Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Your Royal Highness, if I may, Dear Will and Kate

I am sorry not to able to attend your wedding this weekend.

I know you will have, among the assembled dignitaries, my colleagues Rabbis Lord Sacks and Bayfield and I know also that they have given you a pair of Sabbath candlesticks – to bring light into your married life together, and a donation to your Charitable Fund – to allow you to begin your married life by bettering the lot of others.

Both wonderful gifts.

I’m sure there will be many others.

Let me offer a different kind of gift, one costing nothing and simultaneously of a value beyond pearls; some words of Torah.


A Jewish wedding comes in two parts; ‘Kiddushin’ and ‘Nisuin.’ They suggest very different approaches to the value and nature of a marriage.


‘Kiddushin,’ usually translated as ‘betrothal’ shares an etymology with the Hebrew word for Holy (as in the angels’ cry from Isaiah, made even more famous by Handel’s setting, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Hosts’). But as much as you might worship the ground each other walk on, holiness, in matters divine or matrimonial, is not about being impressed with the other. It is about setting the other apart. God, we believe, is wholly other to any other force or power in the Universe and allowing any other force or power to occupy any of the absolute sanctity that is owed only to God is considered to break one of the Ten Commandments – the prohibition against idolatry.

So too a marital partner, through this act of Kiddushin, becomes set apart, unique demanding an exclusivity of emotion and action. Allowing any other possible partner to intrude on the absolute fidelity owed to a betrothed spouse is considered to break another of the Ten Commandments – the prohibition against adultery.

The temptations are many and it may well be that we humans struggle with monogamy, but this is the insistence of Bible both Jews and Christians hold dear. This commitment to Kiddushin, a unique, separated relationship made to the exclusion of all others is the essential sine qua non without which marriage has no meaning.


‘Nisuin’ – the second part of a Jewish wedding shares an etymological root with the word for bearing a burden. During our most special days of prayer, Jews pray to God, ‘nosei avon avot’ – who bore away the sins of our ancestors, and us. Marriage is about the sharing of a burden or, more personally, shouldering the burdens carried by the other. The story is told of one of the great Rabbinic leaders of the last century, Aryeh Levine, who arrived one day in the doctor’s surgery next to his wife, ‘Doctor,’ he said, ‘my wife’s foot is hurting us.’ Married life should bring wonderful rewards and glorious opportunities for celebration, both this weekend and in the years to come, but the test of the strength of a marriage is not measured by the length of a wedding train, the fragrance of blooms or even the sweet words you will share stood at the altar. It is measured by your willingness and success in shouldering the burdens of the other over years and decades to come.


I wish you a lifetime of love and happiness together, may you live up to the mighty expectations incumbent upon those who, one day, will come to the throne of this great country. But may you never forget that a wedding is better judged by the exclusivity of one great relationship and the sharing of intimate burdens, than any of the wonders that await you this coming weekend. Remembering this will make you a better husband and wife, Prince and Princess and man and woman.




Rabbi Jeremy Gordon



Friday, 15 April 2011

Freedom Through Time and Space


It’s getting late on Thursday evening.

The choice is more work in the kitchen or these weekly words.

A slave to the kitchen or a slave to the word processor.


I’m reminded of a line in the Haftorah read on this Shabbat before Pesach – a Haftorah traditionally read by a congregation’s Rabbi (another piece of preparation) - ‘I shall see what there is between they who serve God and they who do not serve Him’ (Malachi 3: 18).

The esteemed choice, in Malachi, is the choice to serve, not the choice not to serve

We don’t leave slavery in Egypt to become free of responsibility, to become free of having to serve.

We remain servants even in our freedom. What changes is the Master. Context is, indeed, everything.


Hard work is fine; freedom is calculated not in terms of the amount of effort expended, but by means of a wholly different measure. As I work on my own kitchen I think about Passover through time, previous kitchens – the first flat I paid rent on, the first place I owned. My mind wanders back through the generations, the Sedarim I knew as child, and further back still. I’ve been looking over the Rambam’s laws of Hametz u’Matzah. Rambam refers to all kinds of ancient dishes, strange milk and floury plates of foods we’ve long since stopped making.


I’ve been thinking about Passover over space. I think of my family stripping away the Chametz in Bath or Jerusalem. There was a fun moment in the office this week when our Sephardi administrator mentioned her tradition of hitting people over the head with spring onions during the Seder.


It’s not slavery when you are not doing it alone, it’s not slavery when the preparations for Pesach are part of folding into a chain of history that spans continents and millennia. Instead, for me at least, it’s the experience of shared ‘avodah’ that feels like freedom.


I wish one and all a happy and kosher Pesach,

Chag Kasher V’Sameach,


(and do please make every effort to join us in Shul for weekday Yom Tov services, it would be wonderful to see really strong Minyanim for these days of celebrations)


Rabbi Jeremy  

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...