Gertrude Himmelfarb: The Great Jewish Historian of Victorian Britain

While primarily a historian of Victorian intellectual life, Gertrude Himmelfarb (1922-2019) was a prolific writer of impressive depth as well as breadth, writing on social and religious history, the ills of postmodernism, the European Enlightenment, the American critic Lionel Trilling, and—toward the end of her life—philo-Semitism and British perceptions of Jews in the modern era. The website Contemporary Thinkers has recently produced an online resource on her life and work, compiling a number of her own essays, biographical material, and encomia to her achievements. One of Himmelfarb’s articles for Mosaic can be read here, as well as essays on her life and work. In a summary of her intellectual contributions, Contemporary Thinkers sums up her work on Jewish topics:

[One] persistent theme in Himmelfarb’s writing was the situation of the Jews in modern Europe. Her historical work showed the deep roots of the more positive history of the Jews in Anglo- and Anglo-American societies than in the Continental European societies. While many Europeans in the 19th century persisted in regarding the Jews, long after their formal emancipation, as a nation within a nation, demanding that they forsake aspects of their identity in exchange for full acceptance, in England the “Jewish question” was far more prosaic, political, and less fraught. It was a question of citizenship—and no more.

The affinity of English-speaking peoples with the Jews is the topic of Himmelfarb’s The People of the Book: Philo-Semitism in England from Cromwell to Churchill (2011). This history of not just tolerance but positive feeling, itself one of the most important and most unusual links connecting Jews and the Jewish tradition with some of the greatest minds of Western culture, begins in England with the Puritans’ attraction to the “Hebrew spirit,” and the mid-17th-century return of Jews to the British Isles centuries after their expulsion. It continues in the writings and public statements of Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, born a Jew but baptized at the age of twelve. And it culminates, in the 20th century, in the Zionism of Lord Arthur Balfour and Winston Churchill.

Read more at Contemporary Thinkers

More about: Benjamin Disraeli, British Jewry, Gertrude Himmelfarb, Philo-Semitism, Winston Churchill

Israel Just Sent Iran a Clear Message

Early Friday morning, Israel attacked military installations near the Iranian cities of Isfahan and nearby Natanz, the latter being one of the hubs of the country’s nuclear program. Jerusalem is not taking credit for the attack, and none of the details are too certain, but it seems that the attack involved multiple drones, likely launched from within Iran, as well as one or more missiles fired from Syrian or Iraqi airspace. Strikes on Syrian radar systems shortly beforehand probably helped make the attack possible, and there were reportedly strikes on Iraq as well.

Iran itself is downplaying the attack, but the S-300 air-defense batteries in Isfahan appear to have been destroyed or damaged. This is a sophisticated Russian-made system positioned to protect the Natanz nuclear installation. In other words, Israel has demonstrated that Iran’s best technology can’t protect the country’s skies from the IDF. As Yossi Kuperwasser puts it, the attack, combined with the response to the assault on April 13,

clarified to the Iranians that whereas we [Israelis] are not as vulnerable as they thought, they are more vulnerable than they thought. They have difficulty hitting us, but we have no difficulty hitting them.

Nobody knows exactly how the operation was carried out. . . . It is good that a question mark hovers over . . . what exactly Israel did. Let’s keep them wondering. It is good for deniability and good for keeping the enemy uncertain.

The fact that we chose targets that were in the vicinity of a major nuclear facility but were linked to the Iranian missile and air forces was a good message. It communicated that we can reach other targets as well but, as we don’t want escalation, we chose targets nearby that were involved in the attack against Israel. I think it sends the message that if we want to, we can send a stronger message. Israel is not seeking escalation at the moment.

Read more at Jewish Chronicle

More about: Iran, Israeli Security