It’s a summer evening and the congregation is getting ready for the Kabbalat Shabbat service, the welcoming of the Sabbath, on Friday. Someone taps out a beat on a tabla drum, a guitarist tunes his strings, another person takes a flute from a case.
I once heard a rabbi say in his Shabbat morning sermon : “Without God, Judaism falls down like a pack of cards.” There was a time when such a comment would seem so self-evident that you would wonder why anyone would make it.
We are now in May, the arbitrary date that signals the start of attendance at Shabbat services which count towards the gaining of priority points for admission to local Jewish schools. It continues until the end of October, or until the requisite eight synagogue visits that are deemed to demonstrate commitment to Jewish practice have been made.
The Western Wall has lately become a battleground in the struggle for egalitarianism. The arrest of women for praying in a tallit at the sacred site has sparked anger across the Jewish world and fuelled demands from non-Orthodox Jews in particular for equal religious rights.
Early leaders of Reform Judaism thought that men and women had moved past ritual and ceremony. In the Liberal Jewish Synagogue in London and classical Reform temples in the United States the service was reduced to hymn singing, responsive prayers and a sermon. It soon became clear that this was leaving congregations cold.
Acouple of months ago a young Arab woman from Qalansuwa in central Israel set off to do what we would consider a mitzvah. She was a teacher of Arabic in a Jewish school and she went with a Jewish friend to go to the shivah of a colleague in Jerusalem.
One of the more intriguing trends in Jewish circles is growing interest in Jesus. The work of scholars such as Geza Vermes who have explored the Jewish background of the Christian messiah has filtered into the mainstream. Shmuley Boteach published his book Kosher Jesus last year; Naomi Alderman’s recent novel The Liar’s Gospel was an alternative version of the Jesus story.
Should Israel’s hottest supermodel Bar Refaeli be the public face of the Zionism? Recently, Israel’s Foreign Ministry invited her to star in a video promoting the country. She’s an internationally recognised brand and a strong patriot, but some were offended by the choice.
Shir Hashirim, the Song of Songs, is the strangest book in the Hebrew Bible, one of the strangest ever to be included in a canon of sacred texts. It is written as a series of songs between two human lovers, candid, passionate, even erotic. It is one of only two books in Tanach that does not explicitly contain the name of God (Esther is the other) and it has no obvious religious content.