The Two Paths of Traditional Jewish Learning in America

At a 1968 conference of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, a largely secular institution, Aharon Lichtenstein—widely regarded as one of the greatest Orthodox rabbis of the late 20th century—gave a lecture titled “A Century of Jewish Higher Learning in America.” This lecture, recently rendered into English by Shaul Seidler-Feller, discussed the attempts to transplant European-style yeshivas to the U.S., and the various approaches taken by these institutions. The most important distinction among them, Lichtenstein argued, lay in their respective attitudes toward the non-Jewish culture. (A recording of the lecture, in Yiddish, can be found at the link below.)

[H]ow can one best prepare the yeshiva student—after he has, so to speak, already been molded—to influence the broader world, which is, to use a turn of phrase, “beyond the river” [1Kings 14:15], on the other side of the study-hall walls? To what extent does a young scholar or a Torah institution feel a responsibility to accomplish this task? And how can the yeshiva most effectively train its students to do so? . . .

Some believe that one need not do so, that it is actually wasted effort. Others feel that one should, but what can you do? There is no common language between the Torah and secular worlds, so any attempt to bridge them is doomed. And still others—in particular, this is the attitude of [Yeshiva University] and of Chicago’s Hebrew Theological College—believe the opposite: that the responsibility is great, and that in order to fulfill this responsibility one must be careful to see to it that a student well understands the modern, secular world.

Certainly, one need not plunge and delve deeply into that world . . . but one must have some handle on the secular world in order to begin to understand it. This is, perhaps, the main division that exists today within the yeshiva world. There is much, I believe, that we can learn from the scholarly world without abandoning our focus. I hope there is also much that the scholarly world can learn from us.

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More about: Aharon Lichtenstein, American Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Yeshiva, Yeshiva University

 

The Impossibility of Unilateral Withdrawal from the West Bank

Feb. 19 2019

Since throwing his hat into the ring for the Israeli premiership, the former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz has been reticent about his policy plans. Nonetheless, he has made clear his openness to unilateral disengagement from the West Bank along the lines of the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, stating the necessity of finding “a way in which we’re not controlling other people.” Gershon Hacohen argues that any such plan would be ill-advised:

The political and strategic precepts underlying the Oslo “peace” process, which Gantz echoes, vanished long ago. The PLO has unequivocally revealed its true colors: its total lack of interest in peace, unyielding rejection of the idea of Jewish statehood, and incessant propensity for violence and terrorism. . . . Tehran is rapidly emerging as regional hegemon, with its tentacles spreading from Yemen and Iraq to the Mediterranean Sea and its dogged quest for nuclear weapons continuing apace under the international radar. Even the terror groups Hizballah and Hamas pose a far greater threat to Israel’s national security than they did a decade ago. Under these circumstances, Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank’s Area C, [the only part still under direct Israeli control], would constitute nothing short of an existential threat.

Nor does Israel need to find a way to stop “controlling other people,” as Gantz put it, for the simple reason that its control of the Palestinians ended some two decades ago. In May 1994 the IDF withdrew from all Palestinian population centers in the Gaza Strip. In January 1996 it vacated the West Bank’s populated areas (the Oslo Accords’ Areas A and B), comprising over 90 percent of the West Bank’s Palestinian residents, and handed control of that population to the Palestinian Authority (PA). . . .

This in turn means that the real dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as within Israel itself, no longer revolves around the end of “occupation” but around the future of eastern Jerusalem and Area C. And since Area C (which is home to only 100,000 Palestinians) includes all the Jewish West Bank localities, IDF bases, transportation arteries, vital topographic sites, and habitable empty spaces between the Jordan Valley and the Jerusalem metropolis, its continued retention by Israel is a vital national interest. Why? Because its surrender to a potentially hostile Palestinian state would make the defense of the Israeli hinterland virtually impossible—and because these highly strategic and sparsely populated lands are of immense economic, infrastructural, communal, ecological, and cultural importance, not to mention their historical significance as the bedrock of the Jewish ancestral homeland

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More about: Benny Gantz, Israel & Zionism, Two-State Solution, West Bank