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 Dangers of Diplomacy with Iran

Aug. 21 2018

Although President Trump’s offer to meet with President Rouhani of the Islamic Republic was rejected, the possibility of direct negotiations remains. Ray Takeyh and Mark Dubowitz warn that Tehran could use talks to stall and gain leverage over Washington:

The mullahs understand that just by staying at the table, Americans usually offer up concessions. [They] are betting that the Trump administration may become weaker over time, preoccupied with domestic politics. Best to entangle America in protracted diplomacy while awaiting what the regime expects will be midterm Republican losses in Congress and the return of a more flexible Democratic president to power in 2021. This is what [Supreme Leader Ali] Khamenei probably meant when he stressed that negotiations have to wait until America is softened up.

Diplomacy would surely blunt the impact of U.S. pressure. The mullahs believe they can undermine the escalation of [U.S.] sanctions by being diplomatically flirtatious and know well that America seldom disrupts negotiations with military action. Indeed, as a prelude to the talks, Iran may even resume its nuclear activities to frighten the Europeans and gain leverage by putting even more pressure on Washington to adjust its red lines.

Should negotiations begin, the Trump team should take sensible precautions to avoid the predicament of the Obama negotiators. The administration will need to maintain its maximum-pressure campaign and its negotiating demands. . . . Any negotiations with the Islamic Republic should be time-limited, and Washington must be prepared to leave the table when it confronts the usual pattern of regime bombast and mendacity.

Donald Trump should insist on direct talks with the supreme leader, as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un: Rouhani is a lame duck without any real influence. The administration also should demand that Europeans join its sanctions policy targeting Iran’s ballistic-missile program, support for terrorism, and human-rights abuses as a price for their participation in the talks.

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More about: Ali Khamenei, Donald Trump, Hassan Rouhani, Iran, U.S. Foreign policy