I hope that you are having a great week and looking forward to a beautiful Shabbat and Yom Tov together. Pesach is certainly the most beautiful of all our Chagim. Sitting at the Seder table, reading the Haggadah and eating our favourite Pesach foods… I can almost taste the kneidlach already! I hope that your hard work of preparing for Pesach is almost at an end and that the excitement is kicking in (I just have a few more shiurim to prepare but getting there), and that you have plenty of delicious Divrei Torah to share at the Seder also.
Our community held its Annual General Meeting on Sunday night and there was some spirited discussion and expression of different views, but all within the framework of a loving community concerned with continuity and restoration. A highlight was the bestowing of 3 honorary life memberships upon:
- Robert and Fruma Kroomer
- Roydon and Elaine Sacks
- David and Maeve Samuels
Mazaltov! As I mentioned on the night, a very appropriate recognition for people who have made immense contributions to our community. Mazaltov and yeshar koach also to those who stood for committee membership, executive positions and trusteeship of our community. (Names in the announcements). Strong and effective lay leadership is the backbone of our community and we are blessed to have it continue in this way.
The Notre Dame fire has raised some painful memories, fascinating parallels and interesting questions. The photos of a house of worship in flames is so clearly reminiscent of our own December conflagration, and so much of the discussion around the rebuilding is similar to our own. Should they do a straight rebuild or modernise the structure? Who should rightly be tasked with leading the rebuilding process? What will the consultation process be? And then you have the international outpouring of support and help to rebuild the structure, even from other faiths – just as we experienced. One glaring difference is that we were (thank God) well-insured, whereas they will now be entirely dependent on donations towards the rebuilding. The question that a number of people have asked me is: How should we view this? There are many who, upon hearing this question, say “It’s obvious!” What comes after that depends on whom you’re speaking to. “Obviously this is a terrible tragedy, we should stand united in sympathy and compassion with those who have lost a house built for the glory and prayer of God, and help them any way we can, including donating towards the rebuilding”, or “Obviously this is the eventual retribution for a building whose courtyard held the public burning of the Talmud that signified the end of Jewish life in France 700 years ago, which has a statue of the blinded and failing ‘synagogue’, which doubtless hosted an abundance of Anti-Semitic sermons, and thus we should see its destruction as Divine justice.” With two such extreme responses (both of which I believe are coherent) I believe that we should take a middle path. The Catholics of today are not the Catholics who burned the Talmud so many centuries ago. The Catholic Church recognises Judaism as a legitimate path to God, and opposes Catholic evangelisation of Jews. Furthermore, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Amozegh (a great 19th century Italian Rabbi, and father of the “Ben Noach” movement) ruled that not only was Christianity not idol worship (a view in line with the mainstream Ashkenazi opinion, but against the Rambam and many other Sephardi authorities) but that it was permissible to donate towards the building of a Church (and this was long before their conciliatory efforts of Vatican II). Thus, to be hurtful or insensitive towards a group who are essentially friendly to us is not correct. At the same time, however, it would be naive to ignore the legacy of the past and to pretend that this building does not also represent a dark age for the Jewish people (forgive the pun). So, my proposal is to hold both of those realities in our minds, the present and the past. For the present, it is a source of sadness to many people who have lost a spiritual home, as we can well-relate to, and we should indeed express our condolences. For the past, it was not so fantastic to be a Jew in medieval France and the cathedral was probably a source of dread to our ancestors, and perhaps some of them can rest more easily knowing that the building as they knew it is no more. One final point – my point about the past is all well and good in the privacy of our homes, but in the public arena it is appropriate only to speak of sharing the Catholics’ sadness over the loss of their historic Cathedral. What do you think?
Aviva, Shalva, Tzuriya, Azriel and I wish you a Shabbat HaGadol Shalom
Rabbi Sam Thurgood