Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

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I wrote a piece about my mum which I was going to blog but in the last few days, I get the impression that some of the people kind enough to read my words are not necessarily well-disposed. Bearing this in mind, I’ll refrain from saying much about my mum’s quiet personality or her characteristic phraseology, but I’ll just say this.

She died last year, aged 98. A few months before she died, she was interviewed by Owen who was working on a  Memory-Sharing App for later life and I was present at the interview. I had expected that my mother would want to talk about family, her childhood in London’s east end, her seventy years marriage to my Dad and probably a bit about the blitz in London, because she was under the table with my sister as the bombs were falling.

Unexpectedly, she talked a lot about Oswald Mosley.

‘It was very hard when Mosley came,’ she said.’They were fascists, you know. It was frightening.’

Owen encouraged her to speak of her childhood, and she mentioned her father’s workshop where she and her siblings worked as a sewing machinists.  Her memory was stimulated, which was no doubt one of the goals of the memory sharing project. I noticed with some surprise how she kept coming back to the topic of Mosley, who must, I supposed, have been small beer compared with living through the blitz while my father was away at war, having his own very close shaves.

When I was a child in the 1950s, my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles wouldn’t let us children buy Tizer, a very popular fizzy drink because, they explained, Oswald Mosley  was a shareholder.

After the war, Mosley targeted principally the recent immigrants of the Windrush generation, through his League of Empire Loyalists, which eventually morphed into the National Front. He stood for Parliament in 1966, in Shoreditch and Finsbury.  Aged sixteen, I heckled with left wing friends at his meeting and was frogmarched out by two policemen, undoubtedly for my own good. My grandfather made me recount the event more than once to his friends who came round to play cards. He was so proud.

There was also Colin Jordan’s National Socialist Movement in the 1960s which became the British Movement under John Tyndall.

These neonazi extremists, they have their moment for causing fear and fury and then they return to obscurity, sometimes reaching out from the shadows to make a kill, the tragic death of Jo Cox MP being a case in point.

In the mid-twentieth century, the parents taught us diligently not to drink Tizer and we grew up knowing about the crazy ideas the ‘Fascists’ harboured about us Jews (the word fascists was used then more commonly than neonazis), their belief in our uncanny power and immeasurable wealth.

Every decade, people are more enlightened than the decade before. When I was a child, capital punishment and flogging existed in English law; male homosexuality was illegal; racist and homophobic discourse were run of the mill. I must add that my parents, born before 1920, despised racism and homophobia. They were not judgmental about sexuality. They boycotted South African fruit. And they wouldn’t let us drink Tizer.

Now I tire my adult children with my worries about the return of antisemitism. They think this trouble in the Labour Party will pass. They tend to agree that there is a problem, but they don’t believe it will have the power to harm us. Fair enough.

Perhaps it was living through the war that made my parents fearful, or being born soon after the war which has made me jittery.

In the 1970s, I saw a leaflet which some obscure far right group had posted through letter boxes in Bloomsbury. I read it and saw that it was mad. They asserted that Churchill was Jewish, Harold Wilson was Jewish and that Jews, naturally, are the evil masters of all they survey.

It’s only the third of those assertions that I see, when trawling Labour forums, in this year of 2018.

One other thing I see on Labour forums – and this is a gambit that Mosley never came up with – is the assertion that antisemitism doesn’t exist, not on the left. It is believed to be a trick that Jews play, for unlawful gain. They post memes to this effect, which I can see in my mind’s eye as I type this.

Perhaps those inappropriate posts from individuals who have, to greater or lesser extent associated themselves with the Labour Party (some are members, some are not and some hold office in the  Labour Party), perhaps they too will pass. Perhaps the Key Stage 4 history resources will describe how Labour encountered a problem with antisemitism in the twenty tens and nipped it in the bud.

In my previous blog, I quoted Camus, ‘the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for  good’.

Let us be alert to the symptoms, wherever we find them.

 

27 July 2018

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Proto Prologue, written last

Since 1 October, posts about Israel, Jews and antisemitism have ceased, on the two forums which I follow. One, with less than a thousand members, was milder in tone than ‘Labour Party Forum’ or ‘Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party Forum’. Posts on JCLPF are now mostly about domestic politics, whereas, before October, Israel was by far the most common topic for discussion. It is possible that the group administrators were finally asked to hold back the tsunami of hatred. In point of fact, the hatred has not dissipated as the comments are still full of anger and contempt, mainly directed at Conservatives or  at the Labour MPs regarded as Blairites. Israel, meanwhile, is off the agenda, as are JLM, LFOI, CAAS, Margaret Hodge and Luciana Berger. I am grateful to the person who advised forum administrators to ‘tone it down,’  to borrow a phrase from Tracey Ullman.

Pre Prologue

The 2018 Labour Conference is in full swing. For some reason, I’m getting more hostile traffic than usual on Twitter and inviting those sceptical about Labour antisemitism to look at the screen shots on this blog post. Apparently, some of the interlocutors have been kind enough to look, as i asked, but they are unimpressed. They feel that the screen shots are either:

a) justified criticism of Israel

b) the work of fifth columnists intending to bring Labour into disrepute

c) irrelevant because they may not be the work of card carrying Labour members

d) (just one person) justified as the worst murderers in the world were/are Jewish.

There is not one who says, ‘Hey, there’s some nasty stuff there. We should get the forums to tone it down.’*

Of course they suggest that I write and post in bad faith. That is, as David Hirsh defined it, the Livingstone Formulation. If someone accuses you of bad faith, what more can be said? We’re not going to hear each other, so we have nothing profitable to say to each other. In such situations, the Serenity Prayer may be worth a go.

Prologue.

My screen shots get queried on Twitter, especially by those who feel that Corbynism is essentially an honest project for the promotion of justice and fairness. I disagree as I see so much hostility to Jews on Corbynist websites. Sceptical interlocutors generally ask me how I know the offensive comments come from card carrying Labour Party members. This I cannot answer. I know only these things.

  • The posts are usually very pro-Corbyn
  • There is an almost obsessive antagonism to Israel and to Jews, making an exception for Jews who actively denounce Israel; Chomsky, Norman Finkelstein and the late Hajo Meyer being much cited.
  • These views do not usually get challenged by other members.
  • They are permitted by the administrators.
  • Calling the Talmud Satanic is not reasoned criticism of Israel.
  • The administrators post articles and videos, usually from Mint Press, Russia Today, Palestinian news channels, Evolve, Mondoweiss and Skwawkbox which are universally hostile to Israel.
  • Within a short space of time, these posts attract comments denigrating Jews in general.
  • If anyone disagrees, they are abused by other members of the group.
  • On the few occasions when I have posted something questioning the totally negative coverage of Israel, my comments were deleted by administrators.
  • The Al-Jazeera film ‘the Lobby’ is posted most days as an educational resource.
  • The literacy of forum members is diverse. I find it hard to imagine that Tories and Zionists would infiltrate these forums and employ so many different levels of orthographic competence.

It is argued every day on the forums that Israel is murderous, sadistic, criminal and internationally puissant. The videos are not usually clear and one cannot see what is happening in them, so a member will insert a tagline, explaining that the video depicts some monstrous behaviour inflicted on Palestinians by Israelis. I’m not saying that this never happens but that, in the videos shown, anything could be happening. It is like looking at an abstract painting with an adjacent text explaining the significant features.

Fortunately, there are many who see that the quantity of antisemitic material on the forums is a problem which the Labour Party should be willing to address and fewer who see no such thing. As Shelley said, ‘We are many, they are few.’ I hope this is the case. When I browse the microcosm of the forums, I sometimes get the feeling that they are many and I am the last Jewish person left.

Approx 25 July

This week, there was what Jeremy Corbyn called a contretemps between himself and Dame Margaret Hodge, when the latter confronted him in the House of Commons and called him a racist antisemite. Reactions on online Labour forums have been intense. They have now heard of the IHRA definition of antisemitism which they consider unanimously to be a document designed to silence free speech on Israel. The remarkable thing is how the forum members are emboldened to the point where some are now speaking openly about Jews, something which, as I mentioned a week ago in  this blog, they had tended to avoid.

I can find no more words and propose to attach images of comments which have been posted  this week on two online Labour forums. I must say I am not happy to be uploading  disturbing images, on this blog where I usually write about scripture, but needs must when the devil drives.

I’m inserting about twenty images, all from the last few days. from 19 July until today, 24 July.* Warning: looking at them may damage your health. I uploaded forty images, so if anyone wants access to them, I can produce them. I also have hundreds stored elsewhere.

It’s the quantity as much as the quality.

Once again, I will emphasize, it is the way that Israel is criticized that is problematic. One can hardly even call it criticism. Often, the language segues seamlessly into classical antisemitism.

I thought we had left all this behind in the twentieth century.

Albert Camus said:

Il savait…que le bacille de la peste ne meurt ni ne disparaît jamais, qu’il peut rester pendant des dizaines d’années endormi dans les meubles et le linge, qu’il attend patiemment dans les chambres, les caves, les malles, les mouchoirs et les paperasses, et que, peut-être, le jour viendrait où, pour le malheur et l’enseignement des hommes, la peste réveillerait ses rats et les enverrait mourir dans une cité heureuse.*

He knew…that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen-chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

  • I have added two more images dated 26 and 27 July. I may add more images from the forums as the days go by. It’s easier to add them singly than to upload dozens.
  • La Peste, Albert Camus, Gallimard 1947
  • I have added many more screen shots from the last few days, so this post is a way of archiving some of them. The weeks pass and today is 1 September. I add the images intermittently, when I remember that I intended to archive them here but this really is the tip of the iceberg.
  • Today being 21 Ellul, I’ll take the opportunity to say, to whom it applies, l’shanah tovah tikatevu.
  • Early in October, one Corbyn supporter did look at the screen shots and agree they were problematic.

 

24 7 straight

bad 22 july jclpf

jc 22 c

thornberry

 

 

for marlon s

22 just saying

24 jc hodge24 7 kelsalldeja 124 7 urgent24 7 marrows22 kelsall & more.

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During the Kishinev pogrom in Easter 1903, a mob armed with kitchen and farming implements burst into the cottage of Yehezkiel the Presser. Approaching Yehezkiel with his hatchet raised, Bogdan took the time to ask him a question: ‘Who killed Jesus?’

Yehezkiel’s wife and daughters had climbed out on to roof and he hoped that they might make a getaway, so he played for time.

‘First of all,’ he said, ‘I think the answer to your question is the Romans. That Pilate, he was the one. All right, I know he wasn’t happy with the judgment. I know he went full Lady Macbeth with the washing of hands. You can blame the burden of governance if you like.’

Bogdan’s response came quickly as he swung his hatchet.

‘You killed Jesus,’ he said.

‘Here’s another thing,’ replied Yehezkiel. ‘The events you’re referring to, they’re not recent. By my calculations, they happened – what? Eighteen hundred and seventy years ago. Well, I’m fifty three, Bogdan. I wasn’t there. You know that as well as I do.’

‘Christ killer,’ answered Bogdan. ‘Child murderer.’

‘Believe me,’ Yehezkiel assured him, ‘I have every admiration for Jesus, whom you call Christ. It’s just a pity he didn’t write it all down himself because those biographers, you know, one of them says it’s Thursday and another one says it’s dinner time. Four evangelists, forty opinions. So I hear. But this was all far away, as well as long ago. Wonderful climate, they tell me, in the Holy Land. Not like Bessarabia. Brrr. The winter we had. Have you got cherries yet in your orchard? No? Well it’s early days.’

Bogsdan was now inches away. You might say that he eyeballed Yehezkiel but he was so much taller, he would have had to crouch to do any serious eyeballing.

‘Admit you killed Jesus,’ he advised Yehezkiel.

I’d be lying if I told you Yehezkiel didn’t consider saying it. Who knows? Bogdan might then spare his life. Or not. The point was, Bogdan had brought a crowd with him and Yehezkiel didn’t want to give them the wrong idea, so he said, ‘This I did not do.’

Bogdan then employed his hatchet so thoroughly that Yehezkiel had no opportunity to say ‘Shema Yisrael’.

He died. By some miracle, his wife and daughters got away.

*

You can no more say ‘This isn’t about Israel’ than Yehezkiel could say ‘It isn’t about the crucifixion’. Antisemites may be the adjudicators of what this is about.  You can say ‘The Romans did it and besides, I wasn’t there.’ You can say that Israel doesn’t bear all the guilt and besides, I’m not there.  Or you can say ‘Israel has all the power and bears all the guilt so I repudiate it.’ Historically, those who converted were allowed to live. If you are living and working in a milieu where Israel is considered the supreme evil, you might think that the right thing is to cut yourself loose from its rocky embrace.

You might think the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament and that converting is the righteous way. I’m the first to agree that the Christian scriptures are beautiful; well, second, if you count Yehezkiel; third really, because of Rabbi Lionel Blue. In the medieval disputations, there were Franciscan and Dominican friars who had started their education at the Talmud Torah but, following conversions, became fierce adversaries of Jews and Judaism.

Apostasy happens in modern times too. Israel Zolli who was the Chief Rabbi of Rome in 1945 was baptized and chose the name Eugenio in honour of Pope Pius XII, a controversial pope if ever there was one.

Renouncing and denouncing Israel is not like apostasy.  You can make a religious case against Zionism, as Neturei Karta and others have done.

This is where I get controversial. When you denounce Israel, Eugenio Zolli is watching with approval. Pablo Christiani and Nicholas Donin extend their ghostly hands to you. And maybe – but maybe not – Bogdan lets you live.

As for me, I’m a voter, like everyone else; the decisions of the Israeli government and the UK government are not my decisions  and not necessarily what I voted  for, but I want to be able to express pride in the two countries which are, in a sense, my two parents: England, the mother who bore me and Israel, the father who engendered me.

Rarely a day passes without someone – and very often it’s someone declaring their support for Mr Corbyn – without someone saying to me ‘But what about Israel. They did this and they do that and you’re complicit.’ It’s a fact that I’ve only ever been called a murderer since opening a Twitter account.

In one way, they are right. They say that this question of Labour antisemitism is all about Israel, and it is. In the way that the Kishinev pogrom was about the crucifixion, Labour antisemitism is about Israel. From their point of view, Zionism is the  πρῶτον κινοῦν ἀκίνητον or primus motor, the uncaused cause of many ills.

I don’t buy that.

This blog has been almost entirely on biblical subjects, give or take a post or two. The less than catchy name of the blog, Neviim Tovim means ‘good prophets’ and is taken from the prescribed blessing before reading aloud in the synagogue a text from the prophetic books.

For the last year or maybe eighteen months, I’ve been observing some of the closed online Labour forums and reporting, mainly through Twitter on the copious antisemitism I see there.

Now I must cut to the chase and speak of Israel. I love Israel with all my heart but – or and – would not vote for anyone right of centre if I had Israeli citizenship and the right to vote there. Always a Labour supporter in the UK, I’ve hoped in each Israeli election that the left and the pacific doves would gain more seats in the Knesset. If I were Israeli, I hope I’d be supporting engagement with the moderates across the borders.

However I’m not Israeli but English and have watched, during the leadership of Mr Corbyn, an intense outpouring of demonisation and hatred towards Israel from supporters of the Labour Party and on online Labour sites. There is no respite from this outpouring, never for a day and seldom for an hour.

This week, the Labour leadership’s tweaking of the IHRA definition of antisemitism has been so controversial that all but four Labour MPs voted against the changes at their PLP meeting. A miracle occurred in that rabbis of all denominations came together to sign a letter in the Guardian, urging the Labour Party to drop the changes.

The amendments to the definition, as proposed by the Labour leadership, make it acceptable to equate Israelis with Nazis, to deny the right of Israel to exist and to demand a higher standard from Israel than from other countries.

The sixty or so stalwarts of Jewish Voice for Labour, also comprising Free Speech on Israel, have been accepted by Mr Corbyn as representative of Jewish opinion. They are fiercely anti-Zionist and dismissive of most of Anglo-Jewry’s fears of Labour antisemitism, which they say are based on a political agenda of defending Israel right or wrong. This agenda, they say, has caused Jeremy Corbyn to become the target of concerted Jewish action which, in their view, is designed entirely to silence criticism of Israel.

So we always come back to Israel, even if we are as ‘Meh’ about the Jewish state as David Baddiel declared himself to be.

On Labour forums, arguments run like this. Israel kills Palestinians for sadistic sport. They target children and pregnant women in particular.  They prevent goods from passing through to Gaza, thus causing starvation and genocide. They desire territorial expansion as far as the Caspian Sea. They suborn or bribe the governments of the West, especially the USA and the UK. They have secret lobbies in industry and they own international banking cartels.

It is some years since I studied the rise of Nazism and the reason why I am up to date with these theories is that I read Labour forums every day. These are sometimes closed forums and one has to assure the administrators that one is loyal to Mr Corbyn. Membership of the forums I currently belong to is around sixteen thousand. There are some larger forums than these, but I have been ejected, after disputing the above perceptions of Israel. Silence is golden.

Now, we come back to the matter of Jews. Rarely will the members of the groups express hatred of Jews as such. They speak of the influence and power of the Rothchilds, the Bauers, the New World Order, Bilderberg, Illuminati, the Elite, the Puppet Masters. They select Jewish individuals in public life, MPs, actors, celebrities and assert that they are paid propagandists for Israel. If one of these notable persons speaks of Labour antisemitism, they are said to be in the pay of Israel. If a member of the forum  disagrees, the response is that they are in the pay of Israel. If a member of the forum agrees with an MP like Chuka Umunna, who is very supportive of the Jewish community in our struggle against antisemitism, they are said to be paid Tory Zionist trolls. The animus towards MPs like Tom Watson and Jess Phillips is horrible to behold. Any politician who admits that Labour has a problem with antisemitism becomes a hate figure on the forums. This is even true of Jon Lansman who is less than ‘meh’ about Israel.

Esteemed figures on the forums are George Galloway, Ken Livingstone, Ken Loach, Chris Williamson, Dennis Skinner, John McDonnell (not as much as you’d think) and of course The Absolute Boy himself (as much as you’d think).

Memes are posted constantly, often displaying leaders like Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, accompanied by anti-Israel texts of uncertain provenance. Equally favoured are pictures of Jewish individuals with a quotation to the effect that the concept of antisemitism is a ruse used by Jews to gain unfair advantage.

Now, I’m working towards my conclusion and the one and only screen shot which will accompany this post.

On the forums, there are very many pictures showing human suffering, accompanied by texts explaining that Israel is the perpetrator. Images may be taken from newsreels around the world. Occasionally they are clips taken from feature films. The suffering person is always said to be a Palestinian while the one inflicting the suffering is said to be Israeli, or, on days when the members are particularly emboldened, Jewish.

No one likes to see such images and they arouse great anger on the forums. Comments get posted, likening Israelis to vermin, Nazis and monsters. Sometimes it is mentioned that they have had this capacity for evil since time immemorial: the Rothschilds and the Jewish bankers causing the two world wars for financial profit; Mossad managing the assassination of President Kennedy, the sinking of the Titanic, the slave trade and of course the crucifixion. The Israelis, you understand, because these Labour supporters are not antisemitic and anyway, someone will explain almost daily, semites are Palestinians and Jews are European colonialists – the Khazars.

At last came the straw that broke the camel’s back, where I’m the camel. There was a thread supporting the boycott of Israel on the basis of Israel’s unparalleled wickedness. I posted a link to an article about Israel’s assistance in the international operation to rescue the boys trapped in a cave in Thailand. I braced for the abuse which would follow.

It didn’t follow. The Administrators had deleted my link. It was not considered appropriate for the eyes of the forum’s members.

I did not question this. I keep fairly quiet in these groups; I keep my head down and I’m still there. I use the name Galil Perssimann. Watch this space.

Post script. I was ejected from Labour Party Forum today, 16 August, having engaged on the subject of antisemitism. A link to this blog was produced, followed by the sentence above, where I reveal the name I use on the forum. I feel a little like Andy Dufresne after he came out of the sewer. In any case, it was a fair cop.

 

Laban is a tricksy character with a bad write up in most midrashic accounts, but he is neverthelss the grandfather of the children of Israel, no less than Isaac, their paternal grandfather.

Have you  ever been at a Passover seder where there are variant English translations in the haggadot being used? Some of them say, ‘A wandering Aramean was my father,’ but others say, ‘An Aramean tried to kill my father,’ translating a verse which has its source in the book of Deuteronomy. The homicidal Aramean refers to Laban, with the worst possible spin on his motives. The uncertainly of the translation is due to two possible meanings of the word spelled aleph bet dalet, to wander or to destroy.

Laban was a great nephew of Abraham but nevertheless midrash tends to portray him as crooked, venal and Machiavellian, with some justification from the biblical narrative.

In any case, Laban did not destroy Jacob, who was more than capable himself of turning a situation to his advantage. In our reading, Jacob has left Laban’s home in Aram and set off for the land of his birth, Canaan, with his wives, concubines and children and evidently the biblical equivalent of several removal vans. Laban comes after Jacob and upbraids him for his stealthy getaway. He accuses Jacob of stealing his heart, which is not totally unreasonable, as Jacob is taking away his daughters and grandchildren. Jacob isn’t really to blame either, as Laban has previous form in the dirty tricks department.

In our sidra, Jacob and Laban come to an accommodation with each other, setting up a pile of stones as an agreed border. Laban concedes that his daughters are making a new life with their husband Jacob, but warns Jacob to treat them well. He says, ‘May the Lord watch between you and me, when we are absent one from the other.’

Years ago, my stepdaughter used to wear a pendant necklace with half of these words inscribed on it and her boyfriend wore a pendant with the other half. I thought that was beautiful and so it was, but I was a bit shocked later to find that the words were from Laban and that, as usual, he wasn’t necessarily the best role model. ‘The God of Abraham and the god of Nahor, the god of their father judge between us,’ he tells Jacob and, of course, the god of Abraham’s brother Nahor was no one we know. It was quite possibly some merchandise from their father Terach’s idol shop, which the youthful Abraham had vandalized, but that’s another midrash.

As there will be a family service on Shabbat, I’ve prepared a version suitable for children.

Children’s Version

When Jacob was a young man, living at home with his mum and dad and his twin brother Esau, he did something that made his brother very angry and upset. As their father Isaac was blind, Jacob was able to pretend to be Esau and get a special blessing which was supposed to go to the older brother. Although they were twins, Esau was born before Jacob and was entitled to the first born’s blessing. Things at home then became very awkward and Jacob decided to leave, to stay with relations he’d never met, up north in what would now be called Syria.

He fell in love with a girl called Rachel who was a distant cousin and wanted to marry her. The problem was Rachel’s father, Laban, who was a very tricky character. He was a sheep farmer and he told Jacob he could marry Rachel if he worked for Laban for seven years. It’s an awfully long time to be engaged, but Jacob agreed. You probably know what happened next. The bride’s face was hidden by a veil and, after the wedding, when she removed the veil, Jacob saw that he’d married Rachel’s older sister Leah. He did marry Rachel eventually, because a man could have more than one wife in those days, but he had to spend more years working for Laban. So Jacob lived there in Aram for years, and had a large number of children. Eventually, he decided to go home to the land of Canaan. He was hoping that Esau had forgiven him for the business with the blessing.

Knowing that his father-in-law Laban usually had some trick or other up his sleeve, Jacob took his wives and children and some sheep which belonged to him, and they all set out without saying a word to Laban, who came after them as soon as he twigged what was going on.

Angry words were exchanged but, surprisingly enough, they came to an agreement. They made a sort of border of stones and agreed not to cross into each other’s lands. Laban was sorry that his grandchildren would be far away but he understood that they wanted to be with Jacob, their dad. He said to Jacob, ‘Make sure you treat Leah and Rachel well. Don’t make them unhappy. God will be watching both of us.’

Jacob realized that this was a good outcome. They even sat down and had a meal together by the border of stones; then they went on their way, Laban north to Aram and Jacob with his family, south to Canaan. Jacob was quite excited about returning to his homeland and didn’t even look back, but Laban did look back, to watch his daughters and grandchildren until they were out of sight.

 

כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם לטהר אתכם מכל חטֹאתיכם לפני ה’ תטהרו

For on this day shall atonement be made for you to cleanse you. You shall be clean before the Lord from all your sins.

Leviticus 16:30

Five times on Yom Kippur, we say the Ashamnu, the shorter prayer of confession. As a community, and with musical accompaniment, we read out a list which might be considered slanderous if attributed to any of us by another person. However, we freely admit to all of the sins on the list.

What have we really done? What do we think we have done? What do others think we have done?

There are generalized sins which we admit to, because that’s how the liturgy goes.

There are the sins we think of in private prayer.

There are sins we don’t know about which somebody else thinks we have have committed.

Certain hurts, like being snubbed or bullied – it’s easier to know when we suffer from them than it is to know when we do them.

What I’d like us to discuss, the bottom line, is how we feel when we say the prayers of repentance; whether we can identify with the words or if they don’t feel right. The print out is about the prayer beginning Ashamnu, We have sinned, and it lists quite specific types of sin.

There is a prayer (Days of Awe pp644 – 645), written by Rabbi Lionel Blue, z”l, which includes a confession of insincere confession.

Apology, confession and repentance – how far do they overlap? Can apologies and confessions be insincere? Repentance, which, perhaps, takes place in the heart, seems less likely to be insincere.

Does gratitude have any common borders with repentance? And – perhaps more likely – does forgiveness?

Then there are the unfair things which are leveled against us, sometimes by strangers eg, a driver in a hurry or a zealous tweeter; sometimes by our nearest and dearest, eg ‘You never listen,’ ‘You don’t help.’

We admit our shortcomings to a person unlikely to judge us: a therapist, or a counsellor or God.

Is the sense of guilt an index of wrongdoing or is it a personality trait?

We live in a society where there is sometimes a requirement for a public apology, even for historical events. The American House of Representatives issued an apology for slavery, as well as an apology to Native Americans and to Hawaii for the overthrow of their kingdom. Tony Blair is often pressed to apologize for the war in Iraq. If a nation apologizes for an historical wrongdoing, is it worth anything unless they pay reparations?

We say sorry to each other, especially ahead of Yom Kippur. I know of one case when the person receiving the apology was on the point of gracious acceptance when he realized it was Shabbat Shuva and then interpreted the apology as an act of flagrant passive-aggression.

There is a view that an apology should have three components, regret, which means owning one’s deed and not evading responsibility;  compensation, which means doing one’s best to put it right, and a promise that one will at least try not repeat the offence

Let’s look at the sins listed in the Ashamnu. We should note that, unlike the Al chet shechatanu lefanecha, the Ashamnu is specific about different types of sin or wrongdoing. But the prayer is introduced by a reference to sin: aval anachnu v’avotenu chatanu.

Edith Piaf declared in her moving song, ‘Je ne regrette rien,’ that she regretted nothing. So, is there something to be said for regretting nothing? Is it an authentic recognition of the good and the bad in one’s life? The metaphor of sweeping away has something in common with our own prayer, taken from the prophet Isaiah (44:22): ‘Behold I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.’

*

The discussion took place on Yom Kippur 5778 while the Mussaf service was in progress in the main synagogue hall.. Most people felt that apologies could occur for outward form, without genuine repentance. Being on the receiving end of an apology was valued; regarded as a healing experience. Gratitude and forgiveness were discussed. Institutional apologies were discussed and the view was expressed that they too had a healing effect.We noted that the Ashamnu prayer was translated in Yamim Noraim in a way which kept the acrostic form of the prayer but was very free with the line by line translation. There was discussion of the sin of gossip/lashon hara in particular. A distinction was made between gossip and betrayal.

Although the Ashamnu lists sins we have committed, there was an interest in what would be a proper response to perceived injuries against us.

As always, the point of the discussion was not to reach conclusions, but for its own sake.

We returned to the main hall in time for the Minchah service.

GerizimDeuteronomy 27: 9 – 26  Ki Tavo

This event takes place towards the end of the forty years in the wilderness and in the last days of Moses’ life. Moses  prepares the Israelites for their new life after his own death, in the promised land, under the leadership of Joshua.

He then delineates a ceremony of blessings and curses which will take place after the Israelites have crossed the Jordan, at which time Moses will no longer accompany them. The leadership will have passed to Joshua. The tribes will be divided into two groups. Six tribes are to stand on Mount Gerizim, to the south, and pronounce blessings. The other six are to stand on Mount Ebal, north-east, and pronounce curses. The tribes sent to Gerizim are Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin. The tribes who have the unfortunate job of presiding over the curses are Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali. The curses are spoken by Levites who anathemize those who make graven images; those who treat their parents badly; those who move a neighbour’s landmark; those who lead the blind astray; those who subvert the cause of widows and orphans; those who sleep with their father’s wife, with their sister, or their mother-in-law; those who have sex with an animal, those who commit physical assault in secret, paid assassins and those who do not adhere to these commandments.

There are twelve curses, matching the number of the tribes.

Mount Ebal is in biblical Shechem, now Nablus on the West Bank.

There are several questions raised by the text and not answered. Why are the curses issued from Mount Ebal, which later became the site of an Israelite altar, constructed from stones? Why are the blessings from Mount Gerizim, which later became the Sanctuary of the Samaritan sect?

Some commentators – Samson Raphael Hirsch for example – reasoned that Gerizim was fertile and Ebal rugged. In the thirteenth century, Nachmanides noted that as Gerizim, was to the south, it was at the right hand when one faced east to pray. It’s also suggested that the southern position of Gerizim placed it in the territory of Judah  while Ebal stood in what was to become the Northern Kingdom.

As for the Samaritan view of the sanctity of Gerizim, this is somewhat backed up by a passage in the Dead Sea Scrolls version of Deuteronomy, which says:

When you have crossed the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about  which I charge you today, on Mount Gerizim, and coat them with plaster.  And there, you shall build an altar to the Lord your God.

The verse in the Masoretic text, that’s the chumash you may have in front of you, and in our Sefer Torah, says:

And when you have crossed over the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, concerning which I command you today, on Mount Ebal, and you shall plaster them with plaster. (Deuteronomy 27:4)

Then there’s the question of who were Samaritans. The name comes from Shomrim, meaning keepers or guards, just as the geographical area of Samaria is called Shomron in Hebrew. They claim descent from the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh and split with  mainstream Israelite observances by locating their sanctuary on Mount Gerizim. At that time, the period of the judges, the official sanctuary was in Shiloh. The Samaritans have their own version of the Pentateuch, written in a script resembling palaeo-Hebrew and containing mostly minor but numerous variations from our Masoretic text. We don’t know the age of the Samaritan pentateuch, but some of these variations occur likewise in the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Greek Septuagint, so it’s old, perhaps from the time of the Second Temple. The Samaritans don’t count the prophets or the hagiographa – the Ketuvim – as scriptural. They just have the five books of the chumash.

Now there’s another question  without any definite answer, relating to this Torah reading. How were the tribes divided? What did it signify, if your tribe was doing the blessings from Gerizim or the curses from Ebal? It seems to me that the tribes doing the blessing, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph and Benjamin are the A list, with the possible exception of Issachar. Those standing on Mount Ebal are Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan and Naphtali. The tribes of Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher were  descended from Jacob’s concubines, Bilhah and Zilpah. Reuben and Zebulun are the oldest and youngest sons of Leah. It is also interesting that the descendants of the Ebal tribes are less notable than the royal, priestly and messianic issue of the Gerizim tribes.

According to my counting, twelve curses are to be uttered on Mount Ebal and, as you will hear, a dozen times it is repeated that all the people will say Amen. Their peoplehood is expressed in the unity with which they accept the Torah of Moses and shun the ways which are forbidden, cursed. As you know, the word ‘amen’ is connected with the word for faith, emunah, but it has traveled a long way, as it appears in the Greek of the New Testament and is used in Muslim prayer with the same meaning. I find there is something a bit magical about the word Amen. Listen to it, as it’s repeated in out Torah reading, from Deuteronomy 27.


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