A Rabbi Reflects on What Religion Offers a Fractured America

One of America’s most prominent rabbis, David Wolpe recently announced his retirement from Sinai Temple in Los Angeles. Looking back on his 26-year career, he reflects on what he has learned about religion and the human condition:

Sometimes it seems, for those outside of faith communities, that religion is simply about a set of beliefs to which one assents. But I know that from the inside it is about relationships and shared vision. Where else do people sing together week after week? Where else does the past come alive to remind us how much has been learned before the sliver of time we are granted in this world?

I know the percentage of those who not only call themselves religious but also find themselves in religious communities declines each year. The cost of this ebbing of social cohesion is multifaceted. At the most basic, it tears away at the social fabric. Many charities rely solely on religious institutions. People in churches and synagogues and mosques reliably contribute more to charities—religious and nonreligious—than their secular counterparts do. The disunity that plagues us in each political cycle is also partly because of a loss of shared moral purpose which people once found each week in the pews.

Keeping a congregation together has never been easy, and mine has become increasingly politically divided in an ever more polarizing era. . . . Over the years I have encouraged people to learn about each other’s lives before they explore each other’s politics. When you share the struggles of raising children and navigating life, when you attend meetings and pack lunches together, when you are on the same softball team and sit near each other in synagogue, you don’t start each conversation with how the other party’s candidate is a scoundrel.

Read more at New York Times

More about: American Religion, American society, Judaism, Synagogues

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict