Last week, the language-learning app Duolingo introduced a new course on Yiddish. The course sparked significant interest, and provoked significant controversy. In the app’s menu, each language is represented by the flag of the primary country in which that language is spoken. But what flag should be used for Yiddish? Moreover, since each Yiddish dialect is associated with particular cultural and religious orientations, controversy also surrounded the question of which form of Yiddish should govern pronunciation of the language in the audio elements of the app. Suddenly, this language-learning app became the site of a proxy argument over modern Jewish identity.

To provide some of the necessary background, and to better understand these controversies, one of the Duolingo app’s Yiddish course developers, Meena Viswanath, joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, she explains how the controversies came about, what they mean for students of Yiddish, and what they reveal about Jewish identity at this cultural moment.

This week, the Biden administration officially began multilateral negotiations with Iran, in hopes of re-entering some form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the so-called Iran nuclear deal.

The debate over the deal is one of the most contentious in contemporary American foreign policy, and reveals a genuine conflict of visions. Supporters of the deal, including prominent officials in the Biden administration, tend to view the Middle East as consumed by an eternal conflict between the Sunni states of the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia allies led by Iran. Opponents of the deal tend to think that the central regional faultline is not Shia Iran vs. Sunni Saudi Arabia, but instead the American-led alliance structure—including Saudi Arabia and Israel—against Iran and its regional proxies.

This week marks the yahrzeit, the annual remembrance, of the passing of one of the outstanding sages of 20th century Judaism, and perhaps the key intellectual figure of Modern Orthodoxy in America, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. This week’s podcast looks back on a speech he delivered before a rapt audience on Israel’s Independence Day in 1956, during the tense days leading up to the Suez Crisis. It was titled in Hebrew “Kol Dodi Dofek” or “Hark, My Beloved Knocks,” a line from the Song of Songs, which will be chanted in synagogues across the world this Shabbat

A few years ago, the distinguished scholar and rabbi Jacob J. Schacter of Yeshiva University joined Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver for a discussion of Soloveitchik’s speech, which was later published as a short book entitled Fate and Destiny. In this discussion, Schacter describes the dramatic history behind Soloveitchik’s address and guides us through the “six knocks” that to him demonstrated God’s involvement in the creation of Israel. In the process, he also discusses Soloveitchik’s attitude toward suffering, messianism, and secular Zionism.

Today, everybody, children and adults alike, is glued to their smartphones and tablets and computers. But much of the content readily available on these devices can be harmful, especially for children. So helping children navigate the internet in healthy ways―insulating them from the worst excesses of pornography, sexting, and social pressure—is among the primary tasks of a parent today. But that’s no easy task. How can parents and their children take advantage of all the boons the internet offers while ensuring it’s safe for family?

To explore this question, on this week’s podcast, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver is joined by Sean Clifford, CEO of Canopy, an American offshoot of the Israeli company Netspark, which has developed a technology that filters websites and messages in real time to help parents curate the internet for their children. Netspark’s technology has been adopted by Israel’s ministry of education and is used in thousands of school computers there. Now, through Canopy, their technology has come to the American market, where it can be used to protect families all over the United States

In almost a week, Jews all over the world will sit down at their seder tables and retell the story of the Exodus, of the Jewish people’s national deliverance from Egypt. Of course, in the seder Jews retell that story in a highly choreographed, highly ritualized ceremonial meal. Particular food items are used for particular purposes, and carefully delineated instructions are given for what to do with each. Why do Jews celebrate national deliverance by eating and drinking at all? How does food, of all things, illuminate freedom?

To help us understand the significance of food and drink on Passover, in this week’s podcast the entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Gerson joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver. Gerson is the author of a new book, The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life, a commentary on the Passover Haggadah. In this episode, he analyzes the many foods prescribed by the Haggadah, and how each of them in their own way gets at the heart of Jewish national freedom.

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court announced that, for the purpose of Israeli citizenship, conversions to Judaism that take place under the auspices of the Reform and Conservative movements and within Israel would be recognized by the state. This move ends the Orthodox rabbinate’s exclusive jurisdiction over internal conversions as they relate to citizenship, though not to other domains of religious life like marriage and burial. Though the ruling itself doesn’t affect many people, it is seen as a monumental shift in Israeli society. Why?

To answer that question, and to illuminate the many tensions in Israeli life that the court’s ruling lays bare, the American-Israeli writer Daniel Gordis joins Mosaic‘s editor Jonathan Silver for this episode of our podcast. Together the two process what the ruling really says, why it happened now, and what it could mean for Israel’s connection to the diaspora, as well as for the role of Jewish law in public life and for its ongoing political fight over the role of the judiciary.

President Biden has been in office for just over one month, but when it comes to his administration’s relationship with Iran, the honeymoon is already long over. Just in the past few weeks, Iran has launched rockets at American assets in Iraq, refused to allow in-person inspections by International Atomic Energy Agency officials of its nuclear facilities, and extorted sanctions relief from South Korea by taking an oil tanker hostage. Through all these actions, Tehran is trying to determine the Biden administration’s objectives, probe its limits, and assess its political will.

Now it’s up to the new American team to lead a response, and to declare—in its words and actions—to the world, and especially to the Iranians, what the United States wants to do, what it can abide, and what it will not accept. On this week’s podcast, the national-security expert Richard Goldberg joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain the Biden administration’s early moments of decision on Iran and to project what the short and long term consequences of those decisions might be.

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has in the last several decades sucked up more American attention, time, and resources than nearly any other conflict in the world. Presidents, cabinet secretaries, national-security officials, and diplomats have poured themselves into solving the problem. These resources have been expended not only because of how Americans perceived the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s strategic importance to the United States, but perhaps more so because it is a conflict that engages and symbolizes the way Americans see themselves acting in the world.

Despite that huge effort, Americans haven’t succeeded in bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians to any kind of settled arrangement. Furthermore, as the Israeli researcher Shany Mor wrote in this month’s essay in Mosaic, American policymakers seem insistent on returning to the same frameworks of analysis and strategy that have failed systematically time and again. Now Mor joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain what’s gone wrong, and to talk about why so many American peace processors think the way they do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In the last week of January 2021, thousands of Israeli Ḥaredim protested and rioted in Bnai Brak, a predominantly ḥaredi city located east of Tel Aviv. The rioters were angry at the government’s efforts to enforce a lockdown―not Israel’s first―meant to suppress the coronavirus. Several days later, over 10,000 Ḥaredim congregated to mourn the passing of an eminent rabbi, again in violation of the lockdown. For all the frustration that Israel’s Ḥaredim feel, their refusal to comply with the lockdowns has generated an equal measure of frustration and resentment among non-ḥaredi Israelis.

Ḥaredim make up a significant part of Israel, and the coronavirus has brought long-simmering tensions between them and the rest of the Israeli public to a boiling point. This week, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver speaks with the rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, a ḥaredi leader and the editor of the ḥaredi publication Tzarich Iyun, to explore how his community might repair their relations with their fellow Israelis. In a recent essay, one discussed here, Pfeffer offers a framework for good citizenship, rooted in traditional religious sources, which he hopes can serve as the foundation for a renewed ḥaredi civic virtue.

Three times a day in prayer and each week on the Sabbath, Jews sustain and renew their special covenant with God. While no other nation has the same covenant as the Jews do, the idea of covenant―that a group of people can band together in obligation under God’s sovereignty―has inspired many other nations. From its earliest history, the people of America understood that they relied on divine Providence, and developed a civic culture that made it, as G.K. Chesterton famously put it, “a nation with the soul of a church.” Covenant, in other words, has always been at the heart of America’s national self-understanding.

It is the recovery of this Jewish idea, argue the Christian leaders Gerald McDermott and Derryck Green, that can help heal America’s racial divide. In a new book, McDermott, Green, and other contributors suggest that a return to America’s founding notion of covenant can help bring about racial reconciliation. Now, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, McDermott and Green explore the idea of national covenant, how it has resonated throughout American history, and how it can help Americans once again see each other as equally made in the image of God.

For much of its history, the Jewish people hasn’t had a state. The Israel described in the Hebrew Bible had emissaries and military power, and the modern state of Israel has a foreign ministry and an advanced military, yet there’s nearly 2,000 years of stateless history in between. Throughout that time, however, Jewish diplomacy has been constant. Even without a state, the Jewish people has integrated, separated, argued, and made amends with the other nations of the world. And, as a new book shows, there’s much to be learned from that long experience today, in the state of Israel and out.

On this week’s podcast, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver speaks with Emmanuel Navon, the author of The Star and the Scepter: A Diplomatic History of Israel. Navon puts Israel’s diplomatic history in the context of the entire history of the Jews, beginning with the Hebrew Bible. In doing so, he and Silver try to dig up some eternal truths about the nature of the Jewish people.

Very few contemporary public figures have had as many successes in as many fields as Michael Oren. A writer-statesman in the model of Thucydides, Oren was Israel’s ambassador to the United States during the Obama years, and was before that a historian of the Jewish state, the author of perhaps the best single book on the Six-Day War. He’s also worked in think tanks, been a professor at Ivy League institutions, and served as an MK in the Israeli parliament. Now, with the recent publication of The Night Archera collection of short stories, Oren returns to the genre of fiction, a pursuit that animated his younger years.

This week on the podcast, Oren joins Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver to discuss how his varied career fits together—how the writing of fiction relates to the writing of history, how the study of history relates to the practice of diplomacy, how diplomatic service and writing both require the same aptitudes of perception, and how all of this came together in the service of Zionism and the state of Israel.

Most of our podcast guests, especially those focusing on religious issues, tend to look at the world in a traditional way―meaning, their habits of mind tend to be traditional and conservative.

Many of our podcast guests, especially the rabbis and religious leaders who help us think about Jewish theology, tend to look at the world and speak out of the more conservative and orthodox orientation. But this week’s guest is—at least professionally—an outsider to that world. Joel Kotkin is not a rabbi or theologian but a social scientist, and he has turned his attention to the world of religion.

In the water-scarce Middle East, water that can be used for drinking and agriculture is of premium importance. The entire ancient civilization of imperial Egypt grew up around the Nile River and its basin, and much of the east Africa still depends on it. Although Israel has made amazing advances in hydrotechnology, it too must treat water as a scarce resource, and that makes the politics of the Nile, along with the policing of the Red Sea, a question of real strategic significance to the Jewish state and the regional order of the Middle East.

In this week’s podcast, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver is joined by Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, to discuss the strategic importance of the Nile River, the policing of the Red Sea, and what they mean for Israel and the regional order of the Middle East.

American democracy is a nation of nations. Muslims, Christians, and Jews, women and men from every nation on earth have made themselves into Americans. Nevertheless, a unique majority culture developed within this nation of nations: a kind of big-tent, denomination-less, Protestant Christianity. In that culture, the dominant Jewish anxiety was assimilation into Christianity. Today however, America’s widely shared cultural pieties are no longer overtly Christian. There remain pockets of Christian vitality, but those pockets are now minorities in a new kind of American culture, one characterized less by its religious sensibilities and more by its secular liberalism.   In a short essay called “Christmas, Christians, and Jews,” published in National Review in 1988, the writer Irving Kristol suggested that the democratic principles of civility and prudence should govern how American Jews and Christians relate to one another. But are those principles, and the other habits of mind American Jews adopted to resist melting into America’s old Christian-majority culture, adequate for resisting assimilation into America’s new secular culture?   That’s the question Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, and the Director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, takes up in conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver. They also explore what the principles that Kristol suggested require today – not only of American Jews, but of Christians too – as they figure out how to address themselves to a secular liberal culture that can be hostile to traditional faith.   Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

When the Jewish people celebrate Hanukkah each winter, what are we celebrating? The story of the holiday is the tale of rededicating the Temple in Jerusalem after it had been occupied and defiled by the Seleucid Greeks, who—with the aid of Hellenizing Jews—were not content only to have conquered the land, but also demanded that the Jews living there relinquish their religious way of life.

And with that tradition so close to being snuffed out, monotheism itself was nearly snuffed out. The stakes were great, and each and every believing Muslim, Christian, and Jew who walks the earth today owes some measure of debt to the small remnant of a small people who resisted the mightiest military empire on earth.

From the Iran Deal to the rise of and fall of ISIS, from Israel’s year of inconclusive elections to a pandemic that has ravaged globe, the second decade of the 21st century has been history-making for both the United States and Israel. And for the better part of these last 10 years, Ron Dermer has served as the Jewish state’s ambassador in Washington, D.C. He is not the first native-born American who emigrated to Israel, rose to political prominence, and was then sent back here on behalf of his chosen nation. But his intimate understanding of America and the sensibilities of its citizens—both Jewish and non-Jewish—has helped him in his service and made him all the more effective.

Ambassador Dermer is now preparing to leave his post and return home to Jerusalem. Before he goes, he joins the Tikvah Podcast to discuss what he’s done, what he’s proud of, the basis of the U.S.-Israel relationship today, and why he remains hopeful about the alliance between America and Israel in the 21st century.

It has been widely reported that, in late November of 2020, the Israeli prime minister secretly flew to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with the kingdom’s crown prince. That these two leaders met at all is noteworthy; that they might have discussed the possibility of normalizing relations between the Jewish state and the wealthiest and most influential Arab country is momentous.

It is easy to see what Israel stands to gain from peace with the Saudis. But what’s in it for Saudi Arabia? What would they gain, and what would they risk losing?

After a decades-long, worldwide campaign to free Soviet Jewry, in the late 1980s the borders of the Soviet Union were finally opened, allowing its Jews to immigrate to the State of Israel. This period saw approximately one million men and women from the former Soviet Union leave and resettle in the Jewish state. They came in fulfillment of Zionist aspirations, in search of material opportunities, and in pursuit of greater freedom.

At the time that the Russians arrived, Israel had fewer than five million citizens, and these new immigrants brought with them an entirely new set of cultural assumptions and practices. And they posed a religious challenge as well, as a great many of them qualified for Israeli citizenship, but did not qualify as Jewish under the requirements of Orthodox law.

The year 2020 has been one of real suffering. The Coronavirus has infected tens of millions the world over and has taken the lives of a quarter of a million Americans. It’s decimated the economy, shuttered businesses, brought low great cities, and immiserated millions who could not even attend funerals or weddings, visit the sick, or console the demoralized. This podcast focuses on how to think Jewishly about suffering and about the sources of Jewish fortitude in the face of tragedy and challenge. In his October 2020 Mosaic essay, “How America’s Idealism Drained Its Jews of Their Resilience,” Shalem College’s Daniel Gordis examines recent experiences of Jewish suffering and how different Jewish communities responded to it. In doing so, he makes the case that Jewish tradition and Jewish nationalism endow the Jewish soul with the resources to persevere in the face of adversity. Liberal American Jewish communities, by contrast, have no such resources to draw upon. He joins Jonathan Silver to discuss his essay and more. Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.