A new collection of essays argues that the early rabbis succeeded by offering ordinary Jews the opportunity to be spiritual without renouncing a worldly way of life.
In exchange for the release of Alan Gross, the U.S. agreed to normalize relations with Havana without making any demands or obtaining any concessions in return. This move, writes Elliott Abrams, sends an unmistakable message both to our allies and to our enemies:
Imagine for a moment that you are a Saudi, Emirati, Jordanian, or Israeli. Your main national-security worry these days is Iran—Iran’s rise, its nuclear program, its troops fighting in Iraq and Syria, its growing influence from Yemen through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. Your main ally against Iran for the past decades has been the United States. Naturally you worry about American policy. . . . You wonder if the United States can be relied on, or will one day announce a major policy shift. . . .
And now, you turn on the TV and see the announcement about the change in American policy in Cuba. . . . Your conclusion about Iran is inevitable: that the Obama administration cannot be relied upon and is quite likely to abandon America’s Iran policy as well.
Signatories of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which concerns the protection of civilians in a war zone, have gathered ostensibly to discuss and clarify some of its finer legal points. This will be the third such meeting since the Convention was adopted in 1949 and, like the others, its real purpose is to condemn Israel. Eugene Kontorovich, an expert on international law, has a few questions of his own:
Article 49(6)’s prohibition of “deportation and transfer” into occupied territory could certainly do with elucidation. (The “deport or transfer” ban is commonly referred to as “settlement building.”) Indeed, an examination of movement into occupied territory in Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Western Sahara, and Cyprus would be both timely and instructive. Needless to say, this is not what the state parties will be discussing. They are, sadly, not interested in the Geneva Conventions, but only their possible use against Israel. But if the state parties were to want an interesting agenda, here are some questions they might ask.
The first relates to the [International Committee of the Red Cross’s] own definition of occupation . . . The state parties apparently regard Israel as occupying Gaza, to say nothing of all of the West Bank, despite the removal of Israeli troops from those areas and the existence of an independent Palestinian administration there. However, occupation in all other contexts requires the occupying power to displace and actually function as the governing authority, conditions that do not apply in Gaza and large parts of the West Bank.
The Bene Israel have lived in western India for over 900 years. The film Next Year in Bombay, written and produced by Jonas Parienté and Mathias Mangin, depicts the life of the Jews there today, focusing on one family and its efforts to provide Jewish education to the rest of the community. The film also shows the Bene Ephraim, who live in remote villages of southern India. Many Indian Jews have emigrated to Israel since 1948, and many of those who remain struggle with the decision of whether to join them. The film is available for free viewing during Hanukkah. (Video, 55 minutes).
For most people, “Jewish music” implies klezmer, East European folk tunes, or liturgical compositions. But for over a century, Jewish composers have created art music based on a variety of Jewish themes. At a recent concert, reviewed by Barrymore Laurence Scherer, the Ariel Quartet performed some of the best examples from Israel in particular:
The program showcased three generations of Israeli composers, and featured works by Paul Ben-Haim (1897-1984), Mark Kopytman (1929-2011), and Menachem Wiesenberg (b. 1950). Ben-Haim immigrated to Israel from Germany; Kopytman, from Soviet Ukraine. Mr. Wiesenberg is a sabra (an Israeli native). None of their rigorously modernist music displays the overt Yiddish sound of, say, the klezmer tune that enlivens the third movement of Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 1, or even the deliberate Hebraic flavor of Bloch’s tone poem for cello and orchestra, Schelomo. But when you listen carefully, the music’s roots make themselves apparent.
One of the most important recent changes in American Jewish life has been the gradual mainstreaming of Chabad Hasidim. After years of reaching a constituency consisting mainly of college students, Israelis, those on the fringes of Jewish communal life, and Orthodox Jews living in remote places, Chabad is increasingly playing an important role in the lives of affiliated Jews other than the Orthodox. Shmuel Rosner writes:
[The majority of] Chabad participants in Miami are not “Israeli” or “Orthodox.” In other words: do not fall for the common prejudice about Chabad’s constituency. According to [a recent Miami survey], 25 percent of them are indeed Orthodox, but 32 percent are Conservative, and 19 percent are Reform (23 percent are “just Jewish”—more in line with common thinking). This means that more than half of the participants in Chabad activities come from a progressive Jewish background (you can add to that the 1-percent Reconstructionist). Think about it this way: a movement that is in many ways a part of the ultra-Orthodox world is able to attract Jews that are supposedly the archrivals of ultra-Orthodoxy. Of course, that is the genius of Chabad—without giving up on being ultra-Orthodox, it is able to convince other Jews that it is not really ultra-Orthodox.