The Tikvah Podcast

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

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

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 EDT