Thu, 29 October 2020
In November of 1945, the American Jewish Committee established a new, independent magazine of Jewish ideas, with the goal of explaining America to the Jews and the Jews to America. This month, Commentary marks 75 years of publishing about everything from culture, politics, and history to foreign affairs, Israel, and Jewish thought. During that time, it has proven to be one of America’s most influential journals of public affairs and central fora for great Jewish debates. The late Irving Kristol is said to have called it the most important Jewish magazine in history. He was probably right.
In the history of American Jewish letters, Commentary is responsible for bringing Philip Roth, Bernard Malamud, and Cynthia Ozick to the attention of the reading public. During the Cold War, the magazine fought against the then-reigning foreign-policy paradigms of both the Republican and Democratic parties. Not one, but two separate Commentary essays helped secure their authors’—Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Jean Kirkpatrick—appointments as United Nations Ambassadors. And in the field of Jewish and Zionist ideas thought, the magazine has over the years published such leading Jewish scholars as Gershom Scholem, Emil Fackenheim, Leon Kass, and Ruth Wisse.
Commentary was for many years edited by the legendary Norman Podhoretz, who was followed by Neal Kozodoy (now Mosaic’s editor-at-large); it is now led by John Podhoretz, the guest of this podcast. In this conversation with Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver—inspired by the magazine’s 75th anniversary issue—Podhoretz looks back at his own history with Commentary, reflects on the work of an editor, recalls how Commentary shaped American Jewish history, and articulates why Commentary still matters three-quarters of a century after its birth.
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.