Why do Jewish people always answer a question with a question?
Judaism is a religion of questions and questioning. Abraham, the first Jew, began his first conversation with God by asking a question, Moses, the Jewish people’s greatest leader, asked God to show him His ways and the Talmud, the central text of Judaism, is replete with questions and answers.
Reports about child sex abuse in the Orthodox community seem to be emerging with ever increasing frequency. A recent high-profile prosecution in Australia and yet another in New York involve cases of child sex abuse that began many years ago. So why have they come to light only now rather than being reported by victims, or their families, around the time the offences were committed?
In the summer of 1666, the English physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton is said to have pondered the falling of an apple while in the gardens of Woolsthorpe Manor, his family home in Lincolnshire. This apocryphal story describes the seminal moment which prompted him to realise that there must be a force acting on the apple which draws it to the centre of the earth.
Every morning when I walk to the station on the way to work, I pass a tall green pole outside a pub. It is linked from the top to a second pole on the opposite side of the road by a slender, almost invisible wire. It looks like the training apparatus for a lightweight tightrope walker. You probably wouldn’t notice it from the surrounding lampposts if you didn’t know why it was there.
This year Tu Bishvat, the New Year for Trees, Shevat 15, falls just one day before Holocaust Memorial Day.
There is a famous story in the Talmud about the sage Honi in which he asks why a certain man is planting carob trees because he will not see them mature and bear fruit. The man reminds us that we do not plant trees for ourselves, but for our descendants perhaps 70 years later.
The incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, seems cut from a different cloth from his predecessor. Whereas Dr Rowan Williams is a poetry-writing scholar with better Hebrew than most of us, the Bishop of Durham’s pre-clerical career as an oil executive has marked him as a man of more worldly experience.
It may seem like decades, but only three months ago thousands of Charedi men were marshalled into the Leyton Orient stadium for a ticketed event, although one quite unlike any football match, by the Union of Hebrew Congregations. The gathering was the brainchild of Rabbi Ephraim Padwa himself, the rabbinical leader of the UOHC.
The white smoke has gone up. Ephraim Mirvis is to be the seventh Chief Rabbi since the office was established in 1845. He is an unusual choice. He is 10 years older than most of his predecessors were when they started and is known as a pastor rather than a scholar. However, that brings certain advantages.
Many years ago, my elderly aunt was desperate to know why so many of her friends were abandoning the United Synagogue and defecting to Reform communities. Hearing that the head of the Reform Movement would be speaking at a public meeting, she went along to pose her question: “How are you enticing so many Orthodox Jews to join your movement?”.
Chanucah is the easiest festival to keep. What’s not to like about lighting candles and eating doughnuts? You don’t even have to go to the trouble of reading a book, as you do with Megillat Esther on Purim.