Can Jewish Thought Flourish as Judaism Becomes Increasingly Out of Step with American Culture?

July 11 2019

Stepping down after fifteen years from his post as editor of the Orthodox academic and theological journal Tradition, Shalom Carmy reflects on the future of Orthodox thought in an America very different from the one that existed at the time of the journal’s founding in 1958:

Since then the conflict between dominant secular attitudes and philosophies and the foundations of a Torah outlook has become sharper, broader, and deeper. The common ground between Judaism and the ideas taken for granted by secular elites is progressively eroding. Consider the ethos of the family, the understanding of human nature and human destiny, the absoluteness of religious commitment and many other fundamental principles. The profound incompatibilities manifest themselves not only via the mass media and the classroom but behaviorally and spiritually as well.

Maybe this is tolerable. Perhaps American Orthodox institutions and communities can get along by compartmentalizing, upholding one set of implicit standards for individuals in the formal religious sphere while conforming to another set of standards the rest of the time. True, this is neither healthy nor, for many individuals, possible. Nonetheless, so long as the number of defections is relatively low, one may accept them with a degree of resignation, ascribing bad outcomes to psychological problems, social and family dysfunction, and economic pressures and preoccupations, and act as if these are unconnected to our intellectual deficiencies.

If, however, the goal is not only social survival but spiritual growth in our communities, the decline in Orthodox intellectual life [since the mid-20th century] is unfortunate. A promising young rabbi [and] scholar, pondering that decline, recently wondered whether the kind of Orthodox intellectual life he had envisioned and prepared for was a lost cause. Is there more for him to do than to salvage what he can of the minority of receptive individuals—his term was “surviving remnant” [in reference to Ezra 9:14]—and otherwise keep the machinery of Orthodoxy running?

Yet Carmy unexpectedly sees a more hopeful approach in an essay by the great poet (and sometime anti-Semite) T.S. Eliot, who wrote that “there is no such thing as a Lost Cause because there is no such thing as a Gained Cause. We fight for lost causes because we know that our defeat and dismay may be the preface to our successors’ victory.”

Read more at Tradition

More about: American Judaism, Jewish Thought, Orthodoxy, T.S. Eliot


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