A Review of Current Trends in Jewish Identity – May 2016

As with my recent update in my analysis of the Israeli Arab conflict for the first time in seven years I wish now to turn my attention to another subject that I have not written about since, trends and models of Jewish identity reflecting on my years when I worked in Informal Jewish education in the UK.

I had entered the world of Informal Jewish education at a time when the youth movements dominated scene. I was a graduate of Hanoar Hatzioni, but then went onto work with other similar religiously pluralist organisations under the umbrella of the UJIA, including Bnei Brith, Maccabi and the Redbridge JCC (Jewish Care, Redbridge).

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Anti-Semitism Denial

We are now facing a new phenomena in light of the recent row over anti-Semitism in the Labour party where members were suspended for anti-Semitic comments. In some cases such as Naz Shah, she has rightly apologised for her comments. In others, most notably Ken Livingstone, he has repeated his insidious remarks and made matters worse.

The Chief Rabbi Efraim Mervis recently wrote an article in the Telegraph and his point has also previously been said by former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks that Zionism and Judaism are inseparable and those who seek to make this distinction are far from qualified to engage in such an analysis of what the central components are of Judaism and Jewish identity.

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Ignorance – The Greatest Threat to the Jews

‘My people has been eliminated for lack of knowledge; for you have spurned knowledge, and I will spurn you from serving Me; and as you have forgotten the Torah of your God, I, too, will forget your children.” Hosea, 4:6

The biblical prophets provided us many years ago with the keys to Jewish survival. The Zionist leader, Ahad Ha’am, famously proclaimed in 1910, “The secret to Jewish survival, is learning, learning, learning.”1

Today this has manifested itself not simply in the form of gradual assimilation into the non-Jewish society. It takes on what appears to be a unique form, where Jews proclaim non-Jewish agendas in the name of Judaism.

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My Poland Trip Memoirs From 2006

We left from Luton airport, going through security we were stopped for one of those random checks. The security guard asked us where we were flying to and why. We said we were going on an educational tour to Poland. Thinking we were all going on a stag party or something he said, “An education in drinking beer, eh??” “Actually! We are going to visit the death and concentration camps! His grandparents were survivors as well.” His jaw hit the floor. After he had picked it up he apologised and let us through.

Unlike many Poland tours, this was a bit different. The organisers decided not to take us to Auschwitz. We would visit other camps, but it was not supposed to be only focused on the holocaust. Prior to WW2, over three million Jews lived in Poland. It was for a long period of time the centre of Jewish life in Europe, the trip aimed to try to explore this Jewish world that was eventually destroyed in a few years by the Nazis. Most of us were descended from Jews who came to London before the war fleeing pogroms in countries like Poland and Russia. Nearly all of my great grandparents came from Poland or Russia, apart from some on my dad’s mum’s side who came from Austria.

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The Western World Through The Eyes Of the Torah – Rome Part 2

In part one we looked at the biblical origin of Greece, its philosophy and its similarities and differences with the Judaic worldview. Greece is even by secular reckoning the foundation of much of western culture. In terms of Politics, Philosophy, Architecture, Art, Music and is probably most credited for the idea of democracy.

Greece itself did not last forever as an empire, but its philosophy and way of life did. Its successor Rome which was a much greater empire in terms of its power, spread Greek ideas.

Rome 

Arch of Titus

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The Western World Through The Eyes Of the Torah – Greece Part 1

Before we delve into the subject of defining what the characteristics of Western culture are and the Torahs perspective on it, we must first look at the Torah’s view of the origin of the Western western world. In the Book of Genesis, following the Flood, Noah and his family would repopulate the world. Noah had three sons, Ham, Shem and Yafet. The Jewish people and other Semitic peoples descend from Shem, Shem is where the word Semite comes from. Ham descended to Africa and Yafet north towards Europe.

Yafet – Greece

plato socrates aristotle

In the book of Genesis, the table of nations lists the descendants of Yafet.1 One of them is named Yavan. Yavan is the founder of Greece. The philosophy of the Greeks and the Jews can be traced back to the names of their forefathers Shem and Yafet. Shem translates as Name. In Jewish philosophy and indeed in the Hebrew language the essence of something is in its name. The focus of Jewish thinking is on what lies beneath the surface on what is internal.

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The Land of Israel and the People of Israel

nasaisr

The Torah tells us something very unique about the Land of Israel and its relationship to the People of Israel. It says in the book of Vayikra (Numbers):

“I [G-d] will lay the Land desolate, and your enemies who live in it will experience desolation.”1

The Ramban in his commentary on the Torah on this says:

“[This verse] comforts us with the realisation that during all our exiles, our Land will not be hospitable to our enemies. This is another strong proof for eventual redemption, and a promise to us, that nowhere on earth is there another land as fertile and as welcoming as the Land of Israel, which has been in a state of ruin for such a long time. For since the time we left it, it has not accepted any other people. They have all tried to settle it, but to no avail.”2

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Original Sin – Salvation through Faith in Jesus Vs Mitzvot as the Path back to the Garden

Arguably one of the most central doctrines of Christianity is the belief in what is called Original Sin. That is the belief that human beings are all born in sin and are sinful by nature. The reason for this goes back to the sin of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden when they ate of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.

After the first humans ate of the fruit they and all of their offspring would inherit this sinful state and this provides for the rationale to the problem that Jesus would serve as its only solution according to Christianity. Through accepting Jesus and undergoing baptism one can be cleansed of that sin.

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Egypt Vs Nazi Germany

One of the subjects that always bothered me and many others for that matter when it comes to religion is the question of human suffering. Particularly that of the Jewish people. One of the greatest events in Jewish history is the Exodus from Egypt. In short, Exodus is the story of God intervening in history, saving a weak, enslaved, persecuted people from the most powerful empire in the world, bringing them from generations of slavery in a foreign land to freedom and independence in their own land.

The Tanakh teaches us that the Jews migrated to Egypt as a result of famine in the land of Israel, following Jacob’s sons selling their brother Joseph into slavery.

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The Concept of Liberty and Torah

One of the most famous biblical stories is the story of the Exodus, of God through Moses leading the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt, through 40 years in the wilderness, eventually to freedom in the promised land. It is a story which has spoken to many different people across the globe, not just the Jewish people. The early settlers and founders of the United States viewed themselves similarly in such terms, that the United States was like a new promised land, a land of the free, and Europe represented Egypt. Martin Luther King, in the struggle for black civil rights in America related to the Hebrews experience of slavery compared with the slavery that blacks had endured and saw himself as their leader to freedom, like Moses was the leader to the Hebrews. Continue reading