“The Best” – עידית

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Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, Associate Editor, TRADITION

In Culture and Anarchy (1869), Matthew Arnold argues for the role of reading “the best that has been thought and said” as an antidote to the anarchy of materialism, industrialism and individualistic self-interest.

Arnold’s project influenced much of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s understanding of Western Culture and its usefulness to bnei Torah. The culture about which R. Lichtenstein addressed his vision was largely unified and contained many elements, which warranted Arnold’s idealism. The culture of today, in all its forms, has become Balkanized such that we can no longer speak of one culture that we all experience. Rarely does it contain “the best that has been thought and said.” However, droplets of Arnold’s antidote do remain.

In this regular feature of TraditionOnline.org we will seek to gather and share those droplets. We ask those who participate in this project to consider what things “out there” make you think and feel. What elements in our culture still inspire us to live better? We seek to share what we find that might still be described as “the best that has been thought and said.”

We will include short description of a wide variety of cultural material, how long it will take to consume, and cautionary instructions for making the best use of it.

We are not attempting to form a canon. We seek to offer directions to material that will add to our readers’ lives as thinkers and religious believers. Assuming a culture of entertainment and media consumption, we would like to help more people to consume the “good stuff.” We plan to curate a small piece of the best within our cultural universe, not to censor it. We will not tell you what is treif or, for that matter, what is kosher. We hope to share a little of what is “the best.”

Read the entries in the series at these links:

Column 1: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost (1923)

Column 2: David Foster Wallace, “This Is Water” (2005)

Column 3: Atul Gawande, “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End”

Column 4: “Masterpiece Comics” by R. Sikoryak

Column 5: “Getting to Yes” and “You Can Negotiate Anything”

Column 6: “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion”

Column 7: 2016 Cleveland-Chicago World Series Game 7

Column 8: Dead Poets Society

Column 9: Changing Lanes

Column 10: “The Life of Samuel Johnson”

Column 11: George Eliot, “Daniel Deronda”

Column 12: “The Power Broker”

Column 13: The Shawshank Redemption

Column 14: “Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson

Column 15: “Constantine’s Sword”

Column 16: “The Last Lion”

Column 17: “Everyone Brave is Forgiven”

Column 18: “Thinking, Fast and Slow”

Column 19: “Polly and the Pirates”

Column 20: “The Chronicles of Narnia”

Column 21: Rembrandt’s Jeremiah

Column 22: Star Trek

Column 23: “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”

Column 24: Sol LeWitt: Wall Drawings

Column 25: C.S. Lewis, “Till We Have Faces”

Column 26: Mahler’s Symphonies 1-6

Column 27: “A Bad Case of Stripes”

Column 28: Hamlet

Column 29: Philip Roth’s “Nemesis”

Column 30: The Twilight Zone: Time Enough at Last

Column 31: Smallfoot

Column 32: “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”

Column 33: “Apeirogon”

Column 34: Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”

Column 35: “Narcissism: A New Theory”

Column 36: Toy Story

Column 37: Rav Kook’s “The Fourfold Song”

Column 38: “The Ruined House”

Column 39: “The BEST” 1 Year Retrospective

Column 40: Band of Brothers

Column 41: Harry Potter

Column 42: Ode to a Potsherd

Column 43: Les Misérables

Column 44: The Story of Stuff

Column 45: Parker J. Palmer, On the Brink of Everything

Column 46: Robert Frost, “Birches”

Column 47: “The BEST” Anniversary Podcast

Column 48: Fear and Trembling

Column 49: Agnon’s “Twofold”

1 Comment

  1. Dianna says:

    I actually saw the painting last spring when I was in Amsterdam and the Rijksmuseum had a retrospective in honour of Rembrandt. Rav Kook’s words about how Rembrandt painted light are certainly true of the artist and his Dutch contemporaries. However, what draws me even more than that is the way that Rembrandt painted the dark. We wouldn’t appreciate the light and how it falls on different objects and body parts if it was not contrasted with the dark, would we? (And, of course, that is certainly true of life).

    Another thing that really struck me about the Jeremiah painting was Rembrandt’s depiction of Jeremiah’s foot. If you see the painting in person, you will see that the foot has as much personality, and is as meticulously rendered in detail, as anything else in the painting. Jeremiah the prophet, in his despair, is just a person. He has feet of clay. And he has utterly failed to warn the Jewish people of the destruction that will befall them. That is what I see in the painting.

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