Some of Israel’s Finest Art Now Comes from the Orthodox Community

In 1967, the historian Gershom Scholem wrote in Commentary that modern Hebrew literature saturated with references to the classical Jewish texts—of which he believed the great exemplar to be S.Y Agnon—would soon become a thing of the past; the new generation of Israeli writers were unfamiliar with the rabbinic canon, and for them “the Bible is no longer a holy book but a national saga.” Meir Soloveichik believes history has proved Scholem wrong:

Today, one of the most interesting cultural phenomena in Israel is that of Orthodox Jews—in both the national-religious and ḥaredi communities—engaging in artistic endeavors that are fueled by their study of Talmud texts and their experience of rigorous Judaic observance. [In 1999], Haim Sabato published Adjusting Sights, a novel drawn on his own experiences in the Yom Kippur War. The book was received with much acclaim in Israeli cultural circles, and to this day, because of the power with which Sabato brings war to life, the novel is used by the IDF for soldiers suffering from trauma.

But Sabato’s résumé is unusual for a novelist; he leads a yeshiva in [the town of] Ma’aleh Adumim, where he teaches Talmud and Jewish law, and his own intimacy with rabbinic texts pervades the pages of his story. In one powerful passage, Sabato ponders the transformation his autobiographical protagonist has experienced from Talmud student to soldier whose only duty is to focus on killing. Maimonides had codified the rabbinic ruling that soldiers are forbidden to fear when entering battle. Preparing for war, Sabato’s character realizes how unrealistic this seems. Rethinking “Maimonides’ always impeccable language,” he understands that the rabbis meant to forbid a moral fear of engaging in violence: “It is this that the Torah forbids. And the truth is that as soon as we were in combat, we thought only of destroying the enemies’ tanks.” Paragraphs like these show that the power in Sabato’s prose comes not despite his faith, but because of it, and his faith is made more sophisticated through his artistic expression. . . .

This Orthodox Israeli creativity is not limited to literature. The filmmaker Rama Burshtein, who grew up a secular Israeli but ultimately embraced ḥaredi Judaism, wrote and directed a ḥasidic romance titled Fill the Void. The movie is one of the best ever produced in Israel, and is one of most sophisticated films exploring religious themes in recent history. . . .

You have 2 free articles left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at Commentary

More about: Arts & Culture, Gershom Scholem, Israeli literature, Judaism in Israel, Orthodoxy

By Recognizing Israeli Sovereignty over the Golan, the U.S. Has Freed Israel from “Land for Peace”

March 25 2019

In the 52 years since Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria, there have been multiple efforts to negotiate their return in exchange for Damascus ending its continuous war against the Jewish state. Shmuel Rosner argues that, with his announcement on Thursday acknowledging the legitimacy of Jerusalem’s claim to the Golan, Donald Trump has finally decoupled territorial concessions from peacemaking:

[With] the takeover of much of Syria by Iran and its proxies, . . . Israel had no choice but to give up on the idea of withdrawing from the Golan Heights. But this reality involves a complete overhaul of the way the international community thinks not just about the Golan Heights but also about all of the lands Israel occupied in 1967. . . .

Withdrawal worked for Israel once, in 1979, when it signed a peace agreement with Egypt and left the Sinai Peninsula, which had also been occupied in 1967. But that also set a problematic precedent. President Anwar Sadat of Egypt insisted that Israel hand back the entire peninsula to the last inch. Israel decided that the reward was worth the price, as a major Arab country agreed to break with other Arab states and accept Israel’s legitimacy.

But there was a hidden, unanticipated cost: Israel’s adversaries, in future negotiations, would demand the same kind of compensation. The 1967 line—what Israel controlled before the war—became the starting point for all Arab countries, including Syria. It became a sacred formula, worshiped by the international community.

What President Trump is doing extends far beyond the ability of Israel to control the Golan Heights, to settle it, and to invest in it. The American president is setting the clock back to before the peace deal with Egypt, to a time when Israel could argue that the reward for peace is peace—not land. Syria, of course, is unlikely to accept this. At least not in the short term. But maybe someday, a Syrian leader will come along who doesn’t entertain the thought that Israel might agree to return to the pre-1967 line and who will accept a different formula for achieving peace.

You have 1 free article left this month

Sign up now for unlimited access

Subscribe Now

Already have an account? Log in now

Read more at New York Times

More about: Donald Trump, Golan Heights, Israel & Zionis, Peace Process, Sinai Peninsula, Syria