On November 18–20, 2018, Annabel Herzog (Professor of Political Science at the University of Haifa in Israel) and I (Professor of Religion and formerly Professor of Political Science, both at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA) organized a conference at Haifa with the title, "Asymmetry, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, and Abrahamic Peace." The two issues of J.E.S. of which I am guest editor constitute the papers from the conference. As many of the essays make clear, the asymmetries in military power and resources between the Israelis and the Palestinians are a major source of the conflict. The multinational and multidimensional conference brought together Israeli, Palestinian, American, and European scholars to discuss the origins, sources, and evolution of the conflict, its current status, and possible modes of resolution. The disciplinary perspectives reflected in these essays range from theology to philosophy to political science, sociology, and history. The past, present, and future of the conflict (including possible modes of resolution) remain the ongoing focus of most of the contributors to these collections, even when their essays seek to develop in depth one of the perspectives I have outlined.
There is a virtual consensus among the authors that both Jewish and Islamic fundamentalism are major factors in instigating the conflict and keeping it alive for such a long time. In this introduction, I will address in short compass the phenomenon of Jewish fundamentalism, which evokes immediate analogues with Christian and Islamic fundamentalism. I will then provide brief introductions to the articles that appear in this issue.
Using Maimonides, one of the most influential expositors of Jewish thought and law in the history of Judaism, as my background source, I will try to show how the fervent belief in messianic redemption expressed in his writings is counterbalanced by a very disciplined and restrained application [End Page 325] of this belief to the immediacies of historical and religious experience. This disciplined restraint is urgently needed today.
In Chapter 11, Paragraph 1, in his "Laws Concerning Kings and Wars" (hereafter, "Laws"), Maimonides said, "Whoever does not believe in King Messiah, or does not eagerly await his coming, not only denies the teachings of the other prophets but those of the Torah itself and of Moses our teacher."1 This very rigorous embrace of messianism is immediately counterbalanced in the first paragraph of Chapter 12 in the same "Laws" by an insistence on the largely metaphorical character of most of the biblical and talmudic descriptions of the Messianic Age:
One should not think that in the days of the Messiah any of the laws of nature will be suspended or any innovation occur in creation—but rather the world will follow its accustomed course. That which is stated in Isaiah that the wolf will dwell with the lamb and the leopard will lie down with the kid [Is. 11:6] needs to be understood as parable and riddle. … Similarly, all passages dealing with the Messianic Age have to be construed as metaphors. And at the time of King Messiah it will become evident to all what the metaphor was referring to and what content was being hinted at.2
In Paragraph 2 of the same chapter, Maimonides wrote, "In all these matters and those similar to them no one will know how they take place until they actually occur, for these matters are hidden from the prophets. The scholars as well do not have traditions in these matters. They are guided by the interpretations they come up with in their reading of the relevant verses."3 In the conclusion of this paragraph, he stated that "one should wait and believe in the general idea of messianic redemption,"4 without being able to figure out how it would be translated into practice.
What was driving Maimonides' emphasis on the themes of the unknowableness (we do not know how or when it will happen) and, simultaneously, the ordinariness (nothing changes in the order of nature)? I think that an important clue for addressing this question can be found in [End Page 326] Chapter 11, Paragraph 3, of "Laws" where Maimonides said, "And the essence of the matter is this: This Torah and its...