Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Seven Wonders of the Jewish World

(A rather poorly-edited version of this article appears in today's edition of The Jerusalem Post.)

Since ancient times, cultures have perceived significance in the number seven. In antiquity, a list was compiled of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the nineteenth century, lists were compiled of the Seven Wonders of the Middle Ages and the Seven Wonders of the Medieval Mind. Mohandas Gandhi made a list of the Seven Blunders of the World. And disappointment reigned amongst many supporters of Israel this week, when the Dead Sea did not win enough votes to make the new list of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World. Meanwhile, the Israel Tourism Ministry is arranging a vote for the Seven Wonders of Israel. But I would like to propose a different list: The Seven Wonders of the Jewish World, with “world” not being a geographical location, but rather the full realm of the Jewish experience.

1. Monotheism

There is an old ditty which says, “How odd of God, to choose the Jews.” One of the many rejoinders is “It’s not so odd; the Jews chose God.” Yet it is that very choosing of God which is odd and remarkable! As Henri Frankfort, archeologist and Egyptologist, wrote: “The dominant tenet of Hebrew thought is the absolute transcendence of God. God is not in nature. Neither earth nor sun nor heaven is divine; even the most potent natural phenomena are but reflections of God’s greatness… it needs an effort of the imagination to realize the shattering boldness of a contempt for imagery at the time, and in the particular historical setting, of the Hebrews.” Aside from its role in shaping religion, monotheism also laid the foundation for the rise of science; as several historians of science have noted, the idea that disparate phenomena all follow fundamental “laws” flowed from monotheism. And the billions of adherents of Christianity and Islam are all adopting a monotheism initiated by the Jewish People.

2. The Land of Israel

The land of Israel, promised to Abraham, is small. It does not host the greatest waterfalls or the tallest mountains. But it is nevertheless remarkable within the natural world. Geographically, the land of Israel is at the junction of three continents: Europe, Asia and Africa. Within its tiny area, it houses an incredible diversity of landscapes: snowy slopes, tropical beaches, arid deserts and green forests. As a result of all this, the land of Israel is home to an astonishingly diverse range of flora and fauna. It is the southernmost range of many northern species, the westernmost range of eastern species, and the northernmost range of southern species. As the Midrash states, Israel is the center of the world.

3. Torah

Literally meaning “teaching,” the word Torah is often used in the narrow sense of referring to the Five Books of Moses. But in its broadest sense, it refers to the entire gamut of Jewish teachings. This marvelous body of literature chronicles a nation’s efforts over millennia to connect with the Divine, to improve the individual, to regulate society and to stretch the mind. Scripture, Talmud, midrash, philosophy, mysticism, law, ethics—it encompasses every intellectual taste and every aspect of our lives.

4. The Calendar

The wonder of the Jewish calendar is not limited to the way in which it manages to synchronize three entirely unrelated natural phenomena: the rotation of the earth on its axis, the revolution of the moon around the earth, and the revolution of the earth around the sun. The very contents of the Jewish calendar are so much richer than in the joke which describes it as consisting of two types of events: “They tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat,” and “They tried to kill us, we didn’t win, let’s not eat.” We celebrate national salvation and religious freedom; we observe days of solemnity, repentance and introspection; and we mourn the loss of people and precious elements of our heritage. Most wonderful of all is Shabbat, during which, miraculously, I am able to resist checking my e-mail for a full twenty-four hours.

5. Jewish Survival

The Jewish People, never large in number, have been faced with hatred for over three thousand years. We have been exiled from our home and forced into servitude and exile amongst hostile nations. We have suffered persecution in every one of the numerous countries in which we have lived. Nations faced with far fewer existential threats have disappeared, and yet we have survived. Mark Twain famously asked, “The Egyptian, the Babylonian, and the Persian rose, filled the planet with sound and splendor, then... passed away. The Greek and the Roman followed. The Jew saw them all, beat them all, and is now what he always was, exhibiting no decadence, no infirmities of age, no weakening of his parts… What is the secret of his immortality?” And we made it back to our homeland after two thousand years of exile, an event completely unparalleled in world history.

6. The State of Israel

Like every citizen of Israel, and especially like every oleh, I could rant endlessly about the shortcomings of the State of Israel (though unlike the citizens of our neighboring countries, I could do so without fear of being thrown in prison). But this would be a small-minded perspective that does not take into account the incredible challenges that the state overcomes. Despite having to absorb an enormous number of immigrants in a short span of time, and having to devote a ridiculously large amount of resources to national defense, Israel has managed to create a vibrant democracy, an oasis of prosperity, producing astonishing accomplishments in every field, all while successfully repelling repeated attempts at annihilation.

7. Global Significance

Although numbering only 0.2% of the total world population today, and never having numbered much more than that, the Jewish People have always had an inexplicably large impact upon the world. The spread of monotheism is the most significant example, but we have also made disproportionate contributions in every sphere of knowledge and endeavor. Meanwhile, the United Nations are obsessed with Israel, condemning it more than every other country put together (!). If anything, we are too significant for our own good.

Those are the Seven Wonders of the Jewish World as I see them, which I think are much more wonderful than the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Colossus, schmolossus.

44 comments:

  1. My Gosh! A post I can actually agree with!

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  2. Your best post ever!

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  3. Today we are 0.2% of the world population, but at one time we were much more. At the time of the destruction of the 2nd Temple, we were 10% of the Roman Empire, and that doesn't include the Jews in Persia. What happened since then and why we went down so much is a good question...

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  4. Meir says
    According to Jewish sources, Israel did have all the things you mention but at the churban they were distributed among the world. But as you dont believe in 'nishtanu hativim' youre unlikely to believe that either. Its just surprising you believe in all the other things. Time will tell and when you convert you will stop believing in them as well.

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  5. The Calendar? The Jewish Calendar is not really unique in its ability "to synchronize three entirely unrelated natural phenomena" Many other calendars do the same.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lunisolar_calendar

    I don't think one can even argue the Jews "invented" it because the Greeks and the Babylonians used a similar system.

    As for "days of solemnity, repentance and introspection" I'm pretty sure most religions have similar commemorations.

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  6. There's a bit of overlap between your 7 - Land of Israel/State of Israel and Survival/Global Significance.

    But I think you've missed one of the greatest marvels of them all: the Hebrew language. Hebrew would be significant even just as the language of the Torah and other religious texts, but the revival of Hebrew in the modern era is unparalleled by any other language.

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  7. I am sorry if it seems like I am beating a dead horse, but let me use Meir's post (annonymous 10:47), as an example of what I mean about how to respond to critics. It would be easy to respond in a scathing way to what was a disrespectful and simplistic response to your post. Instead, just let it sit eher and let your readers see it. They will come to the correct conclusion on their own and see his comments (and him?) for they are. Imagine trying that with the response of those rabbis who criticized you. Wouldn't the same thing happen?

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  8. Because it's not as blatant as with Meir's comment, and because they are more respected.

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  9. If you want to continue this conversation, please do so via email.

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  10. "God is not in nature. Neither earth nor sun nor heaven is divine; even the most potent natural phenomena are but reflections of God’s greatness"

    I fail to see why removing the sacred from everyday experience is so great. Certainly, our lack of respect for nature, even from a practical perspective, is beginning to have severe consequences.

    "Aside from its role in shaping religion, monotheism also laid the foundation for the rise of science"

    I am no historian of religion or science, but it seems to me much more likely that a changing world-view shaped both religion and science. Some ancient Greeks were extremely advanced before monotheism, and the Middle Ages show clearly how a monotheistic religion can stifle scientific progress. Perhaps the demystification of nature is part of what made both develop.

    "all while successfully repelling repeated attempts at annihilation."

    Sorry, but nobody is trying to annihilate you. The last time Israel experienced any kind of existential threat was in 1948.

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  11. 1. The point is the novelty of the idea.

    2. Check out Rodney Stark, "For the Glory of God," and the other sources referenced in The Challenge Of Creation.

    3. What do you think would have happened if the Arabs would have won any of the wars?

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  12. "1. The point is the novelty of the idea."

    Ok, if that's all your saying, but I believe even that assertion is not at all clear if one examines the history of monotheism.

    "2. Check out Rodney Stark, "For the Glory of God," and the other sources referenced in The Challenge Of Creation."

    I know people make the claim, it just seems like apologetics to me. Perhaps I will learn otherwise one day.

    "3. What do you think would have happened if the Arabs would have won any of the wars?"

    That's like asking what would happen is Osama bin Laden conquered the US. It doesn't mean the US is facing annihilation.

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  13. I can't access your email address on my computer. At what address should I write to you?

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  14. 1) Did you drop the 25th hour of Shabbos before or after the book ban?

    2) Even more impressive are the confirmed smokers who insist they can't quit but manage to every Shabbos for 25 hours.

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  15. Pesach - zoorabbi@zootorah.com
    Garnel - LOL.

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  16. Per a comment here on 11/15 at 10:47.

    I think many Jews don't understand the purpose of belief. The Torah never tells us to believe in God or the Torah. The Torah says "the people feared (vi'yiro) God and beleived (vi'emunhno)in his servant Moshe" Shemos: 14:31.

    Other then that, not much on the subject in a direct way. Belief seems to be open to the individuals ability or level to relate vs. a requirement of Judaism. It seems belief is a man made requirement, on man vs. the Torah's requirement on man. We are commanded to do certain Mitvoth, but belief is not a factor, just do what you are commanded and all is well.

    A natural question is why do them if you do not believe. The answer seems to be, the people of the generation of the Torah did not have to be convinced, belief was natural based on their experiences with God. The other answer could be, a person does not have to believe in taking out the trash per se, but if you don't do it there will be consequences, like a smelly house. There are many social consequences for not following the rules of society or the Law of the Land. Belief not a factor, conformity and rules of society is what is at stake. Many Rabbinical decrees are based on this concept and no other.

    Some may cringe but look at Spinoza's writings in his Theologico-Political Treatise, he seems to be fairly accurate in many of his explanations on the purpose of the commandments.

    I personally believe each person has to look for God in his own life and when you find God, belief is not an issue per se. But your mileage may vary.

    Shalom,

    Rabbi Simon

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  17. Abe makes good points about monotheism, demystification and science. It is true that some historians give monotheism particular importance in this regard. Many do not.

    Non-monotheistic societies such as ancient India and China were much more scientifically advanced than the monotheistic West for centuries. And as Abe alluded to, monotheism is not necessarily friendly to science. Present day Haredism, Wahabism and Fundamentalist Protestantism, the Medieval Church and so on are or were violently opposed to the very concept of scientific inquiry.

    The execrable state of American science education is a direct result of monotheistic religion, in this case Evangelical Protestantism. Atheistic China and polytheist India do a much better job.

    And monotheism was not first created by the Jews. There have been earlier peoples or currents in other religions which held to the idea of a single deity. Christianity and Islam were simply the most successful and are currently the most popular world religions.

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  18. Nice post. You don't need to always just discuss 'the rationalist approach' and bash haredi positions. Its nice to write about something that all Jews can agree on. Or at least mostly agree with.

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  19. "This very Western idea of God as supreme lawgiver and cosmic planner helped to give the scientific enterprise its start. Many Eastern religions take the view that reality is entirely subjective, and that man can never truly separate himself from the nature he wishes to understand. Whatever the contemplative value of these ideas, the ancient Eastern intellectual was thereby relieved of any feeling that the workings of nature might reflect the glories of the Lord. The Westerner was not, and this is one of the reasons we can say—despite the extraordinary technical prowess of many Eastern cultures—that true empirical, experimental science developed first in the West. Hindu philosophers were left to contemplate the ever-changing dance of life and time, while Western scholars, inspired by the one true God of Moses and Muhammad, developed Algebra, calculated the movements of the stars, and explained the cycle of seasons."
    Kenneth R. Miller, Finding Darwin’s God, p. 196

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  20. Why so pessimistic Todd and Abe?

    The Jews were the ones that brought monotheism to the world. The Torah names righteous people that lived both before Abraham and the giving of the Torah who were monotheists. Perhaps Abraham learnt monotheism from others. Perhaps the world would have accepted monotheism had the Jews never existed, it doesn't really matter. The Jews were the ones responsible for spreading Monotheism to the world.

    Abe - you're blind if you don't see the miracle of the state of Israel and its successes at war. Israel versus its Arab nations is nothing like America versus Bin Laden. Why are you even comparing the two?

    Todd and Abe - you can admit the story of the people is pretty incredible while still being an Atheist or not believing God chose the Jews.

    John Adams made this point well:
    "I will insist that the Hebrews have done more to civilize men than any other nation. If I were an atheist, and believed in blind eternal fate, I should still believe that fate had ordained the Jews to be the most essential instrument for civilizing the nations. If I were an atheist of the other sect, who believe, or pretend to believe that all is ordered by chance, I should believe that chance had ordered the Jews to preserve and propagate to all mankind the doctrine of a supreme, intelligent, wise, almighty sovereign of the universe, which I believe to be the great essential principle of all morality, and consequently of all civilization."

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  21. "Non-monotheistic societies such as ancient India and China were much more scientifically advanced than the monotheistic West for centuries."


    Please stop confusing Science and Technology. China and India were never 'scientifically advanced'. And they still don't do so good with the scientific method today. (well China doesn't)

    Despite popular opinion about science during the middle ages, some of the most amazing discoveries came from Christian Monks eager to learn the ways of Gd. How those discoveries were related to the official church positions, is really a secondary conversation.

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  22. I don't think your post even scratched the surface. You could have mentioned that Jewish values set off a chain reaction that ended slavery in the civilized world. (The Jewish codes first regulated it. Then our inheritors, the Christians abolished it. We still set that in motion, did we not?)

    You could mention the birth of capitalism, the greatest force for economic prosperity in the world. Again, a product of monotheism. (See: The Victory of Reason by Rodney Stark).

    How about the notion that human beings are created equal? See: http://www.amazon.com/Created-Equal-Ancient-Political-Thought/dp/0195374703/ref=tmm_hrd_title_0?ie=UTF8&qid=1291902747&sr=8-3 That was a Jewish innovation, and you would be hard pressed to find somebody who would admit to disputing that notion today.

    Another interesting wrinkle: the Darwinian survival of the fittest in the modern world. You may be aware that the world is experiencing a massive demographic transition in which people are failing to reproduce at replacement rates. I recently read a book called "How Civilizations Die" by David P. Goldman. I can't recommend the book highly enough. In it, he discusses how societies, when they give up their faith in Judeo-Christian monotheism lose the will to live enough that their members fail to reproduce themselves. I've personally observed more often than I care to comment on how my irreligious relatives and friends are much less fertile than my religious ones. I find it a supreme irony that those who most trumpet Darwin are, by Darwin's own terms, unfit to transmit their genes by virtue of their ideas, whereas those who most often dispute Darwin are, in Darwinian terms, the most fit. So, the wonder of Jewish survival continues when everybody else is losing their will to survive the present generation.

    Of course, your discussion of Jewish survival has an interesting wrinkle you can add. I'm not sure how much people understand how exponential growth or shrinkage over generations works. To illustrate my point, it is worthwhile to mention that there is excellent evidence that Christianity began with about a 3% per year growth rate. This rate continued for centuries. (I'd have to look it up, but possibly it's not very different from 3% now). Given the operation of exponential growth, over the centuries, we have the billions of Christians we have now. Were our people to have grown at a similar rate, I could scarcely even begin to imagine the consequences. Surely, the Torah's dictum that we are the smallest of the Nations would not hold true were we to have grown at that rate. But exponential shrinkage works just as quickly. Were we to have shrunk by some small percentage every generation, with or without persecution and antisemitism we would have disappeared long ago. The way that exponential change affects populations makes the numbers necessary to survive as a small people (and remain small) a walk on the razor's edge.

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  23. As some commenters have noted, the luni-solar calendar is not an original Jewish creation.

    However, the concept of "the week" – an artificial time unit intended to interfere with the natural timekeeping units of the month and the year – IS an original Jewish creation, and one whose critical theological significance has been often overlooked.

    For more discussion of this topic, see the article in the Torah U'Madda Journal: http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/745802/_Allen_Friedman/05._Unnatural_Time:_Its_History_and_Theological_Significance

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  24. "According to Jewish sources, Israel did have all the things you mention but at the churban they were distributed among the world. But as you dont believe in 'nishtanu hativim' youre unlikely to believe that either. "

    נשתנה הטבע is never brought up in the context of the difference between the glory of ארץ ישראל before and after the חורבן. Your attempt to include the concept where it never belonged is quite the novelty. Not only that, it has no place nor source in the מסורה. Thus, in your misplaced zeal to attack Rabbi Slifkin, you have crossed the line and expressed notions which are borderline heretical.

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  25. >"This marvelous body of literature chronicles a nation’s efforts over millennia to connect with the Divine, to improve the individual, to regulate society and to stretch the mind."

    There's nothing inaccurate here, but I was wondering why you left out the divine origin of the Torah. Was it because of your intended audience? As it's written now, without the mention of divine authorship, it sounds like something I've seen in Reform publications.

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  26. Jews and Judaism impress me as well.

    Though I wish more Jews felt the same way.

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  27. Great post? I wonder if you've seen Aish's "Seven Wonders of Jewish History"? Some of the wonders overlap with yours.

    http://www.aish.com/jl/h/h/48965856.html

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  28. Meir says
    To Ephraim
    I refer you to a gemoro in gittin which says yanai hamelech had sixty cities and today it cant contain that.

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  29. I wonder what was behind the three "kefirah" votes on this post?

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  30. "I wonder what was behind the three "kefirah" votes on this post?"

    1) The kofer uses kferidikka sources such as the avoda zara worshipper Ghandi. (Incidentally, Ghandi obviously got his idea of non-violence from the Jews. We first regulated violence with laws like the eshes yifas toar and kriyas shalom.)

    2) He interprets words non-literally in a kefiradikka fashion without knowing the rishonim. For example, he says "world" is not a geographical location. Who gave this young upstart permission to do that?

    3) His tone is an abomination. "How odd of God to choose the Jews?" What person with any amunah would ever say something like that?

    4) He says God is not in nature. This may have been the opinion of a minority of rishonim. But we, who know the kabbalah of the arizal and others to be true, know that God is in nature too. This idea is no longer acceptable our beis medrash and obviously Natan has no rebbe in these matters.

    5) He praises the state of Israel. That's like wearing flashing lights saying, "I'm a kofer."

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  31. "Abe - you're blind if you don't see the miracle of the state of Israel and its successes at war. Israel versus its Arab nations is nothing like America versus Bin Laden. Why are you even comparing the two?"

    I'm not going to get into a protracted argument about this, nor do I think R' Slifkin would appreciate it. Israel is much stronger than its neighbors and has been for the past 60 years. It also has nuclear bombs. None of it's neighbors is going to try and destroy it. I know our community likes to think of Israel as the David to the Arab's Goliath, but it is simply not even close to true. There wouldn't be anything wrong with the belief except that it leads us away from peace and toward justifying inappropriate behavior towards the Palestinians.

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  32. "The Westerner was not, and this is one of the reasons we can say—despite the extraordinary technical prowess of many Eastern cultures—that true empirical, experimental science developed first in the West."

    Empirical, experimental science would deprive him of his assertion. He has one observation upon which he bases the assertion. There could be a correlation between his variables of religion and experimental science or it could be coincidental (as observations typically are when n=1). If there is a correlation, one would need to ascertain whether it was causative or due to some other unexamined variable. The causative factors for a historical idea will be very difficult to interpret, and I fear it is being used as a Rorschach upon which to project one's biases.

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  33. Regarding Abe’s comments: Sometimes you think you cannot possibly be amazed, and yet you are amazed nevertheless. I am amazed that people can be so utterly disconnected from reality, and actually believe that no one is trying to annihilate the State of Israel, or that Israel’s existence has not been continually under threat since 1948. I find myself amazed even though the mentality which denies this is the common one in world opinion today. Indeed, if there is an Eight Wonder of the Jewish World today, it is precisely the prevalence of this strange mentality among otherwise rational people (Jewish and non-Jewish alike)!

    This is not the place to debate geopolitics (there’s no lack of that elsewhere), but the attitude and mentality of people like Abe are pertinent: The simple fact is that with the right combination of circumstances, Israel could easily be destroyed by next week. And this has largely been the reality ever since 1948. Anyone who has ever bet on Israel’s long-term survival since 1948 has been neither reasonable nor rational. The sensible people were the ones who in 1967 asked who would be the last one to leave and turn out the lights. I do bet on Israel’s long-term survival, but certainly not because the geopolitical situation suggests that outcome!

    Thanks Rav Natan for a wonderful post.

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  34. "Anyone who has ever bet on Israel’s long-term survival since 1948 has been neither reasonable nor rational... I do bet on Israel’s long-term survival.."

    Interesting.

    "The sensible people were the ones who in 1967 asked who would be the last one to leave and turn out the lights."

    I guess US intelligence wasn't terribly sensible then, since they estimated that Israel would win a war at that time even if Israel were attacked. By the way, did the authors of your apocryphal quote say this just before they launched their surprise attack or afterwards?

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  35. Abe, I cannot believe that you've never heard that quote before and don't even know when it was a cynical joke and a common cliché...

    "I know our community likes to think of Israel as the David to the Arab's Goliath, but it is simply not even close to true."

    It is not politically correct, and it is not the common wisdom among the world's intellectual elite, but it is absolutely true. It always has been true, and today it is more true than ever before.

    Never make light of open exhortations towards genocide. When people openly declare that they are striving to annihilate you, take them at their word. They deserve at least that much respect.

    To get back to the point of the post, the way the State of Israel has survived, and flourished in so many ways despite tremendous adversity, is indeed a Wonder of the World. It beats any of the other usually cited natural wonders by a million miles.

    By the way, Rav Natan, I personally agree with some of the comments above that the Week and the Sabbath are more fitting for this list than the calendar itself. Though I've always found the calendar fascinating.

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  36. Abe: Based on this excerpt from today's news,
    >In a heated television exchange, a top Iranian official called the United States the world's largest source of state-sponsored terrorism, called Israel's government a "racist regime" and rejected an international report saying that Iran was trying to develop nuclear weapons.<,
    I guess it just all depends on one's perspective!

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  37. Abe - People have been trying to destroy the Jewish people since forever. I don't know why we're discussing this. Jewish survival is quite remarkable. I have my doubts as to the truth of Judaism, but call a spade a spade. The survival of the Jewish people (over at least the past 2500 years) is nothing short of incredible.
    I believe the theory of evolution to be true. I will still happily admit that it's The Greatest Show On Earth. As does Dawkins who is no believer.

    Hitler tried to wipe out the Jewish people 70 years ago. Things weren't any better in Russia and Eastern Europe in the past century.
    Since the founding of the state of Israel, we have always been under threat. 1948 could have been the end of us. We had a miraculous victory in the 6 day war. The Yom Kippur war could have ended badly and we're still under threat till this day with thousands of rockets being fired into Israel. Iran attempting to build a nuclear bomb. BTW, what would have happened had Israel not demolished Iraq's attempts at getting a nuclear weapon? That was an existential threat to Israel. After the fact it's easy to say there was no threat. Israel foiled their plans and no one ever thinks about what could have happened things been slightly different - had Israel's intelligence been slightly worse, had the Iraqi's been slightly better at guarding their weapons, etc. etc. (The silent heros are never rewarded. It's how the world works).

    Abe said:
    "None of it's neighbors is going to try and destroy it."
    Most the Arab world wants us off the map. Objectively this is just a ridiculously false statement.

    "I know our community likes to think of Israel as the David to the Arab's Goliath, but it is simply not even close to true."
    Nowadays I think most people see Israel as the stronger country.

    "There wouldn't be anything wrong with the belief except that it leads us away from peace and toward justifying inappropriate behavior towards the Palestinians."
    Apart from the fact that I disagree with your David and Goliath comparison, even if it were true, how on earth does it lead us away from peace. What leads us away from peace is the Palestinians trying to destroy us! Furthermore, Israel bends over backwards to try and make peace with the Palestinians (we offer 1000 to 1 trades for our innocent captured soldiers and free a bunch of murderers with no remorse that want us dead). Any objective person that knows the reality of the situation knows that if Israel were to put down it's weapons, it'd be destroyed. If the Arabs would put down their weapons we'd all live in peace.

    That's the reality. Abe, I'm disappointed with your ignorance and stupidity on these matters.

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  38. At first I thought Abe's comment about keffiradika this and kofer that was really funny and creative. But then I realized it wasn't actually a parody but a serious comment. Poor Abe.

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  39. aaa writes, "At the time of the destruction of the 2nd Temple, we were 10% of the Roman Empire, and that doesn't include the Jews in Persia. What happened since then and why we went down so much is a good question..."

    I was intending to make a similar point. If Jews were indeed 10% of the Roman Empire, that would make them some 2.5% of the world's population at the time (compared to 0.2% today). That's a high estimate that includes those who, while not Judeans or full converts (as the procedures for conversion had yet to be standardized), nonetheless adopted many Jewish practices, including avoiding consumption of pork, lighting Friday night candles, etc.

    What happened was the revolts against Rome, first in the 60s CE, where losses and destruction were mostly confined to Jerusalem and its environs, and the even more devastating losses associated with the Bar Kochba rebellion. So many were enslaved that the slave price collapsed in Roman markets, and many were ultimately lost to the Jewish people. That was followed by centuries of oppression, including forced conversion under the Christians and Muslims, and the assimilation of scattered communities. Add to that the normal ravages of the pre-modern world (disease, famine, war, etc.) and it's hardly surprising it took almost 18 centuries for Jews to recover those earlier numbers.

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  40. How can we know that the idea that monotheism was the bedrock of science is anything more than a "just-so" story? I don't begin to know the method one would use to pinpoint the exact mechanism (or mechanisms) that enabled the discovery science/empiricism.
    The problem: when it comes to history, there are near-infinite degrees of freedom with which to cherry pick correlations to fit a narrative. The same problem presents itself in more than half of the comments that follow the post as well.

    Recommend: The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, to explore the poverty of historicism and narrative fallacies. It will help demonstrate the epistemological humility needed to draw accurate causal relationships.

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