One of the phenomena of post-War Judaism is the ba'al teshuvah movement. Thousands of young Jews from secular or moderately traditional homes have opted for Orthodoxy and a more devout religious lifestyle. But few can have made quite such a leap as Rabbi Jonny Hughes.
He is on the staff of Midrash Shmuel, a yeshivah in Israel popular with English-speaking students. He has just published his first book on one of the luminaries of the Torah world, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. But if you had suggested a decade ago where he would be today, he probably would have laughed in disbelief.
The story is told of a boy travelling with his mother on a bus in Israel. He escaped from his mother’s grasp and ran off down the bus. His mother called, “Esav, Esav (Esau), come here.” Responding to the other passengers’ astonishment, she asked, “What’s your problem? It’s a biblical name!”
While even in the most secular circles, such lack of sensitivity to Jewish history and tradition is rare — Esau is the archetypal Jewish enemy — this story illustrates the importance attached to names.
There is a mystical theme to this year's Limmud Fest, which takes place in Sussex at the end of next month: Pardes, meaning "orchard", a richly symbolic idea in Jewish tradition.
"The orchard is a mystical place for coming close to God, for finding connections and delving into multi-levels of meaning," explains artist Jacqueline Nicholls, who has jointly overseen the event's programme.
A colleague once told me about a call he received from a congregant informing him of the death of a family member. Before the rabbi could even offer his condolences, he was asked if he could recommend a good caterer for the one-night shivah.
All communal rabbis face a daily challenge in dealing with the lifecycle events in their communities, whether births, bar/batmitzvahs, weddings or sadly, bereavements. All these events are charged with various levels of emotion which demand sensitive handling.
The unprecedented growth of Islam in the West, despite prejudice and hatred, contrasts with the demographic stagnation of the Jewish people - several million fewer now than in 1939. Conversion to practically every other religion remains considerably easier than conversion to Judaism. Why is traditional conversion to Judaism so hard?
The birth of Reform Judaism 200 years ago on July 17 1810 in the town of Seesen in central Germany was greeted by an extraordinary fanfare designed to highlight the radical mix of the traditional and the contemporary that it was now offering.
It started with the ringing of bells as a procession of rabbis entered the new building, at which point 70 musicians and singers burst into song, both in Hebrew and German. Moreover, the building was called a "temple", an audacious use of a term not applied in Judaism since the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.
Politicians frequently complain about being constantly under the spotlight and the unending public scrutiny of some of their lives. Apparently, little has changed since biblical times. According to the Midrash, Moses protested that when he spent time in his tent, people accused him of neglecting his national responsibilities, but when he left home to spend long hours teaching, judging and leading the nation, rumours circulated about the state of his marriage.
Israel's representative at the recent Eurovision Song Contest, Harel Skaat, unashamedly flaunted a kemaye - a Hebrew amulet - on his bared chest during his performance. "I believe in all these superstitions," he confessed.