Last week, the Israeli defense minister Benny Gantz visited Morocco, where for the first time he was accompanied by uniformed Israeli military personnel. Gantz’s visit comes on the heels of visits in the last year by Israeli national-security advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat and Israeli foreign minister Yair Lapid, both of whom prepared the way for full diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Building on Israel and Morocco’s burgeoning diplomatic relations, the purpose of Gantz’s recent visit was to negotiate a memorandum of understanding focused on their security cooperation. Judah Ari Gross, the military correspondent for the Times of Israel and this week’s podcast guest, accompanied Gantz on his trip. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains here how this historic agreement happened, what it means, and how it serves each nation’s interests.

There aren’t enough public schools in Maine. By some estimates, about half of Maine’s school districts don’t have the facilities or faculty to educate students who live in them. The state’s solution is to give families who live in such districts money to send their children to another school—either a different public school further away, or a private school. But Maine doesn’t make that funding available to families who choose to send their children to religious schools. In just a few weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in the case of Carson v. Makin, a case that could affect the way that Maine, and the greater United States, deals with the funding of religious schools.

On this week’s podcast, the legal academic Avi Helfand joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to discuss the amicus brief that he filed for this case, and to explore whether Maine is acting in a way that is consistent with the First Amendment’s religious freedom protections. This particular case also allows for Helfand to questions more fundamental legal heuristics, such as the supposed distinction in American case-law between a legal entity’s religious “status,” and its “use” of religion.

Until recently, America was an outlier: despite rising affluence, its birthrate remained high, unlike in other countries where more riches have brought fewer children. That’s no longer the case today. America is now in demographic decline. Writing in National Review, the political economist and demographer Nicholas Eberstadt observes that

U.S. fertility levels have never before fallen as low as they are today. In 2019—before the coronavirus pandemic—America’s total fertility rate (TFR—a measure of births per woman per lifetime) was 1.71, roughly 18 percent lower than the roughly 2.1 births per woman required for long-term population stability. By then, U.S. fertility levels were so low that even Mormon Utah had gone sub-replacement. And U.S. fertility levels were even lower in 2020. With a TFR of 1.64, America was well over 20 percent below replacement.

Today, a number of young American women are pursuing the stuff of dystopian novels: the prospect of a childless future. These young women don’t just choose to avoid motherhood—they actively embrace that choice as a marker of their identity. Some embrace the label “child-free,” with the implication that they don’t want to have children themselves but are okay with other people doing so, while others are positively “anti-natalist”—they don’t want to have children and they also think that it’s immoral for anyone else to do so. Many of these women have even turned to surgical procedures to ensure they will never become mothers.

It’s difficult to estimate how large this group is, but it’s likely quite small. Nevertheless, despite its small size, it reveals something about American culture and its attitude toward the tradeoffs of family. What is it like to see the world as someone who is ideologically committed to not having children?  This week, the writer Suzy Weiss joins the show to discuss a recent article of hers that tries to answer that question. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she explains how the child-free think, what motivates them, and what their existence says about mainstream American society.

It’s often thought that the Hebrew Bible focuses on the human capacity for good rather than on urging prosperity—that, in other words, trade and markets―areas where rational actors seek to maximize their self-interest―are distinct from ethical conduct and moral behavior. But that distinction, argues the author of a new commentary on the book of Genesis, is a false one.

To the Israeli venture capitalist and author Michael Eisenberg, Genesis and the rest of the Hebrew Bible can shape, channel, and propel the natural desire humans have to create wealth. It can help them engage in business not for the sake of greed but to establish a society of opportunity, one that recognizes the human dignity of all. Here he joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to discuss how his extensive investment experience and study of Hebrew scripture helped him think theologically about labor, wealth, credit, debt, and more.

When Elie Wiesel was fifteen years old, the Nazis murdered his mother and sister and enslaved him and his father in Buchenwald. After the U.S. Army liberated the camp in April 1945, Wiesel went to France, where he studied the humanities and worked as a writer, and then to New York, where he became a professor and an activist for human rights. Wiesel, who died in July 2016, wrote some 60 books, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, and was counselor to presidents, senators, kings, and prime ministers.

Recently, he and his family were honored by the installation of a sculpture of his likeness in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The manner of this honoring introduces some particularly vexing Jewish questions, which his son Elisha discussed in a recent Washington Post op-ed. Elie Wiesel was a moral hero, and a particularly Jewish one. His family worried that his memorialization in a church would emphasize the universalist elements of his legacy, and discard particular Jewish elements of his moral persona—including his Jewish observance and his Zionist commitments. Elisha joins Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver to think about these questions, his father’s legacy, and more on this week’s podcast.

“We have arrived at a unique point in history,” a recent essay argues, “where many Americans love nothing more than themselves, and the only functioning organization that touches their lives is a corporation.” The author continues, “that’s all good and well as a single striver sprinting along our treadmill of an economic system; the above realization takes on a more somber tone when confronted with the only form of immortality available to most of us: our children.”

That secular modernity functions perfectly fine until the biggest questions of life arise is just one notable observation among many made by the tech entrepreneur Antonio Garcia Martinez in his two-part essay “Why Judaism.” In it, Martinez looks at how Judaism presented itself to him as the antidote to the problems he felt mainstream secular American life couldn’t solve. Now, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he fleshes out his essay, explaining how he came to his conclusions and what made Judaism such a compelling alternative.

The Jewish Agency for Israel is the largest Jewish non-profit in the world. Founded in 1929, it incubated the state of Israel’s proto-government, and, upon the state’s declaration of independence, its officers became Israel’s ministers. Since then, it has brought thousands of Jews to the land of Israel, and it has invested in agriculture, housing, social services, and other programs crucial to Israel’s survival and prosperity. But that’s all mostly in the past. Now that a state has been established, and that most diaspora communities are not in danger, what should the Jewish Agency do? What is its purpose?

Haviv Rettig Gur, senior analyst for the Times of Israel, was a former communications director of the Jewish Agency, and so he has a few ideas about what it should be doing today. That question is especially pertinent now, as later this month a new agency chairman will be elected. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Gur tries to make sense of the history, governance, strategy, and future of the Jewish world’s biggest non-profit.

Every week, on the seventh day—the Sabbath—observant Jews rest. They perform no labor and they dedicate the day to serving God. This idea, the Sabbath, has another application in the Hebrew Bible: God also commands the observance of a sabbatical year to be taken every seventh year and during which the land of Israel would lie fallow and debts would be remitted. For most of Jewish history, the laws of this year, known as shmita, were abstract and remote. But with the growth of modern Zionism, and then the rebirth of the sovereign Jewish state, the laws of shmita have acquired a renewed importance. Jewish farmers are obliged to let the land of Israel lie fallow every seven years, and religiously observant Jews are prohibited from consuming fruit grown on that land. Does this happen in Israel today, and if so, how? And what are the deeper ideas embedded in the practice of shmita?

The questions are not abstract; this new Jewish year, 5782, is a shmita year. So on this week’s podcast, the rabbi Yedidya (Julian) Sinclair joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain why this biblical ordinance is so important, and how it’s expressed in Israel today. Recently, Sinclair translated and authored a commentary on a famous rabbinical work about shmita, Shabbat Ha’Aretz, The Sabbath of the Land, by the rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, who is considered the father of religious Zionism and whose ideas about shmita govern much of its application in Israel today.

This week, Jews celebrate the holiday of Sukkot, during which it is traditional to read one of the most philosophically interesting books of the Hebrew Bible, Ecclesiastes. The narrator of the book, known by Jewish tradition to be King Solomon, has spent his life exploring the many corners of human endeavor, from the responsible life of politics to the pleasures of body and mind, and he has come to say that each corner, no matter how satisfying to certain parts of us, cannot answer our deepest needs—or perhaps cannot answer anything at all. Everything is vanity, the book whispers famously, and nothing more.

This week’s podcast guest, the Catholic philosopher Peter Kreeft, admires Ecclesiastes not for its ultimate answers to the fundamental questions of life but for its honest look at human problems. As he writes in his own commentary, “honest hedonism is spiritually superior to dishonest self-delusion.” In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he mines the biblical book for the wisdom it may offer.

The celebrated novelist Dara Horn’s new book People Love Dead Jews has an arresting title, one designed to make the reader feel uncomfortable. That’s because Horn makes an argument that tries to change the way people think about the function of Jews in the conscience of the West.

In the book, and in this podcast conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Horn suggests that Jewish communities, figures, and abstract symbols of “the Jews” have come to serve a moral role in the Western imagination that, when one takes a step back, is bizarre and grotesque.

Thirty years ago, in August 1991, riots broke out in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, a neighborhood shared by African Americans and Jews, the latter of whom were mostly members of the ḥasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. During the riot, which was sparked by a car accident that killed one young black child and injured another, local black residents attacked Jews on the streets, burned their businesses, and killed one of them, often while chanting anti-Semitic slogans. For three days, local authorities looked on passively.

The episode is a sad one in the history of American Jewish-black relations. This week’s podcast guest believes that if Jews and blacks are to enjoy a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship in the future, as they have in the past, understanding how and why events like the Crown Heights riot came about is essential. Elliot Kaufman did just that in a recent essay for the Wall Street Journal. A Canadian who is too young to remember what happened, Kaufman—in the piece and in this conversation with Mosaic‘s editor, Jonathan Silver—forensically reconstructs what happened in Crown Heights, puts together what it meant at the time, looks at what it teaches us today, and suggests pitfalls that can be avoided so that the two communities can avoid such bitter antagonism.

In an 1897 essay called “The Jewish State and the Jewish Problem,” the Zionist writer Aḥad Ha’am argued that “Judaism needs at present but little. It needs not an independent state, but only the creation in its native land of conditions favorable to its development: a good-sized settlement of Jews working without hindrance in every branch of culture, from agriculture and handicrafts to science and literature.” Ha’am believed that the most powerful arguments for Zionism were not economic but moral, and in his many essays he stressed the importance of forming a modern Jewish identity from authentically Jewish culture and ideas. Culture first, sovereignty later, in other words.

Ha’am was born in 1856 this week by the name Asher Ginsburg, and so we thought we’d mark the occasion by rebroadcasting a conversation about him between the Tikvah Fund’s executive director Eric Cohen and Allan Arkush, a professor of Judaic studies at Binghamton University and the senior contributing editor at the Jewish Review of Books. The two discuss Ha’am’s background, his ideas in this essay and elsewhere, and compare them to his more politically-minded Zionist rivals, namely Theodor Herzl.

In the year 1970, the distinguished American writer Cynthia Ozick published an essay arguing that Jewish literature might succeed if it embraced and conveyed the rich particularism of the Jewish experience. In a famous metaphor, she wrote that “If we blow into the narrow end of the shofar, we will be heard far. But if we choose to be mankind rather than Jewish and blow into the wider part, we will not be heard at all; for us America will have been in vain.”

Fifty years later the Jewish people’s relation to the surrounding culture is a subject that still preoccupies Ozick. Her new novel, Antiquities, deals with the same themes. It depicts an elderly American man who, in the process of writing his memoirs, fixates on a friendship he developed with an outcast Jewish boy during the time they shared decades before in an exclusive private school. On our podcast today, in conversation with Jonathan Silver, Ozick explains how this relationship caused the man to question whether there was a more “significant thing” he could devote himself to, and she reveals some of the subtle wrinkles in the book that direct the reader toward monotheism and to the Jewish tradition.

Two liberal arts professors were intrigued by a habit of mind they detected in their students, especially their high-achieving ones. Despite material abundance and the freedom to pursue a profession or passion of their choosing, their students were unsettled. Even after making a decision about what to pursue, they remain plagued by the thought that perhaps they should have done something else. This habit of mind, not unique to democracy in America but perhaps especially common in democratic conditions, is what today’s podcast guests call “restlessness.”

In their new book Why We Are Restless, Jenna and Benjamin Storey, both professors at Furman University, explain the cultural force that characterizes modern restlessness by looking back at an earlier tradition of French philosophy. In their interpretations of Michel de Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Alexis de Tocqueville, the Storeys reveal how restlessness was variously aimed at and criticized by earlier thinkers. And in conversation with Jonathan Silver, they speculate about what modern Americans, and modern American Jews, can do to understand it.

With anti-Semitism on the rise over the last few years, it is essential for institutions to be able to assess clearly whether an incident is anti-Semitic or not. For this purpose, over the last two decades many governments, companies, and international organizations have, as Joshua Muravchik discusses in this month’s Mosaic essay, adopted the “working definition of anti-Semitism” from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Today, the U.S. federal government uses the IHRA definition to assess federal claims of anti-Semitism under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and all government agencies also consider the IHRA definition in their own assessments of anti-Semitism.

This week, Kenneth Marcus, who was instrumental in getting the federal government to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, joins our podcast. Formerly the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, Marcus has played a major role in protecting the civil rights of diverse groups, including Jews facing anti-Semitism; he’s also the author of Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America, and The Definition of Anti-Semitism. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he explains how the IHRA definition helps American officials protect civil rights.

Home to the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the city of Jerusalem has unparalleled spiritual significance for millions of people around the world. But in addition to all of its religious and philosophical importance, Jerusalem is also an actual city, with gas stations and grocery stores and office buildings and more. It has to be governed and managed just as New York, Chicago, and Moscow do. So what’s it like to be responsible for garbage collection, and all the other everyday city needs, in the most spiritual city in the West?

That’s what, Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem and now a member of Knesset from the Likud party, joins our podcast this week to talk about. Barkat was Jerusalem’s mayor from 2008 to 2018, a decade that saw tremendous growth for Israel’s capital. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains what it takes to govern Jerusalem, what he learned from his time as mayor, and how the challenges facing Jerusalem mirror the challenges faced by the Jewish state itself.

It’s sometimes asserted, particularly in elite circles, that liberal American Jews have grown distant from Israel because of Israel’s actions, including those undertaken by longtime and now former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. With the ascension this year of a new prime minister and a new government in Israel, the time has come to reassess that argument and consider it anew.

The American-Israeli writer Daniel Gordis disagrees with this idea, that Israel’s actions determined American Jewish attitudes. To him, the growing divide between Israeli and American Jews is decidedly not about what Israel does. It is, rather, about what Israel is. The two largest Jewish communities in the world are animated by different attitudes about Jewish life and Jewish prosperity. In this rebroadcast conversation from 2019 between Gordis and Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he argues that these more fundamental differences, not the policies of the Netanyahu government or the chief rabbinate, are the true cause of the widening rift between the Jews of Israel and the United States. That suggests that a simple change in a policy—as the new government may bring about—won’t bridge the gap.

Mandatory army service plays an essential function within Israeli civic culture, absorbing and equalizing Ashkenazi, Mizraḥi (Middle Eastern), religious, secular, male, female, Ethiopian, Russian Jews and more. In the IDF, all of these identities step back and create room for a national Israeli identity to step forward.

Almost every Jewish community in Israel serves in the IDF, except one: the Ḥaredi (ultra-Orthodox) community. 70 years ago, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, famously gave ḥaredi leaders an official exemption from compulsory national service, an exemption that persists to this day, along with much accompanying controversy. On this week’s podcast, the ḥaredi leader Yehoshua Pfeffer, himself a rabbinic judge, asks whether that exemption is just. In conversation with Mosaic‘s editor Jonathan Silver, he explores the background behind the reluctance to serve, and brings us inside the debate currently unfolding within Israel’s Orthodox communities about the fulfillment of civic obligation and moral duty.

On June 24, 2021, in the middle of the night, part of a 12-story condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida suddenly collapsed. Thus far, eighteen people are confirmed dead and 145 remain missing as rescue operations continue. Like other natural disasters, the tragedy in Surfside was a loss of innocent life that, for believers in a just God, seems completely disconnected from notions of justice, reward, and punishment.

Why is there suffering? How should Jews understand a world laden with it, while still trying to connect to a loving and benevolent God? On this week’s podcast, the theologian and rabbi Shalom Carmy, a professor of Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva University and, until 2019, the longtime editor of Tradition, the theological journal of the Rabbinical Council of America, joins Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver. Carmy guides listeners through Jewish ways of thinking about suffering, in part by referring to an essay by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Aninut and Avelut”.