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Modern Times

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...
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...
Speaking of Hebrew Speaking of Hebrew
Monday, April 26, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Over time, successful social transformations lose their capacity to amaze. So it is that we forget just how astounding was the modern revival of Hebrew as a language suitable for all aspects of life. Of course, Hebrew never really died; throughout history it was the written language of scholarship and religious thought, and the spoken and sung language of prayer. This rich and multi-layered legacy was mined by the Zionist writers, linguists, and educators who over decades would painstakingly bring forth the modern Hebrew language. Among the questions they had to settle was how, exactly, to pronounce it. The decision was to...
1948: Palestine Betrayed 1948: Palestine Betrayed
Tuesday, April 20, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Zionist Jews were not interlopers in Palestine. The creation of the Jewish state was not an "original sin" foisted upon the Arab world. The tragic flight of the Palestinian refugees was overwhelmingly not the fault of the Zionists. To the contrary, at every momentous junction the Zionists opted for compromise and peace, the Arabs for intransigence and belligerency. This, in summary, is how most people once understood the Arab-Israel conflict. Today, however, as Israel marks its Independence Day, an entire generation has come to maturity believing a diametrically opposite "narrative": namely, that the troubles persist because of West Bank settlements, because...
The Religious Kibbutz The Religious Kibbutz
Thursday, April 15, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Alongside the centennial of the kibbutz movement, another, humbler jubilee is being marked: the 80th anniversary of Ha-kibbutz Ha-dati, the religious-kibbutz movement.  A unique blend of nationalism, socialism, and religion, it has generated a legacy whose significance reaches well beyond its sixteen member communes. The kibbutz movement as a whole was, from its inception, deeply committed to religion—that is, the Tolstoyan religion of labor. The religious kibbutzim strove to wed this new religion with the old one, and thus to remake both. The aim was a return to the land that would at once revitalize the ancient moral-religious energies of the Torah and issue a...
Easter Easter
Thursday, April 1, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Around the world this weekend, Christians are preparing to celebrate Easter, the holiday marking the death and resurrection of Jesus and the culmination of the period of penitence that began with Ash Wednesday on February 17.     The first bishops in Jerusalem were Jews, and so the early Christian community commemorated the Feast of the Resurrection on the fourteenth day of the Hebrew month of Nisan, coinciding with the Jewish festival of Passover. In Temple times, the essential rite of Passover was the slaughter of a paschal lamb; the Christian Bible explicitly tied this ritual with Rome's crucifixion of Jesus:...
Thoroughly Modern Matzah Thoroughly Modern Matzah
Thursday, March 25, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

When Jews the world over sit down next week to mark the birth of Jewish history, matzah will figure prominently at the table. Matzah baking is an exacting task; according to traditional law, the entire process, from first kneading to exit from the oven, must be accomplished in 18 minutes flat, with not a speck of leaven in sight. For thousands of years, these specifications and others were laboriously met by hand. Yet this most ancient food has a modern history, too. The first matzah machine was invented in 1838 in France. With rabbinic approval, the technology moved steadily eastward.  The...
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...
Allon’s Legacy Allon’s Legacy
Wednesday, March 10, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

It was fitting that Benny Begin, son of the late Likud-party prime minister Menachem Begin, should have been the cabinet minister representing Israel's government at the annual memorial service on Monday for Labor-party icon Yigal Allon. On the Zionist political spectrum, the Begins are stalwarts of the Right, whereas Allon was decidedly a man of the Left. Yet the inheritors of their respective legacies share a sense of clarity about Jewish rights in Israel, a desire for genuine accommodation with the Arabs, and an emphatic insistence on defensible borders.   Allon was born in 1918 in the Lower Galilee and died...
Hannah Arendt Hannah Arendt
Thursday, March 4, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Nearly 35 years after her death, Hannah Arendt (1906–1975) continues to spark discussion and reflection.  For Israeli readers in particular, the recent appearance in Hebrew translation of her magnum opus, The Origins of Totalitarianism, as well as of Elisabeth Young-Bruehl's massive biography (1982, rev. 2004), brings home her continuing ability to frustrate and provoke. A consummate German-Jewish intellectual, Arendt received a thorough philosophical training, studying (and more than studying) with Martin Heidegger and writing a dissertation on Augustine's theory of love. The rise of Nazism drove her from metaphysics to politics; she became active, first in Germany and later after fleeing to...
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Editors' Picks
Diaspora Disneys Shelley Salamensky, New York Review of Books. From Poland to Spain, former Jewish quarters are being turned into theme-park-style tourist attractions—some respectful, some not. But is this fate still better than oblivion?
Havel and the Jews Paul Berman, Tablet. Rita Klimova, Havel's ambassador to the U.S., was a Jew who lived on Riverside Drive. But the connections among Israel, the Jews, and Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution went much deeper. (Interview by Marc Tracy)
The Iranian Schindler Brian Wheeler, BBC News. Hitler declared Iran an Aryan nation. But Iran's head diplomat in World War II Paris used his connections and personal fortune to save thousands of Iranian Jews living in France.
The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies Thomas K├╝hne, H-Net. There are over 16,000 books on the Holocaust. "If I had to limit my own library to ten out of those sixteen thousand," says a reviewer, "this would be one of them."
Religion as a Chain of Memory Alan Brill, Book of Doctrines and Opinions. The medieval Ashkenazic memory of many 20th-century Jews thinkers is fading. What will take its place?
The Truth Game Efraim Karsh, Hudson New York. The discovery of a key historical document lays to rest one of the longest running debates on the 1948 war. So why has Haaretz tried to distort its contents and suppress it?
The Meaning of Hanukkah Jon D. Levenson, Wall Street Journal. In some ways, Christians preserved the story of Hanukkah better than the Jews did.
What's Under the Bridge Shmuel Rosner, New York Times. The bureaucratic brouhaha over the unsound Mughrabi bridge was really about the attempt by some Muslim leaders to deny Jewish ties to the Temple Mount.
Neither/Nor M.G. Piety, Piety on Kierkegaard. One Danish writer's idiosyncratic understanding of what constitutes anti-Semitism has yielded a bizarre apologia for Kierkegaard and Luther.
Rabbi-Chaplains of the Civil War Karen Abbott, New York Times. Could a member of the Union Army "despise and reject the Savior of men . . . and yet be a fit minister of religion"?