Contrary to Stereotypes, Vibrant Intellectual Life Can Be Found in Hasidic Communities

In general, ḥasidic Jews tend to look askance at academic Jewish studies, even when its practitioners are pious Jews. Thus Joshua Berman, an Orthodox rabbi and professor of Bible, was taken aback when a small group of Satmar Ḥasidim approached him to give an online seminar on his recent book on biblical criticism and Jewish faith (an extract can be read here, and Berman discussed the book on our podcast here). The five participants were not heretics-in-the-making, but simply eager to expand their intellectual horizons:

These men . . . are a stark contrast to the [usual] stereotype of ultra-Orthodox Jews [as] narrowminded individuals who eschew critical thinking and scientific evidence, treating as gospel every word of their community leader. These are men in their thirties who are happily raising families, working as accountants and as manufacturers and living in full devotion to their community and its interpretation of Jewish tradition and Jewish belief. But today, even behind the highest walls, the Internet seeps in. They seek to understand the complexity of the world they inhabit and make greater sense of their place in it.

At their initiative, we touched on the writings of Alan Dershowitz, James Kugel [another professor of Bible], and the Princeton scholar of modern Jewish thought Leora Batnitzky. For nearly two hours we engaged questions such as, are the Jews a nation or a religion? Are the biblical portraits of the patriarchs historically true? What are the limits of what a Jew must believe?

This is all quite extraordinary. There are individuals of many stripes who read widely to gain a greater appreciation of the world we live in and to find their place in it. But it is rare, indeed, to find a community of people who pursue this together and without the social and institutional structures to tell them that this is expected, or even virtuous. And it is all the more remarkable that they are engaged in this common pursuit at that busiest stage of life, while raising small children and working. At the University of Chicago, Allan Bloom famously decried the closing of the American mind. Who would have thought that its awakening in a communal setting would happen in the Satmar confines of Williamsburg?

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Allan Bloom, Biblical criticism, Biblical scholarship, Hasidism, Satmar

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University