The Tikvah Podcast

At this time of year, the Jewish calendar compels Jews to think about the human capacity for personal change, which in the Jewish view is made possible by God. The ability for humans to undertake t’shuvah, repentance, is a subset of that capacity that rises to the fore of this week’s podcast conversation (a rebroadcast of a 2017 episode), with the rabbi, editor, and writer Gil Student. 

Student’s subject is a classic essay, published in Rolling Stone in 1977, called "Next Year in Jerusalem." The piece is a travelogue by the critic Ellen Willis as she takes a trip to Israel to see inside the world of her brother Michael, who decided to leave behind his secular life in the United States, undertake Orthodox yeshiva study in Jerusalem, and eventually live as an observant Jew. In doing so, Ellen wrestles with the question of why her brother made the choice that he did, and then, as the attractions of Orthodox Judaism are revealed to her, whether she too should follow in his path. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, Student walks listeners through the essay, explains why it’s still relevant today, and reflects on his own growth into greater Jewish observance.

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: Gil_Student_Rebroadcast_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:34pm EDT

On September 11, 2022, the New York Times published a leading story about the hasidic schools of greater New York. The article, “In Hasidic Enclaves, Failing Private Schools Flush with Public Money,” purported to show that, though New York’s hasidic Jewish religious schools have benefited from $1 billion in government funding in the last four years, they provide extremely poor secular education, deploy corporal punishment in class, abuse the political process, and are unaccountable to outside oversight. The article inspired outrage from a variety of parties; rarely has the public—and especially the Jewish public—been so animated by the educational performance of New York’s yeshivas. 

Beyond the article, deeper questions come to the surface. What obligations do religious communities have to the state? What obligations does a state, one that’s constituted to protect religious liberty and individual rights, owe to families and their decisions? And why, as the authors of this feature do not ask, do so many families choose these schools for their children in the first place?

To help us think about these important questions in the context of the NYT story, our guest on this week’s podcast is the Mosaic columnist and hasidic educator Eli Spitzer, who wrote an essay about this very issue for Mosaic back in October 2021 called “NY State vs. the Yeshivas.” In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains what hasidic schools are really like, how those communities think about education and the secular world, and the important issues that the Times article fails to address. This discussion was recorded online in front of Mosaic subscribers. 

Direct download: Spitzer_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:13pm EDT

Jerusalem is perhaps the most interesting and spiritually important city in the world. For the Jewish people, it is the most treasured city in their long history. It is mentioned over 600 times in the Hebrew Bible; every time a Jew prays, he or she faces Jerusalem; at the end of every Passover seder, Jews sing out l’shanah haba b’Yerushaliym, “next year in Jerusalem.”

On this week’s podcast, we’re joined by Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, who just launched his new daily podcast, Jerusalem 365, a year-long examination of the history and significance of the holy city. For roughly 15 minutes each day, Soloveichik will explore Jerusalem’s buildings, its rulers, its people, and its role in the spiritual and cultural history of the Jewish people, the state of Israel, and the West. In this conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he walks listeners through some of the enduring cultural symbols that help illuminate the role Jerusalem has played in the minds of Jews throughout the ages.

You can click here to view a PDF with the various symbols, images, and texts referenced in the discussion.

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: JLM365_JS_and_Solly_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 8:21pm EDT

Earlier this week, in the Swiss city of Basel, the World Zionist Organization convened to commemorate the 125th anniversary of the First Zionist Congress, which was the brainchild of one of Zionism’s founding fathers, Theodor Herzl.

At the time, the condition of European Jewry was precarious and degraded. The solution, in Herzl’s eyes, was not to be found in the animating Jewish impulse of the age: assimilation. He thought no amount of assimilation would rid the Jews of anti-Semitism, and that instead only a political solution would work. That political solution, of course, was to establish political sovereignty in the land of Israel. As he put it in his opening remarks, “We wish to lay the cornerstone of the house in which the Jewish nation will one day find shelter.”

Our guest this week is the Israeli scholar Daniel Polisar. To him, the early flowerings of that idea in the First Zionist Congress were so significant that the meeting was, to quote the title of an essay he wrote on the subject in 2017 in Mosaic, “the most politically significant meeting of any group of Jews in the last 1,800 years.” Today we revisit that essay, and look back at the First Zionist Congress, how it came to be, and what it aimed to achieve.

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: Tikvah_Podcast_Polisar_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:52pm EDT

Fifty years ago, at the 1972 Olympic summer games in Munich, 11 Israeli olympians were held hostage and murdered by members of the Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Recently, the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas, while meeting with the German chancellor, was asked about the event and whether he would apologize for what happened. Abbas declined to apologize, and instead accused the Israelis of having enacted “50 Holocausts” against the Palestinians.

Why would Abbas, when asked about a crime Palestinians perpetrated against Israelis, reach for the Holocaust as a weapon? To answer that question, the Egyptian writer Hussein Aboubakr joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he explains what Abbas and so many Arabs think about the Holocaust, and why, in the Arab mind, that event is inextricably tied up with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in a twisted logic that has brought many to believe that Israelis are the new Nazis and Palestinians the new Jews. 

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: Aboubakr_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:43pm EDT

Earlier this month, Israeli forces captured the head of Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the West Bank city of Jenin after he had been involved in planning a number of terrorist attacks. Infuriated, PIJ threatened to fire anti-tank weapons at Israeli towns from its home base in Gaza. In response, the IDF struck PIJ’s chief of operations in the northern Gaza Strip and killed his counterpart in the south. After that, the Iranian-backed terrorist group began bombarding Israel with rockets and mortars, firing nearly 1,000 rockets, of which nearly 200 fell short and landed in Gaza itself—causing the deaths of several civilians there. An Egyptian-brokered ceasefire took effect after about three days of fighting.

To talk about the weekend war, we've invited analyst Jonathan Schanzer, who pays close attention to Gaza and writes about Middle East politics in Commentary and Mosaic, as well as in several books. (One just last year, Gaza Conflict 2021, carefully analyzed the previous blowup there). Here, Schanzer, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, looks at this month's conflict in that political context, explains how it was like and unlike past rounds of conflict, thinks about how its timing relates to the current nuclear negotiations with Iran, and speculates about the future of Hamas in Gaza.

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: Schanzer_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 9:14pm EDT

Just as Israeli society has become more at home with Judaism, so too has Israeli music. Across the Israeli music scene, songs and albums infused with religious themes, language, and sentiments have become far more popular in recent years. And a similar movement can be seen in Israeli culture; once dominated by an Ashkenazi elite, Israeli music now relates to its Arab neighbors as much as it does to the musical traditions of Europe and America. 

Haim Louk, a Moroccan-born rabbi, prayer leader, and musical virtuoso, is one of the main reasons that Israeli music is now more at home with itself. On this week’s podcast, we’re joined by the Israeli vocalist and musical director Yair Harel, who takes us on a listening tour of Louk’s music and his artistic formation. Though religious in nature, Louk’s music can, as Harel shows, be easily grasped by non-religious audiences—so much so that one can’t truly understand much of Israeli popular music today without understanding Louk’s influence.

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: Harel_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:52pm EDT

This week, Jews around the world will begin reading from the Book of Deuteronomy each Shabbat. Sefer Devarim, as it is known in Hebrew, is a remarkable work; consisting almost entirely of an address Moses delivered to the Israelites in his final weeks of life, it touches on history, politics, prophecy, and much more. Two years ago, Jonathan Silver sat down with Israeli thinker and scholar Micah Goodman to uncover meaning of Moses's final speech. As we begin again this last book of the Torah, we are pleased to rebroadcast that conversation.

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The book of Deuteronomy, which Jews around the globe read in synagogue in the period leading up to the High Holy Days, consists primarily of Moses’s final oration to the people of Israel. With the nation on the cusp of conquering Canaan and establishing its own sovereign government, the prophet presents Israel with a set of laws and regulations surrounding power and kingship—what some scholars call the “Mosaic Constitution.”

In his best-selling Hebrew book, ha-N’um ha-Aharon shel Moshe (Moses’s Last Speech), the Israeli writer and philosopher Micah Goodman offers a thought-provoking and original interpretation of Deuteronomy, presenting profound insights about the Torah’s revolutionary political teachings. Though the book has not yet been translated into English, Dr. Goodman recently taught an eight-episode online course for the Tikvah Fund on “Deuteronomy: The Last Speech of Moses,” in which he explores and expands upon the themes and ideas of his earlier work. In this podcast, he speaks with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver about Deuteronomy’s laws regarding the monarchy and what political and philosophical wisdom they hold for us today.

If you enjoy this podcast, you can enroll in Dr. Goodman’s free Tikvah online course at Courses.TikvahFund.org.

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: Goodman_Deuteronomy_Podcast_Rebroadcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:53pm EDT

More than half a million Jewish men and women served in the U.S. Armed Forces in World War II. They fought in every theater of the war, from North Africa and Italy to France and Belgium to the Philippines and Japan.

In the process, many of them fell in service to their country. In the fog of war, some of them were buried in military cemeteries under Christian gravestones in the shape of the Latin Cross. Decades later, there’s now an organization dedicated to working with the families of the fallen and the American military to replace the crosses with stars of David to honor more properly the heritage of the Jewish war dead.

This week our podcast is joined by the president of that organization’s board of directors, Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, a historian at Yeshiva University who previously joined the podcast to discuss Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveichik’s essay “Kol Dodi Dofek.” This week, he speaks with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver about the work of Operation Benjamin—and shares his belief that the organization’s mission is an expression of devotion to the memory of these fallen Jewish heroes and to the nation they died to defend.

Direct download: Schacter_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:07pm EDT

In October 2013, Robert Nicholson wrote a defining essay in Mosaic, “Evangelicals and Israel: What American Jews Don’t Want to Know (but Need to).” It in he outlined the wide and deep support that millions of Christian evangelicals had for Israel. He also sounded a note of caution: that support could diminish over time.

Nearly ten years later, that warning may be coming to fruition. At the very least, the communities of American Christian evangelicals who formed the basis of Christian Zionism have decreased in numbers and influence. But there's some countervailing news: in other places around the world, from Brazil to Nigeria to Guatemala, evangelical Christianity has expanded, and with it, the possibility of support for Zionism. On this week's podcast, Nicholson, the president of the Philos Project, joins us to explain what's driving the changing face of evangelical Zionism in America and the rest of 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.

Direct download: Nicholson_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:48pm EDT

Before the state of Israel was founded, some early Zionists argued not only for the recovery of Jewish political sovereignty, but also for the emergence of a new type of Jew. This “New Jew,” as they called it, would be free of Judaism’s bookish habits and the weight of diaspora Jewish history and be able to take the reigns of the newly independent Jewish polity.

Three-quarters of a century after Israel’s founding, what is the state of the New Jew?

Last month, the Mosaic columnist Eli Spitzer contended that Israel’s 21st-century success made it outmoded. Looking around Israel today, he sees the fascinating reemergence of older, diasporic forms of Jewish life rather than the triumph of the New Jew. On the same day that Spitzer published his short reflection, the Mosaic contributor Daniel Gordis published a newsletter in which he came to the opposite conclusion: the state of Israel, he thinks, is “not the end of the Jewish people, just the end of a certain kind of Jewish people.” To him, the New Jew is alive and well.

What could we do but convene a conversation on the matter? In this conversation, Gordis spoke with the Israeli historian Asael Abelman and Mosaic‘s editor Jonathan Silver about the the New Jew, the Old Jew, and the types of human personalities that the state of Israel tends to cultivate. This discussion took place live on Tuesday, July 12, in front of Mosaic subscribers. 

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: Gordis-Abelman_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:30pm EDT

In his 2022 book The War on the West, the British journalist Douglas Murray argues that many now prominent cultural ideas unfairly single out Western sins, discounting the good that Western civilization has brought about and sowing discord in America and Europe. On this week’s podcast, he joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain why Western civilization should be defended, to discuss the role that Israel and the Jewish people play in that defense, and to reflect on two of his friends who recently passed away, the philosopher Roger Scruton and the rabbi Jonathan Sacks, each of whom embodied strands of the Western tradition that deserve to be defended and perpetuated.

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: Murray_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:08pm EDT

The Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem is the holiest physical site in all of Judaism. Religiously observant Jews ask God to restore the Temple and its services each and every day in the traditional liturgy. For thousands of years, Jews had no access to the site on which that Temple stood, until 1967, when Israeli forces reunited Jerusalem. Since then, Israel has by special arrangement ceded some forms of control of the Temple Mount to religious Muslim stewards supported by the government of Jordan. Under this arrangement, Jews may go up to the site—and many more have been doing so in recent years—but they are not allowed to pray there.

Why does Israel allow Muslims to pray on the Temple Mount, but not Jews? Why are more and more Jews venturing there? On this week’s podcast, the rabbi and professor Jeffrey Woolf surveys the history of the Temple Mount, and explains why, despite its roots in the very distant Jewish past, the site remains a fixture in the religious imagination of the Jewish people. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, Woolf also explores some of the political dilemmas the site represents, both in domestic Israeli politics and in the Jewish state’s relations with its Muslim neighbors.

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: Woolf_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:28pm EDT

The idea of equality has a long and intricate history, one that this week the philosopher, rabbi, and writer Zohar Atkins joins the podcast to discuss. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he looks at how various thinkers in the Western intellectual tradition have thought about equality. Together, they discuss thinkers of equality as various as Plato and Aristotle, Augustine and Luther, and Hobbes and Rousseau and Hayek. Through it all, their point of departure is the foundation of the Western canon: the Hebrew Bible.

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: Atkins_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:34pm EDT

There is the argument and there is the context in which that argument is made. It’s easy to sing the praises of American life when you’re sitting in the United States, but you’d likely to express yourself differently if you were explaining your views in Soviet Russia. The context of the argument does not, of course, determine its truth or falsehood, but it does help clarify what’s being said and why. This is true for all arguments, from those made by Socrates and the rabbis of the Talmud to philosophers and politicians today.

On this week’s podcast, to understand the distinction between argument and context and how it relates to political and religious communities of ideological homogeneity, we turn to one of the 20th century’s greatest thinkers, the German Jewish philosopher Leo Strauss and his 1952 essay “Persecution and the Art of Writing.” Our guide to the essay, and this week’s podcast guest, is the Yale professor of political science Steven Smith, the author of several books about Strauss’s thought. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, Smith explains how, in the view of Strauss, writers like Plato and Maimonides used esoteric writing—writing that expressed true beliefs in a careful and guarded way so as to protect themselves from backlash—to get their ideas across, and he ponders the implications that such an interpretive approach can have for writers ancient and modern.

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: Smith_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:15pm EDT

Beginning Saturday night, the Jewish people will celebrate the holiday of Shavuot. During the festival, Jews traditionally study the book of Ruth, the biblical text that tells the story of a non-Jewish widow who becomes the great-grandmother of King David.

To help uncover why the book of Ruth is so beloved, and to make sense of the intertextual references and literary allusions at work in it, the Harvard professor Jon Levenson joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he explains how the narrative drive of Ruth moves from death to life, and reveals how its principal figures manifest the virtue of ḥesed, traditionally translated as loving-kindness, and meaning loyal devotion.

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: Levenson_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:31pm EDT

Since initiating a war against Israel in 2006, the Shiite revolutionary movement Hizballah has built a massive arsenal of rockets that continues to threaten Israel's northern cities and towns. Hizballah is able to sustain this military posture because it also holds decisive sway in Lebanese politics.

Some observers think its political control is waning. In the Lebanese national elections on May 15, Hizballah lost its parliamentary majority, and Reuters reports that there are now “more than a dozen reform-minded newcomers” in the Lebanese parliament.

This week’s podcast guest takes a different view. Tony Badran is a research fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, where he writes about the eastern Mediterranean and the Levant. To his eye, the idea of a weakening Hizballah is not only wrong, it’s exactly what Hizballah wants outsiders to think. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he explains why it serves Hizballah’s interests for Westerners to think that it’s weak when it’s not—and how even when Hizballah loses seats in Lebanon’s parliament, it doesn’t lose governing authority.

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: Badran_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:19pm EDT

On May 9, the cultural commentator Midge Decter passed away. The author of essays and books, an editor of magazines, and a mentor to generations of writers, Decter was subtle, clear, and courageous in her thinking. Though a member of the Democratic party for most of her life, Decter was an anti-Communist liberal who gradually became more conservative over time, becoming, along with her husband, Norman Podhoretz, a leading neoconservative. 

On this week’s podcast, her son, John Podhoretz, the editor of Commentary magazine, joins us to reflect on her life. He recently published a eulogy for her in which he wondered what in her background could explain her style, force, and view of the world. Decter wasn’t born into a family of ideas and argument, yet that was where she made her indelible mark. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Podhoretz thinks about his late mother’s life and work.

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: Podhoretz_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:36pm EDT

In the late 1940s and early 1950s, thousands of Middle Eastern Jews left their countries of origin and moved to Israel. Among them were the Jews of Yemen. There is a myth, believed by some in Israel and around the world, that upon the arrival of the Jews of Yemen in Israel, hundreds of their children were taken from them by government officials without their consent and placed for adoption in the homes of Ashkenazi Israelis.

If that were true, it would be a grave injustice. But according to this week’s podcast guest, it isn’t. Motti Inbari is a professor of religion who specializes in unusual Israeli social and religious movements. In a new essay, he reviews several recent Hebrew-language books that look at the history, the evidence, and the surprising mutations of the so-called Yemenite Children Affair. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, he explains what really happened and charts how the myth has evolved over time. 

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: Inbari_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 9:40pm EDT

For most young men and women today, sexual ethics have been collapsed into one idea: consent. Consent, whereby two responsible, conscientious, free people agree to enter into a sexual relationship, has become a shorthand way to describe ethical sex. And of course consent in sex is important, especially since it was so often absent in human history.

But is consent, and consent alone, sufficient for modern sexual ethics? That’s the question the Washington Post writer Christine Emba, this week’s podcast guest, takes up in her fascinating new book Rethinking Sex. In the book, she takes readers on a tour of the sexual practices of young Americans and finds that for many sex has become diminished, casual, and rote. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she explains why that is, how consent became so central to the conversation, and how American culture might need to change in order to restore meaning and responsibility to sex. 

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: Emba_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:39pm EDT

Since the end of the Second Intifada nearly twenty years ago, during which Israel endured attacks constantly, terrorism has been comparatively rare. There have been knifings, and many rockets fired from Gaza and from Lebanon in the years since, but shootings and rammings have been few and far between. At least until now—over the last month, 13 Israelis have been murdered in terror attacks.

To unpack what’s happened and to provide context for this new terror wave, the Israeli analyst and frequent Mosaic writer Shany Mor joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he details each attack, thinks about the motivations of the terrorists, and explains how terrorism of this kind influences the relationship that Israel's Jewish majority has with its Arab minority. 

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: Mor_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:01pm EDT

Since its first issue twelve years ago, the Jewish Review of Books, a beautifully designed quarterly that was founded and supported by the Tikvah Fund, has produced now 49 issues of high-level Jewish discourse. Much of that success can be attributed to its founding editor, Abraham Socher, the Oberlin College professor emeritus of Jewish studies. 

On this week’s podcast, Socher joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to discuss his educational formation, his intellectual preoccupations, and his new book of essays, Liberal and Illiberal Arts: Essays (Mostly Jewish), which contains meditations on Jewish texts and Jewish communal affairs, portraits of life at Oberlin, and examinations of the religious and literary traditions of the 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.

Direct download: Socher_FINAL_CORRECTED.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 9:16pm EDT

One of the alternative names for the Passover holiday that the Jewish people begin to celebrate this weekend is zman ḥeruteinu—the time of our freedom. Freedom is at the center of the holiday and of the Exodus narrative it redescribes. Yet the holiday’s conception of freedom is laden with constraint, and ritual, and forms. It is a conception that would seem to be at least as much about memory, transmission, and consecration as it is about a moment of liberation.

In a 2014 essay for First Things, Yuval Levin—editor of National Affairs—traced ancient notions of freedom through Israel’s exodus. To Levin, contemporary American ideas of freedom–ideas belonging as much to the left as to the right–can best be understood and diagnosed through the lens of the Hebrew Bible. Levin joined Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver to talk about this essay in March 2017. Today, we rebroadcast that discussion from just over five years 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.

Direct download: Tikvah_Podcast_Levin_Rebroadcast_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 12:16am EDT

Why do some American children do better in school than others? Social scientists tend to look to family structure, race, class, and gender in an effort to find factors that correlate to better or worse performance at school. But there are other significant variables that affect the education of America’s children.

A recent book finds that religion plays a substantial role too. Its author, Tulane University professor Ilana Horwitz, joins this week’s podcast episode to discuss her findings, which suggest that children who hold religious beliefs and are members of religious communities tend to perform, on average, better in school than their nonreligious counterparts. In conversation with Jonathan Silver, she explains how she found her results, and what they say about religious children and American education.

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: Horwitz_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:05pm EDT

When Donald Trump improbably became president in 2016, few knew what his foreign-policy agenda would look like. Having spent little time on such issues during his campaign and having no previous electoral experience, Trump’s inclinations were mysterious. But despite this, it’s clear now, looking back, that some of his administration’s greatest successes were in the Middle East. 

This week’s podcast guest, the former U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, was at the center of it all, a story that he tells in a new memoir. In this conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Friedman brings listeners inside his tenure, which included the Abraham Accords, the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and America's recognition of Israel's sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Friedman also reflects on his Jewish formation, and his assessment of American Jewry today.

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: FINAL_Friedman_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:43pm EDT

In recent years, family policy—what the government can do to strengthen the formation of American families—has come to occupy the minds of many political and cultural figures. That’s a good thing, since the family is the first and most important human institution, and children who are born into healthy families generally turn out far better than those who aren't. It makes sense, then, that government should try to help families flourish, or at least make sure it doesn't make it harder for them to do so.

This week, the policy researcher Andy Smarick joins the podcast to explain what’s behind the many new proposals to help the American family, drawing on a recent essay he published in Mosaic. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains that few of the ideas being discussed in Washington lately have actually bolstered families in other countries, and that the left and the right have different conceptions of what the family actually is and what it’s for, which makes coming up with policy ideas they can agree upon very difficult.

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: Smarick_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:31pm EDT

The United States of America is the most powerful nation in the world. But it is facing tests of its credibility in multiple theaters of conflict. What do America's adversaries believe about the capacity and will of the United States to respond with force? Has America's deterrent power diminished? If so, can it be built up again? 

On this week’s podcast, the security expert and former Marine officer Aaron MacLean walks through the history of American power in the 21st century, showing how the decisions of political leaders have affected America’s ability to deter belligerent actors, from George W. Bush’s decision to invade Afghanistan and Iraq to Barack Obama’s decision to refrain from striking Syria. And, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, MacLean explains why effective deterrence is so important and what can be done to restore it.

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: MacLean_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:02pm EDT

Next week, when Jews celebrate the holiday of Purim, they’ll also study the book of Esther, named for the young queen whose Jewish identity was unknown to her husband—Persia's king—and his court. The book of Esther tells the story of how she and her cousin Mordechai outwitted the king's second-in-command, the vizier Haman, who sought to destroy the Persian Jews. Beloved among children, the story has also often been read as a manual for Jewish political survival in the diaspora.

Ronna Burger of Tulane University, a professor of philosophy, also sees in Esther a commentary on the sources of human success: do humans accomplish their aims through sheer luck, divine help, or careful decision-making? In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she walks through Esther, demonstrating how each of these elements—chance, providence, and prudence—emerge from the biblical text.

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: Burger_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:06pm EDT

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began, most of the news coverage has understandably focused on the war’s military, political, and economic dimensions. But there’s another dimension of the war: the religious dimension. How does being in the midst of a war change prayer, or, for Ukraine’s Jews, the operations of a synagogue? What does a rabbi do when his congregation is under attack?

Dovid Margolin, a senior editor at Chabad.org, joins the podcast this week to help answer those questions. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Margolin talks about the history of the Jews in Ukraine and how Jewish leaders there have helped their fellow Ukrainians during the war, from sheltering those with nowhere to go to moving entire orphanages out of the country.

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.

Dovid Margolin, a senior editor at Chabad.org., joins the podcast this week to discuss this in the context of Ukraine. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Margolin talks about the history of the Jews in Ukraine and how Jewish leaders there have helped their fellow Ukrainians during the war, from sheltering those with nowhere to go to moving entire orphanages out of the country.

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: Margolin_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:20pm EDT

This week, Russia began a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russian airstrikes are now hitting Ukrainian military installations and Russian tanks are now rolling into Ukrainian cities. 

This invasion is an inflection point in Russian-Western relations, the largest since the end of the cold war. To help us understand the full historical and political context behind it, we invited the foreign-policy scholar Vance Serchuk to join our podcast. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains the history behind Russia’s relations with its East European neighbors, what is motivating Russia's aggression now, and what options the United States and its allies, including Israel, have for aiding Ukraine.

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: Serchuk_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 8:41pm EDT

By reading literature, one can experience what it’s like to be, say, a king, or a soldier, or a mother, or a stranger, or a tyrant, or for that matter a slave, not to mention far more.

What of modern Jewish literature? How did its story-tellers speak not only to individual readers, but also to a nation—a nation which until recently was dispersed through many lands and spoke to itself in many languages? How did fiction become one of the primary ways that modern Jewish culture was created and conveyed? And how have the greatest Jewish writers confronted the Jewish people's enduring dilemmas?

Those are some of the questions that Ruth Wisse, professor emerita at Harvard, Mosaic columnist, and senior distinguished fellow at the Tikvah Fund, asks of herself and her students in her courses on Jewish literature. And they animate her new podcast series "The Stories Jews Tell." On this week's podcast, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, she orients listeners to the questions of Jewish literature.

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: Tikvah_Podcast_Ruth_Wisse_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:20pm EDT

The reestablishment of Jewish sovereignty in the land of Israel changed the Jewish people, giving them a place to live in their historic home, if they wanted it.

But what about the Jews who remained and remain in the Diaspora: did Israel change their condition, and, if so, how? Yossi Shain, a professor of political science at Tel Aviv University and a member of Knesset, is the author of the new book The Israeli Century: How the Zionist Revolution Changed History and Reinvented Judaism. In conversation here with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he argues that Israel is now the most important point of reference in the consciousness of the Jewish people, no matter where they live

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: Yossi_Shain_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:51pm EDT

The Republic of Azerbaijan scrambles the assumptions of even the most veteran foreign-policy hands. Sitting at the nexus of Europe and Asia, Azerbaijan is the only nation that borders both Iran and Russia; it is at the center of global energy; and, despite being a Muslim-majority nation, it has had a formal relationship with Israel for almost 30 years. By looking at Azerbaijan, this week's podcast guest suggests that one can reimagine America's approach to Europe, Asia, and the Middle East.

Michael Doran, the foreign-policy analyst and long-time Mosaic writer, argues in a recent essay that Azerbaijan is uniquely positioned to work with America in pursuit of geopolitical goals that serve both nations. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, Doran explains what makes Azerbaijan such a unique country, how it relates to Russia, Israel, Iran, and Turkey, and how it can help the United States recover the geostrategic discipline it needs to strengthen its friends and counter its adversaries.

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: Doran_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:25pm EDT

Last week, a British jihadist entered a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas and held four of its members hostage. In mid-October of last year, a woman emptied a container of gasoline and set it on fire in front of the Yeshiva of Flatbush in Brooklyn while shouting anti-Semitic obscenities. That followed an attack on Shlomo Noginsky, a rabbi in Boston who this past July was stabbed eight times outside of a Jewish day school. Roughly five weeks before that, someone emptied a bag of feces in front of the Chabad of South Broward in Florida while shouting “Jews should die.” Whether individuals or institutions are being targeted, whether they’re in New York or Texas, anti-Semitism is on the rise in America, and Jews are called to be more vigilant than in years past.

This week’s podcast guest knows a thing or two about vigilance. Mitch Silber is the former director of intelligence analysis at the New York Police Department, where he oversaw research, collection, and analysis for the department’s Intelligence Division. Now, he’s the executive director of the Community Security Initiative, a small team dedicated to securing the Jewish institutions of New York from anti-Semitic violence. In conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, he explains why this initiative came about and what it takes to protect Jews, in New York and around the country, from the anti-Semitic threats that have become all too common 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.

Direct download: Mitch_Silber_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 9:55pm EDT

What can religious families do to foster a deep religious life in children, and help them mature into adults who live meaningfully religious lives? Some families join congregations and institutions that appreciate the power of modernity and the hold that modern ideas have on the young, and so make themselves into modern religious communities, adapting to the beliefs and practices of contemporary life. At the other extreme, other families will join communities that seek to isolate themselves from the impulses and ideas of modernity.

But when it comes to generational transmission, a young social scientist has recently published empirical findings that point in a different direction altogether. Jesse Smith of Pennsylvania State University contends that more important than these general communal environments are the particular family environments in which children are raised. Moreover, the specific kind of religious family environment correlates with the kind of religious person children grow into.

He finds that families that identified themselves as religiously conservative when the study’s subjects were adolescents were better able to transmit that religious devotion over the course of the next 10 years. But even they—who are transmitting more than other families—still are not transmitting very much. Fewer than 30% of young adults who were raised in conservative religious households feel that religion remains extremely important in their lives. In this podcast, Smith joins Mosaic’s editor, Jonathan Silver, to discuss his findings and what they might mean for religious parents and communities.

Direct download: Tikvah_Podcast_Jan_20_Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:25pm EDT

This past fall, Israel’s international shipping port in Haifa completed renovations, and it recently went operational. Almost all of Israel’s international trade comes and goes by sea, and Haifa’s is the busiest of the country’s ports.

The Haifa port is also where the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet—based in Naples, Italy—comes to call when it needs fuel, and when it seeks to project power in the Eastern Mediterranean. Thus, it sits at the very center of Israeli trade and industry and is a vital part of its military and diplomatic relationship with the United States.

The company that won the tender to operate the port for the next 25 years is the Shanghai International Port Group—the state-owned corporation responsible for the public terminals at the Shanghai harbor. And Chinese cranes, Chinese software, and Chinese managers are now responsible for roughly half of Israel’s freight.

To get Israelis more used to working so closely with China, and to introduce China in the right way to the Israeli public, China Radio International—also a government enterprise—has dispatched the man who runs its Hebrew desk to mount a charm campaign. Widely known as Iztik ha-Sini,” “Chinese Itzik,” he runs a popular, funny, and captivating YouTube channel, where he has produced hundreds of online videos that Israelis love. In this podcast we are joined by the Israel journalist Matti Friedman to learn more about the port in Haifa, its executives in Shanghai, and the propaganda mission that is dazzling Israeli citizens.

Direct download: Matti_Friedman_Itzik_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:19pm EDT

According to Hillel International, there were 244 anti-Semitic incidents at American campuses reported during the 2020-2021 school year. That’s up from 181 incidents the year before, perhaps an especially significant increase given that many students did not convene in person, but instead attended classes online in 2020. In light of such a trend, one might hope that the ballooning number of academic administrators hired by colleges and universities to foster a welcoming atmosphere for students of diverse backgrounds would be sensitive to anti-Semitic attitudes. But, according to a new report, a great many university officers seemingly hired to combat anti-Semitic discrimination sympathize with anti-Semitism themselves.

The author of that report, Jay Greene, joins this week's podcast. He analyzed the public Twitter feeds of hundreds of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) professionals at 65 different universities and found that, of their over 600 tweets about Israel, 96% of them were critical. That in itself might not constitute anti-Semitism. But, as Greene explains in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, neither does it inspire confidence in how those who are charged with handling anti-Semitic concerns on campus might approach them.

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: Jay_Green_FINAL_2.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:11pm EDT

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