While the idea of a divinely matched soul mate may be romantic, it poses significant theological problems—and many rabbinic sources reject it.
Comparing current U.S. negotiations with Iran to American dealings with the Soviet Union from the 1950s through the 1980s, Natan Sharansky notes a key difference: during the cold war, the U.S. was willing to walk away from the table in response to Soviet aggression, demanded substantive concessions from Moscow, and took a stand for the human rights of Soviet citizens. When it comes to Iran, not so:
While negotiating with the Soviet Union, U.S. administrations of all stripes felt certain of the moral superiority of their political system over the Soviet one. They felt they were speaking in the name of their people and the free world as a whole, while the leaders of the Soviet regime could speak for no one but themselves and the declining number of true believers still loyal to their ideology.
But in today’s postmodern world, when asserting the superiority of liberal democracy over other regimes seems like the quaint relic of a colonialist past, even the United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions.
We have yet to see the full consequences of this moral diffidence, but one thing is clear: the loss of America’s self-assured global leadership threatens not only the United States and Israel but also the people of Iran and a growing number of others living under Tehran’s increasingly emboldened rule. Although the hour is growing late, there is still time to change course—before the effects grow more catastrophic still.
Hamas has recently increased its public attacks on Mahmoud Abbas, and is reportedly consulting with other Islamist groups about declaring Gaza an independent state or emirate. Khaled Abu Toameh explains:
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority continue to seek the world’s help and support in establishing an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and eastern Jerusalem. But they are not telling the world how exactly they intend to achieve this goal, at a time when Hamas is consolidating its grip over the Gaza Strip and making plans to turn it into a separate state. . . .
If and when Hamas carries out its plan and establishes its own sovereign state, . . . the international community, primarily the U.S. and EU, will have to come to terms with the fact that the two-state solution has finally been realized; the Palestinians ended up with two states of their own—an Islamist emirate in the Gaza Strip and a PLO-controlled state in the West Bank.
The Americans and Europeans will also have to listen very carefully to what Hamas is saying: namely, that a Palestinian state in the West Bank or Gaza Strip, or any part of the Palestinian territories, would not end its struggle to destroy Israel and replace it with the State of Greater Palestine.
Meyer Levin’s 1956 novel Compulsion, recently reissued, is a fictionalized account of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb’s infamous murder of a fourteen-year-old boy. Although Levin’s perpetrators are named Steiner and Straus, the story sticks closely to the actual facts of the crime, which was committed in 1924. Adam Kirsch examines the case’s grip on the popular imagination, the novel’s understanding of the killers, and Levin’s treatment of the Jewish identity of both criminals and victim:
The killers, both child prodigies who graduated from the University of Chicago while in their teens, had absorbed their moral detachment from famous books: [Dostoevsky’s] Crime and Punishment, where Raskolnikov philosophically justifies his murder of an old woman; Lafcadio’s Adventures, the André Gide novel that introduced the world to the idea of the acte gratuit, the motiveless crime; above all, the works of [Friedrich] Nietzsche, which taught Leopold and Loeb that the superior man, the Übermensch, was not bound by conventional morality. These were the books that created the modern mind, with its constant temptation to nihilism, the belief that everything is permitted because everything is meaningless. . . .
In real life, Leopold said that he tried to destroy [the victim’s] genitals so that the police would not realize he was Jewish, which would help to trace his identity. In Levin’s hands, this practical explanation is also mined for psychological meaning. Judd Steiner’s “conflict over being a Jew” is related to Freud’s theory of Jewish self-hatred: “Every Jew had a wish not to be burdened with the problem of being a Jew. Then came the guilt feeling for harboring such a wish.”
Levin is not as interested in the Jewish psychology of the case as much as he is in its sexual psychology, but he does a good job of capturing the milieu of high-bourgeois Jewish Chicago, with its deep fear of bad publicity. “One thing is lucky in this terrible affair . . .” says [one of the characters]. “It’s lucky it was a Jewish boy they picked.” Indeed, had Leopold and Loeb’s victim been Christian, the murder could have become a different kind of archetype entirely, not a modern thrill-killing but an ancient blood libel. In many ways, Compulsion is a period piece, but its ability to communicate the horror of this famous crime gives it a lasting power.
The Yazidis—practitioners of an obscure monotheistic religion—came to the attention of the world last year when Islamic State (IS) began systematically murdering them. Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein argue that Jews must not be indifferent to the Yazidis’ plight:
[P]art of the memory of our collective experience is standing up for the helpless, rendered voiceless by evil-doers. . . .
At this moment, more than 300,000 Yazidis languish in refugee camps. While Western intervention led last summer to relief from the siege of Mt. Sinjar [in Kurdistan], where Yazidis were dying of hunger and thirst, military intervention disappeared soon after, leaving those still in the historic Yazidi areas exposed and vulnerable. The IS genocidal campaign, according the UN, went from village to village, wiping out the males and carting off the women and girls as wives, concubines, or just playthings for jihadists who treated them as trophies of war according to Sharia, often subjecting them to repeated rape and slavery. . . .
We never met any Yazidis. But isn’t that the point? The Nazis turned a blind eye to the sanctity of every human, reducing people to numbers, then ashes. As our eyes engage the first faint springtime stirrings of the earth to reassert life from nothingness, our moral vision ought to be enhanced. Should we not be able to find and protect the sacredness of humanity, even among those we have never met?
Raki, an anise-flavored liquor (similar to arak or ouzo), was a favorite beverage of Sephardim living in Turkey, Greece, and Bulgaria. Since it is generally made from raisins—i.e., dried grapes—it requires special kosher supervision, so Jews often made their own. Eugene Normand and Albert S. Maimon relate the history of Jewish raki production in the Old World and the New:
One of the keys to the hallowed status of raki over the generations is the fact that it was usually made at home, with a home-made still, by the few men in the community to whom the brewing art was known, having been handed down by brewers of the previous generations. . . . One of the famous raki makers of the 19th century was in fact a rabbi, Meir Jacob Nahmias, who produced fine-quality raki in the city of Salonika on a commercial scale. Apparently his production secrets were passed down to his children. . . .
When the Ottoman Sephardim began immigrating to the United States, those who had the knowledge of how to make the raki set up shop on these shores. We see this very clearly in the experiences of the Turkish Sephardim who settled in Seattle. . . . All of these men, and some of the women too, loved their raki, so in short order those men who knew how to make the raki set up shop in their own homes and began producing because there was a large customer base waiting for the product.