Letters, Summer 2016

Existential Presences and Slippery Slopes, A Pesca con Groucho, Groucho v. Schoenberg, and a Correction


Kibitzing in God’s Country

It may come as a surprise that there is an entirely different Catskills, a Catskills that doesn't involve Grossinger's, bungalow colonies, or Jews, in the words of Billy Crystal, eating "like Vikings."

Passport Sepharad

The recent offers of citizenship by Spain and Portugal tap into a long, rich, and complicated Sephardi history of dubious passports, desperate backup plans, and extraterritorial dreams.


Religion and Power

Rabbi Sacks, who is in the end an optimistic thinker, sees a process of internecine violence leading to religious moderation happening within Islam now.

Our Rabbis J, E, P, and D

At the heart of Benjamin D. Sommer’s project is a contrast between the stenographic theory of revelation and what he calls the “participatory” theory, which “puts a premium on human agency and gives witness to the grandeur of a God who accomplishes a providential task through the free will of human subjects under God’s authority.”

The Secrets of the Efod

How did it happen that some of the most brilliant anti-Christian polemics of the late Middle Ages were written by an (at least public) Christian?

The Alter Rebbe

In Immanuel Etkes's new biography, we meet the young Shneur Zalman shortly after the death of his master Rabbi Dov Ber Friedman, known as the Maggid (or preacher) of Mezheritch in 1772.

Summer of ’36

By 1936, Joseph Roth’s alcoholism was increasingly desperate, and his friendship with Stefan Zweig was frayed. But still that summer gave them an opportunity to recover something of their old friendship.

The Inklings

Leo Strauss may be as devastating as C. S. Lewis in his criticism of facile and destructive dogmas, but Hollywood isn’t planning a film version of Strauss’s Natural Right and History any time soon.

Old Isaiah

When Woodrow Wilson became the first president to nominate a Jew for a seat on the Supreme Court, much of the opposition to his appointment revolved around his Jewishness. 

Pious Censorship

ArtScroll is not alone on Marc B. Shapiro’s hit list of haredi publishers and publications guilty of censorship and deliberate distortions.

The Hit Man

What music businessman Morris Levy craved even more than the recording artists themselves were the copyrights and catalogues the labels contained. “Copyrights don’t talk back,” he liked to say. 

Promised Land or Homeland?

The university presses of Cambridge and Oxford have released two new works of Jewish political theory that blend theoretical defenses of Zionism with robust critique of what Chaim Gans calls the “Zionist mainstream.”

The Arts

Nuclear Family

Part of the artistry of Shtisel derives from an almost ritualistic obsession with the details that ultra-Orthodox Jews themselves obsess over.

Last Word

Max, Moritz, and Marx

When the Soviet official asked me about the second book I was carrying, I said rather nonchalantly that this was my Hebrew translation of Karl Marx’s Early Writings, which I was going to give to my hosts.

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