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. . . .

Read more at Commentary

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

 

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood