The Conservative Rabbi Who Kept God—by Another Name—in Israel’s Founding Document

When the London-educated lawyer Mordechai Beham was tasked in 1948 with drafting a declaration of independence for the nascent Jewish state, he decided to consult with Harry Zvi Davidowitz, an American rabbi who lived nearby. It was most likely Davidowitz who thought of putting the biblical epithet Tsur Yisra’el (Rock of Israel) into the text, a formula that mollified both secularist and religious signatories. Yizhar Hess provides some biographical details:

Davidowitz was ordained to the rabbinate in 1913 at the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS). Rabbi Solomon Schechter, the influential chancellor, ordained him. During World War I, Davidowitz served as a military chaplain and at the war’s conclusion, held the rank of lieutenant in the United States Army (later he would also receive two decorations: the Purple Heart and the Victory Medal) and became a congregational rabbi.

Then, in the summer of 1934, he arrived in Israel for the first time and that was it. He and his wife Ida fell in love with the golden sands of Tel Aviv and built a life. He would only return to the U.S. in 1946 for a Rabbinical Assembly conference in New York. There, he delivered a speech at the conference’s opening session that left a strong impression on his colleagues. He spoke about Tel Aviv and Zionism with great love, talent, and depth.

Davidowitz led a modest life. A Renaissance man who knew how to recite the Bible by heart but also most of Shakespeare’s plays, . . . he was the first to translate into Hebrew Shakespeare’s plays. His translation of Hamlet (which came out in three editions) was used by high-school students in Israel until the 1970s, as were his translations of Macbeth, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, King Lear, and Othello.

Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Conservative Judaism, Israeli Declaration of Independence, Israeli history, Judaism in Israel

Recognizing a Palestinian State Won’t Help Palestinians, or Even Make Palestinian Statehood More Likely

While Shira Efron and Michael Koplow are more sanguine about the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and more critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank, than I am, I found much worth considering in their recent article on the condition of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Particularly perceptive are their comments on the drive to grant diplomatic recognition to a fictive Palestinian state, a step taken by nine countries in the past few months, and almost as many in total as recognize Israel.

Efron and Koplow argue that this move isn’t a mere empty gesture, but one that would actually make things worse, while providing “no tangible benefits for Palestinians.”

In areas under its direct control—Areas A and B of the West Bank, comprising 40 percent of the territory—the PA struggles severely to provide services, livelihoods, and dignity to inhabitants. This is only partly due to its budgetary woes; it has also never established a properly functioning West Bank economy. President Mahmoud Abbas, who will turn ninety next year, administers the PA almost exclusively by executive decrees, with little transparency or oversight. Security is a particular problem, as militants from different factions now openly defy the underfunded and undermotivated PA security forces in cities such as Jenin, Nablus, and Tulkarm.

Turning the Palestinian Authority (PA) from a transitional authority into a permanent state with the stroke of a pen will not make [its] litany of problems go away. The risk that the state of Palestine would become a failed state is very real given the PA’s dysfunctional, insolvent status and its dearth of public legitimacy. Further declines in its ability to provide social services and maintain law and order could yield a situation in which warlords and gangs become de-facto rulers in some areas of the West Bank.

Otherwise, any steps toward realizing two states will be fanciful, built atop a crumbling foundation—and likely to help turn the West Bank into a third front in the current war.

Read more at Foreign Affairs

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian statehood