Thursday, 21 May 2015

Why do Jews eat dairy products at Shavuot? It's a love thing.

The classic Jewish food of Shavuot is cheesecake (or smatana in my family), in any event – something dairy. Why? It’s not something specified in the Torah. But the classic Rabbinic answer is that the Jews knew there would be something in the revelation of Shavuot about meat, and not knowing what it would be, not wanting to start off a relationship with God post-revelation on the wrong foot, they were extra careful.

It’s a touching idea.


Perhaps the most beautiful series of Midrashim around the giving of Torah are those that compare this moment to a wedding, between God and the people of Israel with the Torah serving as the Ketubah –revelation is understood as love. The blessing said daily just before the Shema includes the wish that we should ‘understand, comprehend, and fulfil all the words of Your Torah in love.’ The blessing has the word love as its first and last word. And this is the key to the ‘decision’ to eat meat – the decision to be extra careful.


Relationships are based on care, on the decisions we take to ensure that those we love, those we wish will love us, will not be hurt by actions. When in love we take the initiative in actions that keep the possibility of hurt far away. If you are falling in love, you turn up early for a date. You floss. You check whether the trains are running before you head off on some romantic bank-holiday trip together. Love, between God and Israel, or between Israelites – or any human – is taking a step before being asked to so do. Love is not rocking back, arms crossed over the chest, waiting to be impressed. Love takes a leap, a risk, an open heart, a willingness to experience that which we don’t entirely know.


So my request, this Shavuot eve, is leap a little, step forward a little, try a little.

We have a wonderful Tikkun Leyl evening planned. You can come later even if you haven’t booked the dinner. We have services throughout the Yom Tov, and there is much to experience. You might even fall in love with Torah and its creator,


Shabbat shalom and Chag Sameach,


Friday, 8 May 2015

Thoughts on Democracy - On Election Night

I voted.

I took my three year old daughter with me to the polling station early Thursday morning. I spent the short walk to the polling station trying why it was so important we didn’t go straight to school. My daughter didn’t look particularly impressed. Let me try a more adult audience.


The Jews of Britain were given the vote in 1858 - just over 150 years ago. Actually the story is more multi-layered than that. There was an attempt to give Jews the vote in 1753, the Jewish Naturalisation Act was passed – but the legislation was followed by such an uproar that it was repealed a year later.

I’m never impressed by the claim that the ancient Greeks invented democracy. The notion that every human, regardless of race, gender, religion ... deserves a say in the leadership of the societies in which they live is not the democracy of ancient Greece. Too many supposed democracies limit suffrage in one way or another and, as Jews, we should always be nervous and police the most universal definitions of suffrage. The notion that we should all get to play our part in choosing how are to be led is a fragile one and protected better in this country, in this week, than in many many other times and places.


After services tomorrow we are going to discuss our member Peter Pomerantzev’s terrific book on contemporary Russia – Nothing is True and Everything is Possible. In many ways it’s a story about the meaninglessness of the term ‘democracy,’ as applied to life in Russia. There are elections, sure. But the culture of leadership is not that of a country governed, in Lincoln’s glorious phrase, ‘by the people, for the people.’ And that is, principally, because not enough of ‘the people’ cared enough about raising their hands to protest against the dereliction of a commitment to civil society when the tough guys and the well-placed guys grabbed what they could grab. By the way, it’s going to be a great discussion. Do come, even if you haven’t read the book.


As a Jew the most interesting element of democracy, for me, is not the picking of the winner, but rather the necessity of checks and balances. A democracy needs a constitutional framework to implement the allocation of power – and its removal. It also enshrines the notion of difference – proper democracies value difference. I love the term ‘Loyal Opposition’ – it suggests that disagreement and difference are not the same as treachery. That’s great news if you do things differently, and tend to disagreement, as so many Jew do.


Of course democracy is flawed. This has been written before the result of Thursday’s election are known. But, dear God, we are grateful for the opportunity to be alive in this time, and in this country, and we should never take such fortune for granted,


Shabbat shalom


Rabbi Jeremy


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...