How a Traditional Shavuot Practice Could Revive American Civil Religion

In our times, respect for—and knowledge of—the Constitution and founding principles of the United States is sorely lacking among its citizenry, as are feelings of national solidarity and civic duty. But perhaps the Jewish practices related to the holiday of Shavuot, which begins Saturday evening and celebrates the giving of the Torah, can inspire ways to revive the American national spirit. Stuart Halpern and Tevi Troy suggest looking to the book of Ruth, traditionally read on the holiday, and its tale of immigration and mutual support—as well as its message of optimism. Meanwhile Dore Feith looks to the ritual of tikkun leyl Shavuot, or midnight-to-dawn study session, usually held on the first night of the holiday:

The study can be solitary, in pairs or study groups, or in lectures. It is intellectually enriching and socially fun. Usually-quiet neighborhoods buzz with activity deep into the night as celebrants stroll between lectures, see friends, and compare notes on insights they have picked up. At daybreak, the students of Shavuot eve become worshipers, migrating from study halls to synagogues for holiday prayers. Taken together, the studying and worship demonstrate the Jewish people’s recommitment to their covenant with God and His Law.

Recently, especially in Israel, secular Jews have also participated in Shavuot-eve study. They may not focus on religious texts, but they attend lessons on Jewish history, debate in public-policy salons, and stage music concerts (though Jewish religious law prohibits such concerts during the holiday). Secular Jews have transformed a religious ritual into a civic one that highlights texts and cultures, religious and secular, that have sustained the Jewish nation for millennia.

Americans could benefit from their own version of Shavuot eve—an annual rite of rededication to America’s principles through the reading (and rereading) of foundational texts.

Call it “Founding Night.” Once a year, bars, cafes, think tanks, and museums could stay open late into the night for lectures or texts study. Topics may range from one of the Federalist papers to the role of churches in early American political life and the music of that era. Love and veneration can also be expressed through criticism. Sessions could cover the founders’ accomplishments and sins, and their deliberations on slavery and the Native American tribes. Throughout the night people could drop into music concerts, receptions, and parties happening around town. Coffee would flow. It would be non-partisan. Founding Night could host a wide range of viewpoints while still being a clear celebration of the spirits of 1776 and 1787.

Read more at First Things

More about: American founding, American society, Civil religion, Judaism, Shavuot


Would an American-Backed UN Resolution Calling for a Temporary Ceasefire Undermine Israel?

Yesterday morning, the U.S. vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution, sponsored by Algeria, that demanded an immediate ceasefire in Gaza. As an alternative, the American delegation has been circulating a draft resolution calling for a “temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released.” Benny Avni comments:

While the Israel Defense Force may be able to maintain its Gaza operations under that provision, the U.S.-proposed resolution also warns the military against proceeding with its plan to enter the southern Gaza town of Rafah. Israel says that a critical number of Hamas fighters are hiding inside tunnels and in civilian buildings at Rafah, surrounded by a number of the remaining 134 hostages.

In one paragraph, the text of the new American resolution says that the council “determines that under current circumstances a major ground offensive into Rafah would result in further harm to civilians and their further displacement including potentially into neighboring countries, which would have serious implications for regional peace and security, and therefore underscores that such a major ground offensive should not proceed under current circumstances.”

In addition to the paragraph about Rafah, the American-proposed resolution is admonishing Israel not to create a buffer zone inside Gaza. Such a narrow zone, as wide as two miles, is seen by many Israelis as a future protection against infiltration from Gaza.

Perhaps, as Robert Satloff argues, the resolution isn’t intended to forestall an IDF operation in Rafah, but only—consistent with prior statements from the Biden administration—to demand that Israel come up with a plan to move civilians out of harms way before advancing on the city.

If that is so, the resolution wouldn’t change much if passed. But why is the U.S. proposing an alternative ceasefire resolution at all? Strategically, Washington has nothing to gain from stopping Israel, its ally, from achieving a complete victory over Hamas. Why not instead pass a resolution condemning Hamas (something the Security Council has not done), calling for the release of hostages, and demanding that Qatar and Iran stop providing the group with arms and funds? Better yet, demand that these two countries—along with Turkey, Syria, and Lebanon—arrest Hamas leaders on their territory.

Surely Russia would veto such a resolution, but still, why not go on the offensive, rather than trying to come up with another UN resolution aimed at restraining Israel?

Read more at New York Sun

More about: Gaza War 2023, U.S.-Israel relationship, United Nations