What does it mean to be Jewish? Here's one answer. What is yours?
What does it mean to be Jewish? Here's one answer. What is yours?
As we read the Song of the Sea, Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz shares a personal reading and reflection on prayer in Jewish religious life.
“So you are religious then? You believe in God?” They feel heartened by this, as if the unexpected, incongruous combination of a young blonde woman as a religious leader inspires them somehow. What I rarely, if ever, get is hostility.
The Shabbat after Tisha B'Av is special. Our Rabbi-in-Residence, Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz explains what is the 'ikar' - 'the essence' of the reading from Isaiah.
In this week’s pre-Shabbat blog, our Rabbi-in-Residence tackles upcoming Tisha B’Av and how not only the Temple, but also Jewish values such as chesed (graciousness) and redeeming the world fit into it. Let the Talmudic tale of Bar Kamtza lead the reflection...
In a world where love seems a more precious commodity than callousness, it intuitively made more sense – rationally, emotionally, morally – to skew towards inclusivity. There was nothing to suggest in my life that I ought to see the question of sexual and gender identity in any different way. And then there is the prickly question of religion.
The narrative about the generations of the future can be shifted; we don’t have to be mired in cultural pessimism, narcissism or nihilism. It only takes four days in a remote Welsh summer camp with mediocre British weather to realise how much we have and how little we need: the company of friends, the wisdom of our tradition and a redemptive vision for our future.
There’s been no shortage of global bad news lately and I can imagine many of us suffering from information overload. We may feel that we are trapped on a sinister merry-go-round from which we cannot disembark. Fortunately, our Jewish tradition does hand us the keys to unlock a different potential.
‘We are not fundamentalists or literalists’, I explained to them, not without passion. ‘We interpret and reinterpret, in every age, for every set of circumstances.’ Arguing over said interpretations is woven into the tapestry of Jewish theology. It is God Himself (or Herself!) who laughingly wishes to be defeated by sound rabbinic argument, as per the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Metzia 59b).
My fingers were deftly tying the smooth woolen strings onto the tallit (prayer shawl) as I looped, knotted, wound and counted. Tying tzitziyot (fringes) is one of my more obscure rabbinic skills but comes in handy when a friend asks you to help her tie tzitzit onto the beautiful tallit she lovingly hand-sew for her husband-to-be.
Our foundational narrative is not of glory but of slavery. Our identity is rooted not in grandeur but in humility. There is greatness in our smallness, power in our vulnerability. This ethos shapes our self-perception and our values as a religion and a culture.
These demands take on a particular resonance these last few days in the face of the Orlando Gay Club shooting, leaving forty-nine people dead and in the wake of MP Jo Cox’s murder on the streets of Birstall, part of her constituency Batley and Spen. There is horror and tragedy at every turn of history, yet somehow, these two events affect us a little more, cut a little deeper, ring a little closer to home.
It was a rare hot afternoon in the North of England when I met a clergy friend at Starbucks for a Frappuccino milkshake (chocolate flavour, of course). Although the drinks were cold, our conversation was passionate. He is a vicar in the local Church and despite the fact that one of us is a Christian and the other is a Jew, there was a world we shared of our experiences in the pulpit.
One of the world’s greatest love stories is the relationship between God and the Jewish people; a love story that we revisit year after year at Shavu’ot, the symbolic marriage between God and Israel. This saga also had humble origins—with Abraham, a shepherd from Ur Kasdim. And, like most love stories, there was an intense process of emotional and spiritual growth. In our case, this took place in the desert, after a spectacular elopement from Mitzrayim.
Of course as a community, we hope and want to see the very best of ourselves. Yet there is a darker side to community as well. Who is in and who is out? Who participates and who is jettisoned? Who leads and who follows? This is part of the central question of what kind of a community we want to be.
The Omer Counting can be seen as the world’s oldest ’12 Step Program’, an antique method of self-improvement. According to the Chassidic tradition this is certainly the case where each ‘sefirah’ (‘counting’) is aligned with a Kabbalistic description of the Divine, like ‘Gevurah’ (power) or ‘Chesed’ (loving-kindness) for us to emulate. Be what may, the message is clear – the Omer is not only a Biblical commandment (Lev. 23:15) in which we count our way from freedom (Pesach) to Revelation (Shavuot) – but also a stairway to Heaven into our deepest personal experiences.
Let’s play a word game: take the root word ‘count’ and think of as many verb and noun permutations based on it.
Count, Counting, Accountable, Accountant, Recount, Count in, Count off, Count Upon, Count out.
There’s always that wonderful feeling to energised freshness that comes with Spring. That delightful feeling of leaving the house without your coat on and feeling the sun on your skin. It’s a time for love, for appreciating the bounty of our good Earth and the beauty of life. Of course, there is great darkness and difficulty in our world and we certainly shouldn’t close our eyes to that, but Pesach can be such a happy time. Judaism honours happy times and beautiful moments through ritual and liturgy; a structure that can prime our awareness when all is right with the world, even if only momentarily.
Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz: A number of years ago, the diagnosis of a curious disease was formulated. The symptoms can be defined as follows, and I quote: "[Affluenza is] a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more."
When I was a teen, I listened to a lot of Bob Marley. I was an avid Reggae fan and even paid homage to his grave when I visited Jamaica on a family vacation. What I loved about Bob’s music, apart from the irresistible rhythms and melodies were his spiritual, Biblically-inspired lyrics.
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