The Rabbi Who Met with Presidents

Feb. 22 2022

When Isaac Mayer Wise—the principal architect of Reform Judaism in America—met then-President Zachary Taylor in the White House, he was not meeting a U.S. president for the first time, but Taylor was meeting a rabbi for the first time. At least, that’s what Wise claims in his memoirs, and there is no evidence to the contrary. Allan Arkush describes both this meeting and some of Wise’s other presidential audiences:

When he went to the White House in February 1850, Wise himself was not yet the distinguished president of the Hebrew Union College or the Central Conference of American Rabbis; he was just a thirty-year-old pulpit rabbi from Albany, New York. Zachary Taylor, the Mexican War hero, had been president of the United States for less than a year when Wise, who was traveling south for his health, arrived in Washington, DC.

A Bohemian-born immigrant who had been in the US less than four years, Wise was eager to observe the American government at work. He could hardly have picked a more exciting moment. The debate over the Missouri Compromise was raging, and . . . Wise owed his meeting with the president to one of the principal debaters—William H. Seward—who was a friend of his from Albany, where the senator had been a lawyer for a number of years between his terms as governor of New York and his election to the upper house in 1849.

It seems . . . that newspaper reports of the very fact that he had met with the president made Wise into an instant celebrity. The following day he had a long conversation with Daniel Webster, who was so impressed by his erudition that he offered to get him hired at Boston University.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: American Jewish History, Isaac Mayer Wise, Rabbis

 

The Palestinian Authority Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Jan. 31 2023

On Thursday, Palestinian Authority (PA) officials announced that they had ceased all security cooperation with Israel; the next two days saw two deadly terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. But the PA has in the past made numerous threats that it will sever its ties with the Israeli government, and has so far never made good on them. Efraim Inbar poses a different set of questions: does cooperation with Palestinian leaders who actively encourage—and provide financial incentives for—the murder of Jews really help Israel protect its citizens? And might there be a better alternative?

The PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., to maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control. He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of myriad armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

[The PA’s] education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists of the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel. In short, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem, not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve PA rule and prevent a descent into chaos while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant prospect. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem to Israel, but one that will be mitigated if the various Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other. A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against it. In addition, anarchy in the territories may give Israel a freer hand in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future.

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Read more at JNS

More about: Israeli Security, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror