[00:00:00] Speaker A: You.
[00:00:00] Speaker B: Hello, everyone, and welcome to the 186th episode of the Atlas Society. Asks. My name is Jennifer Anju Grossman. Friends call me Jag. I'm the CEO of the Atlas Society. We are the leading nonprofit organization introducing young people to the literature and philosophy of Ayn Rand in fun, creative ways. Graphic levels, animated videos, even AI animated videos now. And music. Don't forget, today we are joined by Leal Liebovitz. Before I even begin to introduce our guest, I want to remind all of you joining us on Zoom, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube. You can use the comment section to type in your questions, and we will get to as many of them as we can. Lille Libovitz is editor at large for Tablet magazine, where he hosts its weekly culture podcast, Unorthodox. Sounds a little bit familiar to those of us at the Atlas Society and daily Talmud podcast. Take one. He is the editor of the book Zionism the Tablet Guide, and the author of several books, including The Chosen People, a Broken Hallelujah and how the Talmud Can Change Your Life. Leal, thanks for joining us.
[00:01:22] Speaker A: What a pleasure to be here.
[00:01:25] Speaker B: So we usually start off with our guests origin story, and you have one of the most intriguing ones so far. Tell us a bit about your unusual upbringing, your relationship with your father in particular, and how that experience changed the way that you approach fatherhood.
[00:01:46] Speaker A: Yeah, I mean, I object to one of the most intriguing I hope to convince you that I'm taking the cake here. So I was born in a suburb of Tel Aviv in Israel, to this very, very wealthy family, which was an abnormality in what would still then a socialist country. And my father, who is this kind a burly, big playboy type of dude, never really held a job a day in his life, basically spent his days shooting guns, riding motorcycles, having affairs with women, and doing everything that a self respecting playboy would do. And then one day, his father we've all seen this soap opera summoned him to his office on the 36th floor of some office building and said, son, I don't care what you do with your life, but you have to do something. Follow your passion. Exert yourself. And my father thought that was a ridiculously unfair statement. And so he wanted to show his dad that he, too, was a man in full. And so he followed his heart. And his heart led him to robbing banks, because he had watched a lot of Steve McQueen movies and thought it was awfully romantic to be this kind of daredevil bandit. He would ride his motorcycle up to a bank, he would run in, and in 45 seconds or less, he would rob the bank. And then he would ride around the corner onto a ramp he had custom built into a van, where he would stop and ponder the sort of seminal question of bank robbing which is, where is the last place you would ever look for a bank robber? And now is a good time for anyone listening to us who's contemplating this particular career to stop and pay close attention, because the answer, of course, is the bank. So my father would take off his helmet. He would tug the gun into his pants and cover it with a shirt and walk very calmly back to the bank, which at that point was, of course, a crime scene teeming with police officers who were busy setting up roadblocks 5 miles down the road for this guy, who's probably trying to make a getaway. And my father, very kind of timidly, in a very coy voice, said, excuse me, but can I please just deposit this money? My wife would be so angry if I didn't. And the police officer would say, okay, well, be quick about it. And he would take the money he had just dropped three minutes earlier. This is the 80s before computers or anything like that, making it depositing right back into the circulation and making it virtually untraceable. So this goes on for a year and a half, and the entire country, which is still then a very small nation with precisely one television station, one television channel, is obsessed with this mythical bank robber. No one knows his real identity, so everyone calls him the Motorcycle Bandit. And everyone thinks the Motorcycle Bandit is the biggest hero in the world because never heard a guy, never heard a person hardly ever fired his gun and is just this kind of like, daredevil mystery man who's in and out of the bank. And so I was 13 at the time, so obviously my kind of young adult boyhood imagination was sparked by this figure. And I idolized that guy. I dressed up as him in the Jewish version of Halloween and thought this was like the kind of greatest guy to emulate, until one day when I came home alone to a knock on the door and three police officers informing me that my life had changed forever.
[00:05:18] Speaker B: Because your father was the Motorcycle Bandit.
[00:05:22] Speaker A: And thus began a whole new chapter with a lengthy incarceration and also me having to kind of come to terms with a lot of the way I was raised, because he raised me. I'm his only son, his only child, his only boy. And he raised me with this firm belief that the most important thing in the world is for his boy to grow up and be a real man. I shot my first firearm when I was four and a half years old. He had a magnum, which, if you're familiar with this weapon that is not.
[00:05:56] Speaker B: As big as a child's arm, but.
[00:05:59] Speaker A: Not a child appropriate firearm. And so we would go out shooting. We would go out throwing knives, driving Jeeps. About once a week, I had to go and change the tire on the car because it was very important that a man knows how to change a tire. He would just do all kinds of feats of strength. And I grew up thinking that was what a man was. A man was someone who just exuded this sort of muscular, musculine energy.
And his arrest kind of shattered all that, because here he was, the alleged protector, the person who was supposed to keep me from harm, the person who was supposed to take care of me, which obviously kind of came with a purview of masculinity, and he was locked away in prison for 20 years. And so it kind of led me to start and kind of think my way through. Okay, so what does this actually mean?
Which is a question I'm still busy contemplating.
[00:07:01] Speaker B: Yes, and putting into practice with your own sons. Okay, so you kind of have this traumatic experience. What you thought was true turned out not to be true. You had to reevaluate your way of looking at the world, the way of thinking about the world, the way of thinking about yourself.
And I understand that somewhere along journey you discovered Ayn Rand. So tell us a little bit about how that turned out.
[00:07:33] Speaker A: It came about because God In, who I firmly believe has an incredible sense of humor. I was always obsessed with America. Growing up in Israel, the great good place for me was this magical, as we say in Yiddish, the golden the Medina, this golden country across the seas. I had visited it as a boy a few times and loved everything about it, but never really felt that I got it or really understood anything spiritual about it. I kind of knew I liked comic books and candy and TV, but that doesn't really cut it. I needed something more. And so I learned English. I really enjoyed this language. I learned from comic books and TV and really wanted more and more and more. And so at some point, I decided exclusively, I'm only going to read in English. This is it. I'm going to make this my language, and I'm going to conquer it. And so I went to my school's librarian this is middle school. And I said hello. I wish to now only read in English. And she's like, that's your prerogative. Except for we don't have any books in English. Like, really? It's like, well, we have this section. It's like, five books. It was literally five books that American and British and Canadian immigrants to Israel donated to the school, and they put them on some miscellaneous shelf right next to the books that were so badly torn that they couldn't even use anymore. And so I looked at them, and most of them were just, know, the picture books for kids and things that didn't appeal to me. And there was one handsome paperback on the shelf, precisely one. Can you guess which one.
[00:09:10] Speaker B: That was? Shrut.
[00:09:11] Speaker A: The fountainhead.
And I took it I was like, okay, this seems like a mountain for me to kind of cross. And here's the thing.
I remember this so clearly. This is again the 80s, so I had this sort of, like, denim covered beanbag, and I sort of went home and so excited. It's my first English book I am going to read. Good book. And I kind of lay into it, and I started reading, and something made sense to me right away, which, of course, I couldn't at the time define. Took a very long time to sort of grow into it. But there was something wonderful, because her sensibility was so profoundly the sensibility of a Jewish immigrant to America, of someone who had seen enough of the world to know the great promise of this amazing nation, the great promise of freedom and liberty and individual capacity, the great promise of breaking away from collectivism and totalitarianism and all the other corrosive isms. And that just felt so wonderfully liberating and so free to me and really deeply strengthened my resolve not only to continue and find all the other Ayn Rand books and read them, which took some doing in a country which still at that time didn't have. I think it had one English language bookstores. Everything had to be ordered and delivered. It was like Christmas the day that the thing arrived in the mail.
But also eventually to move to this amazing country and try my own journey.
[00:10:51] Speaker B: Great. Well, as I was mentioning before in reading your book about the Talmud and about the Talmudic process, and even though it's a religious project, it's still very philosophical. And I thought that there was something that even objectivists can learn from that in terms of how to engage in debate productively rather than shunning people with a different perspective on, if not a sacred text than a very important and deeply spiritual text, of course. So we're going to get to that.
And we're also going to take audience questions. So, guys, if you're out there, go ahead. You can start typing in your questions. We'll try to get to as many of them as we can. But first, I want to talk about Tablet magazine. What first brought it to my attention was Jacob Siegel's monumentally important piece, a Guide to Understanding the Hoax of the Century 13 Ways of Looking at Disinformation. I can't tell you how many times I read it. In fact, it was that piece that inspired our Draw My Life video. My name is Disinformation. So hat tip to Tablet for that. And as I explored further, I realized that Tablet has been on the front lines of reporting on anti Semitism in unique ways. So for those viewers who aren't familiar with Tablet yet, maybe tell us a little bit about the magazine, its genesis, its focus.
[00:12:32] Speaker A: Tablet is the world's premier Jewish publications of arts, culture, politics, and ideas. We were founded about 14 years ago by my dear friend and our editor in chief, Alana Newhouse. At the time of our founding, the world was still seemingly in order and revolving on its axis, and so we believed that we would be a smallish, puckish publication that would be everyone's favorite third or fourth read. After you were done with the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and the Atlantic and the New Yorker, you could read a nice little publication and actually have a kind of a little viewpoint on the Jewish perspective on the world.
We soon found ourselves understanding that we're looking at a kind of cataclysmic moment in time. Milana wrote a beautiful, beautiful essay that I dearly and deeply recommend called Everything is broken, in which she posited something that I think a lot of us, definitely a lot of us who listen to this podcast understand intuitively, which is, as the headline suggests, everything about life today seems to be broken. Whether you visit your doctor or take a flight or watch the Emmys or engage in any realm factor of American life, it seems like things are crashing, falling apart, very different than what they used to be just 1015 years ago. And we started realizing that none of this was accidental, that all of this was the work of a concerted effort to transform America into something that it was never designed to be. Something very totalitarian, something very all inclusive, like a big Borg type entity that consumes media and culture and corporate America and politics into just one seamless identity. And here's the thing about us. We're not conservative. We're not liberal. We're not left or right. We're Jews. And Jews have always, from Abraham to Moses to Joey Ramon, have always been outsiders. We're the ones like, look, guys, we're just like weirdos standing on the sidelines doing our own thing as all these other isms wash all around us. And so we started reporting on things in a way that didn't seem to us very controversial. Like, we started receiving a lot of indications that the Women's March, which was at that point almost like a national hallowed, faintly institution.
[00:15:13] Speaker B: And you guys wrote about it. Yeah, hold on.
[00:15:16] Speaker A: But we didn't want to write about it. So we're receiving all this information that there was, like, deep seated rooted anti semitism in this movement that Jewish women felt like they were targeted and excluded. And so here's what we did. Honestly, we tried to get other publications to write the story because we didn't feel it should be the Jews being like, excuse me, but there is anti semitism in the Women's March. We wanted this to be like a big kind of New York Times front page story.
And back then, to our great big shock and surprise, nobody would touch it because it didn't fit this kind of revelant narrative of like, no, this is the one know, who are you going to believe, me or your own lying guys? Type of situation. And so we reported this piece, and all hell broke loose. We had substantial evidence and interviews with so many people who said that Linda Sarsur and others at the helm of the Women's March movement were really discriminatory and biased in horrendous ways. And then, of course, the New York Times runs the same story, not crediting us, but saying, oh, of course, we knew all along. And so increasingly it became really clear to us that our job right now, our mandate, if you will, has become very different, very bigger, very kind of much more audacious. This was as clear as it could be during COVID when we were writing such really incendiary pieces as suggesting that this might have been caused by a lab leak or questioning the orthodoxy of the Mask mandate madness, which at the time got us everything from quasi bans to accusations of fascism and grandma killing. And it just sort of seemed so weird until we realized what was going on, and that our responsibility was just to do what journalists and Jews have always done, which is just do your best to be truthful.
[00:17:20] Speaker B: So I'm wondering if you've been having any of these kinds of conversations, the kind that I had over the past holiday with family. I'm the only Republican, non progressive, for lack of a better word, in my family. And it's been interesting to kind of eavesdrop on some of these conversations, how shocked people are they can't believe that the group that's judging their PhD thesis has become so extreme, or that they can't believe that they have friends that are very sympathetic to these Palestinian, pro Palestinian, pro Hamas rallies.
But I'm assuming you, having been following this, are not surprised, or have you been surprised? And what kind of conversations are you having?
[00:18:22] Speaker A: Oh, my Lord, I am so not surprised. It's surprising how not surprised I am. So I already told you I'm an immigrant to this country. The day after I arrived, I arrived on the Thursday night in 1999. On Friday morning, I took the subway and went to stand at the gates of Columbia University. And just like your cliches to your typical immigrant, almost like Fievel from An American Tale, I stood there and I said, one day I will attend this school. And then I'll get my PhD here, and then I'll teach here. And then I'll be an important American writer who writes books with great publishers and publishes in The New York Times and gets invited to cocktail parties. And then something terrible happened. It all came true. And for about 1112 years, this is my life. I got my PhD at Columbia. I taught first at Barnard and then at NYU for eight or nine years. I wrote books for all these publishers, contributed to all these publications, and kind of got a front row seat to just how deep the rot, intellectual, moral rot, was in these institutions. But seven years ago, I wrote a piece called Get Out, which basically argued that Jews in particular, but right thinking Americans in general, have no business going to college because college was lost to us. It was no longer the institution it had been this kind of a great machinery of social, emotional, intellectual promotion, but rather this kind of weird cesspool of mutually accrediting mediocrity where you spend four years and a quarter of a million dollars for someone to turn your son and daughter into a Nazi. And when I wrote this, people, including very good friends, said, you've lost your goddarn mind.
What are you telling people? Not to go to college? This is crazy. Of course you have to go to college. There's literally no life except for through Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Yale. And a bunch of university presidents also contacted me to say, oh, you're entirely wrong. I said great. Could you actually show me the path to how we redeem these institutions from all these systemic problems that you admit that they have? And of course, every one of them said, well, you can't.
And so this week or these last few months, I should say, watching these institutions reveal the full splendor of their corruption, watching the presidents of two of these institutions have to step down in shame and watching so many normies look at this storm and say, oh, my Lord, we had no idea.
Feels at once a little bit kind of strange to me because there's a big kind of tendency to say, told you so. But also, if we're being more honest and more generous, a tremendous sense of joy. Because I really think that this is a beginning of a real, kind of a perfect American term, great awakening of a realignment which transcends these old and useless categories of I'm a Republican now. I'm a Democrat. I'm progressive. I'm conservative. We're looking at something completely new, and we're looking at something that I think is inspiring and encouraging Americans to sort of wake up and understand that there are real perils here and real priorities and amazing opportunities for yet another iteration of the Great American Covenant.
[00:22:01] Speaker B: All right, we're going to get to some audience questions, but before we do that, one of your earlier publications that I just don't want to gloss over because it was such a gem was Conspiracy of Letters. I listened to it on Audible less than an hour and a half. Listen. It's a short history of the conspiracy to frame Alfred Dreyfuss, Jewish officer in the French army, which draws on newly discussed research.
And also, while laymen tend to associate that scandal with Emile Zola, you emphasize the role of an arguably greater French literary figure, marcel Proust. And one of the quotes that really caught my attention was that of Alfred Nake when he described anti Semitism as, quote, a highly adaptive force acutely sensitive to the tremors of culture and ideology. So applying that perspective to the current plague of anti Semitism. What tremors of culture and ideology do you see driving its spread?
[00:23:17] Speaker A: This is such an amazing question that could and should occupy us for days and end. The first thing I think that's really important to understand before we even begin to address it is that antisemitism really actually has nothing to do with the Jews. It is a mind virus and a brain rot that affects people completely, independently from the presence and definitely actions of any real Jewish people. And the thing that usually makes it so forceful and so incredibly powerful is that it builds up its opposition to the Jews, because, in essence, it is, at every new iteration, just another take on a very old idea. And it's an idea that you could find right there in Leviticus. It's paganism. It's this notion of living in a world that is always shifting, constantly changing, right? There's a reason why the great pagan poet Virgil named his book Metamorphosis, named his book Metamorphosis because to live in a pagan world is to live in a world where everything is constantly shifting, constantly changing. There is no certainty, there is no anything to rely on. And therefore you are given to all kinds of terrible thrusts, like heightened tribalism that leads you to see anyone outside of your immediate circle as a danger child sacrifice, because what else do you have to offer the angry gods but your own most cherished possession?
And that has always been the way of life for those societies and those individuals who picked up the mantle of antisemitism and allowed themselves to degenerate. And the Nazis were really the best example of this. It is no coincidence that history's greatest anti Semites were also history's most celebrated pagan, right? Those two go hand in hand. So the tremors that we're seeing right now are very, very old tremors in new garb, the tremors of once again standing a thwart and against the old notion of the kind of Judeo Christian opposition to the pagan ideal.
This way of life that the Talmud captures so well, which is inclusive and compassionate and moral and mindful, these are things that our enemies simply cannot stand. Theirs is literally a world in which words have no meaning, in which genders are fluid, in which you could decide that while there are 57 genders in opposition to anything and everything that biology teaches us, race, which is a very shady and shoddy concept, is completely kind of fixed and unnegotiable. When you see these trends and tremors foisted upon us by these neo pagans, you understand just how important this fight we're having right now. And it's a fight that far transcends the state of Israel or even the Jews.
[00:26:35] Speaker B: Interesting. Okay, we're going to get to some questions, and you don't have to answer them all, so you can always just say pass. But we've got from instagram.
[00:26:45] Speaker A: I have not acquired that skill. I'm sorry to say.
[00:26:51] Speaker B: All right, well, then, guys, come up with some really weird questions so we can see if he's up to the challenge. Zach Gallagher asking, taking a reading on the Western world currently. Do you think the world is becoming more or less free? Guess twist on whether you're optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
[00:27:07] Speaker A: I am incredibly optimistic. I'm so sorry to disappoint. Look, I wrote a piece just before Thanksgiving saying that I firmly believe that the American future is rosy, which seems like an insane statement to anyone following American economics, culture, politics, society, you name it. Look, I believe that the United States of America is unique. I think only it and Israel alone among all the nations of the world are covenantal nations. These are nations predicated not on social contracts, which are kind of bizarre arrangements in which people who are supposedly disconnected from any tribal or emotional or familial obligations willingly sign away their rights to some imagined collective. But instead of this contract, they're based on a covenant. A covenant with their Creator, in whom, again, I firmly believe, unlike Aynrad, in which we are allowed and in fact, encouraged to go ahead and prove in every generation anew that we deserve this great big mantle of keeping the world safer and freer. If you look at the history of America, if we had this conversation in 1857 and asked ourselves what's the future hold in store, we would have been very cautious to say, we're doomed. Guys, look at this. The debate over free versus slave states is heating up. There's no way we could keep this union going. It's going to some very dark places. And it did.
Unless you remember that what happened after the Civil War was another renewal of the great American covenant and the ushering in of a new age of commitment to liberty, to freedom, to prosperity, to individual rights, which is exactly what this country does about every hundred or so years. And this country continues to inspire even when it's broken, even when its leaders are far short of the task that history has set for them, continues to inspire the rest of the world. And you see these ideas percolating everywhere. You may open the New York Times and hear that these nations struggling to be freer are totalitarian or fascistic or my God, look at Victor Orban and look at the elections in Argentina. These are dangerous populace, but what you're seeing are people yearning to breathe free. And we're getting there. There's going to be a lot of tumult, a lot of turbulence in the near term, but I think in the long run, I believe we're looking at another renewal of the covenant, another golden era of human liberty and flourishing.
[00:29:55] Speaker B: Yes. And I would also say to those who are disturbed by these populist victories, although I think there's elements of Malay that are populist, but it's not just railing at any old power. Right. He's railing at governmental power, in particular, any kind of crony collaboration.
But if you are of that mindset that MAGA or brexit and these kinds of things disturb you, I think that being open to having conversations about various grievances, the level of immigration issues like transgenderism, being willing to meet people with different views about these issues, not to suppress or demonize or marginalize them, would just look at it as a safety gap. Right. Because the more you marginalize or deplatform somebody, they don't magically change their minds. They just become more radicalized and more eager to find a strong man who stick it to the establishment.
[00:31:11] Speaker A: There's kind of a wonderful, dare I say, objectivist strand in all these victories around the world because they're simply reiterating the question of what are our national interests? What's good for us? And the fact that just asking this question I'm sorry, what's good for America? What's America's interest? What's Hungary's interest? Has become some sort of heresy because you're supposed to immediately succumb to like, oh, no, we must sign the global environmental accord, even though it makes absolutely no sense and is ruinous to our economy and is absolutely ill fitted to achieve even its own modest goals.
The fact that you can't even have this conversation shows you that all these parties that you're seeing all over the world are great thrusts at freedom.
[00:32:07] Speaker B: Yes. And because politics is downstream from culture, but culture is downstream from philosophy, the way to fight these collectivist policies and mandates is to start by making the case for individualism and self interest, as opposed to self sacrifice and altruism, because that's what particularly some of these environmental commitments are at the I would say religion.
[00:32:38] Speaker A: But we could argue about that some other time.
[00:32:41] Speaker B: Okay, alex, turning on Instagram, asks, isn't it true that many leading socialists were Jewish, especially in Russia at the outset? Is there something in Judaism that makes socialism appealing?
[00:32:58] Speaker A: That's an amazing question.
There is something in Judaism that makes utopia appealing because the ultimate goal and this phrase has been criminally abused by the lunatic left for years. But there is a principle in Judaism called tikunolam, which is repairing this broken world. We are cautioned to do it under very certain auspices. We are cautioned to do it while asking a whole host of questions that are supposed to keep the rails for the terrain from derailing. But if you follow the story of the Enlightenment and you follow the great migration of so many formerly religious people, because really there were no or very few non religious people in the world prior to a certain point, in our collective history, you see that at some point, once the Jews were more assimilated into their societies, once it became possible for Jews to live outside of their very narrow communities, which for centuries it was not, it is easy to understand why sometimes these great yearnings, great religious yearnings to bring about the perfect. End of times, right, would easily be translatable into other means. Sometimes those means were socialism. That is a ruinous instinct that corrupts and rots the desire to repair the world into a fetted, feverish hellscape of oppression. Sometimes they were science kind of yearning to find great answers and cure great diseases, which is how we get jonah Sock, Curing, Polio. Sometimes they were artistic. The desire to write the great book or make the great movie, which is how we get well.
[00:35:09] Speaker B: And, you know, thinking of Ayn Rand who was born Alyssa Rosenbaum and about her origin story in Russia at the know, they lived in St. Petersburg because that was one of the places where Jews were allowed to live. Her father was a pharmacist because that's one of the professions Jews were allowed to have, and they were quite fortunate. I mean, the history of Russia under the Tsar and all of these extremely bloody pogroms and the amount of oppression that Jews suffered there, I think that also helps to provide a context for why people recognized, even ayn Rand's family recognized that this was not working, that this was a very oppressive situation and open to contemplating other ways of governance. And, of course, that was a very popular thread that was being talked about all over the world, including in the you know, with Frederick Douglass famously rejecting socialism at the time as slavery of all to all. So these were in.
[00:36:20] Speaker A: Hallelujah.
[00:36:22] Speaker B: Okay, one more, then I'm going to go back to some of my questions.
All right. My modern Gall accusations that someone is a Nazi has made the term lose all its meaning. Do you think the term anti Semitism is going down the same path in how often it is used?
[00:36:43] Speaker A: Absolutely.
Here's what I'm seeing, and it is very distasteful and distressing to me. I am definitely seeing a tendency to use accusations of anti Semitism and Jew hating as a political lever to sort of control and redefine the situation. As soon as Elon Musk bought Twitter, elon Musk became the world's leading anti Semite.
The world's leading anti Semite. These critics had nothing to say when Know Ayatollah of Iran Hamanai repeatedly called for the destruction of the world's only Jewish state and for the mass murder of Jews and for Holocaust denial. But when someone on the perceived right comes and takes charge of Twitter and opens it up to actual free speech and expression, all of a sudden that person has to be painted as an anti Semi. I am very sad to say that the nation's premier organization to prevent such misuse of the term, the Anti Defamation League, which for about 100 years was a great, venerable anti hate group that simply monitored attack against Jews and other minorities, has been captured. It is run by a former Obama White House operative that has completely weaponized the discussion of anti Semitism for political means. The organization now repeatedly only publishes reports about anti Semitism in America that know the supposed dangerous right wing lunatics. Nothing to say about Members of Congress like Ilhan Omar or Rashid Al [unk]ib or other people in Academia and Culture who Are Blatantly rapidly anti Semitic. I think that's a despicable situation and just another reminder of how dire consequences could be when we misappropriate terms and use them as political batting rods.
[00:39:01] Speaker B: Absolutely. And that's another phenomenon that Ayn Rand takes aim at in her, you know, where the word I has been abolished. And the attempt to control the politically correct words that we're supposed to use in any given situation is really, at root, an attempt to control the way we think. So tell us about your podcast. Unorthodox 6 million downcoat loads. Maybe that's even out of date, consistently ranks among critics. List of podcasts to follow. So tell us a bit about it. Maybe. Any favorite episodes you've done so far?
[00:39:44] Speaker A: I could Tell You that I Am a world class Expert on podcasting because I have made every imaginable mistake in this field. There Is literally not a Blunder that I have Not Committed in the eight and a half years We've been Broadcasting. When my friend and former colleague Mark Oppenheimer approached Me and Stephanie Butnik, my co host, to do the Show, my first instinct was to politely decline, because I thought back then, this is eight and a half years ago, that Podcasts were very Stupid. I did not understand why anyone would want to listen to Someone Blathering On. Thought We Had perfectly fine way of communicating Ideas in kind of oral form that was called radio. And if you were good Enough, you got on one of these stations, and if you weren't, what's the point of this Whole thing?
What I didn't Understand is, and Again learned very slowly and Resolutely, is the Incredible power, the intimacy that this medium has. Because Unlike Radio, which you listen to in the car whenever you listen to podcasts, when you do things like Walk your dog or make Dinner For your kids or Wait In the carpool Lane, it Is There With You in your ear and in your brain at your kind of most vulnerable moments. And therefore you really form real emotional Connections with the Shows and with the Host. And we soon figured out again, to our surprise, initially to our delight and later on to our horror because we realized the responsibility that it entailed that a lot of our listeners were people who would traditionally find their home in their community, in synagogues, in Jewish community centers, in Jewish communal organizations, and for a whole host of reasons way too complicated to get to right now. Felt kind of abandoned by Jewish institutional life and really desperately wanted a way to connect with the tradition, to connect with the faith, and to connect with other Jews. And found it in a podcast, found it in something that felt so familiar and even more importantly, found it in a podcast that made its mission kind of almost sanctifying dissent. There's a notion in the Talmud of Mahlokit lashem Shamaim, a disagreement for the sake of heaven, the idea that not only are you not to quash dissent and disagreement, but you're supposed to really revel in it, because that's what makes you sharper and stronger, and that's what friends are supposed to do for each other. You're supposed to traditionally only learn Talmud with Ruta, which is one person who ideally is kind of a frenemy, someone who is your intellectual and emotional equal, but who disagrees with you about a lot of other things. So my co hosts and myself, stephanie Butnik and Joshua Molina, could not be more different in our political, ideological, philosophical, religious experiences, upbringings, and worldviews. And yet for us to sit there week after week, talk about really fiery kind of incandescent things, and do so in a way that's loving, that's open, that's respectful, that's humorous, that doesn't immediately go for this, like, oh, well, I'm not talking to you if you believe that Donald Trump is, but rather say, like, oh, interesting. You think that's right. Tell me why. Oh, I think that's ridiculous. Let me tell you why I think it's ridiculous. I think for our listeners to hear a little bit of this emotionally, spiritually, calming voice that doesn't paper over differences but celebrates them, but does so in a loving way and a funny way, I think that's a lot.
[00:43:50] Speaker B: Well, it's interesting that you mentioned that, because you also have, of course, another podcast. Take one Talmud to go and you're the author of how the Talmud Can Change Your life surprisingly modern advice from a very old book. And as you might imagine, as an objectivist, I'm not religious.
I stay engaged with the cultural Jewish life, but I'm an atheist. So I was like, oh, not sure how I was going to feel about this book, about the Talmud, but it was a wonderful read, and by the way, a wonderful listen, because Liel narrates it himself.
And I really enjoyed how it wove together sort of events from history or talking about Billie Halliday and what her life taught us and then connecting that to passages of the Talmud. But my overall takeaway was how the Talmudic tradition played a role in preventing schisms. That especially finding this frenemy, finding the importance of finding a companion and studying in pairs and debating and having that kind of open dialogue and exchange.
I actually thought that maybe Objectivism could learn a thing or two from that tradition because Objectivism has, unfortunately, been vulnerable to schisms. And part of it comes from this orthodox idea that to talk to someone of a different point of view about objectivism, we're open objectivists. If you're a closed objectivist, you can't talk to us because you're somehow sanctioning our views. And I thought, gee, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could have conversations and debates, but again, do so in a way that models what's best about objectivism, which is reason and benevolence and freedom.
[00:46:10] Speaker A: Let me tell you one story that I think that the good folks at the Iron Ran Society should pay attention to, because it really, I think, captures the heart of everything that you so beautifully said. This is probably the most famous story in the Talmud, and it's a great lesson for objectivists and, I think for Americans in general these days. So the story goes that a bunch of rabbis were sitting and arguing about a religious question, a question of Jewish law, and all the rabbis were in agreement except for one guy, Rabbi Eliezer, and he didn't like being contradicted. He was a very learned, very smart, very passionate, and very kind, know, opinionated man. And so he said, okay, if I'm right, see this tree over there? Let this tree uproot itself, do a jig, run 5ft down the road, and replant itself there. And he's not even done talking. The tree uproots itself does a little dance, runs down the road, and replants itself. Rabbi Eliezer says, See, I was right. The other rabbis say, Nah, man, that's just a tree. A tree doesn't get to decide long. And so Rabbi Eliezer gets upset. He says, oh, yeah? Okay, well, if I'm right, let the river change the course of its flow. And he's not even untalking. The river changes the course of its flow. And he says, See, I'm right. The other rabbis say, no, man, that's a river. Rivers don't get to decide the law. And so on and on and on this goes until Rabbi Eliezer can't take it anymore. And he says, Guys, if I'm right, I want God himself to come out and speak from heaven and say I'm right. And he's not even done talking. The voice comes out of the sky and says, Rabi. Eliezer is right.
The other rabbis look up and say, excuse me, God, but maybe up in Heaven, you get to decide. Down here, we call the shots. And the story concludes that a couple of days later, god runs into the prophet Elijah and says with a big smile, no, I've met my children, and they have bested me. I love that story so much because it shows us that at the heart of this project, at the heart of this pursuit, is not these kind of, like, great big steely dogmas that must never be discussed, questioned, doubted, or looked into, but rather that the project is an eminently and imminently human one. It is a project of continual discussion and disagreement. And no one who believes that they have any monopoly on truth, justice and righteousness, even on things that are as important as the divine word, is going to get very far unless they're going to do so in an environment of persuasion, of dissent, of disagreement, and of endless argument and conversation. That's the Talmudic heritage. And, Lord, do we need it in America right now.
[00:49:11] Speaker B: Agree. Well, as our founder David Kelly said, if we are right, we have nothing to fear, and if we are wrong, we have something to learn. I think that would be a wonderful guide. Now, I was noticing, however you published that book.
Its official publication date was, like, three days before the Hamas terrorist attacks. Is that right?
[00:49:35] Speaker A: I have a very good sense of marketing. Yeah. Impeccable timing.
[00:49:41] Speaker B: So I guess question for you, as someone who's studied the Talmud now, and I also appreciate the story of how you came to it at a difficult time in your life.
This is a difficult time for many people, obviously people in Israel that have lost loved ones or have their family members that are kidnapped, and just generally the shock and the horror and the grief experienced by Israelis and Jews around the world, what inspiration and solace might they take from the Talmud?
[00:50:20] Speaker A: So I think this is absolutely a very dark time, not just for Israelis and Jews, but also for Americans. I think a lot of us, even those of us who are not Jewish, are looking at reality now and really are not recognizing a lot of what we're seeing. We're not recognizing in America where pro Hamas demonstrators could block airports and kind of wave swastika flags and call for death to the Jews right out there in the open on the college campus in the town square, trying to disrupt Christmas, trying to disrupt the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade. And so if we look to the Talmud, I think it offers us much solace. But I want to focus on one great story, because if nothing else, in its 2711 pages, the Talmud does tell a handful of really great stories. So this is a story that takes place in the year 70, and it is right before the Romans destroy the temple in Jerusalem. Jerusalem is under siege. The Roman armies are all kind of converged, and it is very clear to the Jews there that catastrophe is looming. And so Rabbi Benzekai, who was the leading rabbi and kind of leader of his time, smuggles himself out of the city and goes to see Vespasian, who's back then still just a Roman general, but very soon thereafter will become the great Roman emperor. And because Vespasian knows and respects Rabbi Yohanan bin Takai, he says to the rabbi, okay, I'm going to give you just, like, ask me for anything. What do you want? Now, you would think that this guy would say, okay, man, could you please just not destroy the temple? Could you please call off your troops? But that would be illogical, because that would basically be asking the Romans not to pursue their own objective self interest, which Rabbi Okanan Benzakai realized was not how history and human beings worked. So instead, he asks for three things, and what he asks for, I think is a great blueprint that could give all of us right now who are wondering what's going on in the world great solace. The first thing he asks for is to take all of the sages, all of the Torah scholars, and move them from Jerusalem to a city called Yavne, a city in central Israel. Now, why is that an important infant? Because Jerusalem to Jews is more than just the capital city. It is the beating heart of the religion. It is the place that we pray for and have prayed for for millennia, three times a day, for our return to this eternal capital from which we believe the entire world was created. It's the temple. It's the most important thing to us. And in effect, Rabiyo Khan Benzakai is telling us, guys, even when an institution that you care a lot about is destroyed, life could still go on. What you're committed to aren't the institutions. What you're committed to are the ideas. Yes, Harvard University may be destroyed, princeton might be destroyed, MIT Penn might fall, but education lives on. The New York Times might be propaganda and a rag, but journalism still lives on. That in of itself is a very profound insight. But that was just the first one. The second one is he asked the Roman emperor to spare, or the Roman general to spare the life of this person called Rabban Gamliel, who was the leader of the community and basically kind of know a son of the telmudic equivalent of the Kennedys, a very old and respected lineage of rabbis. Now, why did he do that? Because he knew that if you just took people out of the old institutions and into new institutions, they would say, oh, I don't like the new thing. The old thing was so much better. It's not the same, it's not authentic anymore, he realized. In other words, people need tradition. Even when great change, or especially when times of great change are happening, you still need to be rooted in something. You still need ties to the past. You still need to feel like you're part of a greater story that extends well beyond your years, which, again, is another tremendous insight. But he was saving the best for last because he asked the Roman general to spare the life of his old friend Rabit Sadok. You would think to yourself not just to spare his life, but to send a doctor to cure him because he was very sick. And you may think to yourself, that's self indulgent. I mean, Jerusalem's under siege, hundreds of thousands of people are going to die, and you're wasting your time and energy and your breath sending a doctor to some old guy who may soon die anyway. That makes absolutely no sense. But the lesson that he was teaching us here, I think, is very profound. The lesson he was teaching us is, know, so many of us wake up every morning and say, oh, my god. We have to save America. We have to save the republican party. We have to save the Jews. We have to save Israel. We have to save the universities. Thinking in these large, know, collective sweeping. Rabbi Yo Khan benzakai is warning us against this. He's saying, your job isn't to save America. Your job is to save one old guy who needs your help, one human being, one friend, one neighbor who you could reach out and help concretely down the block or around the corner. That's where you should put your energy. Not thinking in these vague, abstract terms, but thinking in real kind of emotional cohesive, connective terms to people you actually know in your community and making the world concretely better with your actions. I think these three resolutions that institutions are replaceable and renewable, that tradition matters, and that our duty is just to walk each other home are deeply comforting and deeply resonant today.
[00:56:07] Speaker B: All right, well, we have just about four or five minutes left, so apologies, we're not going to get to a lot of the questions, but we did put links in the chats across the platforms to Leal's various podcasts. Do you take questions on those, or is it more of like, you guys record it?
[00:56:27] Speaker A: We take arguments on.
[00:56:31] Speaker B: I didn't orthodox.
[00:56:33] Speaker A: I will say we have a gentile of the week on an orthodox. We welcome a gentile friend every week, and he gets to ask us a question. He or she has always wanted to know about the Jewish people. So we do engage, take questions.
[00:56:46] Speaker B: Okay.
I didn't want to end without talking about perhaps one of your most important publications, zionism, a tablet guide. Tell us about that project and why it is important today.
[00:57:01] Speaker A: Well, Zionism is a really strange notion. If you kind of look at Wikipedia, it will tell you that Zionism is a 19th century movement to rebuild a national homeland for the Jews in the land of Israel. Under these criteria, zionism has achieved its goals three quarters of a century ago and ought to be a completely kind of irrelevant term. Just like no Italian today, almost 200 years after the restorgimento the reunification of Italy, no Italian today would define themselves as a garibaldis. Right after Joseph Garibaldi, who united Italy into one nation, why do so many Israelis and so many Jews here in the United States and around the world continue to define themselves as zionists? The answer is because Zionism was never just about the return of the Jewish people to our indigenous homeland of Israel. It was also about building in this indigenous homeland a nation that is more perfect, more exemplary, and closer to the principles kind of bequeathed to us by our creator in the Torah and in the talmud. This idea that our work here isn't done is a tremendous engine of change and growth and, by the way, an engine that continues to inspire not just Israelis, but americans as well. There is a reason why an overwhelming majority of Americans support and love the state of Israel. Because the energy is the same energy, the understanding is the same understanding. This country's work isn't done with the founding. Every day is a new founding. Every day is a new reminder that the dangers of totalitarianism, of darkness, of oppression are still very much upon us, not just all over the world, but also right here at home. And every day is a reminder that our work to perfect this place is far from done. And so, in this book, Zionism The Tablet Guide, we collect not only a host of sort of primary documents by Zionism's earliest thinkers and founders, but also a lot of really interesting work about how it pertains to life. Today, including interviews with Shimon Peris, israel's legendary late prime minister and later president, including meditations on Native Americans and where they stand vis a vis sort of like the indigenous people of Israel. It's a really fascinating book, and I recommend it.
[00:59:45] Speaker B: Well, absolutely. And in terms of that ongoing work to reaffirm and improve our founding, to reinforce the covenant not with a deity, but at least with the ideals that we hold about this wonderful, glorious American experiment. Lielle, thanks for all of the work that you and your colleagues at Tablet are doing, and thanks also for joining me today.
[01:00:16] Speaker A: My pleasure. Thank you so much.
[01:00:18] Speaker B: And, of course, thanks to all of you who joined us, asked those wonderful questions. Sorry we didn't get to all of them. Of course, if you enjoyed this podcast, this conversation, or any of the work that we do at the Atlas Society, maybe one of your New Year's resolutions is to be more philanthropic this year, so consider making a tax deductible donation. If you're a first time donor, your support will be matched by our board. And be sure to join us next week when longtime objectivist Andrew Bernstein returns to the Atlas Society, asks to continue this conversation about various issues, but specifically about anti Semitism, in light of his most recent and very timely book, american Racism, its decline, its Baleful resurgence, and our looming race war. See you then.