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A Novice’s Reflections on the Talmud, Five Years On

Aug. 24 2017

Five years ago, following the seven-year cycle known as Daf Yomi, the literary critic Adam Kirsch began reading one folio page of Talmud every day, in his case in English translation. He notes what he, as an “unobservant” Jew without prior talmudic education, has discovered:

Because Jewish law is so encompassing, covering every area of human life, the Talmud deals with everything under the sun. Medicine and astronomy, architecture and geometry, cuisine and cosmetics—these facets of ancient life are captured in the Talmud in all their living reality. Then there are the major subjects of the various tractates: the prayer service; the organization and operation of the Temple; the holidays and their rituals; Shabbat and its many restrictions; marriage and divorce; real estate and commerce; contracts and court procedure. For the rabbis, all of these elements went to make up what they knew as Judaism. The Judaism most of us know in the 21st century is a very different thing; under the pressures of modernity, science, and assimilation, we have lost touch with that ancient heritage.

This is not simply to be regretted—we have gained as well as lost, and alienation from the past is not only a Jewish experience. But I think that many modern Jews feel a longing to give their Jewishness a deeper meaning, a spiritual and intellectual content. We know we are Jews—the world wouldn’t let us forget it even if we wanted to—but what does being Jewish mean? That is the great modern Jewish question, and much of our thought and literature is devoted to answering it. But there is no real way of understanding what Jewishness means unless we understand what it meant; and for that, the Talmud, the text that stood at the center of Jewish life for more than a thousand years, is essential. Without it, we can hardly expect to know what our ancestors thought, or even more importantly, how they thought.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Talmud

Hamas’s Dangerous Escalation in Gaza

June 22 2018

As Hamas has stepped up its attacks on communities near the Gaza Strip—using incendiary devices attached to kites and balloons—Israel has begun to retaliate more forcefully. In response, the terrorist group has begun firing rockets and mortars into Israel. Yoav Limor comments:

What made Wednesday’s rocket salvo different is that ‎unlike previous flare-ups on the border [since 2014], this time it ‎was Hamas operatives who fired at Israel, as opposed ‎to Islamic Jihad or the ‎rogue terrorist group in the coastal enclave. ‎Still, Hamas made sure the attack followed most of ‎the familiar “rules”—only [firing] at night and only at the ‎ communities in the vicinity of Gaza, and apparently while also ‎trying to minimize any casualties, to avoid further ‎escalation. ‎. . .

The first reason [for the shift in tactics] is Israel’s own change of policy ‎with regard to kite terrorism. It took Israel far ‎too long to define the incessant waves of incendiary ‎kites sent over the border as actionable acts of ‎terror, but once it did, the IDF began ‎systematically countering them, including firing ‎warning shots at terrorist kite cells and targeting ‎Hamas assets in Gaza in retaliation.‎

The second reason is Hamas’s own frustration and ‎distress in Gaza. Since the border-riot campaign was ‎launched on March 30, some 150 of its operatives ‎have been killed and the Israeli military has ‎carried out over 100 strikes on Hamas positions in ‎the coastal enclave, all while Hamas has nothing to ‎show for it. ‎In this situation, Hamas is searching for [some sort of victory] by declaring that “bombings will be ‎met with bombings,” as Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum ‎said Wednesday, in order to portray itself as defending Gaza from ‎Israel.‎ . . .

Hamas is banking on Israel opting against a military ‎campaign in Gaza at this time so as not to split its ‎focus from the [developments in Syria], but it is sorely ‎mistaken if it thinks Israel will simply contain ‎kite terrorism or shy away from action given the new ‎equation it has presented. ‎At some point, Israel’s patience will expire.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security