Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Philosophy of Jewish History, Cultivated During Nazi Rule

Abraham Joshua Heschel, the renowned theologian of 20th-century Conservative Judaism, is best known for the writings he produced after his arrival in the U.S. in March 1940. Thanks to a new volume, a selection of his work from his final years in Europe, spent mostly in Germany, is now accessible in English. Reviewing the book, titled In This Hour, Michael Marmur writes:

In This Hour does not, of course, include all of Heschel’s output from his German years. . . . It is a slight volume, and, as is often the case with Heschel, one must occasionally read between the lines, but it still packs a punch.

Much of Heschel’s musing on the interplay between the present day and the past is written in coded language. Against the backdrop of Nazi rule, Heschel writes “between the lines.” Take, for example, his eight biographical essays about the early rabbis who also had to cope with tyrannical overlords. . . . It has always been difficult to recognize divine providence in the maze of events, but, Heschel tells us, intellectual moderation and uncompromising morality can at least help to distill the call of the timeless from the rush of actuality.

In the last of the rabbinic portraits, Heschel offers a description of [the talmudic sage] Rabbi Ḥiyya, in some ways an outlier compared to the other figures profiled. It is hard not to see the link between ancient struggles and contemporary anxieties in [his description of a time when the Jews] “had lost their land, their leaders had been killed, and all security was taken from them. Most of them were refugees, emigrants, and martyrs.”

Heschel’s readers may have found solace in the notion of a rebuilding of Jewish life after destruction, or they may have noted Ḥiyya’s strategy of immigration to the Land of Israel as a source of hope. Certainly, these essays represent an act of consolation through history, contemporary comment through deflection, and an affirmation of the Jewish propensity for recovery.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Holocaust, Judaism, Theology

Why the Recent Uptick of Israeli Activity in Syria?

Sept. 23 2022

On September 16 and 17, the IDF carried out airstrikes in the vicinity of Damascus, reportedly aimed at Iranian logistical centers there. These follow on an increase in the frequency of such attacks in recent weeks, which have included strikes on the Aleppo airport on August 31 and September 6. Jonathan Spyer comments:

The specific targeting of the Aleppo airport is almost certainly related to recent indications that Iran is relying increasingly on its “air bridge” to Syria and Lebanon, because of Israel’s successful and systematic targeting of efforts to move weaponry and equipment by land [via Iraq]. But the increased tempo of activity is not solely related to the specific issue of greater use of air transport by Teheran. Rather, it is part of a broader picture of increasing regional tension. There are a number of factors that contribute to this emergent picture.

Firstly, Russia appears to be pulling back in Syria. . . . There are no prospects for a complete Russian withdrawal. The air base at Khmeimim and the naval facilities at Tartus and Latakia are hard strategic assets which will be maintained. The maintenance of Assad’s rule is also a clear objective for Moscow. But beyond this, the Russians are busy now with a flailing, faltering military campaign in Ukraine. Moscow lacks the capacity for two close strategic engagements at once.

Secondly, assuming that some last-minute twist does not occur, it now looks like a return to the [2015 nuclear deal] is not imminent. In the absence of any diplomatic process related to the Iranian nuclear program, and given Israeli determination to roll back Iran’s regional ambitions, confrontation becomes more likely.

Lastly, it is important to note that the uptick in Israeli activity is clearly not related to Syria alone. Rather, it is part of a more general broadening and deepening by Israel in recent months of its assertive posture toward the full gamut of Iranian activity in the region. . . . The increasing scope and boldness of Israeli air activity in Syria reflects this changing of the season.

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Read more at Jonathan Spyer

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Syria, War in Ukraine