Thursday, 11 September 2014

Written on a Hat - Rabbinic Reflections on Ellul and Manmade Fibre

I bought what was once called a woolly hat, back in the days when hats were made from wool. This hat, made out of some fancy manmade material, comes with a ‘legend’ printed on the label.


‘Polartec (registered trademark) is a series of high performance fabrics that enable you to control your Body Climate (trademark protected) and stay comfortable regardless of the weather or activity. Believe In What Your Wear! (trademark protected).’


Oh dear. How very un-Ellul. At this time we are called to acknowledge our fragility and the lack of true control we have over our lives. The winds blow and not even the most impressively engineered high performance fabric will keep us comfortable. “All flesh is grass,” teaches Isaiah, in verses that influence the most powerful prayer of the Rosh Hashnaha season, “ and all its grace is as the flower of the field; The grass withers, the flower fades. Only the word of our God endures forever.”


Believing in What We Wear is no more advisable than believing in the idolatrous power of an icon. We do better to place our trust, perhaps counter-intuitively, in that which cannot be trademarked, purchased and owned – we do better to place our trust in a God we cannot understand and have never seen. In part because even in our lack of true comprehension we can still intuit calls to care, be holy and kind. But perhaps even more importantly, by placing faith in that which lacks concrete certainly we are forced to tread more gently. If we are foolish enough to Believe In What We Wear - if we think that a hat, or a burglar alarm or 90 minutes in the gym actually offer any kind of real protection from life and its intransigencies, we are likely to care less about the myriad of encounters that make our life worthy of being saved. Being worthy of being saved, while less superficially attractive than the guarantee of comfort regardless of the weather or activity, does at least has the ring of truth about it.


The problem isn’t just hats. The problem is that wherever we turn we are being sold, quite literally, the ability to be Masters of the Universe. We live in a world so infused with hyperbole, deceit and vanity that looking beyond the nonsense of legendary hats and their like is actually a challenge. It takes effort, we need to nurture the ability to see the reality beyond that which is day-after-day imprinted on our senses. Let me suggest three ways to develop a more profound way to see the world.


This coming Tuesday we are offering an evening of exploration around Rosh Hashanah. More details at, it will be an opportunity to reflect and open the mind. All welcome.


Next Saturday evening (20th Sept) at 9:30pm we being our liturgical preparation for Rosh Hashanah, our Slichot programme will allow prayer and music to open our hearts – and I’ve pulled all the nepotistic strings I can to bring a very special guest to join me for a pre-service conversation. More information at


Finally Friday week (26th Sept) – the second day of Rosh Hashanah. The first day is fine, lots of people we haven’t seen for a while and lots of prayer stuff, but it takes the first day to quieten down the Shuk of the world outside. The true moments of insight come, I promise, on the second day. For tickets please go to


Shabbat shalom,


Rabbi Jeremy

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