People are often surprised when I say there is no actual command in the Torah to repent. You might compare it to the afterlife. It is something that was so obvious on a spiritual level and so universally accepted by every civilisation at that time that it did not need to be stipulated in a book concerned with living life in the present.
I thought it was a simple enough question: which are the worst sins in Judaism? In many synagogues the rabbi's High Holy Day sermons encourage their community to "do a little more", or "take on just one more mitzvah". This is because they are realists and understand that change happens slowly.
There is a widespread view within Judaism and, indeed, all the great faiths that, in a world where secularism and materialism are such powerful forces, our religious services must be made to be more relevant and personally engaging.
'Shalom, this is Rabbi Jeremy Lawrence," says the minister of Kinloss (Finchley United) Synagogue, who is standing by a signpost pointing to Bethlehem, while a camel in the background mooches under a palm tree.
'There are four new years," explains the Mishnah (Rosh Hashanah 1:1). The best known is Tishri 1, the New Year par excellence, Rosh Hashanah, when "all who enter the world pass before God". Next most familiar is Shevat 15, the New Year for Trees, the Jewish "Earth Day". Least known is Ellul 1, the New Year for the Tithing of Cattle.
A few weeks ago the corridors of online communication were buzzing with a video clip of a sit-in protest at a Jewish chicken grinder plant in Israel. At the centre of the room was a macerator, a blender into which one-day-old chicks are fed and cut to ribbons. In this type of bone-crushing machine a chick can escape some of the blades ending up not quite dead and in unimaginable agony.
Fifteen hundred years ago, the ancient residents of the Bamiyan valley in central Afghanistan carved two giant Buddhas — each well over one hundred feet tall— into the side of a cliff, where they stood until one March day in 2001 when the Taliban set explosives at their base and toppled them. I remember the news that day clearly.
There were many Freuds: the scholar, the academic, the researcher, the neurologist, the founder of the new discipline and psychoanalysis, and the Viennese professional. All were noted for their rejection of religion and their identification with prevalent German culture. This was the picture painted by Freud's principal biographers.
Israeli girls in secular high schools recently wrote to the Education Minister to protest discriminatory dress codes in secular Israeli schools; girls, unlike boys, are banned from wearing shorts to school. Girls who wore shorts in defiance of the ban were reportedly sent home and not allowed to take their exams.