American Jews’ Many Efforts to Save Shabbat

Today, it can safely be said that most American Jews don’t observe the Sabbath in any manner, but it seems that complaining about declining Shabbat observance is itself a longstanding American Jewish tradition. Jenna Weissman Joselit writes:

During the waning years of the 19th century, a coalition of clergy and laity formed a succession of “anti-desecration” leagues, peopled by “earnest, zealous, and persevering men of honor and excellence of character.” In the 1880s, the members of the Sabbath Association, taking their cue from the abolitionists, constituted themselves a “movement” designed to influence Jewish public opinion. It sought to “induce” Jewish storekeepers to stay shut and Jewish consumers to desist from making the rounds on Saturday, while also encouraging everyone else—all those “erring Israelites”—to attend services.

When doubts about the viability and relevance of the Sabbath persisted [after World War II], the Conservative movement, then American Jewry’s fastest-growing denomination, decided after much internal to-ing and fro-ing to abolish some of the Sabbath’s traditional interdictions. It sanctioned the use of electricity, cars, and other appurtenances of modernity on the Sabbath, hoping these remedial measures might alter the course of things. They did not. Postwar American Jews remained as inattentive to Shabbos’s charms as their predecessors, leaving the newly built pews of the suburban synagogue just as empty as those of their urban predecessors.

For a brief spell in the early 1950s, the traditional day of rest received a momentary boost in popularity, spurred on by the publication of A.J. Heschel’s The Sabbath in 1951. A lyrical embrace of and salute to tradition, its emotional approach to the Sabbath, to the sanctity of time, momentarily won over many more adherents than technological access, especially after the Conservative movement’s United Synagogue made a point of distributing the text to its members as a part of its National Sabbath Observance Effort, a national campaign to highlight the Sabbath’s importance and, concomitantly, to supply young suburban Jews with the “know-how and know-why.”

Read more at Tablet

More about: Abraham Joshua Heschel, American Jewish History, American Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Shabbat

If Iran Goes Nuclear, the U.S. Will Be Forced Out of the Middle East

The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in May that Iran has, or is close to having, enough highly enriched uranium to build multiple atomic bombs, while, according to other sources, it is taking steps toward acquiring the technology to assemble such weapons. Considering the effects on Israel, the Middle East, and American foreign policy of a nuclear-armed Iran, Eli Diamond writes:

The basic picture is that the Middle East would become inhospitable to the U.S. and its allies when Iran goes nuclear. Israel would find itself isolated, with fewer options for deterring Iran or confronting its proxies. The Saudis and Emiratis would be forced into uncomfortable compromises.

Any course reversal has to start by recognizing that the United States has entered the early stages of a global conflict in which the Middle East is set to be a main attraction, not a sideshow.

Directly or not, the U.S. is engaged in this conflict and has a significant stake in its outcome. In Europe, American and Western arms are the only things standing between Ukraine and its defeat at the hands of Russia. In the Middle East, American arms remain indispensable to Israel’s survival as it wages a defensive, multifront war against Iran and its proxies Hamas and Hizballah. In the Indo-Pacific, China has embarked on the greatest military buildup since World War II, its eyes set on Taiwan but ultimately U.S. primacy.

While Iran is the smallest of these three powers, China and Russia rely on it greatly for oil and weapons, respectively. Both rely on it as a tool to degrade America’s position in the region. Constraining Iran and preventing its nuclear breakout would keep waterways open for Western shipping and undermine a key node in the supply chain for China and Russia.

Diamond offers a series of concrete suggestions for how the U.S. could push back hard against Iran, among them expanding the Abraham Accords into a military and diplomatic alliance that would include Saudi Arabia. But such a plan depends on Washington recognizing that its interests in Eastern Europe, in the Pacific, and in the Middle East are all connected.

Read more at National Review

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Middle East, U.S. Foreign policy