Holiness without Asceticism


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.

Read more at Talmud Blog

More about: Asceticism, Essenes, Holiness, Pharisees, Rabbis, Spirituality, Talmud


Arab States Have Changed Their Tune on Israel; Why Hasn’t the U.S. Caught Up?

October 31

Last week, a major two-day conference took place in Abu Dhabi, where participants from around the world gathered to discuss issues concerning the Middle East. Surprisingly, Israel was mentioned only once—when an American diplomat criticized its policies. This, writes Evelyn Gordon, is typical of a new attitude in the Arab world: despite continuing hostility toward Israel, there is also a recognition that there are much bigger problems than the Jewish state. Many Arab statesmen are in fact concerned that the U.S. is not supporting Israel enough:

[I]n this new Middle East, a U.S.-Israel spat probably generates more worry than glee in Arab capitals. Once, it was an Arab article of faith that America cared little about Arabs but greatly about Israel. Thus, to the degree that Arab and Israeli concerns overlapped, as they do now on issues ranging from Iran to IS, America could be trusted to deal with the threat. Now, the Obama administration still appears to care little for Arab concerns; it seems hell-bent on striking a grand bargain with Iran and withdrawing from the Mideast. But the Arab world’s former ace in the hole to prevent such developments–Israel’s influence in Washington—suddenly looks more like deuce.

Read more at Evelyn Gordon

More about: American-Israeli Affairs, Barack Obama, Israel-Arab relations, State Department


Normal Diplomatic Relations between Turkey and Israel Have Become Impossible

October 31

Since 2010, Israel has made repeated attempts to patch up its alliance with Turkey. Benjamin Netanyahu even telephoned his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to apologize for the Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla intended to break the blockade on Gaza. Not only did Erdogan decline to reciprocate, but, now as Turkey’s president, he seems bent on making things worse. Burak Bekdil writes:

Since Netanyahu’s apology, Turkey, both governmentally and publicly, has reached peak after peak in exhibiting anti-Semitism unseen before. . . . During Operation Protective Edge in July 2014, Erdogan commented that “Israel had surpassed Hitler in barbarism.” Erdogan . . . has both pragmatic and emotional reasons to challenge Israel publicly, and to maintain Turkey’s “cold war” with Israel. Emotional, because a holy struggle against Israel is a prerequisite for his pro-Hamas Islamism. And pragmatic, because the cold war and his explosive rhetoric around it have yielded a treasure-trove of votes in a country that champions anti-Semitism. The critical parliamentary elections scheduled for June 2015 will most likely be another setting for his new verbal assaults on Israel.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Israel diplomacy, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey


Is a New Civil War about to Start in Lebanon?

October 31

The Syrian civil war has already spilled over into Lebanon, where it has mainly been confined to the northern part of the country. There, over the past few months, the al-Nusra Front—a local al-Qaeda affiliate—has made multiple attempts, supported by Lebanese Sunnis, to capture the crucial port city of Tripoli. Although the attacks have been repulsed thus far, Lebanon’s government is deadlocked and its military could easily fracture along sectarian lines. Jacques Neriah writes:

[O]ne cannot overestimate the importance of the fate of Tripoli to the Sunni jihadis. Its fall would mark the beginning of the disintegration of the Lebanese state as a nation-state and the awakening of the old sectarian fears that could provoke its implosion and partition into Christian-Maronite, Shiite, and Druze enclaves facing a Sunni entity related either to al-Qaeda (if conquered by al-Nusra) or to Islamic State. Such a situation would undoubtedly represent the beginning of a new civil war that could end with . . . a redrawing of the regional map already heavily transformed since August 2014 by the establishment of the Islamic State (IS) caliphate. The possible fall of . . . Kobani . . . in Syria would definitely fit the current scenario of establishing an IS nucleus from the Mediterranean to the very doors of Baghdad.

Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Al Qaeda, ISIS, Lebanon, Nusra Front, Syrian civil war

The Changing Face of the IDF

October 31

For most of Israel’s history, religious soldiers were a minority in the IDF. Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) did not serve at all, a large number of religious Zionists served for less than the standard three-year tour of duty, and religious Jews were underrepresented in the officer corps. All of this has changed over the last years, with the proportion of religious Jews among both soldiers and officers rising dramatically. Skeptics have warned that the shift could lead to problems, but so far such that has not been the case:

There has always been a fear in the army of religious soldiers because religion provides them with another source of authority—to whom would they listen in a clash between their religion and an army command? The major flashpoint for this was the removal of settlements in Gaza in 2005. Would rabbis tell their students to refuse orders to remove residents from Gaza? Would they listen? In 2005 there was a huge discussion about this, but in the end, there were relatively few refusals to serve, mainly at junior levels of the army.

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: IDF, Religious Zionism, Ultra-Orthodox

The Man Who Shot Rudolf Kastner

October 31

In 1944, Rudolf Kastner, a prominent Hungarian Zionist, bribed the Nazis into allowing 1,686 Jews safe passage to Switzerland. After the war, he came under fierce criticism from survivors for cooperating with the Nazis and failing to warn the rest of Hungarian Jewry of the fate that awaited them at Auschwitz. A libel suit launched against one of his detractors led to one of the first major discussions of the Holocaust in Israel’s public sphere. In 1957, Kastner was assassinated. Recalling his motivations at the time, his now-elderly assailant expresses regret for what he did:

Today, at eighty-one, and with the publication of his book, Quilt Blanket, Ze’ev Eckstein takes stock of his life for the last time and says: “I wouldn’t do it today. I wouldn’t shoot. There’s no doubt about it. . . . In what way did I pay a price? I murdered someone. I did something that takes me back to the entire Bible, back to Cain and Abel.”

Read more at Ynet

More about: Holocaust, Hungarian Jewry, Rudolf Kastner