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


Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy