The JC Letters Page, 9th November 2018

Norma Neville, Professor Tony Kushner, David Lawson, Martin D. Stern, Stan Labovitch, Laurence Kingsley, Ceila Dignana, Miriam Levin, Gordon Kay, Alan Schneider and Malcolm Gerber share their views with JC readers

November 08, 2018 16:11

Should ‘callous’ Jews define ‘synagogue’?

According to my dictionary, the definition of a synagogue is a congregation of Jews who assemble for worship (Rabbis avoid calling Tree of Life a synagogue, JC November 2)

Rabbis Lau and Yosef evidently don’t consider any other brand of davening than their own to be kosher. The perpetrator of this terrible massacre was only interested that this was a gathering of Jews and not how they prayed.  Nor were the Jews slaughtered in the Shoah asked for their affiliation. 

Norma Neville 
Hendon, London

Re-Rabbis Lau and Yosef and their callous inability to recognise the Tree of Life as a synagogue: ‘You Ain’t No Jews, bruvs’.

Professor Tony Kushner
Parkes Institute, University of Southampton

Mr David Lau and Mr Yitzhak Yosef do not recognise the Etz Hayyim shul as a synagogue. 

They both claim to be Chief Rabbis. They certainly have the appropriate beard and hat — but why should I recognise either of them even as Jews?

David Lawson
Finchley, London

As Rav Saadia Gaon wrote over a thousand years ago: “The Jewish nation is a nation only by virtue of the Torah”. The Conservative movement understands the Torah quite differently from classical Judaism as formulated, inter alia, by Maimonides in his thirteen principles, so a “Conservative synagogue” sounds to Orthodox Jews like a contradiction in terms.

This is a logically valid position even if it does not appeal to the advocates of religious pluralism. While the non-Orthodox are perfectly entitled to call their places of worship “synagogues”, or their clergy “rabbis” for that matter, they have no right to force those who disagree to do so. On the contrary, that is the height of intolerance and should have no place in a democratic society.

It is quite clear that Robert Bowers targeted the Tree of Life because of his hatred of Jews but his perception that it was a synagogue does not automatically make it into one.

Despite the repeated assertion that the Nazis killed Reform and Orthodox Jews without distinction, it does not follow that the Conservative or Reform ideologies are versions of Judaism  — we cannot allow ourselves to be defined by those who hate us rather than by our own traditional norms.

Martin D. Stern
Salford M7

Opening out education

I couldn’t agree more with Daniel Finkelstein (Children must not be shielded from real life, JC November 2) that the birthright of every British citizen (including Charedim) is civic equality and equality under the law. 

No child should be denied the right to have access to modern thinking, including that on evolution and sexuality. 

If we believe that Muslims should integrate, then so must we. And if we are unable to integrate modernity into our faith then we will not survive as a people. The days of living in a hermetically sealed shtetl where isolation was the guarantor of continuity are over  — thank goodness.

Stan Labovitch

Lord Finkelstein refers to some Orthodox Jews being concerned about the teaching of Darwin’s theory of evolution alongside what is commonly described as Creationism.  He says one must make a choice. My choices are that, if one is teaching science or religion, all explanations should be put forward.  Alternative views should invariably be put forward otherwise the child will end up with an unbalanced or defective understanding of the subject.  The solution is for the parents to opt out of their children being taught science or religion but to choose other subjects.
Similarly the existence of homosexuality and trans issues should be recognised without it being endorsed or approved of.

Laurence Kingsley
Surbiton, Surrey 

A calm connection

The decision by the Hornsey & Wood Green Labour Party General Committee to affiliate to Jewish Voice for Labour was taken following a calm and respectful debate. (Rabbis oppose constituency party’s decision to affiliate with JVL, JC November 2

The proposal came from a number of Jewish members on the basis that they wish to broaden the range of organisations representing Jewish perspectives in the Labour Party. The Jewish Labour Movement, the long-standing organisation of Labour-supporting members of the Jewish community, and an affiliate of the party, also continues to enjoy support from local members. 

We regret that the GC’s decision has distressed some Jewish community members. We would like to reassure them that H&WG LP is committed to fighting antisemitism and racism wherever it appears, including within our own ranks where it arises. 

We sincerely believe that talking together is the way forward. As executive members of H&WG LP, we have therefore joined Catherine West MP in inviting local rabbis David Mason and Nicky Liss to meet us. 

Celia Dignan and Miriam Levin 
Chair and Secretary, Hornsey &Wood Green Labour Party

Artless and heartless

I read with great disappointment that the Ben Uri Gallery is planning to sell major British-Jewish artworks to fund a new direction for the museum and research to be dedicated to “the art of immigrants of all faiths and nationalities” (JC, November 2).  I am not against the idea of such a museum, which in itself is a wonderful idea but concerned about turning the only one in the UK dedicated to British-Jewish art into this generalist project which could be funded in other ways. 

Do the trustees not have enough confidence in their own heritage that they cannot see the value of a Jewish art museum? 

I was lucky enough to see their travelling exhibition of Bomberg at Pallant House in Chichester earlier this year —  the sense of joy that “our museum” was presenting such a brilliant exhibition in a place not renowned for a Jewish population was inspiring and contributes to tolerance and understanding at a time when this is needed more than ever. 

David Glasser suggests that they are in competition with the Tate, V & A and National Gallery, but so is every small museum.  You compete by being distinctive and true to your roots. The Ben Uri has built its international reputation on its Jewishness — don’t let that go. 

The problem with the Ben Uri is not the art but the location, stuck on the edge of Kilburn miles from centres of vibrant Jewish life. It logically should relocate nearer JW3 or the Jewish Museum and contribute to a wider cultural hot-spot. It would add and gain with closer connections and partnerships. 

Most shocking of all is the fact that it is selling the family silver to pay for this. These works are core to what Ben Uri is. Remove these and you have an empty shell. Once they are gone, they are gone. What a disappointment for those who have donated time and money to what is the only Jewish art museum in the UK. 

Think again before it is too late. Show some confidence in the value of our culture and history — keep the Ben Uri Jewish. We can then make a significant contribution to a general museum of immigrant art for generations to come.

Gordon Kay

The decision of the Ben Uri Art Gallery to dispose of half of its art collection is monstrous. Whether donated or purchased, the collection comprises not only predominantly works of art by Jewish artists but a major collection of art in its own right. Judging by the two million pounds they expect to raise, the works being sold will be the cream of the collection.

How ridiculous to want to set up an online dictionary of immigrant art by destroying the very thing the dictionary is about.

Would the gallery melt down synagogue silver to further a new project, replacing the real objects with online pictures? I hope someone can take legal steps to prevent this terrible sale and dispersal of Jewish art and art history. It would be a disaster for Jewish culture in this country.

Alan Schneider
London N16


I’m not certain why I am surprised by comments  such as those made by Dr Anthony Issacs (Letters, November 2) or actions taken by Rabbi Danny Rich, which suggest that the Jewish community has not done enough to reach out to the Labour Party. 

The BoD , JLC  and Jewish Labour Movement have all reached out. How far do those on the receiving end of racism need to go? Should the civil rights moment in America reach out to the KKK? 

I fail to understand how Danny Rich invites Jeremy Corbyn and Jenny Manson to a Shabbat dinner and claims it is a private matter. 

I would think that inviting the leader of the Labour Party and the “leader” of JVL, while being the Chief Executive and Senior Rabbi of Liberal Judaism, somewhat blurs the privacy claim. 

Malcolm Gerber
Finchley, London

November 08, 2018 16:11

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