Thursday, 10 July 2014

Shabbat UK

Much to my delight the Chief Rabbi has launched a new initiative which is called 'ShabbatUK' :
"At its core, ShabbatUK is about harnessing all the goodness and uniqueness of a traditional, authentic Shabbat and inviting Jews around the country to celebrate it in a way they never have before. Shabbat is a central part of what it is to be Jewish. It plays a crucial role in Jewish identity with its powerfully uplifting and transformative qualities...Some will keep Shabbat, perhaps for the first time, others will participate in the numerous communal events taking place. Many will find ways to bring Shabbat into their homes, whether by lighting Friday night candles, blessing their children or by inviting others into their home to share the Shabbat experience. The possibilities are endless. Synagogues, Jewish schools and other Jewish organisations are planning a series of events to mark ShabbatUK. This is an incredible opportunity to join with fellow Jews around the world, inspired by the South African Shabbos Project, to experience life, for just one day, disconnected from the daily grind and engage with Shabbat in a meaningful way."
This is good because it finally recognises that whilst the Jewish faith is no a missionary one (although anyone who wishes to sincerely convert is and should be welcome to do so), for those of us who are observant, we should and do need to reach out to those fellow Jews who are less or not observant . I am a strong believer in outreach to all Jews who are not religious; I guess in Christian terms that makes me somewhat of an 'evangelist'.And Shabbat is the best place to start, for there is the old cliche that says 'Shabbat has keep the Jews, more than the Jews have kept Shabbat' .

I believe that a Jew should belong within a Jewish community, not being ostracised because of lack of dogma or observance. To be a Jew there are no application forms and no qualification requirements.He or she is born Jewish or converts to Judaism— that's where he or she belong, within our community. Period.  I will acknowledge that under Orthodoxy if your mother is not Jewish, then you are not,  however, I believe that we should still make people who identify as Jewish welcome and encourage them to take the full steps towards formal conversion. We all have our challenges, our shortcomings, our feelings...and our failures and with all that, but we are all still a community. We all should try and help each other become more observant, to reach out to our OTD [Off the derech] and secular brother and sister Jews & to be a light to our gentile friends.

The problem with Jewish outreaches can be the assumption that we can simply engage with our non- observant or OTD  brothers and sisters and except that they will either come back at the drop of a hat or that they *should* just immediately revert to following 613 Mitzvot and live, for want of a better word the *frum* lifestyle. This approach is bound to fail, because it is simply not practical to demand and expect those who have either led a secular Jewish or reject a traditional lifestyle to be able or want to just pick this up at someone else's say so.  

Furthermore we should understand that our congregations will be composed of people of all levels of observance, from black-hatters, to people who think of themselves as secular but enjoy attending services from time to time. In the congregation all need to be treated with respect and not gloatingly judgemental. No one should be interrogated or asked how much or how little he/she observes, but rather we should assume that all people want to be more observant, only some people need greater degrees of help & to reject the notion that fellow Jews,  have to declare their religious ideology and form of religious behaviour to 'fit' into the community. We must be patient and not swift to judge others lack of observance, to educate, teach and guide, yes, but also to set by example the standards that we in the Orthodox community try and follow. Indeed if we wish to try to bring the people closer to Jewish tradition, we cannot isolate ourselves from the less traditional. I believe that Shabbat 31a makes this point : 
"Some time later the three met in one place; said they, Shammai's impatience sought to drive us from the world, but Hillel's gentleness brought us under the wings of the Shechinah!"
You see our religion is not in existence to condemn gay people or obsess over lack of observance or abortion. I am tired of reading about Orthodox Judaism that seemingly is all about anger. I am tired of a religious system which makes people feel always inadequate, on what we don't observe,rather than what we do; that indulges in spiritual weaknesses and not spiritual strengths.I want to see a Judaism that inspires gay people to return to our faith, to observe Shabbos, rather than telling them that their sexuality or their partners bars them from any meaningful place in Jewish life. I want to see a Judaism that reaches out to Jewish men and women who have married outside the faith, exposing both them and their non-Jewish spouses to the beauty of Judaism, with a view of encouraging their non-Jewish partner to consider conversion to our small, but blessed, faith.

I believe in an Orthodox Judaism no less rigorous than my Ashkenazim brothers in its essentials, but would specifically define Sephardi Judaism as one not prone to excess,which includes the mystical and rational, a love of traditions, but without frozen rigidity; a steadfastness toward halakhah, rigorous study of Torah,Talmud,Tanakh & the great works of Jewish law and philosophy, but one which is lenient in its application and interpretations. An authentically Orthodox worldview, but one which is not afraid of the world or secular study & one in which the family, community and people's welfare are put down as markers for a healthy Jewish lifestyle, above the demands of dogmatism & fanatical devotion to ideology. This is the Judaism I follow and the Judaism I love. This is the Torah I know. This is the Gd I follow. 


  1. I like this article, it is reasoned and passionate at the same time. And from personal experience I know what it is like to try the other side. So I'm glad you were there for me, when I wanted to come home to the Jewish fold.

  2. Sam,

    I'm glad you enjoyed reading it!

  3. Yes I did. Strange that there isn't that many comments though.

  4. Hi David,

    Good post. Thanks for writing this, it is a great summary of what Judaism needs to do to survive in the current climate.

  5. David,

    Thanks for your thoughtful and inclusive words, especially towards us gay people . It means a lot (:

  6. It seems to come in drips and drabs. Not everyone logs on all in one day.

  7. Gay Frum,

    You're welcome and it isn't a problem.

  8. Yes, but what is a brother for, if not to crib useful lines from?? :)

  9. Thank you Hannah, for your encouragement.

  10. This is actually a good idea; Shabbat is core to Judaism and you don't even have to go to a shul to celebrate it! I agree with your post as well David. Very well argued & presented, especially the nod toward the Sephardic ethos.

  11. Amazing that the truth of this message points toward is the invariable reality of people being influenced by the surrounding culture . Ashkenazim are painfully analytic as the Germans they came from and the Sephardi are warm as the Spanish they came from.

  12. Sepharadim seem so much more down-to-earth and open. With Ashkenazim- I always feel like I'm walking on eggshells- ALL the time.


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