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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

 

In Pursuing Peace with Saudi Arabia, Israel Must Demand Reciprocity and Keep the Palestinian Question off the Table

Nov. 22 2017

The recent, unprecedented interview given by the IDF chief of staff to a major Arabic news outlet has fed the growing enthusiasm in Israel about the prospects of a peace treaty and mutual recognition between Jerusalem and Riyadh. Mordechai Kedar urges level heads and caution, and puts forward ten principles that should guide any negotiations. Most importantly, he argues that the two countries normalize relations before coming to any agreements about the Palestinians. To this he adds:

The most basic rule in dealing with the Saudis and their friends is that Israel must not feel that it has to pay anything for peace. . . . If the Saudis want to live in peace with us, we will stretch out our hands to offer them peace in return. But that is all they will get. Israel [has] been a state for 70 years without peace with Saudi Arabia and can continue being a state for another 7,000 years without it. Any desire for a quick peace (as expressed in the disastrous slogan “Peace Now”) will raise the price of that peace. . . .

[As part of any agreement], Israel will recognize the House of Saud’s rule in Mecca and Medina—even though the family does not originate from the Hejaz [where the holy cities are located] but from the Najd highland—in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel’s right to Jerusalem as its historic and eternal capital city. Israel will recognize Saudi Arabia as an Islamic state in exchange for Saudi recognition of Israel as the Jewish state or a state belonging to the Jewish people. . . .

Israel will not allow incitement against Saudi Arabia in its media. In return, the Saudis will not allow anti-Israel incitement in Saudi media. . . .

It is important to keep the Americans and Europeans away from the negotiating table, since they will not be party to the agreement and will not have to suffer the results of its not being honored—and since their interests are not necessarily those of Israel, especially when it comes to the speed at which the negotiations move forward. The Americans want to cut a deal, even a bad deal, and if they are allowed into the negotiation rooms, they will pressure Israel to give in, mainly on the Palestinian issue.

Read more at Israel National News

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia