The former canon chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral has turned his attention to a new scriptural challenge — learning to read and write in Hebrew.
The Rev Dr Giles Fraser, who resigned a year ago in protest against the removal of Occupy London demonstrators, has a Jewish father.
But although he is a frequent visitor to Israel and often contributes to discussions on the Middle East, it took a chance conversation with the Board of Deputies president, Vivian Wineman, for him to sign up to Hebrew classes.
Dr Fraser is now spending five hours a week at University College London and has so far mastered basic sentences such as stating his name and where he is from.
“I’ve always wanted to learn,” he said. “It sounds so silly but I’ve always been in love with the look of the Hebrew letters — and whenever I’ve been in Israel I’ve thought I’d love to pronounce the words — but I’ve had this feeling that Hebrew is so impenetrable.”
I want to read a paper, order a beer and understand a third of what is being said
Dr Fraser, now priest-in-charge at the London church of St Mary’s Newington, said that although he would now be able to study biblical texts in their original form, it was not his main reason. “I do have a sort of romantic attachment to Judaism and to Israel, for all my problems with it politically.
“If I’m going to love it and criticise it, in a way I feel comfortable doing, I think one way of doing that is to learn the language”.
Speaking on his way to a class test, he added: “I want to be able to read a newspaper, order a coffee or a beer and hear and understand a third of what is being said, or have a conversation… with a kid. I probably won’t get there but I’ll give it a go. How can you understand the place without the language?”