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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘philosophy’

Belittling Tormentors Allows us to Be Free

Friday, April 5th, 2013

A friend from New Jersey, who lived through Hurricane Sandy, as did I, called and asked me why God did not send a similar storm against Egypt and Pharaoh. “One plague and that would have done it,” he said. “The Egyptians would have been begging to let the Jews go. So why did God insist on ten?”

I answered him that there are two kinds of freedom. Political freedom and psychological freedom, freedom of the body and freedom of the mind. If God’s intention was to simply liberate the Jews from the slavery of Egypt, He could indeed have sent a single catastrophic event against them, like a hurricane, a tornado, a tsunami. It worked against Japan when two devastating atomic bombs brought the Japanese to unconditional surrender.

But even as the Jews were liberated by an external event, they would have remained mentally enslaved.

Here’s why.

Slavery is an institution that is maintained through fear. The slave dreads his master and therefore does his bidding. The German philosopher Hegel said, in essence, that way back at the dawn of history everyone was equal. But one day, two primordial combatants had a fight. As they struggled over whatever the issue was – a cave, a woman, a hunt – one of the combatants became fearful of the other and in that moment the relationship of master and slave was born.

But God’s intention was that no man should have any master except God alone. That’s why there are so many exhortations in the Bible to live boldly and cast away all fear, as I detailed in my book Face Your Fear.

And it’s not just a physical master that we should not fear. The woman who goes on a date cannot fear being judged by the man whom she will meet. If she does she’ll be nervous, betray insecurity, and surrender to a physical side of the relationship that might impede the development of true intimacy. A wife cannot fear her husband. That’s what leads women to remain in abusive relationships. A man cannot fear his boss. If he does, he will allow himself to be exploited and abused and his job will become a form of slavery.

Overcoming fear is the only road to true equality and liberty.

One of the most effective methods to triumph over fear is to cease mentally aggrandizing the object of your fear. The Israelites looked at the Egyptians as supermen. They had built the ancient world’s most glorious civilization. They won wars and established a vast empire. They beat the Jews mercilessly and dominated them completely. So God’s plan in sending the plagues was to humanize the Egyptians in Jewish eyes so such a degree that the fear would disappear. In order for the Jews to be liberated not just politically and externally but mentally and psychologically, the Jews had to see the big and strong Egyptians become utterly helpless, vulnerable, and powerless.

In this context, we can begin to understand the ten plagues and their order. First, God attacks the Egyptians water supply by turning the Nile river into blood. There is nothing quite so feeble as a man who is desperate just for a drink of water. Extreme thirst becomes all consuming and demonstrates our total dependency on something that is usually abundant and economical. But even this the Egyptians could not provide for themselves.

Next, the plague of frogs had the robust and resilient Egyptians freaking out over reptiles. Like an elephant that’s afraid of a mouse, Egyptian might was exposed as a fraud.

After that came the plague of lice, with the Egyptians taskmasters who once seemed so mighty itching uncontrollably and being utterly humbled by a tiny insect. Next, wild beasts roamed through the land and the Egyptians ran scared like frightened children.

You get the picture. The story culminates with the Egyptians being afraid even of the dark, like small kids, and then, the last plague, confronting the fear of death, that which reminds us all of our vulnerability and mortality. Through this process, the Jews saw the Egyptians for what they were. Just another group of petrified humans who had gained dominion over another people by being vicious bullies. But there were easily bullied themselves.

French Philosopher Barred from Libya Visit Because He is Jewish

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy, who supported France’s military intervention in Libya, was barred from visiting there because he is Jewish.

Levy, a celebrity in France, was supposed to join former French president Nicolas Sarkozy on a visit that began on Tuesday in Tripoli, according to a report on the news website Rue89.

The website reported that Levy had to stay behind at the insistence of municipal bosses in Tripoli. Speaking on condition of anonymity, one city official told Rue89: “We did not invite him and we’ll close the door in his face if he comes. If the prime minister invited him, he can stay with the prime minister.”

An unnamed spokesperson for the city of Tripoli is quoted as telling Rue89 that the fact that Levy is Jewish could have exposed the municipality to attacks by Islamist militia.

Levy was a vocal supporter for French military intervention in Libya against Muammar Qaddafi and in favor of the rebel forces whose revolution led to the rise to power of Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan. The news website said Zeidan personally invited Levy in January.

A spokesperson from Zeidan’s office confirmed to Rue89 that the municipality asked Levy to not attend the visit.

The website quoted an unnamed source described as “close to Levy” as saying Sarkozy wanted to cancel his visit after Levy’s dis-invitation, but Levy persuaded him to go as “their friends in Libya are in a delicate situation because they need to watch out for the Islamists.”

A Jewish State Can Be Democratic and Moral

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Joseph Levine is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and he has published an essay in (where else?) the New York Times, in which he argues that the proposition ‘Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state’ is false.

There are many things in the article to complain about, but I am going to content myself with pointing out the single massive howler by which his argument collapses.

He makes the distinction between “a people in the ethnic sense” and in the “civic sense,” which means either residents of a geographical area or citizens of a state. He generously grants that there is a Jewish people in the ethnic sense who live in Israel, but only an ‘Israeli people,’ which includes Arabs, in the civic sense. Then he tells us,

…insofar as the principle that all peoples have the right to self-determination entails the right to a state of their own, it can apply to peoples only in the civic sense…

But if the people who “own” the state in question are an ethnic sub-group of the citizenry, even if the vast majority, it constitutes a serious problem indeed, and this is precisely the situation of Israel as the Jewish state. Far from being a natural expression of the Jewish people’s right to self-determination, it is in fact a violation of the right to self-determination of its non-Jewish (mainly Palestinian) citizens. It is a violation of a people’s right to self-determination to exclude them — whether by virtue of their ethnic membership, or for any other reason — from full political participation in the state under whose sovereignty they fall…

“Any state that ‘belongs’ to one ethnic group within it violates the core democratic principle of equality, and the self-determination rights of the non-members of that group” [my emphasis].

His exposition is much more lengthy and you should read it. But I think I have extracted the gist of it.

Interestingly, while he explains what he means by ‘a people’ and draws a distinction between two senses of the expression, he does not even hint about his understanding of the concept of ‘democracy’ and especially “the core democratic principle of equality,” the violation of which he believes disqualifies Israel from continued existence as a Jewish state.

Levine explains how Israel violates these principles:

The distinctive position of [a favored ethnic people] would be manifested in a number of ways, from the largely symbolic to the more substantive: for example, it would be reflected in the name of the state, the nature of its flag and other symbols, its national holidays, its education system, its immigration rules, the extent to which membership in the people in question is a factor in official planning, how resources are distributed, etc.

Actually, concerning the “more substantive” things, Arab citizens of Israel are doing quite well: they have the right to vote, to hold political office, and a large degree of control of their educational system; there are rules against discrimination in housing and employment (with exceptions related to national security), etc. In other words, they have full civil rights.

Naturally there are differences in the treatment of Jews and Arabs. Some are due to cultural differences — Arab towns are governed by Arabs and distribute resources differently — some are related to security, and some to anti-Arab prejudice. But the degree of prejudice in Israeli society is not particularly great compared to other advanced nations like the U.S., and nobody is suggesting that the U.S. does not have a “right to exist” unless all discrimination can be eliminated.

In any event, discrimination in what he calls “substantive” ways are not essential to the definition of Israel as a Jewish state, and there is a general consensus that such discrimination is wrong and should be eliminated.

Israel’s immigration rules are certainly unequal. But immigration rules by definition do not apply to citizens; and few — if any — of the world’s nations permit free immigration.

Levine also does not consider security issues at all. If Israel ignored them it would cease to exist without philosophical arguments. This would be bad both for the Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel (just ask any of them if they would prefer to be citizens of Israel or the Palestinian Authority).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/blogs/fresno-zionism/a-jewish-state-can-be-democratic-and-moral/2013/03/12/

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