This past October, the former U.S. senator Joseph Lieberman was a keynote speaker at the inaugural Herzl Conference on Contemporary Zionism, held on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. His speech was published on November 7 in Mosaic in essay form as “What American Jews Can Do to Help Keep Herzl’s Dream Alive.” In it, Senator Lieberman reflects on the miracle of the modern Jewish state, the meaning of Jewish self-determination for American Jews, and some of his concerns about the future of bipartisan support for Israel, especially among the young.

Senator Lieberman has had a long, distinguished, and strikingly independent career in public service. Elected to the Senate as a Democrat, he was his party’s nominee for Vice President in the 2000 election—the first American Jew to be nominated on a major party ticket. In 2008, he endorsed the Republican nominee for president, his longtime friend John McCain. But as the political terrain shifted around him, Senator Lieberman has always remained a steadfast supporter of the Jewish state, and it was a privilege to have him join Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver on this podcast.

More

A Jewish man hit in the face with a brick. An observant woman’s wig pulled off her head. An Orthodox mother and her baby assaulted in the street.

These incidents took place not in 19th-century Russia or pre-war Germany, but in Brooklyn—which has one of the densest Jewish populations in America—in 2019. The recent spike in anti-Semitic attacks in New York against the most visibly Jewish members of our community, the ultra-Orthodox, is a worrying sign in a nation experiencing rising levels of Jew-hatred. Yet the mainstream press and many on the political Left, groups otherwise worried about the supposed rise of racism and bigotry in America, seem blithely unconcerned.

More

On November 18, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a momentous announcement: The United States does not consider Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria—the West Bank—illegal or illegitimate. The conventional wisdom, of course, is that Israeli building in the territories it captured in 1967 is a violation of international law. But after a process of many months, the Trump State Department has decided to return to an understanding of the Geneva Convention once embraced by the Reagan Administration, and to recognize that the status of Israeli building in Judea and Samaria is a political and diplomatic question, not a legal one.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver is joined by one of the world’s foremost scholars on Israel and international law. Eugene Kontorovich is a professor at the Antonin Scalia Law School at George Mason University, a director at the Kohelet Policy Forum, and author of of “Pompeo Busts the ‘Occupation’ Myth,” published in the Wall Street Journal on November 9, 2019. In this conversation, he makes the case for the legality of Israeli settlements and explains how an erroneous and hypocritical interpretation of international law became the conventional wisdom about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

More

The establishment of a sovereign Jewish state just three years after the Holocaust is both a miracle and the achievement of some remarkable women and men. Now that the founding generation has passed on, it falls to those living today to sustain that achievement. But how? In thinking about the careers of prominent Israeli leaders, what lessons, particularly in courage, can we, and today’s leaders, learn from them?

To ponder this question, Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver is joined by David Makovsky, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a former editor of the Jerusalem Post, and the co-author with Dennis Ross of Be Strong and of Good Courage. Through the biographies of four Israeli leaders, Makovsky and Ross invite us to think about the purposes of Zionism and the qualities of judgment and character needed to act for the sake of Israel’s strategic interests.

More

Facebook is now a central fact of world politics, commerce, and affairs. With more than 2.3 billion users worldwide, it has more users than there are Christians or Muslims, not to mention Jews. Industry analysts project that by 2020 more marketing dollars will be spent on Facebook alone than on the entire TV ad market.

It is, in sum, a global presence that hovers above the world declaring that it desires nothing but to connect us with each other, to convene community. Its understanding of itself, its understanding of us, and its understanding of human nature, therefore, invite serious religious questions: How should a religious person think about Facebook; how can we think about Facebook through a religious lens?

More

On November 10, 2019, Norman Podhoretz—longtime editor of Commentary and one of the founding fathers of neoconservatism—will receive the Tikvah Fund’s 2019 Herzl Prize at the 3rd Annual Conference on Jews and Conservatism.

Podhoretz is a true renaissance man, whose has written on everything from culture to politics to Jewish affairs. In one of the earliest episodes of the Tikvah Podcast, we were privileged to have him join our executive director, Eric Cohen, for a conversation on his 2007 essay, “Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity.” Originally delivered as a lecture in Jerusalem, the piece is a reflection on the meaning of the holy city and the mystery of Jewish chosenness.

More

“What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”

Oceans of ink have been spilled seeking to answer this question, first posed by the early Church father Tertullian. How do the two intellectual pillars of Western Civilization, Scripture and the philosophical tradition born in ancient Athens, relate to one another? Thinkers like Maimonides sought to reconcile Greek wisdom and Jewish thought. Other thinkers focused on the radically different grounds—reason versus revelation—upon which the insights of each tradition are founded.

More

The English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton famously described the United States as “a nation with the soul of a church.” Americans, even now, are a uniquely religious people, and it is impossible truly to understand the American Founding and the American story without reference to Scripture in general, and the Hebrew Bible in particular.

And yet, while one can sometimes undertake the academic study of the Bible in our universities—uncovering the text’s strands of composition, its dating, and its relation to ancient Near Eastern culture—less easily available in our institutions of higher learning is the opportunity to mine the Hebrew Bible for its moral and political wisdom, its manner of thinking, its ability to speak to the urgings of the soul.

More

This past July, something unusual happened in Alaska. The Israeli military launched its most technologically sophisticated defensive missiles through the atmosphere, into space. The July testing of the Arrow 3 represents the consummation of decades of military and scientific partnership between Israel and the United States.

The Arrow 3 conveys a kill vehicle that constantly adjusts in order to intercept an incoming missile itself—what is called in missile defense, a “metal to metal” intercept. If you want to understand what a monumental technological achievement this is, remember that intercontinental ballistic missiles can travel three or four miles per second—from Moscow to New York in 20 minutes. Israeli missile engineers have figured out a way to detect an incoming projectile moving that fast, deploy an intercept, and observe metal to metal contact in outer space. This unbelievable marvel of technology is the subject of this podcast.

More

According to Jewish tradition, the holiday of Rosh Hashanah—the Jewish New Year—marks the “birth” of man on the sixth day of creation. But what else was created along with him? According the sages of the Talmud, Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Knowledge on the very same day they were made, bringing the capacity for sin latent within them out into the world. Sin, in other words, is part of God’s original creation.

In this season of repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, we welcome Rabbi David Bashevkin to the Tikvah Podcast. His new book, Sin-a-gogue: Sin and Failure in Jewish Thought, helps us think about the nature and origins of sin. Rabbi Bashevkin and Jonathan Silver discuss what it means to think of sin as part of the fabric of creation, the relationship between sin and free will, and how we should think about the sins and failures of the individual versus those of the community.

More

In the American Jewish imagination, the story of Israel’s founding is a story of East European pioneers, socialist kibbutzim, and a Jewish state rising from the ashes of the Holocaust. And all of these things are indispensable elements of Israel’s early history. But they are not the whole picture.

After the founding of the state, Israel absorbed a massive influx of Jews from Middle Eastern lands—Mizrahim—who came from a society and culture vastly different from that of their East European co-religionists. These Jews are also part of the story of the Jewish state’s beginnings; today they represent over half of Israel’s Jewish population, profoundly shaping the culture, religion, and politics of 21st-century Israel.

More

If you follow Israeli politics, then you know that within the past year, the Jewish state has experienced two deadlocked elections. What explains this political stalemate?

According to Micah Goodman, one of Israel’s leading public intellectuals, Israeli politics is trapped in a Catch-67. Most Israelis have been persuaded by the Right that peace with the Palestinians isn’t feasible and that withdrawal from Judea and Samaria would be a security nightmare. But they are also persuaded by the Left’s argument that Israel’s control over the West Bank poses a demographic time-bomb that threatens the nation’s character as a Jewish and democratic state. They think that establishing a Palestinian state right now would be a disaster and that remaining in the territories would be a disaster.

More

Throughout our podcast series with eminent Jewish historian Jack Wertheimer, we have spoken about a Judaism of “peak moments.” This is the kind of Judaism most American Jews practice; connecting to their faith at a small number of important dates and life transitions: the High Holy Days, b’nai mitzvah, weddings, funerals. In this week’s podcast—the third and final episode in our series—our conversation focuses on the place where so many of these peak moments take place: the synagogue.

The liturgy and choreography of synagogue services—especially in the liberal denominations—are undergoing important changes. From hosting musical “rock shabbat” services to creating a more informal atmosphere in the sanctuary, shuls are working hard to engage congregants on a more regular basis. And the Orthodox are doing their part to reach out to the unengaged through a massive network of outreach organizations that draw in the non-Orthodox, even as they remain fastidiously observant of Jewish law.

More

With the exception of shabbat, there is probably no practice that distinguishes pious Jews more than the observance of kashrut—the Jewish dietary laws. Whether at a business meeting or an everyday social gathering, Jews who keeps kosher have to set themselves apart from the crowd whenever food is involved. To keep kosher is to stand out.

And that is precisely the point.

More

On July 18, 1994, a car-bomb struck the headquarters of AMIA—the Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, the largest Jewish community center and social-service agency in Buenos Aires—killing 85 people and wounding 300 more. It was the worst single attack on Diaspora Jews since the Holocaust.

A quarter-century later, the perpetrators of this terror attack have still not been brought to justice. And in this month’s Mosaic essay, the renowned Jewish activist Rabbi Avi Weiss tells the story of the shameful cover-up of the AMIA bombing.

More

For much of the 20th century, the major denominations—Conservative, Reform, Orthodox—loomed large over institutional Jewish life in America. But in 2019, the Jewish scene looks different; the movements hold less purchase on Jewish life than they once did, especially for the young. And the denominations look different internally as well. Reform Judaism has embraced ritual practices once deemed outmoded. Orthodoxy, which many thought on its way to extinction, is strong, growing, and confident. And Conservative Judaism, once thought to be the future of American Jewry, is caught betwixt and between, too religiously observant to facilitate intermarriage, too religiously lenient to command the encompassing solidarity and halakhic observance of Orthodoxy.

In this second installment in our series on The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today, Jack Wertheimer helps us make sense of the many changes in Jewish denominational life. He looks at the strengths and weaknesses of the major Jewish movements, and gives us insight into the variance between the denominational doctrines and the “folk religion” that Jews actually practice. Wertheimer also ponders what the Jewish movements can continue to contribute to Jewish life in our age of declining allegiance to institutions.

More

There is probably no character in Jewish fiction more well known that Tevye the Dairyman. Fiddler on the Roof is one of the best known and most widely performed musicals of all time, and the film adaptation is the quintessential portrayal of shtetl life in American cinema. But long before he sang his way into the hearts of theatergoers around the globe, Tevye was the protagonist of the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem’s most important short stories. At turns comedic, tragic, and wise, Tevye was the character in whom Sholem Aleichem poured the most of himself, and it was Tevye to whom he turned when he felt the urge to comment on the great issues facing the Jews of his day. Tikvah Distinguished Senior Fellow Ruth Wisse has been teaching the tales of Tevye the Dairyman for decades, and she recently released a free online course that brings her lifetime of learning to computer screens everywhere. This week, we are rebroadcasting a conversation between Professor Wisse and Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen that takes a close look at the second story in the Tevye series, “Tevye Blows a Small Fortune.” They explore the character and values of Tevye and ask what this country Jew can teach us about rootedness, tradition, and faith. If you enjoy this podcast, you can enroll in Professor Wisse’s free online course on Tevye the Dairyman at Tevye.TikvahFund.org. 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.

More

21st-century America has seen religious faith buffeted by cultural change, social upheaval, and serious intellectual and moral challenges. American Judaism has not been immune from this broader trend, and Jews across—and outside—the denominational spectrum have tried to adapt to the complexities of modern life. How are Jewish leaders cultivating cultural antibodies to resist the worst of modernity, while at the same time taking advantage of modernity’s new realities? Which strategies are succeeding, and which are failing? And what are the measurements that tell us what is actually working?

These are the questions the eminent historian Jack Wertheimer asks in his indispensable new tour of the Jewish horizon, The New American Judaism: How Jews Practice Their Religion Today. And this week, Professor Wertheimer joins the Tikvah Podcast for the first of a multi-part series of discussions on what he has learned about American Jewry.

More

Those of us who care about the success and security of the Jewish state are sensitive to the many military threats Israel faces, from Syria in the north, Iran to the East, and Gaza to the South. But in recent years, some have also drawn our attention to the threat of what is often called “lawfare,” the use of the system of international law in order to damage and delegitimize Israel.

How does lawfare work? Is the threat to Israel as serious as some claim? And what can its use teach us about how friends of Israel ought to relate to the very idea of international law?

More

Since 1949, every election in Israel’s history has yielded a governing majority…until now. Though the bloc of right-wing parties emerged from the April 2019 Knesset elections with a clear majority, coalition negotiations fell apart when Avigdor Lieberman, head of the secular rightist Yisrael Beytenu party, made demands regarding the conscription of haredim into the Israel Defense Forces that were unacceptable to the ultra-Orthodox. Israelis will head back to the polls in September, but the key conflicts surrounding the place of the haredim within Israeli society are not going away any time soon.

What are the beliefs driving Lieberman and his supporters? What are the concerns motivating Israel’s ultra-Orthodox? And what does it mean for Israel that its haredi community is at the center of the nation’s latest political brouhaha?

More