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Don’t Treat the Torah as a Collection of Left-Wing Policy Prescriptions

Jan. 25 2018

“I might not know that much Torah,” a participant in a Jewish youth program once told Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin, “but I certainly can’t believe that every issue in the world comes under the general heading of ‘Justice, justice, shall you pursue.’” Yet, Salkin writes, it is twisted hermeneutics of precisely this sort that have become commonplace in all denominations of American Judaism. According to this approach, nearly every standard policy prescription of the progressive left can be read into a handful of verses like the one cited above or the now-ubiquitous kabbalistic term tikkun olam (repair of the world):

The problem with this has less to do with what liberal Jews say about these matters than with how such Jews justify their positions. They tend to attach Jewish texts to the issues at hand, and to do so sloppily. . . . In citing Jewish texts to bolster political stances, liberal Jews too rarely unpack what these texts meant in their original context. More rarely still do they admit to stretching their original meanings. . . .

Take, for instance, the command to “love the stranger,” which appears multiple times in the Pentateuch:

Who was the biblical stranger (ger)? Quite simply, a non-Israelite who lived within a Jewish polity, i.e., the land of Israel. Jews had to provide for the welfare of the stranger, often an impoverished laborer or artisan, “because you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Let us . . . acknowledge that, as it stands, “loving the stranger” fails to offer the concrete policy prescriptions that we might want from it. That hasn’t stopped some from using the quote as a basis for [proposals regarding] immigration policy [in the U.S.]. . . . Moreover: two people might be positively disposed toward those who wish to become Americans while simultaneously disagreeing about what constitutes sensible policy on U.S. immigration at a given moment. The biblical text offers us very little guidance here, other than raising a lofty ethical standard. . . .

[I]t’s past time for us to admit that too often our political and social stances come first and are then followed by interpretations of Jewish texts that serve as retroactive justification. Today, American Jews find themselves in sociological, economic, and political environments that are wholly unlike those of the Jewish past. While we can draw on the past for inspiration, there are very few policy recommendations to be found there.

What would happen if we reversed the preferred order of the day? If we first approached the Jewish texts themselves, wandered into the rabbinic tradition and later commentaries, and then discerned what our social and political stances might be?

Read more at Commentary

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Tikkun Olam, Torah

The Trump Administration Has Said the Right Things about Syria, but Words Are Not Enough

Jan. 30 2018

While praising the White House for recognizing that Iran poses a major threat to American interests in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella argues that Washington still needs a strategy for countering the Islamic Republic and its allies:

The Trump White House identifies Iran as a primary threat. It has verbally committed to the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad. It claims to prioritize repairing relations with Turkey, seeks to destroy al-Qaeda, and wants to refocus the U.S. on Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. These are the correct goals toward which American policy should strive. . . . The problem is that the strategy Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined [in a January 17 speech] will not accomplish these goals. . . .

American policy in Syria, regardless of any tough administration statements, is to accept Assad and his regime de-facto. . . . The “de-escalation” agreement that President Trump signed in November 2017 with Russia is a surrender not only to Russia, but also to Iran. It heavily favors Assad. In that deal, Russia promised to compel Iran to withdraw its forces from southern Syria. It never happened. Pro-regime forces violate the de-escalation zone with impunity. . . .

Tillerson uses vague terms like “deny their dreams” to describe our strategy against Iran in Syria. He identifies no clear goal against which the U.S. can measure success. He states that the U.S. must deliver an “enduring defeat” to al-Qaeda—and we certainly must. Yet the U.S. Defense Department has offered no vision of how to do that. The strategy Tillerson outlines—and that the U.S. is pursuing—amounts to outsourcing the problem to Turkey, which is actually working with al-Qaeda in Syria. . . .

Two administrations have sought to substitute rhetoric for action and to outsource American interests to local partners. The U.S. must abandon this approach and recognize Syria’s importance to American security.

Read more at Fox News

More about: Al Qaeda, Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy