Has American Culture Lost Touch with the Hebraic Political Tradition?

March 20 2017

In the unusual prologue to his film The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille tells the audience directly that the “theme of this picture is whether men ought to be ruled by God’s law or whether they are to be ruled by the whims of a dictator like Rameses. Are men the property of the state, or are they free souls under God?” Meir Soloveichik laments the absence today of similar references to the roots of the American political tradition in the Hebrew Bible:

Sixty years ago, the Hebraic foundation of the American idea was taken for granted by the culture. I live two blocks from a theater where Manhattan’s Orthodox Jews once went to see The Ten Commandments, but there is no picture like this that I can take my children to see in our time. This points to a larger problem facing those dedicated to political conservatism. The conservative movement has spent decades producing extraordinary institutions dedicated to policy and ideas, but it has done little to help produce a culture that reflects conservative ideas, values, and morals. . . .

The Ten Commandments was DeMille’s second bite at the Exodus apple. In 1923, he made a silent version. Among his extras, DeMille hired 250 Orthodox immigrants. These extras did not need to act. As one witness recounted, when filming the Exodus scene, “the Jews streamed out of the great gates with tears running down their cheeks, and then without prompting or rehearsal, they began singing in Hebrew the old chants of their race, which have been sung in synagogues for thousands of years.” . . .

Sixty-one years after The Ten Commandments was released and went on to become the sixth most successful movie ever made, I wonder whether we can ever again experience a culture where the American dream and my own heritage can converge—where the script that was known to Jewish hearts for 3,000 years can be an important part of our culture again. The future of our republic may rest on the answer.

Read more at Commentary

More about: American founding, American Jewry, Arts & Culture, Film, Hebrew Bible

How Israel Should Approach Syria in the Wake of the U.S. Airstrikes

April 27 2017

Nearly three weeks after a U.S. attack on a Syrian airbase, it remains unclear if Washington will start working actively against the Assad regime or simply enforce red lines. Ilan Goldenberg argues that in either case Israel should stick to the strategy it has been pursuing all along—one that will only be helped by greater American involvement:

The good news is that much of the area of southern Syria is now controlled by a group of moderate Sunni forces known as the Southern Front. This group is an alliance of smaller local militias that has been supported by the United States and Jordan with some quiet support from Israel. As a result, southern Syria has become one of the most stable areas in the country, resulting in a default buffer zone that protects both Israel and Jordan. The key for Israel will be to ensure that in any final resolution of the Syrian conflict or change in Trump administration policy, the Southern Front remains in place. . . .

[Another] central objective for Israel will be to prevent the proliferation of chemical weapons in Syria that could get into the hands of extremists who may launch attacks on Israeli civilians. At the start of the Syria conflict this was the foremost Israeli priority. . . . The priority Israel places on this issue also explains why the Israeli minister of defense, Avigdor Liberman, came out so strongly in support of the military strikes against the Assad regime, drawing a sharp rebuke from Vladimir Putin. In most instances, Israel has tried to avoid antagonizing Russia or getting in the middle of U.S-Russian competition, but on this particular matter it is highly invested in the American position.

Finally, Israel . . . has a broader overarching objective of trying to limit Iranian influence in Syria. . . . Iranian-supported militias and operatives of the Qods Force [Iran’s elite expeditionary troops] are deeply enmeshed inside the Syrian regime at this point, and Israel likely recognizes that. Iran will continue to have influence in Syria and be able to use its allies in Damascus to supply and strengthen Hizballah. All Israel can do is push for American policies that limit Tehran’s influence in Syria to the largest extent possible, while recognizing the reality of the situation on the ground.

Read more at Matzav

More about: Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy