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The Soul and the Machine The Soul and the Machine
Thursday, August 12, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The astounding growth of the Internet, computer technology, and artificial intelligence is a commonplace of our time; so is the challenge each poses to familiar ways of commerce and culture, and even to our basic understandings of humanity. Some of the farthest reaches of these developments are expressed in the "singularity" envisioned by the futurologist Raymond Kurzweil: a dazzling world in which, by the end of this century, humans will have so thoroughly merged with fog-like nano-computers that our bodies will no longer have a fixed form and we will, at long last, wield total control over—or be wholly at the mercy of?—an utterly...
Rank Rivalries Rank Rivalries
Wednesday, August 11, 2010 by Elliot Jager | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

A bare majority of Americans know that General David Petraeus commands U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Fewer, surely, would be able to name Navy Admiral Mike Mullen as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In Israel, by contrast, the chief of the general staff of the country's defense forces is a household name—for he is the unique individual in public life who is single-mindedly focused on military security, the reassuring figure, above the political fray, to whom Israelis can look with confidence at times of threat to their national safety.
Rootless Cosmopolitan(s) Rootless Cosmopolitan(s)
Tuesday, August 10, 2010 by Sam Munson | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The search for the Next Big Thing is as endemic in the American literary world as in politics and the clothing industry. When it comes to writers, the itch tends to express itself through the excited serial discovery of identifiably new or neglected "voices," preferably young and often of the ethnic or sexual variety: African-American, or second-wave feminist, or, recently, immigrant Russian-Jewish. Members of this last category are taken to include the short-story writer Lara Vapnyar, the music critic Alex Halberstadt, the literary anthologist Boris Fishman, and Keith Gessen, a founder of the cultural journal n+1 and sometime novelist. Whether...
The Stranger Among You The Stranger Among You
Monday, August 9, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Last week the Israeli cabinet granted status to 800 children of guest workers while, pending appeal, ordering the deportation of 400 others. In the ensuing public reaction, some thought the measure too severe, others too generous. No surprise there: as Western Europeans and Americans well know, the problem of migrant labor is by no means unique to Israel. But each situation has arisen out of specific constellations of history, policy, and circumstance—and, in Israel, an added dimension is the complex relationship among the longstanding societal values of work, solidarity, and Zionism.
Kabbalah and its Discontents Kabbalah and its Discontents
Friday, August 6, 2010 by Aryeh Tepper | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Aside from a small circle of students and admirers, Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag was an unknown figure at his death in 1954. Today, religious schools and New Age "educational centers" around the world are actively spreading his ideas, and his writings are being analyzed by professors and graduate students. After spending an hour in the rabbi's stone mausoleum, the pop-diva Madonna emerged with tears in her eyes. Who was this person to whom scores of pious (and impious) Jews and non-Jews are turning for inspiration?
The New Shimon Peres The New Shimon Peres
Thursday, August 5, 2010 by Elliot Jager | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Marking his eighty-seventh birthday this week, Israel's president flew to Cairo for a two-hour meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, captured headlines in Britain for his frank talk about British attitudes toward Jews and Zionism, visited bereaved military families, and welcomed new North American immigrants at Ben-Gurion airport. Perceived not so long ago as among Israel's most polarizing and untrustworthy figures, Shimon Peres nowadays enjoys unprecedented status. A politician who once mercilessly undermined prime ministers Yitzhak Shamir and Yitzhak Rabin stands loyally behind Benjamin Netanyahu while speaking publicly as an above-the-fray statesman.
The Kook Perplex The Kook Perplex
Wednesday, August 4, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In late May, a file began to circulate on the Internet of a lengthy and hitherto-unknown work by Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935), one of the greatest and most consequential of modern Jewish thinkers. Though he died 75 years ago, Kook's provocative ideas still play a pivotal role in contemporary Israeli political and religious debates, and the long-playing controversies surrounding his literary estate reflect something of the aura of his mystical personality and teachings. This latest revelation, and the round of polemics spurred by it, illustrate some enduringly high-voltage issues within Jewish life today.
Violent Diversions Violent Diversions
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 by Elliot Jager | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Time and again, troubles within the Arab world have increased the chances of aggression against Israel. Case in point: Hizballah's assassination of Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri, the country's chief Sunni figure, on February 14, 2005, resulted in a period of severe political pressure on the terrorist Shi'ite movement and its Syrian ally, presumed complicit in the murder. Only when Hizballah sent its gunmen across the border into Israel on July 12, 2006, seizing two Israeli soldiers and sparking a 34-day conflagration, was world attention diverted from the crime and could Hizballah buy the time it needed to solidify its position...
Out of the Well of the Past Out of the Well of the Past
Monday, August 2, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Jewish history was once regularly portrayed as a march from pre-modern stasis to modern revolution and change. This picture held its attractions, offering clearly marked battle lines for later proponents on either side of the ongoing ideological struggles between traditionalists and modernizers. By now, however, we have been well instructed in the deceptive simplicity of all such efforts to impress order on the relentless flux of history, which so often dissolves the closer we look at it.
Loving and Leaving Europe Loving and Leaving Europe
Friday, July 30, 2010 by Allan Nadler | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

According to a recent report in the European press, dozens of French Jews who, in the aftermath of World War II, were compelled to adopt Gallic-sounding names are now demanding to be allowed to revert to their Jewish originals. There is a deep irony here: the supposedly Jewish names being reclaimed are in fact the artificial and often arbitrary ones originally imposed in 1787 by the Austrian emperor, Joseph II, as part of his larger aim of integrating the Jews of Central Europe into Germanic society and culture.
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Inheriting Abraham