The Faith of a Holocaust Survivor

Feb. 12 2018

In an exploration of traditional Jewish belief, Moshe Koppel explores the worldview of “Shimen,” an archetypal figure based on someone Koppel knew in his youth. Growing up in an East European ḥasidic community, Shimen came to America after the Shoah, in which his two children were murdered by the Nazis. Koppel writes:

[Shimen’s] beliefs . . . are thoroughly internalized. . . . Shimen’s belief is emotional not intellectual, though if you insist that he expound on his belief, he’ll trot out the standard story, the one he learned in ḥeder, [about the revelation at Sinai and so forth]. But the truth is that he hasn’t the slightest interest in exploring the veracity of any of the historical claims on which his most basic commitments ostensibly rely.

To understand why this is so, we need to understand the relationship between his internalized belief and his assent to the claims surrounding it. Think of it this way. Shimen loves his [murdered] children, Leibele and Chaya Sara. He remembers them as sweet and innocent and wise beyond their years, almost angelic. The specific representation of them that he holds in his memory allows him to focus his love on actual human beings. But were they actually as angelic as he chooses to remember them? Were they never cranky or ornery, foolish or immature? Perhaps Shimen should undertake archival research and interviews of surviving neighbors to replace his fond memories of Leibele and Chaya Sara with more accurate ones? I hope you see how utterly idiotic this is.

Shimen doesn’t love his children because they were angelic; he recalls them as angelic because he loves them. And recalling them this way only intensifies his love, and his longing, for them. Similarly, Jewish belief is only coherent and meaningful to those already committed to the Jewish way of life, who experience its vitality viscerally. For those who experience Jewish life as instinctively as Shimen, assent to codified Jewish belief might frame and intensify the experience, but it is not the basis for that experience. And subjecting the claims [of Jewish belief] to historical analysis makes as much sense to him as subjecting his memories of his children to historical analysis.

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Read more at Judaism without Apologies

More about: Holocaust, Judaism, Religion & Holidays

The Struggle for Iraq, and What It Means for Israel

Oct. 17 2018

Almost immediately after the 2003 invasion, Iraq became a battleground between the U.S. and Iran, as the latter sent troops, money, and arms to foment and support an insurgency. The war on Islamic State, along with the Obama administration’s effort to align itself with the Islamic Republic, led to a temporary truce, but also gave Tehran-backed militias a great deal of power. Iran has also established a major conduit of supplies through Iraq to support its efforts in Syria. Meanwhile, it is hard to say if the recent elections have brought a government to Baghdad that will be pro-American or pro-Iranian. Eldad Shavit and Raz Zimmt comment how these developments might affect Israel:

Although statements by the U.S. administration have addressed Iran’s overall activity in the region, they appear to emphasize the potential for confrontation in Iraq. First and foremost, this [emphasis] stems from the U.S. perception of this arena as posing the greatest danger, in light of the extensive presence of U.S. military and civilian personnel operating throughout the country, and in light of past experience, which saw many American soldiers attacked by Shiite militias under Iranian supervision. The American media have reported that U.S. intelligence possesses information indicating that the Shiite militias and other elements under Iranian auspices intend to carry out attacks against American targets and interests. . . .

In light of Iran’s intensifying confrontation with the United States and its mounting economic crisis, Tehran finds it essential to maintain its influence in Iraq, particularly in the event of a future clash with the United States. The Iranian leadership has striven to send a message of deterrence to the United States regarding the implications of a military clash. . . .

A recently published report also indicates that Iran transferred ballistic missiles to the Shiite militias it supports in Iraq. Although Iran has denied this report, it might indeed attempt to transfer advanced military equipment to the Shiite militias in order to improve their capabilities in the event of a military confrontation between Iran and the United States and/or Israel, or a confrontation between [the militias] and the central government in Baghdad.

From Israel’s perspective, after years when the Iraqi arena received little attention from Israeli decision makers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman have mentioned the possibility of Israel’s taking action against Iranian targets in Iraq. In this context, and particularly in light of the possibility that Iraq could become an arena of greater conflict between the United States and Iran, it is critical that there be full coordination between Israel and the United States. This is of particular importance due to [the American estimation of] stability in Iraq as a major element of the the campaign against Islamic State, which, though declared a success, is not yet complete.

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Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Iraq, ISIS, Israel & Zionism, U.S. Foreign policy