For Jews, the End Is Never the End

This past weekend Jews celebrated Shmini Atseret—the Eighth Day of Assembly—which concludes the weeks-long season of sacred days. According to an oft-cited parable explaining this holiday’s meaning, it represents God’s request that the Jewish people stay one extra day before “departing” from their extended “holiday visit.” Chaim Steinmetz subjects this parable to some scrutiny:

[H]ow will staying one more day make it easier to say goodbye? The problem of saying goodbye will come back the next day! [Rather], I think this Midrash is making a different point. By staying one more day beyond the end, we have demonstrated a significant truth: the end is not the end. With an extra day, the last day of Sukkot is no longer the last day of Sukkot. Shmini Atseret is actually an attack on the very notion of endings.

And Jews don’t believe in endings. Our notion of time is founded on the understanding that a timeless Being created the world; therefore, a concept of time with rigid beginnings and ends is impossible. For those whose greatest aspiration is to have an experience of the infinite, the constraints of time, with its beginnings and ends have a very different meaning.

In the Diaspora, Shmini Atseret is a two-day holiday; the second day, known as Simḥat Torah (Rejoicing of the Torah), also connects to the holiday’s significance, according to Steinmetz:

On Simḥat Torah we will be concluding our yearly reading of the Torah; yet immediately, almost compulsively, we must start reading the first book of the Torah, the book of Genesis, again. The Torah might have a final chapter but it has no end. We will return, and return again and again, to the Torah.

Jewish history also has no end. Jews have refused to accept the dignified burial that so many demanded of us. We have managed to survive, revive, and thrive, to the confusion of the pundits and the frustration of our enemies. Every time it looked like there was an end to Jewish history, there was a new beginning, even more remarkable than the previous one.

Read more at Happiness Warrior

More about: Jewish holidays, Judaism, Simhat Torah, Sukkot


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus