Rev Leslie Olsberg was a lovely man who was loved and admired by all. These are some tributes to him:
Rev Leslie Olsberg was a lovely man who was loved and admired by all. These are some tributes to him:
On Wednesday a number of Israeli scholars, including the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, Shear Yashuv Cohen
and his wife, Dr. Naomi Cohen, an expert on Philo and Talmud:
arrived in Manchester for the Judaica Fest, being held at Manchester University:
On Wednesday evening the Chief Rabbi of Haifa, together with Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat, gave a talk at Whitefield Hebrew Congregation, in North Manchester, on the subject of Jewish women who wish to gain a divorce - otherwise known as the agunah problem.
Solutions are there in the earliest sources. According to the speakers, it is a matter of using these sources.
The next day we took Dr. Naomi Cohen and Rabbanit Shoshana Daichovsky for a trip in the Lake District. A great deal of thought had gone into this (ad)venture and we decided the north lakes would be better than the south lakes. This proved to be a good guess.
Keswick was beautiful and relatively empty.
By the time we reached
on the way back, the day trippers were out in the glorious sunshine and we were glad we had aimed higher up. The Lake District was declared by our guests to be more beautiful than the New York Catskills,
which was praise indeed!
We took a picnic hamper, plenty to drink and a camera. The guests had their own cameras too and couldn't stop taking pictures. What impressed them the most was the peace and quiet. And to think that all this is less than two hours from our home in Manchester!
On Shabbat morning, the Chief Rabbi addressed our shul
on the subject of leadership in Israel today. He found some parallels with the time of Moses, as depicted in the Book of Midbar (Numbers):
Then, in the evening, Rabbi Riskin gave a lecture on the subject of what is required of Jews and Judaism. Judaism should reach out to the world and hope for repentance even in our worst enemies, such as Hamas.
We should try to make overtures to those who don't like us, but at the same time act as Jews should. God does not require us to have comfortable lives, away from the fray. Nor does He wish us to study Torah and Talmud all day, to the exclusion of earning a living in the 'real' world. When Jews start to behave as God wants, the rest of the world will respond.
Both sermons were inspirational and the synagogue was packed.
The weather had been glorious throughout and our Israeli guests had thorougly enjoyed their stay. The words we had heard gave a great deal of food for thought, especially in the wake of news such as this:
But then, today, at a shiur in north Manchester, we discussed the origin of the word 'Jericho'. Jericho (now in Palestinian hands) comes up in the Book of Numbers. The place is a mini oasis in a desert area, and has constantly growing, sweet-smelling flowers. This is one meaning of the letters y, r, kh. Another is 'moon'. It appears that Jericho was at first inhabited by moon worshippers!!
It is hard to convey to people who are not Jewish just how important the Hebrew language is in understanding the Bible. And how inadequate translations are. If this is true even of novels and poetry, then how much more so it must be in the case of sacred writings:
It's just been one of those days. The sun shone for the first time in about four weeks. We received a morning phone call from friends in Israel who are due in Manchester on Wednesday for Manchester University's Judaica Fest
and who have been viewing the wintery weather cycle in Manchester with considerable alarm.
Hope at last!
The gas and electric people wrote to say they were reducing our monthly payments by a considerable amount (yes - reducing). I'd better not name the company, in case they change their mind.
The bus was full of friendly people and an Italian driver. In Chorlton St., by the bus station, a water company was handing out free bottles of mineral water to all and sundry - yes - giving them out for free in the middle of Manchester.
The Judaica Fest currently being held at UMIST, now merged with Manchester University, was full of good feeling, fine lectures and not even a sign of Mona Baker and her boycotting tendencies.
And there were so many people to catch up with: rabbis, academics, students and former colleagues and friends.
Particularly impressive are some of the young scholars from Germany, many of them in academic positions at British universities, and specialising in subjects of Jewish interest, such as Jewish-Christian relations and the Holocaust.
News from Israel is equally as promising. Gordon Brown was there making history as the first British Prime Minister to address the Knesset. Here he is on Iran:
And here he is on the exciting new academic exchange programme that is to be forged between Britain and Israel, via the British Council:
On returning home, I found that Lambeth Palace had responded very positively to my previous blog about the Archbishop of Canterbury's letter to Muslim scholars:
To cap it all, The Times was nice about the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The British Chief Rabbi will be addressing the Lambeth Conference in the next few days
and the Anglican-Jewish Commission takes place even sooner:
Our honoured guests from Israel might even enjoy the trip we hope to take to the Lake District, planned for next Thursday, especially if the rain holds off.
Here is what they might soon be experiencing. This is my favourite Lake District blog by my friend, Elizabeth:
but hopefully in the glorious sun!
Yes, definitely one of those wonderful days!
Here is the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the letter written last year by Muslim scholars to Christian leaders:
Archbishop Rowan's response has received a variety of reactions, many Christian commentators being concerned at what they see as his attempts to apologize for Christian concepts, such as the Trinity, as well as for Christian acts of violence, including those perpetrated during the Crusades:
However, even the new Director of the International Council of Christians and Jews, a Jewish Israeli woman (who I got to know whilst attending interfaith meetings in Jerusalem), has recently stated that -theologically speaking - the concept of the Trinity is problematic for Jews as well. She also added for good measure that, from a theological point of view, Islam is nearer to Judaism than to Christianity!
This might well be the case, but such words only go to show the limitations of theology. Because other factors come into the equation, such as attitudes to the sanctity of life (including the sanctioning of violence to achieve one's ends,) facing and adapting to modernity; approach to women; and making the most of diaspora living. In all of these cases, Judaism and Christianity have much in common, whereas Islam still appears to have some catching up to do:
A close review of the Archbishop's letter reveals that his response to the Muslim world is actually carefully thought out. In addition, it alludes very generously to the Jewish origins of, and influence on, much of Christian and Muslim thought.
His words make clear that the concept of the Trinity is a very sophisticated one, which has been adapted through the ages to appeal to contemporary communities. In our own day, for instance, according to Rowan's wife, Jane, the Trinity should be viewed as depicting 'God ... not [as] a static unity, but [as] a dynamic unity with three centres':
The Jewish view of God is also far from being static - far from it ('I shall be that I shall be', God says to Moses in the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:14), not 'I am that I am' - definitely the wrong translation).
The idea of more than one aspect to God is not unknown either to Judaism or to Islam. In the Middle Ages, Muslims talked about God's Will or God's Wisdom, or both, and sometimes even compared these aspects to God the Son and God the Holy Spirit of Christianity. And, in similar vein, various Christian thinkers and academics have defined the Son of God in ways that would not jar with these medieval Muslim definitions. As Jane Williams goes on to say:
In fact, it is only because he is this kind of a God, one whose unity is not simple and monochrome, but made up of dynamic interaction, that he creates at all
So, this idea of the 'three-in-one' of Christianity might have something in common with the Muslim way of thinking after all.
As for the Crusades, they wiped out many communities, not least the Jewish communities of Europe. So much of our synagogue liturgy is steeped in the collective memory of what happened during this time.
Our greatest biblical commentator, Rashi (1040-1105), interpreting the above passage on God's name signifying 'I will be that I will be', comments as follows: I shall be that I shall be - i.e., I shall be with them in this sorrow ... I will be with them in the subjection they will suffer at the hands of other kingdoms [From Talmud Berachot 9b] Rashi, who lived in France, was writing at the time of the First Crusade (1096], when many of his co-religionists, including members of his family, were mown down by the Crusaders en route to Israel. This is the context of much Jewish Bible commentary.
Our greatest biblical commentator, Rashi (1040-1105), interpreting the above passage on God's name signifying 'I will be that I will be', comments as follows:
I shall be that I shall be - i.e., I shall be with them in this sorrow ... I will be with them in the subjection they will suffer at the hands of other kingdoms [From Talmud Berachot 9b]
Rashi, who lived in France, was writing at the time of the First Crusade (1096], when many of his co-religionists, including members of his family, were mown down by the Crusaders en route to Israel. This is the context of much Jewish Bible commentary.
And this is why, even in our own day, many Jews just cannot bring themselves to see anything but negativity in the symbolism of the Christian cross. This attitude is chillingly expressed in Israeli writer, Amos Oz', most powerful short story: 'Crusade'
A great deal of work still has to be turn in the field of inter faith relations. Which is why it was good that Canon Andrew Shanks of Manchester Cathedral popped in on Shabbat. I realised after his chat that rare would be any official inter faith meeting which reached the level of discussion and interface initiated by Andrew in our own home. People of Andrew's calibre are in short supply in any religion and the openness to the other which he personifies is truly amazing.
And this is what is really needed from the Muslim world - people endowed with the intelligence, knowledge, humility, openness and love which are able to engender miracles. It did happen in the Middle Ages. The question is: can it happen in our own day?
What more is there to say on the exchange of prisoners,including a vicious murderer, for the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers who were illegally abducted and then murdered?
The Times reports the story here:
and the Israeli funerals here:
Here is the BBC
Even though the BBC itself played down the viciousness of the released murderer - a child killer - at least most of the comments on the BBC's webpage see reason.
Having met the father of one of the murdered soldiers here in Manchester, and listened to the wife of the other speak at a specially convened meeting in Haifa, all I can say is that Israel and the Jewish people can lift their head up high. For if the Regev and Goldwassers are typical Israeli citizens, the Jewish people will survive the pain, whilst those who espouse death and destruction .....
For this is the meaning of the 'world to come'. Our world is but a corridor to the world eternal, and the constant dignity displayed by the families of the murdered Israeli soldiers is proof of this rabbinic dictum - if one were needed:
This site is invaluable on the whole issue:
Last night, Channel 4 featured what today's London Times describes as 'the film-maker Antony Thomas bending over backwards to be fair to The Qur'an':
Nearly 30 years ago, Thomas had made Death of a Princess, which 'caused the Saudi Government to cancel trade deals with Britain'.
And Thomas didn't pull his punches when it came to the types of Islam currently espoused in Saudi Arabia. However, he did not go on to emphasise the direct line which exists between Wahhabism and the theology currenly being taught and practised by members of the Pakistani communities here in Britain, who are culturally miles apart from their Arab co-religionists, as pointed out in this Independent article:
The most astonishing parts of the programme were:
a) the revelation that thirty years ago no veils were seen on the streets of Cairo, whereas to venture out without one now would be foolhardy in the extreme
b) the discovery by a German scholar of the earliest extant manuscript of the Koran in Sana, the Yemen. This text does not contain vowels and is therefore open to many interpretations.
Unfortunately, the German scholar has received death threats, but his brave translator went on the programme to explain the significance of this find.
Frankly, anything that brings the Koran closer to Jewish interpretations of the biblical text would be a good thing in my view, as exemplified by the Chief Rabbi's recent Credo article on the truly magical role of Hebrew in Jewish biblical exegesis:
And, during a recent radio interview in Jerusalem, the new (and first) Israeli Jewish female President of the International Council of Christians and Jews was at pains to point out that actually Islam has more in common with Judaism theologically speaking than does Christianity!
This may be true, but isn't it missing the point? This article by Dean Godsen of the Policy Exchange think tank, also featuring into today's Times, discusses the 'hidden face of political Islamism':
This 'face' is embodied in the person of Professor Tarik Ramadan of Oxford University, who was interviewed for the 'Qur'an' programme, sounded wonderful, but failed to mention the exceedingly negative views he holds on Israel, for instance, which includes advocating boycotts (sound familiar?)
Melanie Phillips hits the nail on the head, as she so often does, with her no-nonsense take on things. Here's one article:
And here's another:
Finally, the left-of-centre 'Harry's Place' blog is being sued by Hamas UK:
You just have to laugh, don't you?
Dr. Andrew Shanks, Canon Theologian of Manchester's Anglican Cathedral, has just written a book about Gillian Rose, 'arguably the most original and significant recent philosopher of the Continental tradition in the English-speaking world'. Gillian - from a secular Jewish background - converted into the Anglican Church on her death-bed. She died of ovarian cancer in 1998, aged 48:
Gillian was an inspiration to the previous Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, and a friend of the present incumbent, Rowan Williams. In his book, Andrew discusses Gillian's view that one should live in 'brokenness' and in 'absolute shakenness', being open to a whole range of conversations, or aspiring to a wisdom which constitutes:
a supreme mastery in the art of holding a multitude of the most contrasting points of view, all at once, in one's head
Although neither Gillian nor Andrew mentions midrash, or the Talmudic concept of openness to many sides, as encapsulated by the dictum 'these and these are the words of the living God', this is what springs to mind in the wake of the above definition of openness:
Like Gillian herself at one time, Andrew lives in the heart of an Orthodox Jewish community, in Andrew's case that of Broughton Park in Greater Manchester. In fact, he is a neighbour and friend of ours. It is therefore perhaps apt to draw the conclusion that he may have been influenced by this environment and even some of our conversations when explaining Gillian in the context of the German philosopher, Heidegger: According to Gillian, Heidegger:
seems to give us Yahweh without Torah: the event [Ereignis] seems to inclue advent and redemption, presence and owning, but not the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, and its repeated disowning.
'Yahweh without Torah': Heidegger invokes the 'divine God' beyond all metaphysics, but has no real commitment to anything like the tough peace-negotiative work of halacha, the detailed legislative exegesis and development of what is said to have been initiated on Mount Sinai, within a living tradition of Sittlichkeit.
This positive approach to Torah and halacha (Jewish oral Law: the working out in practice of what is given us in Scripture) is the hub of the book. Andrew uses this imagery to condemn mere spirituality, past and present, as potentially leading to solipsism, totalitarianism or both.
The 'beautiful soul' who retreats from the world, and the 'hard-heart' who merely opposes are almost two sides of the same coin. What is needed is:
'the most patient readiness to abide in the brokenness of the 'broken middle'. The crying need, in short, is for a strategy capable of investing the pre-requisites of freedom with durable auctoritas. And this can only be accomplished by thinkers absolutely within the sort of community that can confer durable auctoritas - who are, however, forever patiently struggling to renegotiate the terms of their belonging, to that end.
I think that this means that community is important, including the religious community, but that the community must allow for those within it who are, as it were, maybe 'in it but not of it' - not completely 'of it', in any case. But that living in the proverbial cave, or becoming aggressively militant in one's beliefs are not the real answer and even constitute a form of escapism from the real work.
Although it cannot be said that Gillian reached that equilibrium within her own community, her work is awesome and deserves to be better known. As for Andrew himself (one of the most original thinkers from within the Anglican tradition), those present will never forget this really quiet man standing up for goodness and truth when (in 2006) he lambasted members of Synod, based in Manchester, for even considering voting to divest from companies in Israel, in the light - as he put it - of the Church's age-old antisemitism.
Against Innocence, published by SCM Press, with a Foreword by Giles Fraser, is difficult, but essential, reading, for anyone who longs to counter the present trends towards atheism, agnosticism, narcissistic spirituality, or sheer militancy, but isn't quite sure how to do it.
The image of Jacob wrestling with the angel springs to mind:
Many will be delighted with the news that Haifa, together with nearby Acco, has just been appointed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO on account of the Bahai presence in both these cities.
This will be great news for Bahais around the world, as well as for the two cities themselves. When Ruth Gledhill of The Times first blogged on the plight of Bahais in Iran, she received more than 300 comments, even more than she's just received for her recent blog on the consecration of female Bishops into the Church of England:
Acco is already famous for its great age and heritage. The mosque I visited there last February must be one of the most peaceful religious buildings in the world. And its shuk also has much to commend it:
But the news is especially good for Haifa. Coming in the wake of this report from Haaretz, which extols Haifa as an up-and-coming tourist haven, this latest international accolade can only do good:
Haifa is more relaxed than many cities in Israel. What else does it have? Apart from a good mix of different religions and ethnic groups, two excellent universities, situated in beautiful surrounds, the only IBM research faculty in the Middle East, azure seas, mountains and wildlife, as well as the Carmel National Park (which some have compared to the best areas of California), its newish train and bus station, located on the sea front, are squeaky clean and user friendly. Plus there's a direct train to and from Ben Gurion airport for next to nothing. In addition, Haifa provides a gateway to the north, including Galilee:
So expect an upturn in interest in this city, whose fate and destiny appears to mirror that of another north-western port - Liverpool - this year's European City of Culture!
Religion is making the headlines daily, not least the recent vote at the Church of England Synod paving the way for women as Bishops:
The Roman Catholic Church is concerned:
As for Judaism, rabbis are not the same as vicars, and certainly not the same as Bishops. The Reform and Conservative movements now ordain female rabbis, unlike Orthodoxy. The Orthodox prayer service includes a great deal of melodic narrative intoned in Hebrew and Aramaic, as well as a sermon in the vernacular. An increasing number of Orthodox synagogues in Jerusalem are allowing women to conduct their own abridged services at least once a month. And, in the last few years, women in some of these synagogues have also been invited to address the entire congregation after the service.
However, this is only one part of what Judaism is about. Every Tuesday evening, I attend a shiur, or seminar on religious matters, which deals with the nature of God and creation. Naturally, we cannot know what God is, only what He is not.
This is the most profound shiur I've ever attended.
Last night we considered the nature of evil, as expressed in the words of Isaiah 45:7:
God forms light and creates darkness, makes peace and creates evil
Why the different verbs? What is the difference between forming, creating and making?
Forming is moulding what is already there. God is light and therefore the light we experience is formed from this.
Darkness and evil are the absence of God, or God absenting Himself. God's absence creates the darkness and evil - God concealing His presence.
Peace is made through reconciliation in the material world.
Why does God absent Himself? So that we are enabled to use our free will to make choices.
In the outer world, the Church of England, whose Supreme Governor is the Queen, makes history by offering women episcopelian status. Meanwhile, the eternal verities continue to perplex us. In an imperfect world, how can we make sure that the light shines through in our own lives as well as in the life of the entire cosmos? By performing a mitzvah with the right intention, will those starving in Darfur ultimately be fed?
That is the nature of this shiur.