Friday, September 30, 2011

Elie Wiesel (September 30, 1928)

"Only those who were there know what it was like. We must bear witness. Silence is not an option."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

"Not in the Heavens"

I mentioned recently that I have been reading historical and theoretical treatments of secular Judaism. One recent book -- published this year -- is David Biale, Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought.

Biale’s book is a historical and social study of Jews who rejected Judaism, who engaged with Jewish ideas “if for no other reason than to reject them.” He chose such individuals throughout history who made a contribution to a more universal culture. His view is that these secular Jews were “able to create their original theories because they stood at a conscious distance from the conventions of society.” The distance came both from their Jewish background and from their chosen ideas. (p. xii - xiii)

For Biale, secular universalism becomes a Jewish identity. Historically, Jews made a distinction between that which is holy and that which is for every-day use, while Christians contrasted a holy world beyond their lives to a secular world in which they lived. This colored the development of secular Jewish thought, leaving a different space for secularism than their Christian counterparts experienced. Biale explicitly contrasts his view with that of Isaac Deutscher in “The Non-Jewish Jew.”

Modern secular Judaism has roots in thinkers who were reacting to medievalism, especially Maimonides and Spinoza. Biale explores each of their contributions, and continues by explaining how Enlightenment and 19th century thinkers reacted to them and incorporated their ideas. Two main examples: Moses Mendelssohn and Heinrich Heine. In particular, Heine’s writings on the Jews “constitute the first coherent statement of Jewish secularism in a language that clearly resonated with his contemporaries.” (p. 36)

Biale discusses many of the important secular Jewish intellectuals of the early 20th century. He describes various secular Jewish accomplishments and trends: the beginnings of secular Zionism, writers like Kafka, and other thinkers. Freud, he says recognized Spinoza as a “founder of the congregation of unbelievers.” Einstein specifically studied Spinoza. Not brought up in a religious home, he constructed his own secular Jewish identity, and said he believed in “Spinoza’s God, who reveals Himself in the lawful harmony of the world.” (p. 42)

Secular views and interpretations of the Torah and the Bible are the subject of one chapter of Biale’s book. Abraham Ibn Ezra and other medieval interpreters were at times secular in their approach. In the recent past, the Zionists, including Ben Gurion, created their own interpretations.

Nineteenth-century theories about race influenced both Zionists and other secular Jews. These made an important contribution to their views of Jewish identity. Zangwill and Ze'ev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky are two examples. Jabotinsky, “founder of right-wing Revisionist Zionism,” also borrowed from other popular European theories such as positivism and social Darwinism, creating the idea of Jews as a race and a nation, not so much a religious group. (p. 92)

Languages also played a role in secular Jewish thought of that era. Not only the well-known question -- Hebrew or Yiddish? – but more nuanced ideas also emerged. Zamenhof, inventor of Esperanto, wrote a work on Yiddish linguistics – and created the ultimate in a universalist language. (p. 137)

One interesting figure that Biale often invokes is Ahad Ha’am (Asher Ginsberg, 1856-1927) – sometimes called the ‘secular rabbi’ of Zionism. He was “the idealogical leader of ‘cultural Zionism,’ the strand of Jewish nationalism that saw in Zionism primarily a movement of cultural renewal rooted in a spiritual center in Palestine. …, Ahad Ha’am sought a nonreligious foundation for the Jewish national spirit.” Perhaps “the most important theoretician of secular Jewish culture,” he was also the first Zionist of importance to emphasize the darker side of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Turkish Palestine.” (pp. 40 & 82)

Wrapping up the threads of his many and fascinating chapters, Biale provides an interesting observation about creative American Jewish secularists: the way that they often use the Kaddish as a theme in their works, in particular poets Charles Reznikoff and Allen Ginsberg and composer Leonard Bernstein. He says “since a secular culture may not provide the tools with which to confront death … even the most secular Jews turn to this quintessential expression or religious tradition to mine its historical associations for nonreligious ends.” (p. 189)

Finally, Biale mentions the “explosion of interest in academic Jewish studies” in recent years, with offerings at most major universities. The postmodern definition is that everyone is a “Jew by choice” and also most American Jews are secular, with a fluid identity not limited to their Jewishness. The categories of religious and secular are no longer fixed as they may have been in the past. (p. 190-191)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Debbie Wasserman Schultz (September 27, 1966)

From the official biography of Congressional Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing the 20th District of Florida since 2005:
"The first Jewish Congresswoman ever elected from Florida, Rep. Wasserman Schultz, introduced a resolution, which passed the House of Representatives and called on the President to declare an annual Jewish American Heritage Month. The President subsequently did so, with the inaugural month in May, 2006. Since then, Presidents have proclaimed Jewish American Heritage Month annually." -- Debbie Wasserman Schultz: Biography

Monday, September 26, 2011

George Gershwin (September 26, 1898)

Details about the enormous amount of popular and now-classical music by Gershwin are so well known I hardly need to provide them. Who can't hum the tunes from Rhapsody in Blue, Porgy and Bess, or Fascinatin' Rhythm?

The Jewishness of George and Ira Gershwin, children of immigrants to New York, is widely known and always included in their biographies, but I've actually found nothing indicating that they recognized direct Jewish influence or inspiration for their music. There's a lot of speculation -- does the start of Rhapsody in Blue or the wailing note of Summertime reflect a Jewish musical echo? But no hard evidence.

I found one indication that George Gershwin was conscious of a Jewish identity. Here's a quote from a letter he wrote in 1936: "Of course, there are depressing moments too, when talk of Hitler and his gang creep into the conversation. For some reason or other the feeling out here [in California] is even more acute than in the East." -- from Jewish Theater.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Louise Nevelson ( September 23, 1900)

Louise Nevelson was a prominent sculptor and a leader in several areas of modern art. She was an innovator in the field of assemblage.

Nevelson, who was born in a shtetl near Kiev, was brought up in a Yiddish-speaking traditional Jewish family. They had immigrated in 1905, and settled in Maine.

As a young adult, Nevelson moved to New York. Her life there initially was not as an artist but as a society matron, wife of a rich businessman. However her marriage failed and she turned to art and a bohemian lifestyle. She developed her own spiritual philosophy, studied with several well-known modern artists in New York and Munich, worked as an assistant to Diego Rivera, and began to exhibit her sculpture in 1935. Like many artists of that era, she worked for the WPA.

In the 1950s and later, Nevelson became well-known as she developed her technique as a maker of assemblages -- a medium that received its name in 1961. The characteristics of this style:
"Assemblage transforms non-art objects and materials into sculptures of all sizes and persuasions. Its limitless range and evocative use of materials distinguish it from traditional fine-art sculpture. The very fragility of its materials, which in some instances only precariously endure, defies the notion of art's timelessness. Its rejection of craftsmanship completely redefines the status of the artist. In their desire to abandon permanence and dispense with chisels and awls, artists such as Joseph Beuys, Louise Nevelson, Bruce Conner, Arman, and Louise Bourgeois composed pieces that address change and chance and that appeal to the senses. ... The nonrepresentational work of Louise Nevelson stockpiles mostly wooden objects into abstract, monochromatic pieces that are unexpectedly sensuous."
In interviews after she became famous, Nevelson was reticent about her Jewish background:

"Nevelson was typically willing to weave any intriguing material into her personal myth, but she was notably reticent on the subject of her Jewish heritage. When questioned in interviews on this topic she replied that it was too personal to discuss. The spirituality of Louise Nevelson’s work might best be understood by considering her repeated emphasis on a search for harmony.

"Saint Peter’s Lutheran Church in Manhattan commissioned Nevelson to design entirely the interior for their Chapel of the Good Shepherd. ... When asked about designing a Christian chapel as a Jew, Nevelson replied, 'To me there is no distinction between a church and a synagogue. If you go deep enough into any religion you arrive at the same point of harmony.'”

Sources (and for further details): Jewish Women's Archive and Art + Culture.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Ethan Coen (September 21, 1957)

The Coen Brothers: Joel Coen (born November 29, 1954) and Ethan Coen (born September 21, 1957) have made some pretty spectacular movies. Ethan at Princeton University wrote a senior thesis entitled: "Two Views of Wittgenstein's Later Philosophy" as I wrote last November for his brother's birthday.

Here's some material about their film “A Serious Man” about Larry Gopnik a Jewish physics professor (enough to make them heroic right there) --
Larry consults with three rabbis ... One offers him a bizarrely hilarious story about a gentile with mysterious engravings on the inside of his teeth. This is about as helpful as the ersatz folk tale (in subtitled Yiddish) that the Coens have devised as a prologue, wherein an old woman in a shtetl stabs a rabbi she has decided is possessed by a dybbuk (the soul of a dead person).
Though the Coens flirt with caricature, there are some serious questions about faith and Judaism underlying their sadistic fun. The film conveys a vivid sense of time and place, and much of the excellently chosen cast are semi-professional locals recruited from the filming locations in Minnesota. -- From a New York Post review
I am going to have to see this film!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two Books on Secular Judaism

I have been reading two books on the history and philosophy of secular Judaism. One, David Biale's Not in the Heavens: The Tradition of Jewish Secular Thought, is a recent scholarly history of ideas, exploring many traditions within Judaism and outside the religion but within the Jewish people. I will have more to say about it later.

The other is a much more personal set of essays by Isaac Deutscher: The Non-Jewish Jew and other essays (published 1968). Deutscher was a committed Marxist, best known for his 3 volume biography of Leon Trotsky. Understanding his exact stand on Soviet history and the details of the rivalries and philosophies of Lenin, Stalin, and Trotsky is outside my area of interest, though knowing his bias is very important for understanding his point of view. A review of a reissue of the biography put it this way "In Deutscher’s time, it seemed incontrovertible that the most significant event in the 20th century was the Bolshevik Revolution of October 1917. Now it is highly controvertible." *

In The Non-Jewish Jew Deutscher tackles the question of Jewish identity after the Holocaust. The tragic reversion to antisemitism in its rawest form had made universalism -- the pre-war position of many intellectuals, especially Marxists -- irrelevant or worse. In these essays (originally published in various journals, and collected posthumously) Deutscher tries to come to terms with his universalist ideals in the light of reality, and in the later ones, to understand postwar events in Russia and the development of the state of Israel.

Deutscher felt that for him, the Jewish community was “only negative.” To consider himself racially Jewish, he thought, would be a victory for Hitler. He summarized his identity thus:
“If it is not race, what then makes a Jew? Religion? I am an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist. In neither sense, am I, therefore, a Jew. I am, however, a Jew by force of unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel the Jewish tragedy as my tragedy; because I feel the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do all I can to assure the real, not supurious, security and self-respect of the Jews.” (p. 51)
I have never been a Marxist or a socialist, but I feel the conflict between universalist hopes and the realities of the modern world -- which hasn't become any more promising that way in the years since Deutscher wrote. I find his formulation very interesting, and in many ways I think he could sense the future when he was writing half a century ago. The world that was imagined then by thinkers from many philosophic and political perspectives never happened.

Maybe it seems silly, but here's a summary of what I can't imagine:
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace" -- John Lennon

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Steven Pinker (September 18, 1954)

Pinker identifies himself as a firmly committed secular Jew. I have enjoyed at least 5 of his books on language and on the workings of the human mind. His next book is The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, to be published at the beginning of October. My only decision: do I buy it in hardcover or Kindle edition?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Lauren Bacall (September 16, 1924)

Lauren Bacall's studio biography glossed over her roots as the child of New York Jewish immigrants. She raised her children as Episcopalians. Nothing about her long acting career is Jewish. It's a stretch to see her as a secular Jew or any other kind. But what a wonderful actress!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Ben Shahn (September 12, 1898)

Ben Shahn was a Socialist Realist painter. He was born in Lithuania and grew up in New York; he learned the craft of lithography through an apprenticeship, and later through formal academic study. He worked on public art during the Depression, and was active in political and social campaigns throughout his life. Some of the causes that Shahn supported: justice for Sacco and Vanzetti, freedom for trade union leader Tom Mooney, opposition to antisemitism, support of America's participation in World War II through the Office of War Information and the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), anti-poverty efforts, and much later, anti-atomic testing activism.

Of this work, titled “Boy” and dated 1944 (owned by the University of Michigan Museum of Art) the label says Shahn “created images such as Boy that conveyed the brutality of the war and the Holocaust, often depicting children and other innocent victims. … Shahn, who often combined historical images with his personal childhood memories, sought to universalize Jewish suffering. He said that his work did not attempt to create an image of a specific event, but rather conveyed ‘the emotional tone that surrounds disaster; what you might call the inner disaster.’”

Update: another painting by Ben Shahn, "Bookshop: Hebrew Books, Holy Day Books" from the Detroit Institute of Arts:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Jared Diamond (September 10, 1937)

Jared Diamond's most famous book, Guns, Germs, and Steel, is a masterpiece, and I've read it several times; I've read some of his other books as well, and attended some lectures he gave in Ann Arbor several years ago. All in all, I wouldn't identify anything particularly Jewish about the things he says about himself or about his works, and I wasn't even aware of his religion when I read them.

I did learn that in Diamond's Natural History article titled "Who Are the Jews" he acknowledges his Jewish identity. The article begins with a mention of his first trip to Israel, and of his immigrant Eastern European Jewish grandparents, who left Europe for America during the great migration that took place around 100 years ago. He then explores genetic and other scientific evidence about whether Jews are a coherent group.

"Who Are the Jews?" Natural History 102:11 (November 1993): 12-19

Stephen Jay Gould (September 10, 1941)

For years we subscribed to Natural History so that we could read Stephen Jay Gould's column about new discoveries in evolution and effective ways to struggle against the monkeys who wanted to teach and legislate creationism (or whatever they called it that year). His books and writings educated us and many others about developments in this science, and also about the challenges of coping with anti-scientific thought as it was emerging in America. Since Gould died in 2002, the situation has only grown worse -- the anti-science and anti-intellectual tone of national politics is deplorable, as documented by the current New York Times column by Paul Krugman, "Republicans Against Science" and in many other places.

Gould's scientific and personal values and accomplishments didn't depend on his own religious background -- though indeed it was secular and Jewish. Gould was proud that his Jewish ancestors had escaped tyranny to come to the United States, and conscious of a variety of ironies. For example, in his book The Mismeasure of Man he attacked IQ tests – his attack seems to have been “illuminated by the knowledge that the most popular early use of I.Q. tests had been to think up ways to keep out people like Gould's Jewish immigrant grandparents.”

A collection of obituaries for Gould indicate that he was a purely secular Jew. And a hero!

Friday, September 9, 2011

New Book: "Yiddishkeit"

Yiddishkeit by Harvey Pekar and Paul Buhle, published last week, is a mixed bag of short vignettes about Yiddish authors; one-page summaries of various historic trends (especially political activism and persecution of left-wingers); graphic-novel treatments of the lives of movie script writers, actors, and other entertainment figures; and one full-length play containing excerpts from many Yiddish theater works.

The visual treatment of literary and biographical topics in Yiddishkeit is fun, but very truncated: for example, it offers a 3-page summary of Aaron Lansky’s memoir Outwitting History, (and by the way, I think Lansky's treatment of Yiddish in America in Outwitting History is better and more comprehensive) and a 12-page “retelling” in graphic form of the 1937 Yiddish movie “Greenfields.” And more.

Needless to say, it has quite a few things to say about Yiddish having been a secular language, but now having become the everyday language of the religious Chassids, and of few others. Although many of the writers, performers, and political figures that appear in the book were indeed secular Jews, I was a bit disappointed that among other ideas, this wasn't particularly well fleshed-out in the vignettes. All in all, the book tried to do much more than would be possible in such a short treatment, and didn't live up to what it promised.

The introductory narratives in this book suggests that it is some type of comprehensive treatment of Yiddish culture – Yiddishkeit – in America. It implies that there will be material about the exceptionality of Yiddish as a language, though I don’t think that’s really achieved. And while it covers a lot of other cultural material, it also misses some very big topics, and I think it misses them with a bias.

Would you be surprised if I thought it was biased against women? That it missed the presence of Yiddish-speaking Jews and Yiddish culture outside of New York and Hollywood? That it skipped over the existence of scholars of Yiddish language and culture prior to the current academic version of Yiddish studies? In other words, it has a very limited view of the subject.

Here are some of the topics that might make a more complete story of Yiddishkeit that are dismissed, glossed over, or not there at all:
  • Food. I’m sure there’s a mention of a New York deli somewhere, but here’s one example of how this doesn’t exactly deal with the food of the Yiddish speakers in America – no mention of the adoption of the bagel by the American mainstream. I wish it had a graphic bio of Ari Weinzweig of Zingerman’s Deli!
  • Social Work. The political activist Yiddishists are reasonably well-covered but the way that Jews trying to help the poor immigrants to assimilate and in the process inventing the modern field of social work doesn’t appear. A graphic treatment of the Settlement Cookbook would be welcome here. But in this world, women don’t count, I fear, unless they are minor writers or actors.
  • Organizations of immigrants from specific communities (Landsmanshaften). These receive a passing mention, but don’t do justice to them. How about a graphic treatment showing how they were critical in the process of transmitting Yiddish culture from immigrants to their families.
  • The Forward and Abraham Cahan. Sure the Forward is mentioned, but its importance is dismissed. For example, Hershl Hartman is listed as “the first native-born Yiddish journalist” (p. p.229) and his work is more than half a century after that of native-speaker Cahan and others writing in either or both languages. If the real issue is what Yiddishkeit gave to American culture, a description of the influence of the “Bintel Brief” – the Forward’s advice column – would be in order.
  • English-language novels about Yiddishkeit. Cahan also wrote very important novels about Yiddish-speaking immigrants – in English. Several other writers also did, but there’s little or nothing about them. Much more about the European Yiddish novelists, and lots of attacks on I.B.Singer.
  • YIVO. Scholarly Yiddish study and attempt to document the language began in Vilna and moved to New York when hounded out of Europe. A bit more detail on this important institution -- mentioned only in passing in the book -- would fill out the story.
I’m no scholar at all. I can’t imagine how many more topics would be needed to deserve the claims this book makes about its achievement.

Note: I posted some of this little review on the Yiddishkeit page at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Michael Shermer (September 8, 1954)

Michael Shermer is the founder of the Skeptics Society and a columnist for Scientific American. Like Stephen Jay Gould, whose birthday is coming up, and like many other writers, I feel that his attitude of questioning and critiquing folly is compatible with what I feel are Jewish values. Shermer has absolutely no Jewish background at all, but I still think he's a hero to secular Jews because of these values.

Here is a paragraph from one of his recent columns that illustrates what he has to say:

"... dependency on belief and its host of psychological biases is why, in science, we have built-in self-correcting machinery. Strict double-blind controls are required, in which neither the subjects nor the experimenters know the conditions during data collection. Collaboration with colleagues is vital. Results are vetted at conferences and in peer-reviewed journals. Research is replicated in other laboratories. Disconfirming evidence and contradictory interpretations of data are included in the analysis. If you don’t seek data and arguments against your theory, someone else will, usually with great glee and in a public forum. This is why skepticism is a sine qua non of science, the only escape we have from the belief-dependent realism trap created by our believing brains."

Bernie Sanders (September 8, 1941)

Bernie Sanders is an independent US senator from Vermont; he also served several terms in the House of Representatives. He is the first senator ever to call himself a socialist, and his views on almost all subjects are exceptionally liberal in today's right-leaning political climate. He has worked on bills aimed at the causes of global warming and on other positive energy and resource bills, has supported health care laws, and has come down on what I think of as the right side of many issues. He is independent, but caucauses with the Democrats.

His website says of him:
The Almanac of American Politics has called Sanders a "practical" and "successful legislator." He has focused on the shrinking middle class and widening income gap in America that is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Other priorities include reversing global warming, universal health care, fair trade policies, supporting veterans and preserving family farms. He serves on five Senate committees: Budget; Veterans; Energy; Environment; and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.
Sanders would be a secular Jewish hero even if he were not a secular Jew, but that in fact seems to identify his religious position.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Moses Mendelssohn (September 6, 1729)

Moses Mendelssohn never gave up being an observant and religious Jew. He lived and worked in Berlin, where Jews could live only with explicit permission, and where Jews emphatically did not have equal rights with Christians. He received the admiration of Christian philosophers and writers of his time, which was an extraordinary accomplishment.

Mendelssohn's writings encouraged Jews to take a much broader look at themselves and their religious beliefs. Somehow, therefore, Mendelssohn is held responsible for a philosophy that led other Jews to adopt a much more secular life. I think he gets a lot of blame for things he wasn't responsible for. Prejudice and outright discrimination against Jews continued in Germany after his death, so Jews who listened to him often converted to Christianity to escape bigotry and to be allowed to pursue intellectual jobs. Two famous converts of the following generation: his own son, who became the father of composer Felix Mendelssohn, and the poet and writer Heinrich Heine. There were many others. It seems to me that the way that German Jews coped with a difficult situation in the 19th century is no fault of Mendelssohn, but historians vary in the way they handle this.

Another development that took place after Mendelssohn's death was Reform Judaism. I am unsure about the exact progression of influence from his thought to the thought of the reformers. I'm also not convinced at all that Jewish efforts to assimilate into German life, where they were demonstrably unwelcome despite many success stories, was a plausible cause of the Holocaust. When I say it that way, it seems preposterous that anyone accuses Mendelssohn and other Jews of causing violent antisemitic behavior in subsequent centuries, but some people have indeed made that argument.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Giacomo Meyerbeer (September 5, 1791)

Giacomo Meyerbeer was a successful composer in the 19th century. He helped Richard Wagner, who then turned on him because Meyerbeer was Jewish, and succeeded in causing a loss of respect for his mentor. Meyerbeer's works have recently been restored to the classical repertory after a resulting century and a half of neglect.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Darius Milhaud (September 4, 1892)

Milhaud was a prolific composer, including a wide variety of works influenced by many traditions including modernist French music (he was a member of Les Six), jazz, the music of Brazil, and the music of other composers such as Stravinsky. Among these traditions: his roots in the Jewish communities of the south of France – he was born in Aix-en-Provence. Milhaud described himself as “a Frenchman from Provence, and by religion, a Jew.”

Among Millaud’s hundreds of compositions, many have Jewish material or Jewish music, including music from Eastern Europe, and from his own French background. His opera titled "Esther of Carpentras" (which I’ve never heard) has as its subject the celebration of Purim by the very old Jewish community of Carpentras, a small town near his birthplace. One theme of this opera is tolerance, which is significant as it was first performed in 1938, two years before Milhaud fled to the United States to escape the Nazis.

For a fuller biography see this

Friday, September 2, 2011

The First Jews in America

In early September of 1654, twenty-three Sephardic Jews fleeing persecution in Portuguese colonies in South America or the Caribbean arrived in New Amsterdam on the ship St. Catherine. These men, women, and children made up the first Jewish group immigration to North America, although individuals had lived in earlier colonial towns including Roanoke, N.C., New England, and even New Amsterdam. The two Jewish individuals already there were Jacob Barsimson, an Askenazi trader, and Solomon Pieters or Petersen.

The arrival of this group is celebrated as the beginning of actual Jewish communal life in the future USA, as well as the beginning of Jewish enjoyment of the new tolerance that came to characterize the New World. Despite the efforts of Governor Peter Stuyvesant to expel them, they overcame prejudice and formed a lasting community.

Tablet Magazine recently wrote about the surviving cemeteries from the congregation founded shortly after their arrival. " From 1654 until 1825, Shearith Israel was the only Jewish congregation in New York City. In its long history, membership of the congregation has included Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, three founders of the New York Stock Exchange, and the poet Emma Lazarus, whose famous words from 'The New Colossus' are affixed to the Statue of Liberty."

The freedom to be a secular Jew is very important to me, and I see its roots in these early Jewish migrations.

References here and here.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Alan Dershowitz (September 1, 1938)

For around 50 years, Alan Dershowitz has been reminding Jews in America not to be too confident, too trusting, or too optimistic. I used to feel that he was pushing for a view that was too paranoid about antisemitism in our society. I think he's right way too often these days.

I agree with Dershowitz about a number of very important issues such as the ACLU defense of Muslim students at UC Irvine who tried to shut down a speech by the Israeli ambassador, the way Yale discontinued Holocaust studies, and the growth of antisemitic rhetoric on campuses. For example, he points out why the ACLU leaders are defending individuals who openly said they opposed free speech for supporters of Israel: "These leaders don't like Israel and they support the censorship of pro-Israel views. They would never take the same position if the shoe had been on the other foot: If the speaker were from Hamas and the students trying to shut him down were pro-Israel."

He recently discussed Glen Beck's visit to Israel; he says:
"At a time when old friends and allies who should be supporting the Jewish state are abandoning it in droves, Beck's willingness to stand up for Israel must be accepted with gratitude. I, for one, do not question his motives. I believe they are genuine. One need not accept all of Beck's positions on Israel -- and I certainly do not -- in order to agree with him that support of Israel is one of the great moral issues of the 21st Century.

"Those who thoughtlessly attack Israel no matter what it does and thoughtlessly defend Israel's enemies regardless of what they do, are making peace far more difficult. They incentivize terrorism by Israel's enemies and disincentivize compromise on all sides."

Dershowitz has led an interesting life, beginning as an orthodox Jew whose choice of covering his head and refusing non-kosher food were shocking when he first became a law professor at Harvard. More recently he's transitioned to being closer to a secular Jew, though I don't know his exact religious practices now. As I say, he used to seem paranoid but now I think he's right.