“Above All, Judaism Is a Religion”

One of America’s leading historians of the Jewish people, Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi (1932-2009) trained numerous scholars, and shaped the thought of many more with his works on Jewish memory, Marranism, and Sigmund Freud. In conversation with Sylvie Anne Goldberg, he reflected on the state of Judaism in his day:

One movement that is quite active right now calls itself “secular Judaism.” I have nothing against these people, who include many American and Israeli academics and intellectuals, nor against their movement or this trend. I support any action taken in the name of affirming Jewish identity. The one thing that annoys me, and I don’t think it’s a sign of purism, is the name itself, “secular Judaism.” Historically speaking, I find it distorting, misleading, and contradictory. Judaism is a religion, or at least it was. We can’t artificially cancel this aspect.

Above all, Judaism is a religion. By definition, every specifically Jewish way of life is anchored in one form or another to a religious connection to life.

And although Yerushalmi admitted sometimes thinking that “the condition of the Jewish people . . . isn’t anything to be proud of,” he urged reflection on the situation immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE.

The state of mind expressed in the Apocalypse of Baruch, [a religious work from that period], is, “let’s stop sowing, plowing, getting married, and everything else, because it’s all over.” And yet, nothing’s over, since we’re here today to talk about it. The other example comes from a poem by Yehudah Leib Gordon, . . . “L’mi ani amel” (“For Whom Do I Toil?”). . . . I quote from memory—the end of the poem states: “Who knows? Perhaps I’m the last Hebrew language poet and you are the last readers.” This poem was written in 1870, I believe. That’s how Gordon felt at the time, with good reason. There was no way to predict that less than a century later, a Jewish state would be restored, in which Hebrew would become the daily language.

Read more at Tablet

More about: Judaism, Second Temple, Secular Judaism


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