In Our Abnormal Times, the Jewish Calendar’s Month without Holidays Brings Some Welcome Normalcy

Yesterday began the second month of the Jewish calendar, known either as eshvan or Mareshvan. While the month’s name derives from the Akkadian, folk etymology explains it as meaning “bitter Ḥeshvan” (mar being the Hebrew word for “bitter”) in reference to the fact that it is the only Jewish month with neither fasts nor feasts, or any special days at all. Tevi Troy reflects:

The emptiness of Ḥeshvan contrasts with Tishrei, the month that precedes it. Tishrei is full of holidays, beginning with Rosh Hashanah and continuing with Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and the lesser-known days of Shmini Atseret and Simḥat Torah. All told, Tishrei has seven holy days on which Jews can do no work, meaning that an observant Jew might have to take off up to seven workdays in a four-week period.

Because it lacks special observances, Ḥeshvan can potentially make Jews feel less connected to God, or to one another. This is especially true now, thanks to COVID-19; the synagogues, if open, are mainly available for truncated outdoor services only, and not for traditional communal activities. Holidays, even if celebrated remotely, can remind us of shared religious connections.

But while this year’s Ḥeshvan still has some of its traditional bitterness, it will also feel less abnormal than the High Holy Day month of Tishrei did. In this year of isolation, these holiday were an especially strange time. Instead of the traditional observances with large crowds in services and meals with friends and extended families, there were Zoom gatherings, outdoor prayers, and meals only with immediate family. A COVID Tishrei feels very different from a regular Tishrei, but a COVID Ḥeshvan feels pretty normal. And in these uncertain times, getting back to normal sounds pretty good.

Read more at First Things

More about: Coronavirus, High Holidays, Jewish calendar, Jewish holidays


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