Thursday, October 10, 2013

Moshe Halbertal in Antwerp

On 9 October 2013, the Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal spoke at the University of Antwerp. He focused on the functioning of Israëli democracy. He gave his view on the relations between state and religion and reported on the latest political trends in his country. Just a few impressions.

Thus, the ultra-orthodox, who are against the state of Israel (a secular-Zionist sin, as only the Messiah can refound the state of Israel), are gradually reconciling to the state. When an orthodox relation of his went through the well-known ritual of burning the Israëli flag on the national holiday, he had said: "Ah, reconciled to Israel?" The orthodox guy asked if there could be any mistake  about the meaning of his burning the flag, but Halbertal asked: "Would you dare to do this [burn the national flag] in Russia? But here you can do it because you feel at home!"

He came across as every inch a modern man, but about the definition of Jewish culture, he maintained: "Talmud and Torah above all." He noted the emergence of a vibrant secular community, exemplified by the numerous young people he sees moving from his own Jerusalem to the Mediterranean city of Tel Aviv.

Whether the diaspora should be allowed to meddle, asked an ex-volunteer in the Six-Day and Yom Kippur Wars from the diaspora. Halbertal spoke out against excluding the diaspora from the political life of Israëli Jewry. He reasoned that Israel also appeals to solidarity from the diaspora. Moreover, Israëli politicians also keep the interests of the diaspora in mind. When the Foreign Affairs Minister talks with the Turkish Ambassador, he also has to take the interests of the Jewish community in Istambul into account.

About the proposal to have a neutral (non-Jewish) state for both Jews and Palestinians, he said: "Two peoples in one state, that doesn't work well." His Belgian audience, used to political ineffectiveness because of the struggle between Walloons and Flemings, had to agree.

Sometime in the 1990s, he co-authored a book titled: Idolatry. One of my next projects, already agreed upon with a Delhi publisher, is a book on monotheism  and idolatry, which will refer a lot to this book. I read it at the time, then gave my copy to Ram Swarup, who had written in defence of polytheism and idolatry. It must have been the winter of 1997-98. Next time, I arrived just in time to see Ram Swarup's dead body and his cremation the next day. The book must have been in his library, which I also offered to classify, and edit any unpublished writings that would be found. Perhaps he had written a comment on the book, or at least taken notes. Alas, I was told his legacy had already been taken away.

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