Neviim Tovim, blogs by Gillian Gould Lazarus

Archive for May 2023

I got into a spot of bother on Twitter – nothing new there; it happens every day. What made this different is that it was a subject in which I had never invested much interest: the recently deceased Rolf Harris.

I replied to a minor celebrity I hadn’t heard of and my reply got viewed by more people than usual as he has a large following. He had tweeted that he was glad Rolf Harris had died – fair enough, I thought – and added that he hoped Harris suffered pain and anguish at the end of his life. I replied that I thought this wish was rather sadistic: an act of folly on my part as I am now being called ‘imbecile,’ ‘crone’ and ‘nonce’ by a whole new set of Twitter accounts.

‘Would you not want him to suffer if you (or someone close to you) was his victim?’ I am asked. I expect I would. This is why the victims of an accused criminal do not sit on the bench or on the jury.

One gentleman tells me that he would gladly watch paedophiles burn and I wonder, are there any othe people he would want burned? How about those who annoy him on Twitter?

I do understand that people hate those who cause suffering. I do too. I hate numerous individuals, sorry to say, not that I know any of them personally: they have public voices which they use to spread hatred and, the more effective they are, the more I dislike them. But of course I am perceived as spreading hatred, on the grounds of my Zionism, often informed by some Tweeter Furioso that I have a racist antipathy to Palestinians or worse, that I am a killer of Palestinian children. This is how Twitter works: hyperbole, rage, incomprehension. What is the good of it, I often wonder.

‘I said paedophiles not people, learn to read,’ is the brusque reply of an interlocutor this afternoon.

The fact is, it’s unpleasant to be abused, even for an opinion one does not hold strongly. I never watched Animal Hospital or much else in the way of Rolf Harris entertainment. I may have seen him paint, asking his audience, ‘Can you tell what it is yet?’ as I, when painting, often ask this question.

Some years ago, I tweeted something sympathetic about Kevin Spacey when he fell from grace but I deleted it because of the volume of rancour which came my way, sometimes from reasonable people. Another time, I got into trouble for sending an amicable tweet to someone who happened to be a friend of Amber Heard. I had known nothing about the ex wife of Johnny Depp or the court case which came to dominate the news in the following weeks. Protesting my neutrality or, still worse, ignorance, about conjugal matters chez the Depps did not excuse me.

‘What kind of person are you?’ asked a pro Johnny partisan. It was a rhetorical question. No answer I could give would have cut any ice.

The royal wars of attrition between the Waleses and Sussexes continue from year to year but I have the sense not to express an opinion about them. One can almost imagine a civil war caused by online disputes concerning celebrities.

‘To him Pudel,’ cry the royalists to their cavalier poodle in a cartoon from the English Civil War while the Parliamentarians urge ‘Bite him Pepper,’ to their roundhead dog.

Perhaps we should be grateful for online wars, if they keep people off of the battlefield.

Those who want to see painful punishments, would they really watch them with enjoyment, as one imagines the crowds jostling for the best view of a public execution? Or are they simply making a virtue of their righteous indignation?

Someone else tells me that I’m the troll which is not unreasonable as I got myself into this argument and should have seen how it would develop. Less reasonable is their ‘concern’ that an opinion in favour of leniency is some kind of deviation or even an endorsement of child abuse.

Who knows if this spat will be over in a few hours or drag on for days? Next time, I won’t express a controversial view unless it’s a matter of significance to me but, after all, it is of some significance that we should talk with moderation about the fate of our enemies, whether public or personal.

Finally, I just got this. It’s a point of view.

It’s standard on discursive social media to be contemptuous of religious belief and I’ve been told, ‘It doesn’t matter what sky fairy you believe in; it doesn’t give you the right to do x, y or z.’ When mention of the ‘sky fairy’ comes my way, the antagonist tends to be referring to the God of Judaism, who has seventy-two names, none of which is ‘sky fairy’.

The number seventy-two has special but disputed significance in Islam also: the reward of seventy-two virgins for righteous men in Paradise, a concept sometimes mocked by unbelievers.

Seventy-two is the number of putative translators of the Hebrew bible into the Greek Septuagint, commissioned by Ptolemy II of Egypt in the third century BCE. The number, being divisible by twelve, allows for equal representation from each of the tribes of Israel. According to The Letter of Aristeas, cited by Josephus, the translators arrived independently at word for word identical translations, a miracle which conferred authority on the Septuagint.

Miracles no longer impress non-believers and, when one reads of the apostasy with the golden calf, it seems that miracles did not even make a lasting impression on those who witnessed them, during the Exodus from Egypt.

The belittling of religion does not always come from confirmed atheists. I have recently had sightings online of anti Jewish posts expressing an archaic Christian view, calling Jews ‘Christ killers’ and ‘the Devil’s spawn’. Someone replied that Pope Benedict XVI repudiated the concept of Jewish guilt for deicide. They received a surprisingly sectarian response asserting that Pope Benedict had no authority and was presently in hell.

The Coronation looms of King Charles III, an Anglican Christian who has expressed determination to be the defender of the diverse faiths of the British Isles.

It is our duty to protect the diversity of our country, including by protecting the space for Faith itself and its practice through the religions, cultures, traditions and beliefs to which our hearts and minds direct us as individuals.

King Charles, September 2022

Ten years earlier, in 2012, Queen Elizabeth addressed a gathering at Lambeth Palace, saying that Anglicanism ‘has a duty to protect the free practice of all other faiths in this country’.

It was not inevitable that a monarch would take this enlightened view, which brought the UK into the twenty-first century with the toleration of diversity as an ideal, incorporated into the status quo. For centuries, people were executed by the State for religious differences and, in parts of the world, are still condemned as heretics against the prevailing secularity or religion. The particularity and exclusivity of each religion appalls the others, who find themselves written off as diabolical, unsaved or unchosen.

A midrash in the Babylonian Talmud tells that Moses saw God adding tagim – a calligraphic flourish used by Torah scribes – to letters of scripture.

When Moses ascended on High, he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, sitting and tying crowns on the letters of the Torah.

Menachot 29b

Anthropomorphisms occur frequently in midrash and regularly even in Tanakh. In this instance, God is engaged in the meticulous work of a scribe, writing in the Hebrew language. It is said, also in the Talmud Bavli, that God puts on tefilin, like an orthodox Jewish man.

Rabbi Avin bar Rav Adda said that Rabbi Yitzḥak said: From where is it derived that the Holy One, Blessed be He, wears phylacteries? As it is stated: “The Lord has sworn by His right hand, and by the arm of His strength” (Isaiah 62:8). Since it is customary to swear upon holy objects, it is understood that His right hand and the arm of His strength are the holy objects upon which God swore.

Berakhot 6a

Imitatio Dei, the imitation of God, is a precept in both Christianity and Judaism. The Sermon on the Mount includes the words:

Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Matthew 5:48

and from Saint Luke:

Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.

Luke 6:36

The imitation of God tends to involve postulating something about God which is often imitatio hominum. In the second paragraph of the daily Hebrew prayer, the Amidah, we say of God:

You support the falling and heal the sick. You free prisoners and keep faith with those who sleep in the dust.

Seder Ha T’filot, Reform Judaism

This can work as a to do list to inspire ethical behaviour, but it is behaviour we are fortunate enough to witness, among other people.

Consensuses – of religious authorities or of a crowd – can determine the nature of belief and the language of prayer but still each person has a lone voice. Particularism can have more appeal than universalism because the person at prayer sometimes wants to be alone with God, for God to hear their voice and attend to their particular needs.

This is seen in the Psalms where the first person singular predominates, in I – Thou discourse, the authorship of which is attributed to King David and, in the later psalms, the Levites of the Second Temple.

The Hebrew hymn Adon Olam, which is often the concluding song of a service, begins by citing the ineffable and infinite nature of the Master of the Universe but pivots from transcendence to immanence in the penultimate verse:

This is my God, who saves my life,

The Rock I grasp in deep despair,

The flag I wave, the place I hide,

Who shares my cup, the day I call.

Seder HaT’filot, Reform Judasim

I am struck by the intimacy of the Almighty sharing my cup, drinking from the same cup as any of us, even when the brew is bitter, which is when we need God most.

I avoided saying ‘Him’ in the previous sentence, to get out of capitalizing the word or ascribing gender.

Tomorrow the coronation takes place and I am looking forward to seeing the participation of various faith leaders, the Archbishop of Canterbury and others. It is an important development, to value the way faiths other than our own bring the faithful into a relationship with heaven and to value our own, where the situating of our lives has placed us.

Arbitrarily, I called this post ‘Seventy-two’ but alas, that it not my age. At the time of writing, I am seventy-three and not that for very much longer.

  • James Casserly: Unfortunately there seems to be no middle ground, no nuance and even less humanity on Twitter. Like you, there are people I have no time for, some I a
  • keithmarr: G < div dir="ltr">Twitter is such a cesspit you can more or less guarantee any opini
  • Gillian Gould Lazarus: You're Nathan Hull, aren't you, an abusive troll who uses the alias Gerard O'Neill?