The Tikvah Podcast

Last week, the language-learning app Duolingo introduced a new course on Yiddish. The course sparked significant interest, and provoked significant controversy. Suddenly, this language-learning app became the site of a proxy argument over modern Jewish identity. In the app’s menu, each language is typically represented by the flag of the primary country in which that language is spoken. But Yiddish is a language without an obvious home, and so which flag should represent it became the subject of much and fervent debate. Moreover, since each Yiddish dialect is associated with particular cultural and religious orientations, controversy also surrounded the question of which dialect should govern pronunciation of the language in the audio elements of the app. 

To better understand these controversies, one of the Duolingo app’s Yiddish course developers, Meena Viswanath, joins this week’s podcast. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver, she explains how the controversies came about, what they mean for students of Yiddish, and what they reveal about Jewish identity right now.

Musical selections are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

Direct download: Viswanath_final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:28pm EDT

This week, the Biden administration officially began multilateral negotiations with Iran, in hopes of re-entering some form of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or the so-called Iran nuclear deal.

The debate over the deal is one of the most contentious in contemporary American foreign policy, and reveals a genuine conflict of visions. Supporters of the deal, including prominent officials in the Biden administration, tend to view the Middle East as consumed by an eternal conflict between the Sunni states of the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia, and the Shia allies led by Iran. Opponents of the deal tend to think that the central regional faultline is not Shia Iran vs. Sunni Saudi Arabia, but instead the American-led alliance structure—including Saudi Arabia and Israel—against Iran and its regional proxies. 

That’s the view of this week’s podcast guest, Mohammed Alyahya, the editor of Al Arabiya's English edition. He, who is based in Dubai and grew up in Saudi Arabia, explains the central paradigms at the heart of Middle East politics, and he outlines what the Biden administration should and shouldn't do when confronting Iran and the threat it poses to America and the regional order. 

You can read a full transcript of this podcast here. Musical selections are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

Direct download: Alyahya_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:57pm EDT

This week marks the yahrzeit, the annual remembrance, of the passing of one of the outstanding sages of 20th century Judaism, and perhaps the key intellectual figure of Modern Orthodoxy in America, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. This week’s podcast looks back on a speech he delivered before a rapt audience on Israel’s Independence Day in 1956, during the tense days leading up to the Suez Crisis. It was titled in Hebrew "Kol Dodi Dofek" or “Hark, My Beloved Knocks,” a line from the Song of Songs, which will be chanted in synagogues across the world this Shabbat

A few years ago, the distinguished scholar and rabbi Jacob J. Schacter of Yeshiva University joined Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver for a discussion of Soloveitchik’s speech, which was later published as a short book entitled Fate and Destiny. In this discussion, Schacter describes the dramatic history behind Soloveitchik’s address and guides us through the “six knocks'' that to him demonstrated God’s involvement in the creation of Israel. In the process, he also discusses Soloveitchik’s attitude toward suffering, messianism, and secular Zionism. 

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: Schacter_Kol_Dodi_Dofek_Rebroadcast_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:40pm EDT

Today, everybody, children and adults alike, is glued to their smartphones and tablets and computers. But much of the content readily available on these devices can be harmful, especially for children. So helping children navigate the internet in healthy ways―insulating them from the worst excesses of pornography, sexting, and social pressure—is among the primary tasks of a parent today. But that's no easy task. How can parents and their children take advantage of all the boons the internet offers while ensuring it’s safe for family? 

To explore this question, on this week’s podcast, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver is joined by Sean Clifford, CEO of Canopy, an American offshoot of the Israeli company Netspark, which has developed a technology that filters websites and messages in real time to help parents curate the internet for their children. Netspark’s technology has been adopted by Israel’s ministry of education and is used in thousands of school computers there. Now, through Canopy, their technology has come to the American market, where it can be used to protect Muslim, Christian, and Jewish families all over 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.

Direct download: Clifford-Podcast-FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 7:59pm EDT

In almost a week, Jews all over the world will sit down at their seder tables and retell the story of the Exodus, of the Jewish people’s national deliverance from Egypt. Of course, in the seder Jews retell that story in a highly choreographed, highly ritualized ceremonial meal. Particular food items are used for particular purposes, and carefully delineated instructions are given for what to do with each. Why do Jews celebrate national deliverance by eating and drinking at all? How does food, of all things, illuminate freedom?

To help us understand the significance of food and drink on Passover, in this week’s podcast the entrepreneur and philanthropist Mark Gerson joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver. Gerson is the author of a new book, The Telling: How Judaism’s Essential Book Reveals the Meaning of Life, a commentary on the Passover Haggadah. In this episode, he analyzes the many foods prescribed by the Haggadah, and how each of them in their own way gets at the heart of Jewish national freedom. 

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: Podcast-Gerson-FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 8:51pm EDT

Last week, Israel’s Supreme Court announced that, for the purpose of Israeli citizenship, conversions to Judaism that take place under the auspices of the Reform and Conservative movements and within Israel would be recognized by the state. This move ends the Orthodox rabbinate’s exclusive jurisdiction over internal conversions as they relate to citizenship, though not to other domains of religious life like marriage and burial. Though the ruling itself doesn’t affect many people, it is seen as a monumental shift in Israeli society. Why?

To answer that question, and to illuminate the many tensions in Israeli life that the court's ruling lays bare, the American-Israeli writer Daniel Gordis joins Mosaic's editor Jonathan Silver for this episode of our podcast. Together the two process what the ruling really says, why it happened now, and what it could mean for Israel’s connection to the diaspora, as well as for the role of Jewish law in public life and for its ongoing political fight over the role of the judiciary. 

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: Daniel-Gordis-Podcast-FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 9:25pm EDT

Not long ago, Conservative Judaism was America’s largest and most vital Jewish denomination. Today, things are different; for many years now, the movement has been losing and not replacing its members. In a recent essay written to mark and reflect upon one year after the passing of his mother, the historian Gil Troy wrote that “philosophically, history vindicated [my mother’s] passionate Zionism but repudiated her pick-and-choose Judaism. My two brothers and I represent a vast historical experiment that mostly flopped: mid-twentieth-century Conservative Judaism.”

This week’s podcast looks at that experiment through the personal, private, and illustrative experiences of Gil Troy and his brother Tevi. Both passionately committed Jewish leaders who were raised in a home devoted to Conservative Judaism, they join Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to provide an intimate look at their differing journeys out of the movement, and the ways they’ve both tried to confront the questions modernity posed for them that Conservative Judaism just couldn’t answer. 

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: Troy_Brothers_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:58pm EDT

President Biden has been in office for just over one month, but when it comes to his administration’s relationship with Iran, the honeymoon is already long over. Just in the past few weeks, Iran has launched rockets at American assets in Iraq, refused to allow in-person inspections by International Atomic Energy Agency officials of its nuclear facilities, and extorted sanctions relief from South Korea by taking an oil tanker hostage. Through all these actions, Tehran is trying to determine the Biden administration’s objectives, probe its limits, and assess its political will.

Now it’s up to the new American team to lead a response, and to declare—in its words and actions—to the world, and especially to the Iranians, what the United States wants to do, what it can abide, and what it will not accept. On this week’s podcast, the national-security expert Richard Goldberg joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain the Biden administration’s early moments of decision on Iran and to project what the short and long term consequences of those decisions might be. 

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

The peace process between Israel and the Palestinians has in the last several decades sucked up more American attention, time, and resources than nearly any other conflict in the world. Presidents, cabinet secretaries, national-security officials, and diplomats have poured themselves into solving the problem. These resources have been expended not only because of how Americans perceived the Israeli-Palestinian conflict’s strategic importance to the United States, but perhaps more so because it is a conflict that engages and symbolizes the way Americans see themselves acting in the world.

Despite that huge effort, Americans haven’t succeeded in bringing the Israelis and the Palestinians to any kind of settled arrangement. Furthermore, as the Israeli researcher Shany Mor wrote in this month's essay in Mosaic, American policymakers seem insistent on returning to the same frameworks of analysis and strategy that have failed systematically time and again. Now Mor joins Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to explain what’s gone wrong, and to talk about why so many American peace processors think the way they do about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 

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: Shani_Mor_for_REVIEW.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 4:44pm EDT

In the last week of January 2021, thousands of Israeli aredim protested and rioted in Bnai Brak, a predominantly aredi city located east of Tel Aviv. The rioters were angry at the government’s efforts to enforce a lockdown―not Israel’s first―meant to suppress the coronavirus. Several days later, over 10,000 aredim congregated to mourn the passing of an eminent rabbi, again in violation of the lockdown. For all the frustration that Israel's aredim feel, their refusal to comply with the lockdowns has generated an equal measure of frustration and resentment among non-aredi Israelis. 

aredim make up a significant part of Israel, and the coronavirus has brought long-simmering tensions between them and the rest of the Israeli public to a boiling point. This week, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver speaks with the rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer, a aredi leader and the editor of the ḥaredi publication Tzarich Iyun, to explore how his community might repair their relations with their fellow Israelis. In a recent essay, one discussed here, Pfeffer offers a framework for good citizenship, rooted in traditional religious sources, which he hopes can serve as the foundation for a renewed ḥaredi civic virtue.

Musical selections in this podcast are drawn from the Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, op. 31a, composed by Paul Ben-Haim and performed by the ARC Ensemble.

Direct download: Pfeffer_Podcast_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:28pm EDT

Three times a day in prayer and each week on the Sabbath, Jews sustain and renew their special covenant with God. While no other nation has the same covenant as the Jews do, the idea of covenant―that a group of people can band together in obligation under God’s sovereignty―has inspired many other nations. From its earliest history, the people of America understood that they relied on divine Providence, and developed a civic culture that made it, as G.K. Chesterton famously put it, “a nation with the soul of a church.” Covenant, in other words, has always been at the heart of America’s national self-understanding. 

It is the recovery of this Jewish idea, argue the Christian leaders Gerald McDermott and Derryck Green, that can help heal America’s racial divide. In a new book, McDermott, Green, and other contributors suggest that a return to America’s founding notion of covenant can help bring about racial reconciliation. Now, in conversation with Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver, McDermott and Green explore the idea of national covenant, how it has resonated throughout American history, and how it can help Americans once again see each other as equally made in the image of God. 

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: McDermott_Green_FINAL_INTRO.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:00pm EDT

For much of its history, the Jewish people hasn’t had a state. The Israel described in the Hebrew Bible had emissaries and military power, and the modern state of Israel has a foreign ministry and an advanced military, yet there’s nearly 2,000 years of stateless history in between. Throughout that time, however, Jewish diplomacy has been constant. Even without a state, the Jewish people has integrated, separated, argued, and made amends with the other nations of the world. And, as a new book shows, there’s much to be learned from that long experience today, in the state of Israel and out.

On this week’s podcast, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver speaks with Emmanuel Navon, the author of The Star and the Scepter: A Diplomatic History of Israel. Navon puts Israel's diplomatic history in the context of the entire history of the Jews, beginning with the Hebrew Bible. In doing so, he and Silver try to dig up some eternal truths about the nature of the Jewish people.  

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: Navon-Podcast-Final.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:43pm EDT

Very few contemporary public figures have had as many successes in as many fields as Michael Oren. A writer-statesman in the model of Thucydides, Oren was Israel’s ambassador to the United States during the Obama years, and was before that a historian of the Jewish state, the author of perhaps the best single book on the Six-Day War. He’s also worked in think tanks, been a professor at Ivy League institutions, and served as an MK in the Israeli parliament. Now, with the recent publication of The Night Archera collection of short stories, Oren returns to the genre of fiction, a pursuit that animated his younger years.

This week on the podcast, Oren joins Mosaic’s editor Jonathan Silver to discuss how his varied career fits together—how the writing of fiction relates to the writing of history, how the study of history relates to the practice of diplomacy, how diplomatic service and writing both require the same aptitudes of perception, and how all of this came together in the service of Zionism and the state 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.

This podcast was recorded over Zoom at a virtual event for members of the Tikvah-Beren Collegiate Forum. You can learn more about the Forum here.

Direct download: Oren_Podcast_FI.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 5:27pm EDT

Most of our podcast guests, especially those focusing on religious issues, tend to look at the world in a traditional way―meaning, their habits of mind tend to be traditional and conservative.

Many of our podcast guests, especially the rabbis and religious leaders who help us think about Jewish theology, tend to look at the world and speak out of the more conservative and orthodox orientation. But this week’s guest is—at least professionally—an outsider to that world. Joel Kotkin is not a rabbi or theologian but a social scientist, and he has turned his attention to the world of religion.

Kotkin recently published an essay in Quillette, “God and the Pandemic,” and he joins our Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver to talk about that essay, and to assess what’s happening in American religious culture today as the pandemic continues to take its toll. Kotkin, looking at religious life empirically, examines the role of technology and human adaptability in the present religious environment, and he tries to think about the long-term effects COVID-19 will have on synagogues, churches, mosques and other religious communities across 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: Kotkin_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 6:35pm EDT

In the water-scarce Middle East, water that can be used for drinking and agriculture is of premium importance. The entire ancient civilization of imperial Egypt grew up around the Nile River and its basin, and much of the east Africa still depends on it. Although Israel has made amazing advances in hydrotechnology, it too must treat water as a scarce resource, and that makes the politics of the Nile, along with the policing of the Red Sea, a question of real strategic significance to the Jewish state and the regional order of the Middle East. 

In this week’s podcast, Mosaic editor Jonathan Silver is joined by Dore Gold, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, to discuss the strategic importance of the Nile River, the policing of the Red Sea, and what they mean for Israel and the regional order 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.

Direct download: Dore_Gold_Nile_FINAL.mp3
Category:Great Jewish Essays and Ideas -- posted at: 11:51am EDT

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