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Family Feeling
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I argued in Covenant and Conversation Kedoshim that Judaism is more than an ethnicity. It is a call to holiness. In one sense, however, there is an important ethnic dimension to Judaism. It is best captured in the 1980s joke about an advertising campaign in New York. Throughout the city there were giant posters with the slogan, […]
Holy Times
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The parsha of Emor contains a chapter dedicated to the festivals of the Jewish year. There are five such passages in the Torah. Two, both in the book of Exodus (Ex. 23:14-17; 34:18, 22-23), are very brief. They refer only to the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot. They do not specify their dates, […]
In Search of Jewish Identity
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The other day I was having a conversation with a Jewish intellectual and the question came up, as it often does, as to the nature of Jewish identity. What are we? What makes us Jewish? This has been one of the persisting debates about Jewish life ever since the nineteenth century. Until then, people by […]
The Courage to Admit Mistakes
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Some years ago I was visited by the then American ambassador to the Court of St James, Philip Lader. He told me of a fascinating project he and his wife had initiated in 1981. They had come to realise that many of their contemporaries would find themselves in positions of influence and power in the […]
The Power of Shame
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On 20 December 2013, a young woman, Justine Sacco, was waiting in Heathrow airport before boarding a flight to Africa. To while away the time she sent a Tweet in questionable taste about the hazards of catching AIDS. There was no immediate response, and she boarded the plane unaware of the storm that was about […]
The Eighth Day
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Our parsha begins with childbirth and, in the case of a male child, “On the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised” (Lev. 12:3). This became known not just as milah, “circumcision”, but something altogether more theological, brit milah, “the covenant of circumcision”. That is because even before Sinai, almost at the […]
The Dangers of Enthusiasm
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Excavating the history of words can sometimes be as revealing as excavating the ruins of an ancient city. Take the English word “enthusiasm”. Today we see this as something positive. One dictionary defines it as “a feeling of energetic interest in a particular subject or activity and an eagerness to be involved in it.” People […]
Understanding Sacrifice
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One of the most difficult elements of the Torah and the way of life it prescribes is the phenomenon of animal sacrifices – for obvious reasons. First, Jews and Judaism have survived without them for almost two thousand years. Second, virtually all the prophets were critical of them, not least Jeremiah in this week’s haftarah.1 None […]
God’s Hidden Call – A Thought about Purim
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Hazal, our Sages, asked a strange question in the Gemora of Chullin (39b): Esther min haTorah minayin? “Where do we find a hint in the Torah to the book of Esther?”, the last book of Tanakh to be canonised. The Gemora answers with the words, v’anochi haster astir panai, “I will hide my face on […]
The Pursuit of Meaning
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The American Declaration of Independence speaks of the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Recently, following the pioneering work of Martin Seligman, founder of Positive Psychology, there have been hundreds of books on happiness. Yet there is something more fundamental still to the sense of a life well-lived, namely, meaning. The […]