Neviim Tovim/TheHaftarah Circle Gillian Gould Lazarus

For a man who was slow of speech and meeker than anyone alive, this is quite a speech, where Moses addresses the Israelites on the last day of his life. Haazinu hashamayim meaning ‘Give ear O heavens,’ are the opening words of the penultimate sidra in our scroll. Moses does not speak of himself at all, except to say, ‘I speak’ and ‘I call,’ for this long poem which comprises his speech is a song of praise to God. Moses refers to God as Tsur, meaning rock, Elyon, meaning the highest and Avicha kanecha, your Father who made you. Many of the sayings in this portion are familiar from our liturgy. The poem invokes the infidelity of the Israelites, contrasted with God’s faithfulness and justice. The people of Israel are called Jacob and Yeshurun, meaning ‘the upright’ in the sense of upright morality, yet Moses accuses thrm of being wayward and provocative. Nevertheless, he says, God shelters them beneath His wings.

This poem in Deuteronomy 32, is called The Song of Moses. You might be reminded of Shirat ha Yam, the Song at the Sea, in Exodus 15, which is sometimes called the song of Moses and Miriam. There are other songs in the bible – notably the Psalms of David, but also Deborah’s song in Judges and Hannah’s in 1 Samuel. Jonah sings a song of praise inside the whale. The Song of Songs is an entirely poetic book of the bible, attributed to Solomon but Jeremiah also has a song book, much more mournful in tone: the Book of Lamentations.

Some of these songs do not mention the life and situation of the putative singer and would not look out of place in the book of Psalms.

The Song of Moses takes place on the final day of his life but these are not his last words. Like Jacob, he blesses the individual tribes before his death in a speech which begins with the words ‘Vezot ha berachah – And this is the blessing.’ After he has finished speaking, God sends him to the top of Mount Nebo and shows Moses the promised land, which he will never reach. Moses dies there on the mountain, and thus the fifth book of the pentateuch is brought to a close. On Simchat Torah, we shall be reading the last part of Vezot Haberachah, right at the end of Deuteronomy, as we conclude the cycle of Torah readings, before beginning again at once with Bereshit.

October 2016


Yom Kippur 2016/ 5777
For afternoon study at Sha’arei Tsedek North London Reform Synagogue

While the Yom Kippur mussaf service is going on, there’s room for the whole congregation in one hall, but when we join the main service for Minchah, the numbers gradually increase so that, by the time Yizkor starts, both halls will be filled, more or less to capacity. People who, for one reason or another, leave the synagogue during the course of the day, tend to come back for Yizkor, the service for remembering the dead. Some have been bereaved this year, others in years past and some come supported by families, perhaps their children, most of whom, we might reasonably hope, have not yet experienced bereavement.

Mourning, loss and remembering play a great part in our lives, as does the certain knowledge that our own days are numbered.

The comfort of believing that we’ll be reunited with our loved ones after death is not available to many of us, these days, even though, every time we recite the Amidah, we say that God revives the dead,.

Our synagogue has a Minhag Group, open to all members, where all aspects of our religious customs come under discussion. One topic which came up, time and time again, because members raised the subject, was the way we handled bereavements and yahrzeits, in synagogue services, for example, before kaddish and in the form of notifications: community email and notice board. There was sometimes a question of which mourners would be named. ‘Father of member’s name,’ would be typical at a yahrzeit, but what if the member isn’t in shul for the yahrzeit? Or, he’s in shul, but wants us to mention that the deceased was grandfather to his children or grandchildren, who are not in shul? Usually, the shaliach tsibbur will read all the names gladly.

Is the feeling which makes the reading of names important different from the feeling that makes us erect a tombstone, light a yahrzeit candle or visit a grave?

Are these questions connected with memorializing, rather than grieving, or is there an overlap? Do social norms influence the way we remember? People sometimes weep when the name of their loved one is read out before kaddish, so it must happen that the respectful ritual of the yahrzeit interacts with the painful sense of loss.

How do we memorialize? With prayers, tombstones, donations; a newborn child of the family may be named after the deceased. We speak of those we have lost, look at photos, movies, voice recordings, if we have these mementos. We research history and genealogy. We value things which belonged to them and things they valued. We feel the loss and, if we lose someone close to us, our lives are never the same.

Psalm 103 tells us that life is short and lives are forgotten, sooner or later. We know this is true for us, as well as those who have gone ahead. How do we want to be remembered, if indeed we expect to be remembered? Some of us contribute to science, the arts, education or the well-being of humanity. Some of us have children. Some of us write wills.

At the Bafta and Oscar award ceremonies, every year now, they play a montage of images of those from the film industry who died in the past year. The names and professions are written underneath the smiling faces. Some are world famous, others are cameramen or costume designers, whose faces most of us don’t recognize. The music accompanying the montage of images adds to their poignancy.

There is a memorial fountain in Hyde Park to Princess Diana. Rabin Square, formerly Kings of Israel Square, in Tel Aviv is named in memory of Yitzhak Rabin. The very famous have airports named after them – not just Kennedy, De Gaulle, Ben Gurion, Indira Gandhi, but Marco Polo and Leonardo da Vinci, and also John Lennon, John Wayne and George Best.

There are prescribed prayers for entering a cemetery, including mechayah hametim. In the El Male Rachamim, we pray for the peace of the soul of the departed; that God will shelter them eternally and bind their soul in the bond of life.

Is the survival of the soul taken for granted in these prayers, or is it a liturgical convention, to speak as if death were not the end of life?

If we are not convinced of a supernal afterlife, is the nature of memorializing in this world even more important?

While I was writing this, an item came on the news about Jo Cox, the murdered MP, and the work she was doing to support a volunteer civil defence organization of neutral, unarmed Syrians, called the White Helmets. It was said that the White Helmets rescue people from danger without ascertaining who they are, or what side they’re on. It seems to me that, if they save lives, and Jo Cox effectively supported their work, that would be one kind of everlasting memorial.

By the next time I open this document, I have read that the White Helmet organization has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. It has also been referred to by those who oppose it, as a wing of Al Qaeda. The truth or falsity of this assertion cannot make an iota of difference to the way Jo Cox is remembered. Or can it?

Can we even know what will be memorable, what will have a good outcome and what will be ephemeral, a candle in the wind, as they say, or a flower of the field?

As for ‘everlasting to everlasting,’ me-olam v’ad olam, we invoke it in our liturgy, but, for many of us, it’s just an expression, the poetry and metaphor of prayer.

In death as in life, good intentions can be lost and legacies compromised, but those we loved, we remember with love as long as we live.

milk and honey

I never take much notice of the Eurovision Song Contest, least of all the songs, but I sometimes watch the voting, with some slight interest in how countries often vote in clusters. The Balkan countries back each other and the Danes and Swedes seem to have a reciprocal arrangement, while the UK and Ireland give each other a bounce on the voting board, as if Gerry Adams had never existed.

The strange thing is that neighbouring countries are as likely to go to war across the border as to appreciate each other’s musical artistry.

I wondered how it would have worked in biblical antiquity. After all, the Ammonites and the Moabites were related to Terach, same as Abraham, and even the wicked Amalekites were descended from Isaac, via Esau.

As for the Canaanites whose land is spied out by Moses’ agents, would they bestow their douze points on the Israelites, or take revenge on them by giving everything to the Jebusites, the Amorites and the Hittites?

The spies Moses sent into Canaan brought back disheartening reports of giants inhabiting the land, but they’d noted that it was rich and fertile and they coined the phrase, ‘a land flowing with milk and honey’.

The word supposed to mean giants is Nephilim, fallen ones, suggestive of fallen angels, in other words, beings possessed of supernatural power. Everyone was afraid, except for Joshua and Caleb, who were convinced that they could gain the land by conquest. As usual, the people blamed Moses for bringing them out of Egypt, where they said they’d been better off. You can imagine how they would have been ready to give Egypt all their points in the North East Africa Song Contest.

The people were so rebellious that God said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise me?’ and was about to smite them with a plague, only Moses pleaded with God, on behalf of the Israelites. God then replied ‘Salachti kidvareycha’ – ‘I have forgiven, according to your word.’

However, that generation of Israelites wandered forty years in the wilderness and never reached the promised land, with the exceptions of Joshua and Caleb, who had not despaired or rebelled against God.

Joshua would go on to enjoy good relations with a Canaanite woman called Rahab, who sheltered Joshua’s Israelite spies before the Battle of Jericho, described in the book of Joshua. In Midrash, Rahab is a beautiful prostitute, or possibly an innkeeper, and these midrashic versions are quite romantic because Joshua marries Rahab, even though she’s a Canaanite. The people across the border – what are they, enemies or neighbours? And can they sing?


written on the day of an EU Referendum in the UK, 23 June 2016

Numbers 5, 1 – 16 Naso
‘Leprosy’, restitution and the law of Sotah

The word apologetics generally means putting a positive spin on a difficult scriptural text or religious doctrine. As I’m occasionally invited to introduce our Torah readings, I’m aware that it’s often quite difficult to justify what we read. Today, we’re looking at topics, which, in the lifestyle section of a modern newspaper, might be covered by health care, law and marriage guidance.

The three topics are all connected with ritual impurity. Those suffering from certain illnesses are sent out of the camp. The Hebrew word for the illness in question is Tsara’at, which used to be identified with leprosy. Anyone suffering from a discharge is excluded from the camp. It isn’t specified whether this is a condition of a sexual nature. Defilement by proximity to a corpse is a third reason for temporary expulsion.

The reason for sending ill people out of the camp is made explicit in verse three – that they should not defile the camp of the Israelites, where God dwells among them. Quarantine, easier to justify, is not mentioned, so one cannot assume that those suffering from uncertain contagious diseases are excluded as a measure to protect public health.

The second subject addressed in this Torah reading concerns compensation for damages. If one person wrongs another, the purity of the community is compromised until restitution is made to the plaintiff, or to his surviving relations, or to God, via the priesthood.

The word goel occurs, with reference to a kinsman receiving restitution from someone who has wronged his relative. Goel in our liturgy refers to God the Redeemer, but the word is sometimes used in biblical texts to refer to a person performing duties on behalf of his relatives. The concept of the goel as kinsman is central to the book of Ruth, which will be read during Shavuot. The role of the kinsman in this Torah reading is to stand in for a relative who is deceased or otherwise unable to receive compensation, so the kinsman becomes the beneficiary.

The commandments in this reading provide a blueprint for managing impurity caused by disease or death, impurity of betraying trust and now we come to the impurity attached to a woman suspected of adultery. Note that the suspicion of adultery is enough for the woman to undergo an ordeal before the priest. If the husband is gripped by jealousy, he is to bring his wife to the priest, for her to undergo the ordeal of Sotah. She is given so-called bitter water to drink, some kind of solution of water and dust. She is deemed guilty of adultery if, after drinking the water, she has symptoms of illness, apparently related to her reproductive organs, but, if she has no symptoms, she is acquitted. I’m sure this trial by ordeal will make you think of the actions taken against suspected witches in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. These ordeals rely on God’s interventions, so that the suspect is acquitted or convicted by means of miracle.

The husband was required to bring to the altar an offering of barley meal, unaccompanied by oil or frankincense. As sacrifices went, this was rather basic. There is much commentary in the Mishnah and the Talmud, regarding the treatment of women suspected of adultery, in tractates entitled Sotah, which means, ‘the straying woman,’ and the Mishnah cites Rabban Gamliel, saying, ‘Since her deed was the deed of cattle, her offering is the food of cattle.’

Can it be that our Oral Torah is, in places, as disfigured by misogyny as our current social media? Probably yes, but misogyny may have been a default position in the ancient world. Look at Pandora. Look at Eve.


Sermon to Sha’arei-Tsedek North London Reform Synagogue on 30 April 2016

When I heard Ken Livingstone yesterday, doing the rounds of the news channels, I thought he must have gone too far, even for his admirers, and that he was bringing himself and his party into disrepute.

I underestimated the number of people seeking to justify Ken’s loose assertion that Hitler promoted Zionism in the early 1930s.

Like thousands of others, pro Ken and anti, I started googling the Haavara Agreement, which is readily found on Wikipedia and therefore cited by Livingstone’s online supporters, especially if they want to say – and they often do – that there is a natural affinity between Nazism and Zionism.

I wanted to get an idea from Jewish and Israeli historians of the alleged collaboration with the Nazis, and whether it was used for the purpose of aliyah, immigration to Palestine. I read that the Haavara Agreement allowed Jews to escape from Germany to Palestine in return for paying a ransom to the Reich. I read also that there were some in the Yishuv movement, which aimed at Jewish settlement in the land, who prioritized emigration from Germany rather than supporting an anti-Nazi boycott. They made choices which were either pragmatic or collaborationist, depending on how you look at it, but Jews who got to Palestine were much more likely to survive.

In a comparable way, the Jewish leaders of the wartime Judenräte, the Jewish Councils in the ghettoes, were forced to have dealings with the Nazis governors. How this worked varied from ghetto to ghetto. In Warsaw, the Chairman of the Judenrat committed suicide, rather than fulfil quotas for deportation, whereas the Chairman in Lodz strove to fulfil the quotas, arguing that those remaining in the ghetto would be allowed to live. With the advantage of hindsight, we know he was wrong.

It’s widely observed that at the present time, if someone wants to discredit Jews, the first and least controversial move is to discredit Zionism. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it was the fashion to use racist pseudo-science against Jews and, then, in the twentieth century, Bolshevism, Capitalism and World Domination. Bolshevism has bitten the dust, but we are still accused of global domination through international banking and conspiracies. When I read about these Jewish conspiracies, I feel like asking why I’ve never been invited to one.

I must admit to using the key word Talmud in a Twitter search, which is asking for trouble. What comes up? Nothing about the kashrut of certain ovens for Passover use, you can be sure ( Bava Metzia 59b). Instead, antisemitic geeks cite passages from the Talmud which appear to promote all kinds of criminality and perversion. They sometimes show the text in Hebrew, which is a marvel since they often have inadequate command of English. Hard work goes into their posts and sometimes hard work goes into refuting them.

I am uncomfortable with the idea of hard work being necessary to refute Ken Livingstone or those others, who never admit that they or anyone is being antisemitic.

Yet I know that all history and all scriptures are in some way compromising. When violent passages in the Qur’an are cited to indicate the inherent violence of Islam, it cuts no ice. We have, and tend to reject, unenlightened passages in our own holy books. Even in our sidra today, Acharei Mot, there are far too many animal sacrifices for comfort.

For me, the crux of the matter is how to respond when moral ambiguities of Judaism or Zionism are highlighted by those who seek our harm, if indeed we should respond at all. It seems as if being well-informed about our own history and our literature ought to help, but information never seems to settle the questions.

I don’t have an answer but I think we can usually discern when somebody means us harm. If somebody hates a Jew because of the alleged massacre at Deir Yassin, or a Muslim because of ISIS or a Christian because of the Inquisition, then it isn’t because they’re well-informed. When Ken Livingstone cited the Haavara agreement, it was to put Zionism in the same ball park as Nazism, and not to disseminate knowledge.

Reading this through a year later, on 4 April 2017, I think I was too mild about Ken. Possibly I imagined that he might row back from his provocative statements. During the last year, he has made a crusade of voicing opinions about Hitler’s alleged sympathy for Zionism. It hardly needs to be said that Hitler first wanted Jews out and very quickly wanted them dead. Zionists wanted Jews out and alive, which, b’ezrat Hashem, we are.

Acharei Mot  Leviticus 16: 1 – 17


The sidra is what you might call hard core Temple cult, involving animal sacrifices, incense and the prescribed clothing of the high priest. As far removed as this is from Judaism as we practice it, there is a very familiar component in the ritual, and that is the two goats which we invoke on Yom Kippur, the scapegoat and the sacrificial goat, whose life expectancy is even shorter than that of the scapegoat.

You will hear the word kaporet several times. This was the cover of the ark, adorned with two Cherubim, in the Holy of Holies, which the High Priest entered only on Yom Kippur. The letters of the word  kippur, atonement, are also in the word kaporet, and the linguistic connection may indicate a view of atonement as a kind of covering of sin. You will also hear the word parochet, a curtain in front of the ark, such as we have here, on the ark doors. It’s often translated as ‘veil’ and the kaporet often as ‘the mercy seat’.

The name of the sidra is Acharei Mot, meaning, ‘After the death.’  It refers to two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Abihu , who died during their priestly duties, while offering the wrong kind of fire on the altar. Rabbinic tradition attributes this misadventure to some fault in their attitude, rather than tragic happenstance. Specifically, a midrashic commentary explains that they were drunk when they approached the altar.

The instructions which God gives Moses to impart to Aaron are a detailed blueprint concerning the conduct and procedure of the priests presiding over the altar, designed to protect them from the kind of sudden death which befell Nadav and Abihu. Whenever we read ‘God said to Moses, “Speak to Aaron,”’ we are not looking at a conversation between brothers, but at the laws concerning the priesthood, which is personified by Aaron, the first Cohen HaGadol or High Priest. There are requirements of dress, in fine linen, of bathing and of course, rules concerning the different animals for sacrifice: the young bull, the ram and the two goats, familiar to us from our Yom Kippur Mussaf service: the goat for the Lord and the goat for Azazel.

A lot is cast to determine which of the goats is destined for the sacrificial altar, as a sin-offering, and which is destined for the wilderness, and Azazel. These life and death matters are guided by the minutiae of ritual set forth in Leviticus, the priestly handbook. As the sons of  Aaron were killed by so-called strange fire while officiating at the altar, it was considered that there was an element of mortal danger in carrying out priestly duties. God’s words to Moses, to be conveyed to Aaron, are to ensure that there are no more fatal slip-ups in the execution of sacrificial practices.

We use the word scapegoat, which was coined by William Tyndale, translating the bible into English,  in the time of King Henry VIII. The word scapegoat implies blame or punishment, and the selection of two goats is typical of a binary system of sacrifice, suggesting opposing sacred and profane symbolism. We see such distinctions between the pairs of brothers in Genesis: Cain and Abel, Isaac and Ishmael, Esau and Jacob. Cain, Ishmael and Esau survive, like the scapegoat, but are sent away, into the equivalence of the wilderness.

A word about Azazel.

The most detailed accounts of Azazel are found in the apocryphal books of Enoch where he is identified as a fallen angel who teaches people to make weapons, jewellery, and cosmetics. Enoch is post-biblical but the author uses texts from Genesis and Daniel to create a detailed angelology, which is absent from the bible.

The medieval commentators Rashi and Ibn Ezra, no doubt smoothing over a residue of polytheism in the biblical text, suggested that Azazel was a place name, a rugged mountain from whence the goat was pushed, but Nachmanides, taking the goat by the horns, commented that Azazel belongs to the class of goat-like demons of the desert, known via Mesopotamian mythology.

Midrash identifies the scapegoat (seir) with Esau who was called Seir, meaning  hairy, and whose descendants lived in territory called Mount Seir, named after him.

Azazel appears as a fictional character in Mikhail Bulgakhov’s Stalin-era novel, The Master and Margarita, where he is portrayed as an uncouth but somewhat benign demon in the service of Satan. Bulgakov latinizes the name Azazel as Azazello.

James George Frazer in his anthropological classic The Golden Bough, reported scapegoat-type rituals in Asia, Central and South America, East Africa and New Zealand.  Frazer considered  the rituals primitive, saying: ‘The notion that we can transfer our guilt or sufferings to some other being who will bear them for us is familiar to the savage mind.Frazer wrote  this in 1890 but the evidence of the last century and a quarter suggests that scapegoating is a ritual not confined to savage minds and that it is neither extinct nor dormant.

April 2016



Purim 5776

Performed at Sha’arei Tsedek North London Reform Synagogue on 23 March 2016 Script by Gillian Lazarus.

Purim poster 2016

Scene 1

Haman: Memusnape, you’re very nearly late. What news?

Memusnape: My Lord, I intend to move Vashti from her current position at the Ministry of Magic. The way will then be clear for your supporter Dolores to marry the chief minister, Ahasuerus Scrimgeour and to further your interests throughout the Persian Empire.

Haman: My interest, Memusnape is in the fall of the Persian Empire, which you all know was founded by the Zoroastrian Zionist, King Cyrus, the man who permitted the Jews to return to Jerusalem. . As an Amalekite, I intend to watch the demise of the Empire, as soon as I’ve disposed of any remaining Jews. Teresh, you will accompany Memusnape to the Ministry.

Teresh Malfoy: Whatever you say, My Lord. I am your most faithful servant.

Scene 2

Ahasuerus Scrimgeour: Drink up everyone! We’re celebrating a great success for the ministry.

Hagrid the Chamberlain: What sort of success is that then?

Ahasuerus: We’ve had an upturn of 127% in economic growth for the last quarter, Hagrid.

Hagrid: 127%?  It’s true I got a U in GCSE maths but even I know that’s not a realistic figure. More like 103% if you ask me.

Teresh Malfoy: A U in maths? I doubt you got anything higher than a Z.

Ahasuerus: Well it means I can budget for an overhaul of the marble pillars here at the ministry, and the silver couches can be re-upholstered in gold. It’s so much more comfortable than silver.

Hagrid: Does this mean you’re going to issue a grant to Battersea Home for Orphaned Dragons? I’ve been campaigning for it…

Ahasuerus: Of course Hagrid, of course. After I’ve dealt with the couches…first things first, you know. But now it’s time to call my wife Vashti. She can entertain us with one of her interpretative dances  and her ingenious Vanishing Queen card trick. Memusnape, go and fetch Vashti for me. She’s probably in her office in the Derren Brown Wing.

Memusnape: I’ll go at once, Sir.

Teresh Malfoy: Shall I accompany you? Just to make sure you don’t get lost?

Memusnape: That won’t be necessary.

Hagrid: Ask her to do the vanishing dragon’s egg trick.

exit Memusnape

Teresh: All Hagrid thinks about are dragons. He doesn’t have room in his brain for two different thoughts.

Hagrid: Yes I do. My other thought is that she might make you vanish. (pause) I should not have said that.

Ahasuerus: What’s this Memusnape, back already? You must have flown.

Memusnape: I used a Nimbus 2016.

Ahasuerus: How was it?

Memusnape: In view of our Clean Air Act, I suspect it exceeds safe emission levels.

Ahasuerus: Oh that’s nothing. I have trouble with emissions myself. So where’s Vashti?

Memusnape: I couldn’t persuade her to join us. I told her that you’d specifically requested the Vanishing Queen card trick and she asked me to let you know she’s vanished.

Ahasuerus: What kind of answer is that?

Teresh Malfoy: A very rude one. Allow me to suggest you divorce her and banish her permanently from the Ministry.

Ahasuerus: That sounds a bit draconian.

Teresh: We Malfoys are nothing if not draconian.

Hagrid: Did somebody mention dragons?

Teresh: I can suggest a very suitable replacement. Her name is Dolores. Dolores Ambridge.

Ahasuerus: No Teresh; I’m thinking more along the lines of holding a beauty competition and then I can marry the one who comes first. Or second, if there’s a mix-up, like the one at Miss Universe.

Memusnape: That can easily be arranged Sir. Meanwhile, I suggest you do a party political broadcast, telling all Persian wives to obey their husbands, otherwise it will be the worse for them. No need to mention Vashti’s disobedience. You can just say that she did the vanishing queen trick once too often.

Ahasuerus: Very well Memusnape. Spin, spin, spin, that’s your area of expertise. You should be the one called the Dark Lord.

Scene 3

 Dumblemord: Esther, I want to talk to you about something important.

enter Esther, Harry and Ron

Here I am Uncle Dumblemord. I hope you don’t mind but my friends Harry and ron have come round for a butterbeer and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans.

Harry: Esther’s been helping us with our Potions homework, Sir.

Dumblemord: It looks as if you’ve hurt your head, young man.

Harry: Oh, it’s just an old scar. I got it head-butting an Avada Kedavra curse.

Dumblemord: In Aramaic, we say avra kedavra – I create as I speak – but that’s another story.

Esther: Uncle, I read in the library that the Talmud is against wizardry. Tractate Sanhedrin 67b is a case in point, but there are many more examples…

Ron: That’s just mental, that is.

Esther: This is my friend Ron, by the way. He’s looking for his rat.

Ron: He’s called Galloway. He thinks he’s a cat. That’s the sort of rat he is – mental.

Dumblemord: Now Esther, pay attention. The Chief Minister is looking for a new wife, and now that you’re in the seventh year at Hogwarts and you’ve passed your N.E.W.T.S, you’re old enough to be married.

Ron: Hold on a minute…

Esther:  But I don’t want to.

Dumblemord: There’s more at stake than you realize, Esther. This isn’t about personal happiness but about saving our people from a great danger.

Esther: Then I’ll have to put my personal feelings aside.

Ron: She’s so brave, isn’t she?

Esther: Always the tone of surprise.

Harry: We’ll come with you Esther and look after you. We can get jobs as chamberlains at court. And I’ll bring my invisibility cloak. I’m likely to need it.

Ron: Yes, and I’ll borrow a set of extendable ears from Fred and George. If only I could find that useless rat of mine. I looked for him in Bradford but he isn’t there any more.

Harry: Perhaps he isn’t in Shushan either.

Esther: You could try Tehran. I’m just hoping he hasn’t got his nose stuck in a tight spot again.

Scene 4

Hagrid is with Harry and Ron

Hagrid: It turns out that Ahasuerus Scirmgeour prefers Esther to all the other young ladies. He’s planning to marry her as soon as possible.

Ron: Poor kid! What a miserable life it’ll be!

Harry: At least she’ll be able to get Ahasuerus up to speed with the post-Talmudic tractates. You know she’ll enjoy that.

Hagrid: Meanwhile, that no good chamberlain Teresh Malfoy is planning to poison Ahasuerus’s butterbeer.

Harry and Ron: Oh no!

Harry: That’s terrible. I’m going to tell Dumblemord and he’ll find a way to warn Ahasuerus.

Hagrid: I’ve heard that Teresh works for a master by the name of Vol-au-vent.

Harry: Vol-au-vent?

Hagrid: Shush, don’t repeat it. I should not have said it. But he has some other name, an alias he uses. I can’t think of it right now. Some Amalekite name I haven’t heard before…It’s on the tip of my tongue..

Ron: I’m quite partial to a mushroom vol-au-vent myself.

Hagrid: It’s a name beginning with an X, rhymes with orange…oh yes! Haman.

Harry and Ron: Haman?

Hagrid: Shh don’t even say it. But I’ve heard rumours. They say that a certain person, who has the same name as a popular canapé, has been given a powerful position at the Ministry. Everyone’s afraid to cross him, except for your Dad, Ron. And Esther’s uncle, Dumblemord.

Harry: Well I’m going to send an OWL to Dumblemord right away, warning him about the plot to kill Ahasuerus. (calls) Hedwig, where are you?

enter Hedwig, flapping wings

Hedwig (grumpily).  Another message? My wings are killing me. Haven’t you people heard of email? SMS? What’sApp? What century are you living in?

Harry: It’s the fifth century BCE, Hedwig. And you know we live in a magical world.

puts a message in her beak

Hedwig: So what’s wrong with writing a message on a shard and sending it by camel? That’s what normal people do. (exits, muttering sarcastically) Flap flap flap. Too whit to woo.

Potter at STNL

Scene 5

 Enter Ahasuerus and  Vol-au-vent

Ahasuerus: I’m shocked to hear that there are one or two scoundrels not showing you proper respect, Vol-au-vent. The least you can expect is props from the public.

Vol-au-vent: I’m dealing with it, minister. I’ve already sacked Arthur Weasley for being disloyal. The other character, Dumdlemord, is more problematic. Dumblemord is not even his real name. His name is Mordecai and he’s a Jew. Like all his people, he’s arrogant.

Ahasuerus: Did you say he’s Aragorn? Isn’t that from another…?

Vol-au-vent: He’s arrogant – they all are. They think they’re the chosen people, you know and meanwhile they hold the reins of power, with their secret lobbying, their incessant letters to the BBC and their MOSSAD dolphin.

Ahasuerus: That’s not on, is it Vol-au-vent? It’s just not the right way to go about things.

Vol-au-vent: If you leave it to me, I can sort out the problem for you. I’ll foot the expenses myself and, before long, Shushan, indeed, the whole Persian Empire, will be a Jew-free zone.

Ahasuerus: Like in Tehran? Sounds a good idea. Damn, what’s that creature scuttling past? It looks like a rat. Wasn’t one of the Weasley boys searching for his rat?

Vol-au-vent: Possibly, but I believe that one’s one of mine. He wants to be Mayor of London. I can probably make that happen, if I get my hands on the Elder Wand.

Ahasuerus: You’d better send some owls out to the provinces, to let them know what’s going to happen to the Jews.

Vol-au-vent: I’ve pencilled in 13th Adar as a suitable date to exterminate them and I’ll start preparing the owls. On second thoughts, I think I’ll use email. It’s quicker.

Scene 6

 Hedwig: To whit to woo. I’ve had enough of this. First Esther sends me to Dumblemord, to tell him about the murderous plot cooked up by that good for nothing Amalekite, Vol-au-vent, Haman, or whatever his name is. Dumblemord tears his clothes in grief, and I have to fly back and tell Esther. Esther sends me back to Mordechai with a new pair of stonewash Wranglers and a Charles Tyrrwhit denim shirt. Dumblemord tells me it won’t wash. Rubbish. He can use the short cycle, 30 degrees max.

Dumblemord: Hello Hedwig. Back again? Have you shown Esther Haman’s decree, about destroying the Jews?

Hedwig: If that’s what you put in my beak, she’s got it.

Dumblemord: What about my message, telling her to get an audience with Ahasuerus?

Hedwig: Don’t rush me. Do you know the distance between the Ministry of Magic and your bungalow?

Dumblemord: It’s not much more than a mile, as the crow flies.

Hedwig: As the crow flies?  Are you trying to be offensive?

Dumblemord: No of course not, it’s just a figure of speech.

Hedwig: Well this is the thing. Esther says it’s too dangerous. No one is allowed to approach the chief Minister, on his or her own initiative. There’s a penalty and it involves Azkaban Prison.

Dumblebord: The stakes are high, so of course the dangers are great. Tell Esther that she won’t escape in the Minister’s house, any more than all the other Jews.  Perhaps she’s there for a special reason, to save her people from destruction.

Hedwig: Are you seriously expecting me to say all that? Because you should know there are additional charges if you go above ten words.

Dumblemord: Just tell her: Go to Ahasuerus and plead with him.

Hedwig: To whit to woo. Onward and upward.

Enter Hagrid

Hagrid: ‘Scuse me. I’m Hagrid, one of the chamberlains from the Ministry. Are you Esther’s Uncle Dumblemord? If you are, I’ve got an important message for you. And if you’re not, I should never have started this conversation.

Dumblemord: Yes I’m Dumblemord. I was expecting an owl with a message.

Hagrid: Yes, that’s Hedwig. She’s on strike. All the owls are on strike, in protest against long hours and night work. So the message from Esther is this.

Dumblemord: Yes?

Hagrid: Now I wrote it all down and gave it to Norbert the dragon for safe keeping.

Dumblemord: Yes?

Hagrid: But Norbert sneezed and it went up in flames.

Dumblemord: Oh dear.

Hagrid: Anyhow, the message went something like this: Tell the Jews of Shushan to fast for three days. I, Esther, will also fast for three days, and then I’ll go to see Ahasuerus. And if I perish, I perish.

Dumblemord: Thank you. Message received and understood. How long is the owl strike going on?

Hagrid: It’s just a twenty-four hour fly out but I had to borrow Harry’s invisibility cloak to get past the picket lines. I understand their grievance, mind. Owls have as much right as anyone to weekend pay.

hedwig picket

Scene 6b

Owls (chanting):

Weekend pay is overdue

 Join us now, to whit to woo.

  Fight and don’t throw in the towel

   Weekend pay for every owl.

  Unity is strength

Disunity is weak

All together, flap your wings

And open up your beak

What are we asking? Fair play!

How shall we get it? Fair pay!

When do we want it? This day!

Will we be flying? No way!

No more working till we drop

Owlsploitation has to stop

Tell the bosses, tell the king:

Stand together, wing to wing.

One, two, three, four,

We won’t work for Dumbledore

Two, four, six, eight,

Hogwarts mail will have to wait

Scene 7

 enter Esther with Harry and Ron who are sharing the invisibility cloak

Esther: We ought to have a plan, in case Ahasuerus gets angry and sends me to Azkaban.

Harry: I’ll do an Imperius Curse to make him listen sympathetically. If that doesn’t work, offer him these two tickets for the Quiddich Cup Final.

Ron: How did you get those? Did you use a Summoning Charm?

Harry: No, E-bay. Esther, you look beautiful.

Ron: Poor kid, she’s been fasting for three days!

Esther: I do feel a bit light-headed. Come on, best foot forward. Look, there’s Ahasuerus! He’s seen me! Oh, thank goodness, he’s holding out his golden snitch. That means he’s pleased to see me.

Harry: Imperio!

Ahasuerus: What do you want Esther. Whatever it is, I’ll give it to you.

Ron: Nice one Harry.

Esther: Well, it’s just that I’m planning two dinner parties. I want you to be there and to bring Haman – I mean Vol-au-vent – with you.

Ahasuerus: As I said, I’ll give you whatever you ask, even if it’s the sword of Gryffindor.

Scene 8

enter Vol-au-vent and Dolores Ambridge and a cat

Vol au vent: There’s good news and there’s bad. What do you want first?

Dolores: My little kitty cats don’t like to hear bad news, unless it means someone has to be punished. We love devising punishments, don’t we, Pussikins.

Pussikins: Meow.

Vol au vent: Stop talking to your cat and pay attention.

Dolores: He’s in a teeny weeny bit of a grumpy mood, isn’t he Pussykins? I’ve got a feeling someone’s going to be punished.

Vol au vent: I’m to be the guest of honour at a banquet given by the Minister and his wife. That’s the good news.

Dolores: There’s a good pussy – see if you can bring me a juicy mouse for my potion.

Pussikins: Meow meow.

Vol au vent: But all this means nothing to me, as long as I see Mordechai the Jew here in Shushan, not bowing, eating those Rakuzen’s matzos and donating to the Second Temple Byuilding Fund..

Dolores: Disgusting! Hanging’s too good for him.

Vol au vent: On the contrary, hanging is just the right solution. I’ll have a gallows made, fifty cubits high.

Dolores: Ooh, I like to have something good to watch. Don’t we, Pussikins?

Pussikins: If you say so.

Dolores: The way to go is certainly the gallows way. Which reminds me, Pussikins, a rat would be better for my potion than a mouse. A rat in a hat perhaps.

Pussikins (enthusiastically) Meow!

Scene 9         

Ahasuerus in bed, Memusnape in attendance

Ahasuerus: I wasn’t asleep. I was just resting my eyes for a minute. As it happens, I haven’t had so much as a catnap all night.

Memusnape: I feel your pain, Minister. Could I perhaps bring you a mug of Horlicks? Or perhaps something stronger?

Ahasuerus: What’s the use? Nytol doesn’t work.

Memusnape: Brandy and soda?  A Moroccan meatball wrap?

Ahasuerus: No Memusnape. I just need to be soothed. Read me something boring. You’ll find old copies of the Shushan Chronicle in the ottoman.

Memusnape: Very well. This one’s six months old. (Reads)  Coldest winter for years set to bring months of snow and blizzards. Sub-zero temperatures and violent snow storms could hit as soon as late October…

Ahasuerus: What month is it now?

Memusnape: April.

Ahasuerus: So they got that wrong as usual. What else?

Memusnape (reads) Jew of Shushan saves minister Ahasuerus from assassination attempt. Dumblemord the Jew, also known as Mordechai, was instrumental in uncovering a plot to poison the Chief Minister. The perpetrator, Teresh Malfoy, was sentenced to twelve years in Azkaban, which was commuted to eighteen months by the judge, Barty Crouch.

Ahasuerus. Typical of Barty Crouch! What about the Jew? I suppose he was rewarded?

Memusnape: Not as yet.

Ahasuerus: I’ll have to do something for him. Knighthood, you think? Or will CBE cover it?

Memusnape: Privy council?

Ahasuerus:  No point. It’s full of all sorts of beardy weirdies and fellow travellers these days. It had better be some new form of honour. I’ll think about it in the morning, if only you’ll stop nattering and let me go back to sleep.

Memusnape: Yes Minister but dawn has broken and you have an appointment with Vol-au-vent in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement.

Ahasuerus: All right, bring him to me. I read a strange rumour about Vol-au-vent on Twitter last night. They said Vol-au-vent isn’t his real name.

Memusnape: He sometimes uses Voldemort.

Ahasuerus: No, it wasn’t that, something more Amalekite, like Agag or Quirrell. I’ll remember in a minute.

Memusnape goes out

Ahasuerus (speaking to himself): How can I forget something I knew just a few hours ago. I hope I’m not the victim of one of Gilderoy Lockhart’s memory charms. What was that name? Shalmaneser? Livingstone? Antipasto? Well, it doesn’t matter, since everyone knows him as Vol-au-vent.

Enter Vol-au-vent

Ahasuerus: Ah, Haman! Bright and early I see. While you’re here, I need to ask your advice. What do you think should be done to reward a man I want to honour?

Vol-au-vent: Invest him with special powers. Let him ride on a state-of-the-art broomstick, a Firebolt for example and all the people below will bow.

Ahasuerus: Very well Vol-au-vent, see to it yourself as you’re so reliable. The man I’m rewarding is Dumblemord the Jew. You probably know him by sight.

Vol-au-vent (hisses): Only Parseltongue has enough swear words for this sort of situation.


Scene 10

 Image of Hogwarts refectory. Esther, Ahasuerus and Vol-au-vent are dining. Harry and Ron are present under the invisibility cloak.

Ron: This bread is fantastic. Where did you get it Esther.

Esther: I baked it myself. I used the recipe from the Mishnah, order Zeraim, tractate Challah. The only problem was, you’re supposed to give one twenty-fourth of the loaf to a priest, as an offering, I mean a cohen of course, not a Zoroastrian priest, and the Talmud Yerushalmi, tractate Taanit 23b, makes a connection between the challah offering and the twelve spies…

Ron: Too much information.

Harry: It’s getting a bit hot under this invisibility cloak, and my scar’s giving me a bit of trouble. I feel as if I’m in the presence of evil.

Ron: Have some more challah, mate. It’s anything but evil.

Esther: Actually, there’s something I have to say to Ahasuerus. Have your wands ready boys – it’s going to be a bumpy night.

Ahasuerus: That was a fine spectacle today, when Dumblemord flew over the Ministry on a Firebolt. Don’t you think so Vol-au-vent?

Vol-au-vent (hissing). Hiss shish spritz kishkas

Ahasuerus: Ah, you’re still speaking in your native tongue. I get the gist of it, but there are words I don’t recognize, probably neologisms.

Vol-au-vent: Squish pish fish. Hiss.

Ahasuerus: I couldn’t disagree. Esther, what is the thing you wanted to ask me?

Harry: Imperio!

Ahasuerus: It shall be granted to you, even if it’s a seat in the Wizengamot.

Esther: Ooh, that is tempting. It’s so male-dominated at present. But no, what I want is this: only my life. There’s someone close to you who wants to destroy my people and me.

Ahasuerus: Who would dare do such a thing? Give me a name.

Esther: The adversary and enemy, this wicked Haman.

Ahasuerus: Who?

Esther: Haman.

Ahasuerus: You mean Vol-au-vent here? I always suspected that his name was Haman.

Ron: I think you’ll find it’s hashtag Haman.

Ahasuerus: What do you have to say to this Hashtag? No! Don’t answer! I’m just going outside and I may be some time. I’ll expect you to have an answer ready when I come back.

Vol-au-vent (approaching Esther) It will take more than a schoolgirl to defeat me. Do you think you, a mudblood, can have any power over me? I possess the most powerful  wand in Shushan. Hundreds of death eaters are in my service and that’s not even mentioning the Weasley boy’s rat. Avada…

Harry and Ron together: Expelliarmus!

Ahasuerus returns

Ahasuerus: What’s going on here? Is he daring to attack Esther here in the Ministry of Magic? Arrest him immediately.

Enter Hagrid

Hagrid (to Vol-au-vent): Haman, you great prune. I’m escorting you to Azkaban. I have to caution you that anything you say can be given in evidence against you.

Vol-au-vent: Hiss fizz Swiss crisps.

Hagrid: Sorry, you’re going to have to spell that for me. You can tell me all about it on the way to Azkaban.



Scene 11

 (Esther, Harry, Ron, Hagrid)

Hagrid: What a battle that was! If it hadn’t been for Dumblemord’s Army and the Order of the Nudniks, we would have been hard pressed to keep the Death Eaters out of Shushan.

Harry: If it hadn’t been for Esther, Haman would have achieved his aim of destroying all the Jews in the Persian Empire.

Ron: Now he’s imprisoned in Azkaban, and long may he stay there.

Esther: Dumblemord says that we didn’t do it all by ourselves. We had help from another quarter.

Hagrid: Talking of Dumblemord, I hear that Ahasuerus has plans for his promotion.

Esther: Really?

Harry: Great news!

Ron: Tell us more.

Hagrid: Ah, I should not have said that. It’s all still under wraps. But I’ve started so I’ll finish. Ahasuerus wants Dumblemord to be the head of a big  new Talmud Torah and Yeshiva opening in Shushan. It’s going to be called Loxwarts, lox instead of hog you see, to make it sound a bit more kosher.

Enter Hedwig

Hedwig: Whew! To whit to woo. A hundred and twenty-seven provinces and all in one shift!  I’m not doing that again without double overtime. All they’ve offered me is time off in lieu. To whit to woo. Dumblemord’s to blame.

Esther: Why, Hedwig, what’s happened?

Hedwig: He sent me to all the Jews in the provinces, near and far, to tell them to keep the days of 14 and 15 Adar every year, as days of feasting and gladness, throughout the generations, so that the memory of these days of Purim will never perish.

Esther: Oh well remembered Hedwig!

Hedwig: You’d remember it too if you had to repeat the same message 127 times.

Esther: I’m going to write down all these events in a book and in years to come, people will still read it, and turn it into a successful film franchise. I’ll call it Esther Grainger and the Order of the Nudniks.

Ron: Why don’t you name it after Harry? It has a better ring to it: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Ramat Gan.

Harry: As it’s about Purim, you could use my Hebrew name and call it Hymie Potter.

Hagrid: Yeah! Hymie Potter and Norbert the Dragon!

Ron: What about Hymie Potter and the Half-Cooked Blintz?

Esther: No. No, I’ve made up my mind. It’ll just be called the Scroll of Esther.

Hagrid: Oh that’s very nice.

Ron: I like it.

Harry: Yes that sounds just right.

Hedwig: You think? Why not the Scroll of Hedwig? I’m the one doing the wing work around here. To whit to woo. I’m the one who gets zapped by a Death Eater in Chapter 5 of The Deathly Hallows. Knocked off my perch, like a Norwegian blue parrot. I dunno. Being an owl is a dog’s life.

Hagrid: Cheer up Hedwig. It’s Purim after all. Drink your butterbeer and chag sameach.