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. . . .

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

 

Understanding the Background of the White House Ruling on Anti-Semitism and the Civil Rights Act

Dec. 13 2019

On Wednesday, the president signed an executive order allowing federal officials to extend the protections of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act to Jews. (The order, promptly condemned for classifying Jews as a separate nationality, did nothing of the sort.) In 2010, Kenneth Marcus called for precisely such a ruling in the pages of Commentary, citing in particular the Department of Education’s lax response to a series of incidents at the University of California at Irvine, where, among much elase, Jewish property was vandalized and Jewish students were pelted with rocks, called “dirty Jew” and other epithets, and were told, “Jewish students are the plague of mankind.”

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, U.S. Politics