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Podcast: Zohar Atkins on the Contested Idea of Equality

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

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


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Podcast: Steven Smith on Persecution and the Art of Writing

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

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

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


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Podcast: Jon Levenson on the Moral Force of the Book of Ruth

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

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

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


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Podcast: Tony Badran on How Hizballah Wins, Even When It Loses

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

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

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

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


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Podcast: John Podhoretz on Midge Decter’s Life in Ideas

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

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

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


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Podcast: Motti Inbari on the Yemenite Children Affair

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

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

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


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Podcast: Christine Emba on Rethinking Sex

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

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

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


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Podcast: Shany Mor on How to Understand the Recent Terror Attacks in Israel

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

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

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


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Podcast: Abraham Socher on His Life in Jewish Letters and the Liberal Arts

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

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

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


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Podcast: Ilana Horwitz on Educational Performance and Religion

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

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

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


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