At the end of September, the Theatre Royal in London staged a ‘solidarity rally’ for British Jews. The Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, scolded the press for blaming the events of 11 September on Israel. Would they, he asked, like to live in ‘Gaza under the Palestinian Authority, Afghanistan under the Taliban, Iraq under Saddam Hussein, Iran or Libya or Syria’? Or would they ‘prefer the Israel they condemn’? Sacks alone was allowed to reply. Israel, he said, is ‘open, free, liberal, democratic’ – which is why it is the ‘ultimate threat to those who seek to create closed, repressive societies’.
Vol. 23 No. 23 · 29 November 2001
James Francken (LRB, 1 November) quoted some ‘unsettling lines by Alter Brody, the Yiddish poet’, from the anthology at the end of the prayer book used on the High Holydays in Reform synagogues, but Brody arrived in New York from Russia at the age of eight in 1903, and wrote in English. He died in 1981.
Vol. 24 No. 1 · 3 January 2002
Hapoel Tel Aviv’s stunning Uefa Cup victory over Chelsea (followed by an equally impressive third-round win against Lokomotiv Moscow) renders James Francken’s remarks in his Diary (LRB, 1 November 2001) about Israeli clubs’ ‘frequent defeats in early rounds of the Uefa Cup’ rather hollow. Far more serious, however, is his misrepresentation of the position of the Chief Rabbi and the solid support for Israel shared by virtually the entire British Jewish community. Francken’s out of context quotations from a letter written by the Chief Rabbi to the mayor of Jerusalem must be contrasted with the Chief Rabbi’s reputation across the world as one of the leading rabbinic supporters of peace initiatives, whatever the political complexion of the Israeli Government pursuing them. Francken’s reference to ‘Orthodox edicts which forbid prayer’ on the Temple Mount betray an understanding of Judaism that is far removed from reality. The so-called ‘edicts’ are derived from Biblical law and actually forbid presence, not prayer, on part of the former Temple Site.
It is a matter of record that the Chief Rabbi’s formal title is Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, an organisation that is entirely separate from the United Synagogue and governed by a body known as the Chief Rabbinate Council. The Chief Rabbi has never claimed to speak ‘for’ any group of Jews. He fulfils the role with which successive Chief Rabbis have been charged by the vast majority of Britain’s Jews – namely, to articulate Judaic principle in its classical form.
Office of the Chief Rabbi, London N12
As one of the Reform rabbis who put his name to the British Friends of Peace Now advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle mentioned in James Francken’s Diary I read with interest his thoughts on Anglo-Jewry’s dilemmas over support for Israel. I read the Diary in Jerusalem, having left behind a minor kerfuffle – prompted by the ad – between those British rabbis who think that it is important to voice their disquiet over Israel’s occupation, and those who feel that it is more important for Jews not to be seen to be giving support to Israel’s enemies. The views of British rabbis, however, are an irrelevance in Israel. Yes, there will have to be a two-state solution, withdrawal from occupied land, an evacuation of settlements, a redivided Jerusalem and some right of return (and/or financial compensation); but there will also have to be atonement for injustices and a reassessment of the Zionist narrative to rid it of false myths. Are such views an anathema to synagogue-attending Anglo-Jews or do they correspond to congregants’ own convictions? Both, of course: the community is divided. What they agree about are the signs that, following 11 September, Israel’s right to exist is being called into question in a new and insidious way.
Vol. 24 No. 3 · 7 February 2002
Jeremy Newmark’s insistence that the Chief Rabbi is the head of an organisation ‘entirely separate’ from the United Synagogue (Letters, 3 January) is disingenuous. Not only is the United Synagogue the main financial backer of the office of Chief Rabbi but its very constitution and the Act of Parliament establishing it enjoins it so to be. Conveniently, the Synagogue’s principal is always chairman of the Chief Rabbinate Council.
G. Colin Jimack