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

April 25 2023

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

When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount