For much of our history, it was perilous for observant Jews to engage in politics. Successful statesmen risked jealousy from within the Jewish community and almost anyone who accepted the patronage of a gentile knew that at some stage, they would be forced to compromise their religious beliefs or endanger their lives by upsetting their political masters.
When I was 18, some 20 years ago, I worked for a summer doing Camp America in the Catskill Mountains of New York State. But this was a camp with a difference: it was run by an Orthodox Jewish organisation which catered for children with physical disabilities and learning difficulties (or “mental retardation” as it was referred to at the time).
“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.
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 idea that, as William Blake put it, “opposition is true friendship”, has been one of the faint consolations in Jewish martyrology. Opposition by the ancient pagan world, by Greece and Rome, by Christian Europe and Islam, though often painfully unjust and criminally destructive, has in some ways fructified Judaism and enabled it to adapt to change, and to survive and grow.
There is a strong scientific consensus that humanly-caused climate change is real. It is already contributing to flooding in Bangladesh and drought in Mali. Alaskan villagers have become the world’s first climate-change refugees: tragically, they will not be the last. The human and planetary costs of our extravagant behaviour are becoming clearer to us and the prospect is alarming.
Environmental challenges are today at the top of the public policy agenda in most Western countries. But why is environmentalism still a marginal concern in Jewish thought and practice?
A Jewish Guide To Fairtrade The Fairtrade Foundation
I’ve long been grateful that Fairtrade exists. It makes me feel less like a thief when I go shopping. I’m doubly appreciative now, with the publication of this Jewish Guide, which relates the principles of fair trade to Jewish ethics, rooting them in textual sources and listing kosher Fairtrade foods.