True Friendship Might Not Be Something You Can Find with an Algorithm

According to a recent survey, 22 percent of millennials report having no friends, and 27 percent having no close friends. In response, Silicon Valley has introduced new technologies, modeled after Internet dating sites, that help potential friends find one another. Devorah Goldman, bemoaning the decline of one of the most critical bonds of human society, looks to the wisdom of C.S. Lewis for insight:

In his memoir Surprised by Joy, Lewis distinguished between what he termed the “First Friend,” who “reveals to you that you are not alone in the world by turning out (beyond hope) to share all your most secret delights,” and the “Second Friend,” . . . “who disagrees with you about everything. He is not so much the alter ego as the anti-self. Of course he shares your interests; otherwise he would not be your friend at all. But he has approached them all at a different angle. . . . [Y]ou modify one another’s thought; out of this perpetual dogfight a community of mind and a deep affection emerges.”

Goldman notes that Judaism provides a rich understanding of this second type of friendship. It can be found, for instance, in the tradition of studying the Talmud in pairs, a practice “designed to be intense, boisterous, and argumentative.” Illustrative is the talmudic story of the sage Rabbi Yoḥanan, consumed by sorrow after the death of his friend, disciple, and sparring partner Reysh Lakish:

To alleviate his grief, several rabbis proposed that Rabbi Yoḥanan study with another brilliant scholar, Rabbi Elazar ben P’dat.

Rabbi Elazar might have fit the profile of Lewis’s First Friend: he not only agreed with Rabbi Yoḥanan’s every suggestion, but found creative ways to support his arguments. This, however, only exacerbated Yoḥanan’s sense of loss. “Are you comparable to [Lakish]?” he cried. “For every idea I put forward, he would raise 24 challenges, to which I would respond with 24 answers.” In this way, Rabbi Yoḥanan contended, their understanding and the law itself would expand and be clarified. He spent the remainder of his days calling out for his friend, until he lost his senses and died soon thereafter.

The story may be confusing and cryptic, but it underscores the idea that there is something significant at stake in forging a friendship, and that a friend is more than a form of entertainment. The utilitarian way in which app designers would have us pick friends off a menu reflects quite the opposite approach. Friendships are viewed as more comfortable and more disposable than . . . Lewis and the Talmud suggest they ought to be.

Read more at Public Discourse

More about: C.S. Lewis, Friendship, Internet, Millennials, Talmud

Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security