What are the little things?
David Aaronovitch’s column last week raised the question, “why should the Creator of zillions of galaxies (and the rest) really care about, say, what it is I put into my mouth? Isn’t that something rather petty for Him to be bothered with?”
It’s a good question, but also a very old one. In fact, the notion that God is too exalted to bother with the affairs of puny mankind goes back a long way. It prompted many ancient peoples to propose a pantheon, in which lesser gods took over the “dirty work” of the greater gods, who wouldn’t lower themselves to get involved with insignificant us.
There is a problem, however, with assuming that God doesn’t care about the “little things” we do. Where do we draw the line? I mean, relative to the Creator of the universe, why should even the murder of one microbe by another be of any significance? If what we eat isn’t important, then why should how we interact with other bits of mucky protoplasm similar to ourselves be important?
And if the Creator really doesn’t care about anything we do, then that raises an even greater question — so why did He bother creating us in the first place?
The Jewish answer to Aaronovitch’s question, however, is — no, what goes into my mouth (and everything else we do) is not insignificant.
This is because the purpose of it all — all those exploding neutron stars, the Horsehead Nebula and the rest — is Man. Man is the central player on the stage of Creation. All that “stuff” is only the props.
Impressive staging, certainly, but secondary to the main actors — humankind — and our choices.
If that is hard to swallow, then consider this: the single most sophisticated item in the universe is the human brain. It dwarfs, in terms of complexity, all the galaxies put together.
If the Creator saw fit to endow each and every human with that sort of equipment, then — yes, it must be that human beings, and the free willed decisions their brains enable, must be important to Him. You don’t put the engine of a Rolls Royce on a bicycle!
Consider, too, how much of our functioning depends on minutiae. If our blood temperature was ever so slightly warmer, or colder, we couldn’t live. If all those enzymes didn’t break down the food we ingest exactly, and precisely, the food we eat would turn into poison. And so on.
It seems that the Creator Himself is involved in minutiae. Is it so surprising that He asks for minutiae in return?
How disappointing! Following a highly polished buffing of his intelligence in an opening paragraph, in which he describes an imaginative trip around the cosmos in order to make a point, David Aaronovitch quickly resorts to the usual vitriolic, class-ridden insults of the classic non-believer.
Clearly, he disagrees with the personal views and opinions of Jacob Rees-Mogg, Conservative MP, with regard to abortion in any circumstance. So do I. However, is it really necessary to resort to personal insults relating to Rees-Mogg’s parents, upbringing, character, and intelligence, for purposes of his article? He then goes on to admonish two ordinary members of the public, whom he describes as “the Isle of Wight Rowes”
This couple (husband and wife) present themselves as “devout Christians”, to which he takes great exception. Some people may be aware that this couple decided to take a view (and action) regarding their children and school, in relation to the currently media-hyped subject of cross-gender children’s dressing. David blasts off, publicly, in writing, with both barrels at Mr. And Mrs. Rowe.
Hardly an example of tolerance and open-mindedness on his part.
We all count
Ask anyone how Shul was this Yom Tov and they will invariably tell you how many turned up, how bad the Chazan was and that the Rabbi’s jokes were awful.
And for a people that avoids counting our fellow Jews, the fixation with numbers is counter-intuitive.
You never see people being counted for a Minyan, instead all sorts of ruses are employed, rhymes, biblical verses, fingers, toes and whatever else comes to hand; but counting, never.
But it’s clear that, whilst we do not like to count, every Jew does indeed count, and thus our fixation with numbers over the Yom Tov season.
Maybe the post-Shul lexicon needs to move away from the numbers game and criticism to a new way of describing the services.
Words like uplifting, spiritual, made me think, reflective, contemplative, meditative, and if this new lexicon was adopted by communities, we could move away from the tuches factor and more into what Shul and these days of reflection really ought to mean.
By the way at Buckhurst Hill Chabad the chazan sang beautifully, the Rabbi’s jokes were excellent and the shofar blowing incomparable; oh and over 200 people crammed into our little Shtiebl.
G’mar v’chatimah tova
Woodford Green, Essex
In your report on the proposed developments for Brighton and Hove (JC September 22) there is, I believe, a fundamental error in assessing the numbers in each Congregation.
Whereas the Reform and Progressive Congregations count each individual, the Orthodox generally count each family as one. Thus the combined Brighton and Hove, and Hove Hebrew Congregations probably have about 800 adults in total, with the Brighton and Hove Congregation having rather more than those at Hove.
On a personal note, I hope that the new buildings will look forward and not back, and not stress the inclusion of artefacts from the former Synagogues. The architectural imperative should aim at inclusion, at least, in the Sterling prize short list, if not winning.
Godfrey R Gould,
Cheder has changed
In response to the correspondent who wonders ‘What is cheder really for?’ (JC September 22), I would like to think that we have come a long way since the bad old days of bored and reluctant children being forced to attend every Sunday morning.
The advent of the many successful Jewish schools in this country has given Jewish children the chance to learn and enjoy learning in a modern school environment. These children (with their parents’ encouragement) will grow up knowing their history, learning to read and write Ivrit and feeling secure in a Jewish environment.
However, there must be opportunities for those who are more isolated. It is necessary to reach out to those families who do not live in a Jewish community. Imaginative learning experiences which involve the whole family are a possible way forward.
As young people reach bar/batmitzvah, a lot more encouragement is necessary to keep them “in the loop”.
What has happened to Teenage Centres? We had a highly successful one in South Manchester where youngsters from many different synagogues gathered together and chose to study from a wide range of Jewish and secular subjects. Indeed, many went on to GCSE level. And this was all on a Sunday morning.
I do hope that somebody out there will take all this on board to secure our future.
As your article on p22 (September 22) stated, the latkes didn’t vote for Chanukah. The very moderate recommendation which was struck down balanced the obvious need to retain valuable experience — by allowing individuals to serve as Deputies for at least 18 years — and the need continually to bring in and retain fresh perspectives and energy.
A quarter of today’s Deputies have been in place since 2003 or earlier. A glance round a Board plenary would show that as a whole we are not representative of the richly diverse community we serve. The effect of unlimited tenure has been to deter a wealth of talent in our community from standing for the Board, individuals who may well be reluctant to risk appearing disrespectful by standing against established Deputies fulfilling the role since Methuselah was a boy.
Elections for the next triennium are in 2018. However long your Deputies have been serving, I would urge readers in Jewish organisations and communities, large and small alike, to start thinking now about standing — you will not create a broigus. Let’s make sure a wider range of voices are heard loudly at the Board and that we better reflect this great community.
Deputy, Pinner Synagogue
Whilst writing as a very secular Jew, I did find the latest pictures of the Ultra-Orthodox being manhandled by the authorities when they demonstrated about the call-up to the army, very upsetting to say the least.
I hate to say it, but it brought back memories of Jews being manhandled by the Nazis and I do realise that the government have a serious problem with those young men who study in the yeshivas, but was it necessary for Jews to be seen being dragged through the streets? It left a bad taste and it would be hoped that these scenes will not be repeated.
I agree that all young men who are eligible for army training should be called up, but surely could not voluntary registration be considered for the moment? Then again it has to be acknowledged that if Israel should become engaged in a military conflict what will the ultra-Orthodox do? They cannot expect to be defended or do they? Any (heaven forbid) invader is not going to care whether the Jews they will kill are orthodox or secular and in this context they will all be treated the same.
This is a fundamental dilemma which has to be resolved, and thankfully I don’t have that problem to face.
Mareeba FNQ Australia