The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Talmud

Here's an interesting article about the Talmud, posted a couple of weeks ago on the ZEEK/Jewcy.com website.

Written by Michael Satlow, "The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Talmud" owes much to Isaiah Berlin's essay "The Hedgehog and the Fox," which examined Tolstoy's understanding of the nature of history, particularly evident in War and Peace. Citing the Greek poet Archilochus's maxim, "The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing," Berlin suggested that writers typically fall into one of two categories:
"[T]here exists a great chasm between those, on one side, who relate everything to a single central vision, one system, less or more coherent or articulate, in terms of which they understand, think and feel--a single, universal, organising principle in terms of which alone all that they are and say has significance--and, on the other side, those who pursue many ends, often unrelated and even contradictory, connected, if at all, only in some de facto way, for some psychological or physiological cause, related by no moral or aesthetic principle.... The first kind of intellectual and artistic personalities belong to hedgehogs, the second to the foxes.."
Tolstoy, Berlin argued, does not fit comfortably into either category. As much as he wanted to see history as having some overarching purpose, he struggled to reconcile this with his understanding of the complexities of real life. In this article, Satlow summarises Berlin's insight: "Tolstoy is a fox who wants to be hedgehog."

So what does this have to do with the Talmud?

Satlow describes how the Babylonian Talmud was written by foxes, but redacted by hedgehogs. It's quite a fascinating fascinating read.



Rethinking Benedict's SSPX decision

I've been thinking about the reaction to Pope Benedict's decision to "rehabilitate" the excommunicated bishops of the SSPX. From people on the progressive wing of the Church, the reaction has been one of almost unanimous indignation.

I wonder, though, if the world would really be better off with SSPX operating independently of the Vatican. It seems to me that bringing them back into the fold might ultimately have the effect of diluting their extremism.

Perhaps we've already started to see this. Antisemitic material on their website, previously ignored by the outside world, became the subject of much discussion. The sudden increase in attention resulted in at least some of it being taken down.

Reversing the excommunications is only a first step to bringing SSPX into the mainstream church. I don't, frankly, think it's going to happen. The Vatican is not going to make the kind of concessions the SSPX types are going to require. The whole attempt will look, on the surface, like a failure. But the antisemitism of the SSPX, once ignored by the outside world, has been revealed for everyone to see.

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Modifying the Qur'an

Having already spent a year in prison, Ahmad Ghaws Zalmai is facing the death penalty in Afghanistan for "modifying the Qur'an," according to this article by Heidi Vogt of the Associated Press. But his alleged crime, more specifically, is that he was responsible for the printing of a translation of the Qur'an that "did not include the original Arabic verses alongside the translation."

Vogt continues, "It's a particularly sensitive detail for Muslims, who regard the Arabic Quran as words given directly by God. A translation is not considered a Quran itself, and a mistranslation could warp God's word."

The article doesn't explain exactly how Zalmai's translation "modifies" the Qur'an, just that it does.

I've touched on this belief that the Qur'an cannot be translated in a previous post, in which I quoted a passage from Irshad Manji's The Trouble With Islam Today. In that post I wrote,
On the one hand, many Muslims insist that the Qur'an cannot be translated, per se, and that any attempt inevitably corrupts the meaning of the text. On the other hand, the teachings of the Qur'an are often thought to be particularly clear. Manji asks, "if the Quran is as straightforward as the purists tell us, then aren't its teachings easily translated into a thousand tongues?" (24).
It's a good point. But it's a rational argument -- and if religious extremists could be persuaded by rational arguments, they wouldn't be extremists, would they?

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Antisemitism of the SSPX

UPDATE: Since I first posted this, the article has been removed from the SSPX site. I have updated the link in this post to direct to the same article hosted on another site.

While Richard Williamson's recent and public denial of the Holocaust caused much of the initial controversy currently swirling around Pope Benedict's rehabilitation of the bishops of the Society of St. Pius X, I've started to notice in recent days more attention being paid to the antisemitism of the SSPX as a whole.

One article available on the SSPX website, "The Mystery of the Jews," has been mentioned on numerous blogs, and briefly quoted on several of them.

One could actually quote it selectively and make it sound quite complimentary of the Jewish people. One subheading, for example, is "The Greatness of the Jews." You don't have to read much of it, however, to recognise it as an antisemitic screed.

The article presents a "theological explanation" of the Jewish people. It imagines that there "is no period of history about which one can write without mentioning them."

It makes much of the story of Abraham's two sons, Isaac and Ishmael:
Ishmael, the first to be born and the natural offspring of the slave, Hagar, represents the Synagogue of the Jews, which glories in its descent from the flesh of Abraham. But Isaac, born miraculously of the sterile Sarah according to a Promise of God, represents the Church which, like Isaac, is born by faith in the Promise of Christ.
Jews, according to the SSPX authors, imagine that their fleshly connection to Abraham accords them salvation. They are wrong, say the authors, as salvation comes only through "spiritual union with Christ through faith." The consequences are rather dire:
The Jewish people which began with Abraham will be able to attain to its salvation not by the fact of its material descent from Abraham, but in believing in Christ and assimilating itself to Him in faith.
Now, it is not news that the SSPX rejects the possibility of salvation of non-Christians. The really disturbing parts come a bit later. Continuing with the spirit-versus-flesh them, it goes on in some detail about the "carnalization" of the Jewish people. The authors helpfully explain that they "have coined this word — carnalization — by which we mean to indicate the Jewish people's historical material-mindedness."

After citing the "the terrible 'Woes' declared by the Jew, our Lord Jesus Christ, in the last days of His life on earth, when He denounced the hypocritical religion, purity, and piety of the Pharisees," they write, "No one in all the course of history has pronounced more terrible anathemas than those of the Son of God against the perfidious carnality of His own people."

Some other choice comments:

"The Jewish people, once a mystery of goodness, is now changed into a mystery of iniquity. It is no longer Isaac, but Ishmael. No longer Jacob, but Esau. No longer Abel, but Cain."

"The Jewish people, whose destiny was to bring Christ to us, found Christ a stumbling block. A part of them believed in Him, and built on Him to form the roots and the trunk of that Olive Tree which is the Catholic Church. The other part fell, denying Him and invoking their carnal pride of race and nation. That part of Israel was rejected, and called upon itself the blood of Christ as a curse. It is this part that forms Judaism proper, which is the heir and the continuation of the rabbis who rejected Christ."

"Judaism is inimical to all nations in general, and in a special manner to Christian nations. It plays the part of Ishmael who persecuted Isaac, of Esau who sought to kill Jacob, and of Cain who put Abel to death."

"[T]he adversarial relationship of the Jewish people is not a local enmity, or one based on blood, or on conflicting interests. It is an enmity disposed by God. The Jewish people, if it has not converted to Christianity, will, even if it does not wish to, seek to ruin Christianity..."

"If the unrepentant Jewish people are disposed by God to be a theological enemy, the status of this opposition must be universal, inevitable, and terrible."

"Christendom and Jewry are destined inevitably to meet everywhere without reconciliation or mixing. It represents in history the eternal struggle of Lucifer against God, of darkness against the Light, of the flesh against the spirit. It represents in time the spiritual accomplishing and the fleshly accomplishing of the Scriptures. The Letter must be everywhere to be the servant of the Spirit."

I found this one particularly revealing:
"In the world as it is, there can be only two truly basic modes, two poles of attraction: the Christian and the Jewish. Only two religions: Christian and Jewish. All that is not of Christ and for Christ is done in favor of Judaism. It follows from that, that the de-Christianizing of the world runs parallel to its Judaizing."
After eulogising the Christian faith of the middle ages, they write:
"If the Gentile people now considers this genuine greatness of the medieval age as gloomy or obscurantist, and wishes to be great with the material greatness of Babylon, then it can have it: but only as a servant of Judaism. In the domain of the material, it is the Jewish people who have the superiority."

"The only protection of the Gentile people against enslaving itself to the material superiority of the Jewish people is the Catholic life. This is because Jesus Christ alone is the Savior of all mankind. Note that the Middle Ages did not succumb to material mastery for centuries."

"Catholics are not to enter into commercial, social, nor political relations which are bound hypocritically to seek the ruin of Christendom. Jews must not live together with Christians because this is what their own Jewish laws ordain and also because their errors and material superiority have virulent consequences among other peoples. If the other peoples reject these precautions, they will invite upon themselves these consequences, namely, to serve the Jewish people to whom belongs superiority in the kingdom of the material."

"The Jews were responsible —directly and/or indirectly —for covering the Just One with insults, throwing over His shoulders a cloak of contempt, putting on His head a crown of thorns and into His hands a reed. With striking, spitting, insults, and injury they lavished on Him every sort of humiliation. They spared Him no shame."

"How long must this terrible enmity between Jews and Christians last? Until God in His mercy brings about the conversion and reconciliation of the Jewish people. St. Paul teaches us that the day will come when Israel will recognize Him whom he has denied."
This part contains their rather interesting definition of "antisemitism":
"The relations of Christians and Jews cannot be governed by the common law of Christians, but only by an exceptional legislation which takes count of the theological status of the Jewish people. The Catholic Church’s teaching is that they should neither be eliminated from among us (as antisemitism seeks) nor given equality of rights, which leads to their superiority (as is advocated by liberalism or philosemitism)."
So apparently, antisemitism is limited to wanting to exterminate Jews. And since the SSPX authors of this article do not want this, they are not antisemites! Simple, isn't it?

I could continue -- I've covered only about a half of the article, believe it or not -- but you get the point.

Now, one might argue that one article on the SSPX website does not necessarily reflect the views of all of its members. Perhaps Benedict is seeking in the long run to bring only the moderate SSPX members back into the fold.

One wonders, though -- are there moderate SSPX members? Somehow I doubt that.

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