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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

22 Sept : Haazinu  comes in 6:47 pm,  ends  7:46 pm

Listen, O heavens, let me speak;

Let the earth hear the words I utter!

May my discourse come down as the rain,

My speech distil as the dew,

Like showers on young growth, Like droplets on the grass.

The singer Craig Taubman, in an essay in The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary, notes that the key to this Parashah is its first word, which means “give ear,” or “listen.”  He writes, “My Aunt Ruth would say, ‘God gave us two ears and one mouth so we would listen twice as much as we speak.’. . . Haazinu reminds us to listen”.  The Israelites are commanded to memorise this poem so that in the future, when they find themselves in exile and their lives and history seem at their lowest point, they can listen to it and be reminded that God will not forget them.

I think there is also importance in the metaphor of words coming down like rain, showers and dew.   So often when we receive wisdom from friends and loved ones we are unable to act on the advice immediately.  It takes time for the words to settle within us — for them to take root — and to help us grow.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

15 Sept : Vayelech-Shuva  comes in 7:03 pm,  ends  8:03 pm

Vayelech is a short Parashah that is seldom read on its own. In most years, it partners with Parashat Nitzavim, which tends to get more attention because of its famous statement about the Torah: “It is not in the heavens” (Deut. 30:12). Often taken as a statement that it is for humans to interpret what the Torah means, and not to wait for heavenly voices or engage in other sorts of divination to get rulings upon it, in reality, this statement is part of a longer narrative that runs throughout the Book of Deuteronomy, and whose practicalities are summed up in Parashat Vayelech.

God could have chosen to hold human hands forever. In every generation, God would need to find a human willing and able to engage in the intense, exhausting process of engagement with God. But God did not choose to keep the Israelites on a leash. God’s purpose was to teach the people to lead ethical, God-centred lives, and to God this meant that they were required to engage in proper relationships with each other.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

31 Aug/1 Sept : Ki Tavo comes in 7:35 pm,  ends  8:36 pm

Ki Tavo contains three major segments that continue the review of the law that Moses began in Ki Tetze. First, he tells the Jewish people that when they enter and settle the land, they are to bring the first fruits as sacrifices and details the ceremony for doing so.

In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides states that this is because “the first of everything is to be devoted to the Lord; and by doing so we accustom ourselves … to limit our appetites for eating and our desire for property.”

Jews in ancient times, after a long pilgrimage to Jerusalem, would bring an offering to the Temple and proclaim, “I have come to the Land which the Lord swore to our fathers to give to them,” and then present their baskets to the priests, saying: ” …..A wandering Aramean was my father, and he went down to Egypt and sojourned there, few in number; and he became there a nation, great, mighty and populous…” (Deuteronomy 26: 3-5).

This verse should sound familiar, because it’s found in the Passover Haggadah and is a part of the narrative of the Exodus. Nechama Leibowitz, the late Israeli Bible commentator, points out that, just as in the Passover Haggadah, we learn that in “every generation every Jew is obliged to see him/herself as if s/he had gone out of Egypt,” so at the time of the offering of the first fruits, “every generation is to also regard itself brought to the Land of Israel by God.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

24/25 Aug: Ki Tetze comes in 7:50 pm,  ends  8:53 pm

“All is fair in love and war.” Not so in Judaism.  It’s precisely when soldiers can take advantage of the weak and the captured that the Torah demands that they conduct themselves with the greatest moral fortitude.

Note the law of a woman captured during war. (Deuteronomy 21:10-14) The Torah tells us that such a woman is to shave her hair, let her nails grow and weep for her father and mother a full month.  Only after that process, the Torah says, “she shall be a wife to you.”

A classic difference emerges between Nachmanides and Maimonides. Nachmanides believes that after the thirty-day period, the captured woman can be forced to convert and marry her captor. Still, for Nachmanides, during the thirty days, the soldier must observe firsthand how the captured woman is in deep mourning. Clearly Nachmanides sees this law as the Torah doing all that it can in order to evoke feelings of sympathy towards the captured woman in the hope that ultimately her plight would be heard and she would be freed.

Maimonides takes it much further. The thirty days of mourning were introduced as a time period in which the soldier tries to convince the captured woman to convert and marry. After the thirty days, however, the woman has the right to leave her captor. Under no circumstances can she be forced to convert or marry.  Maimonides tells us that Jewish law prohibits taking advantage of the weak. Indeed, the test of morality is how one treats the most vulnerable.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

17/18 Aug: Shabbat Shoftim comes in 8:05 pm,  ends  9:09 pm

Parashat Shoftim discusses many important aspects of what the future Israelite civil society will look like –  the need for a court system that will function fairly and impartially, how the society’s religious functionaries are to be organized and supported; and how to conduct the wars that would be inevitable in that time and place.

Another issue that Moshe discusses is the thorny matter of who will actually lead this society.  Moshe relates: “When you enter the land that Hashem your God is giving you, and you have taken it and have settled in it – if you should say  ‘I will put over me a king, like all the other peoples around me,’ you shall certainly place over you a king, chosen by God from among your people” (Deut. 17:14-15).  Scholars over the ages have argued over whether Israel was supposed to appoint a king, or whether they could choose to do so if they wanted.

This kingship will be far from the unbridled exercise of power that other monarchs in the region enjoyed, however: “[The king] must not keep many horses and must not return the people to Egypt to add to his horses, because Hashem has told you to never more return on that road.  And he must not have many wives, so that his heart will not go astray, and must not have too much gold and silver” (Deut. 15-17).  He cannot have what most would consider the fun things that kings get to have – wealth and women.  What, then, is he supposed to have?

The short answer to this is – Torah.  “When he is seated on his royal throne, he shall have a copy of this Teaching [torah] before him, on a scroll from the Levitical priests.  And he shall have it with him and read from it all the days of his life, so that he will learn to revere Hashem his God, to observe faithfully all of this Teaching, and these laws, to do them, so that he will not become haughty over his brothers, or turn aside from the commandments, to the right or left, so that he and his sons may long reign over Israel” (Deut. 17:18-20).  The king will have the powers that God allows in the Torah, and no more.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

10/11 Aug: Shabbat Re’eh comes in 8:15 pm,  ends  9:29 pm

In Parashat Re’eh, we read, “Be careful to heed all the words that I command you, that it may benefit you and your children after you, forever, when you do what is good and right in the eyes of the Lord your God.”  The phrase ha-tov v’ha-yashar, good and right, offers a different type of instruction than what we’ve received in the past. The very beginning of the Parashah already reminds us that we will receive blessing in our lives if we follow God’s commandments, and if we do not, we will be cursed. But this verse, and doing what is good and right, is different than following God’s commandments.  If the verse wanted to remind us to be shomrei mitzvot, it would explicitly say so.

Rashi (d. France, 1105) looks at this verse and explains that tov, good, is what is seen as good “b’einei shamayim,” in the eyes of the heavens. In contrast, what is yashar, or, right, is not in the eyes of the heavens but rather in the eyes of other humans. Rashi’s interpretation indicates that we should be drawn to do what we might call “morally right” both from God’s perspective (which we can never know for sure) and from other people’s perspective — what we might call  “socially right/acceptable.”  This idea can help us think about the best way to lead our lives. It is important to abide by certain societal standards, what is right by others, yet it must also be OK with God. Both of these aspects contribute to our moral compass.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

27/28 July: Shabbat Va’etchanan comes in 8:42 pm,  ends  9:53 pm

The core of the reading of this week’s Parsha is in the repetition of the Ten Commandments. Although scholars and commentators have always carefully compared the two versions for all the minor textual variations, the most important difference is not in the text, but in the context. The first time the Ten Commandments appears it is in the story of the revelation at Sinai. This time, it’s in Moses’ retelling of that story.

On some level, Judaism is not about the events at  Mount Sinai, but their recollection and eternal rediscovery through texts and memorial ritual, creating a living community of remembrance. It is not the encounter with the One God so much as the teaching about that encounter to subsequent generations.   And so, we have our strangely repetitive text. A philosophical truth needs to be expressed only once. A memory must be repeated – not just from generation to generation, but from day to day;  “as you sit in your house, as your go on your way, as you lie down and as you rise up.”

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

20/21 July: Shabbat Devarim comes in 8:52 pm,  ends  10:05 pm

This week we begin the book of Devarim.  The Sages note that the same Moshe who protested to God that “I am not a man of words” (Ex. 4:10) produces a flood of words in this final book of the Torah, whose Hebrew name means, after all, “words.”

Midrash Devarim Rabbah compares this to a trader selling fine crimson, who proclaims his wares, but when the king asks him what he is selling, he replies, “nothing at all ! ”.  The king replies, “I heard your voice calling, ‘fine crimson!’  and you tell me you are selling nothing at all ?”  The trader replies, “My lord!  Yes, it is fine crimson, but to you it is worth nothing ”; the midrash concludes, “So it was with Moshe — before the (King) Holy One of Blessing who created the mouth and speech — Moshe said ‘I am not a man of words,’ but in regard to speaking to Israel, it is written of him, ‘These are the words’.”

The Sages of our tradition focus on Moshe’s willingness to speak hard truths to his people.  He does not give them a sugar-coated, heroic narrative of their past and future.  He wants the people’s story of itself to be one that is willing to acknowledge error, and to do teshuvah, repentance and re-evaluation of themselves.  The Sages noted that the Book of Numbers ends with the words, “These are the mitzvot … that God commanded through Moshe to the Israelites” (Num. 36:13), and that Deuteronomy begins with “These are the words that Moshe spoke…” (Deut. 1:1).  They said, “Why is the one matter brought up next to the other?  So God says, the words of Moshe that admonish Israel are as dear to me as all the mitzvot that I gave them” (Midrash Yelamdenu).

It is most appropriate that we read the Book of Deuteronomy over the period leading up to the High Holidays: it helps us to focus on our own process of self-evaluation and teshuvah.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

13/14 July: Shabbat  Matot- Masei comes in 8:59 pm,  ends  10:15 pm

The first seventeen verses at the beginning of Parashat Matot describe vows that a person freely assumes by their own declaration.   But the Shulchan Aruch – the code of Jewish law – rules: “Do not become accustomed to making vows. Anyone who makes a vow, even if he fulfils it, is deemed a sinner” [YD 203:1].

The Hebrew word for a vow – “neder” – reflects a certain relationship to reality that was described by the Sefat Emet (R. Judah Aryeh Leib of Gur): “Neder [vow] derives from the root dira [residence].” In other words, a person who makes a vow attempts to create a different reality, in which he can dwell alone, as an island unto himself. The word of God created our reality, our world, and our relationship to one another, and it is that language that makes us full partners to creation every day. In making a vow, a person uses words in an attempt to separate himself, and to isolate himself from our heritage by the creation of a personal reality, a private space.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman



Shabbat Commentary

6/7 July: Shabbat  Pinhas comes in 9:05 pm,  ends  10:22 pm

Toward the end of parshat Pinchas, God instructs Moses to appoint Joshua to replace him as leader.  The Torah teaches that when Moses lays his hands on Joshua, passing on the mantle of leadership, he only passes on part of his glory.  God says to Moses, “Invest him with some of your authority, so that the whole Israelite community may obey.”  (Numbers 27:20)

Why some, and not all of Moses’ glory?   The Talmud takes off on this passage with a fascinating insight.  “The face of Moses was like that of the sun; the face of Joshua was like that of the moon.”  (Talmud Baba Batra 75a). What is the difference between the sun and the moon?   The Hasidic Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter of Ger wrote, “Unlike the sun which dominates the sky, the moon allows other heavenly bodies to shine.”  Moses who had seen God face-to-face was an overwhelming presence.  Joshua knew that true leadership means not overwhelming others, but allowing others to step forward and share in the glory.  The true leader is the one who can share leadership, and in so doing, can help others also become leaders.

Written by Rabbi Paul Arberman