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Two Very Different Stories of Modern Jewish History

Jan. 18 2018

Simon Schama, author of The Story of the Jews, Volume Two: Belonging, 1492-1900, is a distinguished historian of modern Europe who, although Jewish himself, had written little about the Jews until producing the first volume of this work. By contrast, Shmuel Feiner, author of Et Ḥadashah (“A New Age”)—the first of two projected volumes on 18th-century European Jewry—is a leading expert on the Jewish intellectual history of this period. Finding both books impressive in different ways, Allan Arkush compares them in his review:

[T]he two historians share a refreshingly old-fashioned determination to tell the story of the Jews as a story. . . . [Thus, both] attempt not to relate the whole history of the Jews during the period covered by their [respective] volumes but to tell these Jews’ story—indeed, to a large extent, to let them tell their story in their own words, culled from their letters, diaries, and autobiographical works. The chief difference between Schama and Feiner is the story they consider it most important to tell.

Schama . . . constructs a narrative that is focused mostly on the drama of Diaspora Jewry entering or being excluded from the society around them. Feiner, a historian of the Haskalah [the Jewish Enlightenment], is more concerned with telling the story of how 18th-century Jews conceived of themselves and lived, as individuals, in relation above all to Jewish tradition and their fellow Jews, and only secondarily to the world around them, even if it left deep marks on them.

But why should one expect [Schama,] a Diaspora-based historian of Europe and European art attempting to tell his people’s story to a broad audience, and [Feiner,] a historian of the Jewish Enlightenment living in Israel who is now ready to repaint the picture of a whole century, to share an agenda? Examining the Jewish past from their differing vantage points, both have brought their subjects to life with far more success than many of the specialists in Jewish history of whose works they make very profitable use.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Haskalah, History & Ideas, Jewish history

The Trump Administration Has Said the Right Things about Syria, but Words Are Not Enough

Jan. 30 2018

While praising the White House for recognizing that Iran poses a major threat to American interests in Syria, Jennifer Cafarella argues that Washington still needs a strategy for countering the Islamic Republic and its allies:

The Trump White House identifies Iran as a primary threat. It has verbally committed to the departure from power of Bashar al-Assad. It claims to prioritize repairing relations with Turkey, seeks to destroy al-Qaeda, and wants to refocus the U.S. on Syria’s humanitarian catastrophe. These are the correct goals toward which American policy should strive. . . . The problem is that the strategy Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has outlined [in a January 17 speech] will not accomplish these goals. . . .

American policy in Syria, regardless of any tough administration statements, is to accept Assad and his regime de-facto. . . . The “de-escalation” agreement that President Trump signed in November 2017 with Russia is a surrender not only to Russia, but also to Iran. It heavily favors Assad. In that deal, Russia promised to compel Iran to withdraw its forces from southern Syria. It never happened. Pro-regime forces violate the de-escalation zone with impunity. . . .

Tillerson uses vague terms like “deny their dreams” to describe our strategy against Iran in Syria. He identifies no clear goal against which the U.S. can measure success. He states that the U.S. must deliver an “enduring defeat” to al-Qaeda—and we certainly must. Yet the U.S. Defense Department has offered no vision of how to do that. The strategy Tillerson outlines—and that the U.S. is pursuing—amounts to outsourcing the problem to Turkey, which is actually working with al-Qaeda in Syria. . . .

Two administrations have sought to substitute rhetoric for action and to outsource American interests to local partners. The U.S. must abandon this approach and recognize Syria’s importance to American security.

Read more at Fox News

More about: Al Qaeda, Donald Trump, Iran, Politics & Current Affairs, Rex Tillerson, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy