Monday, 31 December 2012

Ask the Rabbis at Kenton Shul

From left; Rabbis; Knopf; Hackenbroch; Black; Shainfield; Laitner

Well it's been a long time since I posted anything on my blog; so here we are and welcome back:

Over sixty people packed into the latest Ask the Rabbis session in Kenton Shul. The four Rabbis on the panel were;
Rabbi Pinchas Hackenbroch; Senior Rabbi at Woodside Park Shul
Rabbi Anthony Knopf: Associate Rabbi at Hampstead Garden Suburb
Rabbi Michael Laitner: Living and Learning Rabbi and Associate Rabbi at Kinloss Gardens Shul
Rabbi Ari Shainfield: Associate Rabbi at St John’s Wood Shul
Rabbi Yehuda Black from Kenton was in the Chair

Here is a short synopsis of the questions and some of the responses.

Norman Garber : Covenant; is it a contract, partnership or relationship?

Rabbi Laitner mentioned that the idea of covenant or Brit is to be found in Chapter 24 from the Book of Shemot and is an essential element of being Jewish, not just on a national level but also from an individual perspective. We are active in this covenant as partners with G-d.

Jeff Bennett; The decision to change the constitution of the US about women (allowing them to become chairmen), will this eventually lead to the appointment of women Rabbis?

Rabbi Laitner emphasised that there is a vast difference between women being permitted to become chairs and laws that apply to allowing women to be called up to the Torah and greater participation in services etc. These issues have been discussed elsewhere in articles such as those from Rabbi Michael Broyde in Hakirah.
Rabbi Hackenbroch welcomed the fact that women had a desire and enthusiasm to play a more active role. We encourage the communal involvement of women and indeed all members of our communities.
Rabbi Shainfield compared the relationship between ourselves and G-d as similar to the relationship between a man and woman. It is important to understand our individual relationship and role with Hashem.
Rabbi Hackenbroch went on to discuss the importance of being team players in the running of community and looking toward the greater good of the community and not being clouded by self interest.

David Hoffman: Thirteen principle of faith- how do they stand in Judaism?

Rabbi Laitner: Thirteen principles of faith are summarized in the Yigdal prayer. Professor Mark Shapiro wrote an essay entitled: "The limits of orthodox Theology" and Professor Menachem Kellner wrote: "must a Jew believe in anything?" Both of these writers are Orthodox academics.  The 13 principles of faith were set down by Maimonides in his commentary to the Mishneh from Sanhedrin. He needed to set down these principles because of challenges from Islam and Christianity against Judaism..
Rabbi Knopf: A Jew is somebody obligated to keep Judaism regardless of beliefs. Indeed The Rambam went out of his way to include people like the Karaites even though they did not believe in the Oral Torah. Rambam was trying to delineate what are our boundaries, what is our framework to being a Jew.
Rabbi Black interjected with the famous Talmudic statement which says: A Jew even though he has sinned is still a Jew.

Why are some of our Rabbis clean shaven and some have beards?

Rabbi Laitner: (doesn’t have a beard) My wife likes me to shave. I have not grown up in a family that had beards. And the fact that I do not wear a beard creates Kiddush Hashem.
Rabbi Knopf: (no beard) I cannot stand having a beard and it is indeed a big struggle in the Omer when I am obligated to have one!
Rabbi Shainfield: (little beard) I was at the levaya of the Shotzer Rebbe in Enfield cemetery and I made a resolution to grow a beard and not to shave with an electric shaver.
Rabbi Hackenbroch: (beard) Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky suggested that it would be a very good Segulah to grow my beard. But it is a constant reminder of who I am.
Rabbi Black: (beard) I never shaved in my life. It is in my family. My father had a small spitz beard. If you look at old photos of Rabbis- they always had beards. The default position of the Torah is not to use a razor on the face, therefore the default position is to grow a beard.

What are qualities of Chief Rabbi?

Rabbi Black: The new CR Rabbi Mirvis will bring great strengths to Chief Rabbinate. His strengths are: organizational- he has built the KLC (Kinloss Learning Centre) from nothing into something really vibrant and good. He has also tremendous people skills and is able to work and interact with everybody.
Chief Rabbi Sacks has been the greatest Ambassador for the Jewish people and has been able top explain Jewish ideas and themes to the non Jewish world.

Rabbi Knopf: The role of CR is to bring the Jewish community together and harness all its strengths.
Rabbi Laitner: Three aspects of role of CR:
  1. CR is CEO of Jewish Community. Matters of Jewish status; marriage registration and an external Jewish voice to the public square.
  2. Inspires and leads us by launching initiatives and building communities.
  3. Promoting Jewish communal causes like Shecghita and Brit Milah.
Rabbi Hackenbroch: The Chief Rabbi needs to deal with the Lost Tribe of the Jewish community. Those Jews who pop their heads in on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur and that’s all we see of them. 80- 90% of our members are not involved. We need a Chief Rabbi to turn them on to Judaism.
Rabbi Shainfield: It’s not what the CR can do for us, but what can we do for the new Chief Rabbi to make his job more achievable..

Other questions were:
Are Liberal or Reform Rabbis allowed to be given an Aliyah in an Orthodox Shul?
Limmud. Why do US Rabbis not go?
What is the Jewish version of achrayut- responsibility?

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Creativity in Life

This morning we read from the double Sedra of Tazria/Metzorah. This Sedra begins with birth and informs us of the mitzvah of brit Milah:
“On the eighth day you shall circumcise the foreskin of his flesh”.

I want to analyse a famous Medrash which is found in the Tanchuma and also in a collection of Medrashim from  the Yalkut Shimoni on our Sedra:

It’s a discussion between Rabbi Akiva and the Roman Governor Turnus Rufus- not a friend of the Jews; he was the one who ended up ploughing up the land upon which the Temple was built.

Turnus Rufus asked Rabbi Akiva, "Whose deeds are better? Those of G-d or those of man?"
Rabbi Akiva answered, "Those of humans are better." Turnus Rufus asked, "Behold the heaven and the earth. Can you make anything more beautiful than them?"
He answered, "Do not tell me about something that is higher than human capabilities, since humans are unable to do these things, but let us compare things which humans are capable of."
Turnus Rufus asked, "Why do you circumcise yourselves?" Rabbi Akiva answered, "I knew that you were asking about something like that, and for that reason I told you at the start that men's deeds are greater than those of G-d."
Rabbi Akiva then brought to Turnus Rufus two items: stalks of wheat and baked rolls. Rabbi Akiva said, "These the stalks of wheat are the deeds of G-d, and these the baked rolls are the deeds of humans. Are these baked rolls not more beautiful?"
"If so," answered Turnus Rufus, "since G-d is interested in circumcision, why did he not create human beings already circumcised?"
Rabbi Akiva answered, "Because G-d gave the mitzvot to the Jewish people only to purify them. And this is what David Hamelech said, "The word of G-d is pure, it is a shield for all those who take shelter in Him."
Let me just delve into this Medrash a second. Turnus Rufus is trying to understand the need for a Jew to do a Mitzvah. If G-d created this world perfect; then why does man need to do anything with it?
Indeed as a Jew I declare from His holy Torah that - The Rock (G-d) His work is perfect. (Haazinu) If I believe that G-d’s work is perfect how can the puny insignificant little me come along and say that I need to do anything to change his world to make it better?
So Rabbi Akiva begins with the statement that this world created by G-d is not better than the deeds of man. Indeed he brings a proof by showing the wheat stalks- G-d’s natural creation and the bread rolls- mans intervention
Of course Rabbi Akiva doesn’t believe that this world- the works of Hashem are anything less than perfect- but what Rabbi Akiva is saying is; that G-d wrote into the DNA of creation the need for man to take His creation and develop it; to become a partner, so to speak in creation itself.
Rav Shimshon Refael Hirsch says something very similar in relation to the words we recite from Vayechulu-
“And G-d blessed the seventh day and He sanctified it;  because on it He rested from all His work which G-d had created Laasot; to make – to do.
Rav Shimshon says that the la-asot is a command to man. G-d gives us the raw materials. We have the responsibility to take His creation and develop and improve it, and by so doing we become partners in creation itself.

“G-d created man in His likeness- in the image of G-d He created him” One explanation of being made in the image of G-d is that man, like G-d, has the capability of being a creative being. Man can take G-d’s beautiful world and preserve and elevate it and make it a dwelling place for His Divine Presence. Man has the capability of reaching up to the height of the angels. Conversely- he also has the capability of dragging himself lower than the animal kingdom.
The Talmud says: there are three partners in the creation of a human being ; father, mother and the Holy one blessed Be He.
Hashem wants us to take His world and become partners with Him in creation. Our mission is therefore not to divorce ourselves from this world but to be actively involved in this world and elevating the world around us.
This past Thursday we celebrated the 64th anniversary of the creation of Israel. Think back to the birth of our wonderful homeland- the pioneers who built up the land. The many- I believe twenty two thousand who gave their lives fighting for the land since its inception. May their memory be for a blessing.
 I think of how at the very outset, there were Arab nations surrounding Israel that wanted to destroy us and how some still do. Yet-despite all this- we were able to develop that land with only the 600000 people who were there at that time. Israel today has become the wonderful successful place it is. It is the only place for over two thousand years that the Jews have felt comfortable enough to call our home. And yet we have travelled so far.
It is because there are people who know that we as Jews, as humans have a calling, a mission a charge to develop, to create, to build. And at the same time we acknowledge that ultimately it is Hashem who sustains and gives us the potential to create and grow. Ki hu noten lecha koach laasot Chayil
Hodu Lashem Ki Tov- ki leolam chasdo we give thanks to Him for He is good- His kindness is forever.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Finding meaning in the Land

Something I have mentioned a few times before as a Congregational Rabbi; Judaism is not monolithic, by that, I mean that everybody thinks uniformly, in the same way. Completely the opposite, within Orthodoxy there are usually a multiplicity of views on any given subject.
You just have to read any text from the Talmud to know that its study is full of a diversity of opinions, from one extreme to another. I think this is essentially good and healthy because it means that Judaism is a rich vibrant tapestry of life.
I say this to preface my words, because in reality being a religious Jew is not what some people might think, that a religious Jew is some type of automaton and just does without understanding the why and the wherefore behind what we do; but being a religious Jew means that I question and I analyse my life and what I am doing.
It means I question the holocaust and try to find meaning out of a difficult theological conundrum.
This Thursday we are celebrating the 64th anniversary of the State of Israel. And I think it only correct to examine what does Israel mean to me as a thinking Jew.
By that- I do not mean whether or not it is a great place to take a vacation or do some business.
Let me explain:
“Avraham passed in the land”
It doesn’t say that Avraham passed through the land but in the land, even though he was only passing through, he passed in it.
Rabbi Zev Leff explains: You disembark from the plane in Israel- you get into your Hawaiian shorts and flag down a taxi to take you to a hotel in Tel Aviv and spend the next two weeks sunning yourself on the beach. Or, you get off the plane in Israel and get a taxi to Jerusalem or one of our holy cities and spend the time at the Western Wall, visiting some of the holy sites. That is the difference between “passing through the land” or “Passing in the land”- Taking in the land, its history its meaning- making the land permeate and affect you.
A critique by a friend, who recently returned from Eilat, was the fact that in the hotel in which he stayed out of a possible 200 guests, most of whom were Jewish, only 4 people lit their Shabbat candles.  So here you are in our Holy Land, but there are Jews who don’t feel it and are only moved in a secular way.
I want to assess what religious meaning I see in Israel.
In our prayers every day we devote a good portion to the concept of redemption. We ask G-d in the Amidah every weekday for the following:
The restoration of our judges like former times; The rebuilding of your Holy City Jerusalem and its Temple; The ingathering of the exiles dispersed throughout the world; The Bringing of The Mashiach Speedily in our days and “may Our eyes witness Your return to Zion in compassion”.
All these themes are part of the ingrained psyche of the Jew. All of these aspects of redemption are dependant on one another. For example one could not expect the ingathering of the exiles if one did not have an Israel to which to return.
And these themes pre 1948 may have been utopian dreams, but today they are part of our reality.
I think you can divide the Orthodox response to modern day Israel into three main views:
The first reaction to Israel is that we cannot have a secular State until Mashiach comes. It is G-d alone who brings the redemption, and who are we to push our luck with Hashem? Following this view; the establishment of the State of Israel has been a setback to the coming of Mashiach. The main people who were engaged in the State’s Creation were secular irreligious or anti religious Jews. Indeed there is a Talmudic discussion in Ketubot 111 concerning the three oaths that G-d adjured with Israel as they went into exile, one of which was that Israel should not go back to their land with force before Mashiach comes.
The Talmud says in the name of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai that if people come to you in the town and tell you that Mashiach is here and you are in the middle of planting a tree, first plant your tree, then go to greet him. The rationale is that first we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, then after that Mashiach will come, but not before and you definitely cannot push the coming before its time.
You can take this view to its logical conclusion: Israel is an obstacle to redemption by the fact that it is a secular state, therefore Israel is wrong. Since the Jews are not supposed to be in Israel anyway before Mashiach comes, therefore we should side with the Arabs against Israel and go back to the pre Zionist days. That is the extreme view of Neturei Karta.
But most Chareidi Jews do not go down that road. Israel exists, therefore we have to work with it and come to an accommodation with it, even though it is a Zionist secular state.
The problems with this position are the following: How can you ignore what happened in 1948 and 1967 indeed throughout all the wars in Israel? How can you turn your back on this and say that there is not a Divine element here? How can you not see the Hand of Hashem in the mere fact that Israel exists? And also: How can you not see the good of Israel in the fact that there are more people today in Israel learning and practising Torah in the land than at any other time in our history?
The second reaction toward Israel is the complete opposite: The view of Rav Kook and his followers: Israel is the fulfilment of the Messianic dream. For thousands of years we have been waiting for this moment of redemption and now it has come, and therefore it is Reishit tzemichat Geulateinu- the beginning of the flowering of our redemption and itchalta digeula- the beginning of the redemption. This is it and we slowly all have to realise that we have been redeemed.
In the words of the Talmud: redemption is like the morning dawn; the light of the sun comes up unhurriedly, so too salvation goes through a slow process of redemption, bit by bit.
A Channel four documentary a few years ago about some Jews in Judea and Samaria and the woman interviewed looked out over her beautiful land and said:
“This is my mashiach!” She actually saw redemption in the land.
But there are problems with this stance as well: Look at Israel and its problems. Look at the fact that we had the disengagement from Gaza a few years ago, a physical setback to redemption. Look also at the tensions between the Ashkenazim and the Sephardim, the Charedim and the Chilonim, the Jews and the Arabs- hardly a Messianic utopian dream. Israel has its problems therefore it cannot be the final fulfilment of the Messianic dream.
The third reaction toward Israel is I believe the middle ground between the two, and it is the view that really holds water. 
 You cannot deny that Israel is the greatest thing that has happened to the Jewish people since the destruction of the Temple 1930 years ago. You cannot refute that. Jews are able to live in freedom in their own land. In the words of the Hatikvah: Liheyot am chofshi beartzeinu- To be a free people in our land. But with that freedom comes responsibility; the Jews left Egypt, gained freedom, but fifty days later received the Torah at Sinai. lihyot am chofshi- to be a free people means: the freedom to live our lives as Jews ought to live their lives  beartzienu- in our land.
But this is not Mashiach yet. This is not true redemption. Israel has too many problems from within and without. We still need to work a little bit more on ourselves to bring Mashiach. We have to find unity, respect and love among the Jewish people.
After the holocaust there was a tremendous silence. We cried out to Him- but we heard nothing.
But maybe we look back – Israel is God’s response

Friday, 23 March 2012

Tragedy in Toulouse

In light of the tragedy in Toulouse this past week I feature here the words I will be speaking from my pulpit tomorrow morning:
My thoughts are from the Sedra and starting the new book of Vayikra;
Rashi says that the expression of Vayikra-“and He called” denotes a calling from Hashem to Moshe as one of closeness, as opposed to Vayikar without the alef which speaks of “just happened to meet”.
There are two ways of looking at things that happen in life: From a perspective of Moshe, as a calling. Everything that happens in life is God’s call to man, it all has significance and is a message to man.
Or it is Vayikar lashon mikreh- just happened- a string of coincidences- but there is no higher meaning. (as in vayikar Elokim el Bilaam-God happened to meet Bilaam)
This week once again tragedy has hit the Jewish family. It reminds us of the events of Itamar last year and the tragedy of Mumbai- each of which we must never forget.
Senseless tragedies that defy our reasoning.
Ultimately we can never fully comprehend why this happened. G-d is beyond our understanding. We can never truly understand His ways and how tragedy strikes good people. In this case, Rabbi Yonatan Sandler and his dear family were there on Shlichut for a year or two to strengthen the Jewish lives of the community in Toulouse. The little girl Miriam; her father was the Director of the school. There is even a greater question; why should Hashem allow the taking of such precious and innocent lives?
 My sister in law lives in Toulouse, indeed three of her children go to that school, and they have been deeply affected by what has happened. The youngest boy, until Monday used to sit next to the little eight year old girl Miriam in class, so this tragedy hits very close to home. The oldest boy was in the Beth HaMedrash at the time, just next to the front gate of the school, laying his Tefillin. He walked out, hours after the tragedy, in a state of shock with his Tallit and Tefillin  Shel Yad still on. This tragedy will stay with them forever.
We send our children and grandchildren to our wonderful Jewish schools knowing that they will be alright and in a safe environment. They will be spiritually and physically protected. The last thing on our mind will be that they will be attacked by terrorists God forbid. Schools are safe places, they always have been.
 I will not mention the name of the murderer from my pulpit. We should not aggrandize these people in front of the Aron, the Shul is a holy place – we must not bring it down by association with the wicked. We must not defile our makom kedushah. But his whole aim was to destroy, to murder and maim, to do everything in his power to perpetrate evil.  
But whereas we cannot find the answers we- as religious Jews- who hear the call of Vayikra daily from Hashem need to reconstruct meaning out of such a negative event.

Shortly after the attack, the Jewish community in France came out with the statement that the response to this act of terrorism is to build more schools and strengthen our own individual attachment to Judaism. Eva Sandler; the widow of Rabbi Yonatan who has been hurt most by this tragedy, after having lost her husband and two of her children made a statement about how we must strengthen our commitment to Judaism, that we need to take on a little more in light of what has happened.

These are her words:

My heart is broken. I am unable to speak. There are no ways for me to be able to express the great and all-consuming pain resulting from the murder of my dear husband Rabbi Jonathan and our sons, Aryeh and Gavriel, and of Miriam Monsonego, daughter of the dedicated principal of Ozar Hatorah and his wife, Rabbi Yaakov and Mrs. Monsonego.
May no one ever have to endure such pain and suffering.
The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished
Because so many of you, my cherished brothers and sisters in France and around the world, are asking what you can do on my behalf, on behalf of my daughter Liora and on behalf of the souls of my dear husband and children, I feel that, difficult though it may be, it is incumbent upon me to answer your entreaties.
My husband’s life was dedicated to teaching Torah. We moved back to the country of his birth to help young people learn about the beauty of Torah. He was truly a good man, loving, giving, and selfless. He was sensitive to all of G-d’s creatures, always searching for ways to reveal the goodness in others.
He and I raised Aryeh and Gavriel to live the ways of Torah. Who would have known how short would be their time on this Earth, how short would be the time I would be with them as their mother?
I don’t know how I and my husband’s parents and sister will find the consolation and strength to carry on, but I know that the ways of G-d are good, and He will reveal the path and give us the strength to continue. I know that their holy souls will remain with us forever, and I know that very soon the time will come when we will be together again with the coming of Mashiach.
Please invite another person into your homes so that all have a place at a Seder to celebrate the holiday of our freedom.
I wholeheartedly believe in the words of the verse: “The L-ord has given, and the L-ord has taken away; blessed be the Name of the L-ord.” I thank the Almighty for the privilege, short though it was, of raising my children together with my husband. Now the Almighty wants them back with Him.
To all those who wish to bring consolation to our family and contentment to the souls of the departed: Let’s continue their lives on this Earth.
Parents, please kiss your children. Tell them how much you love them, and how dear it is to your heart that they be living examples of our Torah, imbued with the fear of Heaven and with love of their fellow man.
Please increase your study of Torah, whether on your own or with your family and friends. Help others who may find study difficult to achieve alone.
Please bring more light into the world by kindling the Shabbat candles this and every Friday night. (Please do so a bit earlier than the published times as a way to add holiness to our world.)
The holiday of Passover is approaching. Please invite another person into your homes so that all have a place at the Seder to celebrate the holiday of our freedom.
Along with our tearful remembrance of our trials in Egypt so many years ago, we still tell over how “in each and every generation, they have stood against us to destroy us.” We all will announce in a loud and clear voice: “G-d saves us from their hands.”
The spirit of the Jewish people can never be extinguished; its connection with Torah and its commandments can never be destroyed.
May it be G-d’s will that from this moment on, we will all only know happiness.
I send my heartfelt condolences to the Monsonego family for the loss of their daughter Miriam, and I pray for the speedy recovery of Aharon ben Leah, who was injured in the attack.
Thank you for your support and love. Eva Sandler
This, my friends, I believe is the Jewish response to tragedy. The terrorist wanted to annihilate and destroy through terror and evil; we need to respond through goodness and kindness and genuinely striving to make this world a better place.
So it is the Vayikra – the call of Hashem to Moshe that reverberates in our ears. We need to find the meaning in light of this tragedy.
My friends, I suggest that we take on something good to counteract the bad that has happened in the world in this past week.
Please take the words of Eva Sandler to heart… 
May their memory be for a blessing………

Saturday, 17 March 2012

Silence on the Gay marriage issue

This was my Shabbat morning sermon this week:

I’m going to concentrate and speak about a very complicated, sensitive and difficult issue: Homosexuality and Judaism. To speak out or to stay shtum.
This little talk has been instigated by one or two friends in the community who have said that we’ve heard so much in the media in the past few weeks about this topic but we haven’t heard enough from our Rabbis.
The Catholic Church has been very forthright in their views on the proposed legislation to allow Gay marriages- It was fascinating to watch the Newsnight Jeremy Paxman interview of Archbishop Vincent Nichols as he defended the traditional interpretation of marriage.

But where has been the response of our Rabbis?

Indeed the JC recently has been full of it. Six weeks ago they ran two stories on their front page knocking the Orthodox position on the matter. One about the Chief Rabbi of the Netherlands; Rabbi Aryeh Ralbag who had made a statement about Homosexuality being an illness and that it could be cured. He was asked to resign by the President of the Community. After a week; peace on both sides was resumed, and he was reinstated to his position.
The other article was about a class in JFS on the topic of homosexuality-where the students were allegedly taught about a group called JONAH which is  set up to cure homosexuality. The next week JFS issued a statement saying that JONAH was part of a general discussion and that they were not necessarily promoting that viewpoint.

So why the silence by our rabbis?

There’s been nothing that I know of coming out from the Chief Rabbi’s Office. Although, I must hasten to add that Chief Rabbi Lord Jacobovitz Z’L was never afraid to speak his mind on all of these issues.

So this I think is what is going on in the minds of many Rabbis:

We are cognisant of the admonition from Ethics of the fathers: “Chachamim hizaharu bedivreichem”- Rabbis need to be careful with their words… perhaps people will get the wrong message and we will transmit a faulty set of values to our followers.
It’s very easy to make a statement and to be misinterpreted. Don’t I know, I’ve been misunderstood many times on things that I’ve said or I’ve been reported to have said.

On the other hand I am aware of the Talmudic principle “shtikah kemodeh dami”- If you are silent on an issue then it is as if you agree. So, if you don’t make a stand then people will think that you hold of that particular viewpoint.
And also we have to be mindful of the Biblical injunction “HOCHEACH TOCHIACH ET AMITECHA”- You shall surely admonish- rebuke your friend. In other words if there is something that is going on around you and it is wrong and you don’t say something about it then you become a silent accomplice in the crime. If it’s wrong you’ve got to stand up and be the one to speak out.
So how far do you take that? If you know for example that when it comes to Gay marriages this is part of the sweeping trends, the winds of our times, and it’s just a matter of time before it becomes mainstream, does it help for me to speak out on an issue if I am not going to change anything? Also, do I really want to be involved in a shouting match on a subject which is so obviously against the ethics of Judaism?
In addition, this is something going on in the non Jewish world – does what or how I practice my Judaism in a particularistic way have anything to do with something that is sweeping the world?
It could also be that we are afraid of coming across to the outside world as being homophobic, meaning we hate gays-

My responses are as follows:
There is a Yiddish saying: “Vie es chriedilt sich yiedilst sich”- which means; whatever goes on in the non Jewish world will eventually hit the Jewish world. Indeed it already has. Gay marriages have already been performed in American synagogues and in the UK. Therefore, it becomes not just a challenge to the non Jewish world but to our world as well. It must be that there has to be a Jewish take on this issue.
And never mind the fact that it might not change anything. At least people know where we stand on this matter!!
And we have a duty to be “OR LAGOYIM”- a light to the nations and state very clearly what the Torah says.

We know what the Torah says. Leviticus Chapter 18:22

You shall not lie with a man as with a woman- “ki toevah hi”- for it is toevah. Toevah is translated as abomination.

I looked up abomination to find other words similar to that: I came up with detestation, loathing, revulsion, dislike.

Immediately one might jump to the conclusion that the fact that the Torah uses this word: toevah – abomination means that homosexuality is singled out as this act which is so bad that a person who indulges in it has to be written off – full stop.

However- the word toevah is used in many instances in the Torah.. In regards to Kashrut, eating creepy crawlies, idol worship,even keeping Shabbat, the word Toevah is employed.

Bar Kapparah explains- Tooevah is made up of three words toeh atah bah- you are going astray because of it. Means that in all the instances where the word toevah is used, the prohibition concerned turns you away from Torah, but not that it is specifically singled out as an extra bad one.

It means as follows: in all of the communities in which I have served I have met some people who may have been inclined toward homosexual practices. They didn’t make a big deal about it. They didn’t define their identity as being homosexual- and they did not go about with a big sign on their backs saying what they do. They are accepted people in the community. Yet they might have an inclination to do something against the Torah, it’s like ….eating non Kosher or breaking Shabbat- does that mean I have to write them out of my community? If I did – then I would probably need to write off everybody because we all do things wrong.
So from that perspective we come from a position of tolerance. We understand that we are not perfect. I remember in a former community a particular young man who confided in me that he was a homosexual. I met him recently and he is happily married with his second child on his way- could he have been cured? Or was he really a homosexual to begin with?

However- the problem comes when I try to make kosher that which is treif.
The Torah says in relation to the first man: “Therefore a person will leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife-and they shall be of one flesh.”

The default view of marriage in Judaism is the one of a man and a woman living together as husband and wife. We believe that marriage is a Divine institution. We believe that it is a  great mitzvah to get married, man and woman, and be together, not just to procreate. But then there is also the additional mitzvah to procreate.

So therefore Homosexual marriage is a misnomer- it can’t be- marriage is Divine.

In the Shema we read – “You shall love the Lord Your G-d with all your heart with all your soul with all your might.”

Our every being should be directed to following His way- His Holy Torah

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Who are the Jews?

The story I am about to relate took place very shortly after the Baruch Goldstein massacre in Hebron in February ’94. For those people too old to remember or too young to know about this; Baruch Goldstein was a Jewish extremist who walked into the Cave of Machpelah whilst the Muslims were at prayer and gunned down nineteen people in cold blood. It was a deed that was condemned by just about everybody in the Orthodox world.
It was in the aftermath of this atrocity that I was invited by the Jewish, Christian and Muslim societies of the Royal Holloway and Bedford College to sit on a panel to discuss the differences between the three religions. The Board of Deputies sent security officers for protective purposes, because we were on red alert fearing repercussions around the world from Islamic extremists.
When I arrived, I was sitting with two other panellists; the Christian chaplain to the University and a Muslim Imam. The Vice Chancellor of the university chaired the event. We were each given twenty minutes to speak about what our religion is all about, beginning with the representative from the oldest monotheistic religion, followed by random questions fielded by the Vice Chancellor.
There were a smattering of Jewish students present in the audience and a few more Christian students. But the amphitheatre soon filled up to almost capacity with young Muslims. Throughout the evening they put forward only one question to me, or what seemed like a question and that was:
The Jews are impostors. They are not the original people of the book to whom the Torah was given. Indeed the term “Jew” is nowhere to be found in the Bible?

My response:
You are wrong.
Indeed the Jews were called the Children of Israel throughout the Bible. But, when they went into exile they were called Jews or Yehudim. In the Megillat Esther we read: Ish Yehudi hayah beshushan. “There was a Jewish man who lived in Shushan and his name was Mordechai, the son of Yair the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a Benjaminite”.

He was called a Benjaminite because that was his tribal affiliation. However, he was called a Yehudi- a Jew because he came from Judah, the Southern Kingdom of Israel.

Indeed we read in the Megillah how after defeating their enemies: The Yehudim- Jews had light, joy, happiness and glory.

After responding I wasn’t asked any more questions- I think they became too afraid that I knew what I was talking about.
It’s important to know how to respond when challenged. It’s also vital to know and to be aware of our wealthy heritage. From whence we come and to where we are going.

Monday, 6 February 2012

How secular is "Secular?"

Let me share with you some of the results of an extensive report released this week from the Israeli Democracy Institute from the AVI CHAI foundation. It’s entitled:

“A portrait of Israeli Jews”. You can find it here:

The report is actually from 2009 but its publication had been deferred for three years.

Listen to some of its findings which represented a broad cross section of Israeli society

How would you define yourself religiously?
7% Charedi
15% dati or orthodox
32% Traditional
43% Secular- not anti religious
3% Secular anti religious.

So that puts it at 54% as religious against 46% who are secular In Israel.

Now listen to the responses to the following questions:
To what extent do you believe?
That G-d exists: 80%
That good deeds are rewarded: 80%
A higher power governs the world: 77%
Bad deeds are punished: 74%
The Torah and the precepts are G-d given: 65%

Lifecycle questions:
Respondents for whom Jewish lifecycle ceremonies are very important or important:
Circumcision: 94%
Sitting Shiva: 92%
Bar Mitzvah: 91%
Saying  Kaddish for parents: 90%
Traditional Jewish burial: 86%
Bat Mitzvah: 83%
Being married by a Rabbi: 80%

To what extent do you always or usually:
Eat Kosher at home: 80%
Eat kosher outside the home: 70%
Separate meat from dairy: 63%

 I could go on…90% of people attend a Pesach Seder. 82% of people light Chanukah candles. 67% of people refrain from eating Chametz throughout Pesach.

Now listen to this: 66% light Shabbat candles. 60% recite Kiddush on Friday night. 69% eat a Friday night meal. 84% spend time with the family.

I think these results are staggering.
Remember 46% of people are actually Chiloni- secular. But the question is how secular is secular if you have a high proportion of people who call themselves Secular who are keeping lifecycle events; Shabbat, the Yomim Tovim and Kashrut, believing in G-d and the Torah, yet profess to being irreligious.

Is it possible that they are not entirely telling the truth when they profess to being secular, but believe in G-d?

Could it also be that the secular/ religious divide in Israel is not as acute as the media portrays, or would like it to be? There are only 3% of Israelis in Israel in 2009 who would define themselves as Secular anti religious!!

If you think that I am making up these figures –go look for yourself.

Last week in Shul we read the Song of Moses. After witnessing the Parting of the sea of Reeds, the Torah says: “And they believed in G-d and in His servant Moses”.

Very good, after witnessing all the greatest miracles first hand from G-d, I think that would turn even the greatest cynic into a believer. But look at the story at what transpires next.. They travel in the wilderness and the Israelites complain to G-d for water to drink, they journey further and the Israelites again complain to G-d for food, this time they remember the food in Egypt. They travel again, and they murmur against Moses and Aharon, crying out for water to drink.
Each time, the Israelites complain, but G-d delivers.
 So the question is what kind of faith could they have possibly have had, when each time they test Moses and G-d to the extreme?

Yisrael maaminim bnei Maaminim. Israel are believers, the children of believers. There is something that comes deep down from our souls; it comes from our experience, our history. The fact that we were the ones who stood at Mt Sinai and heard the word  first hand from G-d- the fact that we experienced and witnessed the exodus, culminating in the parting of the Sea. The fact that G-d sustained us and led us through the desert for the forty years  leading us to the promised land-is something that has become ingrained as part of our psyche- as a people.

 So when somebody says to me: “Rabbi- I’m not religious- I don’t believe.” What exactly is he/she saying? 

Think about it!