Can Judaism Thrive If Cut Off from Its Talmudic Roots?

When the literary critic Adam Kirsch began the regimen of daily Talmud study known as daf yomi (“daily page”) seven-and-a-half years ago, he did not do so in “the spirit of a believer,” and he concluded it earlier this month still a confirmed secular Jew. Reflecting on the experience—very different, as he notes, from that of the thousands of Jews around the world who concluded the Talmud along with him—he ponders its larger significance:

Jews who don’t know the Talmud take their ideas of it from Western culture, which reflects Christianity’s view of the Talmud rather than Judaism’s. After all, when the Apostle Paul said, in 2Corinthians, that “the letter [of the Law] killeth but the spirit giveth life,” it was halakhah that he had in mind. Ever since—and for secular, “enlightened” Western thinkers as well as religious ones—the Talmud has been synonymous with arid legalism. In English, the word “talmudic” connotes perverse over-analysis. This is one of the main reasons why I wanted to do daf yomi—so that I could understand how Jews themselves thought about their law, rather than how others defined it for them.

The still unanswered question is whether a Judaism cut off from its roots in the Talmud can keep thriving for long. Much has been written about how the future of American Judaism is Orthodox, an idea that would have greatly surprised the American Jews of the mid-20th century. Demographically, this is because non-Orthodox Jews are assimilating, intermarrying, and having few children, while Orthodox Jews are doing the opposite.

But that demographic reality rests on a deeper spiritual reality, which is that Orthodox Judaism offers something other denominations do not—and that offer has everything to do with the Talmud. Traditional Judaism insists that the rigors of living according to halakhah are justified because they bring the Jew into contact with God. Indeed, the rigors help to convince the believer that he is following God, since why else would he take so many pains and sacrifice so much freedom?

But the ideal Jewish life, for the rabbis, involves more than obeying God’s law at every moment. Above all it means studying that law.

Read more at Tablet

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Paul of Tarsus, Talmud

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy