I love Israel. It is our Jewish homeland. Notwithstanding whatever the trials and tribulations throughout our tumultuous history, Israel is the one place we always yearned to return to. We reference it daily in our prayer services and at many a function, a moment is taken to toast the country and its President. Of course modern day Israel is not beyond reproach. It has its faults, and its government sometimes leaves much to be desired. But, as in any relationship, even as there are certain things I might not like, it will never diminish my love. Thus, in times of crisis, I will offer Israel my unconditional support, especially when Israel has so few friends in the world. I find it therefore baffling how Jews are sometimes the loudest critics of their own homeland. It is of course their democratic right, but one would still expect that with the rest of the world throwing their punches, fellow Jews would, if not be sympathetic to Israel’s plight, at least not add a blow or two of its own. As former British and current UN Ambassador, Ron Prosor once told a high profile Jewish critic: “You’re using language straight our opponents lexicon,” and adding that “we have enough criticism the outside we don’t need further public criticism on the inside.”
It is with this in mind that I recently raised serious questions about Yachad’s inclusion in the Board of Deputies of British Jews. In a recent Q & A in my Jewish News column I was asked whether it makes sense for Yachad to be included in the BoD and responded with my concerns. Below is a reprint of the question and answer:
There’s a vote on acceptance of Yachad into the Board of Deputies next week. Do you have an opinion on this? I know the Zionist Federation rejected this group. Should the Board follow suit?
The question to consider is, what is the Board of Deputies? Should it incorporate every body or organisation that lays claim to being Jewish? If so, then surely it would also have to consider Jews for J and Jews for Palestine, were they to want representation on the Board. Obviously, it is there to represent organisations which, in turn, represent mainstream Anglo-Jewry. Which then begs the question: what is mainstream?
For this, we have to consider Yachad’s track record. On Israel’s Memorial and Independence Day – a time when Jews worldwide celebrate the re-founding of the homeland – and reflect on the losses endured in the process, Yachad hosted ‘Breaking the Silence,’ an anti-IDF organisation described, even by left-wing Israeli newspaper Haaretz as, “not a neutral observer,” and an organisation with its own “clear agenda…to expose the consequences of IDF troops… rather than seeking justice for specific injustices.”
It’s also worthwhile noting that Hannah Weisfeld, director of Yachad, once told a SOAS panel discussion on ‘Is BDS Working?’: “We would be having a very different conversation in this room if the BDS movement was about a targeted boycott… I am not saying I would necessarily support it, but…” In other words, Yachad might consider supporting BDS if it targeted Jews in specific areas. In a separate panel discussion at UCL, Weisfeld openly supported 972 Mag, an online magazine, which has labelled Israel an apartheid state. Does that then mean Yachad considers Israel to be apartheid?
Should the Board support such an organisation? Would this be representative of Anglo-Jewry? Yachad was highly critical of the Zionist Federation for not granting it membership, even though it went to vote. Regardless of the arguments, it was a democratic process, not one taken by individuals.
Does that then mean that Yachad only respects a subjective democracy? And why did the ZF, which is part of the World Zionist Organisation, vote against inclusion?
Clearly it had some real concerns.
Should members of the Board then not also consider these same concerns? Perhaps it had, which is why the vote to include Yachad has been postponed several times. This is most curious, unless one considers the timing of those earlier proposed votes, which coincided with the recent war in Israel. Were those at the helm anxious that at a time of greater support and sensitivity for Israel, the vote would have gone against, and that perhaps now, with the passage of time, and relative calm, there is a greater chance of inclusion? If so, one needs to seriously question why there should be such concern during a time of crisis, if indeed Yachad is “representative of the silent majority of Anglo-Jewry,” as it claims to be. Finally, in a recent desperate letter to Board representatives, Yachad wrote: “If we don’t get in, it will be a bit of a disaster for the community…” And, in an apparent surreptitious move, it mentions in the same letter how it is collecting signatures for an open, stand-alone letter to be published in support of it, but not owned by it. Come on guys. If you believe in yourselves, take ownership of the letter rather than orchestrate it, but pretend it is an outside initiative. My conclusion is that I do not think any extreme organisation has a place on the Board of Deputies, whether to the right or the left. I consider Yachad to fall squarely on the extreme left. If you let it in, Naturei Karta should be allowed as well. As should Jews for Palestine, et al. Opening the floodgates – now that would be a bit of a disaster for the community.
Yachad of course took umbrage to my remarks and went on the attack on twitter. First they tweeted: “Perhaps he can point us towards the letter we wrote to @BoardofDeputies that weve never seen? #besttotellthetruth” Then some of their cronies jumped on board to favourite the tweet.
In simple terms they are denying that they ever wrote such a letter and are implying that I am not telling the truth. So I tweeted back: “@YachadUK are you saying no letter was sent someone at Yachad asking for signatories? Steady now . . . @JewishNewsUK @BoardofDeputies”
And they in turn insisted: “we did not write a desperate letter to Board representatives.”
So here, for the benefit of readers, is the letter sent by a representative of Yachad to some Board representatives which they deny sending. I have left certain parts out for the purpose of confidentiality of the recipient, but copied my editor into the full text:
: Sam Alston [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: XX October 2014 XX:XX
Subject: Yacahd joining the board
Yachad at the next board of deputies meeting will be seeking to join the board of deputies in a vote that requies a two thirds majority. If we don’t get in it will be a bit of a disaster for the community and I think is going really exacerbate big tensions that are coming to the fore in the community, which cannot be a good thing.
In the meantime it is essential that we mobilise for a yes vote and one of the plans we are putting in action is building an open letter, most likely that we be published in the JC, signed by people who have led grassroots organisations - e.g. UJS, youth movements etc. It won’t be owned by Yachad - it will be stand-alone letter. One of the things to the BoD prides itself on is the fact it reflects the grassroots. On that basis we are collecting signatories for a letter that urges deputies to vote yes not based on their own political convictions but to keep the BoD democratic and representative.
I am reaching out to people I know who have been involved in UJS, youth movements and other relevant organisations to ask them to sign. Ideally we want campaigns officers and presidents of UJS, Mazikirs of youth movements etc and not what the deputies will be perceive to be ’self-elected’ leaders. I am copying you all in as I know XXXX.
So basically I am asking a few things:
1) Can you sign?
2) Can you reach out to the years above and below you and also to people in other youth movements and organisations other than your own?
3) Can you vote in favour of Yachad joining at the Board of Deputies
The text is below. We’ve just started so its short, but I suspect it will grow quite rapidly, not least with the inclusion of your names I hope!
As people who lead or have led organizations whose memberships comprise of the grassroots of Anglo-Jewry we know how important it is to bring people into the community. When we seek to exclude people communal conversations we weaken the community and create unnecessary divisions.
The Jewish people prides itself on debate and discussion and this is core to how we conduct our affairs– whether that be in the Talmud, amongst our own families, or within wider communal settings. Excluding, or forcing out those who opinions you do not agree with, goes against the grain of Jewish tradition.
Regardless of what individuals think about Yachad it is clear that it represents a significant number of people in the community. As the democratic body of the Jewish community, the Board of Deputies must seek to represent the widest cross section of opinion. A vote against Yachad’s inclusion in the organisation will undermine the Board of Deputies’ credibility and cause untold damage to the community, leaving many people feeling unrepresented.
We urge the Deputies to put aside their own personal politics, and use their vote to support accountability, democracy and representation by voting for Yachad’s inclusion.
So there you have it folks. The letter which Yachad claims not to have sent. The question therefore remains: Was Yachad just playing with semantics in its denial or is it a typical example of blatant lack of integrity? You decide. And let the Board take note.
© Copyright 2014 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
It is always quite incredible to look back upon a year and see how many unpredictable events have occurred. As we assembled in Synagogue last Rosh Hashanah, no one could have predicted the war and tragic loss of life in Israel throughout the summer. No one would have presumed a significant spike in Anti-Semitism across the Jewish world. Islamic fundamentalism has reared its ugly head in the guise of ISIS, and far right political parties have gained a shocking foothold in many European countries.
At a local level there has been a mixed-bag of reaction to world events. Our new Chief Rabbi, Ephraim Mirvis, has made it his priority to engage communities and build a stronger sense of Jewish pride. As one example, it is anticipated that Shabbat UK in a few weeks will galvanise many otherwise unaffiliated Jews. But the Board of Deputies and Jewish Leadership Council have been lamentably lacklustre in their leadership. This was reflected in an emergency meeting held last month prompting many Jews to come forward and air their grievances. It also gave rise to a new grassroots Campaign against Anti-Semitism, which saw more people turning out to a hastily organised rally than anything the other two organisations could ever hope to put together. Still, the talk of some merger between the BOD and JLC might change the perception on the pretence that two negatives make a positive. It is my opinion, however, that people need to feel confidence in their leaders and the current perception of an ineffective president on one side and a power-hungry chairman on the other, necessitates that, more important than any merger, is simply a change of leadership at the helm.
Even as 4000 people turned out for the Campaign against Anti-Semitism rally, there are more than two hundred thousand Jews in London. In the bigger scheme of things it is an abysmal response suggesting a deep-seeded apathy. Germany has far less Jews and had more than double the attendance for a similar recently held rally. But this isn’t a time for recrimination. It is a time for more Jews to stand up and take notice. If you care about your future, about the future of your children, indeed the future of Anglo-Jewry, then this is a time to get involved, now more than ever. Be more Jewish than you have ever been. Hold your head high. Take pride in your identity. The only response to the pending threats that lurk out there is a more robust sense of self-respect. You don’t need to rely on lay-leadership – be a leader in your own right. The quality of a leader is reflected in the standards they set for themselves. They are the ones who know the way, go the way and show the way. Set yourself a new goal of engaging more with your community and show the way for others to do the same.
May the coming year be one of peace and serenity in Israel and throughout the world,and may it indeed be year of health and happiness, love and laughter for one and all.
© Copyright 2014 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
I was driving in my car today when the James O’Brien show came on LBC. Yet again, James was dedicating a segment to the current conflict in Gaza. It was only Friday when I heard a similar segment, with a lot of anti Israel rhetoric, only I was on my way home the dentist with a very numbed mouth and tempted though I was to call in, I would have hardly been coherent. So I just listened as others called in attempting to defend the Israel position – most of them doing a pretty bad job of it.
I’m not suggesting that I am any better than they are, but I’ve shared a platform with Mr. O’Brien on more than one occasion on BBC’s The Big Questions, so I like to think I could have given him more of a run for his money.
Today, amongst the myriad of questions he raised one of them was simply this: “Just because I am critical of Israel, why do I get accused on social media of being Anti Semitic?” It is a fair question and to be sure, I am certain that James is not Anti Semitic. In fact the few conversations I’ve had with him in person, he’s actually a nice guy.
But James, if you should so happen to read this I’ll tell you why people might make that assumption. First, as noted before, you had a segment about Israel on Friday and another one today. You, like other media outlets, go on about disproportionate response, and yet you all seem to allocate a disproportionate amount of air time or column space to criticism of Israel.
There has been more deaths in the last month in Syria or Iraq than there has been in all of Israel’s history. Why don’t we hear you banging on about that a little bit more? Why is Israel, which even you acknowledge has some justification for retaliation, being singled out no less than three times in seven days by your good self for conversation when there are far greater and wholly unjustified atrocities being committed in other regions? What of the plane atrocity in Ukraine? Much of the media is still focussed on it, but while it preceded your Israel segment on Friday, it was ped today. Is Israel, which is merely struggling to defend itself, that much more of a crime in your eyes, or does it simply attract more listeners?
Second, one of the questions you raised was about a group of people taking couches and sitting on a hilltop with popcorn watching bombs fall on Gaza. Even as a caller set you straight and made the point that they were watching the Iron Dome in action, you still pushed ahead with the question. If you are right, and they were watching bombs fall on Gaza, then even Israeli supporters would be quick to condemn it as deplorable. But why did you feel the need to raise the question about the actions of barely a couple of dozen people who are not representative of the six million plus in Israel? Did you raise a similar question when thousands were dancing in the streets of Gaza and handing out sweets to children, in “celebration” of the three teenagers kidnapped last month? Did you consider asking why thousands more were celebrating last night when it was reported (falsely as it turns out) that an Israeli soldier was kidnapped?
It is the imbalance and the disproportionate scrutiny that gives rise to the consideration of one being Anti Zionist, which invariably links to the assumption of one being Anti Semitic.
Finally, for whatever clever responses that you, Mr O’Brien might choose to offer in order to whitewash my questions, it is true, it must be said, that Anti Zionism is not necessarily Anti Semitism. However, those lines become seriously blurred when pro-Palestinian rallies result in the firebombing a Synagogue in Paris, daubing swastikas on homes in London and chanting Nazi slurs on the streets of Berlin. Ask yourself why when there’s tension in the Middle East, Synagogues throughout Europe and beyond have to go on high alert with added security – but not Mosques.
No James, you are not Anti Semitic. However, you might well be Anti Zionist. For many it is hard to make the distinction. Then again, who can blame them?
© Copyright 2014 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
Last month I read a comment written by someone on social network on the final day of his saying Kaddish for his parent. He wrote about feeling the effect of the Kaddish during the first month of reciting it, then thereafter, nothing. Several others chimed in posting similar remarks, empathising with his experience.
I was just entering my last month of Kaddish for my beloved father Of Blessed Memory when I read those comments and it left me perturbed. Kaddish is a powerful prayer that enables the mourner to connect with the dearly departed in a most dramatic way. the moment a loved one departs this world there is a compelling void. There are no more conversations to be had, no more embraces to be shared. But there is Kaddish, through which the souls here and those above can still connect on a very deep level.
Repetitiveness can cause loss of momentum. The first time a young man puts on Tefilin he is surely excited about the prospect, treasuring each encircle when winding the straps around his arm. Ten years later he is rushing through the process, monotonously going through an obligatory routine rather than a cherished ritual. But while breaking the sense of monotony is an ongoing challenge, Kaddish is different because it is accompanied by an entirely different emotion. You are not saying the Kaddish for yourself. You are doing it for the benefit of the soul of the deceased and it is essentially a unique opportunity afforded the living to still impact the departed.
One wonders what the significance of the Kaddish is when there is no mention about death, the departed, the soul or anything of the sort. It is an elaborate praise of G-d Himself: “Exalted and sanctified is His great name.” Yet, the mystics explain that when a soul is taken this world, a piece of G-d is also somewhat affected, so to speak. Reciting the Kaddish rectifies that, bringing solace to G-d as it were, and by extension also to the soul of the departed.
Furthermore, the criteria for the Kaddish – to be recited only in a quorum of ten men, is in fulfilment of the mitzvah “and I shall be sanctified amidst the children of Israel” (Vayikra 22:32). Fulfilling this unique mitzvah for the sake of a loved one again brings them great comfort.
Finally, there is the deeper significance of some of the passages within the Kaddish. For example, the main part of the response to the Kaddish is the line: Yihai shmai rabbah mvorach, lolam ulolmai ulmayah - May his great name be blessed forever, eternally. This phrase contains seven words and 28 letters. The very first verse of the Torah, Bereshit bara Elokim et hashamayim vet haaretz - In the beginning G-d created the heaven and the earth,, also contains seven words and 28 letters. In addition, the introductory line to the Ten Commandments, Vayadabair Elokim et kol hadevarim haelah, laimor - And G-d spoke all these words, saying, contains seven words and 28 letters. Thus, saying Kaddish triggers this response the congregation, linking to these two monumental events. This too is a source of joy and merit for the deceased.
The words of the Kaddish might not be about the living or the dearly departed, but bearing in mind the aforementioned and how one directly affects the soul engendering great elevation is a tremendous source of comfort for the mourner.
I would pause momentarily before each Kaddish and think of my father. I would think about the meaning of the words I was saying and the impact it was having. I felt privileged and moved each and every time.
Last night I recited Kaddish for the final time. I was overcome with emotion as I struggled through the final words. I will no longer have this unique connection. But my job is done – the mission complete. My father’s soul will have surely received the elevation he so rightly deserves. I am grateful for the opportunity of sharing in that. May his memory be for a blessing.
© Copyright 2014 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
It has been a tragic week for the Jewish community worldwide. An off duty police officer in Israel was shot and killed near Hebron by a terrorist hell-bent on wiping out his entire family. Over on the other side of the world, a supremacist fired at Jewish centres in Kansas killing three. The mayor of Missouri suggested he agreed somewhat with the killer while members of a nearby Baptist Church said they would be picketing the funerals. A little closer to home a teacher at North London Collegiate School reprimanded a young girl for skipping the lunch queue telling her that she would send her back to the gas chambers.
Often many a North American comments to me about the shocking Anti Semitic trend in London that they read about in the press. It does tend to be exaggerated and frankly if recent events are anything to go by they ought to be looking a little more closely into their own back garden.
But what of the teacher at one of Londons premier schools? How are we to equate her remarks with the other tragedies? Granted she didnt shoot anyone, but do her remarks reflect a malevolent heart on par with her murderous peers? All weve been told is that the school sought legal advice and that appropriate action was taken. We havent been told who the teacher is or what sort of discipline, if truly any, was taken.
When footballer Nicolas Anelka made his quenelle gesture he was severely reprimanded with a hefty penalty imposed. Personally I think what this teacher did is far worse. I get that some might argue it was just a stupid remark, but there are a lot of stupid things one can say to a misbehaving school child. One wonders what this woman thinks or believes about Jews or the sort of conversations she might have about the Holocaust in order to come out with a statement like that. For all the whitewashing it surely constitutes racial abuse. She should be fired her job. Bearing in mind that the remark was made in the presence of many other students it is morally imperative they learn that such behaviour is never tolerated. Had the reverse happened in a multi cultural Jewish school one could be certain thats the sort of action that would be taken.
What is perhaps even more disturbing however is the apparent deafening silence the many Jewish parents who send their children to the school. Are they more concerned with not rocking the boat and possibly jeopardising their childs place or standing within the school than what they could do for their childrens sense of Jewish self-esteem.? There ought to be a robust response with a threat of a boycott.
This is an opportune moment to teach those children that you need to respect yourself if you want others to respect you. Thats a more valuable lesson than anything else they could teach in that school.
© Copyright 2014 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
A Thought on Leadership:
When There’s No Such Thing As “Private Capacity”
With Pesach imminently upon us, our minds are drawn to the story of the Exodus and all the wonderful custom and ritual we engage in, in order to commemorate and re-enact the events of the past, in keeping with the dictum, “in every generation man is obligated to see himself as though he had left Egypt.”
One of the primary customs on Passover eve is the reading of the Haggadah, which recounts the story of the Exodus. One glaring omission the Haggadah, is any reference to Moses. Moses was the bona fide leader, the trusted servant of G-d who was sent to confront Pharaoh and lead the people Egypt. Why is his name omitted?
Several explanations are offered. One suggestion is that on this sublime night, our attention should be focussed on the Divine protection that has seen us survive against all odds. Referencing Moses might result in attributing too much credit to him, rather than acknowledging the greater reality that “in every generation they rise up against us to obliterate us, but G-d spares us their hands.” Yet another suggestion is that Moses was exceedingly humble and would not want himself referred to in the Haggadah. He only ever saw himself as a Divine emissary entrusted with a sacred task, and while believing in his G-d given ability to achieve, nevertheless retained his humility throughout.
It is this latter point that is most telling about leadership. A leader is great not because of his power but because of his ability to empower others. The subservience of Moses was the key to his success. He understood that his position was inextricably bound with those he was entrusted to lead. Curiously, Moses’ biggest concern when initially resisting the Divine charge was that “I am of uncircumcised lips.” The simple explanation is that Moses had a speech impediment which, he was concerned, would affect his ability to impress upon Pharaoh. Allegorically, the choice term “uncircumcised lips” would imply freedom of speech thus alluding to the fact that Moses understood that once he assumes the mantle he is no longer a private person and that his lips - his speech is circumscribed. Everything he says or does that point forward will be seen in the context of his leadership role.
There was recent controversy over the head of the Jewish Leadership Council, Mick Davis, issuing some harsh criticism of Israel. He was subsequently lambasted in the media before many others came rallying to his support, insisting that his statements were said in a private capacity, and that, that was his entitlement.
No, it’s not, and it is disingenuous for anyone to claim otherwise. If Mr. Davis was a private person making private statements, no one would care much and the media wouldn’t bat an eye in his direction. Frankly, it is even questionable whether he would have made the statement. Is it not after all, precisely because he knows the attention his comments would attract, because of his leadership position that he chose to make them in the first instance?
John Terry was spectacularly stripped of the England captaincy because of his personal shenanigans and bedroom antics. Only the more extreme liberals insisted that what takes place off the pitch is in a private capacity and shouldn’t impact on his football performance. The rest of society and then England boss, Fabio Capello didn’t think so. When you are in the limelight there is no such thing as “private capacity.”
Lord Michael Levy has been in all sorts of key leadership positions for a lot longer that Mr. Davis, serving many communal and national institutions until present day. He was also former PM Tony Blair’s personal envoy to the Middle East. No one was more acutely aware of the dynamics in the Middle East, and it can be safely assumed he will have felt extreme frustration at times. He and I have argued passionately about some of his positions regarding Israel. But never, ever did Lord Levy air criticism in public. He understood that personal opinions and frustrations notwithstanding, as a leader in the community, his remarks would invariably impact on the community. If he had a view, he would know and to whom to express it. Airing it publically is essentially an abuse of the position with which one is entrusted.
It was in 2010 when Mr. Davis, then the chairman of UJIA, launched his initial diatribe against Israel. Then, as now, several lackeys came clamouring to his support. The then Israeli ambassador, Ron Prosor, responded by accusing him of using language “straight our opponents’ lexicon,” and calling much of his criticism “unwarranted.” Prosor also observed that we have enough criticism the outside we don’t need further public criticism on the inside.
This Passover, as Mr. Davis sits down to his Seder table and reads his Haggadah, I would urge him to ponder the absence of Moses’ name and consider how he could learn Moses’ example on what real leadership entails. Continue your good work Mr Davis, but please remember you can’t have it both ways. If you want to lead, there is no “private capacity.” .
© Copyright 2014 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
Drawing A Line
I have stayed out of the Limmud debate thus far. My own attendance several years ago, in my capacity as chairman of the Rabbinical Council attests to my position on the matter. That many more of my colleagues are going this year, riding on the coattails of the Chief Rabbi, does raise the question, to paraphrase Vespasian in his retort to Ben Zakai: “If you believe it is right, were you until now?”
Of course the bigger question is, if indeed Chief Rabbi Mirvis believes it is correct to go, why hasn’t he gone until now? We’ve all heard the rumours about it being a condition of his Chief Rabbinate appointment, which, if true, only proves my arguments about the cabal who make the appointment and determine the agenda. How sad it would be if Limmud became the determining factor in rabbinic appointments. Alas, it is likely to become a key question for any communal ion committee looking to hire a new Rabbi, as though to go or not to go is what determines the potential Rabbi’s suitability.
Limmud is everything its proponents argue it to be; a marketplace of diverse learning opportunities. It is a potpourri of Jewish thought and culture – a pick & mix of diverse ideas. To have, as I have argued previously, a large percentage of United Synagogue attendees and deny them an Orthodox flavour to pick simply doesn’t make sense. And of course, if “outreach” is the modus operandi of the United Synagogue Rabbinate, then better an opportunity than at Limmud. If KLBD (the London Beth Din kosher licensing department) was offered an opportunity to promote kosher food at a food fair that would also be presenting other, non-kosher stalls, would they go? I think it is safe to say they will have done so. That is the fundamental basis for those arguing in favour of Limmud.
Then there are the people involved. By this I do not mean the many wonderful organisers or presenters, but other movers and shakers in the wider Anglo-Jewish community for whom pluralism is central to their agenda. I maintain that there are those who use Limmud to promote their own political cause. Take for example the one Reform activist who said he wants more of a United Synagogue presence in order to undercut the concerted Masorti presence which he deems a direct threat to his own organisation. Or the Masorti layman who was overheard saying he wanted an opportunity to stage a debate between United Synagogue and Masorti representatives. It is precisely those who have politicised Limmud that has sewn suspicion and made some within Orthodoxy react as they have. It is precisely because of this, I believe, that Chief Rabbi Sacks was reluctant to attend. He didn’t want to feed into those who may use Limmud as their own political football. It is also in spite of this that Chief Rabbi Mirvis is choosing to attend. He made transcending the politics part of his mission statement even as he will never cross the theological divide. But while the sole purpose of his attendance is to educate, there will be those who would like to construe that into something it is not. Essentially it is those people, and not Limmud, that is the problem.
One question remains however: Just how far are the organisers of Limmud prepared to go on their programme? What are the red lines, if any? Would they, for example, allow Jews for J to present at Limmud? If not, why not? After all, they also profess to be Jewish no less than anyone else presenting. Does Limmud take a Universalist approach? If so they would have to accept the so-called “Hebrew-Christians,” for that matter all of Christianity which defines itself as the “New Israel.” Would Chief Rabbi Mirvis attend if Jews for J were given a platform?
These questions require urgent consideration as it has come to light that the Kaballah Centre are being given a platform at Limmud. I will give the naïveté of the programme organisers the benefit of the doubt, but for those of us who have been intimately involved with the Kaballah Centre, and certainly several of its victims, it is seemingly nothing less than a cult. An in-depth exposé was done by the BBC and most broadsheets in this country carried stories about its dubious dealings. Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks issued a statement his office denouncing the Kaballah Centre and in the United States it is on an official cults and missionaries watch list. In short, there is little difference between the Kaballah Centre and Jews for J. Both essentially look to lure the Jew into a belief that has nothing to do with Judaism per se.
I don’t typically like to use labels such as Orthodox or Reform. I prefer to use terms like more observant or less observant. The Kaballah Centre however has nothing to do with Jewish observance whatsoever. One needs to only scour through the internet to find all the claims against the centre and its categorical cult like tactics. Even using the marketplace paradigm, would I be looking to sell my wares at a market narcotics or prostitution were also openly being sold?
It beggars belief that Limmud would entertain this. I call upon the organisers of Limmud to withdraw its invitation to the Kaballah Centre. Failing that I call upon Chief Rabbi Mirvis and my esteemed colleagues to withdraw their attendance Limmud.
© Copyright 2013 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
Lancing The Boil
I’ve been rather consumed with work this week so never really had much chance to read the papers. The one headline that kept jumping out at me was reference to something the Daily Mail said about Labour leader Ed Miliband’s father Ralph. It wasn’t till reading my Jewish Chronicle this morning that I was able to fully appreciate what the fuss was about. I followed this by watching a recording of Lord Levy being interviewed by Kay Burley on Sky News last night.
I’m one of those who always tread a careful line before playing the Anti-Semitism card. I’m the one who told sportsdirect.com that I don’t have a problem with chanting Yido on the Spurs pitch. But sometimes you’ve got to ask yourself “what were they thinking?” I get it that a Conservative paper wants to go after the leader of the opposition, but to go after his father? Referencing his father’s supposed “hatred of Britain whilst seeking refuge and reaping the benefits of living here,” is in itself highly insensitive and in very poor taste. But to make deliberate reference to his Jewish origins and refugee status unquestionably wades into Anti-Semitic waters.
To be sure, this doesn’t mean the Daily Mail is Anti-Semitic. But it certainly suggests gross naïveté at best; not grasping the implications and consequences of writing such an article with categorical Anti-Semitic undertones. In his interview Lord Levy brilliantly navigated the hard questions thrown at him, never once accusing the paper of Anti-Semitism, but certainly implying that the comments per se could well be interpreted as Anti-Semitic.
It was several years ago when Lord Levy was undergoing his own media mauling. At the time, the Daily Mail, as one example, made deliberate reference to his middle name – Abraham – even as everyone knew him as Michael – and referred as well to his “mansion in North West London.” I flagged that at the time, on Channel 4 news with John Snow, and later on Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman. Lord Sugar picked up on it the following day as well and a subsequent article was written in the Jewish Chronicle entitled “Schochet and Sugar Lance the Boil.” The article went on to say that “whether or not one thinks that the “friends of Levy” campaign was sensible, there is no doubt that it has had an impact. As a result, editors are likely to be far more scrupulous in their reporting, keeping the Jewish references to a minimum,” and concludes with, “It is my impression that…Schochet and Sugar have lanced the Anti-Semitic boil. That must be a good thing.”
This prompted a phone call Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily Mail, who told me he wanted to better understand the sensitivities involved. He was most gracious and seemed to really want to ensure that his paper could be more conscientious going forward. It looks though that my little lesson didn’t last long.
One Jew, who has come to the defence of the Mail, is City editor and personal friend, Alex Brummer. He told BBC Radio 4 the paper was owed an apology over claims that its Ralph Miliband articles were motivated by Anti-Semitism. He hit out at suggestions the Jewish Chronicle, Labour figures and others that there may have been “a whiff of Anti-Semitism” about the coverage. “I think there are people out there who need to apologise to us because there have been vicious accusations in the last couple of days…that somehow this was an Anti-Semitic attack,” he said.
This is strange - because it was Alex Brummer who wrote the aforementioned Jewish Chronicle article about “lancing the boil.” It was him as well who organised that phone call between me and his editor. Is that politics? Or have years at the Mail rubbed off on him.
© Copyright 2013 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
One Small Victory For Man –
One Giant Triumph For Israel
As Rosh Hashanah approaches we consider how the world teeters on the brink. Arab springs are followed by new uprisings, and the drama in Syria is escalating daily. In the midst of it all, Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East is persistently and consistently delegitimized in government corridors and university campuses. Even as innocent woman and children are targeted daily and chemical weapons are being used, Israel remains the whipping boy for all the problems in the Middle East.
Still, even as we struggle against global tides of disdain, and strive to keep our collective heads held high and our Jewish pride intact, there are sometimes smaller battles being fought which go unnoticed with unsung heroes.
One such example is a moving airline map of Israel that appeared on a British Airways flight going London to Heathrow in July - with “Palestinian Territories” marked across many Israeli cities, including Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Amazingly, the many passengers on board either hadn’t noticed the brazen gaffe, or couldn’t be bothered raising the issue. One passenger however, who is known to me, allowed his moral indignation to prevail. He wrote to the Chief Executive of British Airways and after a few suitably worded chasers received the following reply: (He has asked to remain anonymous.)
: British Airways Customer Relations
Sent: 31 August 2013 16:03
To: Xxxxxx Xxxxxx
Subject: Your Response BA Customer Relations
Dear Mr Xxxxxx
Following on my last email dated the 16 August, I have now, been able to investigate this thoroughly for you.
Firstly please accept my sincere apologies for the delay in coming back to you. As advised in my last email and following on the acknowledgement you received my colleague Cheryl, thank you again for taking the time to bring this to Keiths attention. I can appreciate why you would feel this was necessary. I would like to reassure you that this hasnt been taken lightly and your comments have certainly been taken extremely seriously. Following investigations into this, I am not sure if this is something that you are aware of but, we do have two in-flight entertainment system types currently fitted and in use on our aircraft. On contacting our product management team at senior level, they have confirmed that the map of Israel you referred to as displaying “Palestinian Territories” over Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, does indeed appear on one of those systems. I appreciate this is a very sensitive issue and I am sorry for how this would have made you feel when it appeared at the time.
We have now been in touch with the suppliers of the product and its software. We have asked that this be removed as soon as possible. Work has commenced on this and they have confirmed that this will be completed by December 2013. I can only apologise that this isnt an immediate action, but I assure you that we will continue to do all we can to ensure this is completed and actioned as quickly as it can be.
I would like to extend my sincere apologies again, you have my absolute assurance that no upset or distress was ever intended to any of our customers. As a global airline, the widely differing origins of our passengers and even our staff are a matter of pride rather than otherwise. Thank you again for taking the time to raise this as an issue, and I do hope that we can look forward to welcoming you on board one of our flights again soon.
British Airways Customer Liaison Executive
Your case reference is: xxxxxxxxx
A small victory perhaps for one man, but as long as we care enough, to remain constantly alert and persistently robust, it will all add up to a giant triumph for Israel. May this coming year bring true and everlasting peace in the Land so that “Jacob may dwell in tranquillity with none to make him afraid.”
Wishing one and all a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.
© Copyright 2013 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
Saatchi And Saatchi – A Lesson In Marriage Marketing
“My wife and I had twenty-five blissful years. Then, we met,” so quipped Rodney Dangerfield. People laugh at the joke in the same way they laugh at any witticism which reflects a certain truth that we can relate to though don’t necessarily dare express. But it is the truth. Committing yourself to sharing your life with someone else is incomparably harder work than the bliss one might enjoy in individual tranquility. But while the earlier years of marriage form part of an invariable struggle as two independent people adjust to learn to live with one another, over the course of time, with the right sort of compromises, the perseverance in nurturing the love and significant emotional maturity, we can come to experience more of the bliss that wedding bells promise, as we progress in the marriage. Another famous one-liner is, “My husband and I have enjoyed six blissful years of marriage. Mind you, we’ve been married for fourteen years.” Here the implication is that marriage can invariably start off blissful as one enjoys the fruits of young love, but with the passage of time and the inevitability of “familiarity breeds contempt,” that blissfulness alas becomes a long lost memory. To be sure, in today’s world, such marriages won’t typically stand the test of time. Once boredom starts to erode the marriage people are quick to look for the exit door. They’ll enjoy the immediate highs experienced at the outset but aren’t prepared to invest time and energy required to experience the deeper sense of enduring connectiveness which takes years to develop.
High profile people struggle with making this adjustment more than others, often because they’re living their marriage under a spotlight. When a Hollywood couple split up after more than ten years the media often recoils in shock at how “one of the strongest celebrity marriages is breaking up.” In other words ten years of marriage is considered a rock-solid relationship in Tinseltown even as that is the stage most couples are just starting to discover the fruit bourn after years of marital labour.
When advertising tycoon Charles Saatchi was pictured with his hand around the neck of his beloved wife Nigella Lawson at a restaurant in London, society was up in arms and the media circus had something to run on its front pages for days on end. People questioned whether this idyllic couple was really just a sham. How could they have kept up the facade for nearly a decade? A menacing act such as that depicted is not typically a one off gesture and is reflective of more abuse that must be endemic in their relationship, is how the thinking went. When Nigella was subsequently seen leaving the marital home with her bags packed it seemed to confirm all suspicions.
So I was stunned to pick up a Sunday paper with a screeching headline, “I’m divorcing you Nigella: Saatchi is divorcing his wife because she refused to defend him in public and say he never hit her,” We all know that the best defence is offence but this was masterful even by a marketing guru’s standards.
The gist of the spin was that the neck-hold picture “looked bad” even as it “didn’t depict the truth” and that if Nigella didn’t admit the truth to the public that it was nothing more than “a playful tiff” then he would simply have to accommodate the claims in the short term. So much so that he even went to make a statement to the police resulting in a caution. Of course confessing something he didn’t do was untenable and he would now have to divorce her. In other words, the gesture was nothing more than playful, Nigella’s subsequent leaving the home was just in response to the misconstrued embarrassment, and Saatchi lied to the police. Why on earth would he do all this for her only to then leave her thereafter? Yet the media reported this as gospel, mostly because Saatchi chose to announce his divorce to his wife through them, thus rendering it an exclusive.
Exclusive, unadulterated poppycock, in my opinion. I’ve been married nearly twenty-five years. During that time my wife and I have had our share of tiffs. Any couple that claims otherwise is either delusional or non-existent. But I can honestly say in all that time I’ve never once put my hand around my wife’s neck or tweaked her nose upward (another demeaning gesture Saatchi was photographed doing). It is to my mind a pathetic spin a man now leaving his third wife.
Maybe there are two sides to Saatchi’s character. There is Saatchi the art collecting socialite who was always seen lovingly embracing his wife in public and there is the darker side to Saatchi behind closed doors, or in the presumed confines of a private restaurant a more controlling and bullying personality emerges. In the telling words of his second wife, whom he divorced before marrying Lawson: “When the light shines on you he is charming and amazing and special. I know, because he shone it on me. Then the light fades and there is darkness.”
For all I know Saatchi simply believes his own spin and doesn’t see anything wrong with his physical gestures. Perhaps they were indeed common place in his relationship, and without a protesting wife, it becomes acceptable behaviour. The hard fact is that physical contact expressed in any way other than benign or lovingly, is abuse. Any woman enduring such should seriously question her relationship. Perhaps, after enough times, Nigella learnt to accept such behaviour as reasonable, as many an abused wife would. If so, even as she is reported to want a reconciliation the media will have done her a big favour by embarrassing her into divorce and waking her up to reality.
Henry Youngman once said: “The secret of a happy marriage remains a secret.” For Saatchi and Lawson that rings true. It behooves the rest of us married people to keep working on discovering it.
© Copyright 2013 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
Orthodox Feminism Must Know Its Limits
JOFA – the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance is an organisation that was set up in order to encourage Orthodox women to be able to find more expression within the realm of Orthodoxy and traditional Judaism.
While we once lived in a world women were treated as second class both in the workplace as well as mainstream society - today that glass ceiling has been broken. And while that is a positive result, some will have argued that traditional Judaism also treats women as second class, and once we’re making inroads in other spheres, let’s revolutionise the religious stance on women as well.
The first thing that has to be made abundantly clear is that Judaism never treated women as second class. That men and women sit separately in synagogue is in order to preserve modesty in a place of prayer. That men “can” put on a prayer shawl, wear a yarmulke etc. while women “can’t,” is a misconception. It is more the case that men are obligated to do so along with many other laws and rituals. The reasons are well documented as having to do with nurturing the spiritual dynamic of men, which is innate to women. These are not rabbinic apologetics, rather recorded long before feminism was even a concept.
Still, it is understandable, in a world women are finding more expression, that they seek the same within the religious sphere and to that end many Rabbis have sought opportunities within the realm of Jewish law.
The problem arises some make the leap in the assumption that “if we could do this, then we could do that as well.” The question then arises, are they coming a place of genuine spiritual yearning or a more feminist equality standpoint of “if men can do it, we can do it too.” I’m a firm believer in looking at the end result to know what the underlying premise is. The truth often lies in the action. Those who are looking to satisfy a soul craving, will adhere to what Rabbis tell them is permissible in Jewish law and act upon it graciously. Those who push the boundaries and look for some Rabbi some that would give them the nod to perhaps even step over said boundaries, are, without doubt, coming with ulterior motif.
The ‘partnership services’ are a case in point. One would be hard pressed to find an Orthodox Rabbi some that accepts such practise even amongst the presumed more lenient within modern-Orthodoxy. In America it is assumed that JOFA are, if not instigators of such a service, certainly strong supporters. JOFA has just launched in the UK and ‘partnership services’ seem to have come out of the closet. That they occurred on the same day may be a coincidence, but the latter will find no support within mainstream Orthodoxy in the UK. The former must be sure to stay true to normative halacha if they want to galvanise support.
When women insist that they want equality in the world – I get it. Quite right too! When they insist they want equality in religious practise – they’re not getting it. When someone comes to me at a dinner several weeks ago in London and says, “Rabbi what would you say to a woman who’s gone to the same Jewish school as her male peers, she’s got the same education, learnt the same texts and now she wants a call-up in synagogue and is denied having one - why shouldn’t she turn her back on Orthodoxy?” My simple answer is, “I appreciate that she wants spiritual expression, but if the call-up is the be-all-and-end-all of what defines her Judaism and how she feels she can express that - such that she’ll either commit or reject on the back of it, then not only does she not appreciate her unique role within the Jewish faith, but she misses the point as to what Jewish practise is altogether.” It’s not about, what can G-d do for me. It’s always and only about what can I do for G-d. And it is G-d and Jewish law that determines that.
The inroads being made for the benefit of Jewish women must be premised on solid ground, lest some might get the wrong impression and look to trek down other avenues as well. Like the young Bat Mitzvah girl in a London Orthodox synagogue many years ago, who after reading a section of her Torah portion in a private women’s service, was reported in the Jewish media to have said: “I only wish my Dad could have been here. I will make sure one day my daughter will have both her parents present.” That kind of misses the point and whatever the initial basis upon which that service was founded, was certainly lost on the young lady.
The ultimate Jewish mission is to redeem this world and a change in the image of the Jewish woman is one of the hallmarks of redemption in keeping with the words of the prophet: “There will yet be heard in the cities of Judah and the outskirts of Jerusalem… the voice of the groom and the voice of the bride.”
Every Jewish woman needs to find ‘her’ voice - the feminine voice – the voice of dignity - in order to play her pivotal role in bringing about the redemption of our world. But that voice must emanate the true depths of her soul and not the equality yearning desires of her heart.
This article appeared in the Jewish Chronicle
© Copyright 2013 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved
Weeds Grow Wild
Someone recently sent me the following story: A small shul in a rural town had a garden that had become completely overgrown. Years of neglect have turned it into a veritable jungle of thorns, bushes, and weeds. Among the members of the congregation was a man who was quite a talented and accomplished gardener. The sight of the overgrowth bothered him week after week, until he finally decided to do something about it. He put on his gardening gloves and began pulling weeds, removing bushes, tilled the earth, planted grass, transplanted flowers, and over several days, the garden started to look really lovely. He worked up to the last minute before Friday services, and was on his hands and knees in the garden, finishing up, as the Rabbi walked by. Looking around appreciably, the Rabbi said “My word isn’t it amazing what man could accomplish with the help G-d!” The member stood up, brushed of his hands, and responded. “With all due respect, Rabbi, you should have seen this place when G-d had it all to Himself!”
The gardener was clearly making the point that it was his actions that brought about the beauty in the garden. The Rabbi was emphasising the fact that without a G-d to cause seeds to germinate, grass to grow, flowers to blossom, and beautiful colours to sprout forth, all of the work the gardener would have been futile.
This is the concept of what we call in Jewish philosophy as hishtadlut, loosely translated as “requisite effort” that is basic to the Jewish faith. Throughout the course of history, G-d effectively demanded of mankind hishtadlut. Already at the beginning of time we are told that G-d created the world but then sent man out into it to work it and safeguard it. G-d’s instruction to Abraham was leave your land, your birthplace, your father’s home - step out of your cocoon and out into the world, to engage it and transform it. It’s time to do your hishtadlut. When the fledgling Jewish nation experienced their Exodus, G-d commanded that they travel into the Sea before He split it. In simple terms G-d is saying, “I will do My job but you must be prepared to do yours.”
This responsibility of hishtadlut extends itself to every sphere of living. You want G-d to keep you healthy, that’s fine. But you have to keep yourself fit as well. You want G-d to provide for you, that’s OK. But you have to go out and earn a living. You want G-d to give you pleasure your children, that’s perfectly acceptable. But you have to be willing and prepared to invest time and into their lives.
The extent to which one should apply oneself and the fine lines to be drawn between requisite effort and indulgence to the detriment of other fundamentals may be a matter of debate. But what is not up for debate is that whatever hishtadlut entails, one is obligated to do, to apply, to involve oneself.
This might explain Moses’ thinking when he hit the rock even after G-d instructed that he speak to it. You’ve got to wonder how he, the bona fide leader of the Jewish nation who admonished the people time and again for not adhering to G-d’s word, could himself choose to simply disregard an instruction he was given.
Yet when we consider hishtadlut there is logic to Moses’ actions. Perhaps his perspective, speaking to the rock in order for it to produce water is fine. But that’s totally G-d driving the result. Rocks don’t typically produce water when you talk to them. So when he was not getting his desired effect he thought, “I need to do my hishtadlut – I need to apply myself more personally into the venture,” and so he proceeds to hit the rock.
To be sure, he did attempt several times to speak to the rock. At first that was his participation – his involvement. But nothing was happening. And if you are continuously failing in what you are trying to accomplish, you must change your game plan.
The question then arises: How do you reconcile the notion of: “If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again” with the idea that “if it’s not working, it’s time to try something else?” I suggest that sometimes it is obvious to you as to why your efforts didn’t bear fruit. Maybe you didn’t exert enough energy or maybe your lack of confidence was palpable. On that basis, it makes sense to try again. But if you truly believe in your heart that you’ve tried everything, and still have not had the success you had been hoping for, then hishtadlut necessitates that you change your game plan to one that will work and get you the results you desire. At that point continuing what you had been doing previously is no longer an option.
So when G-d says to Moses, “you got it wrong, you didn’t have enough faith in Me,” what He was saying in effect was you were too quick to switch course. You were at the stage when you should have still tried again rather than trying something else.” And for that he endured the consequences.
What all that says to you and me is that it is about finding balance. There’s a fundamental pre-requisite to apply yourself – to involve yourself – to do your part. And that in turn is complimented by the very real need to recognise how sometimes you have to change your game plan as well.
There seems to be a growing intolerance in the Jewish ultra-Orthodox world today with statements and behavioural patterns that one may have always typically associated with radicalism else. One of the biggest issues staring Israel at the moment is the new draft regulations to be implemented. All of a sudden Rabbis and leaders of all sorts – who live off the fat of the land but hardly give anything back into it - start pontificating the sidelines airing mass protests in the most vile terms and I have to ask, “Who are you to criticise when you aren’t even prepared to engage with the world that you seek to condemn?” You want to reap the land but is your hishtadlut? You want G-d to protect the land in which you live whatever surrounding threats but are you prepared to do your part to protect your land as well?
When these self righteous Jews air their protests through violence on the streets of Jerusalem or with vile placards that can only be described as fodder for anti-Semites every - on the streets of New York - then I must conclude that there is something deeply disconcerting in the very leadership of Ultra-Orthodoxy today. These leaders are engendering a veritable jungle of fear, an undergrowth of distrust, with the thorns of intolerance becoming increasingly manifest.
To be sure this is not limited to just the latest draft laws. Rock throwing, intimidation, and most recently one leading Rabbi referring to another as a “wicked man,” prompting his followers to manhandle the other, without a word of protest – begs the question of what sort of Judaism do they claim to represent.
Sure there are all sorts of issues at stake and yes, there needs to be a more thorough thought through process. It is important to be mindful and respectful of a different way of life, and a people who are used to living and doing things a certain way. But contrary to what some of those leaders might think, they don’t have the monopoly on Judaism. “G-d is on our side,” they will argue. Yes, but only when there is hishtadlut. You involve, you engage, you speak to the rock – you don’t strike it.
Throughout the ages, the good and G-dly led us, guided us, inspired us in areas of Jewish law, ethics and philosophy. In that arena they might well represent G-d. But when the jungle life in the garden is continuing to wreak havoc through unabashed Chilul Hashem (desecration of the religion) then frankly, maybe it’s time for them to change the game plan. Maybe it’s time they wake up and weed out the negative and damaging tactic in order to allow the inherent beauty of all Judaism really stands for, to emerge in the garden.
Judaism was always intended to enhance the landscape of our world – to enable a beautiful garden of peace and serenity to grow. And on so many levels that has been happening but make no mistake about it – it’s being done by the gardeners performing their hishtadlut not those pontificating behind their ghetto walls. And when certain Rabbis and leaders tell us that we should leave matters in their hands with their special help above, we must stand up, brush our hands off, and tell them “You should see what a jungle this place is when you have it all to yourselves.”
© Copyright 2013 Rabbi YY Schochet - All Rights Reserved