Archive for May, 2013


Like the Kingdom of Judah, Judea and Samaria today are far more religiously and politically conservative than the rest of Israel; a major proportion of the settler movement, if not a majority, is dominated by nationalist-minded Orthodox Jews. This is increasingly the case in Jerusalem as well, where the ultra-Orthodox haredim form a plurality and constitute the most potent political force in the city. That portion of Israel inside the Green Line, particularly the urbanized stretch along the Mediterranean coast from Tel Aviv to Haifa often referred to as “North Tel Aviv”, reflects many of the characteristics of the ancient northern kingdom. Dominated by secular values, far more prosperous and diversified economically, it is the heartland of what has been termed recently “the start-up nation.” The coastal area and its elites have little sympathy for the settlers, the haredim and the political and religious values they espouse.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), .9

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The basic problem with Jewish life today is its overwhelming emphasis on crisis. We fight. We “weigh in”. We identify enemies and proclaim loyalties. We hold high-level meetings to discuss our “brand”. We defend Israel as though our lives were at stake or criticize Israel with the passion of a democratic evangelist. We accost those Jews who fail to enlist in the cause, as though any minute we may need them to storm Washington, as we did in the decades when a million of our brethren were imprisoned behind Soviet lines.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with combating activism or fighting the Iranian bomb. There are dangers out there, both political forces and simple ignorance that put Jewish life at risk. Our crises are not manufactured. But just as an individual’s life cannot be defined solely through his struggle for survival, isn’t there something disturbing about a Jewish identity defined principally by the constant effort to put a halt to terrible things? Welcome to fire extinguisher Judaism.
What’s missing is a coherent content to our identity, a positive message, a set of beloved things and ideas – other than ourselves and our organizations and the state we’ve built – to which we proclaim allegiance, in which we invest time and effort to understand, which we embrace as possessing the keys to ourselves and our future.

David Hazony, “Welcome to Fire Extinguisher Judaism” Moment (May/June 2010), 20.

The belief in a…

The belief in a future age when the righteous who had passed from this world would be resurrected to enjoy eternal bliss in a new and wonderful universal earthly kingdom of God, while the wicked would receive the punishment they had escaped before death, first took shape in the last centuries of Israel’s biblical history.

A. Melinek, “The Doctrine of Reward and Punishment in Biblical and Early Rabbinic Writings,” in Essays Presented to Chief Rabbi Israel Brodie on the Occasion of His Seventieth Birthday, ed. H.J. Zimmels, J. Rabbinowitz, & I. Finestein (London: The Soncino Press Limited, 1967), 281.

This interpenet…

This interpenetration of Jewish books and those of other cultures is emblematic of the modern Jewish integration into modern cultural and political mainstreams. With this integration has come increased regulation of published materials, in the form of state censorship and legislation governing copyright, plagiarism, obscenity, libel, and the like. These laws both restrict and protect the possibilities of Jewish books while situating them within national systems of authorship and publication. Conversely, Jewish books sometimes figure as potent symbols of Jewish ideas or of Jews themselves in modern political actions, notably in book bans and, during the Nazi era, book burnings that deliberately echoed medieval practice.

Jeffrey Shandler, “The Jewish Book and Beyond in Modern Times,” AJS Review 34, No. 2 (November 2010), 379.

Preoccupation with the notion of survival is the result of utilitarian philosophy according to which Judaism is a means to an end, a device or contrivance to preserve the Jewish people. Such a doctrine is built upon the myth that all creativity is the product of the biological will to live. However, a doctrine that regards Judaism as a contrivance is itself a contrivance and can, therefore, not entertain the claim to be true.
The significance of Judaism does not lie in its being conducive to the mere survival of a particular people, but, rather, in its being a source of spiritual wealth, a source of meaning relevant to all peoples.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Existence and Celebration” (Speech delivered at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, Montreal, QC, 1965).  Also available in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, ed. Susannah Heschel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 30.

I am not ungrateful for the institutions your generation built. But you went well beyond protecting these institutions. You got so involved in them you forgot their higher purpose. For me, sitting in a folding chair in a basement praying with real feeling is better than sitting quietly in a cold cathedral.
In reality, much of your Judaism is about defense. Like the fighters of Masada pitted against an intractable foe, your generation’s sense of purpose is derived from some ever-present, impending crisis — anti-Semitism, Jewish survival, the survival of Israel.
Deep down, it’s all motivated by fear. And a commitment rooted in fear is bound to bear bad fruit. Out of fear, you pushed away those who intermarried. Out of fear, you pushed away those who questioned Israel. And out of fear, you pushed away Jews who don’t agree with you. Fear is no basis for a Jewish life. Ultimately, that fear will dominate your inner life and choke it to death. Dad, I want a Jewish life based on love, spirit and joy, and not fear.

Rabbi Ed Feinstein and Rabbi Noah Zvi Farkas, “Father and Son”, Jewish Journal (7-13 September 2012), 37.

There are two words I should like to strike from our vocabulary: “surveys” and “survival.”
Our community is in spiritual distress, and some of our organizations are often too concerned with digits. Our disease is loss of character and commitment, and the cure of our plight cannot be derived from charts and diagrams.
When surveys become an obsession, a sacred cow that eats up vast energies, they may yield confirmation of little more than what we know in advance. It is in such a spirit that undertaking surveys is an evasion of creative action, a splendid illusion.
To ascertain facts, one must employ a method appropriate to the facts. Some facts are subject to measurement, while others are immeasurable. The number of children receiving no Jewish education may be established by statistics, while the alarming inadequacy of most of Jewish education as well as the bankruptcy of understanding thus revealed – the two issues which ought to occupy us intensely – require a different perspective of thinking. The delusive clarity of detached facts has prevented us from engaging in seeking ways of dealing with the meaning of the facts.
Sociological descriptions are helpful in expanding awareness of the facts. They should not be expected to unlock the resources of creative imagination by which to modify the facts.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Existence and Celebration” (Speech delivered at the General Assembly of the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds, Montreal, QC, 1965).  Also available in Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity, ed. Susannah Heschel (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1998), 29.

You know how possession is 9/10 of the law? The assumption here (with the Tosafists) seems to be popular practice is 9/10 of halakhah and you need to now go back and find out why.

Rabbi Josh Yuter, “Early Ashkenaz Law vs. Custom”Yutopia Podcast #103 (14 April 2013)

Judaism…is a technology to help people flourish. And if we could just remember that every single time we teach – no matter who we teach – it would radically open up the veins for the wisdom. And that’s very easy to say, but psychologically, it’s incredibly difficult to do…..

Rabbi Irwin Kula, “Texts Without Borders” (Talk at Clal’s Rabbis Without Borders Fellowship, New York City, 8 November 2011).

Although I already described why I created this quotes blog on my personal blog, I decided I wanted to continue posting quotes I thought that were good, as I have been for a couple of years at my Tumblr page.  So, I just imported my Tumblr posts and here we go!