Thursday, 26 April 2018

After Death, Speak of Holiness

I remember well one of my last conversations with Rabbi Louis Jacobs, it was around this time of the year. I was the Rabbi at St Albans and providing some extra cover at New London when there was a bereavement. I was asked to help and headed off to meet the family. They told stories of the close relationship between the deceased and the Synagogue’s founding Rabbi. I called Louis in search of something I could share at the eulogy. I meant personal insight. Louis, of blessed memory, thought I was looking for a word of Torah. ‘Acharei Mot Kedoshim Emor,’ he told me - ‘After death speak of holiness.’ It’s a particularly Rabbinic kind of joke. Acharei Mot, Kedoshim and Emor are the names of the three Sidrot we read this week and next. But the idea is wonderful. After loss it’s good to speak of the holy things in life - relationships that transcend the transactional, acts of charity, kindness and bravery and commitment to a life of faith and engagement in religious observance.
It’s been advice I’ve endeavoured to follow since. And, indeed, at a eulogy I delivered after Louis’ death - less than two months later, I concluded with words from his own work on Jewish Law, Tree of Life.
The correct Jewish response to suffering seems to be expressed in the rule that when a mourner rends his garment in grief at the death of a near relative, he should do so while standing, not while sitting. As Dr Hertz puts it, ‘According to ancient Jewish custom, the ceremony of rending our garments when our nearest and dearest on earth is lying dead before us, is to be performed standing up. This teaches, meet all sorrow standing upright. The future may be dark veiled through the eyes of mortals … but hard as life’s terms may be life never dictates unrighteousness, unholiness, dishonour’ [end quote, and here he adds his own comment]. If this interpretation is considered too homeletical, the rule about standing upright might have been intended to denote a rising to the tragic occasion.
After death we should speak of holiness - standing up!
Let me also offer a warm encouragement for anyone who has not yet signed up to the Shabbat Dinner on 5th May to do so - you can do that here.
And also mark your diaries for Shavuot - starting with a glorious highlight of the shul year Tikkun Leyl on Saturday night 19th May, and continuing through Saturday and Sunday.
Shabbat shalom,
Rabbi Jeremy

Things you get asked - What Does Masorti Judaism Think About Torah

Things you get asked as a Rabbi - can I have 150 words on this by ... [very soon]. but it's a good question.
Here's how I felt about it today.

At its most limited Torah is the Five Books of Moses - the Humash. More broadly Torah includes the rest of the written Hebrew Bible, and also the Oral Torah - with the latter including not only the collections of Talmud and Midrash but also, “that which a committed student will innovate in the future,” even that, “was already said to Moses at Sinai.” (TY, Peah, 17b). More broadly still Torah is the path by which Jews make lives of meaning - that’s something beyond quill and ink and even beyond  Reish Lakish’s eloquent image of black fire carved on white fire (TY, Shekalim 49d). Ultimately, Torah is the will of God, an ineffable, infinite complexity beyond human ken. Midrash Bereshit Rabba 1:1 suggests Torah was the blueprint from which God created this world. The broad conceptions should draw some of the sting out of the old arguments about Divine authorship - it’s not really the point.

Friday, 20 April 2018

Happy Birthday Israel

We live in a time where there is a State of Israel. A dream for millennia is a reality in our age. And how quickly we normalise our relationship with the direction of our prayers and the source of our faith.
I’m sharing two things this week;

Koolulam is the sensational new hit of Israeli society; scratch mass choirs performing the great hits of Israeli culture. For Yom Haatzmaut, 12,000 Israeli - lead by President Rivlin, came together to sing ‘Al Kol Eleh’- it’s remarkable and in the emotions of the chorus you can feel the history of this remarkable country. Most warmly recommended. Click here. On Shabbat I’ll be sharing some insights drawn from this magnificent song - a song that celebrates the honey, and the bee-sting.

And also this - from my wife. Do please forgive the nepotism.
A few months ago, out of the blue, I received a call from UJIA: “So… we have a date at the Royal Albert Hall for an event to mark Israel’s 70th birthday and we want to do something contemporary, celebratory and a bit different. And we’d like you to dream it all up”. What a dream gig! I started to pull together a list of all my favourite Israeli artists making work today – in music, dance and visual art and then pretty much asked them all to join us. And amazingly they all said yes.
So on 24th May at Platinum at the Royal Albert Hall as a somewhat different and absolutely celebratory and creatively rich Yom Hatzma’ut event, you’ll be able to watch 49 artists from Israel including:

Balkan Beat Box – a true party band who blend Eastern European brass, Israeli rhythms and some jazz and punk influences. I’ve worked with them to invite a special programme with musical guests drawn from across Israel’s diverse communities – they’ll be Ethiopian Israeli Gili Yalo who sings in Amharic, A-WA, three very cool Yemenite singers who perform in Arabic and Hebrew and the wonderful Shai Tsabari who mixes traditional oriental music with rock, pop, electronic and world music.

Vertigo Dance Company is one of Israel’s leading contemporary dance companies and unbelievably they’ve never performed here. They’ve also created a special 20 minute performance especially for Platinum with 11 dancers and 11 live musicians, White Noise. White Noise will be full of energy and dynamism, a burst of exceptional movement and beauty.

Gilad Ephrat Ensemble – I spent a while trying to find a classical music ensemble who would do justice to the spirit and musical pedigree of the Royal Albert Hall whilst simultaneously originate uniquely from Israel. Gilad Ephrat has pulled together a small quartet of virtuoso string musicians and composed work for them that draws on classical, jazz and Israeli folk traditions. Their set will be a true gem.

On top of that, we’ll screen some short films by contemporary Israeli video artists, bring Russian-born Israeli soprano Olga Senderskaya to the UK for the first time, present some really quite high profile British and Israeli speakers and  be charmed by music and arts broadcaster Suzy Klein and criminal barrister Rob Rinder, reality star of ITV's Judge Rinder and a breakout participant of 2016's Strictly Come Dancing (BBC). PLUS the evening will open with a performance by around 70 non-professional dancers who will work with Israeli choreographer Hagit Yakira. I’m still looking for a few more aspiring dancers for this – please do contact us through the website if you’d like to know more.
There’s ticketing info and more details on all the artists above with links to their music at
It’ll be an enormous event and I’d love you to be part of it.

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

On the creation of Woman

Ah, it's fun to do some original digging around. I've been on a 'crusade' to shift the perception that Eve was created from the rib of Adam for some time. It's not an accurate reading of the Hebrew, and it does create a strong sense that 'woman' is a creative afterthought or spare part based on an androcentricity that has, I think, been very powerful - and dangerous, in the world.
I recently got involved in a correspondence in the London Review of Books on the subject, and have finally had the chance to create a sourcesheet of sources - to which I've added a bunch of illuminations and illustrations.
I think it's a really important issue that should get taught and talked about more.
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