Weekly Link(s) October 17th-24th 2014

The Internet - Weekly Links

A beautiful reflection on the need to continuously question why we maintain the rituals that shape our lives, focused on kashrut.



Continuous Argument Within a Tradition

After the summer’s war in Gaza, so much ink has been spilled wringing our hands over the situation in the Middle East, and the state of utter non-dialogue that pervades the global Jewish community on this topic, that I largely remained silent for lack of anything to contribute to the deluge.  However, as someone who believes that a fix to the latter problem may well be the only way towards a solution to the former, I want to explore the issue from a different perspective.

I just finished reading Alastair MacIntyre’s After Virtue, a dense but really important work of political and moral philosophy.  There are many aspects of modern society which MacIntyre sees as leading directly to our present morally-deadlocked state, where we cannot productively talk about almost any issue of importance with any hope of making progress.  However, there are three areas that receive special attention, and one of them bears directly on the issue of Jewish dialogue about Israel/Palestine.

That is the matter of “tradition” — the concept, for MacIntyre, of interacting in some way with where we came from, even if that interaction largely consists of rebellion.  This ties directly into a second of MacIntyre’s three major characteristics of a virtuous society, that of “practice” — for MacIntyre, a practice (like gardening or chess) can only be properly understood historically.  But to understand a specific practice historically necessitates gaining an understanding of the larger tradition(s) of which it is a part.

I therefore think that MacIntyre would agree that to have any meaningful conversation about Israel/Palestine today, we have to begin by charting a narrative history of what all of the given traditions involved in the conflict have inherited as their histories.

However, that is not all.  While MacIntyre may be helpful in understanding the larger contexts in which such discussions must happen to be productive, what really stood out for me in After Virtue in this context is what he said traditions need in order to continue to exist:

“So when an institution — a university, say, or a farm, or a hospital — is the bearer of a tradition of practice or practices, its common life will be partly, but in a centrally important way, constituted by a continuous argument as to what a university is and ought to be or what good farming is or what good medicine is.  Traditions, when vital, embody continuities of conflict” (pg. 222, emphasis mine)

I hear this as such a deeply Jewish statement, that I almost expected a footnote citing the Talmud as an example of such a vital tradition.  Judaism has prized, as part of the legacy of our tradition, the notion of such continuous argument.  And yet, it is nowhere to be seen in our generation when speaking about the State of Israel, with the current exception being the Open Hillel movement.

Speaking about his experiences at the recent Open Hillel conference, Peter Beinart echoed MacIntyre when he said:

“The young American Jews at Open Hillel who are flirting with anti-Zionism are not anti-Semites. (Although, of course, some anti-Zionists are). They are merely doing what young people always do: Challenging settled assumptions based on a different life experience. They don’t need the American Jewish establishment’s legitimization; that establishment is illegitimate to them. What they need, in the best Jewish tradition, is to be argued with.”

So it’s not just that, because we pay lip service to the virtue of vital argumentation, we as a Jewish community should figure out how to speak productively about Israel/Palestine. It is simply because if we do not, we will cease to be a vital tradition, at least concerning the modern manifestation of Jewish political power.

Weekly Link(s) September 12th-19th 2014

The Internet - Weekly Links

“I’m not casting a vote for godlessness at large or in my own spiritual life, which is muddled with unanswered and unanswerable questions. I’m advocating unfettered discussion, ample room for doubt and a respect for science commensurate with the fealty to any supposedly divine word.”


What Can Even Be Said?

Your heart breaks if you think about it.

If you move beyond the numbers of people dead, of innocents dead, of children dead; if you move beyond the rhetoric thousands of miles away, that dominates the airwaves and the newsfeeds, that seems almost as tragic for the health of our community; if you move beyond the endless demonization of the Other, of their lives, hopes and fears, of their religion and their narratives, of Our religion and our narratives — you are just left with pain.

And the thing is, I don’t feel like I have any answers any more.  I used to think I did.  When I read the op-eds, when I talk with friends and family, I know which rhetoric speaks to me and which repels me.  Now I think I know why.

It is because, deep down, I am the kind of person that would rather be killed than kill.

That is why I am drawn to seek peace, to attempt to see everyone’s humanity, and to suspect power.  But I know now, after interminable weeks of suffering, personally and vicariously, that this does not mean that I have any answers.  All I know is that I would not want to be making any decisions on the ground.    I know the solution that I, as one individual, yearn for and would see realized במהרה בימינו.  But I do not know anything about how to get there, about the right way to get there, if there is one.

Your heart breaks if you think about it.

Weekly Links July 18th-25th 2014

Because we’re all tired of the endless commentary of despair in the Middle East


An extremely important viewpoint to keep in mind as we are all bombarded with ever-more-depressing headlines from the Middle East


While it is easy to assume that political dialogue about Israel/Palestine in the Jewish community is only strained because of the current violence erupting in the region, we must remember that this is arguably the biggest problem facing the organized Jewish community.