Responding to Crises of Faith in the Orthodox World

Feb. 22 2019

To many, the term “religious apologetics” suggests sermons in defense of dogma. Taken more broadly, however, the term can apply to the most sophisticated and well-reasoned arguments in favor of faith. To Eli Stern, the best examples are attempts to reconcile timeless religious beliefs with contemporary ways of thinking, which would include the works of some of the greatest Jewish philosophers, from Saadiah Gaon in the 10th century, to Moses Maimonides in the 12th, to Joseph B. Soloveitchik in the 20th. Stern argues for a revival of apologetic writing within his own community of contemporary Ḥaredim:

Ḥaredi youngsters and adults alike are troubled by a growing dissonance between the realities of daily life and the demands of their religious system. These individuals, often sincere and religiously devout questioners, are distressed by an apparent lack of honest and genuine attention to their struggles. Too often, approaching a rabbi or educator with these issues leads the seeker to a sense of misunderstanding and miscommunication. Not only does such an interaction fail to allay the questioner’s anxieties; it will likely lead to a greater sense of alienation. . . .

As in every generation, ours too requires thinkers and writers to explain the Torah in the language of the moment. [When it comes to] outreach to secular Jews, Ḥaredim have some awareness of methods and approaches by which Judaism should be presented. By contrast, I am unaware of similar discourse around explaining the faith within our own communities, to our children and students, and moreover to ourselves. . . .

In addition to discourses and philosophical works, Stern also sees literature as a means of responding to crises of faith:

Literature can communicate to readers that . . . religiosity is not merely the methodical application of dry principles, but man’s encounter with God. [While many traditional Jewish texts] speak generally of obligations and beliefs, the human side [of religion], the experiences of the people who live it, can be revealed in literature. The reader is exposed to the emotional world behind the ritual practice and discovers in that world the legitimate tensions and challenges of even the most devout. Literature . . . provides an opportunity for the reader to enter the protagonist’s internal world, with the dilemmas, questions, and emotions that characterize a life of observance. A good story can serve the function of apologetics without apologizing.

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Read more at Tzarich Iyun

More about: Jewish literature, Judaism, Religion & Holidays, Ultra-Orthodox

What Egypt’s Withdrawal from the “Arab NATO” Signifies for U.S. Strategy

A few weeks ago, Egypt quietly announced its withdrawal from the Middle East Strategic Alliance (MESA), a coalition—which also includes Jordan, the Gulf states, and the U.S.—founded at President Trump’s urging to serve as an “Arab NATO” that could work to contain Iran. Jonathan Ariel notes three major factors that most likely contributed to Egyptian President Sisi’s abandonment of MESA: his distrust of Donald Trump (and concern that Trump might lose the 2020 election) and of Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman; Cairo’s perception that Iran does not pose a major threat to its security; and the current situation in Gaza:

Gaza . . . is ruled by Hamas, defined by its covenant as “one of the wings of the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine.” Sisi has ruthlessly persecuted the Brotherhood in Egypt. [But] Egypt, despite its dependence on Saudi largesse, has continued to maintain its ties with Qatar, which is under Saudi blockade over its unwillingness to toe the Saudi line regarding Iran. . . . Qatar is also supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood, . . . and of course Hamas.

[Qatar’s ruler] Sheikh Tamim is one of the key “go-to guys” when the situation in Gaza gets out of hand. Qatar has provided the cash that keeps Hamas solvent, and therefore at least somewhat restrained. . . . In return, Hamas listens to Qatar, which does not want it to help the Islamic State-affiliated factions involved in an armed insurrection against Egyptian forces in northern Sinai. Egypt’s military is having a hard enough time coping with the insurgency as it is. The last thing it needs is for Hamas to be given a green light to cooperate with Islamic State forces in Sinai. . . .

Over the past decade, ever since Benjamin Netanyahu returned to power, Israel has also been gradually placing more and more chips in its still covert but growing alliance with Saudi Arabia. Egypt’s decision to pull out of MESA should give it cause to reconsider. Without Egypt, MESA has zero viability unless it is to include either U.S. forces or Israeli ones. [But] one’s chances of winning the lottery seem infinitely higher than those of MESA’s including the IDF. . . . Given that Egypt, the Arab world’s biggest and militarily most powerful state and its traditional leader, has clearly indicated its lack of confidence in the Saudi leadership, Israel should urgently reexamine its strategy in this regard.

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More about: Egypt, Gaza Strip, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign policy