Tradition tells us that when the Israelites stood at Sinai and embraced the Torah, they were as converts. From that day till the present, the process of conversion entails a “Sinai moment”. By definition, just as the Israelites accepted upon themselves the obligation of mitzvot then, so too the modern-day convert must accept upon himself the same.
Last year, in a hotel outside Jerusalem, the movers and shakers in the Jewish world of development aid met for the inaugural conference on Jewish action for the world’s poorest inhabitants. On the first day I encountered a problem: we could not get a minyan together for prayer.
I turned to Abraham Burg, the former Knesset Speaker, and asked him in frustration, “Where are all the Orthodox aid workers?” “Aniye ircha kodmim,” he answered in sonorous Hebrew. “And the goyim (sic) come last of all!”
Shortly before the end of 2009, Pope Benedict XVI took the decision to advance the sainthood cause of Pius XII, the wartime pope whose silence on the Shoah has caused many a heated debate and polarised opinion over the years. This painful issue has been at the heart of contemporary Jewish-Christian disharmony on an international scale. However, a new commotion has broken out in recent days, at least in some quarters of the Orthodox blogosphere. And what is this new aspect of Jewish-Christian relations which is causing such consternation? Answer: the praise of a rabbi called Jesus.
A person’s table is compared to an altar — just as an altar atones for our sins so does genuine hospitality. But for increasing numbers of people, their table is an altar on which they are sacrificing their health.
I cannot think of any festival that highlights the differences among Jews as much as Chanucah. For some it is the triumph of the religion over its enemies. To others it is the plucky victory of a small band of fighting men who stood up to an empire. And it can also be seen as yet another example of how often in Jewish history, what starts off as idealism descends into self- interest and corruption.
EH Carr, the English historian, said that before you study history, first you must study the historian. We all observe events and objects through our own prisms, and so it is with Chanucah.
With the eight days of Chanucah and the Copenhagen climate conference both concluding within a day, the Jewish media may soon be full of uplifting parallels between those Maccabean preservers of oil, and our own conservation needs. It is a nice analogy: switch the Maccabees’ fuel resource, olive oil, with our own oil, gas and coal, and the miracle of the Chanucah lights becomes the ideal narrative of the Copenhagen delegates — minimal amounts of carbon-emitting fuels, maximal progress and globalised development.
A rabbi goes to heaven and is invited to sit at a banquet attended by Moses himself. He makes a discreet enquiry and discovers that the food is under Divine supervision. The rabbi whispers in a waiter’s ear, “I’ll take the fish!”
Offence: The Jewish Case
By Brian Klug Seagull Books, £12
If they agree with nothing else in Brian Klug’s essay, many will ruefully nod in recognition when he says: “It sometimes seems that an entire people… are perpetually broiges”.
The urbane Oxford University philosopher certainly knows about broiges since he was at the centre of one nearly three years ago as a co-founder of Independent Jewish Voices, which was set up to challenge the default solidarity with Israel adopted by mainstream Jewish organisations.
‘Two are holding a garment,” begins the Talmud in tractate Baba Metzia. Each claims they found it. “One says, kulo sheli — all of it belongs to me. The other says, kulo sheli — all of it belongs to me.”
The first chapter of Baba Metzia presents a well-known scenario. Two people claim an object. The nature of the dispute is such that the original ownership cannot be established. Both claims are emotional, exclusive and absolute.