David Shulman’s Freedom and Despair: Notes from the South Hebron Hills was published in 2018. He is Professor Emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was awarded the Israel Prize for Religious Studies in 2016. (September 2020)


The Widows’ Laments

‘Draupadi and Her Attendants’; illustration by Yusuf Ali from the Razmnama, a Persian translation of the Mahabharata, 1616–1617

Until the Lions: Echoes from the Mahabharata

by Karthika Naïr
The Mahabharata, the great Sanskrit epic, is a fiery, dangerous book. One is not supposed to keep a copy in the house, lest it burn down. And it is dangerous, perhaps fatal, to read it from beginning to end, in linear sequence. Similarly, translating it from Sanskrit into another language, …

Buddhist Baedekers

Mandala of Vajrabhairava, Ngor Monastery, Tibet, 1650–1750

Creating the Universe: Depictions of the Cosmos in Himalayan Buddhism

by Eric Huntington

Awaken: A Tibetan Buddhist Journey Toward Enlightenment

an exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, April 27–August 18, 2019; and the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco, January 17–April 19, 2020
Once there was a woman who lived inside a rock. She had a husband, a desiccated, barren yogi, who also inhabited the rock and spent his days and nights in meditation, striving for liberation from earthly existence; he never touched his wife, whom he had created out of his own …

Waiting for the Perfect Word

A.K. Ramanujan, Tucson, Arizona, 1972

Journeys: A Poet’s Diary

by A.K. Ramanujan, edited by Krishna Ramanujan and Guillermo Rodríguez

The Interior Landscape: Classical Tamil Love Poems

edited and translated from the Tamil by A.K. Ramanujan
Poetry, A.K. Ramanujan used to say, can never be heard, only overheard. His own poems were often like eavesdropping on a rich, frequently sad, very private conversation, with several disparate and incongruous voices. And while Ramanujan honed his poems to something approaching perfection, with each syllable accounted for, in some …

The Last of the Tzaddiks

Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum and others protesting in support of ‘Dreamer’ immigrants, Washington, D.C., January 2018

Rooted Cosmopolitans: Jews and Human Rights in the Twentieth Century

by James Loeffler

The Wall and the Gate: Israel, Palestine, and the Legal Battle for Human Rights

by Michael Sfard, translated from the Hebrew by Maya Johnston
In the somewhat exotic Jewish home in Iowa where I grew up, it was axiomatic that there was an intimate link between Judaism and universal human rights. Like nearly all Eastern European Jewish families in America, my parents and grandparents were Roosevelt Democrats, to the point of fanaticism. They thought that the Jews had invented the very idea, and also the practice, of social justice; that having started our history as slaves in Egypt, we were always on the side of the underdog and the oppressed; that the core of Judaism as a religious culture was precisely this commitment to human rights, and that all the rest—the 613 commandments, the rituals, the theological assertions—was no more than a superstructure built upon a strong ethical foundation. For me, this comfortable illusion was shattered only when I moved to Israel at the age of eighteen.


The Ravishing Art of Alchi

An interior of the Manjushri Temple, Alchi

I visited Alchi in 2004. A caretaker monk unlocked for us the eleventh-century carved doorway to the Dukhang, every inch of which is painted with Buddhas, Buddhas-to-Be, gods, goddesses, demons, hungry ghosts, imps, flying nymphs, other celestial beings, royal hunters and patrons, monks, Yogi magicians, and many hallucinatory figures that seem to have floated up from the stuff of our dreams. The monk was bored and impatient; after some thirty minutes, he shooed us away. But I was left, then as now, after spending some weeks with Peter van Ham’s book, with a sense of a dizzying proliferation of vital beings mobbing my eyes. In all of South Asian art, there is nothing quite like these densely painted murals.

The Bedouins of al-Khan al-Ahmar Halt the Bulldozers of Israel

Villagers and activists facing arrest for protesting the attempted demolition of Bedouin Palestinian dwellings at al-Khan al-Ahmar, West Bank, October 15, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reaffirmed his commitment to the ultimate destruction of al-Khan al-Ahmar. But already it can be said that a small group of unarmed, ordinary human beings, appalled by the injustice about to be inflicted upon innocents and prepared to face reckless violence without flinching, have achieved a moral victory that cannot be measured in purely instrumental terms. Even a transient victory of this kind has meaning and gives reason for hope. Perhaps al-Khan al-Ahmar will be remembered as the place where the Israeli descent into self-destructive savagery was checked, at least for a crucial moment.

Bulldozing the Peace Process in Israel

A Palestinian woman looking at the remains of her home after it was demolished by Israeli bulldozers, near Hebron, the West Bank, March 6, 2017

When Netanyahu claims, as he did recently, that Israel’s situation has never been better, he means, in part, that in his own mind he has smashed the Palestinian national movement once and for all. I have no doubt that this has been his goal all along. Indeed, Palestinians in the occupied territories are worn out, demoralized, fenced into small discontinuous enclaves where they lack basic human rights, where their land and other property may be appropriated at any moment, and where they may be arrested and incarcerated at the army’s whim. They are, by now, largely paralyzed by despair. Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem may galvanize them back into action; we shall see.