The Tikvah Podcast

Once the beating heart of world Jewish life, Europe has given way to the United States and Israel as home to the overwhelming majority of Jews. In fact, 21st-century Europe is once again shedding its Jewish population as it becomes an increasingly harder place for them to build their lives.

How did this come to pass? How can it be that less than a century after the Holocaust wiped out most of European Jewry, the continent’s remaining Jews face an increasingly hostile environment?

This is just one of the many question Jamie Kirchick tackles in his new book, The End of Europe: Dictators, Demagogues, and the Coming Dark Age. In this podcast, Kirchick joins Jonathan Silver to discuss the book. They begin by examining the roots of Europe’s current economic and geopolitical discontents. But the conversation soon turns to the present situation faced by Europe’s Jews as the continent struggles to deal with a growing immigration crisis and resurgent populism on both the Left and the Right. As they explore the post-Cold War history of Europe, the decline of its cultural confidence, and the perilous future of European Jewry, Kirchick and Silver push us to consider the prospect of a Europe without Jews and what that would augur for the continent and the world.

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, as well as Midnight Three by Sirus Music.

Direct download: Kirchick_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:49am EDT

 

This week, instead of one of our regular conversations on great Jewish essays and ideas, we are pleased to introduce you to a brand new podcast, Kikar: Conversations in the Jewish Public Square, produced by our partners at the Jewish Leadership Conference. Kikar will broadcast conversations with some of the most important figures in Jewish life and public affairs in order to address the vital questions facing the Jewish people. You’ll hear about an extraordinary breadth of subjects, ranging from Zionist thought to the aims of Jewish education, from family formation to the First Amendment, from Israeli security to American federalism and much more.

In this first episode, recorded soon after the conclusion of the 'Great March of Return' protests in Gaza, Jonathan Silver sits with Council on Foreign Relations senior fellow Elliott Abrams to discuss the media strategy of Hamas, Israeli security and alliance management, and whether there is a deeper moral argument for the use of Jewish power to defend Jewish lives.

We hope you'll subscribe to Kikar on iTunes or Stitcher. And if you have not already subscribes to the Tikvah Podcast, we hope you'll find us on iTunes and Stitcher as well.

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.

Direct download: Kikar_Abrams_for_Tikvah_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:06pm EDT

Cui bono? Who benefits? Who benefits when Jews are turned into scapegoats for the ills of the world? Who stands to gain from turning the Jews into the source of all a society’s pathologies? Who comes out ahead when politics are organized against that ever-present outsider—the Jew?

These kinds of questions—questions about the political functions of anti-Semitism—are, regrettably, rarely asked by those who seek to understand the phenomenon. Often, anti-Semitism is understood as but one prejudice among many, another irrational hatred that infects the human heart. But to view anti-Semitism in this way, argues Professor Ruth Wisse, is to misunderstand its true nature as a ruthlessly effective political movement. In “The Functions of Anti-Semitism,” published in National Affairs in the fall of 2017, Professor Wisse analyzes the many uses of Jew-hatred and makes the case for studying anti-Semitism using the tools of political science.

In this podcast, Professor Wisse joins Jonathan Silver to explore her essay in greater depth. They examine the history of modern anti-Semitism from its genesis in 19th-century Germany to its manifestations in the Muslim world and contemporary college campuses. Wisse and Silver demonstrate, through a methodical look at the nature and functions of anti-Semitism, that if one wants to understand this most persistent of hatreds, one must look for its roots not in the Jew, but in the anti-Semite.

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, as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Wisse_Anti-Semitism_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 12:30pm EDT

Shmuel Yosef Agnon was one of the giants of modern Hebrew literature. His short stories, novels, and anthologies reflected and shaped the national spirit of the Jewish people in an age that witnessed the rise of Zionism, the founding of Israel, and the horror of the Holocaust. In 1966, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the first—and to this day the only—Hebrew writer to receive the honor.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Alan Rubenstein is joined by Rabbi Jeffrey Saks, one of the world’s most renowned scholars of Agnon, to discuss his life, work, and legacy. Rabbi Saks, the founding director of ATID, recently completed his work assembling the S.Y. Agnon Library—a collection of over a dozen English translations of Agnon’s writings—for the Toby Press. Rubenstein and Saks use two essays to frame their discussion: "S. Y. Agnon—The Last Hebrew Classic?" by Gershom Scholem (later published in Commentary as "Reflections on S.Y. Agnon") and "Agnon’s Shaking Bridge and the Theology of Culture" by Rabbi Saks. They discuss the differences between Agnon’s real life and his literary persona, the distinct features that make him such a unique Jewish writer, and the perils of reading Agnon both in Hebrew and in translation.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Saks_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:32am EDT

When Vice President Mike Pence addressed the Knesset in January of 2018, he hearkened back to America’s biblical heritage, recalling the pilgrims who saw themselves as charged with building a new promised land. “In the story of the Jews,” proclaimed Pence, “we’ve always seen the story of America.”

In the modern United States, this kind of rhetoric is common among conservative Evangelical Christians like Vice President Pence. But Christian sympathy for the Jewish national cause dates back much further than the rise of the modern Christian Right; indeed, it stretches back to the very beginnings of American political culture. In his new book, God’s Country: Christian Zionism in America, Professor Samuel Goldman of the George Washington University explores the fascinating history of America’s uniquely strong attachment to the Jewish people and the Jewish state.

In this podcast, Professor Goldman joins Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver to discuss his book. Beginning with the colonial period, Goldman traces the long history of Christian philo-Semitism, proto-Zionism, and Zionism in the Unites States. Touching on everything from theology to pop culture, Goldman and Silver illuminate the depths and complexities of American Christians’ connection with Zionism—a connection that is deeply embedded in the America’s soul.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Goldman_Podcast_Gods_Country_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:00pm EDT

On May 12, 1948, just three days before the end of the British Mandate, the People’s Administration, the yishuv’s proto-cabinet, met in Tel Aviv and held a vote that would decide Israel’s future. According to most histories of the period, the Administration’s members voted on whether to move toward independence or accept a truce that would have forestalled an all-out war but delayed Israel’s creation. In the popular account of the meeting, David Ben-Gurion stiffened the spines of his comrades and the decision was made to declare independence.

There’s just one problem: that vote never happened.

That’s the argument historian Martin Kramer of Shalem College makes in his Mosaic essay, “The May 1948 Vote That Made the State of Israel.” Carefully reviewing the minutes of the meeting and other available evidence, Kramer makes the case that the decision to declare independence was never in doubt. There was, however, another vote that would change the course of Israel’s history for the next seven decades. At Ben-Gurion’s urging, the leadership of the state-in-the-making decided that it would not be bound by the borders of the U.N. Partition Plan. Instead, as it fought to defend itself from Arab aggression, Israel would let the fortunes of war decide what territory the Jewish state would hold.

In this podcast, Martin Kramer joins Jonathan Silver to discuss his essay. He explores the historical record of what happened at that fateful meeting and explains why it is important we understand the truth about that day’s vote. As he illuminates the hidden history of the state’s birth, Kramer shows us how May 1948 is but a microcosm of the modern history of Israel.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Kramer_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:06pm EDT

It is common today to hear those who are hostile to traditional religion accuse the pious of unwarranted certainty about the truths of the universe. Yet, in the Jewish tradition, one finds something else altogether. Jewish texts often tell the stories of men and women who strive for knowledge, divine and human, amidst a great deal of uncertainty. From Moses—who could not see the face of God—to Job—who was rebuked by the Lord for presuming to know too much—even the biblical figures who have the most intimate relationships with God demonstrate the limits of human knowledge.

The notion that some measure of ignorance is intrinsic to the human condition has been shared by many thinkers throughout history. In the 20th century, there was perhaps no better articulator of the idea than Friedrich Hayek, the Austrian economist and social theorist. He wrote frequently about the limits of what any one individual can know and criticized those economists and technocrats who exhibited what he derisively called “the pretence of knowledge.” For Hayek, true knowledge is dispersed and built up over many years and embodied in price signals, social customs, and traditions that have stood the test of time.

Hayek wrote and thought in the context of the social sciences, but do his insights about knowledge and ignorance point to understandings shared by the Jewish tradition? In this podcast, Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver is joined by economist Russ Roberts to tackle this question. Roberts, host of the popular EconTalk podcast, is himself an observant Jew, and he helps us think through what Hayek’s epistemology has in common with the Jewish tradition as well as how they differ. As he does so, we will see how ancient Jewish philosophy and modern social thought can help bring each other into clearer focus.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Russ_Roberts_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:51am EDT

“I know Jews who go to jail for blacks and Puerto Ricans and Chicanos and Pygmies. I know rabbis who went to Selma to get arrested. But I don’t know of a single rabbi who broke the law when the crematoria were being fed with twelve thousand Jews every day…Never again will Jews watch silently while other Jews die. Never again!”

Thus thundered Rabbi Meir Kahane before a crowd of thousands at a rally for Soviet Jews organized by his militant Jewish Defense League (JDL). In that crowd was a teenager from Borough Park who found himself drawn to the JDL’s embrace of Jewish power and contempt for the American Jewish establishment. That boy, Yossi Klein Halevi, would later move to Israel and become one of the most prominent authors and writers on the Jewish scene—but not before taking a winding journey into and out of the fringes of the Jewish Right.

In 1995, Halevi chronicled his experiences in the Soviet Jewry movement and the JDL in a remarkable book entitled Memoirs of a Jewish Extremist. Republished in 2014, the book traces the trajectory of Halevi’s life and thinking from his childhood in Brooklyn to a sit-in at the Moscow Emigration Office to his current home in Israel. In so doing, it provides a unique glimpse into the complex psychology of the generation of American Jews who came of age in the years immediately after the Holocaust.

In this podcast, Halevi sits down with Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver to discuss his memoir. As Halevi retells the story of what drew him into, and drove him away from, Meir Kahane and JDL, he helps us get a clearer picture of what the Jewish militants of the '60s and '70s got wrong about post-war American Jewry—and gives us valuable insight into what they got right.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Halevi_Podcast_Memoirs_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 12:03pm EDT

Militarily, diplomatically, and culturally, the relationship between the United States and Israel is both unprecedented and unique. And, for Israel, it is an indispensable pillar of its national security strategy. Yet, while great-power support has been an important strategic goal for Israel since David Ben-Gurion, the Jewish State has become so dependent on America that it rarely takes major diplomatic or military action without first consulting Washington. Has the “special relationship”—so vital for Israel’s survival—also compromised its sovereignty? Has Israel become too dependent on the United States?

This is precisely the question Charles D. Freilich tackles in his February 2018 Mosaic essay. In the piece, Freilich—a former deputy national security adviser in Israel and a senior fellow at Harvard’s Belfer Center—explores the origins of the important alliance between the U.S. and Israel, as well as its costs and benefits to the Jewish State and how best to maintain the health of the alliance in the future.

In this podcast, Dr. Freilich joins Jonathan Silver to discuss his essay as well as his larger vision of U.S.-Israel relations. They detail the tremendous benefits Israel has received from its partnership with America as well as the significant constraints Israel has allowed Washington to place on its freedom of action. As they explore how to strengthen the alliance going forward, their conversation also touches on the Iranian nuclear program, the Palestinian question, and what a serious Israeli national security strategy should look like in the coming years.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Freilich_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:26pm EDT

“It is not for nothing,” Norman Podhoretz once wrote, “that a cruel wag has described…services in a Reform temple as ‘the Democratic Party at prayer.’” The truth to which this old quip points is not simply that most American Jews are liberal, but that too many Jews use the faith of their ancestors as window dressing for their left-wing politics. This ought to perturb Jews of all religious persuasions, conservatives and liberals alike.

In January of 2018, Jeffrey Salkin, a Reform rabbi and the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Florida, penned a piece in Commentary calling on his liberal Jewish colleagues to abandon what he called a “Judaism of slogans.” Far too often, Rabbi Salkin argues, progressive Jews make sloppy use of Jewish texts in order to justify the political positions they already hold. This kind of lazy sloganeering, he writes, fails to do justice to “a people with an unparalleled tradition of religious scholarship and spiritual breadth.”

In this podcast, Rabbi Salkin sits down with Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver for a conversation about the uses and misuses of Judaism in politics. They unpack some of the most common slogans used by Jewish activists and show how the source texts are far too complex to fit on a bumper sticker. They also explore the place of social justice activism in liberal Judaism and ponder the tensions and future of the Reform Movement in America.

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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

Direct download: Salkin_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:20pm EDT