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Catholic Israel? Hardly...

February 11, 2014

A dilemma: What do you do when the categories in which you are accustomed to think already commit you to certain conclusions – conclusions  that, when stated explicitly, you are inclined to resist? Such a dilemma is at the heart of Professor Leora Batnitzky’s illuminating and erudite study of modern Jewish thought, entitled How Judaism Became a Religion. It is also suggested by the title of a review by Professor Michah Gottlieb, published in Summer 2012 in the Jewish Review of  Books: “Are We all Protestants Now?” Rav Kook? Solomon Maimon? Rabbi Soloveitchik? The Ba’al Shem Tov? … Protestants, all?

Peruse Professor Gottlieb’s summary and critique of the argument here and then join us at the Tikvah Center on February 20th for a discussion with Professor Batnitzky of the book and of its implications for dilemmas facing the Jewish people today. RSVP for that event through this website, while seats still remain.

Read the full essay here.

Sinai and Sin

January 30, 2014

Last week on Shabbat, synagogues around the world turned the page from parshat Yitro (Exodus 18:1 – 20:23) to parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18). The steady flow of narrative, beginning with The Beginning and moving through Noah, the Patriarchs, the birth of Moses and his call from the burning bush, the plagues and exodus from Egypt, the arrival at Sinai and the epiphany that sounds forth in the Decalogue – this current of sublime narrative gives way to lengthy descriptions of law and ritual. How should we think about this pivot in style? What does it reveal about the deep character of Judaism’s sacred text and about Judaism itself? In this Jewish Review of Books essay, Hillel Halkin offers his characteristically erudite and luminous perspective.

Read the full essay here.

The United States has been a strong supporter of Israel. Is that likely to continue? How do changes over the last few years in the Middle East affect the US-Israel relationship? To what extent are different parts of the American public, the American Jewish community, and the American foreign policy establishment still inspired to stand with Israel? Indeed, what does it mean to “stand with Israel?”

Watch William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard, in conversation with Tikvah’s Director of Academic Programs Jonathan Silver, analyze Israel and the future of American foreign policy. The event was recorded before a live audience on January 27, 2014 at The Tikvah Center in New York City. For information on other upcoming Tikvah events, please check our Events page.

Watch the event here.

Despite the predictions of many of Israel’s secular founders, the ultra-orthodox population of the Jewish state has only grown in size and influence. During his recent campaign, Yair Lapid, now Finance Minister in the coalition government, famously declared to a crowd of Haredi students at Ono Academic College, “You won. There was a competition in Israel for Israeli-ness that lasted for over a century… and in the end you won.”

The point is clear: Israel’s future as the Jewish state depends on the successful integration of its Haredi communities into the mainstream of society. But what might this integration look like? Is there a peaceful and productive way forward that overcomes the deep antagonism dividing secular and religious in Israel (and was, in fact, still evident in Lapid’s remarks)?

Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer has made it his life’s mission to work toward such a positive integration. Rabbi Pfeffer was a student in Tikvah’s Jewish Thought and Enduring Human Questions program and this year will be an instructor and panelist in our Summer Fellowship on Jewish Thought and Citizenship. Rabbi Pfeffer is a young Haredi Jerusalemite with considerable standing in his community – a rabbinic judge and an acclaimed author of a book on Jewish law. He is also a recent graduate of Hebrew University with a law degree and a distinguished appointment as intern to the Israeli Supreme Court.

We republish here a video clip along with excerpts from an interview we conducted with Rabbi Pfeffer in September, 2012. Since that time, he has initiated two important projects: The first is a yeshiva high school for Haredi students that incorporates basic grounding in secular studies within a traditional yeshiva framework: “The novelty is that the school aims at a mainstream Haredi public, and is molded on a classic Haredi high-school model. I think it can be an important step in helping the community find direction for the future.” The second, an academic program for Haredi college-age students, is designed to introduce the “Yeshiva-University” model into an Israeli setting: “It is a challenge, and there’s a long way to go — but we have already received many positive vibes, and hope to reach important achievements for the community. Aside from teaching there whenever I can, I am officially the ‘rabbi’ of the new ‘campus’ and a member of its board.”

Watch a clip and read the full interview here.

On January 8, Tikvah Fund executive director Eric Cohen sat down to talk with George Weigel, Distinguished Senior Fellow and William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Weigel is one of the country’s most prolific thinkers and writers about religion, ethics, and contemporary culture. His 17 books include a biography of Pope John Paul II and analyses of the “just war” doctrine and the challenges posed by modern jihadism; his most recent work examines evangelical Catholicism in the 21st century.

The Cohen-Weigel conversation gives a sense of the breadth of Mr. Weigel’s interests. It covers just war theory, which Mr. Weigel thinks is in “rather robust shape as an intellectual tradition” but, because of its uncertain reception in the mainline churches, is “not in such good shape” as a politically influential body of thought. The conversation also touches on Christian-Jewish relations, where Mr. Weigel thinks that for the first time in 2,000 years the two religions are able to transcend matters of historical misunderstanding and “reconvene” to talk about fundamental questions of faith. Finally, the conversation touches on the critical question facing modern Islam: whether it can draw on resources of its own to develop modern doctrines of religious tolerance and a separation between religious and political authorities.

You can listen to the conversation here.