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
The question of the relationship between men and women has long vexed Jewish thought and Jewish life. From the complex biblical relationships between figures like Adam and Eve and Jacob and Rachel down to our present-day struggles over the place of Jewish women in family and synagogue life, issues of sex, gender, and power have commanded the attention of traditional Jews as few other things have. And the form these debates have taken within the contemporary Jewish world have been profoundly shaped by a social revolution from outside of Judaism: the modern feminist movement and the sexual revolution that so powerfully challenged cultural norms surrounding sexual and family life.
Now, in the 21st-century, traditionalist and progressive communities alike face a new set of challenges—from the abuses of power highlighted by the #MeToo movement to the decline of marriage and family among many in the West. These challenges force us to ask some fundamental questions: What did the feminist movement get right? And what did it get wrong? Was the sexual revolution good for women? And could seemingly archaic sexual mores actually be the key to healing some of what ails contemporary society?More
Would you want to live forever? What would your spouse, your children, your friends mean to you if you knew you would outlive them all? Is our mortality a problem to be solved, or an indispensable ingredient in making life worth living?
These questions have long been debated by philosophers and bioethicists, but they are perhaps best explored though the medium of literature. That’s exactly what bestselling novelist Dara Horn does in her latest book, Eternal Life. The book tells the tale of Rachel, a young women living in Roman-occupied Judea, who makes a trade with God: her sick child will live, but she will never die. As Rachel reflects on a lifetime of 45 marriages and hundreds of children, lived in many countries over thousands of years, she tries to understand what makes life worth living, and moves us to ponder the question along with her.More
The trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg is perhaps the most (in)famous espionage trial in all American history. While their conviction and execution remain familiar and controversial episodes in the Cold War, the fate of their co-conspirator Morton Sobell is less well-known.
In his Mosaic essay, “The Death of Morton Sobell and the End of the Rosenberg Affair,” author David Evanier digs into the details of Sobell’s life before and after the fall of the Rosenberg ring. As he looks back on this period in American history, Evanier also illuminates what Sobell’s life can tell us about the many Jews who attached themselves to the Communist movement. For while only a tiny number of Jews were Marxists, American Jewish Communists did make up a disproportionate share of the American party—much to the chagrin of their coreligionists.More
This Friday, the world’s leading economic powers will gather in Osaka, Japan, for the G20 summit, and though it won’t be on the official agenda, the rising tensions between Iran and the United States will loom large over the gathering. Since May, the Islamic Republic has carried out half a dozen acts of sabotage and violence against the U.S. and its allies. What is the story behind Iran’s escalating provocations? Is it looking for war? Is America?
Earlier this week, Hudson Institute scholar Michael Doran offered a compelling account of the strategic thinking behind these recent Iranian actions. In “What Iran Is Really Up To,” published in Mosaic, Doran presents compelling evidence that Iran is seeking to sow fear among European governments in the hope that they will pressure the Trump Administration to reinstate two vital waivers that would ensure the continued viability of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This is part of a long game, writes Doran, to revive the Iran Deal and preserve Iran’s path to a nuclear bomb.More
It is hard to believe that it has been almost a year since the eminent columnist—and great Jewish conservative—Charles Krauthammer passed away. Krauthammer’s clarity of mind and force of argument were the cornerstone of American conservative commentary, and the sheer breadth of his knowledge and interests made him a truly irreplaceable writer.
Thankfully for those of us who once relied on Krauthammer’s commentary to help us think through the most pressing issues of the day, his son Daniel has lovingly editing his father’s final volume of collected essays, entitled The Point of It All: A Lifetime of Great Loves and Endeavors. Of course, like all of Charles Krauthammer’s writing, this collection spans a huge range of topics, from science, medicine, and bioethics to politics, culture, and history. But in this week’s podcast, Jonathan Silver sits down with Daniel Krauthammer to focus on his father’s Jewish writings. Daniel reflects on his father’s thinking about Israel, faith, and Jewish ideas, and remembers what Charles was like as Jewish father. This conversation is both a meditation on and tribute to Dr. Krauthammer, and we hope you enjoy it.More
On September 6, 2007, shortly after midnight, Israeli fighters advanced on Deir ez-Zour in Syria. Israel often flew into Syria as a warning to President Bashar al-Assad, but this time, there was no warning and no explanation. This was a covert operation, with one goal: to destroy a nuclear reactor being built by North Korea under a tight veil of secrecy in the Syrian desert.
In his latest book, Shadow Strike: Inside Israel’s Secret Mission to Eliminate Syrian Nuclear Power, Jerusalem Post Editor-in-Chief Yaakov Katz tells the inside story of how Israel stopped Syria from becoming a global nuclear nightmare. In this week’s podcast, Katz sits down with Tikvah Fund Chairman Roger Hertog to discuss his book. Katz sheds light on the decision-making processes of both the United States and Israel in the run-up to the bombing, explores the sometimes clashing personalities of the players involved in the deliberations over the strike, and reflects on how Israel’s bold decision to bomb the Syrian reactor protected not only the Jewish state, but also the entire world.More
Since the destruction of the Second Temple at the hands of Rome, most Jews, for most of Jewish history, have lived in the Diaspora. What are the survival strategies, built up over centuries, that allowed far-flung Diaspora communities to endure and to remain connected to the broader Jewish people?
In researching her forthcoming book, Exile: Portraits of the Jewish Diaspora, Swedish-born journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein visited a dozen communities from Iran to Tunisia, Uzbekistan to Siberia, Cuba to Venezuela, to profile Jewish life in small communities around the world. And what she learned about the miracle of Jewish continuity is sure to fascinate and inspire you. In this podcast, Ms. Hernroth-Rothstein joins Jonathan Silver for a conversation about her journeys around the world. You’ll hear about what it was like praying in a synagogue with Tehran’s remaining Jewish community, what she learned speaking with pious Jews of Djerba, and how, while fleeing a warrant for her arrest in Venezuela, she was reminded that wherever Jews find themselves in the world, they are family.More
New York’s legendary Jewish Museum was founded by the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in 1904 with just 26 objects. When it opened to the public in 1947, JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein told the New York Times that he hoped the museum’s artifacts would celebrate “the singular beauty of Jewish life, as ordained in the laws of Moses, developed in the Talmud, and embellished in tradition.” Though the museum grew and changed over the decades, its commitment to this fundamentally Jewish—even religious—mission never completely disappeared, even as it waxed and waned.
But the museum’s new permanent exhibition—titled Scenes from the Collection—couldn’t be farther from realizing Chancellor Finklelstein’s ambition. Filled largely with nostalgic kitsch, the exhibit does little more than flatter the shallowest of contemporary cultural prejudices about Jews in Judaism. In Mosaic’s May Essay, Menachem Wecker reviews the exhibit and shows us how and why it went wrong.More
She was one of only two women to sign the Israel’s Declaration of Independence. She served as Israel’s first ambassador to the Soviet Union, as labor minister, foreign minister, head of the Israeli Labor Party, and the Jewish state’s only female prime minister. After Israel was hit with a surprise attack on Yom Kippur of 1973, she was a rock for the nation. Golda Meir was Israel’s lioness, the mother of her country.
In Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel, Francine Klagsbrun tells the story of Golda Meir’s remarkable life—from her childhood in Milwaukee to her time on a kibbutz to her ascent to Israel’s highest office. Klagsbrun shows how Meir’s plainspoken appeals and shrewd political instincts allowed her to build relationships throughout the world, and she takes a look at the darkest moment in Meir’s premiership—the Yom Kippur War—and what, if anything, the prime minister could have done to prevent it.More
President Donald Trump has moved the United States Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; he has recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights; members of his own family are Jewish and he has forcefully spoken out against anti-Semitic comments by some elected Democrats. So of course, the American Jewish community has embraced him…
Long before the Mossad became known as one of the world’s greatest intelligence agencies; before the capture of Eichmann and the raid of Iran’s nuclear archive; before Eli Cohen and Rafi Eitan; before Fauda captured audiences around the world, Israel’s first spies were dispatched to Beirut without so much as a radio to contact home. In the spring of 1948, before the State of Israel had even been declared, a handful of young Mizrahi Jews were recruited to serve in the Palmach’s Arab Section and charged with going undercover among the Arab population of Palestine and neighboring countries. Sent back into the Arab lands they had left behind, these brave Jews risked their lives to become spies for a country that was yet to be born.
In Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel, journalist and author Matti Friedman tells the story of these mista’aravim, Jews who went uncover as Arabs. Focusing on the lives of four of these men, Friedman transports us back to a world without a State of Israel or an IDF, where the fate of Palestine’s Jews remained uncertain and the project of Jewish statehood hung in the balance. This was the world of Israel’s first spies, the unsung heroes of the nation’s founding.More