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


In the Aftermath of a Deadly Attack, President Sisi Should Visit Israel

On June 3, an Egyptian policeman crossed the border into Israel and killed three soldiers. Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow urge President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to respond by visiting the Jewish state as a show of goodwill:

Such a dramatic gesture is not without precedent: in 1997, a Jordanian soldier opened fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the “Isle of Peace,” a parcel of farmland previously under Israeli jurisdiction that Jordan leased back to Israel as part of the Oslo peace process. In a remarkable display of humanity, King Hussein of Jordan, who had only three years earlier signed a peace agreement with Israel, traveled to the Jewish state to mourn with the families of the seven girls who died in the massacre.

That massacre unfolded as a diplomatic cold front descended on Jerusalem and Amman. . . . Yet a week later, Hussein flipped the script. “I feel as if I have lost a child of my own,” Hussein lamented. He told the parents of one of the victims that the tragedy “affects us all as members of one family.”

While security cooperation [between Cairo and Jerusalem] remains strong, the bilateral relationship is still rather frosty outside the military domain. True normalization between the two nations is elusive. A survey in 2021 found that only 8 percent of Egyptians support “business or sports contacts” with Israel. With a visit to Israel, Sisi can move beyond the cold pragmatism that largely defines Egyptian-Israeli relations and recast himself as a world figure ready to embrace his diplomatic partners as human beings. At a personal level, the Egyptian leader can win international acclaim for such a move rather than criticism for his country’s poor human-rights record.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: General Sisi, Israeli Security, Jordan