Friday, 10 July 2009

Writing on an Empty Stomach

Thursday was the seventeenth day of Tammuz – shiva esreh ltammuz. It’s a minor festival, commemorating the breach of the walls of Jerusalem at the time of the fall of the Second Temple. It marks the beginning of the ‘Three Weeks’ culminating in the 9th Av which we will commemorate at New London on Wednesday 29th July.


I’ll admit, this time last year I had a five week old baby to contend with and fasting passed me by, it was tough enough keeping my eyes open. This year I was home in the middle of the day to see my, now, one year old son teething. I cut a piece of cucumber for him to suck on. He wasn’t interested, I was about to stick the cucumber in my mouth when I paused. I was fasting this year. Even though the Romans breached the walls of Jerusalem 1939 years ago I’m still torn up over issues around the power and politics of Jerusalem – some things never change. Then I realised something else; I didn’t need to eat today. I’d eaten well yesterday, I’m blessed enough not to have to worry about malnutrition. I looked back at the stick of cucumber, non-organic, plastic wrapped, probably flown in at some earth-busting carbon-welly boot-print expense, and I put it down, went to my study, made an on-line charitable foundation and began writing this reflection.


This is how observance, I think, is supposed to work. It’s easy to mock quaint traditions like fasting on the 17th of Tammuz, abstaining from use of electricity on Shabbat or not eating milk with meat. Expressed without the accompaniment of lived experience all of Judaism can look ridiculous. But from the inside the web of ritual and obligation serves to direct our attention inwards to our national history and our heritage, and outwards to our God and the world in which we live. Our observance of Judaism is supposed to make us more observant, closer watchers of our lives and the lives of our fellows, more careful and thereby more caring. This is why we have, as a people, made such a big issue of the verse-fragment naaseh vnishma  – we will do and we will understand. When confronted by the prospect of Torah the Children of Israel accept first and assume understanding will follow. Greater involvement in Judaism doesn’t take a leap of faith, it takes a leap of action.


Shabbat shalom,


P.S. This Sunday I am taking part in a sponsored cycle from London to Southend. For more information please see


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