Since the 17th-century philosopher Baruch Spinoza denied the Mosaic authorship of the Torah, traditional Jews have had to contend with serious intellectual challenges to the doctrine of the divine origin of the Scripture. This challenge has only grown stronger in recent years, with many young Jews at elite universities encountering academic biblical criticism, and the growth of online projects like TheTorah.com exposing ever-greater numbers of Orthodox Jews to contemporary scholarship about the historicity of the Bible, the authorship of Scripture, and the Torah’s ancient Near Eastern context.

Are there rational and persuasive responses to the arguments put forth by Bible critics? Can Jews who value tradition and the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible engage with academic scholarship with intellectual integrity? Can those who seek wisdom from the best of Jewish and Western thought craft a coherent worldview? Should traditional Jews retreat from heretical challenges to their faith or engage with the academy on its own terms?

Born in 1915 to a traditional Jewish family recently arrived from Russia, Saul Bellow was raised in Chicago and soon became “part of a circle of brainy Jewish teenagers who read and debated weighty books and learned much more from each other than from their formal schooling.” Early in life, Bellow decided to become a writer “and worked at it so hard and so successfully that by the time of his death in 2005 he had become America’s most decorated novelist.”

So writes Ruth Wisse in her October 2019 Mosaic essay, “What Saul Bellow Saw.” The piece is far more than a biography of Bellow or a catalogue of his accomplishments. It is a thoughtful reflection on his profound insights about social order, the human condition, the Jew’s place in America, and much more. Unlike a philosopher or social scientist, Bellow offers these reflections in the form of the novel. And in this podcast, Professor Wisse and Jonathan Silver discuss some of those novels and give us a brief but enlightening glimpse into the mind of Saul Bellow—the thinker.

That the young are less religious than the old is not news. But the alienation of today’s millennials from religious faith may indeed be something new, and far more permanent than many have thought.

That’s one of the ominous implications of a new report published by the American Enterprise Institute, titled, “The Decline of Religion in American Family Life.” The report found that young people often leave faith at an early age and that the proportion of young people involved in regular religious activities and being raised in religious homes is declining.

Traditional Jewish communities are countercultural in a great many ways. But in our age of expressive individualism, one of the characteristics that most sets observant Jews apart is their rich communal life. From crowded Shabbat tables to volunteer ambulance and community watch groups to the close-knit communities that form around synagogues and day schools, the life of a committed Jew is usually embedded within a thick network of formative institutions.

Of course, American Jewish life is far from perfect, and Jewish communities must contend with the same forces of radical individualism that have done damage to a wide array of American institutions, from government and the media to schools and civic organizations. This breakdown of public life lies at the heart of what ails contemporary America, argues the political thinker Yuval Levin in his new book, A Time to Build, which not only examines the failures of these institutions but also how we might work to rebuild them.

Israeli politics are a mess. After its second election in six months failed to produce a governing coalition, Israelis are scheduled to head back to the polls for the third time in a single year’s time this coming March. In the Jewish state’s short history, this kind of political crisis is a first, but its seeds may have been planted at the very founding of the state.

Since its very first election, Israel has chosen leaders through a system of proportional representation (PR). At election time, Israelis vote for parties, not individual candidates, and seats are then distributed in the 120-member Knesset in proportion to each party’s share of the vote. The system is simple and democratic, but, argues Neil Rogachevsky in a recent article in Tablet, it is also the source of Israel’s chronic political instability and recent electoral chaos.

When Gertrude Himmelfarb passed away on December 30, 2019, a great Jewish voice was lost. An eminent historian of Victorian Britain, Professor Himmelfarb—or, as she was known to her friends, Bea Kristol—analyzed and defended the moral and political virtues necessary for a healthy democratic society. She was interested in how the Victorians consciously built up England’s moral capital and civic confidence when they were in short supply. And drawing from her meticulous historical research, she brought her conclusions to bear on the United States, arguing that Americans too can accomplish what the Victorians did, if we can only learn from their achievements. She also wrote numerous essays on Jewish topics, and especially on the novelist George Eliot’s ideas about Jews and Judaism.

To discuss the legacy of this great historian and theorist of American remoralization, we are joined on this week’s podcast by Yuval Levin, director of Social, Cultural, and Constitutional Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, and editor-in-chief of National Affairs.

In both Israel and the United States, most politicians, foreign-policy experts, and citizens desire a strong and ever-closer relationship between the two nations. Israel and America share values, interests, and a deeply rooted biblical heritage that ties them inextricably together. But lately, U.S.-Israel relations have hit an impasse of sorts. As the Jewish state pursues greater economic ties with the People’s Republic of China, it has created new friction with America, which views China—rightly—as a geopolitical and economic rival.

In his December 2019 Mosaic essay, Hudson Institute scholar Arthur Herman delves into the sources of the U.S.-Israel tension caused by China and suggests a path forward. This new piece follows up on his 2018 essay, “Israel and China Take a Leap Forward-but to Where?” In this podcast, Herman joins host Jonathan Silver to discuss the evolving nature of Israel’s relationship with China, how that relationship has strained relations with Israel’s most reliable ally, and how Israel and the United States can best preserve their special relationship as they both seek to meet the challenge of China’s rise.

In 2019, 40 different guests came on the Tikvah Podcast to engage in serious conversations about Jewish ideas, Jewish texts, and Jewish public affairs. This year we covered everything from diplomacy to defense, from Jewish philosophy to Jewish food, from anti-Semitism to Jewish heroism.

On this retrospective episode, you’ll hear highlighted selections from our conversations with Israel’s U.N. Ambassador, Danny Danon, Hudson Institute foreign-policy analyst Michael Doran, Swedish journalist Annika Hernroth-Rothstein, author Matti Friedman, philosopher Micah Goodman, professor Jacob Howland, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, commentator Jonah Goldberg, editors Avital Chizik-Goldschmidt and Batya Ungar-Sargon, and Secretary Pompeo’s special envoy to combat anti-Semitism, Elan Carr.

Three years into the Trump Administration, how is America doing? What does Israel’s current political instability mean for its foreign policy? How should the rise of China affect how the U.S. thinks about projecting global power? It can be hard to penetrate the news cycle and think deeply about the many facets of politics and world affairs from a strategic point of view. But that’s exactly what Walter Russell Mead does week after week in the Wall Street Journal and as a scholar at the Hudson Institute and Bard College.

This week, Walter Russell Mead joins the Tikvah Podcast to discuss Israel, American foreign policy, Christian Zionism, and much more. This conversation is both broad and deep and covers everything from Israeli-Turkish relations and Chinese cyberwarfare to what Trump means for our political culture and the story of how Theodor Herzl met the Kaiser.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

“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.

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.

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.

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.

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.