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