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


Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy