We are about to conclude the first book of the Torah and the family saga from Abraham to the twelve sons of Jacob that decides the future direction of our people: our trajectory and our values.
Throughout this story there has been a story of sibling rivalries: Isaac or Ishmael? Jacob or Esau? Historically, our sages see Ishmael as a metaphor for Islam and Esau for Christianity and these previous chapters were used later by rabbis to define Judaism’s complex relationship with other Abrahamic faiths. However, the final, chapters we have a battle for leadership and supremacy between the sons of Jacob. And this is where we see the final battle playing out and it is a character test. (more…)
Synopsis: Three Crowns and Chanukah
The consequences of the Maccabean revolt radically altered the course of history and led to a struggle for the future direction of both Judaism and the Jewish people; the ripples of which we still feel today. This session will look at the religious consequences of how this struggle between those arguing for the supremacy of the Keterim (Crowns) of Malchut (Kingship), Kehuna (Priesthood) and Torah brought about rabbinic Judaism as we know it today… and the Jewish vision for a better tomorrow.
Speech given at Memorial Lecture for Clemens Nathan on a panel with Lord Williams and Dr Carla Ferstman
I would like to thank the Nathan family for asking me to speak here today. I am delighted to be here.
Clemens Nathan was a mentor and friend. He was the quiet man of the Jewish community: he got things done without a fanfare and in my opinion deserved more public recognition for his role in fighting for the rights of Holocaust survivors, of promoting human rights and for engaging in real diplomacy. His own history as a refugee from Nazi Germany helped shape his philosophy: a passion for both human rights and for the Jewish community. Clemens liked to engage in philosophical ideas and was interested in multi-disciplinary approaches to issues but most of all he liked to engage with people. My time with Clemens was always an adventure into the world of statesmen and women, of quiet diplomacy and of missions to right a wrong. He was always supportive of young people whether that was in his support of Shenker College or being our first patron and our mentoring when we established CCJO.Rene Cassin. In death, he has had many deserved tributes. As I said, in my view he deserved more plaudits in life too.
I have been asked to speak about the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is important to the Jewish community. That it is important without doubt. Borne out of the ashes of the Shoah, Clemens and I both believed that the Declaration was a global attempt to proclaim the imperative ‘never again’. (more…)
God spoke to Moses, saying: I have selected Bezalel of Judah. I have filled him with a wisdom, understanding and knowledge, and with all types of craftsmanship… I have also given him Oholiab of the tribe of Dan.
Why the need for Bezalel’s apprentice? Bezalel’s from the big tribe of Judah, his apprentice is from the small tribe of Dan. The two of them together represent a unity between the tribes to achieve a common purpose. The construction of the Tabernacle is no longer a project by a single dominant tribe but one in which all of Israel participate.
Some of humanity’s greatest achievements have happened through collaboration and unity: our greatest failures have occurred when one tribe has claimed supremacy over others.
In the last 100 years alone: the Somme, Auschwitz, Cambodia, Srbrenica, Rwanda stand testimony to this failure… At the same time some of our greatest scientific discoveries have been achieved when there has been collaboration and the political will to make progress. The last 70 years of peace in Western Europe is a miracle: unity between countries that came together to rebuild prosperity out of war ravaged continent: and in doing so created peace and security: from the fires of war to a relative Tabernacle of peace. We risk ignoring that achievement at our peril.
Lecture given at Princeton on 7th March 2016
There is a story in the Talmud about Honi the circle-maker
Honi asked the man, “How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?”
The man replied, “Seventy years.”
Honi then asked the man, “And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?”
The man answered, “Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.”
It takes a generation to transform communities and attitudes. Dialogue is the first step. From dialogue you have commonality. From commonality we can build communities together. (more…)
In Rabbi School we are exploring the sometime complex concept of pray and the views of leading 20th century rabbis on this topic. The course covers Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who is claimed by several traditions within Judaism. For me, Heschel is best remembered as the civil rights rabbi who went to Selma and marched alongside Dr Martin Luther King. He claimed at Selma he was ‘praying with his legs’.
In a number of his essays he expresses his concerns that 1950s American congregations had a disconnect from prayer. He paints a depressing portrait , perhaps for Heschel, of a generation who are forgetting how to pray: of synagogues turning into arenas rather than a community of full participants. He is critical of communities where the rabbi or cantor prefers to perform in front of his congregations rather than to lead pray amongst them For him you and leaning on his own Hassidic tradition have to put your whole self into prayer ‘in a complete turning of heart towards G-d” “in a yielding of the soul”.
Events always seem to takeover. Paris. Tragedy strikes again.I had accepted a few weeks back an invitation to attend the England v France match at Wembley with members of the FA’s Faith in Football group which I chair… what had been a run-of-the-mill friendly was now something far more.
Stepping out onto Olympic Way at Wembley with my son seemed like an act of defiance. It seemed that every fan walking down that road was sending a message and that every step was an act of faith.
The Wembley arch was lit up in red, white and blue. The words ‘liberté, egalité, fraternité’ emblazoned across the stadium.
We met my friends at the entrance. One of them had worn a hijab to the match said that although she had been nervous coming to the match dressed in religious attire she was surprised at how warm the England fans had been to her. There was a feeling of togetherness as 75,000 fans sang the Marseilaises: true that some did not know the meaning of the words “but they seemed to be completely turning their hearts to it” perhaps even “yielding their soul”. At half-time,we took a group photo. We decided to tweet and Facebook the photo: “Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh at the footie. Most importantly friends together…”
As the match ended we took the long walk to Wembley Park. People were singing, embracing: french fans, england fans, football fans, humanity fans. We seemed to be walking with a common spirit. We had been part of something bigger than sport.
We stopped to queue before the tube station. My pocket was buzzing. Who was calling… I looked at it… Several hundred retweets… Our photo seemed to have captured something… It seemed just for a moment that our photo had captured a shared moment of hope… And the twitter sphere was responding accordingly…
As I walked on I thought to myself this is what Heschel meant when he said “Praying with his legs”…
Original BBC Broadcast below:
Reverend Ernst Levy was a Cantor in Scotland and over the years became the voice of survivors in there. Rev Levy was a camp survivor and through his broadcasts on BBC Scotland reached and touched the lives of thousands of people. In truth, he was one of the nicest people I have ever met. I came into contact with him during my first-ever job where I worked in Scotland for the Jewish community. We were asked to develop a Jewish education programme following concerns about the declining numbers in the city and put on a series of courses, formal and informal. One of those courses we were asked to do was on the Shoah. Finding someone to lecture on the historical side of the Shoah was not too difficult. However, people on the course wanted a session of G-d after Auschwitz. Rev Levy was acceptable to all. Ernst spoke movingly about his unbroken faith and we went to questions. There was a moment of silence in the questioning and so I put my question. I asked a stupid question and got a brilliant reply. ‘You have told us that you have retained your faith in G-d after Auschwitz, but do you still have faith in humanity’. He smiled at me and said, ‘If you don’t believe in humanity then there is no point in believing in G-d’. He went on to tell me about the soldiers who had found him in a ditch at the end of the war and rescued him, the German nurse that had brought him back to health… There is no point in believing in G-d if you don’t believe in humanity… (more…)
Lovell Interfaith Lecture, Winchester Cathedral, September 2012
From Disputation to Dialogue
Alexander Goldberg, Jewish Chaplain of the University of Surrey
I would like to thank Winchester Cathedral, Winchester University and the Lovell family for this opportunity to speak at the annual interfaith lecture. This is a Cathedral that I often visited as a child. Its history and architecture fascinated the schoolboy in me. In some ways my journey engaging with other faiths commenced here. As a young theologian at Manchester University, Canon Andrew White brought me here to meet with Donald Cogan. The former Archbishop was erudite; his knowledge of Hebrew and the Talmud left an impression on me. His message was simple and apropos to tonight: we need to understand each other, learn about each other or risk not truly knowing ourselves.
Tonight, with your permission, I want to use Winchester as a backdrop to some of the questions we have around inter-faith and inter-religious dialogue. (more…)