Observe His Prayer

From the Aug/Sept 2017 Print Edition

At the outset of Moby Dick, Father Mapple preaches to a congregation of whalers. His text is the Book of Jonah, and it stands out as one of the most enjoyable fictional sermons of all time. After God has assigned him the task of preaching repentance to the city of Nineveh, Jonah flees “with . . . . Continue Reading »

Babel and Brexit

From the June/July 2017 Print Edition

Why did God disperse the men who built the Tower of Babel? The ancient rabbinic texts uncovered several vices that justified their punishment: A tower intended to reach heaven manifests the ambition to challenge God, the desire to “make for ourselves a name” expresses the sin of pride, and so . . . . Continue Reading »

Look at Their Democracy

From the May 2017 Print Edition

In the three centuries since the prince-elector of Hanover became George I of Great Britain, few power brokers have been more detached from the populace they affected than Rabbi Menachem Shach (1898–2001). Born and bred in Lithuania, where he devoted himself to Talmudic study with some of the . . . . Continue Reading »

Absolute Reason

From the February 2017 Print Edition

The Collected Works of Spinoza, Vols. I and II edited and translated by edwin curleyprinceton, 1,544 pages, $66Aprospective donor to Yeshiva University with whom I was once asked to meet was obsessed with one question: Did we teach Spinoza? He had not the least interest in discussing why Spinoza . . . . Continue Reading »

Jews of Silence

From Web Exclusives

When I think of the generation of survivors—not only of the horror they endured during the Holocaust and its recollection, not only of the nobility or heroism many of them achieved, but of the virtually impossible small and great steps they were compelled to make to rehabilitate their lives and ours—it is Wiesel’s voice that underlies and often amplifies theirs. Continue Reading »

The Mantle of Elijah

From Web Exclusives

Many think of Modern Orthodoxy as a tepid compromise, Orthodoxy Lite, an accommodation with the values of bourgeois culture, satisfied with mediocrity in the study of Torah and half-hearted about the demand for single-minded commitment to God and His commandments. From the 1930s through the 1980s Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik represented the alternative: an Orthodoxy centered on the service of God even while engaged with and concerned for the rest of humanity, deeply, almost obsessively devoted to the traditional study of Torah even while confronting and learning from the liberal arts. Until this week his son-in-law, Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, was the most prominent exponent of that ideology in Israel, where he was Dean of Har-Etzion Yeshiva, and in the United States, where he frequently lectured and exercised influence via his many disciples. For all his admiration and faithfulness to his masters, R. Aharon fashioned his own distinctive intellectual agenda, while conducting his life with rigorous piety and an ethical sensitivity that had to be seen to be believed. I was a student of both, and now they are both gone. (Link: http://haretzion.org/about-us/rav-aharon-lichtenstein-ztl) Continue Reading »

A Man in the Land of Uz

From First Thoughts

The book of Job has served as a philosophical Rorschach blot for its most outspoken interpreters, from the Talmudic rabbis and Church Fathers through their medieval philosophical successors and down to modern philosophers, theologians, and creative writers. The individual characters in whose elusive speech the narrative unfolds—God, Satan, Job himself, his three interlocutors, the belated guest Elihu—tend to become stock representatives of philosophical positions or exemplars of religious judgment. Continue Reading »