From the Rabbi

March 2018

From our Rabbi

Jacob converts and becomes a priest. He gave his first Mass in front of a number of high ranking clergy who came for the occasion. At the end of the new priest's sermon, a cardinal goes up to congratulate him. "Father Jacob," he said, "That was very well done, you were just perfect. But next time, please don't start your sermon with, "Fellow Goyim..."

If a Jew converts to another religion do they cease to be Jews?

While the question is simple the answer may not be. The traditional answer is straight forward, a Jew who converts to another religion is considered sinful but still a Jew. This applies to converts and born Jews alike. 

This is not the same question as the question do they remain Jewish? E.g. if in the latter case one is referring to the word Jewish to mean a member of the Jewish religion to pretend that they are still members of the Jewish faith would be absurd. It would be chutzpahdic to ignore or deny their religious views. While we have an obligation to respect other religions we are not required to accept all religions as being the same. The contemporary view that all religions are really the same may be well intentioned but it is more a reflection of ignorance than true respect. After all what would we have to learn from each other if we were all the same?

For Christians and Moslems this is not an issue that has traditionally arisen. They are exclusively religions at their heart. Being a Jew is another matter. Our relationship with that which we label God is at the heart of our existence. Yet there was not even a word for religion in Hebrew until the nineteenth century. What came to be labelled Judaism is the outgrowth of our people’s struggle to forge and maintain our relationship of our God. Like my marriage this has not always been an easy relationship with both great love and considerable backsliding. Thus one can remain a Jew while continuing to grapple with the questions of ultimate reality in a manner that is outside what might be considered standard Jewish belief. I am afraid that this does not really answer the question. If one can be agnostic and Jewish can one be atheistic and Jewish? Can someone be a Jewbu in the sense of adopting some of the philosophy of Buddhism without reference to a godhead as is natural in some branches of Buddhism? Can one practice Yoga as a spiritual as well as physical exercise and remain Jewish? Can one truly be a Jew for Jesus? At what point does the strain become a break?  Perhaps an analogy might help. A person might question the value of one’s marriage and remain married. One might even abuse one’s partner either directly or through adultery or disrespect, then one might question whether this remains a true marriage. But if one obtains a divorce one is no longer married.

 


 
 
 July 2017

A man had gone in to claim his old age pension for the first time.  The DSS employee responded to his request by saying, “I am sorry sir, is not good enough to feel 65, you have to be 65.”

We seem to be living in a world where people act as though what one wants to be true and what one can trick or coerce others into acceding to is given more credence than actual evidence. 

One of the most notorious organisations for this is the UN, particularly UNESCO.   Over issues dealing with Israel and the Jewish people both UNESCO and its parent body wilfully turn their backs on the truth to support lies put forward by the Palestinians Authority (PA), the WAQF, Hamas and others.  According to them the connections to Jews and Christians to Jerusalem and the land of Israel generally are to be ignored.  Lies and fanciful

Claims by the Palestinians that the Temple Mount is  solely a Muslim site with no Jewish or Christian connection seems sufficient to dismiss the rights of Jews and Christians despite the wealth of evidence from many countries going back thousands of years. 

When Israeli civilians (Jews and Arabs alike) are deliberately killed it is somehow not terrorism but ‘resistance’.  This is done in the name of helping the “Palestinian People.”  Yet the question must be asked, who is meant by the “Palestinian People” and how does this help them?

When a Palestinian Human Rights group collected and attempted to present fully prepared legal cases concerning the torture of almost 200 Palestinians by the PA and almost a 1000 by Hamas they have nowhere to take them.  Who does this help?  Certainly not the Palestinian people.  Yet the UN’s so called human rights organisation refuses to investigate. 

Palestinians who complain about Mahmoud Abbas receive a visit from the Palestinian security forces often, followed by beatings and jail terms (several years ago a Palestinian satirist who pointed out the physical resemblance between Mahmoud Abbas and the actor who played the villain in a Syrian soap was given a sentence of 7 years hard labour, Two weeks later a BBC report praised freedom of the press in the West Bank.  Complaints about this ongoing abuse by Human Rights Watch and others are too often ignored by foreign governments, the UN and the media.

As part of a comprehensive poll of Arabs living in East Jerusalem taken in 2012 about their views and  the reality of their lives, only about 31 percent wanted Palestinian citizenship as opposed to 39 percent who wanted Israeli citizenship and 30 percent who didn’t answer.  Instead of trying to find ways of improving the reputation and reality of life under the PA.

The report was ignored by those who insist that the Arab neighbourhoods, or indeed all of Jerusalem, must be under control of a Palestinian government, even against the people’s wishes.  Both the authorities in Gaza and Ramallah refuse to act against child labour.  How does ignoring this help the Palestinian people? 

The PA use the equivalent of approximately 29 percent of their overseas aid to reward terrorists by paying them up to 20 times the average Palestinian salary.  This helps neither the Palestinian people nor any attempt to find peace.

A study by Birzeit University taken in both the West Bank and Gaza found that 18 percent of those who responded wanted a single state solution to the conflict, 36 percent wanted a fully independent Palestinian state and a plurality of 46 percent wanted a form of unity with Jordan. 

To fix on only the options of a single state or a two state solution and ignore other potential solutions can only be of benefit to the twin Palestinian dictatorships in Gaza and Ramallah, not the Palestinian people.

As a final note, I excluded problems within and or caused by Israeli policies because of a lack of time and space not because I think by doing so I will be helping Israel.

On the contrary to consistently do so would be a betrayal of Zionism and the Jewish people just as the examples I give above are a betrayal of the Palestinian people.

 




 April 2017

A man went to his rabbi to find out how to get a get.  The rabbi was amazed.  Why on earth do you want a divorce? Your wife is lovely, soft and gentle and if you don’t mind my saying so that she is also beautiful and well proportioned.  Why on earth are you complaining?

The man took off his shoe.  Rabbi, he said, this shoe’s leather is soft and gentle, it is a beautiful piece of work and nicely proportioned.  But rabbi, I am the only one who knows that it pinches.

I have previously spoken about the secret pains and sorrows that we all suffer.   While this is a clear lesson to draw from this story there is another one that whispers in the background.  The shoe is not designed intentionally to pinch nor can the shoe itself nor its manufacturer be held solely (pun intended) responsible. It is not intended to cause pain. 

Why then does pain result?   Surely the man who chose the shoe, enticed by its looks, the salesperson  who sold the shoes for gain, the manufacturer who may  have cut corners in order to increase  profit all bear some, even most of the responsibility.  The shoe itself could obviously only act in accord with its nature.  So too with us. The Holy Ones provides the fabric of our lives.   

 Should God be held responsible for our woes?  Our lives both please and torture us.  Life by its very nature is a complex tapestry woven of innumerable threads of action and inaction, the consequences   of which we neither contemplate nor understand, which causes many of our woes. 

All of this plays a role in determining the nature of our existence.  It is the interaction between person and shoe as well as between person and person that inevitably “pinches.” And it is here that we must look for a more comfortable solution. 

 

 




 

 December 2016

A young woman called her mother in despair.

 “Mum I don’t know what to do.  My boyfriend is always working, we never talk any more.  I get home from my job and I am too tired to make a decent meal.  Frankly no one seems to care”.

 “Don’t worry darling, I’ll come over Friday and clean the house before you get home. I’ll make us a nice Shabbat Dinner and we will a good old chin wag in the evening”.

 “Oh mum that’s wonderful.  Will Dad be coming with you?

 What are you talking about darling?  You know that your father passed away 3 years ago.

 Wait, is this 020 7999517.

 No this is 020 7999516.

Does that mean you’re not coming?”

 

What makes a family a family?   Surely it is not a matter of Genetics.  All too often those with genetic connections treat each other worse than strangers.  Often relatives by marriage or adoption can be extremely close. 

 What then unites a family?  Often mutual interests and affection make friends family despite having no biological or legal relationship.  Perhaps it is the amount of time people spend together. Yet these same factors can tear people apart.  Mutual interest can give rise to rivalries, sibling and otherwise.  One parent would do anything to help their offspring have a better life than they themselves have had while another can be jealous of the achievements and potential achievements of their children and will sometimes go so far as to sabotage their efforts.   

People with closely related beliefs can be moved to hatred, contempt and even violence by minor differences.  Familiarity can breed greater understanding or greater contempt.  Separation can split a family or ironically bring them closer together. 

 

Often a single act can heal long standing wounds or create a permanent rift.  When danger threatens families will often pull together to defend each other but betrayal of each other is not uncommon. 

 

There is no certain way to determine how relationships will grow or die.  Human beings are incredibly complex creatures as likely to use rationalisation as reason.  There is no set formula or system to ensure a good relationship or a good life.

If this is true of an individual family how much more so is it true of the family of Israel?

If this is true of the family of Israel how much more so is it true of the family of Humanity?

 

We can never be sure that what we do and what we feel will bring good or bad.  We can only strive to lead moral and caring lives.

 

 

October 2016

Approach a goat from the back, a horse from the front, and an evil man from no direction whatsoever.

 

Hungarian-Jewish Proverb

 

But, say many good people we must work with such people, we must show them compassion for only thus will they return to society as good citizens. There is much truth to this.  People who have made mistakes can, and sometimes do change.  Studies both here and in the United States have shown that where solid and effective rehabilitation methods are used recidivism greatly decreases.  But this is in its own terms a self-fulfilling statement, where there is a low number of reconvictions the methods used will be judged as successful, irrespective of other factors. Other methods will be judged as ineffective if there is a high recidivist rate, again, irrespective of other factors.  CBS news reported on April 23rd 2014 “Within five years of release, 82 percent of property offenders were arrested for a new crime,   compared to 77 percent of drug offenders, 74 percent of public order offenders and 71 percent of violent offenders”.  This was according to a report by the Bureau for Justice Statistics.  Figures for the UK tend to be better but even they can make depressing reading.  Does this mean that we should give up on individuals who have done wrong?  Of course not, but it does indicate that our current methods are insufficient and that perhaps greater concern for both actual and potential victims is needed.  Perhaps evidence of change (though how this can be reliably demonstrated I do not know) rather than time served would be a better determinate for release. 

 

This is a problem on the international as well as the domestic scene, a problem that is too often ignored by the media and therefore little known among the general public. Mullah Abdullah Zakir was released from Guantanamo Bay in 2007 after telling authorities at a release hearing: "I want to go back home and join my family and work in my land and help my family."  Instead upon his release he returned to the Taliban and became the head of the Taliban in Helmand Province in Afghanistan (the Guardian Monday 25 April 2011).  His initial release was to Afghanistan’s authorities on “compassionate” grounds.  There he was released.   He subsequently became commander of the Taliban’s “military” wing responsible for uncounted numbers of atrocities.   He is one of many who have returned to violence (as of 2011 there were an estimated 150 such people from Guantanamo alone) several of who became senior leaders in al Qaida, the Taliban and other terrorist groups.  They have often been killed after having killed many more innocent people.  Is the call for their release true compassion?

The same holds true for many Palestinian terrorists released by Israel in exchange for Israeli kidnap victims and for the remains of dead soldiers.  Unfortunately a significant number of the people exchanged have returned to terrorism and have either been rearrested or killed.  Nor are their victims always Israelis.  

 Samir Kuntar was a participant in one of the most brutal terrorist attacks in Israeli history.  At the age of 16 he was part of an operation that saw the deaths of 4 Israelis and 2 fellow PLO terrorists.  Samir Kuntar literally smashed the brains out of a four year old girl on the beach after first forcing her to watch the execution style murder of her bound up father.  

When released by Israel as part of the 2008 prisoner exchange with Hezbollah he was awarded  the Syrian Order of Merit medal by the Assad regime and was honoured by the then Iranian President Mahmood Ahmadinejad as well as being praised on air by Al Jazeera. He changed allegiance from the PLO to Hezbollah and became one of their commanders during the current tragic civil war in Syria.  He has been accused of killing many Sunni Syrians and Palestinians as well as using his power to carry out sexual attacks against women irrespective of their backgrounds before he was killed on 19 December 2015. 

Unfortunately I fear that Midrash, Yalkut Shmuel is right when it says “He who is compassionate to the cruel will come in the end to be cruel to the compassionate.”

 

 

 

 

 

 
 
 
 

Claudia Potter  was Bat Mitzvah in the synagogue on Saturday 9th June 2018.

She was supported by her mother Katia Di Dominica who is from Italy.

Claudia took much of the service and read from the Torah beautifully.

We were also treated to a translation of the Torah in Italian.

 


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