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People & Places


The Harshness of Creation The Harshness of Creation
Wednesday, January 13, 2010 by | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Like the 2004 tsunami that devastated southeast Asia, yesterday's catastrophic earthquake in Haiti, a poverty-stricken country with a legacy of home-grown violence and suffering, inevitably provoked the terrible question: where was God? One answer derives from Jewish religious sources, and specifically from the teachings of the Kabbalah. It has to do with tzimtzum, or contraction: that is, God's own contraction and limitation of Himself in order to make space for the finite—and invariably flawed—worlds of physical nature and human action. The idea was most famously developed in Safed, Palestine by the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria as part of a complicated, esoteric myth...
Was Dostoevsky a Scoundrel? Was Dostoevsky a Scoundrel?
Tuesday, January 12, 2010 by | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821–1881), rightly known as a peerless master of psychological fiction, a fierce anti-socialist polemicist, an anti-romantic with a pulsingly romantic commitment to prophetic religion, and a dramatist of moral ideas without compare since the English poet John Milton, also happened to harbor an ugly fixation on the Jews.
Jewish Wars, Then and Now Jewish Wars, Then and Now
Monday, January 11, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

A masterwork of historical writing, The Jewish Wars by Yosef ben Matityahu, better known by his Roman name of Flavius Josephus (37–ca. 100 C.E.) is a massive and indispensable chronicle of Jewish fortunes from the Hasmonean Revolt in the second century B.C.E. through the destruction of the Temple and the fall of Masada in 73 C.E. It is also the autobiography of an extraordinary and extraordinarily conflicted man. Military leader, historian, biblical interpreter, negotiator, diplomat, neither martyr nor traitor but something in-between, Josephus traversed a route from battlefield commander in the war against Rome to Roman citizen and favored beneficiary of imperial...
It Isn’t Even Past It Isn’t Even Past
Thursday, January 7, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

The recent theft and recovery of the sign Arbeit Macht Frei from the gate of Auschwitz, and the emotional responses elicited by the incident, drive home just how deeply embedded the Holocaust and its imagery remain in contemporary consciousness. No doubt, this world-historical event will long continue to occupy a central place in human memory—along with, unfortunately, whatever permutations, distortions, and outright falsifications time will add to those that have already accumulated in the overheated political rhetoric of our own age. That is why, here and now, as we enter perhaps the final decade of the event's living memory, the issue...
And That’s an Order? And That’s an Order?
Wednesday, January 6, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

International pressure is mounting on the Netanyahu government to freeze—and eventually remove—Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. Simultaneously, a heated domestic debate is taking place within the national-religious (Dati Leumi) community over whether religious soldiers can, if push comes to shove, resist a government order to remove settlers from their homes. The argument resonates most strongly in the "Hesder" yeshivot, higher-level schools whose students alternate periods of Talmud study with active military duty. Yesterday, the heads of Har Etzion, a flagship Hesder yeshiva, issued a strong statement against disobedience. The issue is made more acute by the fact that so many religious...
Some Things Never Go Away Some Things Never Go Away
Monday, January 4, 2010 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

Nine years ago, according to recent reports in the Israeli media, the head of the country's leading forensic institute admitted to having transplanted tissues and organs—corneas, skin, heart valves, and bones—from deceased Jews, Palestinians, and foreign workers. It seems that the families of the decedents, while consenting to autopsies, had not consented to transplants. The practice was halted and the physician dismissed from his post. Old news, then. But the exact nature of the doctor's past actions, limited if clearly unethical, was lost in the furor aroused by the surfacing of this old news in late December. In Britain, the Guardian...
School Daze School Daze
Thursday, December 17, 2009 | Jewish Ideas Daily » Daily Features

In a narrow decision by the UK Supreme Court, an Orthodox school in London has been ruled in violation of the country's race-relations law for refusing admission to the son of a non-Orthodox convert. "The judges knew they were handling a hot potato," comments the author of a 2008 report on the future of Jewish schools in the UK, who reads the decision as an open invitation to Parliament to revisit and re-write a defective law. But alarm bells have been ringing loudly in the Jewish community ever since the case started its way through the lower courts; the columnist...
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Editors' Picks
Where are the Red Lines? Eli Lake, Daily Beast. New diplomacy between the U.S. and Israel has prompted conversations over what triggers would justify a preemptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities.
"Fight Judaization!" Jonathan S. Tobin, Contentions. The tour of Arab capitals being conducted by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh demonstrates that Hamas' goal is not only to destroy the State of Israel but to eradicate Jewish history.
Occupy Wall Street and the Jews Jonathan Neumann, Commentary. Predictably, the Occupy movement was plagued by conspiracy theories implicating Jews and Israel. Which makes the prominent Jewish involvement in the protests all the more curious and alarming.
Obama's Jewish Problem Allison Hoffman, Tablet. The core of the Obama campaign's play for Jewish votes is simple: Overwhelm what the Obama camp sees as Republicans' bald emotionalism on Israel with a flood of facts and figures. Will it work?
Greatness Jennifer Lipman, Jewish Chronicle. To the Anglo-Jewish community of the 19th century, Dickens was a divisive figure, a celebrated writer but one known for his consistent use of anti-Jewish caricatures.
Are You a Hellenist? Gil Student, Torah Musings. Is a contemporary acculturated American ignoring the main theme of Hanukkah? And for that matter, how did Maimonides reconcile his devotion to Greek philosophy with the ostensible message to reject Greek ideas?
Unfit to Print Ron Dermer, Jerusalem Post. Netanyahu's senior adviser explains why the Prime Minister "respectfully declined" to write for the New York Times: "We wouldn't want to be seen as "Bibiwashing" the op-ed page."
The Limits of Secularism Jonathan Sacks, Standpoint. Isaiah Berlin didn't understand how the Chief Rabbi could have studied philosophy at Cambridge and Oxford and still have faith. "Isaiah," said Sacks, "if it helps, think of me as a lapsed heretic."
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?
Yehuda Halevi's Death and the Cairo Genizah Eliezer Brodt, Seforim. Legend says the great 12th-century Spanish hymnist reached Eretz Yisrael but was killed at Jerusalem's city gate. Genizah documents suggest that the legend was based on fact.