Starting on Monday 30th January, for the following five weeks, I will be teaching an introduction to the central pillars of Jewish life, beginning with the Year Cycle. In the following weeks we’ll be looking at the lifecycle, Justice and Kindness and matters theological; ‘God’ and ‘Bad Things’ The Year Cycle is at the heart of what it means to be a Jew, it creates rhythms in the year, it serves as an invisible scaffold around which lives are built. It’s a class for anyone who gets confused as to the difference between Tish B’Av and Tu BiShvat or wants more of a sense of why and how the festivals began and still inspire us.
The previous night, Sunday 29th January, we host our Winter Quest lecture on the future of Jewish Muslim interaction with Dr Ed Kessler, this country’s leading academic working in the field. It’s an important event in the Synagogue’s calendar and I hope everyone will make an effort to come.
And what is the relationship between the two? The Hebrew word for a pilgrim festival is ‘Chag’ but the term has another valence aside from a moment in sacred time. In Hebrew a group of people who would sit around to play bridge or dance would be part of a ‘Chug.’ The root also suggests a sense of circumnavigation. And this twin etymology is preserved in the Arabic, and Islamic, term Haj. This central pillar of Islam suggests both pilgrimage and circumnavigation – of the Qabba. The point, I think, is this. There is political mistrust and theological difference, but we are, as Jews and Muslims, bound by not so much by sister languages, as sister paths. To understand our own faith better is to get a clearer sense as to our relationship with fellow travellers. And if we can understand that better we may find our theological differences are perhaps fewer than fear, and if that is case we can, perhaps, find ways to ease the political distrust. Now that is something to aim for.