Quaker Universalist Conversations

The Genius of Judaism

by Bernard-Henri Lévy – A review

The Genius of Judaism, by Bernard-Henri Lévy (Random House, 2017) The Genius of Judaism, by Bernard-Henri Lévy, translated by Steven B. Kennedy (Random House, 2017)

From the publishers blurb: “Bernard-Henri Lévy has been a singular figure on the world stage—one of the great moral voices of our time. Now Europe’s foremost philosopher and activist confronts his spiritual roots and the religion that has always inspired and shaped him—but that he has never fully reckoned with.”

This review is contributed by Larry Spears.

Bernard-Henri Lévy, author of The Genius of Judaism, is a major voice in human rights and philosophy in his home nation of France. This book reflects his growth in understanding the human condition through his tradition of Judaism.

One theme of this book is Lévy’s description of the emergence of a new global strain of anti-Semitism in the disguise of criticism of the nation of Israel.

He argues that those criticizing Israel treatment of Palestinians are unqualified in doing so, because they do not consistently address the horrific conditions and oppression in other countries, particularly Mosel in Iraq and Aleppo in Syria. If you are not equitable in criticism, he writes, you are not eligible to criticize at all.

In contrast, he argues that Israel represents a creative approach to the preservation and extension of liberal democratic values.

More significantly for Quakers seeking to understand their role in the world, the Lévy argues that Judaism is not a gated community with unusual rituals, dress, and habits. Judaism is not a special status and not a benefit. Being a Jew is being the carrier of the universal burden offered to all people to recognize their role in reaching out to others in service.

Reading “Quaker” for “Jew” in the previous sentence gives a valuable model for Quaker lives:

Quakers are not a gated community with unusual rituals, dress, and habits. Being a Quaker is not a special status and not a benefit. Being a Quaker is being the carrier of the universal burden offered to all people to recognize their role in reaching out to others in understanding and service.

This is an excellent and heart-felt narrative. In his argument, Lévy rightly calls Jews to a right understanding of their tradition looking forward. What he misses, perhaps, is that this calling is not unique to Jews, but is universal for all persons in all traditions. His is a step in the right direction.

The linking of Lévy’s insight to the political questions surrounding Israel may distract the reader from the deeper insight of the calling to all people, of whom Jews are a part.

Queries:

  • Is this a fair and accurate reflection of the argument presented in the book?
  • Is this an accurate self-understanding of the shared reality and role of Jews and Quakers, and all humans?

Comments

All creation, Jews, Quakers, human or animal, all are united in the Eternal. We have a world around us and a heaven within us. We participate in ONE LOVE