Your blogs

  • No dialogue today, thank you

    Geoffrey Paul
    Feb 10, 2010

    Pope Benedict's forthcoming visit to the UK is bound to stimulate discussion about Christian-Jewish relations in the UK. The fact of the matter, here as almost everywhere else in the world. is that contacts on the Jewish side with Christian partners in dialogue are almost entirely handled by Reform and Liberal rabbis and lay leaders. Such Orthodox contacts as there are remain little more than tentative, despite the visits by Israel's Chief Rabbis to the Pope in Rome, the ubiquitous presence of the Orthodox Rabbi David Rosen at international Christian-Jewish gatherings and the Chief Rabbi's joint patronage of the Council of Christians and Jews with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the (Catholic) Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols.

    Why Orthodox Jews hold back from this dialogue with Christians, specifically Catholics, who have made historic changes in their deicidic and other attitudes to Jews, was examined intensely in a recent contribution to an Italian Jewish journal by the Israeli Ambassador to the Vatican, Mordecai Lewy, which was picked up and republished in full by the Vatican newspaper, Osservatore Romano. It makes for a good and challenging read in any language.

    Ambassador Lewy recalls that the late and great Rabbi Soloveitchik resented any inter-religious dialogue that lead to discussing principles of faith with Catholics but he didn't mind Jews and Christians talking together about "soft" topics, such as bioethics, ecology, violence, etc. But, Ambassador Lewy notes, "the Catholic Cburch initiated in the Sixties a radical change towards Jews. Conversion is banned to a distant and unknown eschatological horizon. The survivability of Judaism is guaranteed with the establishment of the Jewish State. Their hand is stretched out to us. It would be unwise not to grasp it, lest we mortgage our future in continued animosity with the Catholic world. The first 2000 years do not warrant repetition. Both of us deserve better."

  • Have faith in education

    Geoffrey Paul
    Feb 2, 2010

    It's not just members of the US rabbinate who have engaged in public spats about faith education. Another aspect of the topic features in The Times' correspondence columns today where Rabbi Aaron Goldstein, the minister of Northwood and Pinner Liberal Synagogue, takes a swipe at Rabbi Jonathan Romain, the ubiquitous rabbi of Maidenhead Reform Synagogue. What got up Rabbi Goldstein's nose was his Progressive colleague's expressed sadness at plans to establish a Hindu secondary school because, Romain argued, the Hindu community has been very well integrated into wider society and clearly didn't need a secondary school.

  • How is it for you?

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 21, 2010

    Do you feel under "constant attack"? Do you feel "more frightened and threatened than at any time in your lives?" That's what Jewish friends are telling Baron Mitchell of Hampstead (Parry Mitchell if you knew him before 2002 when he was ennobled) and it is what he told the House of Lords last week during a curious mini-debate on "Tolerance, Democracy and Openness." Lord Mitchell, chair of the Weizmann Institute Friends in the UK and the Coexistence Trust, which promotes good relations between Muslims and Jews, told his fellow peers that there were campuses Jewish students preferred to avoid and many instances on campus where stickers saying "Death to the Jews" were posted and removed only slowly.
     
    Recalling the anti-Semitism that his own mother had experienced, Lord Mitchell told the House that "Before the war, some of our leading authors, poets and academics were openly anti-Semitic. Our leading public schools thought that they were being liberal when they imposed a 10 per cent Jewish quota on admissions. Indeed, some still do."
     
    This woeful tale stimulated Lord Graham of Edmonton, a fellow Labour peer and veteran of the co-operative movement, to inform the House that: "One of my cousins is Miriam Stoppard. She was the daughter of my Auntie Jenny, who was the sister  of my father, and she married Tom Stoppard. Her mother married Sid, who was a Jew, and they became Jewish. The other daughter, my cousin, was Hazel. She married Preston King and her daughter is Oona King. I am therefore fully alive to the problems of the Jewish race and sympathetic to the points of view that have been made."
     
    If you are passing by Westminster on a cold winter's afternoon, drop into the Upper House. It can be very warming and there is rarely a queue.
     

  • How do you plead?

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 19, 2010

    Three IDF rescue teams and an IDF field hospital have been working around the clock seeking for survivors and digging out the dead from the rubble of Port du Prince. International observers have praised their tireless efforts. Perhaps, suggests my friend Martin Green, someone in the UK would like to seek warrants for their arrest as war criminals....

  • The Man Who Was

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 15, 2010

    Have you been reading Ben Macintyre in The Times re-telling, with fascinating new detail, the amazing wartime story of the successful British bluff which duped the Nazis into thinking the Allies were going to invade Greece and the Western Mediterranean rather than Sicily ? Immortalised in book and film with the title "The Man who Never Was," the story highlighted the role of then naval officer, Ewen Montagu, in preparing the corpse of a vagrant to be dropped off the coast of Gibraltar with all sorts of "clues" intended to mislead the Germans. Which it did. Not featured in The Times's account, and why should it, is that Ewen Montagu went on to become - wait for it - the President of the United Synagogue!

    Ewen Montagu, who probably never ate a kosher meal in his life if he had the choice was, if I recall correctly, a nephew of Sir Robert Waley Cohen who was himself an unlikely President of the United Synagogue during the period when the Chief Rabbi was Dr Joseph Herman Hertz, celebrated as the man who never resolved a dispute peaceably if there was another way. Hertz was a small man physically, Waley Cohen something of a bear by comparison. The story is told that, on one occasion when Waley Cohen approached Hertz to embrace him, the overwhelmed chief rabbi shouted for all to hear: "Don't squeeze me!"

    The unJewish Jew Montagu became, in essence, the prime spokesman for traditional United Synagogue Jewry, a role in which, with his upper class manners and mannerisms, he often seemed out of place. The still greatly missed Chaim Bermant properly described him as the last of the Cousinhood which led Anglo-Jewry from the Victorian into the new Elizabethan age. When Montagu died 25 years ago, Bermant wrote that his demise marked the "passing of a class, indeed of class, in the leadership of the community." Montagu was succeeded in the US presidency by Sir Isaac Wolfson.

  • Philistines? What, Us?

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 13, 2010

    Does something still linger in our genes of the biblical prohibition against making graven images? I must confess to being confused by - on the one hand - portraits of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, which are ubiquitous in the homes and meeting places of his followers, and those frequent, alien, media shots (Brooklyn, Mea Shearim, New Square) of chasidim, hands to faces, trying to avoid the image-making ability of the camera lens. And all the wedding pics, and barmitzvahs, etc etc and mug shots of rabbis which accompany their contributions to this and other newspapers. What gives? And why do I ask the question?

    Because, while we deny our philistinism and point with rosy cheeks to Jewish Book Week and the great crowds it musters, and even to our turnout for the Israel Phil (more social outing than musical appreciation?), we do not display any great enthusiasm for Jewish art. Ah, you may ask. Jewish art? Well, I think the Financial Times' wonderfully sensitive and percipient art critic, Jackie Wullschlager, said it all in her column in the weekend edition of that newspaper. She had been to see the great exhibition of Ben Uri - Jewish Art Museum gems, now at rhe Osborne Samuel gallery in Bruton Street, London, which includes the recent challenging Chagall discovery, Apocalypse in Lilac, Capriccio (1945), which earned so much attention in the national Press.

    But let me quote Wullschlager: "....this show raises the whole vexed question of whether there is such a thing as Jewish art, and , in turn, whether a Jewish Museum of Art has a role in a multicultural society. For, while some of the masterpieces at Osborne Samuel...are pertinent to Jewish history...most are not obviously so,..

  • Cost of (Jewish) living

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 11, 2010

    My old friend and colleague Gary Rosenblatt, who is editor and publisher of undoubtedly the best Jewish newspaper in the US, the New York Jewish Week, has struck a number of chords with his recall that a 60-year old report into Jewish defence agencies - like the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee - recommended a number of mergers for reasons of communal sense and communal economy. As Gary notes, nothing came of the extensive study, and it has remained a footnote of 20th-century American Jewish life. But, as he also observes, even after all this time, there is much in the report that is eerily relevant, from the charges of excessive duplication and waste, to the insistence by each of the national organisations that its work is unique and cannot be consolidated or shared, and that fundraising cannot be pooled. At this time of financial stress, does this ring any bells for you? I am not going to point the finger but, if you can get access to a current Jewish Year Book, have a little fun noting where there could be mergers which would benefit the community both organisationally and financially. And, if you wish, tell me what you find and I may return to this topic with your suggestions.

  • Laugh darn you laugh!

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 9, 2010

    It is so bleak and miserable out there so let me share a good smile sent to me by my much-revered and endearing rabbi:
    Did you hear about the dyslexic invited to a toga party who went dressed as a goat.....

  • The Jewish Advocate

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 6, 2010

    If you have been following The Times' correspondence this week on Pope Pius XII and the Jews, you will have seen references to Pinchas Lapide, who is cited without exception in every Catholic defence of Pius's wartime attitude towards the Jews and their Nazi persecutors. Lapide is the sole source for claims that Pius saved at least 700,000 Jews from the Nazis, a claim for which there has never been any proof and which is even an embarrassment to some of those Catholics who claimed Pius was a defender of the Jews.

    Lapide is variously described as an "Orthodox Jewish rabbi and historian" (in one reference as "an eminent Orthodox rabbi") or "a leading Israeli scholar who was Israel Consul in Milan." The diplomatic posting is a fact. So was Lapide's employment as a lecturer at Bar-Ilan. I first met him in the Israel Government Press Office in Jerusalem in the mid-'60s where he occupied a small office whose door seemed perpetually closed, except to admit Christian clergymen who usually arrived muffled up so as not to show their collars or crosses.

    Lapide wrote a string of books, in German and published in Germany, examining in detail, with extensive references from medieval Jewish scholars, "the Jewishness of Jesus" of which he was a fervent proponent. Curiously, for one described as an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Lapide proclaimed his belief that, while not the Messiah, Jesus was indeed resurrected from the dead by God. He was a not unsurprising defender of the Vatican's wartime record. Lapide died about 13 years ago. His widow, Ruth Lapide, has been widely honoured in Germany, where she lives, for her own writings on the Jewish roots of Christianity.

  • No angels here

    Geoffrey Paul
    Jan 5, 2010

    The end of December is not the time for a Jew to go in search of church architecture (some would day it is never the time), but, having heard much of Sherbourne Abbey's fan vaulted roof - a really splendid creation of man - and being nearby, I dropped in to have a look. But, in the end, it was not the vaulting which engaged me, but something much closer to the ground: a nativity sccene such as can be seen in many venues at this time of the year. But this one was different. Down the centre was a stark, wooden divider. But let the accompanying church notice explain:

    "The walled nativity set, made by Palestinian wood-workers in the town where Jesus was born, is a reminder of the 230-mile, six-metre high wall topped with barbed wire and lined with guard towers, that encircles Palestinian land, including Bethlehem. It demonstrates that this Christmas the shepherds and the Wise Men would not have made it to the stable.

    O sad and troubled Bethlehem
    We hear your longing cry
    For peace and justice to be born
    And cruel oppression die."