How the Diary of an Israeli Astronaut Illuminates the Dual Nature of Mankind

The first day of this month marked the tenth anniversary of the space shuttle Columbia disaster, which resulted in the deaths of all seven astronauts—including Ilan Ramon, the first Israeli to travel outside the earth’s atmosphere. After his death, two pages of his inflight diary were found in a Texas field, having somehow survived the shuttle’s disintegration. Reflecting on their contents, Meir Soloveichik writes:

One [page] clearly describes the wonder of liftoff: shmonah dakot, v’od shniyot, . . . anaḥnu ba-ḥalal—“eight minutes and a few more seconds, . . . we are in space!” The man who had experienced more aviation than most . . . could not contain his wonder at the launch.

On the other page were words of a very different sort. Knowing that he would be spending Shabbat in space, Ramon had brought with him the words of the kiddush, the traditional Friday-night blessing over sacred time: “Blessed art Thou . . . who sanctifies us with His commandments . . . and You gave us in love this Sabbath day, . . . a remembrance of the act of creation, . . . first among sacred days, a remembrance of the Exodus of Egypt.”

Studying both pages, I realized that I was seeing a simple and sublime summation of one of the great works of Jewish thought: Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik’s The Lonely Man of Faith. Composed during the space race, The Lonely Man of Faith ponders two aspects of human nature that are equally ingrained with us. The first is the urge for invention, which has glorious and life-affirming results: “Man of the 17th and 18th centuries who needed several days to travel from Boston to New York was less dignified than modern man who attempts to conquer space, boards a plane at the New York airport at midnight and takes several hours later a leisurely walk along the streets of London.” Or, as Ilan Ramon might have put it: eight minutes, a few seconds, . . . and we are in space.

Yet Rabbi Soloveitchik urges modern society to remember that a world solely defined by technology would leave us less connected, not more; only in a faithful covenantal community are we truly linked to those who have come before and those who follow; . . .  and suddenly arrayed virtually before me were exquisite embodiments of his themes: one page about the wonder of orbiting the earth in a few minutes of time, and one page describing the desire of Jews throughout eternity to experience sacred time and unite ourselves with those who come before.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Ilan Ramon, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Judaism, Sabbath, Space exploration

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security