When the Pandemic Fades, Will Synagogues Return to Normal?

During the 1918 influenza epidemic, Los Angeles shut down all public gatherings, including religious services, for two months. The Friday night after the ban was lifted, the pews overflowed at Sinai Temple, where congregants were enthusiastic to pray as a community once again—and to listen to the newly hired cantor. David Wolpe, the synagogue’s current rabbi, wonders if the post-coronavirus reopening will have the same effect:

Judaism is a tradition built on community. Religion, said the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, is what a man does with his solitude. Not in Judaism. Some important prayers, including the kaddish for the dead, are to be recited only when at least ten people are present. In Hebrew, a synagogue is called not a “house of worship,” but a “house of gathering.”

Now when all the dinners and tributes and graduations are canceled, we mark them on Zoom—a frozen dinner in place of a feast. Rabbis around the world with whom I have spoken question the durability of ancient practices. How deep will congregants’ commitment to their synagogues be after months of this? . . . Each morning, we watch services on a screen instead of gathering in the synagogue. When the pandemic wanes, will we trade our sweatpants for suits and join together again? In a society where commitment to institutions is waning and “joining” is no longer the social norm, synagogue attendance was already on the decline. Will this pandemic accelerate the trend or (hope against hope) revive the need to gather in prayer and celebration?

My inclination is to believe that human nature is immutable, that when we take off our masks, we will rush, smiling, back into one another’s arms as people did a century ago. . . . But for all the certain proclamations about what the world will be like, we are none of us prophets, and so we wait to see whether the human hunger for community will override the lingering fear of illness and the frictionlessness of watching from a distance.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Coronavirus, Judaism, Synagogue

Don’t Let Iran Go Nuclear

Sept. 29 2022

In an interview on Sunday, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that the Biden administration remains committed to nuclear negotiations with the Islamic Republic, even as it pursues its brutal crackdown on the protests that have swept the country. Robert Satloff argues not only that it is foolish to pursue the renewal of the 2015 nuclear deal, but also that the White House’s current approach is failing on its own terms:

[The] nuclear threat is much worse today than it was when President Biden took office. Oddly, Washington hasn’t really done much about it. On the diplomatic front, the administration has sweetened its offer to entice Iran into a new nuclear deal. While it quite rightly held firm on Iran’s demand to remove the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps from an official list of “foreign terrorist organizations,” Washington has given ground on many other items.

On the nuclear side of the agreement, the United States has purportedly agreed to allow Iran to keep, in storage, thousands of advanced centrifuges it has made contrary to the terms of the original deal. . . . And on economic matters, the new deal purportedly gives Iran immediate access to a certain amount of blocked assets, before it even exports most of its massive stockpile of enriched uranium for safekeeping in a third country. . . . Even with these added incentives, Iran is still holding out on an agreement. Indeed, according to the most recent reports, Tehran has actually hardened its position.

Regardless of the exact reason why, the menacing reality is that Iran’s nuclear program is galloping ahead—and the United States is doing very little about it. . . . The result has been a stunning passivity in U.S. policy toward the Iran nuclear issue.

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Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Iran nuclear deal, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy