Yeshayahu Leibowitz

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Israeli scientist and controversial religious thinker (1903–94). Leibowitz's contribution to chemistry, biochemistry, and neurophysiology is immense. But his main claim to fame, others would say to notoriety, are his severe criticisms of Israeli policy. He believed that the sole advantage, a very considerable one to be sure, of the emergence of the State of Israel is that it has provided Jews with a homeland in which, as he was fond of saying, they no longer have to be bossed around by goyyim. For him, to see a deeper religious significance in the emergence of Israel verges on State-worship.

Leibowitz was a strictly observant Jew, believing the Halakhah to be the sole guiding principle for Jews. Yet he accepted the findings of biblical criticism in his conviction that the origin of the commandments is irrelevant to their binding force. Attempts at refuting Darwin and the Bible critics, he remarks, are to see God as a superior Professor of Biology or Semitics. For Leibowitz, a mitzvah, a precept of the Torah, constitutes an opportunity to serve God and any attempt to see it in terms of human betterment, even of a spiritual nature, is to prefer self-worship to worship of the Creator. He takes strong issue with the attempts of Maimonides and other medieval thinkers to give ‘reasons’ for the commandments. Religion is not for anything else but is an aim in itself.

Subjects: Judaism and Jewish Studies.

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