The Tikvah Podcast (Great Jewish Essays and Ideas)

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

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

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

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble as well as “Further Down the Path” by Big Score Audio and “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel.

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

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

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 EDT

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 EDT

America remains one of the most religious countries in the developed world. The United States has no established church; yet, some argue that it is the very absence of an official state religion that has allowed faith to flourish and grow in America. Complementing the flourishing of Judaism and Christianity in the United States is a distinct form of civil religion that permeates American institutions, symbols, and culture.

Upon what sources does this civic faith draw? How should Jews and Christians view and participate in it? And is it strong enough to persist in our increasingly secular age? These are the questions Professor Wilfred M. McClay addresses in his essay “The Soul of a Nation,” published in the Public Interest in the spring of 2004. McClay explores the idea of civil religion, tracing its history from Plato and Rousseau to Massachusetts’s Puritan settlers to President Bush’s freedom agenda. He details its uses and abuses in America and worries about a future where civil religion is missing from public life.

In this podcast, Professor McClay sits down with Jonathan Silver to revisit this essay. They discuss the role of civil religion in the period after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the ways the Hebrew Bible shapes civic religion in the United States, and the dangers of the progressive impulse to shed America’s history and hollow out the nation’s soul. At a time when visceral partisanship is running high, McClay shows us how a renewed civil religion can help bring unity and a sense of shared citizenship to a divided 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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel, and “Further Down the Path” by Big Score Audio.

Direct download: McClay_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 4:54pm EDT

At a time when the State of Israel lives under the threat of jihadist Islam and faces the scorn of Western elites, it continues to find friends among the Evangelical Christians of America. Yet, while Evangelicals have been among the most ardent friends of the Jewish people and Jewish state, significant numbers of Jews view their friendship with suspicion. Not only that, but Evangelical attitudes toward Israel and the Palestinians could be changing.

In 2013, Robert Nicholson analyzed the state of Evangelical Zionism in “Evangelicals and Israel,” published in Mosaic. Nicholson acknowledged that Jewish suspicion of Christian goodwill is rooted in memories of historical persecution. But he argues that, those memories notwithstanding, it is a strategic error for the Jewish community to reject this goodwill. In the piece, Nicholson argues that Evangelical support of Israel cannot be taken for granted and makes the case that only greater engagement between Jews and Christians can preserve, heal, and strengthen the promising relationship between Jewish and Christian Zionists.

In this podcast, Nicholson joins Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen to revisit his landmark Mosaic essay. He explains the divisions within Evangelical Protestantism about the State of Israel, the reasons for Jewish skepticism of Christian support, and the work of his own Philos Project in strengthening Christians’ connection to Israel. The theological debates of Evangelical Christians mean a great deal to the future of the Jews and their state, and friends of Israel from every background need to understand 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 as well as “Baruch Habah,” performed by the choir of Congregation Shearith Israel, and “Further Down the Path” by Big Score Audio.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the Tikvah Center in New York City.

Direct download: Nicholson_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:29am EDT

Anti-Semitism has, regrettably, been with us for millennia. But its nature and character, its intellectual foundations, its accusations against the Jews have all undergone a process of evolution. In medieval Christendom, Jews were condemned as unsaved, guilty of the crime of deicide. In the Europe of the Enlightenment, Jew-hatred took on a more secular character, grounding itself in the racial pseudo-science of the age. Today, anti-Semitism has tied itself to hatred of the State of Israel and flourishes within the reactionary world of radical Islam and its western apologists.

In 2013, Hebrew University’s Robert Wistrich explored these changing faces of anti-Semitism in the pages Commentary magazine. His piece traces this pernicious hatred through history, highlighting the strikingly similar tropes that recur among anti-Semites from Nazi Europe to the contemporary Muslim world.

In this podcast, Dr. Charles Asher Small of the Institute for the Study of Global Anti-Semitism and Policy joins Jonathan Silver to discuss Wistrich’s article and its relevance today. They explore how Jew-hatred’s justifications have shifted from the religious to the scientific to the national and discuss why modern intellectuals in America and Europe seem persistently to misunderstand the true nature of anti-Semitism’s threat. In an environment where hostility to Jews and the Jewish state has a home on both the Left and Right, Silver and Small make the case that anti-Semitism is not just a problem for Jews; for the forces of reaction and bigotry that target the Jewish people today will inevitably target others tomorrow.

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: Charles_Small_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:08am EDT

Are we living at the end of modernity? Is the liberation of the individual that has characterized the modern age giving way to identity politics, ethno-nationalism, and other forces that call into question liberalism’s optimism about the individual?

According to the late Professor Peter Lawler, it is this realization of individualism’s limits that characterizes our “postmodern” age. His “Conservative Postmodernism, Postmodern Conservatism,” published in the 2008 in the Intercollegiate Review, puts forward a conservative, postmodern vision that stands in stark contrast to the relativistic and liberationist philosophy that typically travels under the postmodern banner.

In this podcast, the Tikvah Fund’s Alan Rubenstein—a former colleague of Lawler’s—sits down with Professor Daniel Mark to discuss Lawler’s innovative essay. They explore the virtues and vices of individualism, Lawler’s critiques of our individualistic age, and whether Judaism can shed light on his arguments and the struggles of our postmodern era.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the University of Chicago. Daniel Mark is a member of the Tikvah Fund’s high school summer program faculty. Click here to learn more about our programs.

Direct download: Daniel_Mark_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:55pm EDT

“Murderers with the power to murder descended upon a defenseless people and murdered a large part of it. What else is there to say?”

So wrote Norman Podhoretz in his scathing 1963 essay on Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil. Arendt, a German Jewish refugee and the world’s foremost theorist of totalitarianism, had travelled to Israel to witness the historic trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann. But rather than writing a fair-minded report on the Jewish people’s first opportunity in millennia to try one of their oppressors, Arendt used the occasion to offer her own theory of Eichmann’s character, Jews’ complicity in their own slaughter, and what she called the “banality of evil.”

Arendt’s coverage of the trial sent shockwaves through the coterie of New York Jewish intellectuals of which she had been an admired member. Writing in Commentary magazine, Podhoretz showed himself to be among her harshest critics. His essay is a clarion call for moral clarity that seeks to expose how Arendt’s brilliance distorts her ability to see Nazis for what they were and evil for what it is.

In this podcast, Tikvah Distinguished Senior Fellow Ruth Wisse joins Eric Cohen to discuss Eichmann’s trial, Arendt’s theory of it, and Podhoretz’s piercing critique. They discuss what motivated Arendt to write as she did and analyze why this moment proved to be so momentous in the intellectual evolution of many American Jewish thinkers. Wisse and Cohen show that while the Eichmann trial may be behind us, the perversity of brilliance against which Podhoretz inveighed is still very much alive 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, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

This podcast was recorded in front of a live audience at the Tikvah Center in New York City.

Direct download: Ruth_Wisse_Arendt_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:29pm EDT

Death is an uncomfortable topic. It has deprived us of people we love, and we know that, ultimately, it is the one fate that awaits us all. But Jewish ritual and Jewish tradition embody a set of ideas about life, death, love, and mourning that help us confront our mortality with equanimity. For all the sorrow we feel with the loss of a beloved friend or family member, death holds lessons for life.

In the Jewish community, few confront the realities of death more directly, and more frequently, than the members of the hevra kadisha—the volunteer society that prepares the bodies of the deceased for burial. Judaism views this this ritual preparation as holy work, an act true kindness that can never be repaid.

In this podcast, Daniel Troy joins Jonathan Silver for a conversation about his time serving on his community’s hevra kadisha. Using Troy’s 1992 Commentary essay, “The Burial Society,” as their roadmap, Silver and Troy have a searching discussion about life, death, and honoring the truth of Genesis that all men and women are created in the image and likeness of God. As they explore the exacting rituals governing the preparation of the departed, Troy and Silver help us gain a greater appreciation of how confronting the realities of death can help us learn how best to live our lives.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

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

Anti-Semitism knows no party. Throughout modern history, it has manifested in different forms, in different countries, across the political spectrum. In the years following the Second World War, antipathy to Jews and the Jewish State was found in the nascent conservative movement in the United States. It had a home there, that is, until William F. Buckley Jr. entered the scene. In his pivotal role as doyen of the American Right, Buckley ensured that anti-Semites had no place in the pages of conservatism’s flagship publication, National Review.

But as the Cold War came to an end, right-wing anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism reappeared. As the writings and statements of men like Pat Buchanan and Joe Sobran became ever more hostile to Jews and Israel, Buckley again stepped into the breach. In a special issue of National Review, and then in a fuller and annotated book, Buckley set out In Search of Anti-Semitism. Though it pained him to accuse his longtime friends and allies, Buckley ultimately concluded that men like Sobran could not be defended from the charge of an anti-Semitism that ought to have no place on the Right.

In this podcast, Matthew Continetti, editor of the Washington Free Beacon and scholar of modern American conservatism, joins Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver to discuss Buckley’s book. Continetti lays out the history of anti-Semitism in American conservatism as well as Buckley’s role in driving it to the fringes of the movement. Silver and Continetti also examine the definition of anti-Semitism, what distinguishes legitimate from illegitimate criticism of the State of Israel, and the place of anti-Semitism in today’s fractured conservative politics. 

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Continetti_Buckley_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:58am EDT

From the breakdown of family and faith to rising political partisanship, the resurgence of anti-Semitism, and an emboldened secular dogmatism defining the parameters of the public square, the cultural practices that have for generations nourished the modern West have grown wan and frail. Can they be energized? And what role can the Jewish people play in renewing the vitality on Western civilization?

In October of 2013, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, then the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of Great Britain, delivered a lecture entitled “On Creative Minorities,” in which he argued that as history’s paradigmatic religious minority, the Jews have much to teach people of faith in our increasingly secular world. Judaism’s wisdom, according to Rabbi Sacks, can be vital in planting the seeds that will lead to a renewal of the West.

In 2014, the lecture was published in First Things, and in this podcast, Rabbi Sacks joins Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen to revisit this important essay. They explore the distinctive Jewish response to crisis, the promise and peril of religious isolationism, and the ways traditional Jews can help renew the broader culture of which they are a part. Their conversation makes clear that, though the state of the modern West presents many causes for worry, the teachings of the Jewish tradition provides an enduring source of hope.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Sacks_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:42am EDT

We like to think that, amidst all of the pressures of decision, ideas can somehow inspire political action. But how do the arguments of intellectuals actually influence the strategy and implementation of government? In this podcast, foreign policy expert and White House veteran Elliott Abrams joins Jonathan Silver to discuss an essay that did just that.

In November of 1979, American foreign policy was adrift. The Soviet Union was expanding its influence throughout the world, the Shah had fled Iran, and the United States appeared to be losing the Cold War. All the while, President Jimmy Carter’s administration was intent on pursuing a “human rights” policy that went easy on America’s enemies, alienated its allies, and turned a blind eye to those suffering from the worst humanitarian abuses.

It was in this environment that Jeane Kirkpatrick, then a professor at Georgetown University, published her groundbreaking essay, “Dictatorships and Double Standards” in Commentary. In it, she calls out the hypocrisy of the President Carter’s human rights agenda and blasts America’s “posture of continuous self-abasement and apology vis-à-vis the Third World” as both politically and morally bankrupt. Abrams helps us see what made Kirkpatrick’s argument so important to the history of the Reagan Administration and the Cold War and highlights what her influential essay still has to teach us 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, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Abrams_DD_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:51am EDT

Has support for Israel become a partisan issue in the United States? What role can a commitment to Jewish culture play in ensuring the Jewish future? And how does an observant Jew say grace?

These are just some of the questions Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen discusses with Jay Lefkowitz in this unique podcast. Lefkowitz is veteran of the administrations of George H.W. and George W. Bush as well as a keen analyst of American politics and the American Jewish community. In this conversation, Lefkowitz discusses some of the most memorable moments from his long career in public service and brings his wealth of experience and knowledge to bear on some of the most important issues facing the Jewish people today.

This conversation was originally recorded as part of the Tikvah Summer Fellowship Callings and Careers seminar series.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Jay_Lefkowitz_CC_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:49pm EDT

Civil war in Syria, the rise of Islamic State, a strengthened Iran—these are a part of the Obama Administration’s Middle East legacy. Elected with a mandate to begin “nation-building at home,” President Obama was content to see Iran and Russia fill the vacuum created by American retrenchment and become leading players in the region. How can the Trump Administration avoid the mistakes of the last decade and strengthen America’s strategic posture?

In “What America Should Do Next in the Middle East,” published in Mosaic in September 2017, two of America’s leading foreign policy experts seek to chart a course for American policy. Michael Doran and Peter Rough argue that if America is to protect its vital interests, it must have a clear and coherent plan to advance its strategic goals on multiple fronts, all the while being wary of the wishful thinking that has led past administrations to failure.

In this podcast, Michael Doran joins Jonathan Silver to discuss the essay and the deeper issues it raises. In their wide-ranging conversation, Doran and Silver explore the thinking behind the Obama Administration’s Middle East policy, the errors the Trump Administration must seek to avoid, and the various motivations of the region’s key players. Though Doran makes clear that there are no easy answers, he helps us think through how American policymakers can begin the process of charting a new course the United States in 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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Doran_Podcast_FI_2.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:34am EDT

On September 5, 2007, just before midnight, four F-15s and four F-16s took off from Israeli Air Force (IAF) bases and flew toward Syria. An hour later, in the early hours of September 6, the IAF dropped 17 tons of explosives on a nuclear reactor in the desert of Al Kibar, neutralizing a threat that endangered the Jewish state and the stability of the entire region.

The series of events that resulted in the discovery and bombing of Syria’s secret nuclear reactor make up a remarkable story—one told in riveting detail in two articles by two of America’s leading Middle East experts. “The Silent Strike” by David Makovsky and “Bombing the Syrian Reactor: The Untold Story” by Elliott Abrams take us behind the scenes of the Israeli and American governments, describing the deliberations, disagreements, and decisions that led to Israel’s airstrike. In this podcast, Gabriel Scheinmann of the Alexander Hamilton Society joins Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver for a discussion of these pieces and of “Operation Orchard,” the mission in which, in one of the signal achievements of Zionist history, the State of Israel bucked the United States in order to take responsibility for the security of its citizens and the welfare of 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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Scheinmann_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 12:35pm EDT

“The proper method for the study of politics,” said the late political scientist Walter Berns, “is biography.” And while analysis and disquisition can impart wisdom about politics and much else, living examples can also provide unique insight into what is required of us as human beings, as Jews, and as responsible citizens.

In this special podcast, Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver is joined by Elliott Abrams, one of the American Jewish community’s most accomplished public servants. A prolific author, Abrams is a veteran of the Reagan and George W. Bush Administrations and is currently Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The two discuss Abrams’s outstanding career in the public arena, reflecting on his move from the Democratic to Republican Party, his contributions to conservative thinking on human rights, and his experiences working on Israel-related issues during the Bush presidency. Their entertaining and enlightening conversation helps us more clearly see what an active and patriotic Jewish community can contribute to America, Israel, and world.

This conversation was originally recorded live as part of the Tikvah Summer Fellowship Callings and Careers seminar series.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Elliott_Abrams_CC_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:41am EDT

America is in the throes of an addiction crisis. The ravages of the opioid epidemic can be seen across the country, as it claims ever more lives. And there are other addictions—less severe, but no less real—to video games, smartphones, pornography. What can be done to assist those struggling with addiction? Are the tools of medicine and social science sufficient remedies? Or, necessary as science is, must we also tap into the spiritual resources of religion to help those on the journey down the road to recovery?

In “God, Religion, and America’s Addiction Crisis,” published in Mosaic Magazine, Jeffrey Bloom explores how Judaism’s ancient wisdom can address the underlying spiritual ills at the root of substance abuse and related pathologies. In this podcast, Bloom joins Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver to discuss his essay. They examine what medical and behavioral remedies can and cannot offer recovering addicts and explore the soul-sickness at the heart of addiction. In doing so, they help illustrate how the struggles of the addict reflect the human condition writ large.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Bloom_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:48am EDT

When Ellen Willis’s brother Michael decided to leave behind his secular American life and study in an Orthodox yeshiva in Jerusalem, she knew that something was amiss. How could her intelligent, reasonable brother have decided to devote himself Jewish Orthodoxy? Yet, after flying to Israel in order to witness Michael’s new lifestyle for herself, Ellen realized that Judaism’s questions about the secular word—about her world—pointed to more truths than she wanted to admit.

Ultimately, Ellen returned to her secular life in America, while her brother went on to become a Haredi rabbi. But she documented her brother’s journey and her time with him in Jerusalem in an incredible essay entitled “Next Year in Jerusalem.” Published in Rolling Stone in 1977, the piece is an extraordinarily thoughtful and honest study of the contradictions and tensions of the human condition, presented through the lens of a secular woman exploring the world of Orthodox Judaism for the first time.

In this podcast, Jonathan Silver is joined by rabbi, editor, and blogger Gil Student to explore this essay as well as Rabbi Student’s own journey into the Orthodox world. They discuss the parallel journeys of Michael and Ellen and the factors that pulled one back toward the religion of his ancestors and pushed the other away from it. Returning to stories of his own life throughout the conversation, Rabbi Student gives us a greater appreciation of the challenges and rewards of adopting an Orthodox lifestyle in our secular progressive age.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Student_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:41pm EDT

When Jews raise their glasses in celebration, they toast “l’chaim!” “to life!” Judaism's belief in the inherent value of our time in this world permeates Jewish law and culture, and is perhaps most clearly seen in the principle that nearly every commandment is violated in order to save a life. But how far does this commitment extend? Does Judaism support any scientific and medical progress that promises to preserve and extend life? Or are there other Jewish commitments that ought to establish limits on what we do in our battle against death and disease? Could there even be a virtue in our mortality?

These are just some of the questions Leon Kass considers in his important essay, “L’Chaim and Its Limits.” Published in First Things in 2001, the piece explores the question of man’s mortality as it presents itself in Jewish sources and names the moral dilemmas posed by scientific advancement.

In his podcast, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik joins Tikvah’s Eric Cohen for a conversation about Kass’s essay. They discuss the reasons for Judaism’s concern with the value of human life; what rabbinic tradition teaches about body, soul, and afterlife; and how the family emerges as the most powerful Jewish answer to man’s mortality.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Soloveichik_Kass_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 9:42am EDT

Soldier, statesman, Nobel Prize-winning author—Sir Winston Churchill was one of the most important figures of the 20th century. His judgment was vindicated when Hitler marched through Europe, and his determined leadership helped guide England through the world war that defeated fascism.

Churchill’s time on the world stage also intersected with the most pivotal moments in modern Jewish history—the rise of Zionism, the horror of the Holocaust, and the founding of the State of Israel. Having absorbed at a young age the philo-Semitism of his father, Churchill was no bystander to these events, and his sympathy for the plight of the Jews and the Zionist cause were evident throughout his life.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver is joined by Dr. Michael Makovsky, president and CEO of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America and author of Churchill’s Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft. Makovsky guides us through Churchill’s career, highlighting the sources of his affinity for the Jewish people and their national cause. Though his efforts on behalf of the Jews were sometimes halting and inconsistent, Makovsky and Silver show that Churchill was guided by the conviction that—as the Book of Genesis promises—the Lord will bless those who bless the 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, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Makovsky_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:05am EDT

On September 13, 1993, at a historic ceremony on the White House lawn, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), shook hands as they signed the Oslo Accords and kicked off a peace process that would last the better part of a decade. The story of that day and of the subsequent events that ultimately led to the peace process’s failure, are well known. But the remarkable series of events that led to the historic agreement remains obscure to many.

In 2016, the story behind the Accords was dramatized on stage in the award-winning play Oslo. The following year, Yeshiva University’s Neil Rogachevsky reviewed the play in Mosaic Magazine, highlighting the many ways it distorts history in the interest of reinforcing the conventional wisdom of Western elites. In this podcast, Dr. Rogachevsky joins Jonathan Silver in order to analyze the unlikely story behind the Oslo Accords. Using Yigal Carmon’s 1994 Commentary essay, “The Story Behind the Handshake” as a roadmap, Rogachevsky and Silver analyze how secret negotiations organized by low-level government officials led to one of the most consequential, and disastrous, shifts in Israeli diplomatic history.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Rogachevsky_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:02am EDT

As he looked out at the Western world of the 1960s and ‘70s, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits saw a society whose value system had collapsed. Relativism, boredom, and permissiveness were all around him. But this void could be filled, argued Rabbi Berkovits, by a sophisticated Judaism that sought to rear the next generation in the best of the Jewish ethical tradition. “Jewish Education in a World Adrift” is a clarion call for a morally confident Judaism that can speak to the human soul in a nihilistic age.

In this podcast, Jonathan Silver is joined by veteran educator and Tikvah Fund Senior Director Rabbi Mark Gottlieb to think through this powerful essay. They discuss Berkovits’s bold halachic philosophy, the circumstances that moved him to tackle this issue, and the future of Jewish education. At a time of promise and peril for Jewish pedagogy, their conversation is as timely 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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Rabbi Gottlieb teaches in and directs Tikvah’s programs for high school students and the yeshiva community. Learn more about these programs here and here.

Direct download: Gottlieb_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:27pm EDT

The Israeli government’s recent decision to shelve a plan for a state-recognized egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall has widened the already deepening rift between Israeli and American Jews. And the debate that has arisen in its aftermath has raised vital questions about the relationship between the world’s two largest Jewish communities.

In this podcast, which originally aired on May 16, 2016, Elliott Abrams joins Eric Cohen to discuss his Mosaic essay, “If American Jews and Israel Are Drifting Apart, What’s the Reason?” Abrams and Cohen confront some uncomfortable facts about the changing nature of American Jewry—facts that are as relevant today as they were when the essay was published.

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.


Why don’t Jews like the Christians who like them? That’s the question James Q. Wilson, one of the America’s most influential political scientists, posed in the pages of City Journal in 2008. Evangelical Christians are, by and large, enthusiastic supporters of Israel, and their goodwill extends beyond sympathy for the Jewish state. American Evangelicals even harbor affection for the Jewish people themselves. Yet, these positive attitudes go largely unreciprocated by the American Jewish community, which continues to view conservative Christians with suspicion.

In this podcast, Jonathan Silver sits down with Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin, a chaplain with the New Jersey Army National Guard and a Resident Fellow at the Tikvah Fund to discuss Wilson’s essay. Silver and Rocklin explore the theological and sociological reasons behind Evangelical support for Israel as well as the nature of the historical memory that keeps many Jews wary of this Christian support. The two also touch on the hostility of mainline Christian churches toward Israel, American Jews’ habit of viewing enemies as allies, and the future of American Jewish politics.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

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

How do poetry and song convey Jewish meaning? Does Jewish poetry have to be liturgical? At the turn of the century, Ahad Ha’am challenged the early Zionist movement to conceive of the Jewish nation as a home for the Jewish national spirit. Even in the diaspora, the Jewish imagination needs tending. Who were the most prominent Jewish poets of the North American diaspora in the latter half of the twentieth century?

The late singer Leonard Cohen might not come first to mind, but in this podcast, Tablet Magazine’s Liel Leibovitz explores the reasons he should. Perhaps no artist better answered the call of Jewish cultural renewal than Leonard Cohen. Born in Montreal to an Orthodox family, Cohen became one of the most important North American musicians of the 20th century. Throughout his long career, he consistently drew on Jewish themes in his music, seamlessly interweaving biblical stories and kabbalistic ideas into songs that spoke of love, loss, and longing.

Drawing on his biography of Cohen, A Broken Hallelujah, Leibovitz and Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver read and discuss some of Cohen’s best songs, including  “Story of Isaac,” “You Want It Darker,” and of course, “Hallelujah.” As they do so, it becomes clear that Cohen was, at heart, a poet who took Judaism seriously.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Leibovitz_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 10:58am EDT

Through its countless runs on the Broadway stage and in an award-winning film, Fiddler on the Roof made Tevye the dairyman the most iconic Old World Jew in the American imagination. But before he burst into song on stage and screen, Tevye was the Sholem Aleichem’s comedic protagonist whose triumphs and tragedies showed readers how the rural Jewish fathers of Eastern Europe could deal with poverty, inequality, religious doubt, and, most of all, daughters.

In this podcast, former Harvard Professor and Tikvah Distinguished Senior Fellow Ruth Wisse joins Eric Cohen to discuss Sholem Aleichem’s most famous character. Focusing their discussion on the second installment of the Tevye stories, “Tevye Blows a Small Fortune,” Wisse and Cohen explore the comedy and tragedy of Sholem Aleichem’s writing, the character and values of Tevye, and what this country Jew can teach us about rootedness, tradition, and faith.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

If you enjoy this podcast and want to study more of Sholem Aleichem’s Tevye stories, we invite you to audit Tikvah’s upcoming summer course. For just $299, you can join Professor Wisse in person at the Tikvah Center in New York City for an eight-part study of Tevye’s triumphs and trials and what they can teach us about tradition and freedom. Click here to learn more about the course and enroll!

Direct download: Wisse_Tevye_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 4:31pm EDT

It was Thomas Jefferson, in a now-famous letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, who first wrote of a “wall of separation between Church & State.” And it has long been America’s Jews who have stood at the forefront of public arguments to keep that wall as high as possible. Why are Jews so devoted to the separation of religion and government? Is it because of a prudent assessment of Jewish interests? Or it the result of outdated beliefs that have calcified into secular dogma?

In one of his most important essays, “Church and State: How High a Wall?,” Milton Himmelfarb tackles these very questions. Published in Commentary in 1966, the piece argues that the American Jewish dedication to strict separationism is misguided and isolates the Jewish community from a democratic consensus in America without any obvious benefit.

In this podcast, Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver is joined by Professor Samuel Goldman of the George Washington University’s Loeb Institute for Religious Freedom to discuss this classic essay. They discuss the complex history and logic of American Jews’ changing attitudes toward church-state separation as well as the most powerful arguments against the separationist consensus. In so doing, they begin to paint a picture of what an authentically American idea of religious freedom ought to look like in a truly pluralistic America.

Direct download: Goldman_podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:50pm EDT

This episode originally aired on July 13, 2016. We bring it to you today in commemoration of Yom Yerushalayim and the 50th anniversary of Israel’s remarkable victory in the Six-Day War.

In this podcast, Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen speaks with Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Bret Stephens about political life in Israel and America and the challenges of the Middle East and the Modern West. They discuss the legacy on the 1967 war, the work of Peter Beinart, and the dilemmas of Israeli decision-makers.

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.

 

Direct download: Bret_Stephens_Podcast_Reedited_Music.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:16pm EDT

The revelation at Sinai was central to the transformation of the people of Israel into a nation. Fresh from their Exodus from Egypt, at the foot of that mountain, a nation of slaves heard the Lord Himself pronounce His law—His “Ten Commandments”—prescribing proper conduct toward God and man. It would be hard to overstate the influence of the Decalogue in the history of West. Even in our increasingly post-Christian age, the Ten Commandments remain a potent cultural symbol. Yet, for all this familiarity, their true significance remains elusive.

In 2013, Leon Kass—one of America’s deepest thinkers—sought to shed light on how the Ten Commandments ought to be understood. Published as Mosaic’s inaugural essay, “The Ten Commandments: Why the Decalogue Matters” analyzes the meaning of each Divine command, placing it in the context of the Bible as a whole as well as the  permanent conditions of human nature.

In this Tikvah Podcast, Professor Kass joins Jonathan Silver for a reconsideration of this important piece of commentary. In a conversation that looks back toward creation and forward to the civic character of the modern Jewish State, Kass and Silver take a deep dive into the first five commandments and their meaning. Their wide-ranging discussion touches on the nature of God’s covenant with Israel, man’s relationship with nature, and the indispensable role of the family in the life of the people 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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Kass_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 12:36pm EDT

This episode originally aired on June 29, 2016. We bring it to you this week in honor of the re-publication of Norman Podhoretz’s memoir, Making It, as well as the upcoming celebration of the liberation of Jerusalem.

In this podcast, Eric Cohen is joined by Norman Podhoretz, the legendary former editor of Commentary. They discuss Podhoretz’s essay, “Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity.” Cohen talks to Podhoretz about the circumstances that inspired this piece, the feelings that being in Jerusalem stirs in him, and why modern men and women find Jewish particularity such a scandal.

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.

 


Using the essay "Innovation and Redemption: What Literature Means,” Ruth Wisse joins Eric Cohen to discuss the insights of famed literary critic, Cynthia Ozick. They ask if literature has a moral purpose, and observe how different approaches to the past inform creativity and the writing of fiction. Not only do Wisse and Cohen explore innovation and redemption, but they contrast innovation with experimentation. The distinction turns on an author’s view of cultural heritage, and whether inherited ideas can sustain and refresh the future, or the solipsistic notion that each generation creates artistic expression from nothing at all.

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: Wisse_Ozick_podcast_128k-2.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:10pm EDT

How should Israelis think about the security and defense of the Jewish State when confronted with Palestinian claims to national sovereignty? What effect will Israel’s material prosperity have on the prospects for peace?  What role does honor and dignity, hadar, play in the statecraft of the Middle East?

Orator, statesman, writer, and political leader, Vladimir Ze’ev Jabotinsky is one of the principal figures in the Zionist founding. In this podcast, journalist and author Yossi Klein Halevi joins Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver to discuss a pair of Jabotinsky essays from the 1920s. “The Iron Wall,” and “Ethics of the Iron Wall” develop a security doctrine for the future Jewish State that is grounded in a realistic assessment of the human condition, and a sober analysis of national aspirations. Halevi and Silver discuss Zionist thought and history, as well as the echoes of Jabotinsky that can be heard in Israeli politics 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, as well as Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Yossi_Klein_Halevi.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 1:22pm EDT

Until recently, Tu B’Shvat—the Jewish “new year” for trees—was a minor observance on the Jewish calendar. It isn’t mentioned in the Bible, and the Talmud has little to say about how to observe the day. So why is it that, across the modern denominations, Tu B’Shvat has grown into a festival of larger significance? How did what Rabbi Irving Greenberg once called a “minor semi-festival” become an environmentalist blockbuster?

In this podcast, policy expert and presidential historian Tevi Troy joins Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver to discuss the history of Tu B’Shvat and its growing association with left-wing environmentalism. Using Troy’s 2015 Commentary essay, “I Think That I Shall Never See a Jew as Lovely as a Tree,” to guide their conversation, Troy and Silver discuss the history of the day and its politicization, opening up onto a larger discussion of the dangers of preaching politics from the pulpit and the proper Jewish attitude toward the conservation of nature.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Tevi_Troy_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:14pm EDT

American Jews have long been one of the Democratic Party’s most loyal voting blocs. Since 1928, the Democratic share of the Jewish vote has only once dipped below 50 percent in a presidential election. How did this rock-solid partisan loyalty develop? Is it likely to continue into the future? And what should we make of the Orthodox Jewish community, whose voting patterns increasingly diverge from those of their coreligionists? 

In this podcast, Eric Cohen is joined by former Bush Administration official Jay Lefkowitz and Tikvah Resident Research Fellow Rabbi Mitchell Rocklin to answer these questions and more. Using important analyses by Lefkowitz and Rocklin, they trace the past, present, and future of the Jewish vote in America. Their discussion touches on the history and nature of Jewish voting behavior, the movement of the Orthodox community into the Republican column, and what the latest trends portend for the future of the Jewish community, the conservative movement, and the United States.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Lefkowitz__Rocklin_Podcast.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:01pm EDT

Lamenting the ideological polarization in American public life has become a feature of modern politics. But perhaps what ails America is less what divides the Left and Right than the errors they share. In “Taking the Long Way,” published in First Things in 2014, political thinker Yuval Levin argues that liberals and conservatives are both inspired by an overly individualistic understanding of the human person and a weak vision of political freedom. For all the apparent differences between our parties, Levin believes we must attend to the tacit assumptions that serve as the philosophical foundation for both of them. Levin turns to the Book of Exodus in order to help him explain a more enduring liberation consistent with a truer understanding of the human condition. This more enduring freedom does not spring fully formed into the hearts and minds of spontaneously ordered libertarians or exquisitely managed progressives. Political freedom is an achievement that lies at the end of a long road, best traveled in the company of friends, neighbors, and family.

In this podcast, Levin joins Tikvah Senior Director Jonathan Silver to discuss this important essay. They begin by discussing what both the Left and Right get wrong about freedom. Then, using Exodus to guide their conversation, Levin and Silver discuss the stations on the long road to liberty, the potential pitfalls along this path, and what traditional Jews can teach their fellow citizens about creating the cultural preconditions that sustain the free society.

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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Yuval_Podcast_Round_2.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:54pm EDT

It may be the world’s oldest hatred, but anti-Semitism remains alive and well in the 21st century. The forces of anti-Zionism and mass immigration continually threaten the safety of Europe’s Jews. Anti-Semitism remains the norm in most of the Arab world. And even in the United States, hate crimes against Jewish Americans continue to occur at an alarming rate. The intractability of this bigotry invites asking fundamental questions: Who is the anti-Semite? What is the nature of his hatred? Will he always be with us?

In Anti-Semite and Jew, the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sarte offers his reflections on these very questions. Written shortly after the liberation of Paris from German occupation, the essay sketches Sartre’s portraits of the anti-Semite, the democrat, and the Jew. In this podcast, former Harvard Professor and Tikvah Distinguished Senior Fellow Ruth Wisse joins Eric Cohen to discuss this fascinating work. Wisse lays out the key characteristics of Sartre’s archetypes, critiques the essay’s flaws, and highlights the insights that remain valuable to us even today. Anti-Semitism, sadly, is not going away, and getting a clearer picture of this particular prejudice is as important 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 Ich Grolle Nicht, by Ron Meixsell and Wahneta Meixsell.

Direct download: Ruth_Wisse_Anti-Semitism_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 3:57pm EDT

When New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art opened Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven, the exhibit was greeted with tremendous fanfare. It dazzled the eyes and summoned a seductive image of medieval Jerusalem as an exciting hub of diverse cultures and religions. But is this picture of the Holy City true to history? Or was the Met trafficking in myths that anchor multicultural hopes for Jerusalem’s future in a fictitious past? Did the Met help its visitors see Jerusalem as it was, or as the exhibit’s architects wish it to be?

In “Jerusalem Syndrome at the Met,” published in Mosaic soon after the close of the exhibit, Wall Street Journal Critic at Large Edward Rothstein debunks Jerusalem 1000-1400’s fictions. He shows that the exhibit’s sumptuous beauty was actually founded on historically tendentious apologetics.

In this podcast, Rothstein joins Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen to discuss his piece. Rothstein discusses how the exhibit distorts Jerusalem’s complex history, whitewashes the violence and intolerance of the city’s Muslim conquerors, and downplays the Jewish connection to Judaism’s holiest city. In doing so, he illustrates how the Met exemplifies the some of the most troubling trends afflicting museums in 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.

Direct download: Rothstein_Podcast_v.2.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:42am EDT

Irving Kristol was truly one-of-a-kind. He had a capacious mind and a winsome personality, and his journey from young Trotskyist to “godfather” of neoconservatism has long captivated those who have written about his remarkable career. Yet, for all the ink spilled on Irving Kristol the man, Irving Kristol the political thinker has often been neglected.

Matthew Continetti, editor of the Washington Free Beacon, believes it is long past time to devote more attention to Irving Kristol’s political thought. In his 2014 essay in National Affairs, “The Theological Politics of Irving Kristol,” Continetti subjects more than 50 years of Kristol’s writings to close reading. In doing so, Continetti draws out the theological foundations that underpinned so much of Kristol’s thinking on politics and society.

In this podcast, Continetti and Tikvah’s Jonathan Silver discuss Irving Kristol’s “neo-orthodox” theology, his distinction between the rabbinic and prophetic tendencies, and the Jewish foundations of his political disposition. In doing so, they draw out the deeper meaning of Kristol’s thought and sketch out the ways his wisdom can shed light on our current political moment.

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.

Direct download: Continetti_Keiper_Snyder.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:05pm EDT

In 2010, the theologian Michael Wyschograd published “A King in Israel,” a provocative essay in which he argues for defining the Jewish State as a democratic, constitutional monarchy. Wyschograd proposes that, without changing anything about the functioning of the Israeli government, the president of the state be given the title, “Regent of the Throne of David”—reconstituting the third Jewish commonwealth as a Davidic monarchy without a reigning king.

This idea may seem fantastical, and it was given very little attention at the time. But in this podcast, Rabbi Meir Soloveichik joins Tikvah Executive Director Eric Cohen to explore the theology behind Wyschograd’s argument, precedents from modern constitutional history, and the political ramifications of monarchy. Using Soloveichik’s essay on “King David” as a starting point, Cohen and Soloveichik explore Judaism’s complex approach to kingship, the meaning of the Davidic dynasty, and the spiritual power that resides in a properly constituted Jewish polity.

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.

Direct download: Soloveichik_King_David_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:56pm EDT

Sometimes, it takes an outsider to teach a community about its own deepest truths and most powerful teachings. In “Faith in the Flesh,” one of America’s most insightful Catholic thinkers does just that for faithful Jews. In this breathtaking piece, published in Commentary a decade ago, R.R. Reno offers a profound meditation on the meaning of Jewish ritual, education, and distinctiveness. Framed by a scene of his daughter chanting the Ten Commandments on the day of her bat mitzvah, the essay tells the story of Reno’s Jewish family and the impact it had on his own Christian faith.

In this podcast, Reno speaks with Tikvah Fund Senior Director Jonathan Silver about his essay. Reno recounts how he came to raise his children as Jews while remaining committed to, and even deepening, his Christian faith. He and Silver go on to cover the contrasting ways Judaism and Christianity seek to inspire moral behavior as well as the tradeoffs of each approach. They touch on the political and social implications of each faith’s teachings and conclude by discussing the lessons both Jews and Christians ought to take away from Reno’s experience with the blows of intermarriage.

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

Direct download: RR_Reno_Podcast_FI_2.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:29am EDT

Britain’s June 23 referendum on independence was the most important vote in a democratic nation in a generation, Yoram Hazony argues in “Nationalism and the Future of Western Freedom,” his September 2016 Mosaic essay. Its outcome, in favor of an exit from the EU, provoked fear, outrage, and despair in elite opinion in both Europe and the United States. At the same time, however, the re-emergence of an independent Britain has rallied profound admiration and enthusiasm among millions of others who still hold fast to the old understanding that the independence and self-determination of one’s nation hold the key to a life of honor and freedom.

In this podcast, Hazony speaks with Eric Cohen about his essay. Their discussion touches on the biblical roots of the nation-state, which combines national self-determination with a moral minimum; liberalism as the great rival of nationalism; and three reactions against the new liberal condition—neo-nationalism, neo-Catholicism, and classical nationalism. It is this latter alternative that Hazony finds most promising, inspired by the Hebrew Bible and informing the nationalism of Great Britain and the United States.


In this podcast, Eric Cohen talks with Judaic Studies and History professor Allan Arkush, an expert in modern Jewish history, about Ahad Ha’am and his classic essay, “The Jewish State and Jewish Problem” (1897). In this essay, Ahad Ha’am—pen name of Asher Ginsberg—expounds on the material and moral crises facing the Jewish people. Modern Jews need an identity authentically derived from Jewish ideas and culture—not one simply formed by outside gentile influences. European nationalism is not sufficient to guide the founding of the Jewish state. Rather, Ha’am hopes that political freedom will enable the creation of a unique and genuine Jewish civilization. In this podcast, Arkush discusses the life and ideas of Ahad Ha’am and his relation to his contemporary Jewish and Zionist thinkers.


In this podcast, Eric Cohen speaks with Bret Stephens, Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal, about three of his essays that assess political life in Israel, America, and that analyze the challenges of the Middle East and the the modern West alike. “Born on the Fourth of June,” a Commentary essay from 2012, concerns the lessons and legacy of the 1967 war and what it means for current political challenges. In “Peter Beinart’s False Prophecy,” published in Tablet in 2012, Stephens reviews Peter Beinart’s The Crisis of Zionism, identifying its misleading presentation of the Israeli condition. The final essay was “Israel Alone,” a 2015 Wall Street Journal column in which Stephens examines the dilemmas that Israeli decision-makers now face, given America’s changing role in the Middle East.

Direct download: 160714_Eric_Cohen_and_Bret_Stephens.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 2:19pm EDT

In this podcast, Eric Cohen talks with Jay Lefkowitz about his provocative 2014 essay, "The Rise of Social Orthodoxy: A Personal Account”. The essay caused a stir by describing a subset of American Modern Orthodox Judaism whose participation in Jewish ritual is primarily motivated by social and civilizational attachments to the Jewish people, not out of faith in the God of the Hebrew Bible or reverence for His commandments.

Lefkowitz and Cohen begin by surveying the denominations of American Judaism and their relative vitality. Focusing on the Orthodox, they consider which approaches to Jewish life—Haredi, classically Modern Orthodox, Socially Orthodox—are likely to endure and, should they endure, which approaches are likely to elevate the moral lives of their adherents. Which is a firmer ground for Jewish continuity—belonging or belief?  What is gained and what is lost when membership is the overarching value of Jewish life?


In this podcast, Eric Cohen sits down with the legendary editor of Commentary, Norman Podhoretz, to discuss his 2007 essay, “Jerusalem: The Scandal of Particularity.” The ancient capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem, has been the essential center of Jewish political and religious life for generations. But, despite promises of its inviolability, the temptations to divide Jerusalem in exchange for peace arise again and again. “In wondering about this singling-out of one city from among all the cities in the Land of Israel,” Podhoretz writes, “I find myself ineluctably led to its larger and even more mysterious context, which is the singling-out of one people from among all the nations of the world.” Eric Cohen talks to Podhoretz about the circumstances that inspired this essay, the feelings that being in Jerusalem stirs in him, the moral and political significance of Jerusalem, what it means to be the chosen people, and why modern men and women find Jewish particularity such a scandal.


In this podcast, Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and prominent scholar and commentator on Middle Eastern affairs and world politics, talks with Tikvah's Eric Cohen about a classic essay excoriating Western elites for misunderstanding the passions that drive the Middle East. Elie Kedourie's 1970 manifesto, "The Chatham House Version," examined the confusions of Arnold Toynbee and other British mandarins: confusions over pan-Arabism, over the links between the Israeli-Arab conflict and other situations of unrest, over the role of the West in Arab discontent, and much else. The political, religious, and ideological fault lines of the Middle East often go back at least a century, so it is a mistake for Westerners to explain the Middle East in the categories of Western social arrangements. Kedourie is not as widely read as he should be, but his influence on leading scholars like Michael Doran is profound. One modest hope of this podcast is that the discussion might awaken listeners to his immense body of work.


In this podcast, the Tikvah Fund’s Distinguished Senior Fellow, Ruth Wisse, joins Eric Cohen to discuss her 2015 Mosaic essay, “Anti-Semitism Goes to School.” Drawing on her experiences at Harvard University and elsewhere, Wisse argues that there has been a resurgence of anti-Semitism on campus, often centered on attempts to delegitimize the Jewish state and assail what Israel represents. Despite ideological pressure on campus to stifle bigotry, Jews are the “one licensed exception … the only campus minority against whom hostility is condoned.” Wisse and Cohen examine what the new campus anti-Semitism means for American Jews, the future of the America-Israel relationship, and the choices that face pro-Israel young people attending American colleges.


The subject of this podcast is Joseph B. Soloveitchik's classic 1964 essay, "Confrontation," one of those rare, enduring masterpieces that is both a profound theological reflection on human nature, and an important work of Jewish communal policy. This essay—and the commentaries, conversations, and commitments that have followed in its wake—has long shaped how many traditional Jews engage in the public life of modern society, and how Orthodox Jews see their relationship to modern Christians (and other communities of faith). Rabbi Meir Soloveichik joins Eric Cohen to discuss "Confrontation," its depiction of human nature and its argument for religious freedom in modern America.


In this podcast, Yuval Levin and Eric Cohen discuss Mr. Levin’s recent essay in First Things, “The Perils of Religious Liberty.” The flourishing of religious communities and the freedom of religious conscience have been central to American life since the founding of the United States. Yet we are living in an age that is not especially conducive to traditionally religious habits or beliefs, and the regulations and laws that structure the American social order have made some traditional Jews and Christians feel unwelcome in their own country.

In this essay and in his recent book, The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in the Age of Individualism, Mr. Levin warns that religious exercise must be defended, but a defensive posture is insufficient. In addition to the legal battles they must wage, religious men and women should proudly affirm the manifest virtues of religious communal life, for themselves and for their neighbors. In this conversation, Mr. Cohen and Mr. Levin argue this contention and explore the American tradition of religious freedom, the new challenges facing religious communities in a more fragmented society, and the question of how Jews in particular should think about these great moral and political questions.


In this podcast, Tikvah’s executive director, Eric Cohen, is joined by Elliott Abrams for a discussion of Abrams’s important new essay "If American Jews and Israel Are Drifting Apart, What's the Reason?" Published in the April 2016 issue of Mosaic, examines the conventional wisdom that American Jews are becoming less attached to, less interested in, and even more antagonistic toward the Jewish State. If so, he and Cohen ask, do we understand why, and are we willing to confront the real reasons? What are the new fault lines within American Jewry itself, and what does this mean for the America-Israel relationship more broadly? What does all this mean for Israel, given the tremendous threats it faces in a radicalizing Middle East, and in a political world in which new forms of anti-Judaism and anti-Zionism seem to be on the rise?

Mr. Abrams is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations; the former Deputy National Security advisor to the president; and the author of important books on the state of American Jewry and the Israel-Palestine question.