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    What does a Jew look like? – Tzav

    In my childhood we had a Jewish neighbour who used to watch the people in the street and decide who was Jewish.

    I never worked out how he did it. Maybe because he was old he recognised countless people whom he had known all his life.

    If this was how he worked, it must have been a blow when new people moved into the district.

    I think of this neighbour when we read the Torah portions which devote so much attention to the appearance of the kohanim.

    What did they look like? We have such full detail about their costumes and caps that the question is easy to answer.

    If we move to more modern times we could ask what rabbis look like. The easy answer is that they have beards, but that doesn’t help at all. There are many bearded people who are not rabbis, and many rabbis who have no beards.

    (A former British chief rabbi urged me in my clean-shaven days to acquire tzurat ha-rav – “the look of a rabbi” by growing a beard. In the end I did grow a beard, but for quite different reasons.)

    Some rabbis wear special rabbinic robes but others don’t, so the question of robes also doesn’t help. It is a rabbi’s qualities and achievements that show him to be rabbinical.

    My neighbour was looking however for ordinary Jews (hopefully he did not limit himself to the male population). There are histories of Jewish costume that tell us about Jewish styles of dress and headgear, and histories of Jewish habits that tell us about Jewish modes of gesture and conduct. But none of this evidence tells us who is a Jew.

    We recognise a Jew not through their face but their faith – how they bring their Jewishness into every aspect of their lives.

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