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Podcast: Dara Horn on Why People Love Dead Jews

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The celebrated novelist Dara Horn’s new book, People Love Dead Jews, has an arresting title, one designed to make the reader feel uncomfortable. That’s because Horn makes an argument that tries to change the way people think about the function of Jews in the conscience of the West.

In the book, and in this podcast conversation with Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver, Horn suggests that Jewish communities, figures, and abstract symbols of “the Jews” have come to serve a moral role in the Western imagination that, when one takes a step back, is bizarre and grotesque.

It’s easy to acknowledge the darkness of the Holocaust and to marvel at the optimism of Anne Frank, but Horn detects in that acknowledgment something insidious that hasn’t yet been fully revealed or explained.

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: Elliot Kaufman on the Crown Heights Riot, 30 Years Later

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Thirty years ago, in August 1991, riots broke out in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights, a neighborhood shared by African Americans and Jews, the latter of whom were mostly members of the hasidic Chabad-Lubavitch movement. During the riot, which was sparked by a car accident that killed one young black child and injured another, local black residents attacked Jews on the streets, burned their businesses, and killed one of them, often while chanting anti-Semitic slogans. For three days, local authorities looked on passively.

The episode is a sad one in the history of American Jewish-black relations. This week’s podcast guest believes that if Jews and blacks are to enjoy a fruitful and mutually beneficial relationship in the future, as they have in the past, understanding how and why events like the Crown Heights riot came about is essential. Elliot Kaufman did just that in a recent essay for the Wall Street Journal. A Canadian who is too young to remember riot, Kaufman—in the piece and in this conversation with Mosaic‘s editor, Jonathan Silver—forensically reconstructs what happened in Crown Heights, puts together what it meant at the time, looks at what it teaches us today, and suggests pitfalls that can be avoided so that the two communities can avoid such bitter antagonism.

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: Cynthia Ozick on Her New Novel Antiquities

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In the year 1970, the distinguished American writer Cynthia Ozick published an essay arguing that Jewish literature might succeed if it embraced and conveyed the rich particularism of the Jewish experience. In a famous metaphor, she wrote that, “If we blow into the narrow end of the shofar, we will be heard far. But if we choose to be mankind rather than Jewish and blow into the wider part, we will not be heard at all; for us America will have been in vain.”

Fifty years later the Jewish people’s relation to the surrounding culture is a subject that still preoccupies Ozick. Her new novel, Antiquities, deals in the same themes. It depicts an elderly American man who, in the process of writing his memoirs, fixates on a friendship he developed with an outcast Jewish boy during the time they shared decades before in an exclusive private school. In this podcast, in conversation with Jonathan Silver, Ozick explains how this relationship caused the man to question whether there was a more “significant thing” he could devote himself to, and she reveals some of the subtle wrinkles in the book that direct the reader toward monotheism and to the Jewish tradition.

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: Jenna & Benjamin Storey on Why Americans Are So Restless

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Two liberal arts professors were intrigued by a habit of mind they detected in their students, especially their high-achieving ones. Despite material abundance and the freedom to pursue a profession or passion of their choosing, their students were unsettled. Even after making a decision about what to pursue, they remain plagued by the thought that perhaps they should have done something else. This habit of mind, not unique to democracy in America but perhaps especially common in democratic conditions, is what today’s podcast guests call “restlessness.”

In their new book Why We Are Restless, Jenna and Benjamin Storey, both professors at Furman University, explain the cultural force that characterizes modern restlessness by looking back at an earlier tradition of French philosophy. In their interpretations of Michel de Montaigne, Blaise Pascal, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Alexis de Tocqueville, the Storeys reveal how restlessness was variously aimed at and criticized by earlier thinkers. And in conversation with Jonathan Silver, they speculate about what modern Americans, and modern American Jews, can do to understand it.

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


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Podcast: Kenneth Marcus on How the IHRA Definition of Anti-Semitism Helps the Government Protect Civil Rights

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With anti-Semitism on the rise over the last few years, it is essential for institutions to be able to assess clearly whether an incident is anti-Semitic or not. For this purpose, over the last two decades, many governments, companies, and international organizations have, as Joshua Muravchik discusses in this month’s Mosaic essay, adopted the “working definition of anti-Semitism” from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA). Today, the U.S. federal government uses the IHRA definition to assess federal claims of anti-Semitism under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, and all government agencies also consider the IHRA definition in their own assessments of anti-Semitism.

This week, Kenneth Marcus, who was instrumental in getting the federal government to adopt the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism, joins our podcast. Formerly the assistant secretary for civil rights in the Department of Education, Marcus has played a major role in protecting the civil rights of diverse groups, including Jews facing anti-Semitism; he’s also the author of Jewish Identity and Civil Rights in America, and The Definition of Anti-Semitism. In conversation with Mosaic’s editor, Jonathan Silver, he explains how the IHRA definition helps American officials protect civil rights.

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: Nir Barkat on a Decade of Governing the World’s Most Spiritual City

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Home to the Temple Mount, the Dome of the Rock, and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the city of Jerusalem has unparalleled spiritual significance for millions of people around the world. But in addition to all of its religious and philosophical importance, Jerusalem is also an actual city, with gas stations and grocery stores and office buildings and more. It has to be governed and managed just like New York, Chicago, and Moscow do. So what’s it like to be responsible for garbage collection, and all the other everyday city needs, in the most spiritual city in the West?

That’s what Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem and now a member of Knesset from the Likud party, joins our podcast this week to talk about. Barkat was Jerusalem’s mayor from 2008 to 2018, a decade that saw tremendous growth for Israel’s capital. In conversation with Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver, he explains what it takes to govern Jerusalem, what he learned from his time as mayor, and how the challenges facing Jerusalem mirror the challenges faced by the Jewish state itself.

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: Yehoshua Pfeffer on How Haredi Jews Think About Serving in the IDF

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Mandatory army service plays an essential function within Israeli civic culture, absorbing and equalizing Ashkenazi, Mizrahi (Middle Eastern), religious, secular, male, female, Ethiopian, Russian, Druze, and more. In the IDF, all of these identities step back and create room for a national Israeli identity to step forward.

Almost every Jewish community in Israel serves in the IDF, except one: the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) community. Seventy years ago, Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, famously gave haredi leaders an official exemption from compulsory national service, an exemption that persists to this day, along with much accompanying controversy. On this week’s podcast, the haredi leader Yehoshua Pfeffer, himself a rabbinic judge, asks whether that exemption is just. In conversation with Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver, he explores the background behind the reluctance to serve, and brings us inside the debate currently unfolding within Israel’s Orthodox communities about the fulfillment of civic obligation and moral duty.

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: Shalom Carmy on Jewish Understanding of Human Suffering

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On June 24, 2021, in the middle of the night, part of a 12-story condominium building in the Miami suburb of Surfside, Florida, suddenly collapsed. Thus far, eighteen people are confirmed dead and 145 remain missing as rescue operations continue. Like other natural disasters, the tragedy in Surfside was a loss of innocent life that, for believers in a just God, seems completely disconnected from notions of justice, reward, and punishment.

Why is there suffering? How should Jews understand a world laden with it, while still trying to connect to a loving and benevolent God? On this week’s podcast, the theologian and rabbi Shalom Carmy, a professor of Jewish philosophy at Yeshiva University and, until 2019, the longtime editor of Tradition, the theological journal of the Rabbinical Council of America, joins Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver. Carmy guides listeners through Jewish ways of thinking about suffering, in part by referring to an essay by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, “Aninut and Avelut.”

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: Dru Johnson on Biblical Philosophy

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There’s a distinction often made between two common approaches to the human longing for wisdom. The first approach, philosophy, is considered the unassisted search for wisdom and truth, one that requires boldness, curiosity, and perhaps even impiety; it requires the philosopher to ask questions that can unsettle the customs and social habits on which any decent society depends. The second approach, biblical religion, on the other hand, is the product of revelation, of God’s disclosure to Moses and mankind the ways of creation and righteous living. The biblical desire to know requires submission and deference to an authority beyond all human pretensions, an authority that knows the human heart better than humans themselves do. Philosophy appeals to human reason; scripture appeals to divine revelation. They’re two fundamentally different modes of understanding, learning, and living.

This week’s podcast guest argues that this oft-drawn distinction between reason and revelation is all wrong. Dru Johnson is a professor at The Kings’s College in New York City, director of the Center for Hebraic Thought, and the author of a new book, Biblical Philosophy: A Hebraic Approach to the Old and New Testaments. In the book, Johnson argues that, beginning in the Hebrew Bible and extending even through the Christian New Testament, the Bible has a coherent manner of seeking out wisdom that bears all the distinguishing characteristics of a text with philosophical depth. Just like the Greek tradition, biblical philosophy is a distinct intellectual tradition that has its own answers to a great many of the pressing questions of mankind. Join him and Mosaic’s editor, Jonathan Silver, to learn more.

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: David Rozenson on How His Family Escaped the Soviet Union and Why He Chose to Return

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The Soviet Union was deeply against religion, and deeply against Judaism in particular, so that the full embrace of Jewish religious observance, or the study of Hebrew, or the slightest approval of Zionism were often seen as criminal offenses against the state. Some Jews, like Natan Sharansky, resisted—brave refuseniks who wouldn’t give in to enforced secularization and who organized underground networks of Jewish life. Eventually, through American and international pressure, the Soviets allowed those desperate Jews to leave. But what of the Jews who didn’t flee, who remained in Russia even after the demise of the Soviet Union? What is their story?

David Rozenson, the executive director of Beit Avi Chai, a Jewish cultural center in Jerusalem, was born in the Soviet Union before his family escaped to the United States. Years later, as an adult, he returned to Russia and stayed there for years. On this week’s podcast, in conversation with Mosaic Editor Jonathan Silver, he tells his family story and explains why, despite his parents having risked so much to leave, he chose to go back and serve the Jews of the former Soviet bloc.

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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