In Defense of the Synagogue

Aug. 10 2022

This century has seen the proliferation of alternatives to the synagogue, mostly spearheaded by younger people eager for new and fresher modes of association. But to David Wolpe, himself a congregational rabbi, these ultimately can’t provide replacements for shuls:

While new models of communal life will arise, such as Moishe House (where Jewish young professionals live together and create programs for their peers) or retreat centers, the question remains: which model will be continuously available throughout the life of a Jew? What happens when you outgrow the organization or the time for the retreat ends? A synagogue is for all ages, at all times. No other institution in Jewish life has that comprehensive commitment.

If other institutions assume the roles of the synagogue, the entire financial model of synagogues becomes imperiled. Synagogues don’t charge people to attend services, except for High Holy Days. Over time we have seen High Holy Day services spring up for people who either go to Shabbat services at synagogues for free or who don’t go at all. So synagogues are increasingly unable to survive financially.

The problem is one of [what is known in Jewish civil law as] hasagat g’vul, transgressing someone else’s boundary. . . . One solution is to fund more partnerships. If other organizations wish to assume functions traditionally done by synagogues, let them do it in some sort of conjunction with local synagogues. This could be a win-win for both parties.

New organizations have their role to play, but the shul is the backbone of Judaism. Once the synagogues are gone, it will not be easy to bring them back.

With that being said, as Wolpe’s coauthor Yaffa Epstein points out, the Talmud does recognize the importance of healthy competition to maintaining quality—even in religious matters.

Read more at Sapir

More about: American Jewry, American Judaism, Synagogue

Iran’s Four-Decade Strategy to Envelope Israel in Terror

Yesterday, the head of the Shin Bet—Israel’s internal security service—was in Washington meeting with officials from the State Department, CIA, and the White House itself. Among the topics no doubt discussed are rising tensions with Iran and the possibility that the latter, in order to defend its nuclear program, will instruct its network of proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, and even Iraq and Yemen to attack the Jewish state. Oved Lobel explores the history of this network, which, he argues, predates Iran’s Islamic Revolution—when Shiite radicals in Lebanon coordinated with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s movement in Iran:

An inextricably linked Iran-Syria-Palestinian axis has actually been in existence since the early 1970s, with Lebanon the geographical fulcrum of the relationship and Damascus serving as the primary operational headquarters. Lebanon, from the 1980s until 2005, was under the direct military control of Syria, which itself slowly transformed from an ally to a client of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The nexus among Damascus, Beirut, and the Palestinian territories should therefore always have been viewed as one front, both geographically and operationally. It’s clear that the multifront-war strategy was already in operation during the first intifada years, from 1987 to 1993.

[An] Iranian-organized conference in 1991, the first of many, . . . established the “Damascus 10”—an alliance of ten Palestinian factions that rejected any peace process with Israel. According to the former Hamas spokesperson and senior official Ibrahim Ghosheh, he spoke to then-Hizballah Secretary-General Abbas al-Musawi at the conference and coordinated Hizballah attacks from Lebanon in support of the intifada. Further important meetings between Hamas and the Iranian regime were held in 1999 and 2000, while the IRGC constantly met with its agents in Damascus to encourage coordinated attacks on Israel.

For some reason, Hizballah’s guerilla war against Israel in Lebanon in the 1980s and 1990s was, and often still is, viewed as a separate phenomenon from the first intifada, when they were in fact two fronts in the same battle.

Israel opted for a perilous unconditional withdrawal from Lebanon in May 2000, which Hamas’s Ghosheh asserts was a “direct factor” in precipitating the start of the second intifada later that same year.

Read more at Australia/Israel Review

More about: First intifada, Hizballah, Iran, Palestinian terror, Second Intifada