The JC

Letters to the editor, 15 September 2023

Melanie Phillips, Liberal-Reform merger and Shabbat times


DUESSELDORF, GERMANY - SEPTEMBER 09: Team Israel are presented on stage during the opening ceremony of the Invictus Games Düsseldorf 2023 at Merkur Spiel-Arena on September 09, 2023 in Duesseldorf, Germany. (Photo by Joern Pollex/Getty Images for Invictus Games Düsseldorf 2023)

September 14, 2023 09:32

Right or wrong

In her 1996 book All Must Have Prizes, Melanie Phillips alerted us to the dangers of New Age/progressive ideology, where no value can be judged as right or wrong and differences must be levelled out to obliterate the distinction between good and bad. The “role play” Anthony Melnikoff refers to in his letter (Seeing both sides, Letters, 8 September), illustrates the fallacy of such an approach.

There is no doubt that switching roles allows us to experience another person in a deep way and shifts perceptions, but juxtaposing the “relative” or subjective with the “absolute” or ethical is precisely what confuses so many — slavery, for example, is unequivocally wrong and this value is not given to relativism.

Viewing the much-needed judicial reforms in Israel as bad and an affront to democracy is wrong. Many of the very people who object to them now were advocating them for years, so it is clear that politics and opportunism are at play here — definitely wrong. Not caring if the country’s economy, security and social fabric is ruined to advance “my rule no matter what” is unethical, undemocratic and wrong.

The Supreme Court banning “far-right” Otzma Yehudit members from running for the Knesset but granting this privilege to members of the Muslim Brotherhood places “human rights“ and “equality” in the realm of the culturally and politically relative; it becomes “reasonable” to view some as more equal and deserving than others.
Melanie is right to highlight the hypocrisy of the progressives.

Colin Rossiter
London WC2

Broaden horizons

The news that there was a seminar for University Jewish chaplaincy is both sweet and sour.

Sweet in that some Jewish students on campus are having their spiritual and pastoral needs catered and cared for, but sour in that the organisation remains solely as an “Orthodox” presence on campus.

The current model needs a major re-think so it becomes more community-focused, egalitarian, inclusive and pluralist — enabling all denominations to work together for our Jewish students on campus, but also in schools and in the workplace.

The presumption that Jewish school graduates will automatically go to university is arcane and with the increase in apprenticeships there is a growing number of young people whose needs are not being met in any way.

The pastoral, emotional and spiritual needs of our young people is crucial, but to leave it to just one sector of the community is to negate those who have no background in Orthodoxy or may have a progressive or secular upbringing or from the LGBTQ+ community — or simply don’t want a beard and bagels.

Laurie Rosenberg
Woodford Green, Essex

Radical Yiddish

I disagree with Jacob Freedland (Yiddish was never the language of a radical, progressive past, September 8). My grandparents were anarchists, Yiddish and Russian speaking immigrants. My grandmother Sophia Krichevska became a member of Rudolf Rocker’s inner circle of anarcho-syndicalists. Known as “the gentle anarchist”, Rudolf Rocker was revered by the East End Jewish population. He was a German Catholic who learnt Yiddish to edit the newspaper, Arbeter Fraint and the magazine, Germinal.

To protest against the Kishinev pogroms, 20,000 East End Jews marched behind Rocker to Hyde Park Corner, such was his following. Not only did he educate them politically but culturally, taking them to the British Museum and to the countryside.

I suggest Mr Freedland reads East End Jewish Radicals by William Fishman and The London Years (Rocker’s autobiography). Or he could read my historical novel The Girl From Kyiv, inspired by my grandmother!

Sue Stern

Not as planned

Reading the various reports over the last few weeks concerning Reform and Liberal communities, I have come to the conclusion that the planned Progressive collaboration, partnership or merger (it depends who you talk to) is not a good idea.

While there is a definite financial advantage in having one organisation with a single administration, the philosophical divide is too large. The recent reports of Liberal rabbis taking certain positions on God and Israel which you would almost never see from Reform rabbis reveals this gap.

These are historically different movements with different philosophies. Maybe in Finchley, they are closer together, particularly centred around Leo Baeck College, but communities far from the centre feel differently.

As a member of a Reform shul in a place where the Liberal shul is just three blocks away, I know of community members who have left one for the other because of philosophical differences. We get on well with each other because we know our differences.
Nomenclature is also an issue as well, as our local Liberal synagogue is known as Progressive. So if this is a joint Progressive movement where does this leave Reform?
We have been assured by the movement leadership that this difference will remain, but I sense trust is lower than they think.

After all, the announcement of this collaboration/partnership/merger came out of the blue to congregants of both movements.

It is good that the CEOs of both communities are going on the road to visit 83 communities, but good consultation practice starts with talking first and proposing after. It may have been better to speak to congregants first (whose fees help pay for central offices) about the plans and then announce the collaboration, once communities have given their approval. It all feels like a done deal now being sold to communities.

Finally, we all have many skill sets, but being a rabbi does not automatically make for CEO material. I sense that it would have been better to have had a single administration professional with significant experience in community administration to manage the finances and logistics and leave the lead rabbis to provide the philosophical and education programmes for their separate communities.

Joint leadership in a political environment is rarely a strong a model; take the two Davids in the Liberal/ SDP Alliance as an example and the perennial question asked of which one was truly in charge.

Vive la difference. Let Liberal be Liberal and Reform stay Reform and just share some administrative costs.

Gordon Kay

Take your pick

Stan Labovitch asks when Shabbat starts if you’re north of the Arctic Circle and the sun never sets in summer or rises in winter (When is Shabbat?, Letters, 8 September). I cover this in my book The Rhythms and Cycles of the Jewish Calendar.

One view is that during such times of continuous light or darkness, a traveller should take sunrise and sunset as being at the same time as where he or she usually lives. As Mr Cohen is a permanent resident, that won’t work.

Another view is that sunrise should be taken as 6am and sunset as 6pm local time. A third is that the times used at synagogues at the same longitude, as near as possible but outside the Arctic or Antarctic Circle, should be used. Needless to say, there are other opinions.

Michael Baxter
London N20

September 14, 2023 09:32

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