Posts tagged with: israel

jerusalem-synagogue-attackWhat just happened in Jerusalem?

Two Palestinian men armed with axes, meat cleavers, and a pistol, entered a synagogue complex in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood of West Jerusalem on Tuesday morning and killed four rabbis, one from the UK and three from United States (all had dual-citizenship in Israel). Israeli police killed the assailants in a gun battle that critically wounded one officer. 

According to the New York Times, relatives identified the attackers as two cousins, Odai Abed Abu Jamal, 22, and Ghassan Muhammad Abu Jamal, 32.

What was the motive for the attack?

According to the relatives of the killers, they were motivated by what they saw as threats to the revered plateau that contains al-Haram al-Sharif (known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism) and the al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

Orthodox Jewish campaigners in Israel have increasingly been challenging the long-standing ban on Jews praying at the Temple Mount. Since the Crusades, the Muslim community of Jerusalem has managed the site.
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Christian Church in Middle EastThis past weekend, Christians around the world commemorated the passion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is interesting to ponder how Easter was celebrated in the Middle East, the birthplace of Christianity and the region in which these very events unfolded. There is one factor, however, that may have made the liturgical festivities less expansive and well-attended than one might imagine: the minimal number of Christians in the region. In the Middle East, the number of Christians has dwindled to less than 10 percent of the region’s population. This diminishing number is not, however, simply a result of natural immigration patterns or conversions to other faiths; it also reflects the determination of intolerant and extremist governments and associated groups to drive them out.

In a Wall Street Journal article titled, “The Middle East War on Christians,” Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, explains that in Iraq alone over the past 10 years, “nearly two-thirds of Iraq’s 1.5 million Christians have been driven from their homes.” Prosor then adds:
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gerrit-van-honthorst-king-david-harpWe live amid unprecedented economic prosperity, and with the promise of globalization and the continued expansion of opportunity and exchange, such prosperity is bound to grow.

Yet if we’re to retain and share these blessings, such gifts need to be received and responded to with a heart of service, sacrifice, and obedience to God. “Man is not the owner,” write Lester DeKoster and Gerard Berghoef. “He is the overseer…Each of us is steward over those talents and those pounds allotted us by divine providence.”

I was reminded of this while reading King David’s powerful prayer at the end of 1 Chronicles. David had called on Israel to give generously for the construction of the template, and God’s people responded in turn. David gave his “personal treasures of gold and silver,” and the people “gave freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord.”

The story provides a basic lesson in generosity and obedience, but David’s subsequent prayer demonstrates something deeper about the heart of Christian stewardship, offering a fine portrait of how our overarching attitudes and allegiances ought to be aligned: (more…)

Jacopo_Tintoretto_-_Moses_Receiving_the_Tables_of_the_Law_(detail)“Are there then no laws in the legal sense in the law of Moses?” asks Cornelis Vonk, the Dutch Reformed pastor and preacher.

“Of course there are, but there is much more besides.”

This, and what follows, comes from Vonk’s newly translated Exodus, the second primer in CLP’s growing Opening the Scriptures series:

Through his law, the Lord also taught Israel what sorts of social measures did and did not please him… Neither did the Lord forget to teach his people through the torah how they could please him through wise and generous economic measures…

…In the torah the voice of a Father is heard. God was teaching his chosen people what life is really all about so that they would follow his example and model themselves after his image.

He wanted them to be friendly and merciful, righteous and wise in daily life. Time and again the torah tells the Israelites, “You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today” (Deut. 15:14–15). The Lord’s commands to Israel often had such a reason or motive attached to them. The torah had its basis in the deliverance from Egypt, which was the liberation of life. That’s why the various social, economic, and legal measures all contain a hearty echo of the gospel. (more…)

Beginning today, the conference “Religion and Liberty — A Match Made in Heaven?” gets underway in Jerusalem. Sponsored by the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies (JIMS), the Acton Institute and others, the event asks questions such as, “Is capitalism not only efficient but also moral?” In conjunction with this May 20-24 conference, Acton is offering its two Jewish monographs through Amazon Kindle at no charge.

The two titles:

  • Judaism, Law & The Free Market: An Analysis by Joseph Lifshitz. [Kindle link]
  • Judaism, Markets, and Capitalism: Separating Myth from Reality by Corinne Sauer and Robert M. Sauer [Kindle link]

Also see the Sauers’ 2007 Acton commentary, “Jewish Theology and Economic Theory.”

In the conference description, JIMS notes that “several speakers will discuss why Israel — in fact no country — should grant special privileges to religious institutions, nor subsidize religious activities. While few would advocate this approach for our Jewish state, there will be compelling arguments made about why religious communities in Israel would flourish with less government support. On Tuesday we will discuss how free markets enable religious communities to conveniently observe their traditions. There also will several panels which will provide the philosophical foundation for freer markets in Israel. More importantly our speakers will explain why free market policies will break down Israel’s oligarchical institutions that impose high product prices on Israelis and limit economic opportunity.”

In addition to JIMS and Acton, the Jerusalem conference is sponsored by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Atlas Network and Maarah Magazine.

Acton now has a dozen or so eBook offerings on social thought understood through a religious lens. For a listing of titles, please visit this page.

Much of the discussions I’ve been involved in over recent months that have focused on the federal budget have involved some basic assumptions about what the Christian view of government is. Sometimes these assumptions have been explicitly conflicting. Other times the assumptions have been shown as the result of exegetical commitments about what Scripture says.

The Belgic Confession of 1561This is, for instance, one of the points that came up right at the conclusion of the panel discussion about intergenerational justice at AEI a few weeks ago. The question was essentially whether and how we can move from the example given in the Old Testament nation of Israel to conclusions about the role of governments today.

There’s much to be said on this point, and it is an important hermeneutical question. What I will point out here, however, is that there are significant and noteworthy traditions of how to do precisely this.

In this regard, I’ll point to this year’s 450th anniversary of a major confessional document for the Reformed tradition, the Belgic Confession. Article 36 of the confession, which has had its own share of interesting interpretive history, lays out the basic role of the civil government:

We believe that because of the depravity of the human race our good God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers. He wants the world to be governed by laws and policies so that human lawlessness may be restrained and that everything may be conducted in good order among human beings.

For that purpose he has placed the sword in the hands of the government, to punish evil people and protect the good.

The clear emphasis on the task of the civil government here isn’t on some undifferentiated concept of “justice” or comprehensive shalom but rather a kind of procedural justice focused on “good order” and retributive justice, for which reason God “has placed the sword in the hands of the government.”

The Bible, and the Old Testament in particular, teach that the ruler is to “do justice.” But what that means precisely is not self-evident. Your understanding depends in part on whether and to what extent you think the “political” sphere has limits, or whether you distinguish between the “justice” that is appropriate to different spheres. It is not obvious that this biblical injunction to “do justice” means that the federal government is required to provide direct material assistance to the poor on an ongoing and permanent basis.

The Belgic Confession outlines the limits of the civil magistrates’ power and authority: “They should do this while completely refraining from every tendency toward exercising absolute authority, and while functioning in the sphere entrusted to them, with the means belonging to them.” As the Reformed tradition celebrates the 450th anniversary of the Belgic Confession this year, this is a perspective that warrants greater attention and fidelity.

Patriarch Bechara Rai

As a Lebanese Maronite Catholic student in Rome and a new intern at Istituto Acton, I had the great honor and privilege to attend the audience of the new Patriarch of Antioch of the Maronites, Bechara Rai, with Pope Benedict XVI. The April 14 audience gave me the occasion to think about our new Patriarch’s role in promoting the entrepreneurial vocation in Lebanon. Our new patriarch seems to be a very active, energetic man, in keeping with the majority of his flock, but both his church and his country face many daunting challenges.

The Lebanese have a great reputation for entrepreneurship the world over, dating from Phoenician times. The nation’s universities are also some of the best in the Arab world and the country has a strong capital base. But the seemingly constant political turmoil in Lebanon has forced many entrepreneurs to go abroad in search of the peace and stability required for economic growth, but entrepreneurial talent and technical knowledge still exist in large quantities — equal to any in the region.

Brain drain, how to make the best use of investments, cultural barriers and bureaucratic inefficiencies are all issues that a Lebanese entrepreneur must contend with, though all are surmountable. Indeed, a wide variety of non-profit organizations exist to provide crucial support services. And there are plenty of business plan contests that can help provide startup capital.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to starting a business in Lebanon is the country’s lagging infrastructure, not surprising due to past and recent civil wars and foreign interventions. The individual entrepreneur is obviously limited in what he or she can do to improve the quality of the country’s telecommunications and electricity grids. But if we think of entrepreneurialism as state of mind, there is much the Maronite Church can do to encourage it.

The role of the Maronite Church in Lebanon remains a very important one culturally and politically, in addition to religiously. Half of the Lebanese population are Maronite, including the President of the republic. The Maronite Patriarch has Patriarchal See in Lebanon and the church works to preserve and strengthen the power of the Maronite Catholic Christian in Lebanon. The Maronite often finds himself caught between secular Syrian instigators, Shiite and Sunni Muslim factions, and Israeli military incursions, all of whom have their own particular interests and plans for Lebanon.

But, as a former seminarian, I can now see that there was very little formation in social doctrine and especially in market economics. I very much hope the new Patriarch may follow the lead of Pope John Paul II and encourage his Church to strengthen the cultural-ethical framework of society rather than intervene directly in the messy and at times dangerous realm of Lebanese politics. If Maronites could find a way to bridge the gap between the warring factions of Lebanon through dynamic commerce, it may have the possibility of helping pave the way for peace in one small but important part of the Middle East. I would love to see some basic economic education for seminarians towards this end, so that Lebanese entrepreneurs both inside and outside the country feel that their faith supports their normal activities and that their normal activities can and should be the place of their sanctification.

The old ways of businessmen leaving the country so that the politicians can ruin it is no longer feasible. I will be praying that Patriarch Rai finds new ways of addressing ancient problems for all of our sakes.

It turns out there’s a phrase for the reality of ‘crony capitalism’ in Hebrew: hon v’shilton, which is “literally translated as capital and government, an expression Israelis use to describe the rich’s influence on government.” Check out Bloomberg Businessweek for an overview of current controversy on Israel’s “business elite.”

Of course business need not corrupt government. But the temptation for those with a concentration of economic power to turn that into political advantage in order to retain economic dominance is perennial. In a 2008 interview with venture capitalist Ronny Douek, who founded the Israel Center for Civil Society, Jerusalem Post interviewer Ruthie Blum Leibowitz asked Douek about hon v’shilton:

Doesn’t the connection between business and politics – what we call “hon v’shilton” – have negative connotations?

Yes, unless it is defined as taking mutual responsibility for society. With the right balance, it can only be a good connection. Take, for example, people here who saw ways in which they could have an influence on road safety or education…

Douek’s answer refers to his pluriform view of social life, in which he likens Israel “to a table resting on three legs – the government, civil society and business.”

As an aside, one instance of the ancient Hebrew root for the modern term shilton appears in Ecclesiastes 8:4 as supreme: “Since a king’s word is supreme, who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?'”

The Institute on Religion & Democracy’s Faith McDonnell:

Conducting “truth commissions” to denounce American armed forces and organizing divestment campaigns to cripple Israel are vital issues to some American church officials. Raising the banner of Intifada and expressing solidarity with Palestinians are also very important to this collection of liberal leaders. They “spiritualize” the Democratic immigration and health care reform agendas with pompous prayer, but their social justice-focused prophetic vision has strange blind spots. Leftist church leaders hardly ever see, let alone condemn, the imprisonment, enslavement, torture, and murder of Christians in the Islamic world, North Korea, and China.

Church officials and partner organizations such as the National Council of Churches (NCC) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) issue strident policy statements on such topics as “eco-justice,” broadband access for “economically depressed rural areas,” the Israeli “occupation,” and “unnecessary Department of Defense spending.” But one is hard-pressed to find these church leaders denouncing the recent appointment of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. One searches in vain for an expression of solidarity with the Christian community in Jos, Plateau State, in central Nigeria, where hundreds of Christians were slaughtered by Fulani jihadists during March and April of 2010. If there are any such statements, they address vaguely “ethnic conflict” and are masterpieces of moral equivalency.

Such reticence to speak about persecution is not new for liberal church leaders. Downplaying or denying the egregious human rights violations of the Soviet system was symptomatic of Leftist hatred of America and Western values. It was also considered essential to the type of appeasement of tyrants necessary to achieve the liberal Utopian dream of a peaceful, nuclear weapon-free world.

Read “Embracing the Tormentors” on IRD’s Web site.

I did a brief interview yesterday with Greg Allen of The Right Balance and have a couple more scheduled for next week. It’s kept me thinking about some of the issues surrounding the debate about Christianity, democracy, and Iraq.

In the piece I wrote I pointed to some of the rather guarded opinions of representatives from the Christian tradition, namely John Calvin, Abraham Kuyper, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, on the possibility of finding the “best” form of government.

But I’ve also been doing a lot of thinking about the biblical data, and it occurs to me that it was during Solomon’s reign that Israel enjoyed its greatest prosperity. We read, for instance, “During Solomon’s lifetime Judah and Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, lived in safety, each man under his own vine and fig tree.”

This led me to wonder a bit about how we should characterize the rule of the kings in Old Testament Israel. Clearly it’s a monarchy, but what sort?

We see the protection of private property, and a king who is subject to the rule of law and is specifically held accountable to Torah, when necessary by its public expositors the prophets. Calvin noted the intimate relationship between the prophets and Torah. Speaking about understanding the prophetic books, he writes, “the shortest way of treating this subject is to trace the Prophets to the Law, from which they derived their doctrine, like streams from a fountain; for they placed it before them as their rule, so that they may be justly held and declared to be its interpreters, who utter nothing but what is connected with the Law.”

While the prophets lacked the direct relationship with the executive power such that they could enforce Torah adherence, they certainly represented the divine perspective on Torah violation and its consequences (no doubt they were strict constructionists). In that sense they functioned as a sort of judicial check on the monarch’s power, similar to the way our Supreme Court is supposed to function.

If we view Torah as a sort of constitution, then in OT Israel we have an ancient kind of constitutional, and therefore limited, monarchy.