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.
L’Chaim!” Reb Mimi Feigelson raises her glass of water for the umpteenth time and takes a sip. Fighting off a cold, she has sustained her voice for well over an hour, leading a late-night session on Reb Levi Yitzchak of Berdichev, the Chasidic master, at the Limmud conference.
When you have eaten and are satisfied, then you shall praise the Eternal One, your God, for the good land you have been given” (Deuteronomy 8:10). This is the biblical instruction on which is based the obligation to give thanks after a meal.
Jewish tradition has developed numerous variations on the blessings to be said, based on the type of food eaten, the number of people who have eaten it and the context in which it has been eaten. That same tradition even ascribes authorship of the different blessings to Moses, Joshua, David, Solomon and Rabban Gamliel.
The scheduled opening of JCoSS (the Jewish Community Secondary School) next year has generated unprecedented interest. Adorned with the slogan “excellence, choice, openness, inclusion”, its website describes it as “the first cross-communal Jewish secondary school in the UK”. JCoSS takes pride in its admissions policy, which “will treat on an equal basis all pupils recognised as Jewish by any of the UK’s mainstream movements” and its intention to deliver Jewish studies “while being non-judgemental between the various mainstream Jewish traditions”.
The synagogue is packed. The chazanim slowly take the scroll out of the ark and process back to the reading desk. They open the scroll but read the portion from a Bible… in Amharic.
We are in Gondar, Ethiopia, working with what is left of the Jewish community. It is a rather different community to the old-style Beta Yisrael (Falasha) congregation. Known as Falash Mura, the people consider themselves Beta Yisrael; part of the original Ethiopian Jewish community, but ones whose grandparents converted to Christianity.