The Tikvah Podcast

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

The twenty second Mishnah of the fifth chapter of Pirkei Avot is one of the most celebrated rabbinic descriptions of the depth of the Torah tradition. “Ben Bag-Bag said: Turn it, and turn it over again, for everything is in it.” The texts of the Jewish tradition sustain endless new layers of meaning; so many, in fact, that the wisdom of the Torah can be plumbed for a lifetime.

And while Jewish educators think a lot about how to educate the young, less attention is paid to how Jewish education should continue into the fullness of adulthood. This is a weighty question; not least because Jewish parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are the most direct and perhaps most influential teachers of Jewish children, who will be influenced at least as much by their home environment, and what happens around their Shabbat table, as they are by what happens in the classroom of the school. So who’s thinking about educating these educators, the mothers and fathers of the next Jewish generation?

In this podcast, Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver is joined by Dr. Erica Brown, one of the most prominent teachers of Jewish text in the United States and someone who has carved out a niche in adult education.

In 2010, New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote an op-ed about Erica’s teaching and writing. He wrote that, “Brown’s impact stems from her ability to undermine the egos of the successful at the same time that she lovingly helps them build better lives.…Most educational institutions emphasize individual advancement. Brown nurtures the community and the group.” In this conversation, Dr. Brown elucidates how she thinks about Jewish education, the health of Jewish institutions in the United States, and her calling as a teacher and builder of communities of Jewish learning.

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: EBrown_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:15pm EDT

In 2007, Barack Obama, then a U.S. Senator and candidate for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, was asked in a debate whether he would meet, without precondition, with the leaders of Iran and other rogue regimes. “I would,” he replied. In 2015, the world saw then-President Obama fulfill the promise of his campaign when the United States led the powers of the world, including Russia and China, to affirm the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, popularly known as the “Iran Deal.” The agreement lifted crippling economic sanctions on Iran in return for commitments designed to forestall its development of a nuclear weapon. Backlash against the deal was swift in both Israel and America, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemning the deal and the Republican Congress passing legislation that would give future presidents and Congresses tools to undermine the agreement.

Ten years after candidate Obama’s promise to negotiate with Iran, President Donald Trump refused to certify that the Iran Deal was in the national security interest of the United States, putting other stakeholders in the American government and world counterparts on notice: either fix it, or nix it. But what does “fixing” the pact entail, and what might happen if the United States declares it void? America’s leaders are now faced with the momentous task of crafting a stronger arrangement to contain Iran, all while being ready to reinstate severe sanctions.

In this podcast, Mark Dubowitz joins Jonathan Silver to discuss the uncertain future of the Iran Deal. Dubowitz is CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an expert on Iran’s illicit nuclear program. He helps us think through the arguments for and against the Iran Deal as it currently stands and the implications President Trump’s decision to decertify the deal. In the course of their conversation, Silver and Dubowitz help chart a path toward an American Iran policy rooted in strength, a clear-eyed assessment of the Iranian regime, and a willingness to do whatever it takes to prevent one of the world’s most dangerous regimes from becoming a nuclear power.

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: Dubowitz_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:01pm EDT

In December of 2017, Nikki Haley, America’s ambassador to the United Nations, stood before the General Assembly and gave the body a stunning rebuke. The General Assembly had just voted to condemn the Trump Administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and Haley took to the podium to stand up for Israel as well as the sovereignty and moral authority of the United States.

For many, Haley’s sharp words called to mind the career and rhetoric of her predecessor, former U.N. Ambassador and United States Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. It was during his time in Turtle Bay that the U.N. passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism, a move Moynihan condemned in the strongest of terms. Several years later, when Israel was once again a target at the U.N., America abstained from Security Council votes on a pair of anti-Israel resolutions, and in 1981, then-Senator Moynihan blasted the Carter Administration’s moral cowardice in a Commentary piece titled, “Joining the Jackals.” The article is a reflection on President Carter’s dangerous diplomatic policy, and a clarion call for America to protect its interests by standing up for its friends and confronting its enemies.

In this podcast, political scientist Greg Weiner joins Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver to discuss Moynihan’s essay. Weiner, author of American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, takes a close look at the ambassador’s worldview, illustrating how it informed his arguments in “Joining the Jackals.” As Weiner and Silver show, the life, thought, and moral courage of this Cold War liberal have a great deal to teach us about how America can protect its allies, interests, and moral prerogatives within the global community.

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, and “Further Down the Path” by Big Score Audio.

Direct download: Weiner_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:16am EDT

Since God confused the language of man at the Tower of Babel, humankind has been divided into a multiplicity of national identities. Yet, despite the antiquity of the national idea, it remains hard to define precisely what constitutes nationhood. The Jewish experience demonstrates that it is possible to maintain a national identity without political sovereignty, but this reality begs the question: What is a nation? Is it a shared ethnic identity? Shared language? Shared history?

In 1882, the French historian Ernest Renan delivered a lecture at the Sorbonne entitled, “What is a Nation?” For Renan, nationhood is not simply political or ethnic category, but a “spiritual principle.” He argues that being part of a nation is about a subjective identification with that nation’s past and future, and that nationalism, rightly understood, can ennoble life and enrich civilization.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Alan Rubenstein is joined by Shalem College Executive Vice President Daniel Polisar for a discussion of Renan’s speech and the light it can shed on American, Jewish, and Zionist identity. Their conversation begins with an outline of Renan’s thought and continues to tease out its implication for Jewish peoplehood, the Palestinian question, and the identity of Jews who are both American patriots and fervent Zionists. At a time when nationalism is reasserting itself throughout the world, from England and America to Europe, India, and Japan, Rubenstein and Polisar show how a recovery of a morally and philosophically sound nationalism is as vital a task as ever.

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 “Further Down the Path” by Big Score Audio and “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the World Mizrachi Organization in Jerusalem.

Direct download: Polisar_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:25pm EDT