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From
SHALEM PRESS



A Few Closing Remarks


Since its founding in 1996, Azure’s goal has been to contribute as much as possible to the flourishing of the Jewish people in general and the success of the Jewish state in particular. A mere few decades ago, this simple declaration of intent may have been considered banal. In the current political climate, however, it cannot be taken for granted. Zionism, after all, is mired in a severe crisis of legitimacy; it struggles against a growing external hostility and a gnawing internal skepticism. Under these conditions, Jewish nationalism needs not only armed forces, economic fortitude, and skilled diplomats, but also a vigorous ideological awakening. It must undertake serious self-reflection, so that it may once again generate the tremendous spiritual resources it had at its disposal in the past. This was precisely the purpose for which Azure was created.

In the fervor of defending the virtue and honor of the Jewish state, it is easy to be swept up into a dynamic of aggressive defiance; so, too, is it easy to become entrenched in inflexible positions. But the result benefits no one. And so Azure chose a determinedly different path. From the beginning, our goal has been to build bridges, not to burn them. We built bridges composed of words and ideas, raw materials incomparably more potent than wood, concrete, or steel. We connected groups and individuals who struggle to discourse with one another. Our bridges spanned deep abysses of misunderstanding, alienation, suspicion, and even hatred.

The first bridge extended over continents and oceans. As a bilingual publication, published in both Hebrew and English editions, Azure served as a virtual meeting place for scholars and thinkers from all corners of the earth, offering them exposure to others’ outlooks and the opportunity for vigorous debate. True, in this era of globalization, there is no shortage of international communication channels. But the goal we at Azure set was particularly ambitious: to create a forum of ideas for the Jewish people as a whole. Clearly, the existence of such a forum is a pressing national need. For some time now, the two leading centers of contemporary Jewry have been drifting apart; the political, religious, and cultural fissures between the Jewish public in Israel and significant portions of American Jewry are threatening to become a very real rift. In order to bridge these disputes, the exchange of information is itself insufficient. What is required is a nationwide intellectual effort, aimed at reinforcing the foundations of our common identity and shoring up our solidarity. We at Azure enlisted in this effort with all the means at our disposal. The arena of the debate we aimed to establish extended far beyond Israel’s borders. Over the years, we were privileged to host writers from the United States, Britain, Canada, France, Italy, Russia, and Germany. We were also proud to include non-Jews among our many contributors; indeed, some of the most fascinating and exciting essays published in our pages were written by Catholics and Protestants. We regret only that we did not succeed in adding Muslims to the list—although, it should be noted, it was not for lack of trying.

The second bridge we erected extended across a divided society. Israel is as polarized and conflicted as it has ever been; fault lines cross both its length and breadth. Political, economic, social, and cultural tensions threaten to rip to shreds the delicate national fabric woven together by the country’s founders. Sadly, instead of creating the conditions for dialogue and cooperation, Israeli public discourse has been drawn into a vicious cycle of radicalization. Most Israelis, hoping for sanity, watch helplessly as flames are fanned by extremists from the far right and the anti zionist left, religious fanatics and secular militants, publicity-hungry politicians and attention-seeking activists. The Israeli media, trapped in their own cruel struggle to remain relevant, all too often join the conflagration, preferring raucousness and abrasion to caution and self-control. Azure, however, was different. More than once the subjects with which we dealt touched a nerve, but we never allowed ourselves to be drawn into futile bickering or vocal recriminations. We showed respect to the positions we criticized, and always attempted to understand the beliefs and motivations at their base. Scorn, we believed, is no substitute for comprehension. From the very first day, we were careful to maintain a restrained and civilized tone, in the belief that the Jewish nation could have no rebirth without a balanced, open, and tolerant culture of discussion.

The third bridge extended between academia and the street. From the start, Azure targeted a broad, educated readership, one that wanted to delve into the depths of those issues that receive, as a rule, only superficial coverage in the mass media. The zeitgeist did us no favors: the attention span of contemporary information consumers is shrinking by the minute; sound bites are the order of the day. And yet, for sixteen years, Azure dared to oppose the trendy and easy to digest. The texts published in our pages were challenging on any scale, and traversing them required an inquisitive spirit and no lack of patience. Though adherence to such unpopular standards of writing and reading might seem anachronistic, we saw it as indispensable. Precisely in this era of fast-tracked lives, we would do well to commit to memory the wise words of Augustine of Hippo: Patienta comes est sapientiae — patience is the companion of wisdom.

At the same time, an uncompromising commitment to methodical and coherent thinking moved Azure to reject entirely the abstruse style in which certain academic circles take pride. The appeal of this style, for many, is found precisely in its impenetrability, in the notion that only those possessed of esoteric knowledge are ostensibly well-versed in its mysteries. Such writing is particularly beloved by the proponents of various types of radical thought—though it is difficult to reconcile their pretentions to expose and denounce mechanisms of exclusion with their reliance on infuriatingly obscure and elitist theoretical jargon. In fact, it was Nietzsche, a philosopher revered by many contemporary radicals, who correctly identified the problem: “Those who know they are deep strive for clarity. Those who would like to seem deep to the crowd strive for obscurity,” he wrote. In contrast with the conventions of abstruse writing all-too-common in today’s faculties of social sciences and humanities, Azure attempted to publish essays whose language was accessible, and whose arguments were as lucid as could be. If, notwithstanding our efforts, some readers found our texts difficult, we apologize; the fault was ours alone.

The fourth bridge extended over expanses of time, connecting the past, present, and future. From its first day, Azure championed a belief in the power of tradition to serve as a source of both personal and communal inspiration. Indeed, the journal allocated substantial space to explorations of biblical composition, midrashic literature, the theology of halacha, and the challenges facing Jews today. In contrast to the conservative image that clung to Azure, many of these analyses were characterized by a wholly original and innovative approach. In some cases, we consciously preferred the daring approach of the amateur to the extreme caution of the expert. Thankfully, the well never ran dry; far from it. The many facets and complexities of the Jewish heritage continued to arouse the endless curiosity of our writers and readers, and to occasion some of the most enlightening and provocative arguments we were privileged to bring to print.

Building these bridges was no easy task. It demanded dedication and the strict maintenance of quality—and no small financial investment. We were privileged to have the support and encouragement of the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem-based institution devoted to education and research. Azure sprouted and then flourished in the center’s intellectual hothouse, and benefited immeasurably from its spiritual and material resources. Quite simply, we could never have come so far without it.

Regrettably, this journey is now coming to an end. The issue you hold in your hands concludes a chapter in the chronicles of Azure. An unfortunate combination of circumstances prevents us from continuing to produce the quality publication you have grown accustomed to receiving. As we had no intention of lowering the high standard we had set for ourselves, we preferred to cease publication. The decision was not an easy one. It was made with a heavy heart—but also with a sense of pride in what we have accomplished over the course of forty-six volumes.

Space is too short to list all the people who gave their time, energy, experience, and wisdom to our journal. A special thanks is due to Ofir Haivry and David Hazony, who for many years headed Azure’s editorial board and shaped its character; to Daniel Polisar, president of the Shalem Center and former editor-in-chief, who was deeply involved in all aspects of the journal, and fought to get us all we desired and more; to Yoram Hazony and Yael Hazony, both of whom provided us with inspiration and unswerving support; to the managing editors both past and present—Marina Pilipodi, Dana Broide, Baara Rosenberg, and Lorena Avraham—who skillfully presided over the journal’s efforts; and to a long line of editors, writers, translators, research assistants, administrators, graphic artists, and marketing experts, all of whose imprint can be felt on each and every issue.

In the hopes that we gave you but a little of the gratification that was our lot,


Assaf Sagiv
January 2012


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