For Independence Day 2013


As World War II raged in Europe, the singer Kate Smith resuscitated a discarded 1917 song by Irving Berlin to raise the spirits and stir the patriotism of her fellow citizens, reminding them of their country’s founding creed. (Video)

Read more at Dayton Opera

More about: American Jewish History, American War of Independence, Irving Berlin, July 4, United States, World War II


Israel, Gaza, and Rethinking the Laws of War


Last week, the UN issued a report about Israeli attacks on UN facilities during last summer’s Gaza war. Acknowledging that Hamas used these facilities to store weapons and launch offensives, the authors are hard pressed to find fault with Israeli conduct. However, writes Jonathan Tobin, a larger issue is at stake: current codes of military conduct are inadequate to the situations in which Israel finds itself fighting:

Were the world prepared to let Israel go into Gaza and capture the terrorists and the government in whose name they operate, it might be possible to say that there is no need to think about rules. But we know this isn’t so. The leaders of Gaza were able to sit out the war inside hospitals, secure in the knowledge that the Israelis wouldn’t shoot at their hideouts or attempt to root out this criminal conspiracy. Indeed, the Hamas-run independent (in all but name) Palestinian state knows that it operates with impunity and need never fear that the Israelis will seek to destroy it.

How then is a legitimate democratic government supposed to protect its people? Four-year-old Daniel Tragerman was killed because his family in Nahal Oz near the Gaza border had only a few seconds to seek shelter when a Palestinian shot a mortar shell at them from the safety of a UN building compound. But there is no outcry at the world body to bring to justice his murderer. Nor is there any effort to bring UNRWA—which exists to perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem so as to use [the refugees] as props in the war against Israel—to account for its involvement in the war against the Jews. . . .

So long as both sides aren’t playing by the same rules, no one is safe. Those Palestinians who were made homeless or were wounded and killed because of the war their Islamist overlords launched ought to hold Hamas accountable. But they won’t because Palestinian political culture still treats the war on Zionism as the national priority even if it means sacrificing the lives of their own people.

Read more at Commentary

More about: IDF, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, Protective Edge, United Nations, UNRWA

The Problem That Led to Netanyahu’s Coalition Woes


Avigdor Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party (on most issues, to the right of Likud), has quit the Netanyahu-led coalition government, leaving it with barely enough seats to remain in power. At fault for this sudden instability, argues Haviv Rettig Gur, is not the personality of either Liberman or Netanyahu, but the Israeli political system:

In the end, Netanyahu’s manipulative management style and Liberman’s peculiar brand of political tantrum are both symptoms of a larger malaise: the stark fact that no Israeli politician or party can actually win an Israeli election. Even after doing better at the ballot box than any ruling party in a decade, Netanyahu can still find his coalition brought down to an untenable one-seat majority by the political maneuvers of a single Avigdor Liberman. . . .

A political system cannot be built on the assumption that every one of its actors will always pursue the common good. Liberman’s withdrawal, with all the havoc it is wreaking to the right and to the elected prime minister, is probably the most strategically wise move open to him, given his party’s collapsing electoral standing. While his stated reasons for the move may be questionable, there is nothing immoral in Liberman’s decision to leave.

The real culprit is the architecture of Israel’s politics, which allows a single Liberman or [Jewish Home leader Naftali] Bennett or [Shas leader] Aryeh Deri to topple a prime minister who—by any measure—is the nation’s preferred choice to run the executive branch.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel & Zionism, Israel's Basic Law, Israeli politics

The White House’s Assurances on the Iran Sanctions Are Anything but Reassuring


Last week, Vice President Joseph Biden and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew explained how the Obama administration intends to roll back sanctions against Iran if a nuclear deal is finalized. Although their remarks were meant to assuage critics—Lew confidently claimed that Iran is unlikely to use its new income to fund terror or war—they accomplished the opposite, as Josh Rogin writes:

“It’s true that Iran could try to cheat, whether there’s a deal or not,” [Biden] said. “Now they didn’t cheat under the interim deal—the Joint Plan of Action—as many were certain they would.”

That record of good behavior is debatable. Iran stands accused of violating the interim deal in a number of ways, and also reportedly violated other parts of the existing sanctions regime, including by expanding an illicit nuclear procurement network that operates through two blacklisted firms. . . .

The speeches by Lew and Biden constituted the administration’s most assertive effort to date to detail their thinking about how sanctions will be lifted. The two officials seemed to be eager to get ahead of any and all of the criticisms they are anticipating. But they did not. Unless the nuclear talks shift significantly before the June 30 deadline, the administration will continue to face questions it can’t answer.

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Barack Obama, Iran sanctions, Joseph Biden, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

For Aharon Lichtenstein, Modern Orthodoxy Was Not about Compromise


Aharon Lichtenstein, the famed talmudic scholar and yeshiva head who passed away last week, was the leading proponent of a Modern Orthodoxy that, as Shalom Carmy writes, was not a “tepid compromise” between religious observance and Western culture. Rather, in his life and in his thought Lichtenstein propounded a vision of living Judaism to its fullest:

Rabbi Lichtenstein’s advocacy of liberal-arts study as an ancilla to religious study and devotion should speak to traditional believers whether Jewish or Christian. Though revelation stands at the center and the proper study for the Jew is not simply man, but man confronted by God, we encounter the image of God when we encounter the Arnoldian best that has been thought and said, and we understand ourselves and others better when we confront the voice of the other. To think otherwise is “mere chauvinism.”

He was a Zionist who treated Jewish sovereignty in Israel as a means rather than an end. He adopted Rabbi [Joseph B.] Soloveitchik’s view that territorial compromise, however painful—he compared it to amputating a limb to save a life—is permissible in the land of Israel for the sake of peace. It mattered little to him that this position was anathema to the religious maximalists who often dominated discourse.

Despite an aversion to publicity, Lichtenstein spoke up, when necessary, on urgent public issues. His sense of complexity did not stifle moral clarity. On the contrary, he was impelled to witness to that complexity in the face of one-sided, simplistic positions.

Read more at First Things

More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Matthew Arnold, Modern Orthodoxy, Religion & Holidays, Religious Zionism

From Soviet Jew to Academic Bible Scholar


Born, raised, and educated in the Soviet Union, Serge Frolov left Russia for Israel in the 1990s. Now he teaches Bible and Jewish studies at Southern Methodist University. In an interview with David Steinberg, he speaks about his Jewish identity, his education, and his scholarship:

My parents were brought up in the Soviet Union, and my family was not at all religious. Nevertheless, we were conscious of our Jewish identity and read Sholem Aleichem. I received my first Bible at the age of fifteen. Even getting a Bible was complicated. In Russia at the time, you couldn’t just buy a Bible in a bookstore, but the Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to sell them.

The Bible they sold was the authorized translation into Russian from the mid-19th century; interestingly, the main translator was a converted Jew. Of course, this Bible included both Old and New Testaments. Intellectually, I knew that the New Testament was something else, and represented another religion, but I didn’t really feel or understand the difference. Moreover, I didn’t really relate to the Bible—even the Old Testament—as “our heritage” but as a “global heritage.” . . .

Reading the Bible was a kind of escape from Russia, a window into a world that was completely different from my experience in every way. The ideas it expressed about the human condition and about God were never taught anywhere in Russia. It was exotic. I didn’t know anybody else reading the Bible, so my doing so was a strictly personal indulgence.


More about: Bible, Biblical criticism, Biblical scholarship, History & Ideas, Soviet Jewry