Friday, 29 March 2013

Song of Songs - On the Subject of Love

On the subject of love ...


My thanks to everyone who helped our Pesach celebrations be so wonderful. We go again, with Yom Tov services beginning Sunday night and through Monday and Tuesday (when we will have a Yizkor service). If there are members who can take this opportunity to support the praying community of the Synagogue at this time I would be grateful.


Each of the festivals in the Jewish year is associated with a Megillah. For Pesach it is the Song of Songs and we will be reading Chapter 5 as part of our Shabbat services this week.


The Song of Songs – and chapter 5 most explicitly – is almost uncomfortably erotic, deeply sensual and laden with sexuality. It’s read, in the Rabbinic tradition, as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel. God is the heroic male lover, ‘radiant and ruddy, his locks are wavy and black as a raven...  His arms are rods of gold set with beryl, his body polished ivory adorned with sapphires...’ Israel is the blushing female, ‘I am asleep, but my heart is awake. Listen I hear my beloved knocking.’  It’s a tale of youthful passion, full of lust and anticipation. What I want to do in this note is read the classic allegory slightly differently, less as a generalised relationship between Israel and God, and more as the Pesach-related moment in Biblical time, when God takes Israel out of Mitzrayim with a strong hand and an outstretched arm.

Pesach – and the first moments of journey into the Midbar - can certainly be read as an intense tale of youthful passion; there is heat aplenty, God leaps into action to defend the honour of his abused lover, showering the maiden with gifts and mighty demonstrations of His own prowess and might – wiping out Egypt, splitting the sea and so on. But this kind of love is the beginning of the relationship, not the end. In fact the relationship sours. Israel’s attention wanders off in search of sparkly golden idols and God becomes angry, violent and destructive. The relationship never settles into maturity. Jack Miles, in his wonderful ‘God: A Biography’ tells the story of God as the protagonist of the Bible, so hot-headed that, unable to accept the failures in His chosen lover, that He would rather simply retreat than stick around as a cuckolded – the Bible ends with God increasingly aloof and apart.


The psychologist and author Eric Fromm talks about the relationship between falling in love, which he derisorily labels ‘lust’ and being in love – which is deems far more significant. Fromm rejects that love is magical and mysterious and promotes, instead a love which is hard fought for through respect, taking responsibility, humility and discipline. It requires a certain self-love and self-knowledge and the commitment to accept the other in everything which they represent. It’s harder work, less immediate, less full of bright heat and more full of warmth.


Love takes work, whether it be God’s love of us or our love of God, whether it be our relationship with those we love, or their relationship with love. The passion and heat of the Song of Songs makes for great poetry, but not necessarily a life of commitment, mutual support and intimacy.


Shabbat shalom,


Moadim L’Simchah



Thursday, 28 March 2013

Reish Lakish and Believing and Not Believing at the Same Time

So this is an article I wrote a while ago, published in Conservative Judaism, but HT Josh Yuter has just brought to my attention another case of Reish Lakish being able to both believe and not believe in something.

In Eruvin 19a he’s describing Gehinom, but in Nedarim 8b he says it doesn’t exist.



Reish Lakish, Truth & Meaning in the Rabbinic Period


The small child knows that the sky is blue. There is someone, with a brush and pot of blue paint, daubing the canvas of the heavens.


The teenager knows that the sky is, quite categorically, NOT blue, rather the sky’s colour is a function of reflection and refraction. With equal conviction the teenager knows that those who claim blueness for the sky are perpetrating a trick, a deceit on those who know no better. There are those who never leave the world of the teenager.


Then there are those who appreciate the blueness of the sky as a truth beyond the claims of science. These less literal souls claim that, through appreciating the blueness of the sky, we can come to understand other truths about the world. They are not drawn into the nit-picking atomistic tendencies of the teenager, they accept the scientific realities of the world, but science neither deadens their soul, nor leads them to treat other truth claims with cynicism. This is what James Fowler would call the Fifth Stage of Faith, one where a reader feels a ‘post-critical desire to resubmit to the [appeal] of the symbolic.’[i] Paul Ricouer called it ‘second naïveté’[ii] a willingness to appreciate poetic truth in myth, aware of scientific pulls in other directions.


Most readers of this journal surely recognize Fowler’s Fifth Stage. The adult, self-aware approach to truth claims is one the Masorti Movement, Conservative Judaism, has made its own; whether considering claims of Biblical ‘history’ or theology Masorti Jews are drawn to this adult stage of faith. But this paper is not concerned with whether contemporary Masorti Jews accept truth claims in a non-literalist manner, but whether the rabbis of our tradition did so. If we find that the rabbis believed with the literalist approach of a child (there is someone, with a brush and pot of blue paint, daubing the canvas of the heavens), their claims must surely be rejected as facile, disproved, childish even. However if the rabbis can be shown to have believed with a post-critical awareness, with a poetic approach to truth claims, their approach can remain valid and authentic even in the modern period.


At issue is the question of whether the Masorti Movement is doing something radically new in rejecting literal truth claims, or merely making explicit what the tradition has always known – that many truth claims should be understood as a poetic or mythic truths, not a literal ones. It is, of course, an impossible question, not least since any sentence that begins, ‘The rabbis believed X’ is doomed to collapse under the weight of different rabbinic opinions in different periods and places and even within one Bet Midrash. Moreover the rabbis simply didn’t reflect on their own literary output in the manner of a contemporary literary critic. They (almost) never defined or commented on the nature of their interpretive style, they simply got on with it.


Instead of attempting the impossible this paper takes a very narrow perspective; one rabbi, and seeks to demonstrate that, at least here, there are strong grounds for seeing his truth claims as self-consciously Fifth Stage.  The approach is not without danger; it would be wrong to treat every recorded rabbinic utterance as an accurate historical record of a once-heard conversation, but despite this methodological concern and the narrow range of enquiry a picture emerges that is, nonetheless, worthy of remark.


Our story begins with the verses at the end of Parasha Va’yera:


And it was after these things that Abraham was told, ‘Milcah too has borne children to your brother Nahor: Uz the first-born, and Buz his brother, and Kemuel the father of Aram and … Bethuel.’ Bethuel being the father of Rebekah.[iii]


These Biblical verses are easily skipped over. Not only do they lack narrative punch of the tales of the binding of Isaac (immediately prior) and the news of the death of Sarah (immediately subsequent), they are also ignored by a significant rabbinic tradition that joins the two tales that surround them;


The death of Sarah is placed directly after the story of the binding because, as a result of hearing the news of the binding – that her son had been due for slaughter, even if he hadn’t been slaughtered – her soul flew from her and she died. [iv]


The straightforward intent of these oft-ignored verses is clear, they provide the genealogy that heralds the birth of Rebecca, who comforts the almost-slain Isaac after the death of his mother. But the rabbis notice something else, these apparently dull verses open with the words;


And it was after these things that Abraham was told.


The last time this phrase (or one almost identical to it) opened a Biblical passage Abraham was told to take his son and offer him as a sacrifice. Last time Abraham rose to the challenge, but now, in the eyes of the rabbis, he can’t take it any more.


There was a balking [hirhurei devarim hayu sham]. Who balked? Abraham balked... He was afraid of suffering. But the Holy Blessed One said to him, ‘There’s no need to worry, the one who is going to receive the suffering of the world has already been born, [as the Bible states in the midst of the genealogy that heralds Rebecca] ‘and his first born Utz.’

When was Job alive? Reish Lakish, in the name of Bar Kapara, claims in the time of Abraham, as the Bible tells us that Utz was born in the time of Abraham and the book of Job opens, ‘There was a man in the land. Utz Job was his name.’ (Job 1:1)[v]


‘Not again, God,’ one can almost hear the beleaguered patriarch, ‘haven’t I had enough suffering?’ ‘Not to worry,’ replies God, ‘you won’t have to suffer any further, rather Utz, also known as Job, will pick up the suffering that you are afraid of.’


The opening verse of the Book of Job is universally understood as ‘There was a man in the Land of Utz, Job was his name.’ This Midrash, however, flagrantly disregards such niceties. Instead Reish Lakish suggests that Job lived in The Land (i.e. Israel) and that Job was one of two names by which our protagonist was known.[vi]


Putting aside any concern as to contextual literal interpretation (pshat) – this statement of Reish Lakish launches a rabbinic game. A succession of rabbis conjure up a biblical verse and use it to locate Job in the generation of Dina, or the sons of Jacob, or Moses, or the Chaldeans or the Queen of Sheba or even the time of Esther. In a related text (TB BB 15a-b) there are yet more claims; Job lived in the time of the spies, in the time of the Judges, in the time of David …


From anything approaching a historical-critical perspective the proofs brought for these varied claims are laughable, but treating the rabbis’ literary proofs as literal or historical truth claims misses the point. The point is the literary game. This kind of midrash is a rabbinic workout, the rabbis are demonstrating their extraordinary familiarity with the Bible and are flexing exegetical muscles.[vii] Johan Huizinga coined the term homo ludens to refer to a ‘man [of ancient times who] seeks to account for the world of phenomenon by grounding it in … wild imaginings of mythology, a fanciful spirit … playing on the borderline between jest and earnest.’[viii] This, then, is rabbi as ish ludens, an investigator who pursues truth through a particular form of play.


Up to this point we have a not untypical midrash. We could perhaps make the claim, based on the playful way in which the rabbis treat finding an era for Job, that none of them considers they are dealing with a historical figure, but this midrash goes a good deal further.


Rabbi Shimon Ben Lakish claimed, ‘Job never existed, he was never created’ [lo hayah v’lo nivra]


It is almost as if a curtain has been pulled back. The mythical, poetic and literary truth of Job, in the minds of this Rabbi Shimon, has been made explicit. The truth of Job becomes the truth of fiction, the truth of Hamlet or Lear, not the truth of history or biography. And most shockingly the very rabbi who pulls back the curtain and announces the mythological nature of Job is the same Reish Lakish who, moments earlier, and with a slightly different appellation, opened the game by locating Job in the time of Abraham. The rabbis certainly point out Reish Lakish’s apparent contradiction and suggest that there was indeed a historical Job only his sufferings were not historical, but this seems half-hearted. Rather, it seems clear that Reish Lakish knew what he was doing and felt no compunction in doing it openly.


In the parallel Talmudic attempt to answer the question, ‘When was Job?’ this second statement of Reish Lakish is rendered, ‘one of the rabbis sitting before Rabbi Shimon Nahmani said, “Job never existed, was never created, rather he is a parable [mashal].”’(BT BB 15a) In Bereishit Rabba the drawing back of the curtain is announced with a change in appellation (from Reish Laksih to Rabbi Shimon), in the Talmud the identity of this bold almost-heretic is excised altogether, but the statement nonetheless receives the imprimatur of inclusion in the rabbinic canon. The anonymous editorial voice of the Talmud attempts to demonstrate that Job cannot be a parable since his name and that of his town is mentioned, but, again, the rejection is hardly convincing and Reish Lakish’s claim retains its power.


Reish Lakish seems comfortable in Fowler’s ‘Fifth Stage,’ able to make playful claims about the truth of Job, without feeling constrained by historicity or notions of literal reality. And there are other moments which come close to the sort of explicit acceptance of the Fifth Stage position taken in Bereshit Rabba. He can be considered the Talmud’s archetypal ish ludens.[ix] Most noticeable is a short passage, in the continuation of the passage in Baba Batra referenced earlier.


Reish Lakish said; ‘Satan, the Evil Inclination and the Angel of Death are one and the same.’[x]


It is as if our protagonist is trying to arrest a charge towards some kind of childish theological pilpul – sophistry. The reader is not supposed to distil the various chaotic forces active in this world into different quasi-historical characters, rather these bogeymen are to be considered symbols, each pointing at the same darker force within the Universe. According to Reish Lakish the existence of Satan and his colleagues is real, but only in a symbolic sense, they have no literal intrinsic reality. By acknowledging this poesy, the reader is urged to channel their energies into combating the deeper reality Satan and company represent. We are drawn away from worrying whether any literal foe might be hiding under the bed ready, like a cartoon character, to pounce on an unsuspecting fool. It is fashionable to dismiss poetic truths as somehow weaker, less powerful, than literal ones. But, in this instance, Reish Lakish’s explicit disavowal of a literal Satan, as distinct to a literal Angel of Death, feels more powerful than the theological pilpul he seeks to arrest. The poetic understanding is more truthful than the literal one.


An awareness of Reish Lakish’s sense of poesy also helps unlock a potentially confusing moment of Halachic discourse in, perhaps, his most famous Talmudic appearance. Our hero is a brigand, a man of violence. According to Talmud Bavli Gittin 47a he ‘sold his soul to the Ludai’ (some scholars suggest that the use of the root LUD, refers to the Latin, ludo suggesting not that his masters came from Lydia but rather they hired and trained gladiators),[xi] only to subsequently kill his captors with a makeshift brass knuckles and make good his escape. He is turned towards a world of Torah study by Rabbi Yohanan in a dramatic encounter in the Jordan River. Time passes and Reish Lakish becomes a great rabbi. The Talmudic narrative, however, continues immediately with the following exchange;


One day [Reish Lakish and Rabbi Yohanan] were arguing in the Study Hall.

‘When do swords, knives, daggers, spears, hand-saws and sickles become susceptible to receiving ritual impurity?’

‘Once their manufacture is completed.’

‘And when is their manufacture completed?’

Rabbi Yochanan said, ‘when they come out of the furnace used for smelting.’

Reish Lakish said, ‘when they come out of the water used for polishing.’[xii]



The shift to Halachah feels sudden, coming, as it does, directly after the high drama of Reish Lakish’s epiphany in the waters. Moreover it is redundant; both parties seeming to miss the authoritative Mishnah (Kelim 14:5) which gives a different answer to either rabbi.[xiii] It is surely fair to ask what could lead Reish Lakish to feel that a sword is only ‘completed’ if it emerges from the water as a weapon of violence? With our understanding of his poetic sensibility it is clear that Reish Lakish sees himself as the violent weapon, but not one that was ever ‘completed in its work.’ In other words Reish Lakish believes that individuals with dark pasts, violent weapons, are always capable of being redeemed by water. He is arguing about his own life journey. Again, understanding the poetic nature of Reish Lakish’s truth claims strengthens the power of his contributions. Rejecting the notion that this is literally an argument about metalwork, at least for Reish Lakish, helps us understand why he is so mortified by Rabbi Yochanan’s response to his claim.


            ‘Trust a brigand to know the ways of a brigand’


Rabbi Yochanan has missed the point. He thinks Reish Lakish is arguing from a position of expertise about literal swords, knives and daggers. Rabbi Yochanan can’t understand Reish Lakish’s sense of poetics and in doing so he drags our hero’s sense of self out of the Bet Midrash and back into the company of thieves. Reish Lakish’s entire rabbinic identity crumbles away, he ‘is weakened’ the Talmud tells us, and shortly thereafter ‘his soul passes away.’ Poetic truth claims have tremendous power; they cannot be disregarded as the playthings of a wordsmith.


Finally we come to Reish Lakish’s understanding of the moment of Sinai. Was revelation, for Reish Lakish, a literal or a poetic moment? In the context of what has come before the answer seems obvious.


Reish Lakish said that at the time Moses wrote the Torah he received a facial radiance [lit. ziv hapanim, see Exodus 34:29]. How did this happen? Reish Lakish said that Torah was given to Moses on a scroll of white fire and was carved with black fire, and the Torah was fire enwrapped with fire. While writing [Moses, at a certain point,] dried the reed on his hair, and from this he received a radiance.[xiv]


This text, about Sinaitic revelation,[xv] has to be poesy, indeed even to say so courts redundancy. Did Reish Lakish believe in revelation as a moment of

divine dictation? Yes, but equally clearly the way he believed was as a poet, not as a journalist or historian. There is nothing in this captivating and provocative text that suggests it should be understood as a literal truth claim. Indeed given what we know about Reish Lakish’s relationship to poesy one might even argue that to understand this midrash as a literal truth claim betrays a certain childishness. After all when an adult takes a poetic claim as a literal truth they demonstrate not piety, but foolery.


According to Reish Lakish Moses did indeed take dictation from the Holy Blessed One, but only as a matter of poetry, not history. But that doesn’t make the claim nonsense, rather it functions as a challenge; the reader is asked, ‘what is the deeper truth the symbol of Moses’ penmanship points towards?’


Rejecting poetic truth claims as if they are childish errors is an erroneous and ultimately sad contemporary response to a proud and ancient religious tradition. A person who rejects self-consciously poetic truth claims on the mistaken basis that they were meant to be literal claims risks losing the vibrancy and texture of their spiritual inheritance. Without poetic truth claims the sky can seem very drab indeed.


Rabbi Jeremy Gordon was ordained and received a Masters in Midrash at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is rabbi of St. Albans Masorti Synagogue, England, and teaches Midrash at Leo Baeck College in London.


[i] James Fowler, Stages of Faith (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1981), p.187.

[ii] See  inter alia, The Symbolism of Evil, (New York, Buchanan Beacon Press, 1969), pp. 351-352.

[iii] Genesis 22:20-23. Based on the NJPS translation, all other translations are author’s own.

[iv] Rashi, Gen 23.2

[v] Bereishit Rabba 57:4. The latter part of this translation is non-literal, to aid comprehension.

[vi] I am grateful to Yuval Keren of Leo Baeck College for this insight.

[vii] The flexing of exegetical muscles was not just a regular practice of the rabbis, but a divinely sanctioned one.  For example: ‘The Rabbis accused Ben Azzai of mystical speculation and he responds, ‘I am connecting [lit. mahriz] verses from the Torah to the Prophets and from the Prophets to the Writings,’ and a flame was burning all around him.’ (Vayikra’ Rabba 16:4, Margoliot ed. p.254 and notes there).

[viii] Homo Ludens: The Sociology of Culture, (London, Routledge, 2003, first published 1949) p. 4-5.

[ix] There is something fitting in it being Reish Lakish who steps forward as the clearest example of ish ludens in the rabbinic period, after all ‘Reish Lakish sold himself to games’ players [ludai]’ (BT Gittin 47a). This last text will be given a related but slightly refocused read infra. Other possible candidates for this title of ish ludens include Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Nehemia. It is Yehudah who, in discussing the re-awakening of the dry bones (Ezekiel 37) comments, ‘It is truth and parable’ [emet mashal hayah]. Rabbi Nehemia responds, ‘If it’s a truth why call it a parable, and if it’s a parable why call it truth, rather a parable is like truth.’ [k’emet mashal hayah] (TB Sanhedrin 92b). Subsequently, however, Rabbi Yehudah ben Bateyrah attempts to reject the claim that Ezekiel is best understood as poesy, ‘I am one of their descendents, he claims,and here are the tefilin that were left for me by … one of them. This pattern is reminiscent of the rejection of the historical application of the stubborn and rebellious son, the idolatrous city and the affliction of a house, and the subsequent rejection of these rejections by Rabbi Yonatan who claims to have sat on the grave of a stoned child and among the ruins of a destroyed city (TB Sanhedrin 71a).

[x] TB Baba Batra 16a

[xi] See Jastrow, Dictionary ,p. 695, see also Daniel Boyarin, Unheroic Conduct (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997), p.128 f3 where Rabbi Bun's remark in Talmud Yerushalmi Kilayim 27a, ‘and here Rav Kahana spread his net over Reish Lakish and caught him’ is understood to refer to a gladiatorial fighting style.

[xii] Talmud Bavli BM 84a, the last part of the translation is non-literal to aid translation. See Jastrow, Dictionary p.1273 entry tzachtzach. The author is indebted to Boyarin, loc cit, for his insight into this well-known story.

[xiii] See however ad loc. Tosafot DHM Hasakin and Hidushei HaRitba ad loc. citing Tosefta Kelim, BM 3:10 which rescue this seeming oversight with a deft piece of rabbinics.

[xiv] Devarim Rabba 3:12, Ekev 12 DHM beit hahi. References to a Torah of fire can also be found in statements of Reish Lakish in TY Shekalim 6:1 49d, with parallels TY Sotah 8:3 22d and Shir Rabba 5:15. The image of Moses wiping the fire of Torah on his hair also appears, again in the name of Reish Lakish, in Shmot Rabba 47:6.

[xv] In TY Sotah the specification ‘to Moses’ is absent, but it is clear from context that this text, like all other parallels in the rabbinic period, refers to revelation – Sinaitic Torah. In the rabbinic period the image of black and white fire is not used to refer to the cosmological Torah – blueprint for the Universe – described in Bereshit Rabba 1:1. It is only in the Geonic period that the late collection Midrash Tanhuma applies the image to the cosmological Torah  (Bereishit 1). It may be that the image is more widely encountered in the context of creation than revelation, but creation is a secondary locus for this, primarily Sinaitic, image.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Israeli Illustrations of the 4 Sons

Some fun for Pesach

I’ve pulled together some C20 Israeli illustrations of the Four Sons.

All Israeli life is here, Hilonim, Haredim, politics, satire, spirit ...



Saturday, 23 March 2013

Pesach, Freedom and the Living Wage

A friend and NNLS member, Micah Gold, met with the Prime Minister on Friday. On the agenda was the Citizens UK campaign for a Living Wage. It’s a campaign predicated on the notion that it is possible to pay a full time worker, especially in London, a minimum wage and for them still to be in poverty, reliant on further government support, unable to properly provide for their own health, nutrition and improvement. It’s the eve of Pesach, some 3000 years after the Moses led the Children of Israel from Egypt and we are still telling stories of slavery – an eliding of backbreaking work for piteous reward.


Labour rights have a long tradition in Biblical and Rabbinic thought, “Do not  oppress a hired servant who is poor and needy, whether they be of your brethren or one of the strangers in your land” (Deut 24) The Talmud makes a particular point of ensuring piece workers are paid promptly, claiming “he who withholds an employee’s wages is as though he deprived him of his life.” (BM 112a)


There are two ways to imagine as if we, ourselves, came forth from Egypt. One is to imagine that we are our own ancestors and travel through time. The other is to imagine we are our own neighbours, the hidden workforce who clean our streets and offices and care for our sick and our elderly. It’s strange that we find it easier to become over-preoccupied with the enslavement of ancient history than engage bravely with enslavements in our own communities.


New London is an employer committed to ensuring all who work to support the community, including our sub-contracted staff receive a living wage for their efforts. I commend the many organisations who have taken similar steps. And commend to all members able to make a difference to the lives of those the companies they work with employ to give this precious gift of freedom, at this time of the year especially.


May this truly be a time of Liberation for all.


More information on the Living Wage Campaign at


Friday, 22 March 2013

On the Difference Between Adult Freedom and Childish Freedom - A Sermon for Shabbat HaGadol with added quesitons.

Shabbat HaGadol

Freedom is celebrated in an oddly sedate manner.

No wild parties on the streets.

Very opposite of Bacchanalian celebration.

4 measured cups.

Bitter herbs, salt water.

Freedom comes dipped in the suffering.

Freedom hurts.


Empathy as so central.

Hayav Adam Lirot Et Atzmo keilu hu yatzah miMitzrayim


Heart of Passover is the ability to see beyond the self.

Put oneself in the position of another human being.

Test of humanity.


From perspective of child development,

Tiny baby knows only own needs. And if these needs are not immediately met scream.

Then there comes a moment when a small child becomes aware of the other – that the world become aware of otherness.

That’s the beginning of emotional growth.

Hopefully later on there comes a moment when a growing child accepts obligations to the rest of the world, accepts constraints and limitations on their own choices and freedoms because they know that their lives are enrichened by their taking care of others.

We call that moment the Bar Mitzvah – adult freedom.


So there is such a thing as a child’s freedom. Oblivious to anyone else’s experience of my own potential, focussed only on what I want and what I get.

And there is an adult freedom. A freedom make more real by partaking in the notion that our freedom can be measured by our willingness to take care of others, feel their concerns, needs and dreams.


Two moments around the Seder

Fast of the Firstborn – feel the losses of the Egyptians – marked Monday after Shacharit. All welcome.

And then, the most perfect ritual in the whole seder.

The pouring out of wine when get to the plagues.

16 times with the 16 mentions of the plagues


15th Century, Don Isaac Abarvanel

Proverbs – rejoice not when your enemy falls, let your heart not be glad when he stumbles.


This is the custom that makes our celebration of our own freedom adult.


Magnificent 20th Century Jewish theologian and philosopher, Immanuel Levinas

My being in the world, or my place in the sun, my being at home, have these not also been the usurpation of spaces belonging to the other man whom I have already oppressed or starved or driven out into a third world.

The sensitivity to this dynamic is the root of ethics

This is the root of adult freedom.


To come right up to date


Obama – in Israel & Palestine this week.

Spoke beautifully and movingly about the coming Passover, the Jewish people’s relationship with freedom and the overthrow of slavery.

Spoke beautifully about the establishment of the Israeli state and powerfully about the right of this State to defend itself and its people from terrorists and military attach.

But also said this.


The Palestinian people’s right to self-determination and justice must also be recognized. Put yourself in their shoes [Obama told his audience of Israeli students] – look at the world through their eyes [he continued]. It is not fair that a Palestinian child cannot grow up in a state of her own, and lives with the presence of a foreign army that controls the movements of her parents every single day. It is not just when settler violence against Palestinians goes unpunished... Just as Israelis built a state in their homeland, Palestinians have a right to be a free people in their own land.


Obama’s talking about an adult kind of Freedom. The one that comes with the recognition of cost and the fear of what my freedom does to my neighbour.


Religion gets a bad press.

Those opposed to religion like to blame religion for the closed mindedness of those who only understand a child’s version of freedom, no matter what their age.

But it’s a terrible mischaracterisation of religion – of Judaism certainly.


Central of Jewish thought is the notion of plurality of humanity.


When King of flesh and blood

When the King of Kings, Holy Blessed One – everyone comes out different.


There is even a blessing to be said when see a great number of human beings, recognition of the difference between us can only be owned by God, can’t be subsumed by any human.

Levinas diagnosed a totalitarianising tendency to force all humanity into a conformity that can never be. A tendency that needs to be fought back as we learn to accept we cannot subsume all humanity to our own needs – like a tiny child.


Leading American Orthodox Rabbi, Brad Hirschfield, new book

You Don't Have To Be Wrong for Me To Be Right

Reads verses from Isaiah, in fact reading the entire Biblical and Rabbinic canon.

We don't all need to be the same. I don't need everyone in the world to be Jewish. I don't need every Jew to choose the form of Judaism I myself have chosen, even though I love and am enlivened by this version of my tradition!

Why [should] being right depend on everyone else being wrong? Do other women need to be ugly in order for my wife to be beautiful? 

Wanting to make everyone else just like me is narcissism. Learning to interact with, to respect, and even to love people who are different from me [is the heart of truly] spiritual work.

Not only that religion is not the cause of blinkered self obsession and totalitarianising tendencies, rather that religion is the pathway which opens our eyes to the suffering of others,

Religion reminds us, even at the highest moments of our own celebration of our own freedom, that we cannot be free when another Divine creation is suffering.

Religion reminds us to be pluralists, aware that the other doesn’t need to be wrong for me to be right.

Religion, and specifically the religious notion that all humans are created in the image of the Divine is secret to the enormous possibility of plurality.


So at this time of questioning.

At this time of celebrating Freedom, perhaps only the childish freedom, but if we are so blessed, a celebration of an adult freedom.

Some of my questions for the upcoming Festival of Freedom.


What breaks us out of the self-obsession a childish sense of Freedom and allows us to feel the broader perspective of adult freedom?

What do we need to do to acknowledge that ‘You don’t have to be wrong for me to be right?’

How can we cultivate more space in our hearts.


Shabbat Shalom,

Chag Pesach Sameach, A wonderful Pesach celebration to all


Monday, 18 March 2013

Rav Kook on Biur Hametz

Rav Kook, C20, Olat Rayah – On Freedom and Biur Hametz


These years symbolise to us the essence of the Festival of Redemption – the Festival of Pesach, the time of our Freedom.

What can we learn from the generations from these two subjects, so dependent each on the other?

The essential answer is that there are two conditions for redemption.

Personal freedom – freedom of the body from all foreign subjugation and from all subjugation that breaks the image of the Divine which is in each human to be working for all the power which is their particular portion, their great glory and their holy beauty.

But this freedom is only acquired by means of spiritual freedom. Freedom of the soul from everything that pulls it off its straight course and its cast-iron foundation - the essential essence of the person.


However these two kinds of Freedom can only come … by means of the biur – annihilation of every border and every thing which holds back that freedom. For that is its hametz, the bitterness in the dough, which harms the search for what is better, the spark of the light of redemption within them.


We need to educate ourselves how to treasure this great spirit of freedom which shines upon us, especially in these illuminating times, a spirit which burst forth like lightening. It has the appearance of the first redemption, the redemption from Sinai, when the King, King of Kings, the Holy Blessed One was revealed to us in God’s great might, and God brought us close [karavnu] to worship God, and that is complete freedom, and God lifted us up from the depredations of foreign slavery which is useless as a form of Divine service.


And the difference between the slave and the free person is only a difference of internal state of mind… One can find a wise slave whose soul is full of freedom, and the reverse, a free-person whose soul is the soul of a slave. The vibrancy of freedom is an elevated soul, for a person and also a nation, through all their elevated efforts can become inheritors of their inner independence, the spiritual preparation of the image of God within them, and by means of this intention one can feel life in amongst the fragility of existence, for this is the measure of their worth, as is not the case for someone whose soul is defined by their labour. For their life and their energy  will never illuminate the purpose of the independent soul, unless it is through something good and beautiful done for them by another who has some kind of control over them, whether this be officially or spiritually.


And we get the inner light of personal freedom [herut], ‘carved [harut] on the tablets’ – don’t read harut, rather herut. Come, come, let us stress more and more our bright inner independence, which is gained through the revelation of the shechinah, that same freedom that is gained by means of the great unique miracle of the world that was done for us when the Blessed God brought our ancestors out of Egypt to freedom forevermore. Come my brothers, all of us, to the Seder, and know that we are all the children of Kings, and if freedom is the eternal portion, Israel shall never be enslaved …Protect freedom and protect the annihilation of hametz and bring speedily full redemption.


Best (New) Passover Song I Know - To the Tune of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah

Hallelujah for Matzah

(to be sung to the tune of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah Chorus)

Lyrics by Joshua March


There was a time, when we weren’t free

Trapped in bonded slavery

But the Lord and Moses came, to save us

Had the Lord not saved us

From Egypt

All our people would still be slaves

And so tonight we eat, Matzah

Matzah (x4)


Once God had sent the ten plagues

With nothing left of the Pharaoh’s rage

We finally had our moment, to leave

But we didn’t want to take a chance

And risk the Pharaoh saying we can’t

So we grabbed our dough and turned it into Matzah

Matzah (x4)


Now we’re free, to roam to world

With the story of Israel still to unfold

But billions still enslaved in war and poverty

So Hashem our Lord

Told us this day

Remember then, and think of now

Because the day of freeing the world is yet to come

Matzah (x4)



Heschel & The Price of Freedom

Abraham Joshua Heschel: The Price of Freedom


Who Is Man?, Lectures Given at Stanford 1963

The first thought a child becomes aware of is his being called, his being asked to respond or to act in a certain way. It is in acts of responding to demands made upon him that the child begins to find himself as part of both society and nature. This is the most important experience in the life of every human being: something is asked of me. Meaning is found in responding to the demand.

Indebtedness is given with our being human because our being is not simply being, our being is being created. Being created means that the ‘ought’ precedes the ‘is.’ Religion begins with the certainty that something is asked of us, that there are ends which are in need of us. It is in man’s being challenged that he discovers himself as a human being. Do I exist as a human being? My answer is: I am commanded therefore I am. There is a built-in sense of indebtedness in the consciousness of man, an awareness of owing gratitude, of being called upon at certain moments to answer, to live in a way which is compatible with the grandeur and mystery of living.


Speech to conference on, “Religion and Race” (14 January 1963)

At the first conference on religion and race, the main participants were Pharaoh and Moses. Moses’ words were: “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, let My people go that they may celebrate a feast to Me.” While Pharaoh retorted: “Who is the Lord, that I should heed this voice and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord, and moreover I will not let Israel go.” The outcome of that summit meeting has not come to an end. Pharaoh is not ready to capitulate. The exodus began, but is far from having been completed. In fact, it was easier for the children of Israel to cross the Red Sea than for a Negro to cross certain university campuses.

Religion and race. How can the two be uttered together? To act in the spirit of religion is to unite what lies apart, to remember that humanity as a whole is God’s beloved child. To act in the spirit of race is to sunder, to slash, to dismember the flesh of living humanity. Is this the way to honor a father: to torture his child? How can we hear the word “race” and feel no self reproach? Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking. Perhaps this Conference should have been called “Religion or Race.” You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.


Telex To JFK in Moral Grandeur, 1963

A telex to President Kennedy






The Reasons for my Involvements in the Peace Movement, Moral Grandeur

For many years I lived by the conviction that my destiny is to serve in the realm of privacy, to be concerned with the ultimate issues and involved in attempting to clarify them in thought and in word. Loneliness was both a burden and a blessing and above all indispensible for achieving a kind of stillness in which perplexities could be faced. Three events changed my attitude.

One was the countless onslaughts upon my inner life, depriving me of the ability to sustain inner stillness.

The second was the discovery that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself. The most wicked men must be regarded as great teachers, for they set forth precisely an example of that which is unqualifiedly evil. Cain’s questions ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ and his implied negative response must be regarded among the great fundamental evil maxims of the world. The third event that changed my attitude was my study of the prophets. From them I learned the niggardliness of our moral comprehension, the incapacity to sense the depth of misery caused by our own failures. It became quite clear to me that while our eyes are witness to the callousness and cruelty of man, our heart tries to obliterate the memories, to calm the nerves and to silence our conscience.


Death As Homecoming, Moral Grandeur

Our greatest problem is not how to continue but how to exalt our existence. The cry for a life beyond the grave is presumptuous, if there is no cry for eternal life prior to our descending to the grave. Eternity is not perpetual future, but perpetual presence. The world is not only a here-after, but also a here now.

This is the meaning of existence: to reconcile liberty with service, the passing with the lasting, to weave the treads of temporality into the fabric of eternity.


Leviticus - About Love Really

Some thoughts on sacrifice and Sefer Vayikra, massive HT to Moshe Halbertal’s terrific ‘On Sacrifce’


You might know the game Fruit Ninja,

My kids love it.


And now, and I kid you not, available on the Apple Appstore . Leviticus! (exclamation point)

The Ap.

Sharpen your knife and your priestly reflexes: are you ready for the Ultimate Rule Book? Leviticus!

Play the role of a busy priest working to keep God happy by sacrificing choice offerings of sheep, goats, and bulls with frantic speed and slicing precision. Combo your actions and the rewards get BIBLICAL! (capital letters, exclamation mark)

Three sacrificial services a day, seven days a week. Can YOU make it to Shabbat? Download Leviticus! (exclamation point) and start swiping to find out!

Leviticus! features global leaderboards, long term achievements, and high score announcements designed especially for Facebook bragging.

Cool in-app purchases coming soon!


It’s one response to the question Jacob wrestled with – what to do with the book of Leviticus.

Because it’s not obvious.

You know, I would probably download the game if I had an apple thingy.

But ultimately I need to find something else in all this apparatus and ritual other than a child-friendly slasher blood bath.

So that’s what I want to share with you.

Moshe Halbertal’s book On Sacrifice.


Halbertal’s opener is that there is an enormous difference between ‘sacrificing to’ and ‘sacrificing for.’

As Jacob discussed in his Devar Torah we all sacrifice for things.

And ‘sacrificing for’ something isn’t bad.

But it’s a transactional

When ‘sacrifice for’ something becomes part of a negotiation, a deal.

I’ll go without Starbucks coffee for the year to save the money to go on holiday.

I’ll go without the chocolate cake to lose the extra weight ..

That’s all ‘sacrificing for.’

That’s all fine, but makes us a penny counter, a calorie counter – doesn’t make us a human.


And Sefer Vayikra, the Book of Leviticus, isn’t about ‘sacrificing for,’ it’s about ‘sacrificing to,’ to God, a source of life, creation, possibility and love.

When we sacrifice to

We are not focussed on what get out the relationship.

When we sacrifice to

We are focussed on the relationship.

Halbertal suggests that this is the action of love.

When you do something for someone NOT because of what you get out of the deal.

That’s love – following Buber.

‘Sacrificing to’ isn’t like entering into a contract. It’s not like making a deal.

It’s giving a gift.


That’s the first point.

‘Sacrificing to’ is about love.


Interestingly ‘sacrificing to’ is based on a particular relationship with the one offering up the sacrifice.

Locates us before something we believe more important than we are.

When we train ourselves in sacrificing to, we train ourselves in acknowledgement that there is something ‘out there’ that is more important than we are.

When we ‘offer to’ we recognise our place in the world.


Recognise that our lives are dependent on grace.


Clues in the words.

Korban – come close – our goal

Minhah – set before – our position in this relationship

Like the satrap before the King.

Like a pauper before a billionaire.

Like a child before the parent.


When a poor person brings a gift to a rich person, sense of fear.

Need to do it right.

Care – rituals to safeguard it going wrong.

The greater the dis-equality between the giver and the receiver, the more careful need to be.

More ritual we would expect to see.

Certainly lot of ritual in Sefer Vayikra

Do it this way, then step over here, cut over there, rinse over here.

The greater the dis-equality between the giver and the receiver, the more humble need to be about what we bring.

Not going to impress with the quality of the gift – God is not going to be impressed with a piece of dead goat.

Or even a dead cow, of a herd of cows.


Only chance to impress is with the heart, the intention behind, the way the giving comes from a sincere place, and makes us more sincere – not more demanding.


Mothers Day – the cards don’t impress because of the quality of the artwork.

Impress and move us because of what says about the relationship.

And if the moment after giving, bratish behaviour – and never seen in either my house, or Ingrams, I’m sure, then the gift is worthless.


And even if perfect behaviour, one can never know.

Sacrificing to one mightier than I puts us in the mindset of knowing that it all depends on grace.

A poor person can’t bribe a millionaire.

A serf can’t buy the affection of the King.

Ultimately depends on grace of the more mighty in the relationship.

That’s the other point.

Reinforces our understanding of hierarchy in our relationship with God.

Or for those who can’t handle the God-language – the cosmos.


When we ‘sacrifice to’ develop our humility.

Recognise how much we depend on grace, the benevolence of the Cosmos beyond what we dare demand is our right.

When we ‘sacrifice to’ we build relationships, a relationship of love, we become people who love, who care who are desperate not to get it wrong.


Put this way, for me, this ritual reading of rituals of how to sacrifice to work.

Remind me of who I want to be as I stand before the world.

And the real question is, without the rituals, the bulls and the blood, how do I remain the sort of person prepared to offer ‘sacrifices to’

Because if I stop becoming that kind of person become calculating, arrogant and unworthy of love.

I think that would apply to us all.


Shabbat shalom


Friday, 15 March 2013

Less Chametz More Heavy Metal


Par-Jorgen Parson (and if I knew how to type umlauts I would have needed three just now) is an investor who sits on the board of Spotify. He’s co-author of a new book which suggests that business schools and corporate-management could learn a thing from great Heavy Metal bands like AC/DC. I don’t much care for loud rock and I don’t spend much of time worrying about MBA programmes, but an article on the book did catch my eye.


‘Why settle for satisfied customers when you could have fans going ****?’ He asks, having pointed out the vast crowds, adoration and vast sums that have accrued to the masters of metal over decades. It’s a good question. He suggests five elements make up a ‘Heavy Metal Management Pentagram’

·         Be epic – tell a great story.

·         Be a master – semi-skilled is not good enough.

·         Be instinctive – appeal to the basic instincts of humanity.

·         Be sensory – involve as many senses as possible.

·         Be forever – stay the course.


It occurred to me he could have been talking about Seder night. Is the Seder epic? Oh Yes. Not only is our own tale; from tiny babe cast adrift to the angel of death and the parting of the sea bursting with energy, its adoption into the freedom narrative of every oppressed people since makes the story we tell, I would argue, the greatest epic of all time. Even Cecil B. De Milne thought so.


Are we masters in telling this tale? Less obviously so. Of course we all have our particular family favourites, but is our Seder a great performance? Mastery takes preparation. Flipping open the Haggadah to try and remember half-forgotten tunes while everyone is sat around is not good enough. If mastering the whole evening feels daunting (and even if it doesn’t) share the load, with notice, give other attendees parts to master themselves.


Be instinctive. I was going to write, for this magazine, on a tiny element in the Seder, but that’s not the point. The point is freedom. Talk about it, celebrate it. One of the most special memories I have of a Seder came several years ago when my father-in-law read the climax of William Hague’s biography of William Wilberforce – the driving force behind the abolition of slavery in this country. There wasn’t a dry eye around the table. The horrors of slavery and the challenges and glories of freedom go to the heart of our fears and hopes.  Focus on what really matters.


Be sensory. Food, music, debate, games? Tick, tick, tick, tick. As a model of what pedagogues call ‘multiple intelligence theory’ the Seder is truly remarkable. We should allow each of these different approaches to have their moment and ensure those, of whatever age, most likely to become bored or disillusioned are brought in and engaged with according to their needs.


Be forever. Actually maybe even AC/DC could learn a thing or two from the Seder – 3,000 years and counting. But the longevity Parson is talking about isn’t to do with focussing on the length of our past. It’s about focussing on the length and strength of our future. As we sit round the table; sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, remembering those who have gone before we should take a moment to ensure the future of our telling of this great tale, and the message of freedom it carries at its heart is developed and vouchsafed.


There, five Heavy Metal inspired guides for our Pesach celebrations. May they serve us well.


Chag Kasher V’Sameach,

Josephine, Carmi, Harry, Eli and I wish one and all a wonderful Pesach,


Rabbi Jeremy


New London Synagogue Pesach 5773 Guide

Kashrut for Pesach - 5773


This paper sets out a guide to kashrut that, if followed, can leave members of NLS confident in their own kashrut standard over Pesach and comfortable in inviting to their homes any Jew, from any denomination. It is a wonderful mitzvah to fulfil the wish of the Haggadah - ‘let all who are hungry come and eat’ – by meeting these standards. It is a mitzvah I hope you will enjoy.


The guide comes in three parts: Why, Food, Cleaning and Making Kosher the Kitchen and Vessels


Should you have any questions about anything in this standard, please do let me know on 


Section I: Why

In typical Jewish style, there are many answers to the ‘Why’ question. None excludes the others. Here are three:

Payback time. The obligation to keep kosher at Pesach is just that, an obligation. It is our due in deference to the incredible miracle of our existence, our liberation from slavery and our receiving of Torah. It is the closest we, as Rabbinic Jews, can get to acknowledging the reality of the gift of our free life, a gift beyond price.

Spring cleaning. Leaven is fermented; it is part of last year’s harvest. At Pesach we forgo leaven; we use only the new harvest. Pesach is a time to clear out old stock. We check the inventory not just of our cupboards, but also of ourselves and through our cleaning and observance of kashrut we become renewed.

The Hametz Inside. We are made up of a holy spark, pure and perfect. For much of the year we are involved in the mucky business of the ‘real world,’ but for the days of Pesach we get back in touch with that simplicity, with who we really are, and what we really stand for.


For more thoughts on why we should observe these and other mitzvot please see:


Section II: Food


The Bible prohibits not only eating hametz on Pesach, but also owning it. The prohibition is so strong that any hametz owned by a Jew during the days of Pesach is forbidden, even after Pesach has long gone. Furthermore it is also forbidden to eat the mixture of hametz with any other normal food.


Hametz is ‘any food prepared from five species of grain – wheat, barley, oats, spelt and rye – which has been allowed to leaven’.


Things to note:

  • If it is not food, it can’t count as hametz. Make-up, PVA glue, washing up liquid, etc. are not hametz. The test of whether something is or is not food is ‘whether a dog would eat it’. This may depend on your dog’s personal dietary habits, but despite the best intentions of some NLS’ canines, shoes and trouser legs do not count as food.
  • The prohibition of owning hametz over Pesach does not apply to things that are not hametz. You do not have to throw out tea, toothbrushes, etc. in order to meet this standard, even if you wouldn’t wish to use them during Pesach.

Getting Rid of Hametz

The Rabbis offer a belt, buckle and braces approach.

  • First you should remove any hametz. A good spring clean is a lovely thing to do, but to meet the standard of the Rabbis it is necessary only to remove bits of hametz that are larger than the size of an olive.
  • Next you should perform a bittul – nullification. This is done twice, once during the search for hametz (the night before Seder night) and once on the morning of Seder night (before around 10 a.m.). The formula can be recited in English as follows:


All hametz in my possession, whether I have seen it or not, whether I have removed it or not, shall be nullified and be ownerless as the dust of the earth.

This is a key part of the preparation process. Even if you have cleaned perfectly, it should be said.


  • Finally, you should authorize me, or another Rabbi, to perform a mehirah – or sale to a non-Jew –of any hametz you do not wish to nullify or throw away. This is an extraordinary leniency from the Rabbis, bending over to make Pesach less onerous and less costly. It is designed to allow us to hang on to bottles of whiskey, save slices from our wedding cakes, etc. It has been mocked, but I always delight in the flexibility and sensitivity this notion allows. I would recommend it even if you think you have cleaned perfectly and you don’t think you have anything physical to sell. To sell hametz you must contact me to let me know that you wish me to sell your hametz. Please do this in writing (e-mail is best). You should then put the hametz in a sealed container or room and leave it until after 10pm the night that Passover goes out.



Prepared foodstuffs need certification. For a couple of years I used to eat lots of kosher l’pesach specially prepared foods, but came to feel that they are somehow not right. Pesach is a wonderful time to go more natural, using more fresh ingredients and fewer processed foods.


There is no need for certification for any non-food products. For things like toothpaste I would buy a new tube before Pesach and use that. There is no need for certification for fruit, vegetables, fish or meat.


Mixtures of Hametz and Non-Hametz

The Rabbis make a clear distinction between mixtures of foods that were owned before Pesach and mixtures that were purchased only during Pesach. A tiny amount of hametz mixed with a massive quantity of normal food bought ON Pesach renders the whole amount of food not kosher. But if the mixing took place BEFORE Pesach and you perform a bittul (see above) on the eve of Pesach then a tiny amount of mixed-in hametz (less than 1/60th) is nullified and the food can be used on Pesach.



This has a huge implication in terms of the foods that need certification as kosher l’pesach. Simple foodstuffs, subjected to an absolute minimum of processing, do not require certification IF bought before Pesach. On this list I would include foods such as unflavoured coffees, fruit juices, spices, ground nuts, etc. If you wish to make use of this leniency these foods should be bought before Pesach, left unopened until after the house has been made kosher. All these foods, however, need certification if bought during Pesach.


Kitniyot – Often translated as ‘Legumes’

I can understand how kitniyot might have come to be prohibited. In a world where one could walk into a market and buy identical sacks containing either corn-flour or wheat-flour, it made sense to stay away from anything that could be confused for hametz at Pesach time. There has never, however, been a definitive definition or even a definitive list as to what would be covered and over time things seem to have gone a little out of control.

  • Firstly, kitniyot are not hametz; owning them is no problem and using them cannot treif a house.
  • Secondly, only Ashkenazi Jews abstain from eating them.
  • Thirdly, I am inclined to keep the list narrow. I would include pulses, rice and corn, but not peanuts or garlic, and not oil products.
  • Fourthly, for families who keep vegetarian or for other reasons worry about their diet over a kitniyot-free Pesach I would rely upon a legal ruling of my teacher Rabbi David Golinkin, who takes a very hostile approach to what he understands to be ‘a mistaken or foolish custom’. More information on this ruling can be found at: (English summaries Vol. 3).


Section III: Cleaning and making kosher the kitchen and vessels

Many people have entire sections of kitchenware that can be switched over for Pesach. If you do not it is possible to make many items of kitchenware kosher for Pesach, and even if you have entirely separate pots and pans there is still work to be done on surfaces, ovens, etc.


To kosher a vessel all three of the following procedures need to be followed:

  • The vessel must be clean of any markings of its previous use.

All marks must be removed. In the case of well-used saucepans, etc. it may not be possible to remove deeply cooked-in stains. These pans cannot be koshered. I would consider it impossible to remove schmutz from joins in a vessel, or between the vessel and its handle. These vessels cannot                be koshered.


  • The vessel must be left unused for 24 hours after its last use with the ingredient that is to be purged before being koshered [ben yomo].


  • Ingredients that are absorbed into a vessel are secreted and can be purged from the vessel in the same way in which they were originally absorbed [k’volo, kach polto].


The key issues in understanding how an ingredient has been absorbed are the level of heat the vessel has been subjected to and the material of manufacture. Again these processes only apply once the vessel has been cleaned and left for 24 hours.


  • A pot that has been used on a stove top, metal kitchen utensils and metal cutlery used for eating hot food can be koshered by being dunked in boiling water [hagalah]. Big pots (as opposed to pans) can be koshered if filled to overflowing with boiling water (so both inside and outside of the vessel are covered by the water); this is usually done by filling a pot with water then dropping a stone in the water causing a small amount of water to flow over the top and down the sides. Fragile vessels of this type that cannot be dunked cannot be koshered.
  • It is very difficult to render plastic ware spotlessly clean and free of any markings of use, but this is necessary if it is to be made kosher by hagalah.
  • Metal pans used in the oven are very difficult to clean thoroughly. I would consider it impossible to clean these pans properly; if, however, this can be done a metal pan can be rendered kosher by libun – heating the pan to an extreme heat for thirty minutes. Ceramic pans cannot be made kosher.
  • Ovens, stovetops and grills also need libun. Self-cleaning ovens can be cleaned using the self-cleaning function. Other ovens and stoves should be turned on and up to the highest heat and left for 30 minutes. Grills that can be rendered spotlessly clean can be made kosher in a self-cleaning oven or cleaned with high heat for a similar length of time. Again, where it is not possible to clean a grill so it appears clean to the eye, it cannot be made kosher. In these circumstances foil should be used to wrap either the grill or food before it is cooked. Gas hobs can be made kosher by libun but are very difficult to get spotlessly clean and can be covered with foil for the week of Pesach.
  • Sinks, worktops and tables that come into contact with hot foods or liquids but are not actually used for cooking can be koshered by pouring hot water over a clean surface [irui]. A draining rack or large bowl should be used in sinks in which dishes or pots are left to soak. A table that is used for hot foods during the year, but cannot withstand irui, should be cleaned and covered at Pesach.
  • Ceramics are held by the Rabbis to be so porous that what they have previously absorbed can never be fully purged. Ceramic vessels including plates, mugs, etc. cannot be koshered.
  • Glass is held by the Rabbis to be impervious to absorbing food and, theoretically, does not need to be koshered. In practice it is traditional to soak glassware in water for 24 hours (usually a bath is the best way to do this). Pyrex is a modern material, most authorities consider that it cannot be treated like glass, but I am inclined to treat it as glass when there is no evidence of baked-in colouration on, for example, a baking dish.
  • A microwave oven can be made kosher if cleaned and then put on high for 2 minutes with a bowl of water inside. (Ensure the water does not run out or the oven may be damaged.)
  • Dishwashers should be put through an entire cycle on the hottest setting before being used to clean vessels for use at Pesach.
  • Other items of kitchen machinery present a range of challenges - please contact me with any specific queries.


One-time-use vessels can be an easy way-out of making a kitchen kosher at Pesach, but they come at an increasingly untenable cost for our planet. Baal tashchit is the halachic principle that prohibits wasting natural resources. Please take whatever steps you can to reduce wastage caused by one-time-use-vessels and in particular please avoid the most ecologically damaging one-time-use-vessels such as those made of polystyrene.


If you are living in a kitchen that is not yours to kosher and those you are living with are unwilling to see it made kosher, please contact me and we can discuss which of various options might work best for you and your situation.


Again, should you have any questions, please do let me know.

Very best wishes for a kosher and joyful Pesach,

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon

New London Synagogue


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