The Tikvah Podcast

From the Pittsburgh shooting to rising anti-Semitism in Europe, from the U.S. embassy move to the Trump Administration’s exit from the Iran deal, from Michael Chabon’s controversial speech at Hebrew Union College to Israel’s new nation-state law, 2018 has been a big year for the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Through it all, the Tikvah Podcast has tried both to stay above the fray—at a remove from the news cycle—and to be engaged with the contemporary challenges facing the Jewish people throughout the world. Our hope is that by treading this unique path, we’ve helped you, our listeners, deepen your understanding of Jewish affairs, Jewish philosophy, Jewish texts, and Jewish statesmanship.

So as the year comes to a close, we bring you selections from a few of our best conversations from 2018. We hope these excerpts shed light on the past and give us some guidance, and maybe even inspiration, for the future.

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 “Shining Through the Rain” by Big Score Audio.

Direct download: End_of_Year_Podcast_Mash-Up_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:28pm EST

“Hark, my beloved knocks! ‘Let me in, my own, My darling, my faultless dove! For my head is drenched with dew, My locks with the damp of night.’”

The fifth chapter of the biblical Song of Songs tells the story of two lovers who long for each other, but see their reunion thwarted by lethargy and indifference. The great commentators of the Jewish tradition have long seen the Song of Solomon as an extended metaphor for the relationship between God and the People of Israel. The Almighty knocks at the door of His chosen nation, but will Israel answer His call?

That is the question Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik posed to a rapt audience at Yeshiva University on Israel’s Independence Day in 1956. Delivered in the tense days leading up to the Suez Crisis, Soloveitchik’s speech, titled “Kol Dodi Dofek,” “Hark, My Beloved Knocks,” uses the Song of Songs to place before American Jews a hortatory call: through the creation of the State of Israel, God knocked at the door of the Jewish people. Will the Jews of America open the door and stand beside the reborn Jewish state in its hour of need?

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver is joined by Yeshiva University’s Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter for a discussion of Rabbi Soloveitchik’s speech, later published as a short book entitled Fate and Destiny. Rabbi Schacter describes the dramatic historical background of Soloveitchik’s address and guides us through the “six knocks” that demonstrate God’s involvement in the creation of the State of Israel. He also discusses Rabbi Soloveitchik’s attitude toward suffering, messianism, and secular Zionism in a conversation as relevant today as when it was first delivered over half a century ago.

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 “Shining Through the Rain” by Big Score Audio.

If you enjoy this podcast and want learn more from Rabbi Schacter about the life and thought of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, we hope you will enroll in Rabbi Schacter’s online course, “Majesty and Humility: The Life, Legacy, and Thought of Joseph B. Soloveitchik.” Visit Courses.TikvahFund.org to sign up.

Direct download: Schacter_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:17am EST

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.”

Thus speaks Jesus in the Book of Matthew, condemning the forerunners of Judaism’s great rabbis for neglecting the spirit of the law, even while upholding its letter. Such condemnations are found throughout the New Testament, and this classic Christian critique of halakhah, Jewish law, has been repeated throughout the millennia by Jewish and Gentile critics of traditional Judaism. Yet, Judaism’s sages have long maintained that halakhah represents the will of the Almighty, and that its careful study can allow us a glimpse into His mind.

How can the study of rules surrounding marriage and divorce, the Sabbath and tort law, draw us closer to God? This is one of the questions at the heart of Professor Chaim Saiman’s new book, Halakhah: The Rabbinic Idea of Law, published by Princeton University Press as part of the Tikvah Fund’s Library of Jewish Ideas series. This remarkable book—written for laymen and experts alike—demonstrates how the rabbis of the Talmud use the language of law to tackle questions of values, theology, beauty, the nature of man, and much more. Behind the legal details of the Oral Torah lies an entire body of thought about the deepest questions of human life.

In this podcast, Professor Saiman joins Tikvah Senior Director Rabbi Mark Gottlieb to discuss his book. They explore what makes the study of Talmud so peculiar in our modern world, the deeper meaning of rabbinic legal discourse, and whether the word “law” is even a fitting way to describe the intricate system of value-laden practice that makes up the halakhah.

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 “Engineered to Perfection” by Peter Nickalls.

Direct download: Saiman_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:16am EST

Falling out annually during the American holiday season, Hanukkah in the United States can feel like little more than a Jewish version of Christmas, subsumed by America’s cultural melting pot. But the story of Hanukkah couldn’t be more countercultural: it is an affirmation of Jewish particularism and pride that celebrates the triumph of Jewish nationalism and the reclamation of Jewish sovereignty. So it is not surprising that this holiday and its most prominent symbol, the menorah, took on a special importance to Zionism’s early visionaries, and especially to Theodor Herzl.

In his beautiful essay, “The Menorah,” published in the Zionist newspaper Die Welt in December of 1897, Herzl writes of an enlightened Jew’s rediscovery of Hanukkah and celebration of the holiday with his children. The piece—almost certainly autobiographical—is a profound meditation on Jewish tradition, Zionist renewal, and the connection between Jewish nationalism and Jewish faith.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Alan Rubenstein is joined by Herzl expert Dr. Daniel Polisar of Shalem College for a discussion of this essay. Dr. Polisar—who recently taught an online course for the Tikvah Fund on “Theodor Herzl: The Birth of Political Zionism”—guides us through a close reading of the text of “The Menorah,” uncovering the political meaning and historical background behind the essay. In doing so, he helps us feel a renewed sense of Jewish pride ahead of the holiday.

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 “Engineered to Perfection” by Peter Nickalls.

If you enjoy this podcast and want to hear more from Dr. Polisar, we hope you will enroll in his online course on Theodor Herzl at Courses.TikvahFund.org.

Direct download: Polisar_Menorah_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:43pm EST

With men clad in the hats and dark coats of old Eastern European Jewry and women walking with covered heads and modest attire, it can appear at first glance like the haredim—often called the “ultra-Orthodox”—are as conservative as Jews come. But though much haredi thought certainly arises from a conservative disposition, the haredi outlook has rarely been defended in self-consciously conservative terms. And there are many things about the haredi model of isolation from the secular world that are in fact quite radical.

But even ultra-Orthodox society is not static. Facing new realities and new challenges, some haredim are beginning to undergo profound changes in their attitudes toward work, the State of Israel, and worldly wisdom. One of the haredi thinkers and activists working to guide and make sense of this “new haredi” movement is Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, a haredi scholar and dayan (rabbinical judge) as well as head of Tikvah’s haredi Israel division and editor of Tikvah’s journal Tzarich Iyun, a Hebrew language publication written by haredim, and for haredim.

In this podcast, Rabbi Pfeffer joins Tikvah Senior Director Rabbi Mark Gottlieb to discuss Pfeffer’s important essay, “Toward a Conservative Chareidi-ism,” published in Hakirah in the fall of 2017. Rabbi Pfeffer’s essay is an effort to provide intellectual analysis and guidance to a haredi society undergoing inevitable and consequential changes. Rabbi Pfeffer argues that if Israel’s ultra-Orthodox are to adapt to a changing world while preserving all that is good and beautiful about their way of life, then they would be well-served by drawing on the richness of the Anglo-American conservative tradition.

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: Pfeffer_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:14pm EST

What is the best political order for the world? Are universal empire and global governance the path to peace and prosperity? Or is a world made up of self-governing, independent nations the surest guarantee of individual and collective freedom? In his new book, The Virtue of Nationalism, Israeli philosopher Yoram Hazony makes the case for the national state, arguing that despite the prejudices of global elites, nationalism is a noble political tradition to which we ought to return.

Many of the arguments in the book were first published as a Mosaic monthly essay, entitled "Nationalism and the Future of Western Freedom." In this podcast, first aired on September 21, 2016, Hazony and Eric Cohen discuss this essay and how the Hebrew Bible can help us understand the renewed nationalism sweeping the West.

Courtesy of Pro Musica Hebraica, 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.


What is the good? How can wisdom-seeking men and women discover it? And how can knowing it help us live worthy lives?

These are the questions Professor Leon Kass has been pursuing for over half a century. Born into a secular, Yiddish-speaking home, Dr. Kass earned his medical degree and a doctorate in biochemistry before turning his attention to the world of the humanities and the wisdom of Athens. Thus began a decades-long career of teaching and public service that has taken him from the University of Chicago to the President’s Council on Bioethics, from Washington think tanks to Israel’s first liberal arts college. During this time, Professor Kass has been a prolific writer, publishing countless essays, many of which have now been gathered in his newest book, Leading a Worthy Life: Finding Meaning in Modern Times.

In this remarkable podcast, Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen sits down with his teacher and mentor for a wide-ranging conversation about Professor Kass’s new book as well as his life, work, and intellectual journey. They discuss the Jewish milieu of Kass’s youth, the nature of liberal learning, the wisdom of the Hebrew Bible, and the winding path Dr. Kass has followed as he moves—intellectually and spiritually—ever closer to Jerusalem.

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.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience of pre-college students at one of Tikvah’s summer programs. Click here to learn more about our educational offerings for students and young professionals.

Direct download: Leon_Kass_Podcast_Worthy_Life_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:03pm EST

In the first two years of his administration, President Donald Trump has already redefined the American approach to Israel and the Middle East: fulfilling his promise to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, working to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal, confronting anti-Israel sentiment at the U.N., and promising to put forward a new approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What is the larger strategy behind the Trump policy? Is it succeeding? And how does Trump’s Israel strategy fit within the history of the America-Israel relationship from Truman to Nixon to Carter to Bush?

Michael Doran is one of the world’s leading experts and most influential voices on Middle East politics and history. After holding high-level White House positions in national security in the Bush administration, he is now a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute. On August 6, 2018, Dr. Doran spoke to a packed room at the Tikvah Center about the chaotic friendship that has characterized the President Trump's policy toward the Jewish state.

Direct download: Doran_intro.mp3
Category:Event -- posted at: 1:04pm EST

On May 14, 2018, the Jewish novelist Michael Chabon strode across the dais, shook Rabbi David Ellenson’s hand, and began to deliver the commencement address at the graduation ceremony of the Reform movement’s Hebrew Union College (HUC) in Los Angeles.

What did he say to the graduates of one of Reform Judaism’s most venerable institutions?

He denounced Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and spoke out against its security barrier. He lamented the outdated particularism of, and the boundaries created by, Jewish ritual. And he spoke in opposition to the longstanding Jewish practice of endogamy—Jews marrying other Jews—calling endogamous marriage a “ghetto of two.”

Chabon’s speech prompted a chorus of criticism from many corners, including from some Reform rabbis. One of them was Rabbi Clifford Librach, who spent many years serving as a pulpit rabbi in Reform temples. In “Paying the Price for Abandoning Jewish Peoplehood,” published in Tablet, Rabbi Librach laments the current state of Reform Judaism, painting a picture of a movement that allowed its fierce commitment to universalism destroy it from within. In this podcast, he joins Jonathan Silver for a discussion of the Reform movement’s history and current troubles, the dangers of repudiating Jewish particularism, and the ray of hope offered by the success of the modern State 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 Midnight Three by Sirus Music.

Direct download: Librach_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:44pm EST

America is living through a partisan age, with the seemingly intractable divides between Republicans and Democrats dominating our political discourse. But when it comes to the area of foreign policy, argues the Hudson Institute’s Michael Doran, the most important division is not between Right and Left. It is, rather, theological in nature, pitting the intellectual descendants of Protestant modernists against the heirs of the Protestant fundamentalist tradition.

In a truly groundbreaking essay, “The Theology of Foreign Policy,” first delivered as the 2018 First Things Lecture in Washington, D.C., Dr. Doran traces the intellectual history of these two religious schools of thought from the Scopes “Monkey Trial” to the founding of the United Nations to contemporary debates about America’s relationship with Israel and the Arab world. This week, he joins Jonathan Silver on the Tikvah Podcast to discuss his essay and how it can help us illuminate our current foreign policy controversies about everything from Russia to the Middle East.

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: Doran_Theology_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:59am EST

Contemporary Americans are living through an age of expressive individualism. No right, it seems, is as sacrosanct as the right to define one's own identity free of social constraint and opprobrium. And no phenomenon better captures this spirit of the age than the rise of the transgender movement. In the worldview of the trans movement's activists, an individual's biological sex, gender, and sexual orientation have little to no relationship to each other, and the objective facts of biology must always yield to the subjective self-conception of the individual.

In Commentary’s April 2018 cover story, “The Disappearance of Desire,” Sohrab Ahmari takes a deep dive into the world of today’s transgender activists. And he challenges the facts and science behind the reigning cultural orthodoxies about how best to help transgender individuals live lives of true fulfillment and dignity.

In this podcast, Ahmari joins Jonathan Silver to discuss his essay. In a conversation that spans philosophy, science, and culture, Ahmari and Silver seek to understand the worldview of the champions of transgender rights and wrestle with its implications for the way we understand, sex, desire, and the human person.

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: Sohrab_Ahmari_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:46am EST

In the last decade, a fascinating area of political thought has begun to receive increasing attention from scholars in the field: the political philosophy of the Hebrew Bible. After all, at the core of Scripture lies the story of the creation of the nation of Israel and the rise and fall of its first commonwealth—a narrative that can be mined not only for religious guidance, but also for social and political wisdom.

Perhaps no contemporary thinker has devoted as much attention to the Bible’s political teaching as Herzl Institute President Yoram Hazony. Author of God and Politics in Esther, The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture, and much more, Dr. Hazony is a leading pioneer in the field of Hebraic political thought. In this podcast, Dr. Hazony joins Jonathan Silver for an discussion about one of his early essays on this topic, “Does the Bible Have a Politcal Teaching?” Published in 2006 in Hebraic Political Studies, the piece takes a close look at the sweep of biblical history and makes the case that the Hebrew Bible seeks to find a middle path between the tyranny of the imperial state and the anarchy of tribal politics. In this conversation, Hazony and Silver examine the key arguments of the essay as well as the bias against the Bible in the modern academy and Scripture’s influence on the modern West.

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.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the Hertog Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Direct download: Hazony_Podcast_Biblical_Politics_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:13am EST

Jerusalem—the “eternal capital” of the Jewish people—is at once the cultural, spiritual, and strategic center of the modern Jewish state. Ambassador Dore Gold is one of Jerusalem’s greatest guardians, and his wide-ranging perspective is remarkable: senior advisor to the prime minister, representative of Israel on the world stage, strategic thinker about the future of the Middle East, and historian who has explained to the world the real history of the Jewish capital. On June 19, 2018, he joined Eric Cohen at the Tikvah Center in New York to explore the political, cultural, and religious future of Jerusalem, just weeks after the historic opening of America's new embassy.

Direct download: Dore_Gold_v2_audio.mp3
Category:Event -- posted at: 12:26pm EST

The great thinkers of Athens sought to understand man’s place in the world through the medium of philosophy. But the prophets of Jerusalem explored man’s role and obligations through the art of storytelling. In the Hebrew Bible and the Midrashic tradition, in modern Yiddish literature and contemporary Jewish cinema, Jews have used powerful stories as the medium through which they explore and convey the rhythms, history, and wisdom of the Jewish condition.

In the 20th century, Jewish artists produced a plethora of films that captured the American Jewish experience at key moments in modern history. And there is no one better suited to discuss the best and worst of Jewish cinema than Commentary Editor and prolific movie critic John Podhoretz. In this podcast, Podhoretz chats with Jonathan Silver about everything from The Jazz Singer and Exodus to Schindler’s List and X-Men, evaluating their success—or failure—at illuminating the tension between tradition and modernity, the drama of the Zionist project, and the horrors of the Holocaust.

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.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the Tikvah Center in New York City. If you would like to find out about future Tikvah events and live podcast recordings, please email membership@tikvahfund.org and ask about joining the Tikvah Society.

Direct download: JPod_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:12am EST

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 EST

 

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

“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 EST

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 EST

“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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

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 EST

Nostra Aetate, the Catholic Church’s 1965 Declaration on the Relation of the Church to Non-Christian Religions, was a watershed in the history of Jewish-Christian relations. It repudiated the slander of deicide and took a stand against anti-Semitism, and in so doing, opened the door to dialogue between Jews, Catholics, and Christians of many other denominations.

Several decades later, a group of over 170 Jewish scholars offered what some saw as a kind of Jewish response to the titanic shift brought about by Nostra Aetate. Dabru Emet, “Speak the Truth,” set out a set of principles regarding how Jews and Christians might relate to one another and build a foundation for interfaith cooperation. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not all Jewish scholars could get behind the statement. In “How Not to Conduct Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” published in Commentary, and “Judaism Addresses Christianity,” published in Jacob Neusner’s Religious Foundations of Western Civilization, Professor Jon Levenson of Harvard University raises serious concerns with the planks of Dabru Emet. If interfaith dialogue is to have real meaning, Levenson argues, it cannot paper over irreconcilable religious differences or flatten religious conviction in order to create a veneer of agreement.

In this podcast, Levenson sits down with Tikvah’s Alan Rubenstein to discuss the dangers and opportunities posed by Jewish-Christian dialogue. They explore the purpose of interfaith discourse, the importance of the theological disagreements between Jews and Christians, and the dangers of suppressing religious disagreement in the name of cooperation. Professor Levenson demonstrates how Jews can enthusiastically embrace the importance of religious dialogue with Christians while remaining true to what makes Jews different.

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.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the Abigail Adams Institute at Harvard University. Jon Levenson is a member of the Tikvah Summer Institute faculty. Click here to learn more about our Institutes and other summer programs.

Direct download: Levenson_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:10pm EST

Friends and critics alike agree that the late political philosopher Leo Strauss is one of the most important thinkers of the twentieth century. He inspired many in the academy to return to the classics in search of enduring wisdom, and there are now courses all over the world that present the thought of Plato, Aristotle, Maimonides, and Spinoza as thinkers just as relevant today as they were in their own times. And the great light that Strauss’s thought shone on political philosophy has illuminated the path for men and women whose business is statecraft, alongside those whose business is writing and teaching.

Perhaps the central tension of Strauss’s life and thought was that between reason and revelation, and he believe the competition for status between the two was at the core of Western civilization’s vitality. But how did Strauss understand these poles? And is there anything distinctively Jewish about his understanding of faith and philosophy?

Princeton Professor Leora Batnitzky is one of the pre-eminent interpreters of Strauss’s thought alive today, and she has distinguished herself by the arguments she makes for how seriously Strauss took Judaism. In this podcast, Tikvah’s Alan Rubenstein sits down with Professor Batnitzky to explore Strauss’s enduring legacy. Using two essays—Milton Himmelfarb’s “On Leo Strauss” and Professor Batnitzky’s entry on Strauss for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy—Rubenstein and Batnitzky discuss the trajectory of Strauss’ career, the nature of his thinking on revelation and the philosophic life, and what his thought ought to mean for his Jewish interpreters.

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.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at Princeton University. Leora Batnitzky is a member of the Tikvah Summer Fellowship faculty. Click here to learn more about the Fellowship and our other summer programs.

Direct download: LBatnitzky_Podcast_12-4-2017.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 12:25pm EST

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