Thursday, 29 May 2014

Wherever You Go I Go

 

The custom of reading the Biblical tale of Ruth on Shavuot dates to a post-Talmudic work, Masechet Sofrim, which seems to suggest that Ruth should be read on the Shabbat before Shavuot – that would be this week. In any event, Ruth is in the air.

 

The highest point of drama comes in the first chapter. Naomi has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law and attempts to send them away. Ruth refuses to leave and utters this magnificent affirmation; ‘Where you go, I go. Where you dwell, I dwell. Your people shall be my people and your God, my God.’ She throws in her lot with Naomi with something verging on recklessness. In a world in which we increasingly step back to ponder the opportunity cost of one action over another or seek to cherry pick only such parts of a relationship as we find immediately gratifying, Ruth’s deems commitment primary, analysis or gratification, if they figure at all, are subservient.

 

It’s the perfect model for the most important symbol of Shavuot; accepting Torah. When God announces the gift of Torah to the Israelites they respond ‘we will do and we will understand.’ The Rabbis read this verse to prioritise action above understanding. The Talmud (Shabbat 88a) suggests that the vital importance of leading with action to be a secret of the angels and professes astonishment that humans could possibly discover such a gift. There is a similar idea at the heart of Jewish conceptions of marriage. First we recite the blessings of Kiddushin – commitment. Only after commitment do we recite the blessings of Nisuin – joy and celebration. Again, commitment comes first. I think all important relationships work this way. Commit first and allow the understanding to follow. It makes no balance up the pros and cons of falling in love with a particular person – or not. Similarly it makes no sense to decide to fall in love only with those parts of a person that we find appealing, love is a package deal. Judaism likewise isn’t about flicking through the various rituals and rhythms selecting the ones that instinctively appeal – who doesn’t like challah! – and deeming the less immediately gratifying demands unnecessary.

 

I was discussing Shul attendance this week with the current, and a former, Chairman. There are more members at Kiddush – who doesn’t like Kiddush! – but fewer members earlier in the service – as if the Shema has been deemed unnecessary. There are more life-cycle events – who doesn’t like a baby blessing! – but fewer members at weekday Yom Tov services. Ruth gets her reward for her all-embracing commitment; a husband and child, and it’s true that not all leaps of commitment necessarily result in such an obviously happy ending, but I suspect every happy ending required, at an earlier point in the story, a leap of commitment. This Shabbat, this Shavuot, I urge us all to leap a little. Come earlier, stay later, come at all! Ease up on the critical analysis, open up the possibility of falling in love, even falling in love with this extraordinary faith and heritage we share.

 

Shabbat shalom,

Chag Sameach,

 

Rabbi Jeremy

Friday, 23 May 2014

Ten Years a Rabbi

What is my job – as your Rabbi, as the Rabbi of this community?
I found, on-line – where else – the results of a survey on what makes the perfect Rabbi.
Those of you who were at my induction to this Synagogue, some six years ago, will have to forgive me for reprising something here. But I don’t intend doing this whole induction thing again.

 

The Perfect Rabbi. 
The results of an international survey indicate the perfect Rabbi preaches for exactly fourteen minutes. 
They condemn sins but never upset anyone. They work from 8:00 AM until midnight and are also dedicated to spending quality time with their family. 
The Perfect Rabbi makes £100 a week, wears nice clothes, spends lots of money on books, drives a decent car, and gives about £100 weekly to the poor. 
The Perfect Rabbi is 28 years old and has preached 30 for years. 
The Perfect Rabbi has a burning desire to work with teenagers and spends all of his time with senior citizens. 
The perfect Rabbi smiles all the time with a straight face because The Perfect Rabbi has a sense of humour that keeps him seriously dedicated to his work. 
The Perfect Rabbi makes 15 calls daily on congregation families, shut-ins and the hospitalized, and is always in his office when needed.

 

And the report goes on to suggest

If your Rabbi does not measure up, simply send this e-mail to six other synagogues that are tired of their Rabbi, too. Then bundle up your Rabbi and send him to the synagogue on the top of the list. In one week, you will receive 1,643 Rabbis and one of them will be perfect. Have faith in this procedure. One congregation broke the chain and got its old Rabbi back in less than three weeks.

 

This week I commemorated 10 years as a Rabbi.

Been reflecting on what I’ve learnt on this journey.

I hope you will forgive me a certain self-indulgence. Certainly I hope that some of what I have to say may resonate for some of us – even those of us who have spent far longer pursuing very different professional paths.

 

10 years ago I stood in a rather dreary auditorium deep in the bowels of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and I received a Tallit and a blessing and I wept as a chapter of my life – one that had occupied so many of my waking hours for so many years closed and the next one opened. Ordination came at the end of six years intensive study and close to two years obsession over whether this was really what I wanted to do with my life. So this sermon has been 18 years in the making.

 

I want to share three insights that have come to serve me well on this path.

 

1.      A line from Pirkei Avot – the 2000 year old collection Ethics of the Fathers - Oseh L’Cha Rav

Usually translated as ‘take a Rabbi for yourself.’ Rav literally means greater.

Certain spiritual attitude I love that requires us always to have in mind someone to look up to, to ask questions to, to be inspired by. In the usual translation prevents an arrogance, instills a humility.

But there is another translation, entirely acceptable as a matter of grammar.

Oseh Lecha Rav means make yourself into a Rabbi. Pirkei Avot is addressed to Rabbis. On this translation it commands that we, Rabbis, take responsibility for our own Rabbinate. Don’t wait for anyone to turn you into anything. Judaism doesn’t work that way. You have to put in the hard work. You are accountable for your shortcomings and your successes.

I think the idea works for other professions – certainly for those professions that are more than a way of earning the money to make the rest of life bearable.

Oseh Lecah Moreh – Make yourself into a teacher

Oseh Lechah Doctor – Make yourself into a Doctor

Oseh Lechah [author] – Make yourself into a writer

 

Acutally I think the idea works for all the more important parts of our life.

Oseh Lechah Haver – Make yourself into a friend

Oseh Lechah Baal or Ishah – Make yourself into a husband or wife, or son or daughter.

Don’t hand over the responsibility for turning yourself into that which you wish to become to anyone else.

 

2.     A commentary of Rashi on an unclear verse in Psalms.

Apologies, I have to do this in gendered language.

The man who is happy delights in God’s Torah, in his/His Torah he immerses himself day and night.

There is a lack of clarity here. ‘In His/his Torah’ – whose Torah.

Is it the Torah of the happy person, or is it God’s Torah.

Do you see the problem.

So here is Rashi’s commentary.

At first it is called God’s Torah, aval mi she amal bah, but when a person struggles with it nikreit shelo, it is called his.

When you start out as a Rabbinic student – at least when I did – all those books, foreign languages, foreign schools of thought, all so foreign, all so other, at first it’s all God’s. I can’t get near it. For a long time I couldn’t consider that I would ever deserve the title Rabbi, all seemed so foreign.

 

Aval mi she amal bah – but when you struggle with it.

Yehege yomam valailah – when you immerse in it day and night

Eventually it becomes yours.

It seeps inside.

Understanding Torah becomes less a process of accumulation a succession of facts, and more a process of osmosis, marination.

It seeps inside until Torah, being a Rabbi, becomes who you are.

I’m more at home in these Rabbinic shoes, on this Rabbinic pulpit now. It just took time.

 

I often share this Rashi with conversion candidates, I always think about.

You have to take conversion seriously, you need to immerse in it until that which at first seems so other becomes your own. There is no shortcut. There is no magic pill to swallow.

 

A couple of sporty thoughts –

A few years ago the sports writer Matthew Syed wrote a book Bounce predicated on the notion that Raphael Nadal isn’t a pre-naturally talented tennis player. He just worked at it. Bounce, bounce, bounce.

Jonny Wilkinson is due to retire from competitive rugby this week. I’m sure he would sign up to the Bounce philosophy.

 

The story is told of Rabbi Akiva that he decided, late in life, to study for the Rabbinate and at the end of the first day at Yeshivah had failed to understand anything.

Frustrated and close to quitting he went to sit outside, under the eves of the Bet Midrash. It had been raining and the guttering dripped onto a spot on a stone next to him making an indentation in the stones surface.

If mere water can make such an indentation in stone, then Torah can make an indendation in a bore like myself, said Rabbi Akiva.

I know what he meant.

Bounce, bounce, bounce.

 

Mi sheamal bah nikreit shelo

If you struggle long enough with something it will penetrate and you will become that which you aspire to becoming.

 

3.     Two have hold of a Tallit – Shnaim Machzikim B’Tallit Achad

This is the first Rabbinic text traditionally taught in the ultra-orthodox world.

Suppose you are a judge and two people come before you – each holding tightly to a Tallit, and one says I found it and its mine. And the other says, I found it and its mine?

It turns out that you are supposed to get both parties to say, ‘not less than half of it is mine,’ So the claims of both can be honoured as you split the thing in half.

On the one hand it’s a question about allocation of a resource.

 

Deeper, about tension, pulls and ways to handle those who pull in one direction and those who pull in others.

Congregational life is being that Tallit, pulled by those who insist one thing or another.

We’ve a lot of pulls at New London – thank goodness.

Between egal and preserving current allocation of roles for men and women

Between those who want more effort placed in youth provision and those who want more effort placed in financial stability.

The lesson is to expect the tension.

Actually to be delighted by the tension – it’s a sign of life.

And then what – the Mishnah teaches you get both parties to say that not less than half the Tallit is their’s then you cut it in half.

I think it’s saying you have to give both parties a sense of having been heard, of being able to walk away feeling an integrity of the process of engaging in tension or conflict.
And then you have to make a compromise, even if it hurts.

It always hurts.

 

So three insights, gleaned over this past decade and more.

Asah Lecha Rav – have people to look up to, but don’t hand over the task of becoming what you wish to become to anyone else.

Mi SheAmal Bah – when a person really grapples with it, day and night, it becomes yours, a part of who you are.

 

Shnaim Machzikim B’Tallit Achad – there will always be people pulling at the Tallit, claiming all of it for themselves. Know this, find ways to ease the competing and be prepared to make compromises that hurt.

 

I’m no perfect Rabbi.

Never have been, never will be.

Much left to do, but one last thought – words from Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ induction at the New West End in 1954 – 60 years ago.

Shared them at my induction here.

Still motivate and inspire me, I hope they will for many years to come and, in turn I can find that with which to motivate us all.

 

Said Rabbi Jacobs then, and say I now;

"I hope that the Judaism I preach from this pulpit will be a courageous Judaism. To the best of my ability I shall see to it that no shallow, spineless Judaism, one demanding no challenge and presenting no sacrifice, shall be preached here. But I hope that I shall also see to it that no harsh, unsympathetic, inhuman interpretation of Judaism is voiced here [either].

'O my Creator, give me understanding that I may transmit your inheritance; Strengthen and uphold me that I may be far from weakness and fear.' [From the Reshut of the Sh'li'ach Tzibur - Rosh HaShanah]
  
May You bless all the members of this holy congregation, prosper the work of their hands and bring joy into their lives, and may You always be with us as we continue to labour to do your will in sincerity and in truth. 

[And let us say]
Amen."

 

 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Summer in the Air

 

Passover feels a long time ago.

Spring is behind us, summer is in the air – even among the storms.

Shavuot is coming.

 

The Rabbis refer to Shavuot as Zman Matan Torateinu – the time of the giving of our Torah. In the context of the harvest cycle, Shavuot is the moment when the bounty of this year’s harvest was finally made available. The special Megillah associated with Shavuot is the heartbreaking Book of Ruth containing one of the greatest articulations of what it means to be part of a Jewish journey in all of the Bible. It’s a special time. I do hope members, and friends, will make every effort to join us for its celebration.

 

The eve of Shavuot, 3rd June, is marked with a night of learning, surrounded by cheese-cake and ice cream. I’ll be teaching over the communal dinner and there will opportunities to continue study through the night. We’ll be learning on the theme of Shmita – the reset and recharge button in Jewish life. You can book for dinner on-line via the Synagogue home-page [click here].

 

We are also offering a lunch on second day Yom Tov, 5th June. We particularly welcome those able to support a weekday Yom Tov to join us for what will be a beautiful service, including Yizkor. To book [click here].

 

Finally, for our younger members, there will be an ice-cream tea on Primrose Hill, again on the 5th, again, more information see the Synagogue home page.

 

This week I have celebrated 10 years in the Rabbinate. As a sermon I’ll be taking the opportunity to reflect on some of what I have learnt in this glorious and strange job/calling/life. It’s not every week you get a chance to give a sermon that has been a decade in formation.

 

Shabbat shalom,

 

Rabbi Jeremy

 

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Archery & LAg B'Omer

Lag B’Omer arrives on Saturday-night Sunday. It marks a turning point in the journey from Pesach to Shavuot. Traditionally it’s marks the day when the plague lifted from the students of Rabbi Akiva and we, as a Synagogue, re-open for wedding business. Traditionally Lag B’Omer is marked with archery.

 

Why archery?

 

Lag B’Omer is also the Yartzheit of another of the great Talmudic figures, Rabbi Shimon Bar Zakkai, a figure of such saintliness that, it is claimed, no rainbow was seen during his life (a rainbow being a understood as a sign that the people deserved to be punished, but God expresses instead of punishment the commitment no longer to destroy the planet).

It’s not the most satisfying of answers. But there is something in archery that seems most interesting.

 

The Hebrew root hidden in the word Torah is Yud Reish Hey – to shoot or to aim. It’s an archery term. In other words Torah is drawing a bow back, aiming and letting our intention lose. Thinking about archery becomes the very same thing as Torah. Give a bow inadequate attention or commitment and the arrow will fall miserably away. The more effort put into the process the more true the shot.  But striking a target, let alone striking the bull’s eye, requires training and perseverance. It’s been a long time since I’ve had a go at archery, but there is something quite beautiful about seeing it performed at the highest level. For the elite archer the world seems to fall away leaving only the purity of the thing itself. All of that I recognise from my practice of Judaism.

 

So we should draw back our bows, give our Torah and our aiming the effort and concentration it deserves.  Shoot well and ‘Torah well.’

 

Shabbat shalom

 

Friday, 9 May 2014

Happy Birthday to Us

This week New London Synagogue marks its fiftieth year.

What have we achieved?

 

We are here.

For fifty years we have come together in prayer, in study, in support and in celebration. For our members we have been a Jewish home from home and a mikdash, a physical manifestation in which God’s divine presence can dwell within us. Week after week, year after year and generation after generation we have been here.

 

We are a sanctuary.

I regularly am approached by refugees from orthodox imperialism; couples who have been denied marriage licences, Jews who have been deemed ‘insufficiently Jewish,’ sincere and serious conversion candidates who desperately want to belong to the Jewish people, but have been turned away for reasons too often too flimsy. More than that I often come across stories of welcome afforded by my Rabbinic predecessors here throughout the fifty year history of this community.  The Talmud tells of a day when the gates of the great Study Hall of antiquity were opened to all and relates of the abundance of creativity that the simple act of opening doors begat. We have been a place of open doors.

 

We are a beacon.

New London was always supposed to be a bastion for the vibrancy of combining a love of the tradition; traditional liturgy most especially, with an open minded and open hearted attitude towards the world and sources of truth wherever they may be found. In an Anglo-Jewry that often gave up one pole or the other, we have shown not only that it is possible to care about both tradition and modernity, but also that through committing to both Jewish life can flourish.

 

We have stood on the side of justice.

In the earliest years of the Synagogue a housing trust was launched to respond to the desperately poor social housing available at the time. That trust, the Newlon Housing Association, now owns or manages over 7,500 homes. The Dalai Lama spoke at New London on his first visit to London after his exile from Tibet. We have shown a tremendous support of Israel supporting especially the work of UJIA in the Northern Galillee and we have campaigned on behalf of the under-class in this country.

 

We are building for our future.

There were years of decline, but New London Synagogue today is both growing and getting younger. Wherever you look the demographic indicators of the Synagogue are positive. We are doing twice as many weddings as we are doing funerals. We have three times as many three year olds as we have thirteen year olds. We are welcoming new members all the time.

 

We have inspired others.

There is a movement; New North London, Edgware Masorti, St Albans Masorti, Hatch End Masorti, Buckhurst Hill Masorti, Stoke Newington ....  but there is something more than that. There are Rabbis from other movements, there are Synagogues with no direct connection to New London and there are Minyanim and points of Jewish connection that, all taking inspiration from our story – and largely let it be said, that of our founding Rabbi – and forging their own path, emboldened by the notion that Judaism can be lived without fear and without compromise.

 

What have we yet to do?

Many things.

We have not transformed all of Anglo-Jewry. For a while it felt as if we might, but there are still many, both congregants and Rabbis, in more traditional Synagogue movements who really should be part of our Masorti world, but aren’t.

We have not transformed all of our members. We have members who are deeply and passionately committed to Halachic engagement, study and compassionate acts, but frankly not many. The jibe that we represent a ‘lite’ option for those who didn’t want ‘proper’ Judaism is closer to the truth than I feel comfortable admitting.

We have not proved that our future is secure. I’m not sure how a Jew ever could, but I wish I could stand before God and be confident that we have done enough to prepare another generation of those prepared to commit, engage, fight and celebrate in the ways of those who founded this Synagogue.

There is still much to do.

 

But for this week, we deserve to toast our successes.

To all of us who have played a part in this past fifty years, particularly to our founding members and those who have given hugely to support this community in so many ways, thank you.

Here is to our future.

L’Hayim

Shabbat shalom,

 

Sermon Notes on the 50th Anniversary Celebrations of New London Synagogue

Very first sermon preached by at New London Synagogue on parashat Behar.

And the newspapers – back in the days when a Rabbi’s choice of a lectionary made the newspapers – reported that Rabbi Jacobs gave the sermon on that day on part of Leviticus 25:10 ‘ukaratem dror ba-aretz’ – and you shall proclaim freedom in the Land.

He said, and the Jewish Chronicle reported

‘we had to move from our home because we believe it is more important for men to speak their minds than mind their speech.’

Now what amazed me, as I prepared my words to share today, fifty years later was the context around the phrase that provided the grist for that first sermon.

Let me share the full phrase around Rabbi Jacobs’ choice of a lectionary.

Vkidashtem et shanat hahamishit, ukaretem dror baaretz

And you shall sanctify the fiftieth year, and you shall proclaim freedom in the land.

The verse is about the fiftieth year.

It’s not about the first year.

It’s about today.

 

Would have loved to have heard that first Rabbi Jacobs sermon at New London, but in many ways, already can.

It would have been a sermon about the ability to think what one needs to think.
To express the thoughts one needs to express.

Even if such honesty comes at a cost, even if others find this honesty uncomfortable.

When I spoke on the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of the publication of Rabbi Jacobs’ book, we have reason to believe I spoke about a very special piece of correspondence between two brave giants of 20th Century Judaism; Shlomo Goren and Shaul Lieberman.[1] I want to share it with you.

 

You might be able to picture Rav Shlomo Goren. You might have seen David Rubinger’s famous photograph of Goren; eyes ablaze, a shofar in each hand, being carried shoulder high by paratroopers to the kottel in the midst of the Six Day War.

Well that Rav Goren, Chaplain to the Israel Defence Force, became the Chief Rabbi of Israel – a big bauble for a guy who thought being devout didn’t mean could absent yourself from military service. Well Rav Goren got the big bauble and he threw it away.

He was approached by a brother and sister who were being classified as mamzerim – illegitimate Jews by the haredim.

Goren came to their aid. He published a monumental teshuvah to try and explain why, despite every appearance to the contrary, these poor yiddim should not be treated as mamzerim. And the haredim mocked him.

Goren personally served as the mesader kiddushin ­– he officiated at their weddings. And the haredim excommunicated him – they excommunicated their own Chief Rabbi.

 

The other party in this correspondence, Shaul Lieberman was, like Rabbi Jacobs, a product of the pre-war Lithuanian Yeshiva world. Lieberman was an absolute giant of Talmud study, one of very few Rabbi Jacobs himself would acknowledge as a far, far greater Talmudic scholar than he. And while personally Lieberman was a man of impeccable orthodoxy he decided to pursue his professional career at the Masorti affiliated Jewish Theological Seminary. And for this he too felt the fire of the haredim. He too was excommunicated. His name has been gently, if deceitfully, edited out of haredi scholarship.

There is something of Rabbi Jacobs in each of these two men.

 

And when Lieberman heard what was happening to Goren he wrote to Goren offering support.

 

Goren wrote back, gracious for the collegiality, especially from one who understood what it was to have the haredi Rabbinate turn against him. That’s the first paragraph of the letter.

It was the second paragraph that caught my attention.

 

That said, I’m delighted to note that I have never felt myself so free to deliberate, to teach, to make legal decisions as I see them, according to my own deliberations. I have been set free, blessed be God, from all the impure notions that they continually pursued me with – what would this one say, what would this lot say, or that lot – now I am fulfilling the Gemorah which states that Rabbi should judge only on the basis of what their own eyes see.[2]

 

The cost of refusing to bend to the religious deceit of those who wish to preserve dictatorial autocracy is that you lose the baubles of polite religious society. Rabbi Jacobs knew that cost, he paid that cost. But there is also great reward for refusing to lie. As Goren put it, you are set free from the ‘all the impure notions that they pursued me with always – what would this one say, what would this lot say, or that lot.’

 

Of course Rabbi Jacobs was right never to cavil, never to apologise for what his own eyes saw, never to grovel to the haredim, because they would never have given up. When you give up your integrity you walk forever with a stoop and a twitch, you spend the rest of your life looking over your right shoulder in case they come at you again.

This, for Rabbi Jacobs, was the meaning of Dror –  the freedom spoken of in this week’s parasha.

It was a freedom he enjoyed at this very special pulpit, the freedom I enjoy and a freedom I will endeavour to protect on behalf of whoever – at some dim and distant point in the future – shall take on the Rabbinic leadership of this community.

 

Freedom of speech, freedom to say the things that hold important is a vital piece of who we are, but it’s woefully insufficient.

Again, the context is important.

Actually two pieces of context

 

Vkidashtem et shanat hahamisim

And you – and here the Torah uses the plural pronoun, it’s all of us, not just a Rabbi – shall sanctify the fiftieth year.

The task of this community isn’t to support a single individual saying what they feel.

That’s insufficient.

The task of this community is to be a community.

To work together to sanctify, to make holy, the world in which we live.

At the heart of the idea of Jubilee, the 50th year, is the same notion of restraint that illuminates the Jewish concept of Sabbath.

Pause, don’t just chase more and more material, financial stuff.

Stop, acknowledge what we have, acknowledge the obligations we have to share and support those who have not.

Stop chasing after more and more and focus on becoming better, create possibilities for quality, not just quantity.

Someone sent me a blog post – handsfreemama

Trying to parent with something – usually a phone in our hands.

Put it down.

One day in the week.

Vkidashtem – sanctify,

Restrain and through that elevate our relationships with one another and with God.

That’s something we don’t do enough of here.

That’s a weakness in our sanctification of the 50th year.

 

Ukaratem dror baaretz lchol yoshveha

And proclaim freedom in the land for all its inhabitants.

Reference to the notion of freeing indentured slaves.

If so broke that had to sell oneself into slavery, would work until the 50th year, but then would have to be freed.

Now Rabbi Yehoshua Falk, 17th-18th century, a Rosh Yeshivah in Lemberg  had an excellent query on this verse.

If the indentured slaves are the ones going free, why does it say that all the inhabitants of the land – kol yoshveha – get to proclaim liberty.

A society in which there are slaves is a society which affronts every one of its inhabitants, taught Rabbi Falk, Masters as well as slaves are the beneficiaries when the slaves are set free.

 

The freedom of the Jubilee is not just about my freedom.

It’s about the freedom of others.

Now I could make an internecine point and suggest that there is a problem with other Rabbis, other Jewish communities where people still aren’t able to speak their mind in the way Rabbi Jacobs, Rav Goren and Professor Shaul Liberman did. And that is certainly true.

But there are much more obvious problems of suffering in this world, and even in the broader community surrounding us here in leafy St Johns Wood.

Extraordinary inequalities of wealth.

Tremendous poverty, even among the working

Proud that we employ at a Living Wage, but it would be wrong to say that this community engages actively in bettering the lives of those beyond our four walls.

A society in which there are slaves is a society which affronts every one of its inhabitants, taught Rabbi Falk, Masters as well as slaves are the beneficiaries when the slaves are set free.

We need to do more for those outside this community before we can truly proclaim our freedom.

 

Before we can truly proclaim freedom we, the plurality of all of us, need to take more seriously the task of brining sanctity to our lives.

We, the plurality of all of us, need to make a space in our life to acknowledge what we have and focus on the truly important relationships in our lives.

 

And we need to recognise that our freedom cannot come at the expense of others. True freedom comes only when we work to bring freedom to others.

 

Then and only then can we truly proclaim freedom on the occasion of our fiftieth year.

We’re doing OK so far, but much more to do,

 

Shabbat shalom,

 



[1] Published in M.B. Shapiro Saul Lieberman and the Orthodox (University of Scranton Press, Scranton NJ, 2006), Hebrew section p. 9.

-[2] BT Sanhedrin loc cit.

Saturday, 3 May 2014

A Sermon on Levinas and Israel

We are coming up to 50th Anniversary of the foundation of New London Synagogue.

A Synagogue founded because of a theological question; who wrote the Torah where Synagogues at the time offered two possible answers.

God did it

Humans did it.

Louis did something more complicated than holding one pole or another.

Held both at the same time.

There are both human and divine hands involved in the creation of Torah, and not in a simple sense, where one verse is human and the next is divine, but that the two creative forces are part of the same singular effort.

In a world that wants everyone to be on one side or another, Rabbi Jacobs, and this community, was about finding a way to live in the space inbetween. Living not in black, and white, but in a full spectrum of the colours of the rainbow.

 

There’s another thing that happened over the foundation of the Synagogue,

Something about an honesty, saying difficult things, if they are true, regardless of how uncomfortable that may make us or others feel.

 

So I want to take inspiration from those twin strands of our DNA and talk about Israel, at this time of commemoration and celebration.

 

Specifically I want to do something a little complicated. Bare with me.

I want to share with you a lecture given by the French Jewish thinker and writer Emmanuel Levinas.

Hugely grateful to Rabbi Natan Levy for pointing the lecture out to me.

In the lecture, given in 1965 – in the months before of the 6 Day War, Levinas discusses a Talmudic passage.

And the Talmudic passage discusses a Biblical passage from the book of Numbers.

 

I’ll begin with the Biblical passage.

The story is that Moses and the Children of Israel have arrived at the border of the Promised Land. 12 spies are convened to scope out the land, is it good, is it bad, how easy will it be to conquer it.

The story, as of course many of us know, is that 10 of the spies suffer a failure of nerve. They think they will be unable to conquer the land. ‘We saw Nephilim there,’ they said, ‘and we were in our own sight as grasshoppers and so we were in their sight.’

And it takes Joshua and Caleb to redeem the situation.

Ad can the Biblical text

 

The Talmudic text from the Tractate Sotah does some very obvious things with the story.

How can it be that the spies knew the Nephilim in the land thought that the spies were grasshoppers, the Rabbis asked.

They imagine the Israelites hiding in the trees and the Nephilim  would look at them and call them grasshoppers.

And Levinas, speaking in the just before the outbreak of the 6 day war reads this piece of the Talmudic text in this way;

‘Didn’t someone say recently, ‘we are one hundred million strong to crush you.’ When Israel arms itself against its neighbours, pacificts ask: How do you know that your neighbours do not want to make peace with you, did they say so? Yes they did say so, they told us we were like grasshoppers. It’s a remarkable contemporary passage,’ Levinas goes on to say, ‘That way of taking human faces for grasshoppers.’

What he means is that Israel the contemporary nations has might forces ready to pounce, effacing the Israelites – denying their humanity by calling them – us – insects.

And if that was true in the time of the Spies some three thousand years ago it was true in 1966 and it still rings true today.

There are still those who consider us grasshoppers in the land.

 

But there is something else Levinas sees in the Talmudic passage, something very easily missed.

In standard commentaries on the Biblical story the spies fail.

They lack faith and are revealed to be worthless.

Levinas, through his close reading of the Talmudic passage sees something else.

Levinas suggests that as the spies head into the and, and see other people already in the land they suffer not a lack of faith, but a super-abundance of ethics.

The problem the spies have is two fold.

Firstly they worry about kicking the people who are in the land out of the land.

Secondly they worry that the only justification for kicking the people in the land out, is the certainty that the Israelite could live to a far higher standard of ethics, they worry that their conquest could be justified not by the reliance on God’s absolute gift of the land, but on the lived commitment to decency of their fellows.

And the lack of faith is not a lack of faith that the land could be, as a matter of military might, be conquered, but a lack of faith that an Israelite conquest would last – before, as Levinas quotes the Talmud, ‘the land will vomit [the Israelites] up as it vomited up the nation before then.

Goodness,

That’s a radical, counter-cultural, extraordinarily brave reading.

And again, in 1965, with the Arab armies already massing on Israel’s borders, what worries Levinas, what Levinas suggests the Talmud worries about, is not the physical ability to win a war, but the ethical existential challenge of being a military power.

It’s so much easier, he suggests, tongue in cheek, to remain in the desert.

It’s an extraordinary work, grateful to Rabbi Natan Levy, who directed me to it.

In this read the gift of Israel is no longer to be taken for granted.

The way Israelites have to behave in the Land of Israel is to be held to a higher standard than would be the case for other nations – and isn’t that the truth.

And there a successful presence for the people of Israel in the land of Israel depends not on military might, but on ethical behaviour, and in particular our refusal to efface, disregard the other – the nations who where there when we arrived in the land.

 

It’s all blisteringly contemporary in a week when – yet again – Israel and the Palestinians have featured so frequently on the front pages, effacing one another.

 

I want to be clear, Levinas is no lefty, bleeding hearted, liberal.

He was interned by the Nazis in Fallingsbotel Labour Camp.

And he was a lover of Israel, but a particularly sophisticated one.

Able to both love Israel, and have fear of the impact of a sovereign Israel,

He was able to side not on the side of black or white, but on the side of a complex relationship with the contemporary State of Israel, a relationship that understood the nature of the existential threat to the physical viability of the nation, but a relationship that demanded and challenged the contemporary State to live up a certain moral standard.

I found the article remarkable, and remarkably part of this hermentutic – this way of engaging with tradition and modernity that I calling characteristically New London.

 

To hold both sides of a complex argument Рwithout falling for over simplification or clich̩

To be prepared to difficult things, even if they bring criticism.

 

That’s the Torah of New London and has been for our last 50 years.

It’s how we should related to this community and how, in this week in which we commemorate the sacrifices made by so many so Israel can survive, and the miracle of its independence, how we should share our love and our concern also.

 

Shabbat shalom

 

Friday, 2 May 2014

Talking About Israel: A Case Study in Jewish Discourse

 

Jews, famously, agree on very little. That said at certain times and in certain places in the history of our people different types, or styles, of Jewish discourse have come to the fore. In this paper I want to survey four such types of discourse, each typical of a different religious, social and historical climate. And then I want to speculate as to how each type, extrapolated into our current religious and social existence, would respond to the very contemporary reality of a State of Israel. There is a risk, of course, of over-generalising, but there is also much to gain in assessing the masorah – tradition – and relative merits of different types of Jewish discourse.

 

The navi ­– prophet – is the oldest model of Jewish dialogue beginning with Abraham and coming to a close in the last days of the Second Temple (say from 1700BCE to 100BCE). The discourse of the talmud hacham – Rabbinic scholar – comes to the fore in the first century of the common era and remains a dominant trop of Jewish engagement to this day. Alongside this scholastic mode another classic style of Jewish discourse emerged, this is the discourse of the chasid or mystic. Finally there is the discourse of the maskil – the enlightened Jew – a product of the onset of modernity. I shall work from most modern to most ancient.

 

The Maskil

The discourse of the Maskil – enlightened one – is characteristic of the last days of the eighteenth century, in France and Germany most especially. This was the moment when the Jew was given the opportunity to leave the ghetto and become a full member of their surrounding culture; able to trade freely and, most significantly, able to learn from and contribute to the debates and academic institutions of the day.  The Maskil adopted with alacrity the garb, the tone and the intellectual mores and values of the culture surrounding them. In so doing they cast off many of the traditional mores (or ‘fetters’ as they would have it) of traditional Jewish commitments and values. In part this casting off is seen as the price of acceptance into the surrounding non-Jewish culture, a price deemed worth paying, but more than that this casting off is seen as a corrective to what are deemed Jewish errors. The Judaism of the Maskil is, quite literally, enlightened from outside of Judaism. ‘Sacred cows’ – literal and figurative – are rejected, at times, almost with glee.

 

Berr Issac Berr,[1] writing in 1791, merely months after the French National Assembly passes legislation to emancipate the Jews, urges his fellow religionists,

 

To divest ourselves entirely of that narrow spirit, of Corporation and Congregation, in all civil and political matters, not immediately connected with our spiritual laws; in these things we must absolutely appear simply as individuals, as Frenchmen, guided only by a true patriotism and by the general good of the nation.

 

The greatest spokesperson for Jewish enlightenment however would not have used the patriotic nationalism of Berr. For Moses Mendelssohn the opportunity afforded by modernity was not the opportunity to replace Jewish parochialism with French nationalism, but rather the opportunity to show that Judaism embraced universal truths free of any nationalist tint. The core claims of Judaism (as distinct from our rituals and historic narratives) were truths that could be applied and worked out the whole world over.

 

I recognize no eternal truths other than those that not merely comprehensible to human reason but can be demonstrated and verified by human powers… I consider this a central point of the Jewish religion.[2]

 

To be a good Jew, taught Mendelssohn, one could not make claims that ran contra to claims the whole world claimed true.

 

The Discourse of the Maskil Applied to the State of Israel

The Maskilim were behind the foundation of Reform Judaism and, in the nineteenth century most especially, reformers were forthright in their rejection of Zionism. By extension we are on fairly safe ground in supposing how they would have spoken about the contemporary State of Israel.[3] The American Reform ‘Philadelphia Conference’ of 1869 stated,

 

The Messianic aim of Israel is not the restoration of the old Jewish state … involving a second separation from the nations of the earth, but the union of all the children of God in the confession of the unity of God, so as to realize the unity of all rational creatures, and their call to moral sanctification.

 

Rabbi Kaufmann Kohler, one of the foundational thinkers in American Reform Judaism is held to ‘repudiate the idea that Judea is the home of the Jew—an idea which “unhomes” the Jew all over the wide earth,’ in the entry on ‘Zionism’ in the 1911 Jewish Encyclopaedia. The ‘problem’ of Zionism, and by extension Modern Israel, is two-fold. Firstly it impinges on the ability of modern Jews to be treated as fully committed citizens of their respective countries, but also secondly, it is all a bit too particularistic and the messy ugly realities of governing a particularly Jewish State would surely have been perceived as unjustified.

 

The discourse of the Maskil, extrapolated into the contemporary debate on the State of Israel would be, if not anti-Zionist, then clearly deeply uncomfortable at the way the particular Jewish claims for the actions of the Government of the State of Israel are reflecting poorly on Jews both in and outside the borders of Israel. In the contest between the particular and the universal the particular carried little weight with the Maskil. They would not consider it a duty to defend the honour of the State we could even imagine the descendents of Mendelssohn leading a campaign for some kind of ‘one-state’ solution; an end to a particular Jewish state and its replacement with some kind of international universal entity in and around the current Jewish capital. And there are Jews who, even today, find themselves in the position of the Maskil.

 

The Talmud Hacham – Rabbinic Scholar

The archetypical model for the discourse of the talmud hacham comes in a encounter where the massed ranks of Rabbis prove Rabbi Eliezer wrong by citing a Biblical verse. [4] Rabbi Eliezer, by any objective standards, is right – he brings proof after proof of his position. Moreover even God thinks Rabbi Eliezer is right – a Divine voice comes from on high to say so. But the Rabbis nonetheless prove Rabbi Eliezer wrong with a Biblical verse. What is so remarkable is that the Biblical verse they cite is ripped so far out of its natural context that it comes to prove the complete reverse of its straightforward Biblical intention. ‘Incline after the majority’ cite the Rabbis. ‘You shall not incline after the majority to do wrong’ is the full Biblical citation. The mark of the talmud hacham is the moment when the seemingly obvious is turned on its head in a display of hermeneutic pyrotechnics that owes nothing to cool objectivity or Aristotelian logic.

 

Indeed in many ways the entire Talmudic endeavour can be understood NOT as an attempt to understand Biblical verses in some objective logical sense, but rather an attempt to justify the practices the Rabbis know, subjectively, to be correct with reference to some kind of proof which often has to be scraped, pulled and forced into position. The opening Mishnah in Tractate Pesachim, for example, suggests that the search for leaven is to be carried out in the ‘or’ of the 14th day of Nissan. The problem, for the Rabbis is that the Hebrew word ‘or’ means light, suggesting a morning-time search and the Rabbis ‘know’ that the search for leaven takes place at night. It takes them three folios to ‘prove’ that ‘or,’ at least in this context, means darkness. This is not to suggest that the Rabbis are making up their arguments, but rather that Rabbinic discourse is built backwards from a known end result. The known end result determines the engagement with the proof, not the other way round. [5]

 

In terms of our case study – how a talmud hacham would speak about the State of Israel it is important to note one other characteristic of the discourse of the talmud hacham – it is fiercely sectarian. The claim to be the true inheritors of the Biblical covenant is hotly disputed, most particularly in the first centuries of the Common Era. Scores of Rabbinic texts, both explicitly and implicitly record or imagine the talmud hacham battling the non-Jew for the right to claim they, and no other sect, people or faith, have a right to claim an inheritance of the covenant of Sinai. The texts which record meetings between Rabbinic Jews and outsiders to Rabbinics classically and almost always end in the outsider being defeated in a test of hermeneutic bravado. In one Rabbinic text a group of heretics, pagans, Gnostics or possible even Christians, are reported suggesting to Rabbi Simlai that a plurality of gods (or a Trinitarian godhead) were engaged in the creation of the world.[6] The Rabbi responds with various proofs and the heretics leave, defeated. What is remarkable about this particular text is that Rabbi Simlai’s students, watching the disputation, are curiously unmoved by their teacher’s arguments, ‘you have brushed them off with a reed, how would you answer us?’ They demand, almost acknowledging Rabbi Simlai’s arguments as too ‘rabbinic’; in contemporary terms too full of spin, lacking in a grounded reality. There are, of course, moments in the vast Rabbinic corpus of talmidei hachamim celebrating the claims of the non-Jews around them, but they are few and far between.

 

The Discourse of the Talmud Hacham Applied to the State of Israel

Surely the sectarian nature of so much of rabbinics would translate into a rejection of the claims of the non-Jew, either absolutely or partially. But the argumentative training of the talmud hacham would see him engaged in debate and argument. This type of Jewish discourse, translated to the contemporary political arena would surely involve a defender of Israel showing how, at every turn, the Palestinians have rejected this peace offering or that, they would demonstrate quite how antisemitic Ahmenajad or Hamas really are. And they would reject this or that independent report on grounds of flawed methodology or ideology. The details and the facts would have to be worked over and made to fit into the underpinning conviction that Israel’s right to exist needs to be justified and defended not only physically, but also in Jewish discourse. The discourse of the talmud hacham extrapolated into contemporary politics would surely be recognisable in the discourse of Israeli Governmental spokespeople and pro-Israel lobbyists associated with the right-wing. And there are many who speak about Israel in the discourse of the talmud hacham.

 

The Chasid, or Mystic

The Mystic is entranced by matters of the spirit. To the Mystic the world exists to lift one’s eyes above and beyond the material and the corporeal. The mystic is entranced by the magical quality of life and, often in the history of the Jews, nature. I am not speaking, here, of the theosophist who by mathematical formulas of great complexity mapped out the precise dimensions of the heaven and the human’s relationship to it, but rather the more ecstatic pietist.

 

A story is told of two brothers, students of Dov Baer, the Maggid of Mezeritch (17710-1772). One, Elimelech of Lizensk, went on to create schools of study and publish an important work of Torah. The other, Reb Zusia, published nothing and leaves only a collection of tales. How is it possible, we are bidden to ask, for two brothers to study in the same manner and still to turn out so differently? The answer is that every time the Maggid would begin to cite a Biblical text, ‘And God said …’ Zusia would reel over in ecstasy, ‘GOD SPOKE! Extraordinary, amazing, incredible …’ and eventually they would have to pick him up, carry him out of the study hall and he would miss the lesson.

 

Before the onset of Modernity it was, surely, the Mediaeval Jewish poets of Spain who were most entranced by the natural world around them. This is from the Divan of Abraham Ibn Ezra,

 

Wherever I turn my eyes, around on Earth or to the heavens

I see You in the field of stars

I see You in the yield of the land

In every breath and sound, a blade of grass, a simple flower, An echo of Your holy Name.[7]

 

The Zohar, early thirteenth century, is the classic Jewish religious work most noted for its attention to the natural world.

 

Rabbi Eleazar and Rabbi Abba were staying together one night. When night had fallen they went out into the garden by Lake Tiberias. As they did so they saw two stars moving in different directions. They collided with one another then disappeared.

Rabbi Abba said, ‘How great are the works of the Holy One, blessed be He … who can possibly understand the significance of these two stars that have come from different directions and collided with one another and then disappeared.[8]

 

The companions of the Zohar are in their natural habitat walking through the orchards, sheltering under the trees[9] and gazing at the sky above the eternal home of the Jewish people. For them the natural world – the land – is at the heart of their relationship with the Divine; a relationship untrammelled by governmental or political machinations.

 

The Discourse of the Mystic Applied to the State of Israel

When it comes to politics … the Mystic just doesn’t do politics.[10] Mystics don’t read the papers, they daven. When it comes to the tough political decisions that face the State, they believe in God’s providence and the coming of the Messiah.

The Mystic extrapolated into contemporary Israel would be the lover of the land, off hiking through the hills, plunging into the sea, blind to what happens behind the security fence, or wall, or whatever and just wishing the whole political problem would somehow go away so they could be left to commune with the land they love. And there are many whose relationship with the contemporary State of Israel is the relationship of the Mystic

 

The Navi, or Prophet

The Hebrew prophet is not to be confused with the Greek oracle. Their telling of the future is not a tarot-card trick, it is more a holding up of a particular kind of a mirror where the inevitable consequence of current behaviour is reflected back at the viewer. The Navi must turn the people from their sins by confronting them with their stumbles and failings. They do this by speaking truth to power and exposing our failings, sparing no blushes, accepting no excuses, cavilling before no-one. They do not care who might be listening in, nor do they chose their words with tact or delicacy. Their barbs are designed to shock the people out of their stupor.

 

Hear this, you who trample on the needy, saying, “when will the Sabbath be over so we may offer wheat for sale, so we may make the ephah small and the shekel great, dealing deceitfully with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals and selling the refuse of the wheat?”

Shall not the land tremble on this account and every one mourn who dwells in it, and all of it rise like the Nile, be tossed about and sink again, like the Nile of Egypt.

Amos 8:4-8 (extract)

 

The retreat into mystical piety is not for the Prophet. Nor is the prophet tempted by the Universal philosophical truths that so entrance the Maskil. And, most of all, the prophet rejects the legal curlicues that exemplify the Rabbinic scholar. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s expanded and anglicised dissertation on ‘The Prophets’ articulates these tendencies better than anyone.

 

Rather than contemplating eternal ideas [the prophet’s] mind is preoccupied with the concrete actualities of history, rather than the timeless issues of thought.

The prophet is intent on intensifying responsibility, is impatient of excuses, contemptuous of pretence and self-pity. His tone, rarely sweet or caressing, is frequently slashing, even horrid – designed to shock rather than to edify.

The prophet makes no concession to man’s capacity … he seems unable to extenuate the culpability of man. [11]

 

But this coruscating pounding aspect to the classical Biblical prophets is not the only mode of prophetic discourse. The contemporary Biblical scholar, Yochanan Muffs, notes;

 

The prophet has another function: He is also an independent advocate to the heavenly court who attempts to rescind the evil decree by means of the only instruments at his disposal. He is first the messenger of the divine court to the defendant, but his mission boomerangs back to the sender. Now, he is no longer the messenger of the court; he becomes the agent of the defendant, attempting to mitigate the severity of the decree.[12]

 

Indeed, Muffs argues, one could claim that the role of prophet as defender is older even than the role of prophet as accuser. After all Abraham is seen as the first great prophet not because he confronts the people of Sodom and Gemorah with their failings, but rather because he intervenes with God to save them, ‘Should not the just one of the entire world behave justly?!’ (Gen 18:25). Moses too is at his most ‘Navi-like’ defending the children of Israel before God, most especially in the aftermath of the Golden Calf debacle where the Rabbis imagine God as a father about to kill his child before Moses steps in.[13]

 

The vaguely paradoxical idea is that God wills the prophet to oppose God by championing the people, even in their failings, before Him. The failure of the prophet stand in the breach, defending their people is a failure of prophetic discourse.

 

Like foxes in the ruins were your prophets, Israel, you have not gone up into the breaches, nor have you built up a fence for the House of Israel to stand in battle in the Day of the Lord. (Ezekiel 13:4-5)

And I searched for a man, a fence-mender, someone who would stand in the breach against Me [God!] on behalf of the land, that I not destroy the land. (Ezekiel 22:30)[14]

 

The prophet must be engaged in defending their people’s ultimate goodness and value. They must stand up for Israel, even in her failings, even in the face of great opposition. 

 

The Discourse of the Navi Applied to the State of Israel

It is safer, perhaps, to begin with what would not appear in the discourse of the Navi. The Navi would not be engaged in attempting to ‘contextualise’ or explain away the more discomforting actions of Israeli governments or officials. The Navi would ‘collateral damage’ unacceptable, they would be reviled by attempts to justify what they would see as unjustifiable. Prophets do not win elections with manifesto commitments dripping in bravado. They do not win friends with flattery and small talk. But the Navi would also refuse to give up on Israel. They would preach of its deeper goodness and ultimate worth, even beneath its contemporary failings. Lovers of Israel would find reading the words of this ‘extrapolated Navi’ hard to hear, they would sting, but ultimately it would be impossible to close one’s heart to their oratory, power and truth.

 

This combination of sharp critique allied with great love is perhaps the least heard voice, when it comes to speaking about Israel. There are few who speak about Israel with the discourse of the Navi.

 

A Personal Choice

I reject the approach of the Maskil. Indeed these are the great lessons of the last century – we need to find a place for nationalism, it can’t be sublimated or rejected. Emancipation with no Jewish homeland is a no protection from the forces that led to Stalinism or Holocaust, nor can Judaism survive free of its connection to the Land.

Nor do I accept the discourse of the Talmud Hacham. It’s impressive, but feels hollow, disingenuous or self-serving on occasion. While some of Israel’s actions may indeed be justifiable if properly understood and some accusations levelled against the Jewish State may indeed be misplaced, I feel deeply uneasy when confronted by the indefensible. I might be able to persuade interlocutors real and imagined some of the time, but I fear I am pushing off arguments with a reed.

Equally I reject the discourse of the Mystic. My Judaism, and the Judaism of the Synagogue I lead, cannot close itself from truths, no matter how uncomfortable they may be. I bless God, every morning, for the gift of my sight and I cannot close my eyes to what goes on behind fences and walls.

Ultimately I choose the approach of the Navi. In fact it is no choice, I am compelled. I believe the most powerful, the most holy and the most modern response to the State of Israel is the most ancient of Jewish discourses. It is not an easy path to tread, I risk being accused of a lack of love on the one hand and a lack of guts on the other. But I commit myself to speaking more prophetically of Israel, more passionately in love with her, more sure than ever of her ultimate righteousness and worth, but also brooking no failures and speaking out when she falls short. The aim, and it should be the aim of all of us, is to prove ourselves worthy descendents of Abraham, Moses, Ezekiel and Amos. If we can do that we may even live to see the dreams of another great prophet fulfilled.

 

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.

But they shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree; and none shall make them afraid. (Micah 4:3-4)

 

May it come speedily and in our time.

 



[1] A merchant and banker who, among other achievements represented the Jews of Alsace and Lorraine in an attempt to win civil equality in 1989 and subsequently sat on the Parisian Sanhedrin. Text from ed. Mendes-Flohr & Reinharz The Jew in the Modern World (OUP, Oxford, 1995) p.119

[2] Mendelssohn, Jerusalem, trans Arkush (Brandeis University Press, London, 1983) p. 88.

[3] Nothing here, of course, should be considered a comment on contemporary Reform Zionism. Indeed if there is a model of discourse discussed here that is most embraced by contemporary Reformers it is the model of the Prophet, not the Maskil.

[4] BM 59b, citing Exodus 23:2

[5] This classic piece of Rabbinic humour is only a mild exaggeration of a genuine Talmudic passage (Chullin 113b). The Bible repeats the injunction ‘you shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk’ three times (Ex 23:19, 34:26 and Deut 14:21). We are encouraged to imagine a thrice repeated dialogue between God, giving dictation on Sinai, and Moses, hasty scribbling notes on the Divine Will. ‘You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,’ says God. ‘What’ says Moses, ‘no eating milk and meat together?!’ ‘You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,’ says God. ‘What’ says Moses, ‘we need to wait three hours between eating meat and eating milk?!’ ‘You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk,’ says God. ‘What’ says Moses, ‘we need entirely separate sets of crockery and cutlery?!’ ‘Fine,’ says God, ‘have it your own way.’

[6] BR 8:9

[7] From Swartz “Jews, Jewish Texts and Nature,” in Gottlieb ed This Sacred Earth (Routledge, London, 2004) p.98

[8] Zohar II 171a, trans from Lachower & Tishby The Wisdom of the Zohar (Littman, OUP, Oxford, 1989) vol 2. p. 663.

[9] See Zohar II 127a

[10] Again, I am taking a particular and narrow example of Mystic discourse. Some Jewish mystics have been deeply engaged politically, Akiva’s support of Bar Kochba and Mendel of Rimanov’s support of Napolean are but two examples.

[11] Heschel, The Prophets (Harper & Row, London, 1969) pp. 5, 7 & 9

[12] Muffs Love & Joy (Harvard University Press, NY, 1992) p. 9.

[13] Brachot 32a expanding on Exodus 32 and Deuteronomy 9. See also Psalms 106:23.

[14] Muffs cites 1 Sam 7:5-9, 1 Sam 15:10-11, Jer 14 in partic 14:13 (‘’ahah is a;most always the style of the prophet when he is opposing divine action’) and Amos 7:3 as other examples of this fence-building quality of prophetic discourse. Loc cit. p.29.

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