America’s Deflating Foreign Policy (Revised)


CHULA VISTA, California — For many of us who happen to be Tom Brady football fans, we read the story about Brady’s alleged deflated football. For those of you unfamiliar with what practical difference this all makes, bear in mind that an under-inflated ball, the legend goes, is easier to throw and catch. Apparently, deflated balls were used to defeat the hapless  Indianapolis Colts last week.

To use an analogy from another sport, a deflated football is practically like using a corked baseball bat, which makes it easier to hit home runs out of the park. Historically, most of Babe Ruth’s bats were subsequently discovered to be corked, but baseball fans  love home runs, much like football fans love lots of touchdowns.

Sports pundits have been calling the New England Patriots’ victory over the Colts “Deflategate,” but for my money an even greater scandal is the deflation of American foreign policy. The world sees the United States as weak and disinterested in standing up against the Jihadists. The late King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia proved to be a good, strong, and silent supporter of Israel, as well as a powerful critic of Obama pro-Jihadist sympathies.

Although Israel and Saudi Arabia have never had formal diplomatic ties, in recent years Israel and Saudi covertly cooperated on plans to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. Over the last couple of years, Israeli and Saudi interests have also aligned on combating the growing threat of Sunni Muslim terrorist groups such as the Islamic State and the Muslim Brotherhood. He bravely condemned the recent war initiated by Gaza against Israel.[1]

Abdullah also felt outraged by the United States role in enabling the Muslim Brotherhood to seize power in Egypt by removing one of America and Israel’s staunchest political allies—Hosni Mubarak. The Saudi capital of Riyadh felt very nervous and extremely wary of the ongoing negotiations between Washington and Iran over the latter’s nuclear weapons program. When the President drew a red-line concerning Syria’s use of chemical weapons against its citizens, Obama’s last-second decision not to bomb Damascus in the wake of Bashar al-Assad’s chemical weapons attack on August 2013 was seen by Riyadh as dithering and weakness — and a sin of omission that has prolonged and exacerbated the Syrian war.

Let us not forget, that Obama made Mohammed Elibary, said to have strong ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, a member of the United States’ Department of  Homeland Security’s advisory council, until his comment about the inevitability of a caliphate forced him to resign that council.[2]

Of course, American Jews by and large either ignored this appointment, or could care less because of their loyalties to Obama and the Democratic leftists who walk in goose-step with his pro-Jihadi policies. Then again, the continuous snubbing of Israel’s Bibi Netanyahu and the President’s determination to buy loyalty from Iran, as well as elevating the Shiite rogue regime as a partner in the war against ISIS also made King Abdullah feel anger, as they did Israel.

And now in Yemen, which has fallen to the pro-Iranian rebels, Saudi Arabia is finding the web of Iran slowly encloses their country. No, Mr. President, your Yemenite success story was no success. Not by a long shot.

Unnamed administration sources threatening “serious consequences” if Bibi Netanyahu meets with Congress in March sends an uncomfortable signal to the entire free world—namely, the United States is feeling little loyalty to one of its most important allies of the Middle East—the State of Israel. Other allies of the United States have good reason to feel nervous about the deflating effects of Obama’s foreign policy.

I hope that Netanyahu defies the President—because the Iranian menace is laughing, while our President continues to behave as the “Appeaser in Chief.” Thomas Friedman is certainly not regarded as a conservative columnist of the New York Times, but even he had some sharp words about the President’s feckless foreign policy when it comes to recognizing the global war of Jihadist Islam:

  • “The administration has lapsed into unselfconscious ridiculousness. Asked why the administration won’t say [after the Paris attacks] we are at war with radical Islam, Earnest on Tuesday explained the administration’s first concern ‘is accuracy. We want to describe exactly what happened. These are individuals who carried out an act of terrorism, and they later tried to justify that act of terrorism by invoking the religion of Islam and their own deviant view of it.’This makes it sound as if the Charlie Hebdo terrorists set out to commit a random act of violent extremism and only subsequently, when they realized that they needed some justification, did they reach for Islam.[3]

Aside from the President’s absence from the Parisian march against Jihadist Islam, the President completely ignored President Abdel Fattah al Sisi courageous remarks, when he spoke on January 1st to a large college of Muslim clerics. He dared them to “promote a reading of Islamic texts in a “truly enlightened” manner to reconsider the concepts “that have been made sacred over hundreds of years.” By such thinking, the Islamic world is “making enemies of the whole world. So 1.6 billion people (in the Muslim world) will kill the entire world of 7 billion? That’s impossible … We need a religious revolution.”

Sisi has also called for religious toleration – on New Year’s Eve, he became the first Egyptian president to attend a Coptic Christmas Eve mass. It was a popular move among Christians, to whom Sisi’s authoritarianism represents a bulwark against the return of the Muslim Brotherhood.

This is a man our President ought to be supporting, but according to Obama, there is no Jihadist threat  to the civilized world. Any talk about a “Global Jihadist” threat is treated as a symptom of “Islamophobia.”

It is not the place of our President to act as an apologist for Muslim Jihadi movements.

Instead of inviting rock stars and other Hollywood or sports celebrities, maybe the President ought to invite moderate and secular Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali.M. Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Ibn Warraq, and other secular Muslims who oppose the marriage of State and religion, as advocated by Sharia law. These Muslims affirm the power of conscience and believe in the equality of all human beings. They also advocate eliminating such backward practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women; protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence. Most importantly, they affirm Islam as a personal faith—not as a political doctrine.

[2]; See also


Unleashing the Artistic Imagination


When you look at the history of Islamic art, it’s inclusion in the Islamic faith has not been without periods of repression. Among those singled out for the most severe penalties of the afterlife, are the artists, and other “makers of images or pictures.”Although the Quran did not prohibit artistic expression, the subsequent Hadiths (oral traditions) do attribute considerable hostility to the artists of Muslim lands.

As the art historian Daniel Boorstin notes:

  • Sultan Firuz Shan Tughluk (c. 1308-1388; reigned 1351-88) left his mark in Muslim history not only by building his own capital city, Firuzabad, and by constructing mosques, hospitals, baths, bridges, and the Jumna Canal, but by mutilating and destroying innumerable works of art. His autobiography boasted that he had erased all pictures from the doors or walls of his palaces and “under the divine guidance and favor” had even removed the figured ornaments from saddles and bridles, from goblets and cups, dishes and ewers, from tents, curtains, and chairs. Sometimes pious Muslims economized efforts by merely scratching or smearing the faces of the images they happened to be on.[1]

The Jewish influence on early Islam is pretty obvious. The Second Commandment has often been interpreted as a ban against all graven images—a point of contention we experienced when the Temple refused to take the Roman coins bearing the likeness of the Emperor, who was often deified by the Roman society. Hence, money changers served an important function in the Temple whenever people coming from afar wished to purchase animals and other offerings. However, in Islamic history, the artist was often perceived as an “imitator” of God, trying to usurp God’s role as Creator. As Boorstin later observes: [2]

  • Islam, by affirming the “stark monotheism” of a God who had a monopoly on creation, abhorred the temptations to compete with God by man’s pretended acts of creation. On the Day of Judgment when God calls upon the painter to breathe life into the forms he has made, the painter’s mockery of God’s acts of “creation” is exposed. Then he is sentenced to the worst punishments of hell. The artist by pretending to be a creator has denied the uniqueness of God and commits blasphemy with every stroke of his brush. According to the Koran, God alone is the “fashioner” (musawwir).

As Islam gradually evolved, the Abbasid caliphs (750-1258) cultivated a reputation for strict piety, Muslim rulers slowly disregarded the old taboos against art and hired their own artists to glorify the Islamic faith in cities like but Baghdad and cities in Persia that were under Muslim control.

Fortunately, there is no known chapter in Jewish history where artists were routinely harassed or persecuted.  In one famous Mishnah, we read about how a famous 1st century rabbi used to frequent a bathhouse that had a statue of Aphrodite inside:

  • Peroklas, the son of a philosopher, asked once R. Gamaliel at Ako, who was then bathing in the bath of the goddess Aphrodite: Your law prescribes [Deut. xiii. 17]: “Let nothing of the devoted objects cleave to your hands”; why, then, do you bathe in the bath of Aphrodite? And he answered: Such questions are not answered–at a bathing place. After he had left the bath, he said: I did not come into her domain, but it is she is the one who came into my space! Truly, people do not say: The bath is erected to adorn the Aphrodite, but the Aphrodite was added in order to beautify the Roman bathhouse. Moreover, you would not agree for any amount of money to appear before your idol when you are naked or urinating. The Aphrodite, however, stands on the channel, and everybody urinates in front of her. The law says their gods, i.e., to say such toward whom one behaves with dignity inspired by something divine; while whatever does not inspire such a behavior, is allowed.[3]

I doubt very seriously, whether today’s Haredi or Hassidic rabbis, or even Modern Orthodox rabbis would be caught dead in a Roman bath house that had Aphrodite as an ornament for the bathhouse.  Yet, religious traditions evolve, as do their followers.

Today, there is scarcely a Muslim leader—even someone as extreme as Osama bin Ladin, who would refuse to have his picture taken. Yet, when depictions of Mohammed the Prophet are depicted by Western artists in a manner that is not complementary, the Jihadists view such disrespect as “blasphemy.”

While the old restrictions regarding art or music (as it was in the case of rabbinic tradition) have been cast into the dustbin of history, comedic and satirical depictions of faith still rub many of us the wrong way–whether the person being depicted is Jesus, Moses, or Mohammed. The problem occurs when people wish to use satire in explaining religiously venerated texts such as the Tanakh, New Testament or the Quran. Yet, in a free society you will not see other religious groups murder others who “blaspheme” their religions. Christians and Jews have learned to accept this, Muslims must accept it as well.  While many of us may not like the artistic depictions of our religious traditions, (e.g., the new movie, “Exodus: Gods and Kings”), the majority of us will avoid what we do not wish to see or allow it to enter into our consciousness. Death by the polls is the best medicine here for all faiths to consider instead of using violence to suppress unpopular thought.

The award-winning author Salman Rushdie, who once received numerous death threats for portrayals of Islam in his work, expressed his support for the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo after an attack that killed at least 12 on Wednesday.

  • “I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity,” he wrote in a statement posted by the Guardian. Gunmen killed at least 12 people in the paper’s offices before fleeing the scene in France’s deadliest terrorist attack in recent memory. “Religion, a medieval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms,” Rushie wrote. “This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today.”[4]

Is there room for an alternative view within mainstream Islam? Actually, there is. As Hassan Nasrallah said a few days ago,“Islamic extremists have insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad more than those who published satirical cartoons mocking the religion.” He added, “The Islamic extremists who behead and slaughter people have done more harm to Islam than anyone else in history.”[5]

For once I must agree with Nasrallah. However, it’s a pity he does not apply this to the villainous mullahs of Iran. Simply put, we cannot control how other people think. In a free society, every religious group enjoys the freedom that comes with free speech. It is criminal for anyone who suppress the fundamental democratic life—even this speech seems barbed at times.

Maybe the time has come for religious people to redefine blasphemy in a manner that is not inconsistent with Western values. What is blasphemy? It is taking something beautiful and turning it into something ugly. When viewed from this perspective, killing people in the name of Islam—or any faith—now, that’s true blasphemy.

No cartoon is worth killing over.



[1] Daniel J. Boorstin, The Creators: A History of Heroes of the Imagination (New York: Random House, 1992), p. 194.

[2] Ibid., p. 195.

[3] Mishnah Avodah Zara 3:4.



For Obama, it would be ‘je ne suis pas Charlie’


Byline: SD Jewish World — Jan 13, 2015

As the world leaders boldly proclaimed in Paris, “We are Charlie” as the Sunday rally attracted more than 1.7 million people, and more than twice that nationwide. These people gathered to show solidarity to those brave souls who fought for the public’s right to enjoy free speech, the President of the United States, was nowhere to be found, he was “missing in action.” What a pity, the President probably could have silenced some of his critics by attending and proclaiming that the United States stands in solidarity with France against Jihadist fanaticism.

Where was the President? Was he spending the weekend watching NFL football? To date, nobody knows for sure… The official word from the government is that “onerous and significant” security preparations for a presidential visit requires more than the 36-hour advance notice.”

Granted, let’s assume the President had a legitimate excuse for not attending. By not attending the unity rally in Paris on Sunday, President Obama has missed an chance to show leadership, to prove that Americans are as committed to fight against terrorism as anyone else  in the world. More importantly: America stands with its allies in a worldwide battle that has no short-term solution.

Alright, let’s assume the President had a legitimate excuse for not attending. Why didn’t the President send Vice President Biden to attend? Why didn’t he send John Kerry in a pinch? Well, we know that John Kerry was lecturing the people of India about the dangers of global warming. President Obama has mentioned on numerous occasions that global warming is far more serious of a threat than global terrorism.

Now it’s time to ask ourselves a more relevant question: How did the people of France interpret our leader’s absence from this event? As a French citizen, traumatized by the latest terrorist attack conducted in the name of ISIS or Al Qaeda, how would you feel? What are the other people of the free world saying about our President?

If I were a Frenchman, I would think that the President of the largest superpower of the free world really does not care about the victims of Jihadism Inc. In fact, let the record show that the President never speaks about an Islamic threat at all, but calls it by the amorphous term “work place violence” or “extremism” and so on.

As it turned out, Attorney General Eric Holder was in Paris, but he too was missing in action. He only made taped interviews in a Parisian studio. Holder’s behavior is puzzling. Why did he bother flying to Paris at all? Couldn’t he have stayed in a Washington studio, with some Frenchmen interviewing him with a picture of the Eiffel Tower in the background?

No matter how you look at the optics of the President’s absence, even enthusiastic supporters are scratching their heads.

Permit me to add some perspective to our question. Does anyone remember the movie, The Innocence of Muslims?  This 2012 fourteen minute movie on the “Real life” of Mohammad offended millions of Muslims across the world. At a September 25, 2012 address to the United Nations, Obama himself declared, “The future must not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam.” While there were fifty people who were killed as a result of these riots, the President did not defend the producer’s right to express his artistic or political point of view. Instead, he utilized the influence of the White House to keep this film out of circulation.

Worse still, the President gave an insipid speech  at the United Nations, where he blamed the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens on a YouTube video. Like many other falsehoods we have heard from our President, the President contorts reality rather than hold the Muslim community responsible for failing to challenge and speak up against Jihadism.

When Nidal Hasan, the infamous Fort Hood shooter killed thirteen people and injured thirty others in November, 2009. Eric Holder made sure that Hasan was only guilty of “work place violence” rather than “terrorism.”

Then again, September of 2009, shortly after the Iranian vote, thousands of dissenters hit the streets and protested—only to be rebuffed by the Iranian secret police and army. The people wanted our President to speak up on behalf of democratic reform in Iran. One would think this is something the President could have done and he would have “appeared” as a champion for democracy.

But did it happen?

No it didn’t.

President Obama has seldom challenged theocratic regimes—plain and simple.[1]

I suspect that the President’s sympathies are not at all with the Charlie Hebdo, for they unabashedly are lampooning Mohammed and his followers. Far from targeting Muslims in particular, the satirical newspaper has ridiculed everyone from English people to  Pope Benedict XVI regarding the sexual scandals of the Vatican.

In one past 2011 issue, “Sharia Hebdo” by David Sessions, features a cartoon of a “guest editor,” the prophet Muhammad threatening readers with “100 lashes if you don’t die laughing!” The publication’s offices were fire-bombed after it published this issue.

As you can see, the President has painted himself into a corner. The real reason why he cannot support the French people is because he believes that Charlie Hebdo magazine is wrong for showing their scorn to the prophet and the followers of the “Religion of Peace” (which is really a common misnomer, “Islam” means “the religion of submission.”

Need I say more?

You have to admire Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu, whom the French Prime Minister quietly asked not to attend, but he certainly did and showed solidarity with the French Jews, reminding them that “Israel is still their home.”

Two comments from the Muslim world really captured the right kind of response that our President should have considered:

Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah group said, “Islamic extremists have insulted Islam and the Prophet Muhammad more than those who published satirical cartoons mocking the religion.” He added, “The Islamic extremists who behead and slaughter people have done more harm to Islam than anyone else in history.

A second noteworthy response really cut to the heart of the problem: Egypt’s President al-Sisi opened the new year with a dramatic call for a “revolution” in Islam to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of “destruction” and pitted it against the rest of the world.

In his January 1st speech at al-Azhar addressing Muslim clerics — held to mark the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday–al-Sisi called on them to promote a reading of Islamic texts in a “truly enlightened” manner to reconsider concepts “that have been made sacred over hundreds of years.”

By such thinking, the Islamic world is “making enemies of the whole world. So 1.6 billion people (in the Muslim world) will kill the entire world of 7 billion? That’s impossible … We need a religious revolution.”[2]

Affifi, from al-Azhar, told the AP that al-Sisi didn’t mean changing texts – something even al-Sisi quickly made clear in his speech.

“What the president meant is that we need a contemporary reading for religious texts to deal with our contemporary reality,” said Affifi, who is secretary general of the Islamic Research Center…. [3]

In short, it is this writer’s opinion that instead of coddling the forces of Islamic extremism, we need as a community, to start promoting the moderate voices of Islam through the power of our media. Unfortunately, the media is dedicated to maintaining the status quo—and such tacit support can only further embolden the fanaticism of the Jihadists.




Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista.  Your comment may be posted in the box below or sent directly to the author at

Bar Ilan University Review on — Torah from Alexandria: Genesis

Torah from Alexandria, Volume I: Genesis

Kodesh Press 2014

Edited by Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel 

Reviewed by Rabbi Ari D. Kahn, Echoes of Eden on the Pentateuch 

A very new, very old book has been published recently. Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has set out to perform the herculean task of translating Philo of Alexandria’s commentary on the Book of Genesis into smooth, readable English, presented in the order of the verses and chapters of the Torah. This volume is the first in a projected series on all five books of the Pentateuch.

 At the outset, I should make it clear that my limited knowledge of Philo’s philosophical milieu limits my ability to write a comprehensive review of Torah from Alexandria. I leave it to scholars well-versed in the Hellenistic Roman and Egyptian philosophical traditions to examine Rabbi Samuel’s efforts to compare and contrast Philo’s commentary with the philosophical trends of his age. Instead, I approached the material hoping to discover the Torah insights of an ancient Jewish philosopher, and to consider these insights in their historical and masoretic context. 

I was not disappointed. In addition to translating Philo’s writings, Rabbi Samuel explains the texts when necessary, often with the aid of references and notes, thus allowing the modern reader to access and understand Philo’s interpretation of the Torah. Even more importantly, through Torah from Alexandria we are able to reveal the underlying exegetical approach with which Philo explained the Torah to readers of his own generation. The relevance of his approach to our own generation is striking. 

In recent years, students of Tanach, especially among the religious Zionist community in Israel, have been engaged in a debate (some might characterize it as a battle) regarding authentic and legitimate interpretation of the sacred biblical text. The debate centers around two related points: First, to what extent is fidelity to classical rabbinic commentary requisite (or even desirable); and second, to what extent is it legitimate to interpret the text in a manner that implies that the heroes of the biblical narrative were less than perfect? This debate has come to be known as interpretation b’govah ha- einayim – looking biblical heroes in the eye, as opposed to gazing up at them as a mere mortal would view a titan. 

One maverick in the new school of Israeli interpretation, the late Rav Mordechai Breuer, was fond of saying that he reads the text just as the sages of old did — without the commentary of the sages. In other words, Rav Breuer’s insights were based upon an unfettered reading of the text itself, stripped of the layers of traditional rabbinic exegesis. Opponents of this approach decry the deconstruction of our spiritual forebears, denounce the abandonment of our traditional view of the forefathers and our accepted understanding of their behavior. According to the more traditional approach, looking biblical characters in the eye borders on heresy and undermines the very foundations of Jewish spirituality. According to this approach, deconstructing our spiritual heroes diminishes us all, and leaves us empty and bereft of role models. At the same time, discarding traditional rabbinic explanations of the biblical text casts a shadow on our masorah, subtly calling into question the centrality of teachings attributed all the way back to Moses and passed down to the sages of each subsequent generation.


With the help of Rabbi Samuel, we are now able to look back to the exegetical method used by Philo in Alexandria some two thousand years ago, and what we find may have important ramifications for our current debate.  In Torah from Alexandria, we find a biblical commentator whose work is remarkably in sync with rabbinic tradition — which is no small feat given that a good number of the interpretations he offers are found only in much later rabbinic writings. We must therefore assume that Philo, like the authors of those later rabbinic texts, recorded ideas and exegetical traditions that had previously been transmitted orally (or, alternatively, that these rabbinic interpretations originated in Alexandria). The masorah’s centrality and antiquity are clearly reinforced. 

Even more fascinating is the impact Philo’s approach should have on the govah ha’einayim debate. Philo proves to be a staunch supporter of the classical approach to biblical characters, immediately and unequivocally defending them and dispelling any possible negative interpretation of their behavior.  In situations where such “mainstream” commentaries as Nachmanides or Rabbi S.R. Hirsch find fault in the behavior of the matriarchs or patriarchs, Philo is quick to defend; in fact, there are many instances in which he inserts a virtuous spin on seemingly neutral situations .


For example:


  • ·         Abraham could have resolved the problem with Lot by force, but did not wish to humiliate him, and sought a peaceful resolution. (p. 156)
  • ·         When Abraham seems to complain to God that he has no children, Philo reads it as a virtue: “A servant must be direct and honest with his superior.” (p. 164)
  • ·         While Lot’s daughters’ behavior is “unlawful,” their intentions were “not without some merit.” (p. 199)
  • ·         Sarah suggested that Abraham have a child with Hagar; her motivations were “selfless and altruistic.” (p. 171)
  • ·         Sarah’s treatment of Hagar was “disciplinary, and not abusive, in nature.” (p. 174)
  • ·         Philo turns Abraham’s false claim that Sarah is his sister into a virtue, explaining that a person who speaks only the truth in all situations is “unphilosophical as well as an ignoramus.” (p. 154)
  • ·         Sarah’s demand that Hagar and Yishmael be banished was not motivated by spite or jealousy. It was a well-earned response to their having spread malicious rumors that Isaac was illegitimate child. (p. 206)
  • ·         Abraham acquiesces to his wife’s demand; this behavior always has “the best and happiest kind of outcome.” (p. 206)
  • ·         The expulsion of Yishmael is compared to the expulsion of Adam from the Garden of Eden: “Once the mind contracts folly, it becomes almost an incurable disease…their penchant for superficiality and mediocrity.” (p. 207)
  • ·         “The animus against Abraham stems from an envy and hatred of everything that is good.” (p. 209)
  • ·         The sacrifice of Isaac (whose name connotes joy) teaches us that “even joy must be subordinated to God.” (p. 210)
  • ·         Isaac was not misguided or mistaken in his love for Esau. Isaac’s love for Esau was compartmentalized or limited, conditional; he was attracted to Esau’s skill as a hunter, because Isaac himself sought to “hunt down his passions and keep them at bay.” (p. 233)
  • ·         Esau had always been a slave, and was destined to remain enslaved for all time – with or without the blessing Jacob took. By selling the birthright, Esau proved that he was a slave to his “belly’s pleasures.” (p. 233)
  • ·         When Jacob buys the birthright from Esau, it is an act of virtue intended to save his brother from rampant materialism that would bring about Esau’s downfall. (p. 234)
  • ·         Isaac wants to bless Esau because he sees that Esau is limited and lacking, while Jacob is perfect and does not need his blessing. (p. 240)
  • ·         Jacob should be admired for respecting both his parents and carrying out his mother’s instructions to the letter, rather than being vilified for taking Esau’s blessings through subterfuge. (p. 242)
  • ·         “Malicious people never tire of accusing Scripture of excusing Jacob’s deceit and fraud… subterfuge and maneuvering have their place in life…sometimes a general will make a threat of war, while he is actually working in the interest of peace.”  (p. 243) “A good man may do something that appears wrong, but [he] acts with noble intention.” (p. 245; also see p. 248)
  • ·         Simeon and Levy “acted as a vanguard of justice and fought to protect their family’s purity.” (p. 272)
  • ·         Joseph treats the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah as equals, hence drawing the ire of his other brothers. (p. 275)
  • ·         Jacob’s love for Joseph was not arbitrary favoritism. Rather, he loved Joseph because of his skills, his virtue, and his nobility. (p. 275)
  • ·         Regarding Tamar: “Virtue is subtle –sometimes she veils her face like Tamar.” (p. 284)
  • ·         Joseph was physically assaulted by Madame Potiphar, but never succumbed to her advances. (p. 287)
  • ·         Joseph does not seek revenge; he wants to see how the brothers will treat Benjamin, another son of Rachel. (p. 301) Joseph sees the entire episode as divine providence (p. 313).
  • ·         Even in prison, Joseph behaves virtuously toward all the other prisoners. (p. 288)
  • ·         Joseph does not gain personally from any of the wealth accrued in Egypt; rather, he is a dedicated civil servant. (p. 318f)
  • ·         Joseph completely forgave his brothers and never sought vengeance, not only out of respect for their father, but because of his love for his brothers. (p. 326)
  • ·         Jacob enters the palace and all those present are aware of his dignity. (p. 318) 

Philo proves to be a sensitive reader of the text – sensitive to the underlying philosophical issues as well as a staunch defender of Judaism. Perhaps because he lived among non-Jews, within the general society, he intuited that attacks on Abraham and Sarah are tantamount to attacks on the underpinnings of Judaism and, through a subtle process of anti-Semitism, on every Jew. Alternatively, he may simply have seen the patriarchs and matriarchs as spiritual giants – people whose thoughts and actions were far more elevated than those of common men, people who were far above the petty jealousies and foolish mistakes more cynical readers ascribe to them, people who actually were “larger than life.” Philo teaches us that in order to look at them at all, to see and understand them, to learn from them – we must look up.

 Rabbi Leo Samuel has done an outstanding service, both to Philo and to modern readers. In Torah from Alexandria, Philo’s ancient Torah commentary becomes readable and meaningful, exciting and contemporary. I look forward to future volumes.


Torah from Alexandria: Volume 2 on Exodus (brand new for 2015)


The second volume of Torah from Alexandria demonstrates Philo’s full spectrum as a Jewish thinker, where he serves as a story-teller retelling the Exodus, a jurist and counselor in his analysis of the Decalogue and later commandments, and an allegorist in his interpretation of the Tabernacle and its vessels. The unfolding of Jewish tradition is evident in these passages, where sometimes Philo represents the earliest source of a famous rabbinic interpretation, while other times offering insights that remain novel two thousand years after he wrote them. Reclaiming Philo as a Jewish exegete puts him in company with the great luminaries of Jewish history—a position that Philo richly deserves. Philo remains as one of Jewish history’s most articulate spokespersons for ethical monotheism. Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel has meticulously culled from all of Philo’s exegetical comments, and arranged them according to the biblical verses. He provides extensive parallels from rabbinic literature, Greek philosophy, and Christian theology, to present Philo’s writing in the context of his time, while also demonstrating Philo’s unique method of interpretation.

You can purchase it at:

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