Remembering Tel Aviv’s Religious Past, and Its Possible Religious Future

Oct. 23 2020

The popular Israeli imagination contrasts “secular” Tel Aviv with “religious” Jerusalem. But it was not as ever thus, as Yitzḥak Bar Ze’ev, the rabbi of the former city’s Great Synagogue, writes:

Between the 1950s and the 1970s, Tel Aviv had around 700 active synagogues, many located on the most important streets in the city, like the Allenby, Rothschild, and Dizengoff synagogues. . . . In the early days of the city, dozens of famous rabbis, yeshiva heads, and religious judges were active in Tel Aviv. Five of Israel’s chief rabbis were first chief rabbis of the city. . . . During those years, dozens of religious educational institutions for girls and boys were founded, [along with] a few famous yeshivas, some still active today. [In addition], more than twenty rebbes (spiritual leaders of the ḥasidic movement) have lived in Tel Aviv at some point. During the 1950s, there were as many if not more rebbes in Tel Aviv than Jerusalem.

The religious neighborhoods of Tel Aviv are older than the city itself. Whoever wanders the streets of Neveh Tzedek, Shabazi, or the Yemenite Quarter today sees dozens of old synagogues, most of them more than 100 years old. These neighborhoods were built as suburbs of Jaffa more than twenty years before Tel Aviv was established, and were later attached to the new city.

And although the city has indeed secularized greatly since then, that process is far from total, although much religious life is concentrated in the southern part of the city, which is less affluent and more diverse than the north. Moreover, Bar Ze’ev sees signs of a religious revival, spurred by, among other things, an influx of French Jews:

A new “traditional” lifestyle has developed in Tel Aviv: young men and women from all across the country, who grew up in religious families and moved to the city to live alongside Diaspora immigrants who sought to preserve communal life, particularly on Shabbat and holidays. Some members do not strictly observe the Shabbat; after shul, some may go to the beach. But they still want to belong to a religious community. These are the people who are renewing the synagogues of Tel Aviv.

Read more at Tel Aviv Review of Books

More about: Israeli history, Judaism in Israel, Synagogues, Tel Aviv

In Prospective Negotiations with Iran, the U.S. Has the Upper Hand. President-Elect Biden Is Determined Not to Use It

In a recent interview with a writer for the New York Times, Joe Biden expressed his willingness to reenter the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran (formally known as the JCPOA) without new preconditions. Noah Rothman comments:

[S]ome observers believe Biden has provided himself with an escape hatch. Biden reiterated his insistence that there could only be a new deal so long as “Iran returns to strict compliance.” [But if] Iranian compliance were a real sticking point, Biden might have dwelled on—or even mentioned in passing—the kind of inspections regime that would verify such a thing. But he did not.

[Under the terms of the deal], Iran provided inspectors access to declared nuclear sites but not military sites where illicit activities were likeliest to occur. A subsequent agreement allowed inspectors to access suspected sites but only with at least 24-days-notice—enough to dispose of the evidence of small-scale work on components related to a bomb. But functionally, that 24-day timeline could be reset by Iran, which could stretch the delays out for weeks—ample time to deceive inspectors.

The JCPOA was never designed to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear-nation status. It was only aimed at dragging that process out while reshuffling the region’s geopolitical deck in Iran’s favor and ultimately providing a patina of legitimacy to Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Any talk about exhuming and reanimating this agreement that glosses over its weak verification regime suggests that the Biden administration, like the Obama administration, will settle for any deal—even a bad one.

Such an approach seems particularly shortsighted when the Islamic Republic has been pushed onto the defensive, reeling from economic woes, the devastating effects of the coronavirus, and a series of assassinations. Rather than press America’s advantage, when “Iran is on the ropes,” writes Rothman, Biden “is committed to negotiating from a position of weakness.”

Read more at Commentary

More about: Iran, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy