Israeli intellectual Moshe Halbertal delivers annual Crown lecture

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Israeli intellectual Moshe Halbertal delivers annual Crown lecture

Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal speaks to students Wednesday night in Harris Hall. Halbertal is a professor at New York University and Hebrew University.

Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal speaks to students Wednesday night in Harris Hall. Halbertal is a professor at New York University and Hebrew University.

Chelsea Sherlock/Daily Senior Staffer

Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal speaks to students Wednesday night in Harris Hall. Halbertal is a professor at New York University and Hebrew University.

Chelsea Sherlock/Daily Senior Staffer

Chelsea Sherlock/Daily Senior Staffer

Israeli philosopher Moshe Halbertal speaks to students Wednesday night in Harris Hall. Halbertal is a professor at New York University and Hebrew University.

Olivia Exstrum, Reporter

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Noted Israeli professor, philosopher and intellectual Moshe Halbertal spoke to a packed house of Northwestern students and faculty and Evanston residents Wednesday night as part of the Renee and Lester Crown Speaker Series.

Sponsored by the Crown Family Center for Jewish and Israel Studies, the series kicked off last year with a talk from author Nathan Englander. Halbertal is a professor at the New York University School of Law and a professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the author of seven books, as well as the co-author of another, and spoke Wednesday on the identity of Israel as a Jewish democratic state.

(Crown Speaker Series brings award-winning author to campus)

“Being a scholar, being a philosopher in Israel is an opportunity to reflect on our most important questions facing Israel as a country, as a state,” Halbertal said. “I think still the main question that we face is our identity as a Jewish democratic state. What does it mean?”

Halbertal began his lecture by stating that there are two definitions of the Jewish democratic state: a definition of religion and a definition of nationality. There are five main factors that contribute to the future of a Jewish democratic state, he said: first, the position of the Orthodox community in Israel; second, the growth of a vibrant secular community; third, the immigration from the Soviet Union; fourth, the place of the Arab minority in Israel; and fifth, the place of Israeli issues today. Halbertal then moved on to the issue of neutrality, which he said is “not the condition of democracy”.

“States cannot be neutral even if they want to,” he said. “Neutrality cannot be a condition of democracy or liberalism of any state because states, in essence, are not neutral.”

Halbertal pointed to two conditions for genuine democracy and liberalism: a state must respect and give equal rights to its minorities and it must recognize these rights the minority groups deserve.

“I am saying this for the sake of Judaism, not just the sake of democracy,” he said.

In the list-centric style that he employed throughout the lecture, Halbertal concluded by explaining the four principles of Israel he believes were essential to it being a Jewish state. The speech was followed by a question-and-answer session with the audience and a dessert reception.

Law and religious studies Prof. Barry Wimpfheimer, director of the Crown Center, was responsible for selecting Halbertal as one of this year’s speakers.

“He is an extremely well-known intellectual in the Jewish studies world,” Wimpfheimer said. He added that Halbertal’s unique approach to academic inquiry was a factor in his selection.

“This is the type of person you want to bring in,” said Wimpfheimer.

Halbertal was well received by his audience. Penny Fields, of Rogers Park, said reading about Halbertal convinced her to attend the event. Fields asked a question concerning education in Israel during the Q-and-A following the event.

On the state of issues surrounding Israel’s government and education policies, Fields emphasized the importance of a younger Israeli voice.

“I really believe that if you don’t get to youth, you don’t get anything,” she said.

The Crown Family Center will host its next event, a film showing of “The Last Flight of Petr Ginz” at 7 p.m., Nov. 12 at Norris University Center.

Email: oliviaexstrum2017@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @olivesocean

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