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Jewish Thought

The Return of Peoplehood The Return of Peoplehood
Friday, July 9, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Among the various attempts over time to articulate a common, all-embracing sense of identity and direction for the Jews—that sprawling, fractious, and diverse group—the notion of peoplehood has been experiencing something of a revival. The Jewish Agency, for one, has announced that peoplehood will henceforth be the focus of its programming, and Israel will of course play a central role in this effort. But does a central role for Israel actually comport with the broadly inclusive tent that the "peoplehood" rubric seeks to establish? Some say no.
Psychoanalysis:  A Jewish Science? Psychoanalysis: A Jewish Science?
Friday, June 11, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

How Jewish was your childhood home? To this query, Anna Freud responded: "more than people think, and less than I remember."  Her quip does double duty: illustrating the porous boundaries of memory, fact, and interpretation that psychoanalysis has sought to clarify and disturb, and highlighting a question surrounding the enterprise since its inception. How Jewish is it?
The Rebbe The Rebbe
Thursday, June 10, 2010 by Yehudah Mirsky | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The story of Lubavitcher Hasidism in our time is nothing short of astounding. Here is an ultra-Orthodox sect, deployed all over the world, exuberantly engaged with non-observant Jews and with non-Jews, availing itself of every imaginable form of contemporary communications technology. What was, for generations, the most intellectual and scholastic-minded hasidic dynasty—its other name, Chabad, is an acronym for "Wisdom, Understanding, Knowledge"—has become an ecstatic mass movement. At the heart of it all is the seventh and last Lubavitcher rebbe, Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902–1994), who died childless—and whom some substantial number of his followers forthrightly regard as the messiah.
The Impresario of Zionism The Impresario of Zionism
Wednesday, April 28, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Theodor Herzl, father of modern political Zionism, was born in Budapest 150 years ago next Sunday, May 2. He died at age forty-four in Vienna, four-and-a-half decades before the establishment of the state of Israel. Herzl came into maturity with no particular Jewish learning, no Hebrew, and scant ties to his community. Yet with his top hat, white gloves, and tails, this broadminded Central European journalist with a utopian streak came to be the foremost revolutionary of the modern Jewish world. The basics outlines of Herzl's life are fairly well known. Born into a comfortable, assimilated family, he considered law but settled...
Holocaust Remembrance Day Holocaust Remembrance Day
Friday, April 9, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

David Weiss Halivni sits in the National Library in Jerusalem working, as he has done for decades, on his multivolume commentary to the Talmud.  His lifelong immersion in the Talmud began in his hometown of Sighet, in the Carpathian Mountains. In 1944, at age seventeen, he was sent with his family to Auschwitz and a series of labor camps, and emerged a lone survivor. After the war he made his way to New York's Jewish Theological Seminary, quickly establishing himself as one of the premier Talmud scholars of the age.  Like most academic talmudists, Halivni approaches the text with a deep...
Orthodoxies Orthodoxies
Friday, April 2, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

"Is Modern Orthodoxy an Endangered Species?" This was the question posed at a conference yesterday in Jerusalem. Some speakers suggested that the very term "Modern Orthodoxy" doesn't fit the Israeli context or even accurately describe this slice of Jewish life. But what, indeed, is it? Like nearly all denominational labels, this one is a product of the ideological and political debates of the 19th century, as the radical options posed by modernity—including the possibilities of assimilation without conversion to Christianity and of political self-determination—scrambled traditional categories as never before. In this unprecedented situation, adherents of tradition in general and of traditional Jewish law...
The Messianic Aliyah The Messianic Aliyah
Monday, March 15, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Today marks the rededication of the Hurva (literally, "ruin") Synagogue, once the jewel in the crown of the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem. Its history, and the debates over that history, open a window onto a fascinating chapter with powerful reverberations today. In 1700, days after arriving from Poland, a Jewish pietist purchased an abandoned plot known since the 15th century as "the Ashkenazi courtyard," hoping to build a synagogue. When his followers proved unable to keep up their payments, the Arab creditors reduced the site to rubble. In the 19th century it arose again, magnificently, thanks to the...
Eruv Eruv
Friday, March 12, 2010 by | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

One of the more obscure municipal systems knocked out of commission by late February's blizzards along the Atlantic seaboard were eruvim. These, as the New York Times explained, are networks of poles and wires that construct symbolic boundaries around Jewish communities, thus enabling the observant to carry objects through outdoor public spaces on the Sabbath. The prohibition against carrying is of ancient vintage, attested in the book of Jeremiah (17:21-22): ". . . and bear no burden on the Sabbath day, nor bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem; neither carry forth a burden out of your houses." The Talmud (Shabbat...
Words Words
Monday, March 8, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

One of the potentially deleterious effects of the digital revolution is a flattening of consciousness—or so some fear. What sort of leveling takes place as we click relentlessly through the endless web? At what point do the words—thoughtful, meaningless, moving, inane—all bleed together? How to maintain any sense of the preciousness of language itself? Several texts recently come to light manage, each in its own way, to remind us that a whole, irreplaceable world can rest in a few furtive lines found who knows where. Phrases inked on pottery discovered at an excavation in Israel have been dated to the late-11th or early-10th...
Rabbah Rabbah
Friday, March 5, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Several weeks ago, a well-known Modern Orthodox rabbi in New York announced that a learned young woman serving in his synagogue as a teacher, preacher, pastoral counselor, and halakhic guide would henceforth be referred to as "Rabbah"—the feminine form of "Rav," or rabbi.  In thus effectively ordaining Sara Hurwitz as the first female Orthodox rabbi, Avraham (Avi) Weiss set off a firestorm.  The presiding body of ultra-Orthodox rabbis has ruled that Weiss himself must no longer be called Orthodox; the Rabbinical Council of America, an avowedly Modern Orthodox body, may expel him as well.  No stranger to controversy, Weiss has bucked...
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Editors' Picks
Contending with Catastrophe Allan Nadler, Forward. Legal and philosophical responses by Orthodox rabbis to the devastating consequences of the 9/11 attacks range from the arcane and casuistic to the sagacious, humane, and uplifting.
Ties Unbroken Gil Student, Torah Musings. Although it may seem irrational, many who do not believe in all of Judaism’s truth-claims maintain deep connections to their religion—and for good reasons.
A Good Offense? Jonathan S. Tobin, Contentions. Robert Gates' resentment of Israel says far more about the self-defeating attitude of the Obama administration, wherein support for Israel is a "gift," than it does about Netanyahu.
Judaism without God Moment. Fifteen Jewish thinkers weigh in on the question of whether Judaism can exist, or can endure, without a belief in God.
Where Faith is Weak, Life is Weak Jonathan Sacks, Jewish Chronicle. Intermarriage, assimilation, and vulnerability are not the causes but the symptoms of a transcendent malaise affecting a people once aflame with devotion.
9/11 and the Agunah Problem Michael J. Broyde, Yona Reiss, JTA. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the forensic challenge of identifying the dead went hand in hand, for Jewish families, with the grim quandary of dissolving marriages according to Jewish law.      
Choose Life, Choose Work Haim Amsalem, Jerusalem Post. Traditional Jewish sources unequivocally stress the virtue of work and the value of earning a living.  Any movement teaching its children only Torah is a modern aberration.    
In Reply Shai Held, JewSchool. Held responds to Gil Student's critique of his contribution to a new volume on Jewish theology, and the role of Jewish law therein.      
Is Judaism a Religion? Leora Batnitzky, Jewish Week. A common assumption is that Judaism began as a religion and only gradually grew into something more broad. But this has it exactly backward.
The Obama Effect Abraham Katsman, Jerusalem Post. Why U.S. Jews are favoring non-Jewish Republican candidates with pro-Israel postions over Jewish Democrats.