Words for Rosh HaShanah by Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi

September 19, 2019
The shofar has no reason.
But it contains a sign: Wake up! (Maimonides)
If you want a livable society there has to be legislation. Because without rules the theory of people living together in peace is not going to work. Ideally this would not have to be necessary, but our society is far from ideal. And so, we see that in every country, in every city and in every group in which people live together rules are made to make the society livable. Because if we wouldn’t...
But it is not as simple as that. Because laws made by people are subject to change and can lead to quite the opposite of livability. Over the years laws are adapted, changed. What is criminal and unacceptable in country A, is ridiculous and exaggerated in country B.
Some time ago we received a journalist from Moscow as a guest. We were debating during the shabbat meal and since he sounded pretty pro-Russian, I asked him how he feels about the oligarchs who because of their large financial strength more or less define the law. In my point of view rather corrupt. But it is accepted and these multimillionaires are treated with a chronic respect. I find that difficult to accept!
The journalist looked at me a bit sheepishly and instead of answering he asked a counter-question, which is a good Jewish custom. When I got off the train at the Central Station in Amsterdam, he began talking, I saw men selling drugs under the police’s condoning eyes. Drugs that can only come onto the market through exploitation and degrading trade. How can your Dutch people, was his question, accept this just like that?
The journalist was right: what is acceptable in society A, even instinctively, is corrupt in society B. And so, it is a good thing that societies make laws to create a livable climate, but there is also a risk attached to this man-made legislation. Because when man starts to determine what is right and what is wrong, we have a problem. Are extramarital relations acceptable? Years ago, that was not done, but nowadays in our so-called modern civilized society ... We stand up for women’s rights and rightly so! But we use these same women as inducement to focus attention to a certain product. And we accept the exploitation of imported women who have nowhere left to go, female slaves!
Judaism knows three kinds of laws: (1) Laws we obey to commemorate certain events. During the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkoth) we live in a sukkah to commemorate the forty years in which our ancestors lived in sukkot after the Exodus from Egypt. (2) Laws that make sense, like the ban on stealing. This kind of legislation must exist to avoid chaos.
But Judaism has a third kind of law: Chukim (decrees). Laws that transcend rational reason. These laws are obeyed exclusively because God expects this from us.
“This is a requirement of the law that the Lord has commanded” (Numbers 19:2). And then the text continues and presents the completely incomprehensible legislation of the red heifer. With the ashes of the red heifer the unclean is cleansed and the priest performing the ceremony becomes unclean because of the action!? It doesn’t make sense.
But apart from this inconceivable legislation: why does the text say “This is the law of the Torah?” It should have said “This is the law of the red heifer!” But because this incomprehensible law is called the law of the Torah, the Torah declares that reason cannot be the basis of any law. Every law, also the law we do understand, has to be obeyed because G’d desires that of us and not because we understand it. And then such a law is independent of the trend that dominates society at that particular moment. Because it may be that we find some laws rational and comprehensible, but with regard to standards and values there is no logic.
What was completely unacceptable yesterday is one hundred per cent normal tomorrow!
The Halacha is the collective body of Jewish religious laws which is full of logic, taking into account circumstances and situations, it is absolutely not black or white, and constantly moving. But at the same time, it is plain that man is too small to determine the law himself. Standards and values are fluctuating all the time. What was totally unacceptable fifty years ago, is normal today. And what we find normal today, our grandchildren will experience as primitive and incomprehensible.
But why looking at ancestors and grandchildren? My Russian journalist cannot comprehend the policy on drugs in our country and it is beyond my comprehension that in Russia oligarchs are hoisted up into the air, while we live in the same age.
And that is precisely the message of the shofar.
A message reaching far beyond legislation.
Maimonides teaches a vital lesson for life at the beginning of the New Year:

  1. There is no logical reason why we should sound the shofar on Rosh Hashana
  2. But there is a sign hidden in the shofar: wake up, repent.

Primarily we have to realize that life is incomprehensible, we need to accept!
And when we are thoroughly aware of that, only then we start to try and understand as much as possible!
With this thought we start the New Year.
A Shanah Tovah, a good and healthy 5780
Binyomin Jacobs, chief rabbi

Additional Articles

Labour councillor under investigation over pictures of him in an Adolf Hitler costume for children's hospice fancy dress fundraiser

Labour has launched an inquiry into a councillor pictured at a fundraiser dressed as Adolf Hitler.

Photographs of Seve Gomez-Aspron show him wearing a German Army uniform, complete with swastika, and a fake moustache.

They were taken at a fancy dress dinner in aid of Claire House Hospice, which supports seriously and terminally ill children, in 2009 – around three years before he was elected to St Helens Council in Merseyside.

Mr Gomez-Aspron, 33, who represents the Newton-le-Willows ward, said the outfit was inspired by Mel Brooks' satirical comedy The Producers. He described the decision to wear it as 'clumsy'.

The councillor told the Liverpool Echothe photos were taken in his early twenties, before he was a Labour Party member, adding: 'I have matured and learnt a lot since then, and it goes without saying that I would not do this now.

'I know how this could be seen as insensitive and how it could cause hurt and offence.

'That was not at all my intention and I sincerely apologise.

'I have part-Jewish ancestry and I recently visited Israel to commemorate those killed in the Holocaust and the war.'

Labour confirmed it had launched an inquiry but said it was unable to comment on individual cases due to data protection issues.

The scandal is not Mr Gomez-Aspron's first.

Earlier this month, Merseyside Police confirmed they had received a complaint about a tweet he posted referring to the 'Aryan race'.

Officers concluded no offence had been committed.

In December 2017, he was censured by the council's standards committee after insinuating residents were 'halfwits' on Facebook.


The article was published on mail online

Meeting with H.E. Madam Ilga Šuplinska, Minister for Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia

Earlier last week, on 6 November 2019, the European Jewish Association and our partners from the Action and Protection Foundation /Hungary/ and Association “Shamir” /Latvia/ have come together to further promote the ongoing Europe-wide initiative on the European Curriculum and Textbook Project against Antisemitism. This time the meeting brought us to the Gem of the Baltics – Rīga, the enchanting capital of the Republic of Latvia.

At the meeting, where the EJA has been represented by Mihails Vorobeičiks-Mellers (Political Affairs Adviser), the APF by Kálmán Szalai (Secretary) and Shamir by Rabbi Menahems Barkahans (Chairman) and Jūlija Tereščenko (Project Manager), we have had a chance to meet with H.E. Madam Ilga Šuplinska, Minister for Education and Science of the Republic of Latvia, and members of her staff.

The meeting took place at a beautiful Jugendstil building constructed back in 1911, which the Ministry occupies since 1938. Besides the earlier Hungarian experience, the system of education in Latvia has been discussed, particularly the various curricular and extra-curricular initiatives and programmes already implemented or currently planned by the educational authorities and other entities, such as NGOs, and which are related to different aspects of Jewish studies in the country, and thus the project’s area of topical coverage.

Differently from other meetings, this one has taken place in two languages – English and Latvian. As a result, the overall tone of the conversation became somewhat more personal, with a variety of first-hand experiences having been brought up by the EJA’s representative, taken from his own school years as well as Jewish studies back home. In turn, Rabbi Barkahan has described Shamir’s very active long-time work and accomplishments in the latter field.

In the course of the discussion, several areas of possible cooperation have been identified, including on the composition of new academic materials for school pupils. Moreover, interest in potential event collaboration both in Latvia and abroad has been indicated.

We are deeply grateful to H.E. Minister Šuplinska and the Ministry of Education and Science for the interest, time and the opportunity to hold this important discussion, not to mention for being such welcoming hosts. We very much look forward to further contacts on the present initiative and other subjects of common interest and concern.

EUROPEAN JEWISH ASSOCIATION IN EUROPE-WIDE CAMPAIGN TO HOUSE JEWISH REFUGEES FROM UKRAINE

Initiatives connects fleeing Ukrainian Jews with Jewish homes across the continent for temporary shelter. Association is also providing pick up of clothing.
As the war in Ukraine enters a second week, Europe is witnessing a huge influx of refugees fleeing Ukraine towards the West. Naturally many Ukrainian Jews are included in this surge to safety.
The Brussels-based European Jewish Association (EJA), representing hundreds of communities across the continent, has launched a Europe-wide campaign to temporarily provide homes, food and clothing to hundreds of Jewish families whose lives have been torn-apart and up-ended by the conflict in Ukraine.
The appeal has gone out to Jewish Communities from Lisbon to Lublin, Bucharest to Bordeaux and everywhere in between.
Speaking after launching the campaign, EJA Chairman Rabbi Menachem Margolin said,
“The history of the Jewish people is one of displacement, either because of pogrom or war. We are only too aware of what it means to be forced to up-and-leave at a moment’s notice. In almost every one of our communities you will hear such stories. From generations ago from Spain or Galicia, from the war, to emigrating to Israel. I say this because we are especially attuned to these catastrophes. And because we are so attuned, we are pre-programmed to help our Jewish neighbours, just as we always have.
“I have faith that this campaign will deliver. Since the war started Jews from all over Europe have been getting in touch with us to see what can be done to help their Ukrainian Jewish brothers and sisters in need. We are providing them with the vehicle to do just that, by offering shelter, food and clothing to those who left in a hurry, often with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Greetings for the Upcoming Rosh HaShanah by President of the Montenegro, H.E. Mr. Milo Đukanović

Additional Communities
United Kingdom
Ukraine
Schweiz
Switzerland
Spain
Slovakia
Serbia
Russia
Romania
Portugal
Poland