At the cemetery recently I caught myself unconsciously doing something which took me by surprise. I was reading the inscriptions on the graves of friends, many of them young, among them children, when I heard myself quietly singing the melody which forms the leitmotif of the Yom Kippur prayers: “God, God, merciful and gracious”.
The second I became aware of what I was doing, I thought to myself: “Stop! How can you sing about the God of love here?” Yet I continued to do precisely that.
On Rosh Hashanah, the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, we celebrate God’s reign over us and His creation. But the great Chasidic leader Rabbi Nachman of Breslav suggests that this event is as much a handover as a coronation. Just as God created the universe with divine utterances, so He would have us recreate ourselves and our worldview during the Aseret Yemey Teshuvah, the Ten Days of Repentance, that begin on Rosh Hashanah and culminate with Yom Kippur.
● Ariel Friedlander, 45, grew up in Wembley and west London, where her father Rabbi Albert Friedlander was rabbi at Westminster Synagogue. She used to work as a sports photographer before training to be a rabbi at the Hebrew Union College in New York. She has since worked in Toronto, Virginia and New York.
For most Israelis, and even more so for its politicians, it is axiomatic that the prime source for Israel’s existence in the land is the Bible. At a recent talk at Bar-Ilan University, for example, Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu observed: “The connection between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel has lasted for more than 3,500 years. Judea and Samaria –– the places where Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, David and Solomon, and Isaiah and Jeremiah lived –– are not alien to us. This is the land of our forefathers.”
“You shall not see your brother’s ox or his
sheep go astray… You shall surely return
them to your brother”
Many years ago, while living in Cardiff, I met a young man called David L Marks. We shared a common interest in classic cars, in particular Jaguars. David has a hobby — collecting old clocks and watches. One day he phoned me as he had seen a pilot’s watch on eBay he wished to buy, which had reputedly been worn by a pilot during the Six-Day War in 1967.
In his typically forthright way, Gerald Ronson, the president of the new Jewish Community Secondary School, explained the reason behind its opening next year: “It is important that in our community we do have a first-class faith school which will take on board non-halachic, together with halachic, children,” he said in a YouTube interview, adding: “It’s not me that makes the issue of whether you are halachic, non-halachic… You want to go to a Jewish school? You should be able to go to a Jewish school.”
The Jewish educational establishment in this country has been gripped by alarm since the seminal JFS ruling last month. The Court of Appeal determined that it is unlawful for Jewish schools to admit pupils on the basis of a parent’s Jewish status. Much has been written about the practical administrative ramifications of this ruling as well as its wider social repercussions. What so far has been missing from this wide debate is theology, the religious rationale for retaining the original entry policy.
When President Obama spoke in Cairo last month, impressive as his speech was, it betrayed an ignorance of Jewish history. The implication that the justification for a Jewish state was the result of the atrocities that the Germans and their European allies inflicted on the Jews, flies in the face of 2,000 years of history. It might have been a justification in non-Jewish minds, but never in ours.
There is something wrong with the state of Judaism in this country.
The world exists because of the breath of children studying Torah, proclaims the Talmud. How, then, have we turned education into an instrument of exclusion? No one should have to go to law to seek the right to gain a Jewish education for a Jewish child at a state-funded Jewish school.