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Unified Theory of Hazony

April 26, 2013

About 10 years ago, I remember hearing Yoram Hazony at Yeshiva University. Rabbi Normal Lamm introduced him to a packed Belfer Hall, and he blew us all away with a presentation based on his The Jewish State. Lately, I’ve been reading Yoram Hazony’s The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, and I think that I’ve identified a Unified Theory of Yoram Hazony. It has to do with long-buried academic agendas that continue to negatively cloud the truth about Jews or Judaism for generations after they are no longer relevant. It is all very Dan Brown, but in an understated, academic kind of way.

In The Jewish State, Hazony identifies intellectual anti-Zionism and its insidious development through the Israeli academy and leading cultural institutions. It lurked beneath the radar of mainstream Zionism as first the yishuv and then the state developed, only becoming fully apparent during the Levon Affair and then following the Yom Kippur War:

I am not, of course, speaking of an effort directed against Israel’s physical existence but rather of one leveled against Israel’s legal, political, and moral status as the state of the Jewish people…
The idea of a Jewish state was once opposed by a majority of Jewish intellectuals and civil leaders in Western Europe…Hertzl’s most gifted follower, a German-Jewish student named Martin Buber, editor of the Zionist Organization newspaper, left the ZO after a bitter quarrel with the great leader, within a few years returning to become the foremost theoretician of the opposition to a Jewish state. It was Buber who adjusted Hermann Cohen’s overtly anti-Zionist theories to fit a world in which Zionism was rapidly gaining steam…
The intellectuals of Jewish Palestine, many of who were immigrants from Germany..considered themselves disciples or allies of Martin Buber. It was this community of German-Jewish intellectuals in Jerusalem that became the backbone of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, founded in 1925 as the only university in Palestine – and whose humanities and social science faculties were to a large degree responsible for the establishment of every other academic institution in these fields in Israel. And it was these same individuals who were also at the center of the political opposition to the Jewish state within the Jewish community in Palestine…

In The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, the narrative is very similar. There is a core impurity, sort of an Original Sin that founds its way into the academic tradition, where it, too, metastasizes into something very dangerous.

We don’t approach the Greek texts by way of the same interpretative posture as we do the Jewish ones because we look at both through the prism of early Christian doctrine – that is, through the prism of the reason-revelation dichotomy, which teaches us to see Greek wisdom as derived from reason whereas what the Jews have to say is revelation…
The philosophers of the Enlightenment applied their formidable skills to constructing an understanding of European history that worked in just this way. Associating the texts of the Jews with ignorance and superstition, they argued that no genuine works of reason had arisen among the Jews and that nothing that was originally Hebrew had made a significant contribution to the history of ideas…Hegel explains..that the content of Christianity arose more or less ex nihilo, as if in a “Second Creation” of the world…in such passages, the leading thinkers of the German Enlightenment introduced a new twist into the history of the reason-revelation dichotomy, mixing contempt for revelation with an acid anti-Semitism to create a new view of Western history, in which absolutely nothing of worth is to be attributed to the Jews…
In the decades that followed, the German universities became an international engine for the dissemination of the Enlightenment philosophy. Tens of thousands of American and British students flocked to Germany for advanced degrees, and by the 1870s, the German model of the “research university” had been established as the standard for advanced studies as far abroad as America and Japan….it is this interpretation that is studied and taught, almost exclusively, in universities around the world today.

In both cases, there is an authentically Jewish set of ideas, whether it is about a national ideal or a philosophic tradition, that should be part of the larger conversations in the global discourse.

However, because of animus in the academy, that opportunity is lost. In both cases, modern scholars are not even aware of the history of how what they take for granted as the foundation for modern scholarship got to be the way that it is. Buber and Hertzl are long gone, but Buber’s discredited ideas continue to resonate through academia in a way that puts modern Israel in mortal danger. The reason-revelation dichotomy was, apparently, originally proposed by the early Christians, who used it to give their traditions superiority over Greek Wisdom. However, once that idea became accepted, it was twisted by the Enlightenment thinkers as a way to discredit religious writings, and actually fed into (Hazony doesn’t say this explicitly, but it is implied) Nazi-era “scientific” anti-Semitism.

Hazony is claiming that knowledge influences culture, and most people, including academics, don’t realize how corrupted their knowledge actually is. Hazony excavates and rehabilitates authentic Jewish knowledge and worldviews, restoring them to their rightful place in the Jewish and Western worlds.

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