Between Past and Future
In The Life of the Mind, Hannah Arendt acutely observes that in the relationship between historical understanding and political action “what sense there is can be detected only by the wisdom of hindsight, when men no longer act but begin to tell the story of what has happened.” Arendt’s assertion, pervaded by a palpable exhaustion with history (reasonable for a keen observer of the 20th century and its events), poses an immediate problem for those who wish to study the past without entombing the future. The best type of scholarship, the one sharpest in accuracy and clearest in understanding, seems to remove itself from the sphere of human affairs, and indeed, make decisive action in those affairs appear full of folly.
The problem of historical memory versus innovation holds special import for this magazine. We set out in our first issue to serve as a new voice for a new generation of concerned Jewish intellectuals, at Yale and beyond. Yet in this, our second issue (as in our first), there are as many articles pointing backwards into the Jewish past as there are looking forward. The endeavor of Shibboleth, it seems, is a Janus-faced one. We the editors are not troubled by this dichotomy (was not Janus, after all, a god?) but we are certainly mindful of it. To this end, it is no mistake that this issue’s cover article is both the most historically minded piece in the issue and the one closest, as it were, to home. We wish to tell a “story of what has happened,” especially insofar as that story reflects the preconditions for future actions and decisions.
All action is predicated on knowledge; as Rosenzweig would have had it, the temporal needs the support of the eternal – and he duly criticizes Goethe (!) for his “purely temporally lived life.” A general commands based on intelligence, graduate schools examine our college careers, and lovers strive for communication. We might invoke the Latin: scientia potentia est, but as this is a journal of Jewish thought, perhaps we would more aptly cite the Proverbs 24.5: “Gever hacham ba’az,” a wise man is strong.”
To found our ideas firmly, to speak of creating new worlds, we must consider our own all the more fully. It is in this spirit that we at Shibboleth hope to delve into our past. We are supremely conscious of the fact that Jacob Abolafia’s vision of Zionism would never have come to fruition (for good or ill) without the educational opportunities whose Jewish pioneers Annie Atura documents. We examine and ponder the Jewish history of the past, as in Yedidya Schwartz’s reading of Heresy and the Politics of Community, but always with a mind towards the communities we hope to build, perhaps with denominations, as Shai Kamin envisions in impassioned defense.
We live between past and future, in a present that we cannot privilege over either. It is our belief that this is what it means to be thoughtful Jews, and not merely scholarly oxen. It is our hope that both this publication’s excursions into the past as well as its visions of the future will inspire in the reader of this magazine not merely some intellectual satisfaction, but even the stirrings of action.
Editors in Chief
 Rosenzweig, The Star Of Redemption, trans. Galli. Madison, WI: 2005, p. 306