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

 

Is Barack Obama Nostalgic for a “White” Israel?

 

In a recent interview, the president discussed his nostalgia for the Israel of “kibbutzim, and Moshe Dayan, and Golda Meir,” an Israel which, he claimed, saw Zionism as a project of “remaking the world.” He would make similar remarks in his address to the Adas Israel synagogue in Washington. David Bernstein notes that this translates to nostalgia for a less diverse Israel:

The Israel of kibbutzim, Dayan, and Meir was perhaps a more idealistic, and certainly a more socialist, Israel. But it was also an Israel dominated by a secularized, Ashkenazi elite.

Mizraḥim (Jews from Arab countries), though more than half the population, were marginalized at every level of society. Discrimination was to a large extent institutionalized; the governing Labor party was run by socialist Ashkenazim, and given that state capitalism dominated the Israeli economy, one’s political and social connections went a long way toward determining one’s economic prospects. The kibbutzim in particular were a font of anti-Mizraḥi chauvinism.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Barack Obama, Golda Meir, Israel & Zionism, Kibbutz movement, Mizrahi Jewry, Moshe Dayan

 

Institutions, Not Declarations, Can Better the Lot of Palestinians

 

A report on the Palestinian economy by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) notes that the reconstruction of Gaza is progressing slowly because certain donors—read: Arab states—have failed to deliver on their pledges of aid. Whether or not that is the real cause, Elliott Abrams welcomes the report’s practical suggestions for improving the situation:

During the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations the United States has sought a comprehensive peace agreement between Israel and the PLO, and failed to achieve this time after time. There has been a real opportunity cost from this search for a final-status agreement complete with handshakes on the White House lawn and Nobel prizes. The cost has been that [the U.S.] focused solely on the diplomatic process and largely ignored real life as it is lived by Palestinians, and [how it] might be improved.

The IMF report shows that much could be done, even within current constraints, to improve the Palestinian economy. It’s undramatic, the details are boring, and some of the analyses are technical. No prizes, no time on the evening news. But that is how Palestinian institutions will be built, and how the institutions of a state must come into existence—not at the State Department and not at the United Nations.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: IMF, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian economy, Palestinians, Peace Process

Are Revelation and Reason Co-extensive?

 

Since the Middle Ages, Jewish and Christian theologians have tended to see reason and revelation as opposites in need of reconciliation. Yoram Hazony argues that this view creates a false dichotomy and, moreover, distorts the biblical understanding of revelation:

We are all familiar with the invocation of the Muse, or another god, by Homer and Socrates, Parmenides and Empedocles, as they set out to engage in poetry or philosophy. . . . The reason for this request for assistance appears to be that these individuals and the cultures from which they sprang were keenly aware of the lack of control that individuals ultimately exercise over difficult creative endeavors. We should be able to appreciate their sensibilities on this point: we all feel that the movements of our limbs are under our own control, as is the manner in which we perform routine mental operations such as solving simple problems in arithmetic. And we also know that our control over the creation of a new book or song or institution is nothing like our control over carrying out multiplication problems or driving to work in the morning. . . .

The Greeks appealed to their gods because they felt that if they were to achieve [great] things, it would be thanks to assistance external to their own minds. The same is true in Hebrew Scripture, where the accomplishment of great things in terms of wisdom, politics, and art is portrayed as the result of “a wind from God” that guides the work to its extraordinary and successful conclusion. . . .

This does not mean that every genuine experience of human insight must be considered the revelation of God’s word. On the contrary, it is possible for the experience of revelation to be perfectly genuine, and yet for the contents of this revelation to be mistaken.

Read more at Jerusalem Letters

More about: Ancient Greece, Bible, Prophecy, Reason, Revelation, Theology

Relics of Ancient Jewish Life in Palmyra, Now in the Hands of Islamic State

 

According to the 1st-century Jewish historian Josephus, the city of Palmyra, which last week fell to Islamic State, was built by King Solomon. It also had a sizable Jewish population well into the Middle Ages. Ilan Ben Zion takes note of some of the archaeological evidence of ancient Jewish life there:

Among the archaeological gems from Palmyra, the pearl of Syria’s desert, at risk after Islamic State’s takeover last week are vestiges of its Jewish past, including the longest biblical Hebrew inscription from antiquity: the opening verses of the Shema carved into a stone doorway. Western archaeologists who visited the site in the 19th and 20th centuries discovered Hebrew verses etched into the doorframe of a house in the ancient city. But whether that inscription is still at the site is unclear. The last time a European scholar documented it in situ was 1933, when Israeli archaeologist Eleazar Sukenik of Hebrew University photographed it.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Archaeology, History & Ideas, ISIS, Josephus, King Solomon, Syrian civil war, Syrian Jewry

Anti-Israel Incitement Backfires at the Temple Mount

 

For the past several months, both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Jordan have been issuing regular condemnations of visits by Jews to the Temple Mount and spreading spurious reports of Israeli preparations to “storm” the Muslim holy sites or otherwise damage them. Some Palestinian groups have been paying women to harass Jewish visitors and police officers. This incitement, writes Khaled Abu Toameh, has led to some unintended consequences:

Palestinian and Jordanian officials who recently visited the Temple Mount received a firsthand lesson in what incitement can lead to. The officials themselves have fallen victim to hecklers who shouted profanities at them and forced them to flee the holy site. The latest victim was Sheikh Ahmed Helayel, the chief Islamic judge of Jordan, who arrived at al-Aqsa Mosque last Friday at the head of a leading Jordanian government delegation. . . . Sheikh Helayel was supposed to deliver the Friday sermon, but was forced to abandon the podium after scores of worshippers protested his presence and began hurling abuse at Jordan and him. . . .

The incident has deeply embarrassed the Palestinian Authority leadership, whose representatives were quick to condemn the assault on the Jordanian officials. . . . It is worth noting that PA officials regularly encourage Muslim worshippers to intercept Jewish visitors to the holy site. But last year, Mahmoud Habbash, who . . . serves as religious-affairs adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, was forced to flee the Temple Mount after angry Palestinians attacked him with shoes, stones, and eggs. . . .

Still, officials from the PA and Jordan do not seem to have learned the lesson—that their incitement against visits by Jews will ignite a fire that will also consume them.

Read more at Gatestone

More about: Al-Aqsa Mosque, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Palestinian Authority, Temple Mount