Last year I wrote this post, which was critical of a new book called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari. I found Harari, who teaches at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, to be certain of a lot of things about which no one can be certain.
Now I've just run across this Haaretz article by Harari, which I find more interesting than his book but that strikes me as a little overwrought.
In the piece, Harari argues that in the broad sweep of human history, Judaism simply hasn't been very important.
"Lest I be suspected of being a 'self-hating Jew' or an anti-Semite," he writes, "I would like to emphasize that I am not saying Judaism was a particularly evil or benighted religion. All I am saying is that it wasn’t particularly important to the history of humankind. For many centuries, Judaism was the humble religion of a small persecuted minority that preferred to read and contemplate rather than to build empires and burn heretics at the stake."
Harari thinks a lot of people in Israel have a distorted view of how important Judaism has been: "Unlike such universal religions as Christianity, Islam and Buddhism, Judaism is a tribal creed. It focuses on the fate of one small nation and one tiny land, and has little interest in the fate of all other people and all other countries."
I'm sure Harari would argue that his conclusion is simply a historical fact, not an attempt to minimize the values and contribution that Judaism and Jews have brought to the world.
And maybe he'd be right to make that argument. But the whole approach seems to me needlessly dismissive and even petty at times. And yet, if you have read Sapiens, you know that Harari has almost no use for any religion. Judaism is far from the only faith tradition he thinks may have caused more harm than good. And besides, he argues, all religions are simply systems of thought made up out of whole cloth.
Well, give the Haaretz piece a read and see what you think. I'd be interested in your reaction, especially if you're Jewish. E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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OR HERE'S ANOTHER APPROACH
Donald Trump has hired a religious outreach director to attract faith-based voters. Wouldn't it help more if, instead, he tried to live, think and behave in ways that weren't largely antithetical to the world's great religions?