The year 1656 is usually remembered as the date of the readmission of Jews to England. But something else happened then, regarded by some as an infamous act that remains a lingering stain on European Jewry.
Amsterdam's Sephardi authorities pronounced a cherem, a ban of excommunication, on the rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza.
International concern for the welfare and safety of innocent Gazans has morphed into anti-Zionism and from there, it’s been a short hop to antisemitism. With boycotts, desecration of communal buildings and antisemitic outbursts, the climate has turned increasingly hostile, leaving many of us feeling vulnerable, unsure of how to respond.
Tu b’Av, which falls today, is probably the least-known festival on the Jewish calendar. Probably only regular daveners of shacharit will notice because the prayers of supplication which would normally be said that morning are omitted.
The roads are blocked with broken masonry, the paths through the city are twisted: this sounds like a war-shattered city in the 20th century; in fact, it's Jeremiah's depiction of the desolation of Jerusalem 2,500 years ago. The Hebrew Bible, which opens with a majestic paean to creation, is not afraid to describe the brutal realities of destruction.
Earlier this month the Unite union passed a resolution denouncing Israel as an apartheid regime, supporting boycotts against it and accusing it of "feeling able to commit war crimes with complete impunity". When Israel launched its latest operation in Gaza, the union issued a statement to "unreservedly condemn the continuing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people".
We never give up. No matter what is done to us, however horrific, demeaning or undermining, we struggle on. Hope surely is at the heart of Jewish survival. And yet, after the Second Temple was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago, there was a moment when some Jews thought it really was not worth continuing.
Twenty-five years ago, two lesbians were ordained under the auspices of London's Leo Baeck College: Rabbi Sheila Shulman and me. Until then, there was only one gay rabbi in Britain, Lio nel Blue. Since then, a further 12 LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) rabbis have received semichah from LBC, and four others, ordained elsewhere, have become part of the Progressive movement.
When assuming the mantle of leadership of Lubavitch in 1950, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, who escaped war-torn Europe, confronted the inevitable problem faced by Jews in a post-Holocaust world. Many despaired, believing the world was a dangerous place to live.