American Jewish Thought Is Incredibly Rich. But Can It Succeed Without a Shared Sense of Commandedness?

Reviewing a new anthology titled American Jewish Thought since 1934, David Wolpe finds much worth reading and thinking about, from the works of the “great triumvirate” of Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, and Joseph B. Soloveitchik to essays by such thinkers as José Faur, Leo Strauss, and Hannah Arendt. But amid this intellectual feast, he finds evidence of the fundamental fragility of modern Jewish theology:

Jewish thinkers were once more preoccupied with explaining what God commands than why. . . . That there were commandments and a legal system that spelled them out was not really in doubt. This was not just a matter of theory; it was a matter of social fact. Jews lived in communities in which observance of the mitzvot was a way of life.

However, once the life of mitzvot is not a communal given and the notion of a divine Being who cares about what one eats becomes difficult to believe, the burden on Jewish religious thinkers is not merely to find symbolic or pragmatic reasons for the commandments but to justify them as commandments at all. “Because He—or the authoritative tradition He authorized—said so” no longer serves, and the main problem is only secondarily the male pronoun.

Thus, most modern Jewish thinkers have turned from explanations of obedience to ideologies of encouragement: you should make this practice part of your life for the following reasons . . . But none of these reasons is as compelling as a divine command, and liberal theology, and to some extent even Orthodox theology, has been a series of attempts to craft a rationale that delivers some sense of obligation. Yet “you should” will never be as compelling as “you must.”

Although there are, as evidenced in this anthology, serious and brilliant contemporary liberal Jewish thinkers, the number of serious liberal Jews is shrinking. [Thus] many Jews find that what they believe cannot be transmitted, and what can be effectively transmitted they cannot believe.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, Hannah Arendt, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Leo Strauss, Mitzvot, Mordechai Kaplan


Iran’s Program of Subversion and Propaganda in the Caucasus

In the past week, Iranian proxies and clients have attacked Israel from the West Bank, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. Iran also has substantial military assets in Iraq and Syria—countries over which it exercises a great deal of control—which could launch significant attacks on Israel as well. Tehran, in addition, has stretched its influence northward into both Azerbaijan and Armenia. While Israel has diplomatic relations with both of these rival nations, its relationship with Baku is closer and involves significant military and security collaboration, some of which is directed against Iran. Alexander Grinberg writes:

Iran exploits ethnic and religious factors in both Armenia and Azerbaijan to further its interests. . . . In Armenia, Iran attempts to tarnish the legitimacy of the elected government and exploit the church’s nationalist position and tensions between it and the Armenian government; in Azerbaijan, the Iranian regime employs outright terrorist methods similar to its support for terrorist proxies in the Middle East [in order to] undermine the regime.

Huseyniyyun (Islamic Resistance Movement of Azerbaijan) is a terrorist militia made up of ethnic Azeris and designed to fight against Azerbaijan. It was established by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps . . . in the image of other pro-Iranian militias. . . . Currently, Huseyniyyun is not actively engaged in terrorist activities as Iran prefers more subtle methods of subversion. The organization serves as a mouthpiece of the Iranian regime on various Telegram channels in the Azeri language. The main impact of Huseyniyyun is that it helps spread Iranian propaganda in Azerbaijan.

The Iranian regime fears the end of hostilities between Armenia and Azerbaijan because this would limit its options for disruption. Iranian outlets are replete with anti-Semitic paranoia against Azerbaijan, accusing the country of awarding its territory to Zionists and NATO. . . . Likewise, it is noteworthy that Armenian nationalists reiterate hideous anti-Semitic tropes that are identical to those spouted by the Iranians and Palestinians. Moreover, leading Iranian analysts have no qualms about openly praising [sympathetic] Armenian clergy together with terrorist Iran-funded Azeri movements for working toward Iranian goals.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security

More about: Azerbaijan, Iran, Israeli Security