Friday, 30 October 2009

Last of the Mohicans

Next Sunday, 8th November we have a huge treat in store at New London.

Reb Zalman Schachter Shalomi will be speaking 2-4:30pm.

I want to share two peeks into the life and work of our guest.


Reb Zalman’s PhD thesis was written on spiritual counselling in Hasidism, and in particular the interview between Rebbe and Chasid known as the Yehidut. In his book-length treatment of the subject Reb Zalman relays the following story.


Once two children, the sons of R. Shmuel Schneersohn of Lubavitch were playing at the game of rebbe and hasid. R. Zalman Aaron, then seven years old, was playing rebbe, while his younger brother, R. Shalom Dovber, then 5 years old, played hasid. The younger brother girded his loins with a prayer sash and knocked softly at the door, and when asked to enter approached his brother [to ask what he should do having] not recited the blessing after eating an apple. R. Zalman Aaron replied, ‘For the next forty days you are to recite a blessing out of a prayer manual after eating any food.’ ‘You did not do it right’ his younger brother reproached him, ‘How can you say this?’ R. Zalman Aaron argued. ‘I myself watched Daddy through the keyhole when a hasid asked him the same question and I gave you his reply.’ ‘I too watch Daddy,’ R. Shalom Dovber replied, ‘But you don’t do it right. Daddy always sighs before he answers.’ [And so it was] R. Shalom Dovber who later became rebbe, and not his older brother.’


In 1990 Reb Zalman was one of a series of Jewish teachers who were invited to share insights into the nature of exilic survival with the Dalia Lama in Dharamsala. The story of their journey is recorded in the book, The Jew in the Lotus. In one extract the Buddist monks are sharing the extra-ordinarily drawn technical training they and their predecessors have undertaken for centuries. ‘Zalman told them in response, ‘First of all, I’m the last of the Mohicans from our end. I still have memories from before the Holocaust of what spirituality was about and you guys are the last from yours. And you’re looking ahead, you’re getting old, so the urgency to hand over what you have received, without change, to make sure it is authentically absorbed, I can understand in full. But the other side is it still takes too long because our technology outstrips our spiritual and moral development, we need to hurry it up. We can’t take twenty years to do the sutras. We have to break it out for people.’ So Zalman, with characteristic chutzpah suggested that his fellows do some research and development exploring … transpersonal psychology and planetary consciousness.


‘At that point Zalman’s translator told him, ‘We don’t need this stuff, Buddhist practice doesn’t need to be psychological or ecological.’ But Zalman, who’d taught psychology at Temple University disagreed.’ The Monks and the Rabbi disagreed until Zalman remembered and recounted a story of how he once taken a group of people to meet the Lubavitcher Rebbe who when asked what he did responded, ‘“I [won’t] talk about myself, I’ll talk for what my master was for me. He was for me the geologist of the soul. There are great treasures in the soul: there’s faith, there’s love there’s awe, there’s wisdom, all these treasures you can dig – but if you don’t know where to where to dig you dig up mud – Freud – or you dig up stones – Adler. But if you want to get to the gold, which is the awe before God, and the silver, which is the love and the diamonds which are the faith, then you have to find the geologist of the soul who tells you where to dig.” The rebbe added, “but the digging you have to do yourself.”’


So this is our invitation to come and hear Reb Zalman, last of the Mohicans, geologist of the soul and a man who knows the value of a good sigh.


Friday, 23 October 2009

Three Attempts At Prayer




I have lived on the lip of insanity,
wanting to know reasons,
knocking on a door.
It opens. I've been knocking
from the inside.



For neither lips nor the brain are the limits of the scene in which prayer takes place. Speech and devotion are functions auxiliary to a metaphysical process. Common to all who pray is the certainty that prayer is an act which makes the heart audible to God. Prayer is not a thought that rambles alone in the world, but an event that starts in man and ends in God.



There must be a time when the man of prayer goes to pray as if it were the first time in his life he had ever prayed; when the man of resolutions puts his resolutions aside as if they had all been broken, and he learns a different wisdom: distinguishing the sun from the moon, the stars from the darkness, the sea from the dry land, and the night sky from the shoulder of a hill.




One of these citations comes from a Jewish spiritual master, another is Christian and the third a Muslim. (For a ‘who is who,’ see below). For me all three touch on basic truths about the journey of prayer, a journey that must begin inside, must reach beyond the self and also re-engage the self.

Of course Jewish, Christian and Muslim prayer traditions are different, but, of course, all spiritual practices aimed at bridging the gap between a finite individual a shared conception of a singular deity will overlap.


I am hugely excited that next Sunday, 1st November 8pm, I will be joined, at New London by our local parish priest, Rev Dr Andres Berquist and the librarian of the Muslim College, Imam Dr Mamdou Bocoum. The Director of the Council of Christians and Jews, David Gifford, will be in the chair.


I expect that, in contra-distinction to last nights BBC Question Time, our discussions will be enlightening and spiritually engaging. This is an important event for New London (indeed the first inter-faith programme since I have joined the Synagogue), you are all most warmly invited to join us.


Shabbat shalom


Rabbi Jeremy




The first extract in the Rabbi’s weekly words is a poem by the thirteenth century Sufi poet Rumi.

The second is from Abraham Joshua Heschel’s Man’s Quest for God.

The third is from the writings of the twentieth century monk Thomas Merton.

On Women and Wearing a Kippah

You have to be wary of asking Rabbis questions.
I was asked my thoughts about this issue and thought it might be interesting to share this responsa by the doyen dayan of 20th Century Sephardi halachah Rav Ovadiah Yosef.
He is writing about the practice in the strictly orthodox girls' schools in Israel, Beiss Yaacov.

Aside from the issue, it's interesting to read between the lines how to implement difficult the ruling is going to be felt by students and the community around these schools where issues of wearing man's clothing are huge and an uncovered head is the sign of an unmarried woman, even in prayer and study.

Shabbat shalom,

Part II: Kippah

Responsa of Ovadiah Yosef: Yheveh Daat 5:6


Is it permissible for young unmarried women, who regularly go about with uncovered heads to pray and say blessings without a covered head?



In Tractrate Sofrim it states,

'One with holes in their clothes so that you can see their knees or whose hair is disheveled are permitted to lead the saying of the Shema.

But there are those who say that   those whose knees are exposed and whose clothes are holed can lead the Shema, but not those whose head is uncovered, it is not permitted that announcements should come from their mouth.'

And the Bet Yosef writes that, 'The argument is about whether it is permitted or forbidden to say blessings with an uncovered head. Rebeinu Yerucham decides that it is forbidden to bless with an uncovered head. And we hold this way.'

And this is the language of the author of the Shulchan Arukh, 'there are those who say it is forbidden that announcements should be made from the mouth of one with an exposed head. And there are those who say that we should protest so that people with an exposed head should not come into the Synagogue.

And the Master decides likewise elswhere in the Shulchan Arukh and this is his language, '[a person should not bless when naked] and even if he is not naked, if his heart sees the nakedness, or the head is exposed it is forbidden to bless. You should know [atah horeitah ladaat] that the Master of the Shulchan Arukh decides that it is forbidden to bless with uncovered head...

However the Rambam decides, 'A person needs to fix their clothing and make ready and make glorious and after this pray as it says bow to GOD in glorious holiness. Therefore a person should not stand to pray [the amidah] with an exposed head.' And from this we prove that the rest of the blessings can be prayed with an exposed head. And this is the opinon of the first teacher [of the passage from Masechet Sofrim] above. And so wrote Rabbi Yehudah Ayash in the book, Lechem Yehudah, 'The Rambam thought that theonly prohibition regarding parying with the exposed head was the Amidah, but the rest of the blessings were fine…'

whose head is exposed should not lead the shema nor read from the Torah…


And in the legal responsa of Rabeinu Shlomo Luria it is written that,

'Even though The R'IE says it is simple that it is forbidden to mention the Name with an exposed head, behold I have found in Masechet Sofrim a disagreement about this.

Rebeinu Yeruham finds according to the position that forbids, however (even thought I am not accustomed to go counter to the earlier teachers if I don't have a serious scholar to support me), I am still going to be lenient about blessing with an uncovered head, according to the Midrash which says about the verse 'where did I weary you, testify against me!, (Micah 6:3) 'Rabbi Isaac said it was like the case of a king who sent out his proclamation to a province. What did the people of the province do? They rose to their feet, uncovered their heads, and read it with reverence, fear, awe, and trepidation. In the same way the Holy Blessed One, blessed be He, As regards that proclamation of Mine I did not put you to any trouble, and I did not ask you to read the shema', either standing upon your feet, or with your heads uncovered, but When thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up' (Deut. VI, 7).

And so it is proved in the explanations of the Vilna Gaon on Brachot that it is only a midat hasidut – an exceptional measure of piety that a person should not mention the Name with an uncovered head. But as a matter of law it is permitted.


But we haven't anything else to go by other than the decision of the Master of the Shulchan Arukh mentioned above who forbad blessing with an uncovered head.


On the matter of exposed heads, for married women who are obliged to cover their heads when they go out in public, everyone obliges them to cover their heads when they mention God's name in praying [the Amidah] or blessing or reading the Torah. However on the matter of single women who work in the Beis Yaaacov School, which are run according to the Greats of the World, the girls aren't accustomed to cover their heads when they are doing blessings or reading in the Tanach or when mentioning the name of God.

And it seems that those who agree to have different postions on this, between the men who as a matter of simple courtesy cover their heads before the teachers as explained in the Talmud, and therefore if they were to bless with exposed heads it would be thought of as a thing taken lightly towards their teacher in heaven. But this is not the case for single girls who go about with unvovered heads until their weddings and therefore do not need to cover their heads when saying the Name who is in Heaven.

And this is a according to the opinion of the … Rambam who think that it is permissable for people to bless with an uncovered head (even men), and the opinion of the first teacher in Masechet Sofrim, since in matters of Rabbinic law we incline to be lenient…

However single girls, deserving of honour, who cover their heads at all times when they mention the Name in verses and blessings, let them be, according to the essence of the law. For sure they should not be stopped with force on account by the hands of those who are leneint in this, for they have what to rely upon.

And in general it seems preferable that ad initio it would be appropriate to teach also the single girls to cover their heads when they are blessings, and how much the more so when they do the Amidah (even the Rambam was strict about this)

And so decided Rabbi Matzliach M'azuz, 'That there are those who also have unmarried girls cover their heads at times when they are blessing of doing the Amidah or reading the Tanakh or mentioning the Name of God. And so was the custom in a number of places in the East.'…

And this is a holy obligation on the heads and principles of the Beis Yaacov Schools, to stand firm and to teach to the female students of the school to cover their heads when praying, blessing or reading from the Tanakh, and at the very least during the Amidah.

And the words of the wise are heard gently so the ear hears their words and they shall receive a blessing from God.




שו"ת יחווה דעת חלק ה סימן ו


 שאלה: האם מותר לנערות רווקות, שרגילות ללכת תמיד בגילוי הראש, להתפלל ולברך ברכות ללא כיסוי ראש? 


תשובה: במסכת סופרים (פרק יד הלכה טו) איתא: פוחח שנראים כרעיו או מי שראשו מגולה, מותר לו לפרוס על שמע, ויש  אומרים מי שכרעיו מגולים ובגדיו פרומים פורס על שמע, אבל לא מי שראשו מגולה, שאינו רשאי להוציא אזכרה מפיו. וכתב  הבית יוסף /או"ח/ (בסימן צא), שנראה שמחלוקתם היא אם מותר לברך בגילוי הראש או אסור. ופסק רבינו ירוחם (סוף  נתיב טז) שאסור לברך בגילוי הראש. והכי נקטינן. ע"כ. וזו לשון מרן בשלחן ערוך /או"ח/ (סימן צא סעיף ה'): יש אומרים  שאסור להוציא אזכרה מפיו בראש מגולה, ויש אומרים שיש למחות שלא להיכנס לבית הכנסת בגילוי הראש. והדבר ברור  שדעת מרן לפסוק כדעת היש אומרים (שהביא מתחלה) שאסור לברך בראש מגולה, וכדבריו בבית יוסף, והיש אומרים  בתראי, באו להוסיף שגם להיכנס בלבד בבית הכנסת אסור, ויש למחות על כך. (וזוהי סברת רבינו פרץ שהובאה בבית יוסף  בשם הכל בו, וכן הוא בארחות חיים דיני בית הכנסת אות ז', דף ח' ע"ב). וכן פסק עוד מרן בשלחן ערוך /או"ח/ הלכות  ברכות (סימן רו סעיף ג') וזו לשונו: ואפילו אם אינו ערום, אם לבו רואה את הערוה או שראשו מגולה אסור לברך. אתה  הראת לדעת שמרן השלחן ערוך פוסק לאסור לברך בגילוי הראש. וכן דעת הגאון רבי ישראל איסרלן בשו"ת תרומת הדשן  (סימן י'). ע"ש. (וראה בפסקים וכתבים למהרא"י הנ"ל בסימן רג, ודו"ק). אולם  הרמב"ם   (בפרק ה' מהלכות תפלה הלכה ה')  פסק, שצריך לתקן מלבושיו ולציין ולהדר עצמו ואחר כך יתפלל, שנאמר השתחוו לה' בהדרת קודש. לפיכך לא יעמוד  להתפלל בראש מגולה. ע"כ. ומוכח ששאר ברכות מותר לברך בגילוי הראש, וזהו כדעת תנא קמא שבמסכת סופרים הנ"ל. וכן  כתב הגאון רבי יהודה עייאש בספר לחם יהודה (פרק ה' מהלכות תפלה דף יט ע"ג), שהרמב"ם סובר שאין איסור בגילוי  הראש אלא בשעה שעומד בתפלת שמונה עשרה, אבל בשאר ברכות מותר, וכדעת תנא קמא שבמסכת סופרים. ע"ש. וכן כתב  בספר מטה אפרים ארדיט (פרק ז' מהלכות ברכות דף טו ע"ב). והאור זרוע חלק ב' (סימן מג) כתב, הכל עולים למנין שבעה  ואפילו קטן, נראה בעיני שצריך ליזהר שקטן לא יקרא בתורה בראש מגולה, כי שמא הלכה כיש אומרים שבמסכת סופרים  פרק יד, שמי שראשו מגולה לא יפרוס על שמע, ולא יקרא בתורה וכו'. ואפשר שבקריאת התורה גם תנא קמא מודה. ואין  נראה בעיני מנהג רבותינו שבצרפת שמתירים לברך בראש מגולה, ואיני יודע לקיים מנהגם אם לא כדעת תנא קמא שבמסכת  סופרים. ע"כ. ובשו"ת רבינו שלמה לוריא (סימן עב) כתב, שאף שמהרא"י פשוט לו שאסור להזכיר השם בגילוי הראש, הנה  מצאתי במסכת סופרים פרק יד מחלוקת בזה. ורבינו ירוחם פסק כהיש אומרים לאסור. ואלמלא שאינני רגיל לחלוק על  הראשונים, אם אין גדול שיסייעני, הייתי נוטה להקל לברך בגילוי הראש, על פי המדרש (ויקרא רבה פרשה כז), לא הטרחתי  עליכם לקרוא קריאת שמע בגילוי הראש וכו', אבל מה אעשה שכבר הורו לאיסור. ע"ש. וכן דעת הפרי חדש (סימן צא סעיף  ג'). גם מדברי הרא"ש בפסקיו פרק הרואה (ברכות ס ע"ב) מוכח, שמן הדין מותר לברך בגילוי הראש. וכן הוא דעת הרשב"א  בתשובה (סימן קנג). וכן מוכח בספר המכתם (ברכות ס ע"ב), ובארחות חיים (הלכות מאה ברכות אות ה'). וזאת לפי פירושו  של מרן הבית יוסף /א"ח/ (סימן מו) בענין ברכת עוטר ישראל בתפארה. ע"ש. וכן הוכיח במישור בביאורי הגר"א (סימן ח'  סק"ו) מהגמרא ברכות הנ"ל, שרק מדת חסידות היא שלא להזכיר השם בגילוי הראש, אבל מן הדין מותר, וכתנא קמא דמסכת  סופרים. ע"ש. ואנו אין לנו להלכה אלא כפסק מרן השלחן ערוך הנ"ל שאוסר לברך בגילוי הראש. וכן פסק מרן החיד"א  בספר טוב עין (סימן יח אות לט), שהעיקר כדעת מרן השלחן ערוך שאסור לברך בגילוי הראש, וכל שכן שאסור להתפלל  בגילוי הראש. וכן פסק הגאון רבי רפאל אנקאווא בשו"ת קרני ראם (סימן רכב). וראה עוד בזה בשו"ת קרית חנה דוד חלק ב'  (חלק אורח חיים סימן לד), ובשו"ת לך שלמה (סימן ז'), ובספר גדולות אלישע הלכות כיבוד רבו (סימן רמב ס"ק יז). בגילוי  הראש, לנשואות שחייבות לכסות ראשן כשיוצאות לרשות הרבים, שכולם חייבים בכיסוי הראש בעת שמזכירים שם ה'  בתפלה ובברכות ובקריאה בתורה. אלא שעיננו הרואות שבבית הספר החרדי בית יעקב, שנוסד על ידי גאוני עולם, אין  הבנות נוהגות לכסות ראשן בשעה שמברכות או קוראות בתנ"ך ומזכירות שם ה'. וכנראה שסוברים לחלק בזה בין אנשים  ששורת דרך ארץ היא לכסות ראשם בפני גדולים, כמבואר בקידושין (לג ע"א), ובמסכת כלה (שהובאה בהר"ן קידושין נ  ע"א). ולכן אם יברכו בגילוי הראש נחשב הדבר כזלזול במורא שמים, מה שאין כן בנות רווקות שדרכן ללכת תמיד בגילוי  הראש עד לנישואיהן, אינן צריכות לכסות ראשן גם בשעה שמזכירות שם שמים. וזאת בצירוף דעת רבותינו שבצרפת  והרמב"ם שסוברים שמותר לברך בגילוי הראש (אפילו לאנשים), כדעת תנא קמא שבמסכת סופרים, ומשום שבשל סופרים  הלך אחר המיקל (עבודה זרה ז ע"א). וכן כתב (לדעתם) מרן החיד"א בשו"ת חיים שאל חלק ב' (סימן לה). ועוד שמסתמות  דברי הש"ס שלנו בברכות (ס ע"ב) מוכח להקל, וכמו שכתב הגר"א, על פי הראשונים הנ"ל. וכן דעת המהרש"ל והפרי חדש  מעיקר הדין. לכן נערות רווקות שיכבד עליהן לכסות ראשן בכל עת שיזכירו שם ה' בפסוקים ובברכות, הניחו אותן על עיקר  הדין. ואמנם טעם זה יכון כדי שלא למחות בתוקף בידי המקילות בזה, שיש להן על מה שיסמוכו, מכל מקום נראה יותר  שלכתחלה ראוי להורות גם לנערות פנויות לכסות ראשן בעת שמברכות, וכל שכן בעת שמתפללות תפלת שמונה עשרה  (שאף לדעת הרמב"ם צריך להחמיר בזה). וכן פסק הרה"ג הקדוש רבי מצליח מאזוז זצ"ל בשו"ת איש מצליח (חלק אורח  חיים סימן כד), שיש להנהיג שגם נערות פנויות יכסו ראשן בעת שמברכות ומתפללות, או כשקוראות בתנ"ך ומזכירות שם  ה', ושכן היה המנהג בכמה מארצות המזרח. ע"ש. וכן העלה הרה"ג רבי עובדיה הדאיה זצ"ל בשו"ת ישכיל עבדי חלק ז' (דף  רפט ע"א). ע"ש. וחובה קדושה על ראשי ומנהלי בתי הספר בית יעקב, לעמוד על המשמר, ולהורות לתלמידות בית הספר  לכסות ראשן בעת שמתפללות ומברכות וקוראות בתנ"ך, ולכל הפחות בשעה שמתפללות. ודברי חכמים בנחת נשמעים כדי  שימצאו אזן קשבת לדבריהם. וישאו ברכה מאת ה'. 


Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Reb Zalman Coming to New London

Heavenly days right here on earth A unique opportunity to hear Reb Zalman & Eve Throughout his life Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi has studied deeply, both his own Hassidic heritage and the spiritual teachings of all religions. Having spent a lifetime working with fellow spiritual seekers ranging from Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach to the Dalai Lama, he is universally recognised as one of the most important Jewish spiritual teachers of our time. Together with his wife, Eve IIsen, he has always campaigned for greater respect for our planet. This lecture will examine the special role that faith can play as we seek to protect our environment. Sunday 8th Nov 2009. 2.00 – 4.30 pm. New London Synagogue. 33 Abbey Rd, London, NW8 0AT. Admission £7 (£5 concessions). Tickets can be booked, but not paid for, in advance. Email : Cash only on the door. Co-sponsored by the Ruach Chavurah, Moishe House and New London Synagogue

Friday, 16 October 2009

Month Past, Month to Come



Tishrei, with all its festivals, is almost behind us.

To all who took part and made this past month at New London so special, thank you.


The new moon of Cheshvan appears this Saturday night.

The month is characterised as ‘bitter’ – devoid of Jewish festivals. That may be true, but for us at New London it is a sweet month to come packed full of wonderful opportunity for Jewish engagement at New London.


Among the highlights of the month to come we have a Friday night dinner with the director of Tzedek, a Jewish charity supporting the developing world, next Friday 23rd November. We will be infusing our meal with tastes both social and socially active.


The following Sunday, 1st November 8pm, I will be on a panel to be chaired by the director of the Council of Christians and Jews with other local clergy representing Christian and Muslim faiths. We will be discussing prayer in our various faith traditions and launching the New London adult education series on Prayer. More information on the weekly classes beginning Monday 9th November can be found below.


On Sunday 8th November, from 2pm, New London is hosting Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. Reb Zalman is one of the greats of twentieth century Jewry, doyenne of eco-kashrut and a vast range of spiritual and interfaith initiatives. This is another world-class Jewish leader due to speak at New London.


Then, on the 15th November, we are marking Mitzvah Day, for the first time at New London. Mitzvah Day is one of the most exciting developments in Anglo-Jewry; a request that Jews of all streams and stripes work ‘to reduce hardship and poverty, to help our environment and to bring a little joy all through volunteering – not by fund raising.’ Among a score of other Jewish organisations we are hosting a Mitzvah Day event, collecting and preparing packs for refugees. More information on this important event is emblazoned around the Kiddush Hall.


We are working, at New London, to enrich our programme, to offer better education provision, to continue to bring the very best scholars to New London and to engage in walking the narrow bridge which connects an authentic understanding of Jewish tradition to a meaningful engagement in the world in which we live. For many members and friends the Shabbat and Festive Prayer Services are the heart of what we do, for others it is our youth programming, and, indeed, both are vital parts of what we do. But there is more. In the month to come I hope all our members will take the opportunity to avail ourselves of the incredible opportunities to enrich our engagement with our unique Jewish identity.


May the month to come be as sweet as the month just past,


Shabbat Shalom,

Chodesh Tov,


Rabbi Jeremy

Thursday, 1 October 2009

On Balance - the power of good and evil, A Yizkor Sermon

[I opened the sermon talking about walking through the cemetery and wondering whether the forces of death are indeed stronger than the forces of life, or indeed if the forces of good, in the world, are indeed stronger than the forces of darkness.]


After all it’s not even so clear to us down here that there is a heavenly court.

It’s not so clear that there is anything beyond the maggots that are the eventual fate of all mortal flesh, even back in Biblical times .


It’s an argument our tradition has engaged in over time and across distance.


When Jacob hears that his favoured son, Joseph has been devoured by wild animals he is bereft.

He speaks of his death, he speaks of going down to Sheol.

It’s the first time the Bible has spoken of what happens in the death, the first time this word has appeared in the Bible, and it prompts rabbinic comment.

Rashi says – Sheol is a grave – dark, closed, over.

Ibn Ezra castigates one of the great early translations of the Bible into Aramaic for suggesting Sheol could be understood as some kind of after-life.

He cites a verse from Isaiah[1]


For Sheol cannot praise you, death can not celebrate you; they who go down into the pit cannot hope for your truth.


This is death as a pit, dark, hopeless, beyond the reach of life and of love.

The end.


But there are whispers of something other than the utter bleakness of Sheol that begin to emerge in the prophetic books – elsewhere in Isaiah the prophet suggests,


Thy dead shall live, awake and sing you who dwell in the dust, for your dew is as the dew of light and the earth shall bring to life the shades.[2]


By the time of the Talmud, a panoply of differing views present themselves. At one point the Rabbis paint a picture of a great feast in the world to come where King David himself will take the cup of wine for grace.[3]


Elsewhere more rational voices have articulated less corporeal images.

Maimonides, basing himself on a different section of the Talmud, suggests the world to come will be marked by the righteous basking in the radiance of the divine presence, void of body with [nothing surviving death but] the disembodied souls of the righteous, just like ministering angels.[4]


Through time and space we Jews have argued about whether, after our death, we are to be involved a physical resurrection or just a survival of the spirit,[5] whether any resurrection will be permanent or temporary,[6] whether we have but this life in which to perfect ourselves or whether we will be granted with, or punished by another gilgul ­– reincarnation.[7] We have argued about the nature of Heaven and about whether there will indeed be a hell with punishments or merely the deprivations of the heavenly.[8]


Maimonides suggests that our ability to understand what happens after death can be compared to a blind person’s ability to appreciate colour,[9] it’s perhaps his only non-controversial utterance on the whole subject of what happens after we die.


But for all the argument, and disagreement it wouldn’t be correct to say that Judaism just throws up her hands and shrugs in the face of this unknowable beyond. Modern Jews of every theological and denominational hue have largely divested ourselves of what Will Herberg called the ‘pseudo-biological fantasies’ of some of our earlier and more graphic predecessors, but we can’t let go of a belief in something that conquers death, something that stands on the other side of the end of our mortal reach.


We refuse to allow this world, these lives, the lives we remember, most especially on this day

We refuse to allow their deaths to be The End.

We refuse to give up on those who have passed away.

We refuse to let go when we stand and commemorate, when we light candles, when we give tzedakah, when we cry, when we call our loved ones zichrono l’vracha – may their memory by a blessing.

We refuse to let death conquer life.

What is it that binds us so tightly to this refusal to give the death the last laugh?

I think it is a position we take as a matter of faith.


This is our founder Rabbi, Louis Jacobs, in his tour-de-force survey of Principles of The Jewish Faith,


The strongest argument for [something existing beyond death] is that God is good and will not allow His creatures to spend their lives in efforts at attaining goodness and perfection only to be snuffed out like a candle. Men may work at improving the conditions of life here on earth and earn the blessings of posterity, but posterity itself will die. The earth itself will one day become inhospitable to life and all man’s dreams and achievements will vanish like smoke. Shakespeare’s vision of the ‘cloud-capped towers’ is true. Of what use is man’s elevated soul if this life is all there is? For all Judaism’s teachings on the values of this life can we believe that God, who created this wonderful world, will allow man to die forever with his spiritual powers at the best only just beginning to develop? Judaism never tires of assures us of the justice of God, but how can this justice be realised unless all who have striven for the good eventually find it?[10]


For Rabbi Jacobs this conviction that something outlasts death is predicated on the belief that God is indeed good and kind.

If God is indeed ultimate good then, indeed, there must be something other than Sheol and its attendant maggots.

But we should be brave enough to ask the question that Louis’ articulation begs.

But who is to say God is good, who is to say that justice will, in the end, win out over the powers of chaos or destruction? Looking at the devastation and the heartbreak, the loss and the fear, bearing the memories we bear on a day like this, it’s not so clear cut.


And this brings me to where I left off last night.

Last night I spoke about faith – I spoke about what a person can rely upon when there is no material, corporeal substance on which to lean.

And I think we are in the same place today.

When faced with the question of what is there that is capable of competing with death we ultimately come back to a question of belief not so much in the precise nature of an afterlife we can never see, but rather a belief in the nature of the Divine.


I suggested that faith whispers its truths to us in a place beyond the material.

And I shared two of faith’s whispers with those who were able to join us last night.

And this is the third whisper, the third credo of my belief.


Hodu ladonai Ki tov, ki leolam hasdo

Praise God for God is good, God’s loving kindness is eternal.


The verse appears a number of times in the Book of Psalms, but I have in mind its appearance as the first and last lines in Psalm 136. Indeed the second half of the verse – the piece about God’s eternal loving kindness appears in every line of the Psalm. Every line adumbrates one great success of God or another and then in comes the chorus ki leolam hasdo.


For God brought Israel out of Egypt; ki leolam hasdo;

With a strong hand, and an outstretched arm; ki leolam hasdo

For God who parted the Red Sea ki leolam hasdo;

And lead Israel through it; ki leolam hasdo.

And on we go until we end were we began

Praise God for God is good, ki leolam hasdo


I don’t think it is supposed to be theologically complicated. I don’t think this is a Psalm forged in the furnace of the attempt to square a belief in a good, just and kind God with our experience of death, brokenness and loss.

But, nebach, I encounter this Psalm torn. Because too often when I sing it, or hear it, there is another psalm ringing around inside my mind; an unwritten Psalm –heretical, dark and desperately sad.


Hodu L’Adonai ki tov Ki leolam hasdo

For all the parents who passed away before their children were ready to let go

For all the loved ones who passed away leaving their lovers behind


And the worst line of all


For all the children who passed away in the lives of their parents.


And it’s hard, bitterly irreducible hard, to end this unwritten psalm


Hodu L’Adonai ki tov Ki leolam hasdo

Praise God for God is good, God’s loving kindness is eternal.


And I’m scared to measure up the respective load-weights of good and bad in this world.

I’m scared to put on one side of the scale all the miracles and goodness which the Lord my God has performed for my ancestors and I, and then set on the opposing scale all the loss and the heartbreak.

I can’t sing Psalm 136 as a function of my experience of the material world.

And so I don’t.

I sing the Psalm as an act of faith.

As an act of faith I proclaim that God is good and just and fair and all the rest of it.

And as an act of faith I refuse to believe that this world is the only stage on which our lives, our essence, will be played out.

This third whisper of faith provides something on which I can build not only a relationship with God, but also a relationship with my own life – and its aftermath, as well as a relationship with the lives of those I have loved and lost.


Again, it’s not a claim that bears proof.

But in a world of faith the belief in the power of the good and the kind in the face of the experience of loss and destruction underpins the belief in a world to come – a life beyond. It underpins a notion that some things are indeed more powerful than death.

It’s possible, I suppose, to believe in the power of good above experience of destruction without giving the label of ‘God’ to that belief, but I think that is merely semantic. To believe in the power of goodness and meaning over the power of death is, I think, to believe in the goodness of the Holy Blessed One.


I don’t know what happens when we die, when I will die.

I can’t count the number of angels on the pin, or the levels of heaven or hell.

I can only lean on a belief that there is something beyond this.

I can only have faith in the notion that despite all the loss, the power of good, and decency, the power of love and kindness are stronger.

Even despite all this, I believe.

[1] 38:18

[2] 26:19

[3] Pes 119b

[4] MT Tesh 8, based on Ber 17a

[5] Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith suggests that Maimonedes, Seliger (with an approbation of Rav Kook) and Hertz can be counted among those who, at the very east, are deeply uncomfortable with notions of physical resurrection, preferring instead the Aristotelian notion of spiritual immortality. Hertz suggests that Ha-Levi can be counted in this group too, though Jacobs isn’t convinced.

[6] Maimonedes Maamar Tehiyat HaMaetim vs Nachmanides Shaar Ha Gemul

[7] Luria, see Vital Shaar Ha-Gilgul

[8] Nachmanides Shaar Ha Gemul vs Maimonedes Maamar Tehiyat HaMaetim. See also Jacobs’ discussion of Dessler’s use of images of hellish flame and fury. (loc cit p.431)

[9] See Jacobs p.451 and sources cited there

[10] Principles p. 449

Feeling and Doing

A Neilah Sermon from Yom Kippur 5770

The gates are closing.

How are we feeling?

We’ve spent, I’ve spent, a lot of time over the last ten days talking about feelings, believings, internalities.

And that’s fine, but it’s not enough.


A story.

A colleague, a very successful Rabbi in New York, received a call from his long-since retired father, who had gone to live in Florida.

Avi, he said, I’m phoning to tell you I’m coming up to New York for Shabbas.’

‘Oh Abba,’ responds Avi, ‘That’s terrific, you know how much I love to see you.

I’ll arrange a cab to pick you up at the airport and bring you home and I’ll see you when I get back from the…

‘Avi’ the father interrupts, ‘I said I’m coming up to New York for Shabbas.’

‘I heard Abba, and you know how much I’ld love to come and pick you up from the airport, but, you see …

‘Avi, I said I’m coming up to New York for Shabbas.’

‘Abba, I love you, but I’ve got meetings and things I need to do and …’

‘Avi,’ the voice gets serious, ‘Avi, do me a favour, love me a little less, and pick me up from the airport.’


One of the great secrets of Jewish survival is our commitment to action.

Too much emphasis on feelings, emotions and intellectualisation is not our way.

Or at least has not been our way, until these past decades, a blink in the eye of Jewish time.

Something is happening, something is changing.

There are still many many of us who are proud enough to say that we ‘feel Jewish.’

That’s good. That’s a start.

But then, when one tests this emotion out, what does it mean, for this person – too often there is little there.

Too many of us think that Judaism can be achieved by feeling alone.

And it’s not true. Very little is accomplished by feeling alone.


A funny person who never tells jokes isn’t really funny.

A well-read person who never opens a book isn’t really well-read.

A charitable person who never gives away money isn’t really charitable.

And a Jewish person who does little more than feel Jewish, isn’t really Jewish.


There’s been a lot of press attention, this last year, on the admissions policy of JFS, the largest Jewish secondary school in the country and among the most successful of all secondary schools in the country. And my feelings on the old admissions policy at JFS are, I hope, well known. But the new policy is pretty good.

The new admissions policy for JFS does exactly what I would wish it to.


If you want to send your child to JFS, and if JFS is oversubscribed – and it’s always over-subscribed – admission will be made according to the number of points an applicant racks up. And you score points for coming to Synagogue, you score points for being involved in Jewish education and you score points for being involved in social action or charitable projects.

Now it makes more work for shuls that have to administer the policy and it’s a little simplistic, but I’ll forgive all that because the heart of the policy is sound, tremendously sound.

Because the test of Jewishness really should be more about our Jewish doing than our Jewish feeling.


I’m going to make three calls on our Jewish doing this evening.

I’m going to be even better behaved than that.

It’s party conference season, and before Rosh Hashanah 5771 there’s going to be a general election.

I’m going to start my campaigning here, for the New London Party.

And in this ‘party-political-broadcast-in-favour-of-more-Jewish-doing’ I’m presenting a budgetary surplus; a surplus of time and a surplus of money.

Vote for me, vote for us.

I’m putting three things on our manifesto – the first one is going to take up some of your time, but I’ll make it up to you, you can trust me, I’m a Rabbi.


We are launching a new series of adult education programmes this autumn, on Prayer. We offering classes on two levels.

The first is for those who look at the siddur and see an impenetrable mess; if you can’t understand the Hebrew and reading the English doesn’t help, if you feel you could do with sorting out the difference between Kiddush, kaddish and kedushah, if you’re continually having to check which page number you should be on – we have the perfect course for you. It’s called Siddur Sat-Nav and it does what it says on tin. It’s being taught by a wonderful educator; Rina Wolfson.

I know, because so many people have mentioned it to me, that it can be hard, that it can feel off-putting, but it’s not hard to come inside – and this is the course to do if you have ever wanted to do that.


And if you feel at home in the services, and understand their waft and weave; come to the other series; Chazan Stephen Cotsen, Chazan Jacky Chernett and I will be offering classes on some of our favourite prayers, we’ll be looking at meaning, history and music.

I promise these classes will transform your experience of prayer, of being part of a prayer community, of being part of this prayer community.

It will give you the tools to use the liturgy to do precisely what I was talking about on the second day of Rosh Hashanah – use the liturgy to experience real prayer.

There will be a five part series starting in November and another in January.

I’m asking for your time; to be here.


And I’ve promised a budgetary surplus, so let me suggest where you can get the time back.

Watch less television.

I’m not opposed to television, it’s not wrong or evil of anything like that.

There are, I know perfectly good and important things that happen on television

And we use it to pacify our kids when they are a little whiny, but that’s the point.

Television is the nation’s pacifier, our dummy.

As a nation we watch too much television. As a community we watch too much television, I am sure.

And in case you might be feeling that not watching television is insufficiently Jewish, I’ll grant extra points for not watching television over Shabbat – Yom Tov, the next two weekends for starters.

So, in the year to come I am asking this Jewish ‘do’


Spend less time watching and more time studying.

Spend less time being the consumer of pacifying, intellectual bubble-gum and more time being an engaged partner in our fabulously rich tradition.

Turn off the television and come to a class at the Synagogue.


Those are my first two calls.


And the second one is even better. It starts by saving you money.

I want to suggest that we use no money for the period of the Shabbat.

I’m not opposed to money.

It’s just, for the 25 hours between sun down Friday and stars out Saturday, I want to ask us all not to touch it.

Not to do cash, not to do cards, cheques, paypal, switch, maestro, nothing.

Just don’t buy anything for one day in the week – the Sabbath day.


Jews are not scared of money.

We are scared of poverty. Poverty is, says the Talmud, like death.[1]

Money, like television, isn’t bad, it isn’t the root of all evil.

Money’s necessary and can be a source of tremendous good.

But money, the ultimate material possession, can also blind us, it can confuse us.


A story – with a Jonah theme, for this early evening.

It was a hot day at the beach, Bessie Cohen was there with her three year old grandson.

She had bought him a cute little bathing costume with a cute little hat and she watched in delight as he played at the edge of the water.

Suddenly a great wave came up and swept onto the shore and before Bessie could move, it had swept the boy out to sea.

Bessie was frantic, ‘I know I’ve never been religious,’ she pleads, ‘but God, I’ll do anything, save my grandson.’

The child goes under the water for the first time.

Bessie cries become even sharper, ‘Dear God, save the boy, I’ll never ask anything of you again.’

The child goes under the water for a second time, Bessie is wailing and screaming for mercy.

Then suddenly a wave, another wave, and this one deposits the child on the shore.

The boy is shaken, but fine.

Bessie rushes over, picks him up, wraps him in a blanket, and carries him away from the sea. And then notices something.

She turns her head to the heavens and cries out again, ‘He had a hat’


This is the problem with money.

It blocks our engagement with the majesty of creation.

It colours our ability to see our own blessings.

If we think we are as rich, or as poor, as the value of those things money can buy, we have forgotten what is important to count in this world.


The promise of money, the promise of acquisition is that they will make our lives better.

The sorrow is that money seems, so often, only to trap us in a cycle of chasing after shadows and vanities.


So, how are we to get this balance right?

How are we to appreciate money, acquisition correctly, without it sucking the soul from our lives?


Sheshet yamim taavod vasitah kol malachtecha,

V’yom hashvii Shabbat ladonai eloheicha     

For six days you shall work and the seventh is a day of Sabbath to Adonai your God.


Shabbat is the immunisation against the ways that money and acquisition can take over our lives.

For six days we should be involved in the real world of commerce and commercialisation.

And for one day we should step back, step away, step above – reach for a world of meaning.


If this is part of your weekly journey through life you get this already.

If you’ve never tried it, try it. Allow yourself to arrive at Saturday evening with only the things you had on Friday afternoon – you will feel freer, I promise.

And you will be richer.


There, a budgetary surplus.

Come to a class at New London.

Watch less television

Spend no money on Shabbat.


It’s a manifesto for those of us who feel the need for something a little concrete on a day like today.

And even for those of us who feel comfortable in ‘feeling Jewish’ without allowing our lived lives to reflect our emotions.

Watch less television – take a class at New London

Stop spending money on Shabbat.


And in this way may our sealing be for a year better, brighter, richer and sweeter than any we have known -

Gmar Hatimah Tovah

[1] Nedarim 7b

Two Whispers of Faith - A Kol Nidrei Sermon

I want to speak tonight about emunah - faith

In part because this is the root from which everything else grows, but in part because I’m not sure if we understand the meaning of faith and the value of faith;

Whether we think we have it or not,

Whether we describe ourselves as a person of faith or not.


A tale of a Guantanamo Bay Detention Center detainee I recently had the opportunity to meet.


Bisher Al-Rawi came with his family from Iraq to Britain in 1984 after his father had been tortured by Saadam’s regime. The father was a successful businessman and Bisher was sent to a posh country boarding school.

He founded a successful business, it involved taking mobile peanut processing plants to peanut plantations to extract peanut oil at source without having to ship the peanuts.

Then, in November 2002, on a business trip to Gambia Al-Rawi was arrested.

The British Secret Service tipped off the CIA that he had been consorting with Al-Qatada, a suspected Al-Qeda sympathiser, now in prison, and he was suspected of carrying some kind of electronic device that could be used for setting off a bomb.

It emerged immediately that the electronic device was a battery charger, purchased at Argos.

And it only emerged some years later that Al-Rawi’s contacts with the Al-Qatada were pursued at the instigation of MI5 – in other words Al-Rawi was working with the British secret service when the British secret service tipped off the Americans.

He was shipped first to Afghanistan and subsequently taken to Guantanamo where he spent five years before being released, uncharged.

He is now back, living in Britain with a job, a wife and a kid.


Guantanamo Bay was and I’m sure still is, a degrading, dehumanising oppressive place. When I say that inmates there have been treated like dogs, I mean interrogators would teach detainees lessons such as ‘stay, come and bark’ to, and I quote from a published interrogation log, ‘elevate [their] social status up to that of a dog.’[1] The culture of Guantanamo Bay was one of extreme control where inmates are rewarded for good behaviour with so-called luxuries – a toothbrush say – or punished for, say, failing to put their dinner tray away correctly, with the removal of these items.


Al-Rawi spent almost five years in this place, five years for the crimes of working with the British secret service and carrying a battery charger on an international business trip.

And after a time, perhaps unsurprisingly, this treatment wore him down. His lawyer told me that his sense of humour faded, he began to lose his positive outlook, his ability to concentrate. He was becoming depressed.


And then he made a decision.

He decided that he wasn’t going to play along with the reward and punishment ordering of life in Guantanamo that his captors offered him.

He was going to be prepared to be punished.

He would remain ‘in orange’ - the colour of punishment.

So he pulled some chains through the door of his cell and used them to smash up the contents of his cell and then he passed the chains back out through the cell door.

The guards responded by removing everything from his cell with the exception of an inch thick mattress, a copy of the Koran and the steel bunk and steel basin which were bolted into the concrete.

No comfort items – no spoon, no cup, no blanket, he was even denied toilet paper,

And after 30 days when these luxuries – the toothbrush and all – were returned, he did something else, non-violent, to remain in punishment. And the so-called luxuries went again.

And so he remained for the last eight months of his imprisonment.


And here is the part of the story that caught my attention.

He got stronger.

He stopped declining. His convictions, energy and vitality returned.

The less the prison authorities rewarded him, the stronger he felt.

He found a way to reject his external reality’s grasp over his inner state, his sense of himself.

That’s an incredible accomplishment, I’m going to call it a spiritual accomplishment.


Of course I don’t make the claim that there is any comparison between the foulness of Guantanamo and the genocidal horrors of Auschwitz, but I can’t help but be reminded of Victor Frankl’s masterwork – Man’s Search for Meaning.

Frankl, a Jewish psychiatrist, spent the Holocaust in a series of labour camps including Auschwitz and has come closer than anyone else to understanding why some inmates coped and some could not cope with the appalling abuse, physical and mental, they suffered.


In the concentration camp, [says Gordon Allport, paraphrasing Frankl] every circumstance conspires to make the prisoner lose his hold. All the familiar goals in life are snatched away. What alone remains is ‘the last of human freedoms’ the ability to ‘choose one attitude in a given set of circumstances’[2]


Frankl is saying that those who survived had the ability to stop their external circumstances from riding roughshod over their internal compass.

He is saying that those who found a way to protect their internal sense of value safe from the horrors of Auschwitz were the ones who coped best.


When the exteriority of our lives is rendered dark that hurts. Of course it does.

But if we can find a way to stop the penetration of that pain from seeping into our soul, then we do something more than hold back the floods, we gain access to a strength that comes from a different place to the material challenges we face;

A place that is not susceptible to the slings and arrows of fortune.

A place which is, and I use the word even though it is so overused and mis-used, spiritual.


Spiritual – antonym – material.

The spiritual is that which exists beyond the reach of the material, beyond the calculation of exteriorities, exterior points of reference.

The spiritual is what is left once all the material, corporeal, tangible, finite elements of existence have melted away, or are transcended, or – as I think Al-Rawi did – are simply rejected.


I hardly need say that this is not the way we are encouraged to face our decrees –our material externalities by the world out there.

Secular society teaches us that we are as rich as our bank balance and as successful as our wages.

Secular society teaches us that the externalities of life make us who we are and hold the key to our feelings of worth; the silky smooth hair, the fast car, the new this, the newer that.

Even in worlds more profound than the commercial the temptation is still to judge our value by measureable exteriorities – we are as healthy as our blood pressure, as sensitive to the needs of the world as our carbon footprint. Measurable externalities all.


And there are two problems with all these scales of material success.

The first is that measuring worth against a material scale breeds discontent.

Partly we risk discontent when we look at our fellows.

We can’t help ourselves, comparing the size of our pay-packets, cars, pensions, houses.

And partly we risk discontent because there is always another level on the scale tempting us, wooing us with its siren call.

I remember reading that Roman Abramovitch had become disenchanted with his biggest yacht since it only had one helicopter port and he was now after a yacht which could handle two helicopters.

Two is always more tempting than one.

And all this labouring under the sun is nothing more hevel u’raut ruach – vanity and a striving after wind – ultimately empty.[3]


And the other problem of allowing our external circumstances to rule our inner sense of self is that our experience of living by external circumstance is rocky and uneven at best.

The sum of our material experiences refuse to move only ever upwards in a nice straight line.

We want all the increments on our journey to be channelled in one upwards direction.


From bondage to freedom, from darkness to light and from slavery to freedom


That sort of thing. We like our stories when they move in one straight upwards incline.

But life just doesn’t work like that.


Mi yanuach, umi yanua,

Who shall rest and who shall wander

Mi yishalev umi yityasayr

Who in tranquillity and who in torment.


Externalities ebb and flow, they come and go, they flirt with us only to deceive, and then reward us, all of a moment, and confound us in bounty as much as in loss.

Life is lived in choppy waters, not on a still pond, and if we measure our deeper internal sense of worth on the basis of external measurables we allow our sense of self to become tossed around like a boat in a storm.

We’re not sure if we are successful or not, valuable or not, worthy or not and we need to take better care of our soul.


And this is where faith comes in.

Faith is what we rely on when we are not relying on the material world.

Faith is what we count on when there is nothing material to count.

Faith is what holds us up when there is nothing in the exterior world we can hold on to.

Faith is the root of our sense of value, or worth, of identity that has nothing to do with external circumstance.


Esai einay el heharim – main yavor ezri

Psalm 121 – I lift up my eyes to the hills, where will my help come from!

Ezri maim adonai – osay shamayim v’aretz

My help comes from God who created the heavens and earth


My help comes from the place beyond corporeal heaven and earth.

Help comes from the place beyond the material world.


Gam ki eilech bgay tzelmavet

Psalm 23 – though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death


Though I find myself void of any corporeal, material comfort or support


Lo ira ra, ki atah imadi

I fear no evil, for You, God, are with me


These turnings to the spiritual, perhaps among the most beloved in the entire Hebrew Bible, are the turnings of those whose external circumstances offer nothing; no succour, no sense of value or worth.

They are tentative turnings of a person abandoned by the external, abandoning the external, reaching to the spiritual.

They give us an opportunity to feel that there is something on which we can rely, on which we can lean, even as the material world fails us.

And it is the turn to faith that provides the foundation stone on which our true identity, our true worth and our truest values are constructed.


Don’t get me wrong, faith is no invisible friend who will keep us engaged in witty conversation, or a teddy bear to ward who can be used to scare off the things that go bump in the night.

Faith can’t be measured out or counted on like a maturing pension which we might use to pay off the mortgage.

Faith insists on remaining aloof from the material world.

It won’t be pinned down.

It exists only to give us this grounded sense of value immune to the ebb and flow of the material world.


Faith whispers its truths.

And looked at, from the outside, a person may indeed feel that, faced with the pain and challenges of the material world, faith makes for a flimsy protector.

But that is to miss how faith holds us up most especially when, and maybe even only when we refuse to give the material world the power over our sense of self.

Faith works when, like the Guantanamo Bay detainee I met, we refuse to allow the external world to define us, to define our inner state.


So, what are whispered truths of faith?

What are the pillars on which we can rely when there is nothing in the corporeal world we wish to turn to?

Let me share three.


Vyivra et haadam btzelmo

And God created every human being in the image of God.[4]


No matter how rich or how poor, how healthy or how sick, how decrepit or how virile…

You, me, each of us is made up of Godliness folded in so tightly that it becomes matter. And inside and behind and beyond all this exteriority we retain that inner core of divinity l’olam vaed – and will do forever more.

That faith will withstand the challenges of the exterior world.


And a second truth


Atem nitzavim hayom culchem leav’recha bivrit adonai elohecha

You are all stood here this day to enter into a covenant with the Lord your God[5]


There is a covenant, we are in relationship, God - You – and I and my ancestors before me, a covenant that stretches back to the time I stood on the Banks of the river Jordan having spent 40 years wandering the wilderness. And through the good times and the bad, through the moments of elation and destruction I have stood with you and I refuse to let you, dear God, leave off standing with me.

And that faith has stood our people well through ills and worse for some three thousand years.

And when we hold to our faith in the covenant we know we are not experiencing our grieving alone.


And thirdly,

Well there is a third, but it deserves a sermon of its own. I’ll be giving that sermon after the Yizkor service in the morning.


For tonight, I’m leaving us with this sense of what faith is about – a grounding that transcends whatever the material world may throw at us with two whispered truths. The first is the universal truth that I, you, each of us is a physical manifestation of the  divine.

The second is the particular truth, that as a Jew I am in relationship with my past, with my God and with my people and that relationship retains power as long as I refuse to allow it to break.


And when I say ani mamin – I believe

This is my creed.

This is how I ground my sense of value and worth in a world beyond the material.

This is the creed that underpins my religious leadership of this community.

It’s a creed I commend to us all.

May it serve us well in the year to come.

May it come to us in peace, health and joy,


Gmar Tov

[1] Quoted in P. Sands Torture Team p.127

[2] In V. Frankl Man’s Search for Meaning preface p. xi

[3] Kohelet, freq.

[4] Gen 1:26

[5] Deut 29:9&11

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