Rabbi Binyamin Lau’s The Sages: Character, Context & Creativity

Posted July 11, 2011 by Hadassah
Categories: Research

Judaism’s history is not only about legal thought. It includes many  theological teachings called aggadah. In a review of a new book on aggadah, Elli Fischer writes:

A recently translated volume, Rabbi Binyamin Lau’s The Sages: Character, Context & Creativity (the first in a series of which three volumes have already appeared in Hebrew, to great popular success and acclaim), provides an instructive test case. This history of the Second Temple period falls short of academic standards and hearkens back to premodern efforts, attempting once more to reconstruct the biography of Simon the Just. That Lau himself holds a doctorate in Talmud and liberally cites from even recent scholarly literature about the era he discusses only seems to render his work even more disappointing. To be sure, he is anchored in and constrained by the scholarly consensus in ways that other contemporary Orthodox historiographers of the rabbinic era clearly are not.  Nevertheless, his creative attempts to cast ancient disputes and movements in ways that almost inevitably correspond to some contemporary analogue give Lau’s work the feel of a speculative if not fanciful retelling.

Yet Lau, a 21st-century rabbi and leading figure in liberal Orthodox southern Jerusalem, deserves to be treated as fairly as the rabbis of 5th-century Babylonia or 3rd-century Palestine.  That is to say, he should be read as a rabbi and not as a historian—an approach affirmed by the book’s origins as a Sabbath afternoon synagogue lecture series.

Approached in this way, The Sages succeeds in doing what rabbinic historiography or storytelling ought to do: digest and interpret earlier histories, memories, and traditions in a manner that allows them to speak to the current moment. Thus a discussion of Honi the circle-drawing rainmaker becomes a critique of contemporary reliance on alleged miracle-workers; the failure of the ancient rabbis to stand up to the Zealots in the last days of the Second Temple becomes a critique of the passivity of contemporary rabbinic leadership; and Hillel prefigures modern rabbis who seek to chart a course between fealty to tradition and contemporary relevance.

What’s interesting about this perspective is that it takes the world of ancient aggadah and brings it to life. Judaism is not a static religion, in which ideas presented 2000 years ago are no longer relevant. Instead, it is a way of life which can and should be adapted for modern life. Throughout the history of Judaism, sages and scholars have sought to make Jewish tradition relevant to the times they lived in and Rabbi Lau’s book is another step in this direction.


How Will British Elections Affect Israel?

Posted April 8, 2010 by Hadassah
Categories: News

British elections are scheduled for May 6. The three parties in the UK are Labor, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives. All three parties favor Israel’s return to 1949 borders. Nonetheless, there are some differences between the parties regarding their attitudes toward Israel. Labor is not particularly sympathetic to Israel despite PM Brown’s close personal ties to the Jewish community. The Liberal Democrats seem to be firmly in the Palestinian camp, while the Conservatives are more sympathetic to Israel.

Read more about this issue: Britain and Israel

Bible, Archaeology and Jerusalem – Again

Posted March 25, 2010 by Hadassah
Categories: Research

Because it never gets old (apparently), Reuters has published another one of those articles in which Eilat Mazar argues with the opponent of the day whether the Bible and archaeology go hand in hand.

Mazar says “the Bible offers a “core of reality”: We’ve got a fantastic 10th century fortification line that indicates a central, powerful regime.  The Bible tells us there was such a king at this time, and his name was Solomon. Why ignore it?”

Raphael Greenberg, an Israeli archaeologist from Tel Aviv University, says “Archaeology cannot prove or disprove the Bible. A name that matches that of a person in the Bible can only be taken so far — it’s just a name.”

There’s nothing new in this article, so why did Reuters bother? I am inclined to think that people just can’t resist talking about controversy in Jerusalem, whether it’s about building some apartment buildings in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood or who ruled Jerusalem in the the 10th century BCE.  If it says Jerusalem and controversy people will read it.

What’s Your Opinion on AIPAC?

Posted March 24, 2010 by Hadassah
Categories: News

The AIPAC conference which ended yesterday is a good opportunity to examine the role of the pro-Israel lobby in today’s political atmosphere.

According to Jewish Ideas Daily:

In reality, AIPAC’s leadership includes both supporters and opponents of Israel’s West Bank policies. What the organization embraces is a pro-Israel model  that leaves to Israelis themselves decisions of existential consequence, reached through the consensus of the country’s body politic. AIPAC thus emphatically favors a two-state solution; insists on direct talks between Arabs and Israelis; holds the Palestinians to be the recalcitrant party; and robustly rejects any outside imposition of a “solution.”

This statement raises a number of questions:

1. What does it mean to be pro-Israel?
2. Does AIPAC represent Israel and Zionist Jews?
3. Is the US-Israel relationship helped or hurt by the existence of AIPAC?
4. Is AIPAC good for Israel?

What do you think? I would love to hear your opinions.

Who Was Yigal Allon?

Posted March 11, 2010 by Hadassah
Categories: Interesting facts

Jewish Ideas Daily has posted a short biography of Yigal Allon, an Israeli  general and politician.

An interesting excerpt:

During the 1948 War of Independence, Allon, by now a general, participated in many fateful campaigns, including the liberation of the Negev. Although he left the armed forces in 1950, he continued to be widely viewed as Israel’s foremost strategic thinker. Allon never forgave David Ben-Gurion for not having ordered the IDF to capture the Old City and the West Bank during the war. The 1949 armistice lines, he said, failed to provide Israel with strategic depth.

The article also discusses the Allon Plan, considered to be the original two-state solution. Read the article on Jewish Ideas Daily.

Intifada on College Campuses

Posted March 11, 2010 by Hadassah
Categories: News

If you’re in Philadelphia on Mar. 18, head over to Hilton Philadelphia City Avenue, 4200 City Line Avenue, at 7:00 p.m., for this year’s Israel Event. The event will feature a screening of a film called Crossing the Line: The Intifada Comes to Campus which highlights the problem of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism on American college campuses.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli Arab journalist who writes for the Jerusalem Post will also speak at the event. Abu Toameh says that there is more support for Hamas on college campuses then there is in Ramallah! This is a serious problem which requires a serious solution.

To reserve tickets call 610-785-6304 or go to http://www.aishphila.com/new/event.php?id=158

Hamas Public Relations

Posted March 7, 2010 by Hadassah
Categories: News

The Arab world must have some excellent PR consultants. A new reality show, Sleepless in Gaza and Jerusalem, is being broadcast on YouTube, showing life in Gaza and Jerusalem through the eyes of four women. The episodes show culture and fun and aim to demonstrate that Palestinian Arabs are just normal people like the rest of us.

Of course, this show makes it seem as if Israel is victimizing an ancient beautiful culture. Gaza is shown as a lovely place to visit or live, not as the hotbed of terrorism that it is. In Jerusalem, one of the women shows us “traditional Palestinian treats.” This phrase makes it seem as if there is an ancient Palestinian culture going back thousands of years. Where are the bombs, missiles and terrorists? Apparently they are avoiding the cameras during the filming of this show.

The pro-Palestinian propaganda is subtle enough that the average viewer can easily be taken in. So far there have been thousands of views of the show on YouTube and and over a thousand fans on the show’s Facebook page. This is great PR for the Hamas. It makes one wonder, why isn’t Israel using social media in the same way? Instead of soldiers in camouflage who bemoan the Israeli occupation of Lebanon, why don’t we show the lives of average Israelis? We could call it “Sleeping well in Jerusalem and the Shomron.”