe – has left its mark on Jews, who generally have been very occupied by the focus on study.
Jesus, on the other hand, is described as savior. This is something we often see in how Christians describe themselves, as being saved.
Again we see Islam somewhat differ here. Muslims see themselves as submitted to God, not so much describing Muhammad as God’s submitter, but rather in describing themselves as such. Where Jews today are named after a tribe, Yehudah – earlier named as a people, Israel – Christians are named as followers of Jesus, the Christ, and Muslims are named after their relation to God, as people submitted to God. But Muslims are neither taking their name after a role perceived in relation to Muhammad, nor after a role described him. Nevertheless, in one incident we do see Muslim self-perceiving based on Muhammad, namely as the final group of believers. Muhammad is the final prophet, therefore those who are following him are the right group of believers. In Judaism as such Moses wasn’t the last prophet to come, and it wasn’t unperceivable that other religions would form, though they wouldn’t have importance for Israel as such, and in Christianity we also see the spokesman, the holy spirit, would come after Jesus.
All this more or less describes an idea I’m working on, which could be interesting to follow in the future. I don’t know if anything will come of this or what it will end with, but if any of you out there have any suggestions, then please share with me, I would be very interested in hearing about what you have on mind.
I also know that there are many conceptions and thoughts, which could have been explained better, for example when I talk about strength of centrality and the like, but again, this is mostly sharing thoughts.
Looking forward to hear from you.
All the best and Hanukkah Sameah!
Okay, I thought I wanted to try something new, making my blog a little more relevant for those who don’t find the nerdy studies of religion interesting. I still want to keep the Jewish twist, as well as the focus on religion, so I was thinking about making a news-update on what’s going on in the Jewish religious world. The first post though is not so connected to religion, as it is to the political changes around in the world. Just needed to write a little about it.
Changes are happening around the world, not only in the Arab world but certainly also in Europe. These changes probably don’t come as any news for most, considering that we are talking about Tunesia, Greek, and Hungary, or at least these are the countries that will be focused upon a little here.
Greek is in tumult, something it has been almost since the financial crisis broke out some years ago. The country is moving towards an election, and not all parties are equally democratic and embracing in their world view. Take for example the party “Golden Dawn,” considered neo-Nazi and has such wonderful points on their charter as the exclusion of “non-Aryans” from their party. The lack of democratic thought in this should be obvious, it doesn’t matter whether you agree in their views or not, you’re simply excluded alone based on an outdated belief in human races.
In Hungary a political party called Jobbik, which is anti-Jewish and anti-Gypsy, entered the Hungarian parliament already two years ago. And having the country being in a situation where people want scapegoats, the party certainly is doing its best to point out who they believe is the cause of the bad financial situation. Yes, you guessed it, the Jews.
Tunisia is a different chapter, having gone through its changes not based on the finance crisis, but rather, well, the Arab world’s crisis of dictators. And as such the picture is also different, but still rather unsure when it comes to the Jews. The around 1,000 Jews who are living in Tunisia seem positive, though cautious, believing and hoping that the changes will be for the best. The Tunisian tourist minister, Elyes Fakhfakh, has done his to make the Jews feel at least a little more secure, appearing to the feast which is part of the Lag Ba’Omer, showing his positive attitude to the Jews’ role in Tunisia. But yet some recent incidents have done theirs to put emphasis on the unsure position of the Jews, as the vandalizing of Christian and Jewish cemeteries some time ago, as well s the thought of Islamists running the country doesn’t make the Jews feel any more secure.
Jews around the world are worried, not only in the mentioned countries. Though some people, of obscure reasons, attempt to deny the extent of the problem, the Jews in Malmo are leaving. On the other side of Øresund, the strait between Denmark and Sweden, the Jews of Copenhagen also feels the growing radical tendencies. I could mention a lot of places in Europe, having Jews being singled out not only on the streets, but also in other places such as university campuses.
I do want to be positive, but I don’t think the situation will change for the better, at least not before it has become worse. It is natural that crises strengthen radicalism, that we have seen time and time again through history. Apparently it is also very natural that that has to come out through hatred directed against minorities, especially Jews and Gypsies (in Europe), nothing new there. When it comes to Europe I certainly am pessimistic.
When it comes to the Arab world, on the other hand, I might not be outright optimistic, but I’m certainly more curious as to what will be. Europe does have a long history of antisemitism, while the Arab world might have presented the world for harsh degrees on Jews, but nothing like European antisemitism. I’m wondering what will happen within the next ten to twenty years, hopefully a better and more wise world will appear. But I fear what will be in the meantime.
A couple of articles on the subject:
Time for the next part of Samaw’el’s arguments against the Jews. In the last part we saw how he attempted to argue for the existence of abrogation both in the Jewish Bible and in the Jewish tradition, leaving it possible that the whole Bible itself has been abrogated for the Qur’ân.
In this post we will see how he attempts to argue for the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad, and how the transmission of the two is stronger than that of Moses.
The next premise is that as far a person is reasonable he will not refuse to believe a prophet, whose teachings is generally acknowledges, and then believe in another, so far that he hasn’t seen either of them.
If a Jew would be asked, Samaw’el argues, about whether he has seen Moses and witnessed the miracles performed by him, the Jew has to admit that that is not the case. The question to follow will be how the Jew then know about the prophet hood of Moses something the Jew most likely will explain is known from the transmission from father to son and so on. This transmission in Arabic is called ‘tawâtur.
Samaw’el then points out that such transmission also goes for Jesus and Muḥammad, so if the question is only about transmission, then one might believe in Jesus and Muḥammad as well, and not only Moses.
To this the Jew can answer that “the testimony of my father about the prophethood of Moses is reason for my affirmation of his prophethood.” But why would the father of the Jew be right in this and without criticism, Samaw’el asks. As well as the Jew can point to his father, who is teaching their traditions and transmissions, so can the gentiles, infidels as they are described by Samaw’el, who are teaching what is considered false belief by the Jews, and this – he continues – is not necessarily based on truth, but rather out of loyalty to ones community and traditions, and the resistance to leave the community and one’s people. If the Jew really holds his fathers to be correct and the unbelievers in error, then he needs to prove his claim, since the focus now changes from being following a religion or faith out of mere tradition, to be a matter of claim of truth.
Maybe the Jew will claim that his fathers are on a higher level that the fathers of other peoples in matter of knowledge and reliability, but that would oblige the Jews to prove that. And if he would claim this, Samaw’el maintains, he would be in error since it is obvious that other peoples have produced more than the Jews could even dream about, not to talk about that the Jews are not even mentioned among the other people. Especially compared with the Muslims the Jews fade away, considering all the numerous works, which the Muslims have produced in any one science thinkable.
So far as the Jews admit that their fathers are on level with the fathers of other people, then they are only left with the transmission about Moses, and if that is the case they also have to accept the transmission of Jesus and Muḥammad.
Samaw’el’s next attempt is then to convince the Jews about Jesus’ prophethood. He does so by relating to a messianic verse in the Bible, Bereshit 49:10, which states that the “scepter shall not depart from Judah… until Shiloh comes…” It is agreed and understood among Jews, that this verse indeed relates to the Messiah. Samaw’el attempts to coin this verse with Jesus, by pointing out – he believes – that the Jews had a kingdom until the advent of Jesus, after which the Romans ruled the Jews and Jerusalem, leading to the dispersal of the Jews. Based on this the Jews should acknowledge that Jesus was the one they were waiting for.
He then introduces the next part, staying focused on Jesus, asking what the Jews are saying about him. The response is in the negative, he explains that Jesus was the son of Joseph by fornication, that he learned the Name of God and with its help forced his will on many things. Samaw’el then asks if it isn’t the case that Moses was taught the Divine Name by God, which was composed by 42 letters, and by this Name Moses parted the sea and performed miracles. This, he claims, they can’t deny, and since that is so, since both Moses and Jesus performed miracles by the use of God’s Names, why do the Jews reject Jesus while accepting Moses? Of course the Jews have an answer to that, namely that whereas Moses learned the Name by divination, receiving it through prophecy, Jesus learned the Names from the walls in the Temple. Samaw’el retaliates by asking that since one who is not selected by God can take advantage of His Names in order to make miracles, why then do the Jews trust that Moses indeed was selected by God, to which the Jews, again, will answer that he received the Names from God Himself. And Samaw’el wanted to get to here, since then he could ask how they knew that that was so, the answer being that it was by chain of transmission to their ancestors.
He doesn’t stop there, asking the question why they accept the prophethood of Moses. The answer, according to Samaw’el, will be based on the miracles Moses performed. The question is then whether they have seen those miracles, to which they of course have to answer in the negative, which isn’t neither a way to authenticate the prophets, Samaw’el explains, since if we should establish the verification of a prophet’s prophethood on miracles, then they would have to be maintained even after the death of the prophet, for each generation to see. So the miracles themselves are not a proof, rather the transmission – again – is what establish the authority, and both Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad are equals in this respect. The conclusion from this, he explains, is that the transmission of evidence for Moses is weaker than that of Jesus and Muhammad, since in case of Muhammad and Jesus, both have a chain of transmission, while their followers’ believe in Moses is only based on the texts they believe in, not in his chain of transmission, which is only found among the Jews.
Then he puts a short note on the Quran, stating that its miraculous character is evident for all with “a taste of eloquence.” It is interesting to see here, how he uses a non-rational argument, while attempting to prove his points by reason.
He does feel though, that he needs to reflect a little more on the chain of transmission. What if the Jews should state that since all the nations, or at least both Jews, Christians, and Muslims, are attesting to the prophethood of Moses, then this would show a strong chain of transmission, stronger than that of Jesus and Muhammad? To this does he would need to ask whether the Jews would say that the consensus of the nations on this matter is correct, and as far as the Jews would say yes, he would ask them how they would respond, when he points out that the nations also has a consensus on the Jews being in error. If they then would deny the consensus of the nations, then he would say that they also have to do that in the former case, and only being left with the weak transmission of their own small community, being the smallest in number, and therefore the weakest of the transmissions.
Based on this, he argues, Jews have to accept that the prophethood of Jesus and Muhammad is true.
Let us take a look at Samaw’el’s polemical arguments in his Ifḥam al-Yahûd.
The work is organized in nineteen ‘chapters,’ but they can again be organized into overlaying themes of arguments, which is indeed what Perlmann has done in his translation of the Ifḥam. The themes as we find them are:
- A return to abrogation
- Jesus and Muḥammad
- The claim to being the chosen people
- The Bible
- Composition of the Bible
- Jews on Islam
- Objectionable aspects of Jewish law; levirate, segregation
- Rabbanites & Karaites
- Epilogue: Sins and follies of the Jews
What Samaw’el attempts to do is to prove that in the Jewish tradition there is found examples on abrogation, and by forcing the Jews to accept that he (feels he) proves that the Torah might have been abrogated.
With that established he argues for the status of Jesus and Muḥammad, then for why the Jews are not chosen, for then to focus on the Bible and its composition, Jewish reflection on Islam, a discussion on Halachah (Jewish religious law) and issues within the law, moving on to the particulars of the Rabbanites and the Karaites, for then finishing off with the sins and wrongdoings of the Jews as a whole.
I will be presenting one part on its own, not going through all of the arguments, since that probably will be rather overwhelming in just one post. When I am done with the presentation of his arguments I will attempt to present you for the various Jewish responses, and then finally try to give some responses myself, some of his arguments being rather time-bound and having lost their actuality today.
The first focus is on his arguments for abrogation.
Samaw’el first introduces us for his base of arguments, which – he claims – is meant to convince the Jews of the principle of naskh, abrogation, based on their own scriptures and methods.
His way of arguing is based on a proposal, which then can either be accepted or denied. Here it is the question on whether there was a divine law before the giving of the Torah or not.
If they, the Jews, deny this, then they will also deny – according to Samaw’el – that God gave Noah a commandment, namely the one against murder (Genesis 9:6). Besides this point, he also points out the commandment to Abraham to circumcise the male children at the eight day.
Should the Jew admit that, yes, God did give divine commandments before the giving of the Torah, then he will ask them, whether it didn’t add something to those earlier precepts. In case the Jews answer that it (the Torah) didn’t add anything then it is meaningless, since it does not contain anything besides the already given legislation, and thus it cannot be of divine origin. But, he states, that would be the same as to not believe.
In case the Jews says that, yes, it did add something new, then – Samaw’el asks – does this new addition not prohibit what has was allowed before? In case they deny this, then they are found in fault, since the Torah added the prohibition against working on Shabbat, something which before the giving of the Torah was permitted. And furthermore, all addition in law has as its purpose to either allow what was prohibited before or prohibit what before was allowed. These examples, he states, are clear examples on Naskh, abrogation.
One could argue, he maintains, that one does not first forbid something, in order for later to allow it, since that would be like allowing the same thing that one forbids, and that would go against the nature of God (described as “the wise one”). But since He is commanding two things at two different points of time, this will not be a problem, only if it happened at the same time.
Then the case might be forwarded that the Torah forbade what had been forbidden, but not the other way around. That is, it is true that there was a law before, and that law prohibited murder, but murder had not since been allowed (relating to his two examples), but earlier it had been allowed to work on Shabbat, but after the giving of the Torah that became prohibited.
The obvious problem for Samaw’el here, because he does accept that this is a legitimate claim, is that if one holds that that is the case, then the Quran can only prohibit what earlier was allowed, but not allow what earlier was prohibited. This is based on the rationale that one who abstains from what is permitted is not per ce a violator, but one who does what he has been forbidden certainly is a violator, and since the Quran allow working on Shabbat, then that would be an encouragement to violate a commandment.
Samaw’el attempts to answer this by pointing out that something does not necessarily need to be prohibited for good. Rather, he explains, since working on Shabbat had been permitted for Abraham and other before him, and then prohibited, then it certainly is possible that it again would be allowed.
The reasoning behind Samaw’el’s argument here is that either a law is imposed for all times, having God being displeased with it in total, or it is not imposed for all time, and God only displeased for a certain amount of time, and since working on Shabbat was not prohibited for all time, then it holds that it is possible that it can be changed later.
Of course Samaw’el concludes from this that if a divine messenger, Muḥammad, would bring miracles and prove to be a prophet, then it would be possible that he would change what before was deemed illegal. Especially when – according to Samaw’el – a man brings clear proof that he is a prophet, then one should heed his message, which would be of reason, contrary the precept found in Judaism, such as cleansing impurities with ashes of the heifer, which in turn also would make the Kohen burning the heifer unclean (Numbers 19).
Since God is above any imperfection and criticism, and his messenger necessarily may speak a true message, then it stands for God to be able to change what He earlier has commanded, and Muḥammad, who is send by God, should be heeded, if one will not deviate from the truth.
Having dealt with the first approach to proving that abrogation also is part of the Jewish tradition, Samaw’el now continues with the next, relating to the matter of the red heifer, the cow having to be burned in order to use its ashes for purification, a process which would leave the one performing the burning impure himself. The problem, according to Samaw’el, is that since that process is needed in order to purify a person who has been in contact with a corpse, it is still not needed in order to allow the person to pray or carry holy texts, according to the Rabbinic tradition.
If this is explained with the fact that the ritual of the heifer cannot be done today, from the lack of the Temple, then Samaw’el’s answer – again in form of a new question – is whether the inability to perform the act also dispense it. Here, again, two answers are possible, either that yes, it does dispense it, which, he maintains, proves abrogation by reason of present circumstances, and thus proves his point, that laws and rules can be abrogated. In case that they answer in the negative, they basically admit that they are in a continuous state of impurity, so far as they have been in contact with a corpse, a tomb or the like. This is a build up for his coming point, being triggered by the strictness surrounding the menstruation of the woman, leading to a period on approximately two weeks, having the consequences that a man cannot touch her in that period, not even her husband, who has to sleep separate from her. The answer to this might be that it is a commandment from the Torah, which means that it has to be interpreted in its most strict sense, but if that is the case, then the case of a man having been in contact with a corpse has to be even more strict, since it demands the sacrifice and burning of an animal in order to purify him. And furthermore, should a non-Jewish woman being menstruating she won’t be considered impure, her touch not being shunned on the same level of that of a menstruating Jewish woman, even though nothing is mentioned about this in the Torah. And this leads to yet another example on abrogation.
The Jews might argue in return, that this is not based on the Scriptural text alone, but on the system of laws which constitutes the Oral Tradition. This, Samaw’el explains, is leading to the question of the Jewish sages, whether they are reaching their conclusions on human reasoning or whether they are divine tradition. As is the case, it would be stated that this is surely tradition going all the way back to Moses, which then will lead to Samaw’el asking how the sages then can reach different conclusions, since that would leave with a tradition which each of the disagrees will claim goes back to Sinai. This is contradictory in the eyes of Samaw’el, being an example on the Jews baseness, crediting God with contradictory commandments.
Samaw’el is aware that there is a principle of following the majority, when it comes to halachic decisions in Judaism, though he considers this to be the giving up of one of the sages’ tradition, or at least as consider the possibility of an error in his tradition, which would lead to the conclusion that he (the sage in question) cannot be trusted anymore, or – as a last consort – that the sages have agreed that one decision abrogates the other. And since there are many examples on sages being the minority in some cases, they are the majority and followed in others, this would have to lead to the acceptance of abrogation yet again.
His third argument over abrogation is focused on the Jewish prayers. This is introduced with the question on prayers and fasts, whether the prayers that the Jews are praying at his time (Samaw’el) are the same as those of Moses.
He presents us for a number of examples from the ‘Amidah, the main prayer prayed thrice daily, asking if any of these examples were prayed by Moses and the Jews of his time. The examples mentioned by Samaw’el of course cannot be said by Moses, since they mention the ingathering from the exile from the four corners of the earth, and the rebuilding of Jerusalem. Besides those two examples he also mentions the fast of Gedalyah, the fast of Tisha b’Av and others examples, which only can have been established long after Moses lived. If these examples still leave the Jews denying that there are talk about any abrogation, he will point to Deuteronomy 13:1 “Everything I command you that you shall be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it.”
His final argument on abrogation regards the first-born, who according to Exodus 13:2 is sanctified for God, but – Samaw’el points out – it was later changed so the Levites took the place of the first-borns of Israel, since they joined Moses when he came down from Mount Sinai and witnessed the worshiping of the gold-calf.
Based on all his arguments presented here, he conclude that the Jews cannot deny these arguments, leaving them only with admitting either that the Torah has been altered or that these are indeed proofs of abrogation.
 It is the same reasoning that can be found in medieval argument for God’s eternity. Nothing can be eternal if it has a beginning or an end.
My post, “The Question of the Synagogue and the State,” lead to an interesting discussion, with some interesting thoughts, thank you all for participating in it.
Elisheva pointed out what she believes is an error in my post, namely that Synagogue and State is one in Judaism. That is true, she is completely right. According to Jewish religion the society and the religion cannot be separated, they constitute wholeness, as it is also seen in Islam. I did point out though that I was thinking about the modern political construct Medinat Yisrael, the state of Israel, and not the People of Israel or the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael). I am sorry that that wasn’t more evident from my post.
Elon though agreeing that a purely religious state would be problematic, did point out that the opposite would be problematic as well. The purely secular state, where every trace of religion is removed (he uses France as a good example) is as oppressing as a religious state basically is. I agree with him. Though I am in favor, as it is now, for a secular state, it should not be a purely secular state where every sign of religion or religious thought is removed.
David Schacht asks two questions:
- What does the Torah say about an obligation – in our days – to establish a Halachic state in Israel?
- How can we intellectually define our intrinsic wish for Israel to be Jewish if based on Halachah?
Michael Kay agrees with my thoughts, but – as David – wonders what makes Israel “Jewish,” if not some connection to Halachic principles.
Though I probably should begin from the top, I feel most inclined to save the issue of Elisheva’s responses to another post. It probably will be a little extensive, so no need to focus on too many details here.
Regarding Elon’s objection against the pure secular state, as seen in France, I can only agree. I don’t see a secular state as a state that should become anti-religious or scared of religious expressions, on the contrary. Where I put my five cents is on a state, which can embrace all the different opinions and beliefs, allowing its citizens to believe what they want to believe, as long as it is within the terms of the common good, and not putting some groups above other groups. Here, I would believe, it is obvious that though Judaism denies the marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew (no matter gender) and Islam only allows marriage between a Muslim man and a Christian or Jewish woman (in general), then these rules can of course only apply on a self-accepted basis. I would furthermore state that a rabbi, imam, priest, or what have you, should not be forced to act against the religious principles of his religions, as long as it doesn’t go against the security of the state, but rather the state should offer an alternative for those who cannot accept the religious principles of their religions, for example, in the case of marriage, a civil marriage.
David’s first question will be spared to my reflections on Elisheva’s reactions, since I believe that they are somewhat connected.
But the second question, how relate to Israel as a Jewish state, if not based on Halachah? First off, I think there are two issues to focus on here. Are we dealing with a Jewish state or a state for the Jews? And in both examples we have to ask for further definitions, such as what does “Jewish” mean, and if we talk about a state for the Jews, is it then a state only for the Jews?
For me, when I hear the adjective “Jewish,” then I think about something or someone acting as fulfilling whatever it takes to be a/something Jew, that is, a wish to express one’s feeling of belonging to the common body that constitutes “Jewish.” Here I believe that it is not enough to merely do something that whoever is “Jewish” would do, but rather also having an intention of doing this in order to be “Jewish.” For example, it is “Jewish” to eat bagels with cream cheese and lox, so it would be believed that one who eats bagels with cream cheese and lox is “Jewish,” but what if one merely loves bagels with cream cheese and lox (whether being a Jew or not), can we then define it as “Jewish”? For example, I do love bagels with cream cheese and lox, but I don’t like it because it is “Jewish,” nor do I feel “Jewish” because I eat it. Rather, for one to understand this as an expression of being “Jewish,” one would have to put that sense in it. But that can’t stand alone. If one was the only one giving the eating of bagels with cream cheese and lox the “Jewish” label, then one would stand pretty alone with the sense of the Jewishness in eating bagels and cream cheese. There has to be formed a group, which believes in the Jewishness of bagels with cream cheese and lox. But not even there do I feel that we have come close enough on an establishment of the understanding of the “Jewish” in eating bagels with cream cheese and lox, because everybody could gather a group, which would decide for something to be “Jewish.” Rather, I believe, it would take a general acceptance, both of the group defining this common love for bagels with cream cheese and lox as “Jewish,” as well as outsiders seeing this love for bagels with cream cheese and lox as being “Jewish.”
This would also demand, I believe, that there has to be a conscience behind the identification of whatever value as being “Jewish.” In that matter a state cannot be “Jewish,” though it can be defined as such by a majority of its citizens, who would agree on putting focus on things considered to be “Jewish,” such as celebrating Hanukkah, eating a lot of donuts, which is very “Jewish,” though there without a doubt would be a minority, feeling that they wouldn’t fit into this group of “Jewishness.” They wouldn’t have to, the only thing it takes is for them to consider these acts for “Jewish,” as well as seeing it defining the state as being “Jewish,” since the majority adhere to these acts. The minority would still feel left out, most likely.
But what if the majority decides that the state only can be “Jewish,” as far as the only “Jewish” thing to do is to make Halachah the ruling principle? Well, first of we would find ourselves in a situation where the principles behind what is “Jewish,” suddenly doesn’t go anymore, as well as we certainly wouldn’t have a “Jewish state,” since there is no such principle in Halachah. We would rather have a Torah state or a Halachic state, called by whatever name we decide. Or probably more by whatever name the ruling elite (Sanhedrin or king) would decide, and by that all ideas about anything being “Jewish,” would disappear. Halachah doesn’t talk in terms of things being “Jewish,” but rather accepted or not accepted, suddenly the law decides for us what we are, not taking special care for how we understand ourselves. That’s why I would believe that a “Jewish” state can only be “Jewish” as far as it is secular and as far as we are talking about cultural expressions of belonging in a way, which by all or the majority is considered to be “Jewish.”
But what if we are talking about a state for the Jews? We don’t need to define that state as “Jewish,” we can merely say that one of the fundamental principles of this state is that all Jews should be allowed to live here. We would of course already here encounter some problems, for who is a Jew? How do we decide this? On who feels like a Jew? That is, feeling “Jewish”? Who we believe is a Jew? Who the Halachah says is a Jew? And before we can even deal with the question of whether the state for the Jews should be a state for Jews only, we would need to answer this question.
I don’t know if this answered any questions, or whether it just made people more confused, annoyed, something third. But I’m certainly looking forward to your answers.
Michael Kay, at “Thinking through my fingers” (visit his blog, he is seriously an amazing writer and brilliant thinker), wrote a post where he reflected on the Jews as a “Chosen people.” I found it highly inspiring and felt the need to let it out on him, so I wrote the following as a response (which I also posted there):
And thank you for a wonderful and inspiring post:o)
I have some reflections to share, I hope it is okay with you. Unfortunately I’m not at home, so I can’t give precise sources every time I will be using them, but I will get back to it, bli neder.
I really do love R. Sacks and his attempts to connect our modern way of thinking and Judaism. In that sense I believe that he follows the tradition of many other historical Jewish thinkers, though whether he is on the same level always can be discussed (I don’t believe that he is on the level of a thinker like haRaMBaM, Z”L, nor do I expect him or any other today to be).
I believe though that the answer is found in each of the three categories, though mostly in the two latter ones. But we do find examples on the Jewish nation being something exemplar to the other nations in some Jewish traditions, one place is the Babylonian Talmud, tractate ‘Avodah Zarah, where God more or less makes a fool out of the nations, leveling Israel above them. That is one of the few examples on this though, the more dominant approach being the Biblical approach in Deuteronomy 7:7-8, quoted by you, expressing that Israel “were the fewest of all peoples.” If number or greatness of a people would be the deciding factor, then Ishma’el would be more likely, as we see that God will bless him “and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation” (Genesis 17:20). In this respect is it also interesting to consider the midrash on the giving of the Torah, how God had to hold the mountain over the Israelites, threatening them by destruction, since the sole reason for their existence is Torah (something also repeated in the Quran).
The Jews are chosen, not to be superior, at least not in might, that one seemed to go more to Ishma’el and ‘Esaw, but to be a light to the nations, and as a student of the Torah. You mention that “there is the problem of the Jew who abandons their responsibility and assimilates into the surrounding culture,” and that is – I believe – also reflected in the Torah, in the story of Dathan and Aviram, refusing to “go up” to Moses, and instead were swallowed by the earth. I read in this the consequence of assimilating, refusing to “go up to Moses,” that is, staying “loyal to the Torah.”
Our role as a “light unto the nations,” is not fulfilled by being perfect observant, but by spreading (Jewish) values to the world, not by hiding in a ghetto, but by taking part in the world, while still staying true to the Torah. By relating to our brit with God do we show God’s intentions for all of us, that is, not necessarily by not eating milk and meat together, nor by not mixing materials in our clothes, wearing tzitzit (that us more for our own sake) and so on, that is mostly in order that the world may realize that we are Jews, and by that seeing our – hopefully – examples as related to God. And then there are some of our commandments which carry in them a deep ethical understanding, where the sole fulfilling of the commandment is giving a light, such as the already mentioned not eating meat and milk together. Think on Rashbam’s commentary to the verses dealing with not cooking the kid in its mother’s milk, and how he points out that it is deeply unethical to kill something and then enjoying it with its life source. The giving of tzedaqah, as contrasted to charity, is showing that caring for those in worse situations than ours is a plight, a duty, not something we are doing to feel good about ourselves. And so on. And the more we interfere with the world and get out there, the stronger this will stand. It is obvious that by hiding in the ghetto we, first and foremost, won’t experience much challenge (just doing what everybody else is doing), and, secondly, we are actually being “lights for the world,” not merely “lights.”
And it certainly speaks miles about God, that He would want to choose the Jews as His people. History have shown again and again that we have failed. Even today we find it hard to show our gratitude to finally having a country of our own (as well as others also, we shouldn’t forget that), but yet He stayed loyal through it all, even when we – in general – did not. Sure, He punishes, but more than that does He forgive, care, and love.
I think that we should have a double understanding of the choseness, not only talking about a chosen people, but also of chosen individuals. Abraham, more than anyone, allowed him to act in pure trust, going against the ways of his people. Abraham, though bringing a household with him, acted as an individual, for that he was rewarded, but he also became the example for each and every one of us.
Finally, I think that much of the bad reactions we get from Christians and Muslims, when they react to us being “chosen,” is projections. Both Christianity and Islam work with an understanding of choseness themselves, such as only having Christians being saved, as well as the Islamic Ummah being the perfect Ummah. They transfer understandings of these concept to how they believe Jews view the idea of being “chosen.” And maybe, probably, many Jews actually are viewing the notion of being Jewish and “chosen” the same way. But all in all that is something that is far from the Jewish thought (and not the thoughts of Jews).
Again, thanks for an inspiring post:o)
All the best
I read an article, “Who Broke their Vow First? The ‘Three Vows’ and Contemporary Thinking about Jewish Holy War,” by R. Reuven Firestone on the Three Vows and the concept of Holy War in Judaism. For those of you who have dealt a little with discussions on Jewish religious approaches to Zionism and the existence of the State of Israel, the Three Vows probably sound familiar, but for those of you who haven’t, I can shortly explain that they are three ‘vows,’ which are based on three verses in the Song of Songs, interpreted as God forbidding the Jewish People to immigrate to the Holy Land as a ‘wall,’ as well as not to ‘rebel’ against the nations, and the nations not to ‘overly succumb’ the Jews.
It is a very interesting article, which is part of the book “The Just War: Violence in Judaism, Christianity and Islam,” where Firestone reviews the basic understanding of the concept of ‘Holy War’ in Judaism and according the Hebrew Scriptures, the basis for the Three Vows, as well as later reactions for or against them, as well as interpretations of them, particular in the period of 1948 to recent days.
I can strongly recommend it for anyone wanting to get an idea of religious Zionist approaches and thoughts both on the State of Israel as well as the Three Vows.
Anyway, the article made me think a little on my own position as a religious Jew and as a Zionist. Not that I haven’t thought so much about it before or that I wouldn’t be able to explain my position, but still, the article did make feel more clear about some points.
As you might have noticed I formulated my position as a religious Jew and as a Zionist, not as a religious Zionist. There is a reason for that, namely that I differ on my positions between the two, not being a religious Zionist Jew, but rather a religious Jew and a Zionist. Sounds confusing? I know, and I see why. The thing is, I am a Zionist because I believe that Jews, as well as every other people out there, be it Italians, Tibetans, Kurds or Samis, not necessarily based on the expulsion of others, but rather as defining a homeland for them and their’s. I’m not going into so much details about that here, nor about how I differ between ‘people’ (as in German ‘Volkschlag’), ‘ethnicities,’ and ‘races.’ Rather that this is a pragmatic approach, which is not motivated or based on my religious faith. And I am a religious Jew, because I believe in God and that He gave the Torah as a Divine Guidance for His People. I’m not going into details about what I mean by this either, for anyone being curious enough, you are more than welcome to ask.
So on the one hand I am a Zionist, and on the other a religious Jew. The two of those don’t necessarily have to be opposed, but they are differing approaches to how I view myself, my people, the existence of a ‘Jewish’ state, and our relation and responsibilities to God.
I would define the difference between my position, as a Zionist, and a religious Zionist, as a religious Zionist believing that the State of Israel is the beginning of redemption, seeing that this is a Divine Plan, or something the like. In that sense the State of Israel, while not being the Land of Israel (Medinat Yisrael vs. Eretz Yisrael), is inheriting some kind of divinity. That is, as a Jew you are supposed to be loyal to it.
I don’t see it that way, I see the State of Israel as a state, a Jewish one (whatever that means), as I see Denmark as a Christian state, both being secular, but both giving a special place for Judaism and Christianity respectively as the main religions, but not the only religions. Neither do I see the State of Israel as the beginning of redemption, though I certainly pray for its wellbeing, as I did and still do with Denmark, and for the whole humankind. For example, when I pray the ‘Birkat HaMazon,’ the prayer said after eating bread, the Koren Siddur, which I use, has the addition of blessing Israel being the beginning of the Redemption, which I have used as title for this post, though this is in no way standard for the most Siddurim. This addition I don’t pray, though I do pray for the wellbeing of the soldiers in IDF, who are ‘standing guard’ over Israel.
That also mean, which I believe has been the case until now at least, that you never will see me use any religious arguments for Israel’s presence in the West Bank/Yehudah v’Shomron, though I do believe that it is good and right of Jews to live here, but not only Jews, and not necessarily under Israeli authority.
So in conclusion, being a religious Jew and a Zionist, does not necessarily makes you a religious Zionist, though that certainly most often is the case. And, I have to stress, this also mean that I’m leaning to a separation of state and synagogue, letting religion be part of the private sphere of life (not invisible though, nor ignored, on the contrary), at least until the Coming of Mashiah, may it happen speedily in our days, BE”H. Until then I’d rather support a secular state for the Jews and its citizens.
I have been working on this paper on the Iggeret HaShmad, Maimonides’ letter on Martyrdom, some time, and though I’m not done with it yet, I thought I wanted to share it with my readers. My problem is that when it is done, it might be used in a publication, and therefore I can’t publish the finished result on my blog because of copyrights. For those who would be interesting in the final product though I would be more than happy to direct you to where it can be achieved, though it will be part of a magazine. So far it will be published, that is. If not then I will publish the final product here.
Anyway, it’s eleven pages long, deals with a response he wrote during the Almohad persecutions of Jews and Christians in the twelfth century, reacting on a rabbi’s statement that the only right thing to do for Jews, was to accept martyrdom when faced with the demand to convert to Islam or die.
Please share thoughts.
It’s been some time since I last wrote a positive post on Jewish-Arab relations here in Israel, but there are two news, which I really think are positive.
The first is related to the popular song contest “Eyal Golan is Calling You” (at least popular here), where the contestants are trying to become the best Mizrahi-singer in Israel, or at least winner of a contest, where the genre is Mizrahi. Mizrahi is a special genre of music, which kind of can be described as a mix of Greek and Arab music, song in Hebrew. It was the form of expression for the Mizrahi Jews (hence the name), who are Jews from the Arab countries, in earlier decades, where their social standings typical were below the average social standings, and there was a general discrimination against them. It wasn’t very mainstream until Zohar Argov, the “King of Mizrahi,” had his success and opened the genre for the wider Israeli public. Later he was followed by stars such as Zehava Ben, Ofra Haza, Sarit Hadad, and already mentioned Eyal Golan.
So why am I making such a fuzz out of this? Well, because of this group of Jews’ background, their love of Arabs is not big. There are some voices among them attempting to re-embrace their Arab identity, but the overall majority of them really has a hard time with Arabs. And therefor it is even more amazing that the winner of the contest was a 25-year old Arab woman from Haifa, Nissren Kader, who totally blew people away with her performance.
I find it positive because it shows that Arabs also can have success in a world, where they normally would be considered unwelcome. This victory was based on Kader’s skills, and the viewers choice to focus on the voice, more than the identity, proving that the mutual dislike can be set aside. Kader herself also expressed surprise and pride, stating that this showed that though there is disagreements and trouble between Jews and Arabs, then people can see other sides of each other, and not always making the hard relation be the overall defining subject.
Anyway, read more here:
The second news is about a hockey team in the northern part of Israel, very close to the borders to Lebanon and Syria. To be honest, just the idea of a hockey team is in itself amazing enough to receive attention, but this team is the result of generous philanthropy, a local hockey fan, and an Arab mayor crazy about sport. The team puts young Jewish and Druze teens and pre-teens together, exposing them for each other and their similarities.
Normally it isn’t that weird to see Jews and Druzes in a positive relation, but this case differs, since the Druze youths are from Majdal Shams, which is situated in the Golan, next to the Syrian border, and many of the Druzes there holds great sympathy for Syria, at least among the older generation. I have talked with some younger Druzes from the Golan, who told me that their generation felt more connected to Israel, though the older generation wanted to return to Syria. That was some years ago though and I don’t know how it is today, though I don’t think it has changed that much.
Read more about that here:
Anyway, I really wanted to share these two news with you. It’s not all war and hatred here, though finding the positive stories sometimes feels like finding an oasis in the desert. But I’m sure that that will change.