A Lesson from the Voice of Cecil B. DeMille’s God

In preparing his production of The Ten Commandments, Cecil B. DeMille asked his head of research for advice about how the voice of God speaking from the burning bush should sound. The researcher came back to him with an ancient rabbinic commentary stating that God spoke to Moses on that occasion with the voice of Moses’ own father, Amram. Meir Soloveichik comments:

The midrashic passage is a profound reflection of the drama at the center of Moses’ life. According to Exodus, Moses was born a Hebrew, but he was raised in the palace of Pharaoh. He had every incentive to ignore the travails of the people to whom he was bound by blood and yet could not resist making their cause his own. According to this magnificent midrash, it was a sense of connection to his familial past that never left Moses; what called him back was the recollection of a voice from the past, a father that he might never have seen since entering the Egyptian palace. Moses, in other words, embraced his Hebrew heritage because he was drawn by what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”

DeMille’s movie, and the midrash that it utilized, reminds us that Moses’ story is one of family loyalty and identity, one that speaks to our own age. “Several centuries of Western thought,” Rabbi Jonathan Sacks reflected, “have left us with the idea that when we choose how to live, we are on our own. Nothing in the past binds us. We are whoever we choose to be.” And yet, Sacks adds, it is against this idea that “Jewish life is a sustained countervoice. To be a Jew is to know that this cannot be the full story of who I am. . . . The part has meaning in terms of its place within the whole, so that if history has meaning, then the lives that make it up must in some way be joined to one another as characters in a narrative.”

The Exodus is a tale that changed the world, its impact extending far beyond the Jewish people, but the story of the hero that brought it about is one that speaks particularly to Jews who, in this age of assimilation, still continue to gather every year to retell and re-experience its story.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Hebrew Bible, Hollywood, Jonathan Sacks, Moses


How to Save the Universities

To Peter Berkowitz, the rot in American institutions of higher learning exposed by Tuesday’s hearings resembles a disease that in its early stages was easy to cure but difficult to diagnose, and now is so advanced that it is easy to diagnose but difficult to cure. Recent analyses of these problems have now at last made it to the pages of the New York Times but are, he writes, “tardy by several decades,” and their suggested remedies woefully inadequate:

They fail to identify the chief problem. They ignore the principal obstacles to reform. They propose reforms that provide the equivalent of band-aids for gaping wounds and shattered limbs. And they overlook the mainstream media’s complicity in largely ignoring, downplaying, or dismissing repeated warnings extending back a quarter century and more—largely, but not exclusively, from conservatives—that our universities undermine the public interest by attacking free speech, eviscerating due process, and hollowing out and politicizing the curriculum.

The remedy, Berkowitz argues, would be turning universities into places that cultivate, encourage, and teach freedom of thought and speech. But doing so seems unlikely:

Having undermined respect for others and the art of listening by presiding over—or silently acquiescing in—the curtailment of dissenting speech for more than a generation, the current crop of administrators and professors seems ill-suited to fashion and implement free-speech training. Moreover, free speech is best learned not by didactic lectures and seminars but by practicing it in the reasoned consideration of competing ideas with those capable of challenging one’s assumptions and arguments. But where are the professors who can lead such conversations? Which faculty members remain capable of understanding their side of the argument because they understand the other side?

Read more at RealClearPolitics

More about: Academia, Anti-Semitism, Freedom of Speech, Israel on campus