Can Liberal Judaism Survive?

 

If the decline of non-Orthodox Judaism is to be reversed, knowledge, ritual, and observance must become as central as social justice to Conservative and Reform Jews.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Conservative Judaism, Jewish ritual, Reform Judaism, Tikkun Olam

 

Islamic State Poses a Threat to Jordan, Israel, and the Palestinians

 

Jordan, writes the Palestinian scholar Bassam Tawil, seems to be experiencing a rare degree of national unity in supporting the fight against Islamic State (IS), a struggle taken up in full force following the immolation of a Jordanian pilot. The threat posed by IS extends to the West Bank and the rest of Israel as well, Tawil writes:

[Most likely,] if Israeli security forces were to withdraw from [the West Bank] as a result of Palestinian elections or an arrangement with Israel, Hamas would immediately take over the West Bank the way it took over the Gaza Strip.

Within a short time, rockets and mortar shells would be launched into Israel, and then IS-supported terrorist operatives would swarm into the Palestinian Authority through Jordan, and from there work to subvert Jordan as well as Israel. They would do exactly what Hamas and the other Islamist organizations are currently doing in the Sinai peninsula against Egypt.

If a wave of mujahideen engulfed the West Bank on the pretext that they were implementing the so-called “right of return” and started killing [moderate Muslims] as takfirs [heretics], because we do not subscribe to their version of Islam, the result would be rockets and mortar shells, and moderate Palestinians would be captured, burned alive, or have their throats slit.

It is also terrifying to think about what would happen if the Israelis withdrew from the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement with Syria. It would be seen as an invitation to come in for either IS or Iranian forces, which are already stationed on Israel’s border in southern Syria.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: ISIS, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Jordan, West Bank

 

Another Bad Deal: The U.S. Abandons Its Human-Rights Policy toward Bahrain

 

In 2011, as the Arab Spring came to Bahrain and protestors filled the streets, President Obama spoke out in favor of democratic reforms in the small island country, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. When Bahrain’s royal family responded with repressive measures, the U.S. protested publicly on several occasions. About a year later, however, Washington abruptly ceased its pressure—unwisely, as Elliott Abrams explains:

The United States maintains considerable leverage in [Bahrain’s capital] Manama. Even a small drawdown of U.S. military personnel would reverberate loudly there, as would moving—or even announcing a study of moving—any piece of the U.S. military presence out of Bahrain. . . . More public pressure might well force the royals to think harder about compromises, and strengthen the hand of those who are privately arguing for reform. . . .

[Now Bahrain] is on a path toward increasing instability, featuring growing Sunni extremism, growing Shiite outrage, and ever-widening sectarian divisions. The Fifth Fleet is a hostage, and the Obama administration is spending hundreds of millions of dollars there as if America’s welcome will be permanent. That’s a suspect assumption: as the majority of Bahrainis conclude that the United States is indifferent to the crackdown and siding with the most regressive elements of the royal family, support for the Fifth Fleet’s presence will start to disappear. As will Bahrain’s very sovereignty, as it is caught up in the regional rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Once upon a time, Bahrain was an outpost of civility and moderation in the Middle East. Now, it is coming to share the pathologies of its neighbors. That’s tragic, and it is in part the result of weak American policy. By placing security matters—Bahrain’s minuscule participation in the anti-Islamic State coalition and its hosting of the Fifth Fleet—above all other considerations, the Obama administration is putting that very security relationship at risk.

Once upon a time, Bahrain was also an example of a sensible Obama human-rights policy. Today, one can sadly say that it’s a good example of how that human-rights policy has vanished into thin air.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Bahrain, Human Rights, Iran, Persian Gulf, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

American Socialism, the Jews, and Israel

 

Even before the creation of Israel, significant elements of the international left opposed Zionism, embraced anti-Semitism, and defended the murder of Jews. A new book, Anti-Semitism and the Far Left, chronicles this history from the 1920s to the present. As Tony Michels writes in his review, Israel’s victory in the June 1967 war inaugurated an era of especially virulent rhetoric:

In the summer of 1967, American leftists began speaking about Israel in new, jarring ways. The Jewish state had just won a quick but transformative war with Egypt, Jordan, and Syria, resulting in the capture of the Sinai Peninsula, Gaza Strip, Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, and the West Bank. A good many leftists sided with Israel, but a growing number reacted against it with levels of vituperation more characteristic of the ultra-right than the traditional socialist left. From 1967 forward, one could hear angry, often outlandish, public pronouncements with growing frequency.

An article in the Students for a Democratic Society’s newsletter counseled Holocaust survivors and their children to leave Israel for “historically more appropriate place[s]” such as “the vicinities of Stuttgart, Liverpool, and Kiev.” The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee’s newsletter accused Israel of indiscriminately slaughtering Arabs and connected this to a long history of Jewish rapaciousness. “[F]amous European Jews,” the newsletter stated, had “long controlled the wealth of many European nations.” The Socialist Workers party dismissed objections to this calumny as “chauvinist hysteria.” The Maoist Progressive Labor party labeled Israel a “Nazi state” while the Weather Underground claimed Nazi propaganda owed a debt to “Zionist writings.”

Read more at Marginalia

More about: American Jewish History, Anti-Semitism, Communism, Israel & Zionism, New Left, Socialism

The Forgotten “Religious” Version of the Book of Esther

 

Any Catholic edition of the Bible contains a text known as “Additions to Esther.” Based on an ancient version of the Book of Esther, and originally written in Greek, these “additions” differ strikingly from the Hebrew text in more than one way. Aaron Koller writes:

One of the most famous—and significant—features of the Hebrew Book of Esther is the absence of any mention of God. Some of the book’s earliest readers were disturbed enough by that fact that they actually changed it. They changed a lot of other details, as well. . . .

These are six blocks of text, conventionally labeled A through F, found in all known Greek versions of Esther and without any parallel in the Hebrew text. . . . Additions A and F, found at the very beginning and very end of the book, are a dream of Mordecai’s and its interpretation. In his dream, Mordecai sees two dragons fighting, threatening to destroy the world; peace is effected by a spring that bursts forth. At the end of the book, he realizes that the two dragons represented himself and Haman, and that their conflict would have wreaked havoc had it not been for Esther. . . . Addition C contains prayers uttered by Mordecai and Esther for the salvation of the Jews. . . .

Who were the “earliest readers” responsible for this revised and expanded version? Evidence suggests they were Jews living in the land of Israel in the first century BCE, and that they had a clear theological agenda:

[T]heir new and improved version of Esther brought the book and its associated festival back in line with what was, to their minds, normative Jewish ideology and practice: devotion to God, prayer, an abhorrence of intermarriage, . . . and a fealty to Jewish law and practice.

Read more at TheTorah.com

More about: Apocrypha, Bible, Esther, Purim, Religion & Holidays

Can God Deceive?

 

Although the prophet Samuel declares that “the Glory of Israel does not lie,” most medieval Christian theologians, going back to Augustine, believed that although God would not (or could not) tell outright lies, He did deceive—for instance, in telling Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac. Only with the Scientific Revolution, argues Dallas G. Denery II, did philosophers begin to argue otherwise, and they did so in order to bolster not their religious beliefs but their rationalist ones:

[T]he commitment of the Scientific Revolution to rational causes for all events, even exceptional or seemingly anomalous ones, robbed God of the power to deceive. Losing the power to deceive, God lost the power to speak, to interfere and interact with the world. From the perspective of scientists this was almost necessary, interested as they were in a stable and constant world reducible to mathematical equations and inviolable principles. God became the source of universal order at the cost of no longer having anything much to do with the universe.

This change brought real consequences. More and more, scientists came to imagine the entire universe as a vast machine, a complex mechanism akin to a clock. God, having designed and created it, wound it up, then stepped back and let it run its course.

Read more at Aeon

More about: Augustine of Hippo, Binding of Isaac, History & Ideas, Rationalism, Scientific Revolution, Theology