Now this is one for the record books: A major figure in Israel dies and virtually no one in the American media pays attention. Rabbi Yehuda Amital's death (he died on July 9 at age 85) was one certainly worth noting--especially because he was a 20th-century embodiment of the ways in which Orthodox Judaism has shaped the Western political world for the better.
Born in Hungary in 1924, Rabbi Amital was the sole member of his family to survive the Holocaust. When he was liberated from a labor camp, he traveled to then-Palestine and became a rabbi. He then fought as a soldier in Israel's war of independence, playing his part in ensuring that the fledgling Jewish state survived.
After the war Rabbi Amital resumed his studies, and went on to build and lead one of Israel's premier Talmudic academies, Yeshivat Har Etzion. In 1988, seeking to rebut any perception that Orthodox Judaism opposed the peace process, he helped found the dovish Meimad political party and later served as a minister in Prime Minister Shimon Peres' 1995 Peace Cabinet.
Thousands of people attended Rabbi Amital's funeral in Jerusalem, and leading Israeli figures, from the country's prime minister and president on down, paid tribute. Prime Minister Netanyahu eulogized him as "a follower of peace who loved all of humanity," and President Shimon Peres said he "served as an example for the nation, and inspired belief in people as a soldier, as a yeshiva leader, as a minister in the Israeli government and as a statesman."
The life of Rabbi Amital, an Orthodox rabbi and scholar (with his kind eyes and full beard), is a reminder that the very values that the free world holds so dear--charity, justice, and liberalism (in the classical sense)--have their roots in the Hebrew Bible and traditional Judaism. The Bible teaches lessons like the importance of hospitality (Abraham's welcoming strangers) and the duty to fight slavery and oppression (Moses standing up to Pharaoh). The Book of Ruth is a lesson in common humanity, and the Book of Job one in principled dissent.
Moreover, many of the political freedoms that we enjoy today have their roots in the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinical commentaries that explained it. Eric Nelson outlines this in his brilliant new book The Hebrew Republic, showing, for example, how the triumph of republican government over monarchy is in large part thanks to the Bible and the rabbis.