Ben Shapiro and Jordan Peterson in Jerusalem – Mishpacha Magazine


The biggest surprise was the quality of the speeches, which were of a very high intellectual quality

VSConservative superstars Jordan Peterson and Ben Shapiro were in Jerusalem just before Succos, and they sold out Binyanei HaUmah’s main venue (3,000 seats) in just a few weeks at $100 a seat. I was curious enough to get a press pass from the Tikvah Fund, which sponsored the event.

Despite being an admirer of Jordan Peterson and having two sons who are big fans of Ben Shapiro, I confess that I left without great expectations. I’ve been to enough events in Jerusalem where a mostly English-speaking crowd, old enough to make me a boychick, enthusiastically applauded a speaker I respect and said perfectly reasonable things. But the effect has always struck me as akin to throwing red meat at lions – a sin I myself have been guilty of.

But if I expected more of the same, I was pleasantly surprised. The crowd was young, about half religious (mostly serugah yarmulke) and half less obviously. And even though most of the evening was spent in English, I had the impression that the audience was not predominantly English-speaking.

The biggest surprise was the quality of the speeches, which were of an extremely high intellectual caliber and nothing like the stock speeches, with frequent lines of applause. Shapiro talks so fast it’s hard to understand how he’s breathing at the same time. But he didn’t stumble once over a word in his quick speech, even frequently quoting the Chumash in English.

Every revolutionary movement since the French Revolution, he argued, has been founded on the liberation of human reason from religion. But in reality, biblical religion has been the basis for the fulfillment of human potential. Shapiro listed three crucial principles from Sinai that underpin Western thought and culture.

The pagan panoply of gods assumed and attempted to explain a chaotic universe. Biblical monotheism, however, teaches the opposite: the world is not chaotic but subject to rules put in place by a unified Creator.

Avraham’s challenge to Hashem – “Will the judge of the whole earth not render justice?” (Bereishis 18:25) – assumes a set of binding moral rules. This challenge further assumes that the rules of morality and the physical universe are subject to human investigation. It is the basis of all science.

Second, Hashem requires man to act morally, and his expectations are high. Because man is created in the divine image, he has free will. As Hashem told Kayin before his murder of Hevel, “sin crouches at the entrance…but you can dominate it.” This free will means that man is subject to reward or punishment for his freely chosen actions.

Finally, the Bible places G‑d, who is above time, in a time-limited universe, a universe in which history progresses toward a specific end—Hashem’s revelation to the whole world. History is not a straight line, but at the center of the movement towards its goal is the love story between Hashem and his people, Israel.

Today, the founding text of the West, the Hebrew Bible, is being shredded. But without it, we end up with the human carnage of the utopia of pure reason, without Gd, of the Soviet Union or of the neo-paganism of the Nazis.

At the end of his speech, Shapiro received a standing ovation from the entire audience; the applause of the young man with the shaved head seated next to me was no less fervent than that of the religious public. What struck me was how eager even the secular Israelis in the crowd were to hear about what the Hebrew Bible – their Bible – brought to the West and why these biblical ideas remain essential today. today.

WHEREAS BEN SHAPIRO stood on the podium talking to the machine gun. Jordan Peterson wandered all over the stage, like he was Hamlet delivering a soliloquy. And even though the structure of his speech was harder to discern than Shapiro’s, and I had to look up some of the words he used, his speech was a brilliant tour de force and, like Shapiro’s, not overtly political.

Peterson began with a critique of postmodernism, the idea that every text is subject to an infinite variety of individual readings. And so, there can be no canonical texts and agreed morals. Only power and domination remain. And once you reduce the whole world to hierarchies of power and domination, then you are free to use power to dominate others.

To refute the postmodern reduction of all life to power relations, Peterson turned to the work of Dutch primatologist Frans de Waal. The most successful male chimpanzees, de Waal found, are not the strongest, but rather those who are most adept at giving back and restoring peace. De Waal also found that chimpanzees that rely on dominance tend to have violent ends and die young. As a life strategy, dominance is a bad choice.

Peterson instead advocated the pursuit of a unified and transcendent purpose as the best path for individuals, couples, families, and ultimately for entire societies. Without a high degree of unity, there can be neither psychological health nor social peace.

Peterson attributed the ability to pursue unified goals to monotheism. He pointed out that when Moshe Rabbeinu was first sent to Pharaoh, his message was not “Let my people go” but “Let my people go so they can serve me”. He examined a number of biblical stories as characterological studies of what is needed to pursue unified goals. He cited, for example, Yisro’s advice to Moshe not to be the exclusive judge of the people, but rather to develop hierarchical levels below them, as an antidote to a dangerous form of nationalism: one in which the State becomes god and all-encompassing. lower levels of the social hierarchy — individual, couple, family — under its aegis.

The key ingredient that enables the pursuit of goals together is accountability, which means, above all, not acting like an extremely ill-mannered two-year-old chasing every momentary whim. Growing up means recognizing that tomorrow we will have to live with the consequences of what we do today. The development of responsibility requires that spouses engage in a constant process of discussion and negotiation, as does the immediate family. At the societal level, freedom can only flourish when there is an agreed set of rules for cooperation and competition.

Like Shapiro, Peterson closed his speech and the first part of the program with a hymn to Jerusalem. Are you helping tell the greatest story ever told? he challenged the audience. I understood that he was referring to the survival of the Jews in circumstances of constant adversity. In the modern context, it refers to the constant contradictory criticism of Israel. And telling the bigger story means showing the world what the holy city of Jerusalem could look like.

“We need it,” said Peterson, as a non-Jew from a small town in western Canada.

There was a lot more, too, in the hour and a half that followed the questioning of former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and members of the audience. But I would like to focus on just one point: the emphasis on family.

Ben Shapiro told the audience at one point, “You always know how to have children,” noting that Israel is the only developed country with birth rates above replacement level. And Peterson also reiterated the crucial importance of family.

Asked what Israelis can do to foster peace, he replied, “Make peace in your own homes.” It requires facing all one’s own weaknesses, with courage and without making mistakes. The same ability to make peace with one’s spouse and children can then be transferred to a larger stage.

Therefore, act as if all the weight of the world is on your shoulders, he advised. Because it is. As Solzhenitsyn said, “A man who stops lying can bring down an empire.” —

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 935. Yonoson Rosenblum can be contacted directly at [email protected])

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