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    Hamlet & the Prince of Denmark – B’shallach

    Two different verbs in the Shirah (Song at the Sea) describe God’s liberation of the people.

    In verse 13 they are am zu ga’alta, “the people You redeemed”; in verse 16 am zu kanita, “the people You acquired”.

    They went through two stages. First they needed to be redeemed, their shackles broken, their bodies free. Then they needed to be uplifted and acquired by God as a people with a purpose.

    This may well be the genesis of Jewish identity as a people (ga’alta) and a religion (kanita). Both words describe us; they are inseparably intertwined.

    Yet there was a time – with a few anachronistic survivals – when some thought they could have religion without peoplehood. It is an impossibility, because the Bible, the prayer book and the whole of our history are full of the land of Israel and the people of Israel.

    But some modern Jews make the opposite mistake, thinking Jewishness can be peoplehood without religion, Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark.

    Obviously every expression of Jewish commitment is to be encouraged, but secular Jewishness lacks the higher dimension of being touched by holiness and spiritual purpose.

    The argument takes on a particular form in Israel, where you hear, “I live in Israel; I don’t need synagogues”.

    But how can anyone who walks the soil and breathes the air of the reborn Land not be a believer?

    Or is it that some are put off religion because religious people themselves sometimes forget that love, tolerance and respect is also part of Torah?

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