The Tikvah Podcast (Great Jewish Essays and Ideas)

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.

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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.