mosaicMeet The Rabbiskehila
A warm welcome from Mosaic
Mosaic Liberal
HEMS
Mosaic Reform
Meet The Rabbis
Catch up with our monthly magazine

This Shabbat

Mosaic is a unique Jewish Community - in that we offer at least three weekly and festival services from the Liberal, Masorti and Reform traditions. After our services we get together for joint kiddushim, and offer study sessions before or after some of our services.

Our services include Liberal, Masorti and Reform weekly and Festival services and children and family services such as Torah Tots and Shabbat Shira, and Alternative services such as our Friday night contemplative services, interfaith activities (such as our Shabbat at Wembley Central Mosque), and themed Shabbat services - Rock shabbat, anniversary of VE day, supporting social action projects such as Red Nose Day.

Shabbat Commentary

27/28 Apr: Shabbat  Acharei-Kedoshim comes in 8:03 pm,  ends  9:12 pm

Probably the best known verse in this week’s reading is: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.”  Great line, though, what exactly does it mean?  What does “love” mean, in practical terms, and, who exactly is our neighbour?  Next door?  The whole block?  The whole neighbourhood?  The people who sit near us in shul?  How do we express our love?  The most obvious question of all, what if we happen to have a neighbour who is an obnoxious boor?

The preceding verse to “love your neighbour” is “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. Reprove, seriously criticise your fellow, and do not bear guilt because of him,” gives us a possible explanation.  Perhaps we “love” our neighbours by not letting bad feelings build up. We need to let off steam if someone has offended or hurt us — feelings eventually lead to hate.  The key to pulling this off is – communication.   Of course it’s not easy to know when the right time to speak up is.  Loving is hard.  Criticising can be painful.  Who is our brother, who is our neighbour, who is our responsibility?  I think these verses together remind us that we need to be connected, positively to everyone around us.  Most of us are are still working on getting it right.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

20/21 Apr: Shabbat  Tazria-Metzora comes in 7:51 pm,  ends  8:58 pm

The opening paragraph of this weeks double parsha, Tazria-Metzorah deals with a mother who gives birth, and the required period of Tum’ah/Impurity that she undergoes. The parsha also mentions in a short verse that the brit takes place on the 8th day.  Our rabbis learn from this that even if the 8th day is Shabbat the bris takes place.

Normally the Shabbat law would dictate that one does not do a surgical procedure on Shabbat.  So why does the circumcision take precedence over Shabbat ?  Biblically, both Shabbat and circumcision are considered an “Ot” – a sign of the covenantal relationship between God and the children of Israel.

Since it is the brit milah that places males into the covenantal relationship in the first place, it makes sense (meaning you can’t observe Shabbat if you are not made Jewish with a bris to begin with)  that a brit milah supersedes Shabbat and is permitted to be observed on this day.

Are baby girls just born Jewish?    Many Jewish communities have also had ways, that date as far back as the Middle Ages, of welcoming their daughters into the covenant with celebrations. However these were more often folk customs than religious rituals per se, and rarely had the same sense of spiritual weight or importance as brit milah.

After a few decades of witnessing Brit Bat or Simchat Bat (Bris/covenant welcoming for a girl) ceremonies, Deborah Nussbaum Cohen has written “Celebrating Your New Jewish Daughter: Creating Jewish Ways to Welcome Baby Girls into the Covenant (Jewish Lights“.  It contains an exploration of the themes and issues related to simchat bat, and a complete collection of blessings, prayers, readings, and songs to choose from, as well as sample ceremonies. Today, welcoming ceremonies for Jewish girls have become so popular that in many circles they have become an expected – if not yet universally practised – rite of passage.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

13/14 Apr: Shabbat  Machar Chodesh (Shemini) comes in 7:39 pm,  ends  8:45 pm

Parshat Shemini is difficult in that it relates the story of the sons of Aaron who die after offering up “strange fire” to God.  The words of Conservative Rabbi Shai Held are interesting and meaningful.

This is my edited version of Rabbi Held’s dvar Torah:

“Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘This is what the Lord meant when He said:  Through those who are near to Me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified’ ” (10:3).  Moses appears to be saying that God will demonstrate God’s holiness through the priests, “whether by their cooperation with [God] or, as in the present instance, by punishing them.”  How does Aaron respond?  The Torah gives us only two words:  “Va-yidom Aharon” – meaning, according to the conventional translation, “Aaron was silent” (10:3)

But what if Aaron wasn’t silent at all?  Bible scholar Baruch Levine suggests that there are actually two separate meanings to the Biblical Hebrew root d-m-m.  The first, more common meaning is “to be still” – and as we have seen, this is how biblical commentators have almost always understood the term va-yidom when applied to Aaron:  “And Aaron was silent.”  The second, less familiar meaning is “to mourn, to moan.”

On Levine’s interpretation, the Torah tells us that “Aaron reacted in the customary manner; he moaned or wailed and was about to initiate formal mourning and lamentation for his two lost sons.”  The whole story now appears in a very different and more subtle light:  Aaron moans and cries out because the agony of a father upon the loss of his children is irrepressible.  But Moses forbids him and his remaining sons from initiating formal rites of mourning, i.e. bearing their heads and rending their garments.  Instead, he assures them, the people will mourn on their behalf (10:6).

How are we to understand Moses’ conduct?  Faced with the sudden, shocking, and seemingly inexplicable death of Aaron’s two sons, Moses is at a loss.  He turns to his elder brother and offers a theological explanation:  “Through those who are near to Me I will show Myself holy, and before all the people I will be glorified.”  Aaron’s response is extremely telling:  He goes right on mourning.  Moses responds by re-affirming a theological truth he believes can help him (and Aaron) make sense of this unendurable turn of events.  But Aaron will have none of it.

Implicitly, he reminds Moses – and us – that there are moments when theological explanations, whether compelling on their own terms or not, simply have no place.  When a father stares into the abyss and sees two of his children lying dead before him, the first response is not theology but grief.  Moses may need to assure himself that his world has not fully fallen apart, but in sharing his explanation of Nadav and Avihu’s death, he fails to make adequate space for Aaron’s utter devastation.  So Aaron, rightly, ignores Moses’ words.  Emotionally at least, his [reaction] is far wiser than Moses’ speech.

 

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

6/ 7 Apr: Shabbat  and Pesach (Day 8) comes in 7:28 pm,  ends  8:32 pm

The Rebbe of Ger once pointed out that the ‘four sons’ of the Haggadah can be understood as representing four generations.  The wise son is the immigrant generation who still lives the traditions of the ‘home’. The rebellious son is the second generation, forsaking Judaism for social integration. The ‘simple’ son is the third generation, confused by the mixed messages of religious grandparents and irreligious parents.  But the child who cannot even ask the question is the fourth generation. For the child of the fourth generation no longer has memories of Jewish life in its full intensity.

At first I liked the creative idea that the four sons can represent generations of Jewish people.  But then I thought,  this interpretation is missing something.   I would add one more generation — let’s call her, the fifth daughter.   The fifth daughter rebels against her parents’ Judaism that had lost all intensity.   She seeks the spiritual meaning,  the intellectual challenge and attachment to community that Judaism offers.   Jewish generations have always worked in cycles of deep Jewish attachment and detachment.   Some leave Judaism, but others return.  The four (or five!) children, for me, represent the fact that all types of Jews sit together at the seder table.   All are welcome and all are needed.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

30 Mar/ 1 Apr: Shabbat  and Pesach (Days 1 & 2) comes in 7:16 pm, Day 2 ends  8:22 pm

The Torah places commands that the Passover holiday should occur only in the spring. At this time of year, the first sheaf of newly cut barley was offered up as a sacrifice. It has been suggested that the elimination of Chametz which Jews undertake before Passover, may have originated as a precaution against infecting the new crop.  Thus, Chag Ha-Matzot (the feast of unleavened bread), which is a name for Passover, may have originally carried this agricultural meaning.

Chag Ha-Aviv, or Spring Festival, is another name for the festival of Pesach – and it is suggested that this is the proper season for deliverance. The blossoming of life is easily tied to the major existential requirement for a full life —  liberty.  The Torah envisions a world in which moral and physical states coincide, when nature and history, in harmony, confirm the triumph of life.  The rebirth of earth after winter is nature’s indication that life is triumphant: spring is nature’s analogue to redemption.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

23/24 Mar: Shabbat Hagodol (Tzav) comes in 6:04 pm, goes out 7:07 pm

According to Parshat Tzav, the priests’ first task of the day was to remove the ashes from the offering sacrificed the previous day. (Leviticus 6:3)   Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch suggests that this is a constant reminder that service of the new day is connected to the service of the previous day.  After all, the ashes from the remains of yesterday’s sacrifice had to be removed before the new sacrifice could be offered.

Another thought:  It is specifically the priest who begins the day by removing the ashes — to illustrate the importance of his remaining involved with the mundane. Too often, those who rise to important lofty positions separate themselves from the people and withdraw from the everyday menial tasks. The Torah, through these laws teaches it shouldn’t be this way.

 

 

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

16/17 Mar: Shabbat Hachodesh (Vayikra) comes in 5:52 pm, goes out 6:55 pm

In Parshat Vayikra, we learn of the many sacrifices of animals and grain; these were familiar to all of the people of the ancient world.  Most societies, however, used these sacrifices to propitiate and “feed” their Gods, who would become angry and destructive if they weren’t fed.  God, in contrast, turned sacrifice into communication, with the assistance of the Levitical priests, the Kohanim.

Some offerings were to be made, either daily or upon certain occasions, by the Kohanim on behalf of the entire community; many, however, were brought as needed by members of the community.  Both gratitude and repentance could be expressed through the language of sacrifice.

Rather than an expression of fear, sacrifice became a mode of communication.  That alone was a major step toward knowing God.  Later would come words, prayers — as the prophet Hosea said, prayers are “the sacrifices/bulls of our lips” (Hosea 14:2).

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

2/3 Mar: Ki Tissa comes in 5:28 pm, goes out 6:31 pm

In Parashat Ki Tissa, Moses pleads, “Har-eni nah et k’vodecha – Let me behold Your presence!” God’s response is really strange. “I cannot show you my face, but you can see my back.”  What is this all about ?  Maimonides says that God has no body and that no bodily attributes can be attributed to him. He has neither front nor back and that such expressions in the Torah and in the books of the Prophets are all metaphorical and rhetorical.

As I understand it, God is telling Moses there no way you can see me straight on – that’s what God means by ‘His face’.  What you can see is my effect on the world – that is what he calls ‘His back.’  I think God was teaching Moses that same lesson. There are things in this world about which physical attributes, such as place, just do not apply. “Where is God” is not the appropriate question. The question we must ask is “When is God?”

Rabbi Harold Kushner said that the difference between theology and religion is like the difference between reading a menu and eating a good meal. Theology is when we talk about God; religion is when we feel God’s presence in our lives.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

23/24 Feb: Shabbat Tetzaveh comes in 5:15 pm, goes out 6:19 pm

In Parashat Tetzaveh, Moses is told to slaughter a ram, and take some of its blood and put it on the ridge of Aaron’s right ear and on the ridges of his son’s right ears, and on the thumbs of their right hands, and on the big toes of their right feet… (Ex 29: 20)

These three parts of the Kohen’s body, the ear, the hand, and the foot, must be perfect for the priest and leader of Israel — but not just in the physical sense.  The ear must hear the cry of the children of Israel, to know and to discern their problems and needs.  The hands, must not just take the priestly gifts, but they must also reach out to others and to give blessings.  And the feet must hasten to help and improve all those who request help.

All leaders must be in touch with the people to be able to understand their needs and concerns.  Leaders must be responsive to the people. The priests (and rabbis) have the additional challenge to be both responsive to the people and to God.

 

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.


Shabbat Commentary

16/17 Feb: Shabbat Terumah comes in 5:02 pm, goes out 6:06 pm

In Terumah, G-d commands the Israelites to build a portable Mishkan, a movable sanctuary for worshipping and dialoguing with G-d. The instructions for this temporary dwelling place are some of the most descriptive and precise details found in the Torah. The detailed blueprints for this grand structure makes it clear how important a dwelling place for G-d truly is.

We, as Jews, need a place to connect with G-d.  The Mishkan was a unique place of the Israelites, to serve them as they journeyed to the land of milk and honey, and to be a place for counsel and comfort during wars against foreign nations, until its permanent structure would be housed in Jerusalem.

As Ramban notes, the people need this physical representation of the brit, the covenant, so that the revelation given to Moses at Mount Sinai could continue. G-d wants the people to be in dialogue and relationship with Him — and this takes place at the Mishkan.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman.