A Great Jewish Historian’s Controversial Analysis of American Judaism, Three Decades Later

One of the leading scholars of medieval Jewish law and the scion of a great rabbinic dynasty, Haym Soloveitchik may be best known for his 1994 essay, “Rupture and Reconstruction: The Transformation of Contemporary Orthodoxy,” which analyzes the changes that he witnessed in American Orthodox Judaism during his own lifetime. Put simply, halakhah was for the older generation a “mimetic” tradition, passed on when children imitate the practices of their parents, grandparents, and teachers. But in the wake of the momentous changes of the 20th century, it became a textual tradition, whereby people look to the holy books and the scholars who interpret them for guidance in everyday behavior.

Soloveitchik here revisits the essay, and the reactions to it, in a rare interview with David Bashevkin. To explain his views, he turns to a subject on which he has done intensive research: the prohibition on yayin nesekh, or wine consecrated to be used as libations to pagan gods. This rule expanded over time—not just by rabbinic fiat, but also by popular zeal—into a blanket ban on any wine produced by a Gentile.

Soloveitchik notes that, overall, the textual approach has led to greater scrupulousness, with the constant introduction of sometimes-obscure stringencies (humras). By contrast, despite the carefulness of their observance, Orthodox Jews today have less of a sense of God’s immediacy. For instance: a century ago, a Jew would pray with deep, heartfelt emotion for his parnasah (livelihood), feeling it entirely in God’s hands, while today even ḥaredi Jews are more likely to attribute success or failure to material and economic factors. (Audio, 80 minutes. The interview itself begins at 30:40.)

Read more at 18forty

More about: American Judaism, Halakhah, Middle Ages, Orthodoxy


Planning for the Day after the War in the Gaza Strip

At the center of much political debate in Israel during the past week, as well as, reportedly, of disagreement between Jerusalem and Washington, is the problem of how Gaza should be governed if not by Hamas. Thus far, the IDF has only held on to small parts of the Strip from which it has cleared out the terrorists. Michael Oren lays out the parameters of this debate over what he has previous called Israel’s unsolvable problem, and sets forth ten principles that any plan should adhere to. Herewith, the first five:

  1. Israel retains total security control in Gaza, including control of all borders and crossings, until Hamas is demonstrably defeated. Operations continue in Rafah and elsewhere following effective civilian evacuations. Military and diplomatic efforts to secure the hostages’ release continue unabated.
  2. Civil affairs, including health services and aid distribution, are administered by Gazans unaffiliated with Hamas. The model will be Area B of Judea and Samaria, where Israel is in charge of security and Palestinians are responsible for the civil administration.
  3. The civil administration is supervised by the Palestinian Authority once it is “revitalized.” The PA first meets benchmarks for ending corruption and establishing transparent institutions. The designation and fulfillment of the benchmarks is carried out in coordination with Israel.
  4. The United States sends a greatly expanded and improved version of the Dayton Mission that trained PA police forces in Gaza after Israel’s disengagement.
  5. Abraham Accords countries launch a major inter-Arab initiative to rebuild and modernize Gaza.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security, U.S.-Israel relationship