How Conservative Judaism Lost Me


“Focusing on egalitarianism was a distraction from the real problem: that Conservative Jews were not committed to halakhah and Jewish learning.”

Read more at Forward

More about: Conservative Judaism, Egalitarianism, Halakhah, Jewish observance


The Iran Deal Is Based on Inspections That Won’t Work


Ephraim Asculai, an expert on atomic energy, details the numerous flaws that render the agreement powerless to prevent the Islamic Republic from continuing work on its nuclear-weapons program (article begins on p. 23):

[According to the terms of the deal], only the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can ask for access [to a suspected nuclear site], and [even then] it must provide reasons for this request. . . . [B]oth conditions pose serious problems. As an example, let us assume that the U.S. intelligence community receives sensitive source-verified information that Iran is setting up an installation at a hitherto unknown site. The U.S. would then need to convince the IAEA, which would in turn need to divulge this information to Iran. The Iranians would then deny the entire claim and refuse entry to IAEA inspectors at the suspect site and the area around it. In addition, one must remember that the IAEA is not above politics, and there have been past occurrences when its director-general did not act according to the evidence and refused to indict Iran for incidents of non-compliance. . . .

[Furthermore], Iran would have 24 days to prepare for the IAEA’s arrival. This would be insufficient time for hiding or removing large-scale facilities such as nuclear reactors and reprocessing plants. . . . . However, smaller-scale prohibited facilities and activities . . . can be removed and/or hidden from sight within this period. These could include small-scale experimental setups, or computers with relevant software, which could be easily removed before an inspection. For the Iranians this would constitute a cat-and-mouse exercise, but for the inspectors this would be a predestined failure. Only inspections based on the “anywhere, anytime” principle would enable IAEA inspectors to perform their duties satisfactorily.

Read more at Tower

More about: Barack Obama, Iran nuclear program, Nuclear proliferation, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy

An Anti-Israel Witch Hunt at Connecticut College


This spring, Andrew Pessin, a professor of philosophy at Connecticut College, was subjected to ferocious criticism and harassment—first by student groups, and then by the college’s faculty and administration—over a Facebook post in which he compared Hamas to “a rabid pit bull.” The episode culminated in Pessin’s taking a leave of absence. Richard Landes explains how an entire college campus surrendered to the mob:

The predictable tragedy of the whole affair was how, in the name of progressive goals, a revolutionary moment empowered some of the most anti-progressive forces on campus. The administration quickly appointed three interim “deans of institutional equity and inclusion” [in response to the uproar over Pessin], . . . who planned a series of events that, at least where Israel was concerned, systematically pumped hate propaganda into the campus community. . . .

One can make a case that the entire incident resembles an unalloyed, albeit small-scale, victory in the cognitive war being waged by Islamists against Western democracy. To most of those prominently involved, especially in postmodern [and] post-colonial guilds like race and gender studies, such a claim seems outlandish, even paranoid: in their minds the Pessin business had nothing to do with jihad or Islamism, but everything to do with human rights, dignity, and democracy. They may genuinely believe as much, however, and still be useful dupes in service to those with different priorities.

Anyone familiar with Islamist [tactics] would see the Pessin affair as a major success across the board. Consider: it served up extensive cooperation between the global jihadist right and the global progressive left, all in the name of a common revolutionary desire to transform the nascent global community and oppose U.S. imperialism. It bonded the [the two groups] over their shared view of Israel as the Antichrist, the apocalyptic enemy in the battle for world salvation. Destroy Israel for World Peace!

Read more at American Interest

More about: Anti-Zionism, Islamism, Israel & Zionism, Israel on campus, University


Lithuania’s Hunt for Jewish “War Criminals” Who Fought the Nazis


In 1998, Lithuania established a commission to investigate local collaboration with the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, who successively occupied the country during World War II. But rather than searching out the numerous Lithuanians who aided the SS in murdering Jews, the commission turned against one of its own participants—the eminent Israeli Holocaust historian Yitzhak Arad, who fought the Germans as part of a pro-Soviet partisan unit. Daniel Brook writes:

On April 22, 2006, Respublika, an openly anti-Semitic newspaper that is one of Lithuania’s highest-circulation dailies, published a story headlined, “The Expert with Blood on His Hands.” The article used passages of Arad’s memoir, The Partisan, published in English in 1979, to smear him. In the Respublika article, what Arad’s memoir terms a 1944 “mopping-up operation” against “armed Lithuanians” after the Nazi withdrawal becomes an “ethnic cleansing of Lithuanians” that was part of a larger “Soviet genocide.” Arad, who was a teenager during the Holocaust, is referred to as an “NKVD storm trooper.”

The anti-Communist convictions that are evident throughout Arad’s book—his recounting of how Stalin crushed the organized Jewish community of Lithuania during the annexation of 1940 [and] his description of his hometown’s market turned scraggly and abandoned in the fallout from disastrous Communist economic policies—go unmentioned. As for the defection of this supposedly rabid Communist from Soviet Lithuania, the article seems genuinely puzzled: “It is not evident why, but right after the war Y. Arad decided to run to the West.”

Read more at Slate

More about: Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Lithuania, Nazis, Resistance, Soviet Union

What’s So Paradoxical about the Return of Religion?


In The Paradox of Liberation, the political philosopher Michael Walzer examines the recent histories of Algeria, India, and Israel: countries liberated from European rule under the aegis of secular socialist movements. For Walzer, the “paradox” is that all three countries experienced a politically potent religious revival, for which he blames the left-wing movements’ desire “to . . . remake fellow citizens in a secular and progressive mold.” Peter Berkowitz writes in his review:

According to Walzer, the principal problem with what he calls “the liberationist project” has been its arrogance and absolutism. The liberators’ laudable purpose was to “improve the everyday lives of the men and women with whom” they shared a heritage. But in seeking “to create new men and women,” secular nationalists failed to appreciate the grip of traditional faith on the people they sought to emancipate. . . .

[Thus, Walzer argues that the] left must undertake a “project of critical engagement” with tradition and faith. Only by recognizing the power that faith exercises in the lives of real people and working within and through it, [he] concludes, will the left advance the cause of emancipation.

Walzer is correct about the need to engage with tradition and faith and to temper leftist arrogance. But he cannot quite escape that arrogance’s powerful gravitational pull. . . . The major characters in the history he recounts are “liberators”—men and women of the left—and “zealots” who are religious and conservative. He leaves little room for opponents of the excesses of the liberationist project who are prudent, honorable, and cogent preservers of tradition. . . .

The flaws in Walzer’s analysis of the liberationist project stem from his inclination to see religious and conservative counter-movements as problems to be solved rather than as expressions of genuine and worthy human aspirations. If he were to heed better his own forceful admonitions about engaged criticism, he would find in traditional resistance to secular liberation reasonable opinions that make a critical contribution to a democracy devoted to protecting individual rights.

Read more at First Things

More about: Algeria, Conservatism, History & Ideas, India, Israel, Religion and politics, Secularism

Abraham Zacuto: The Jewish Astronomer Who Helped Pave the Way for the Age of Exploration


Abraham Zacuto (1452–ca. 1515) was a rabbinic scholar, historian, and astronomer who lived mainly in Spain and Portugal, surviving the expulsions of Jews in both places. His works include a seminal book on Jewish history and an astronomical textbook that was translated from Hebrew into various European languages and used by Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and others. Henry Abramson describes Zacuto’s life. (Video, about four minutes.)

Read more at Torah Musings

More about: History & Ideas, Jewish history, Judaism, Scientific Revolution, Sephardim