Can Liberal Judaism Recover Its Sense of Obligation?

To Leon Morris, what the non-Orthodox denominations of Judaism need more than anything is a cultivation of the sort of capacity for “deep commitments” that has been lost in an age of individualism. He writes:

While we liberal Jews may remain unable and rightfully unwilling to submit to the claims of classic or traditional religious authority, I believe we must nonetheless embrace notions of obligation and duty, and hold them dear alongside the much more frequently touted value of personal choice. The time has come to use our freedom to choose to feel commanded.

In our affluent capitalist culture, choices proliferate in every area of life. Such choices—from where we live, to what car we drive, to how we spend our free time—provide us with meaning and self-definition. But in our religious lives, having endless options at our disposal is a mixed blessing. Flexibility and accommodation, qualities that exemplify liberal religion, can also become a refusal to surrender. The proliferation of Passover seders held on the most convenient day in April rather than on the holiday’s first night, whenever it might fall in our work and social lives, is a well-documented example of this trend.

Morris finds, through a careful reading of talmudic sources, a firm basis for the sort of religiosity he advocates. Take, for instance, an ancient midrash on the verse in Exodus that describes the Ten Commandments as engraved (ḥarut) on the stone tablets given to Moses:

By playing with the vowels to change the Hebrew word ḥarut into ḥerut [freedom], that which at first appears as the polar opposite of freedom—the binding law engraved on the tablets—is seen anew as the basis of freedom. Commandment and freedom are not polarities. Rather, freedom expresses itself most fully through the opportunity to hear and live commandments.

Read more at Sources

More about: American Judaism, Judaism, Talmud

Iran’s Calculations and America’s Mistake

There is little doubt that if Hizballah had participated more intensively in Saturday’s attack, Israeli air defenses would have been pushed past their limits, and far more damage would have been done. Daniel Byman and Kenneth Pollack, trying to look at things from Tehran’s perspective, see this as an important sign of caution—but caution that shouldn’t be exaggerated:

Iran is well aware of the extent and capability of Israel’s air defenses. The scale of the strike was almost certainly designed to enable at least some of the attacking munitions to penetrate those defenses and cause some degree of damage. Their inability to do so was doubtless a disappointment to Tehran, but the Iranians can probably still console themselves that the attack was frightening for the Israeli people and alarming to their government. Iran probably hopes that it was unpleasant enough to give Israeli leaders pause the next time they consider an operation like the embassy strike.

Hizballah is Iran’s ace in the hole. With more than 150,000 rockets and missiles, the Lebanese militant group could overwhelm Israeli air defenses. . . . All of this reinforces the strategic assessment that Iran is not looking to escalate with Israel and is, in fact, working very hard to avoid escalation. . . . Still, Iran has crossed a Rubicon, although it may not recognize it. Iran had never struck Israel directly from its own territory before Saturday.

Byman and Pollack see here an important lesson for America:

What Saturday’s fireworks hopefully also illustrated is the danger of U.S. disengagement from the Middle East. . . . The latest round of violence shows why it is important for the United States to take the lead on pushing back on Iran and its proxies and bolstering U.S. allies.

Read more at Foreign Policy

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, U.S. Foreign policy