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    Why fight with angels? – Vayyishlach

    December 4th, 2022

    One of the most dramatic moments in the Torah narrative is Jacob’s all-night struggle with the angel.

    An impossible scenario? An unthinkable event? Surely angels are our friends and not our enemies.

    Even when we say that the angel in the story is an agent of the Lord, we still have not solved the problem. Indeed we have made it more and not less perplexing, indicating that it was God with whom Jacob was struggling.

    The Jewish people – the nation of Jacob – are constantly engaged in an encounter with God. Actually we find ourselves struggling on four fronts – with our enemies, with the factions within our own people, with ourselves and our conscience, and with God.

    Why do we struggle with God? Most often because we agonise over whether He is fair to us. We expect His blessings of peace, truth and justice. He responds that human beings have to prove themselves worthy of rewards from On High.

    Fair enough, but doesn’t it seem that God is using an earthly antagonist to make us suffer?


    Changing his name – Vayyishlach

    December 4th, 2022

    Abraham’s name was changed from Abram: the Torah says, “Your name shall no longer be called Abram” (Gen. 17:5). Hence from this point onwards we only hear of Abraham and the name Abram is just history.

    But there is a problem when Abraham’s grandson Jacob is given a new name, “Israel”. Thereafter we sometimes hear of Jacob and sometimes of Israel. Why is there one law for Abraham and a different one for Jacob?

    The explanation offered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe is that there were two stages in the service of God. The patriarch was “Jacob” (from a root that means “to supplant”) when he was engaged in acquiring material benefits but “Israel” (from “struggle with God”) when he sought the spiritual benefit of a blessing from the Almighty.


    Finding a Jewish answer to the gun problem

    December 1st, 2022

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 1 December, 2022.

    For years now, guns have been doing immense harm in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Hundreds of innocent people have been killed; thousands have been wounded.

    Whatever the perpetrators’ motives, they have turned normal daily life, like going to school, the shops or praying in shul, into something over which they are frightened. They have made ordinary members of the public into vulnerable and shaky individuals whose lives are in constant peril.

    Whoever the victims are, whether Jewish or gentile, black or white, male or female, whatever sexual orientation, young or old, they can no longer hope to “sit under their vine and under their fig tree with none to make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

    Everyone is in danger of being wantonly mowed down, which is probably the worst crime there is (Exodus 20:13), even if the killing is unpremeditated (Numbers 35:11).

    This article is not primarily concerned with government gun policies but with the moral issues that arise from the point of view of Jewish law, tradition and ethics.

    There are four main problems with guns:

    The gun itself is a means of doing harm. In Jewish law, a person must not own a dangerous dog (Bava Kamma 79a). Someone who has a dangerous dog must keep it under restraint at all times (Choshen Mishpat 409:3). Even a dog that is unlikely to do harm must be kept under restraint because it can frighten people (Shabbat 63b). The gun is like a dangerous dog, if not worse.

    The best policy is that nobody should own a gun and if they do, they must keep it under severe restraint. Not only guns but any potential means of harm, though guns seem to have a worse potential for harm than many other dangerous dogs.

    Once upon a time when we were children we used to point toy guns at each other and say, “Bang, bang, you’re dead!” These days, however, it’s no game, the guns are for real and they’re far worse than toys.

    The gun-runner with a neurosis: No one can arrogate to themselves a right to disown, dismiss or disrespect another person. No one can claim (in the words of Talmud Pesachim 25b) that their blood is redder than mine or anyone else’s, and that the world is better off without the people they have killed or maimed.

    Perpetrators of harm must be findable. They must be found, identified and shown no mercy. Society must teach them a harsh lesson in relation to any crime they have committed and deter them from wrongful acts in the future. The rule in Jewish ethics is that the community has a duty to remove or prevent any safety hazard (Bava Kamma 15b).

    The motivation: those who bear guns and use them against other people are entitled to disagree with others but they have to realise that the issue is not only Black Lives Matter (BLM) but All Lives Matter (ALM). Society must train all its members to handle differences decently, in a law-abiding and peaceful manner. It cannot let people resort to violence even if they are aggrieved, angry, anxious or afraid.

    Education must train people towards good citizenship with concern for the rights of others. If people want to be prejudiced, let the prejudice be constructively discussed.

    The potential victim: a person must not place him – or herself in a position of danger (Deuteronomy 22:8). That doesn’t mean that nobody should go to school or the shops. Since schoolchildren are now especially vulnerable, the adult community must protect them as firmly as possible by appropriate security measures at school gates.

    This does not imply that teachers should be armed, which simply makes the problem worse. Visible measures must be put in place at centers of business and commerce and at entertainment or sporting arenas. Everyone should have the Bible-given right to enjoy their own vine or fig tree (Micah 4:4). Nobody may “sit by when your fellow’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16).

    Some gun owners will insist that they have valid reasons to possess weapons and that gun ownership is a mark of human liberty. Their case may occasionally have an element of validity but because a society must remove or prevent any safety hazard (Bava Kamma 15b), we cannot have any sympathy with those who think that all gun-toting is kosher.

    Guns are dangerous dogs that put everyone at risk. They should be placed on a register that will be regularly checked and monitored. Until the time comes that life can rid itself of weapons, when “none shall hurt or destroy” (Isaiah 11:9), it might be necessary to allow an interim ethic that occasionally tolerates gun ownership.

    But in this interim, decent gun owners will have to be prepared to abandon their weapons and recognize that citizen discipline (and self-discipline) are essential in order to make life livable. The historian Arthur Bryant wrote, “The real problem is not how to ensure the survival of the human race, but how to ensure the simultaneous survival of both civilised society and human and political liberty.”


    Glory of the Lord – Vayyetzei

    November 28th, 2022

    Jacob lays down to sleep, by José de Ribera, 1639

    When Jacob left home he found himself out in the wilderness and slept with a stone for his pillow. The Torah says that the Lord stood above him (Gen. 28:13).

    Instead of “The Lord”, Targum Onkelos says “the glory of the Lord”. As usual the Targum avoids anthropomorphic terms for God. Both versions have the same aim, showing that Jacob was in no danger because he was protected by the Almighty – but the Targum insists that we should not say that God Himself was watching over him; the protection came through a Divine attribute.

    The general practice is that when the Bible uses an image of God we interpret it metaphorically.


    Tal and Geshem – climate change in Australian Judaism

    November 27th, 2022

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple appeared in the Journal of the Australian Jewish Historical Society in 2022, Vol. 25, Part 4.

    Abstract
    Jewish liturgical usage includes seasonal prayers for rain
    (Geshem) and dew (Tal) which are traditionally linked with the advent in Israel of winter (when the Geshem prayer is said) and summer (Tal). Each of these prayers has a poetic, ceremonial text. In Australia, Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen of the Great Synagogue, Sydney, moved the two prayers to acknowledge the antipodean seasons, so that Geshem was said on Passover at the beginning of winter and Tal on Sh’mini Atzeret when summer commenced. This change reflected the weather in Australia but diminished the traditional link with Israel. After Rabbi Cohen’s time the original arrangement was restored. This article tells the story.

    Writing on Minhag Australia (“The Australian Usage”) in the Australian Jewish Historical Society Journal in 2013,[1] I touched upon the status in Australia of climate-based prayers, especially Tal and Geshem, the prayers for dew and rain. The present article seeks to explore this issue in greater depth in relation to whether these prayers should be said according to the climatic conditions in Israel and the northern hemisphere, which is the halachic approach, or according to the seasons in the southern hemisphere. It will illustrate the different approaches to
    this issue in Australian synagogues – especially the Great Synagogue, Sydney – and compare these with other parts of the southern hemisphere. With the creation of the State of Israel in 1948, this debate basically came to an end and the halachic tradition is now followed.

    There are three instances of Tal and Geshem where these prayers are recited, two being halachic (legal) and one ceremonial.

    The halachic versions
    The halachic versions are insertions in the blessings of the weekday Amidah, the “Prayer Said Standing”, which is known as the Shemoneh Esreh, “Eighteen Blessings” (though the number of blessings has expanded
    to Nineteen).[2] The Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Shorter Code of Jewish Law) edited by Solomon Ganzfried, states (Chapter 19):

    In the winter we say (at the beginning of the Amidah), Mashiv haru’ach umorid hageshem – “Thou causest the wind to blow and the rain to fall”; there are places where it is customary to say (in the summer), Mashiv haru’ach umorid hatal – “Thou causest the wind to blow and the dew to fall”.

    In some places Mashiv haru’ach is omitted from this latter phrase, which now reads Morid hatal – “Thou causest the dew to fall”. These phrases are inserted in the second blessing of the Amidah, known as G’vurot (“Mighty Deeds”), where they testify to God’s power. Ganzfried continues: “We begin saying tal umatar – Grant dew and rain – in the (ninth blessing of the Amidah in the) evening prayer of the 60th day of the autumn equinox.” This ninth blessing asks God to bless the cycle of the year, which includes the weather.

    The ceremonial version
    There is a Passover piyyut (religious poem) in honour of Tal, with an equivalent Geshem (“Rain”) poem on Sh’mini Atzeret. Both celebrate the Divine gifts. Rain makes nature revive; the Shema calls it a reward for obedience to God’s laws (Deut. 11:11–17); Elijah warns Ahab that the punishment for disobedience is drought (I Kings 17:1). Mishnah Rosh HaShanah 1:2 states that on Sukkot the world is judged in respect of water (rain). The dew is a blessing bestowed upon Nature for man’s benefit. Dew is a symbol of freshness: “the dew of youth” (Psalm 110:3) is a metaphor for revival and resurrection.

    The Tal and Geshem piyyutim are probably by Elazar Kallir, a medieval poet. They aver that all Creation needs God’s continuing blessing; prosperity needs the right weather at the right time. The rabbis debate the geographical provenance of these texts. Is the question the climate of the land of Israel or of other northern hemisphere lands where Jews lived?

    It was taken for granted that “summer” meant the northern hemisphere summer and “winter” the northern hemisphere winter. In Britain, Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler refused to allow any of the “climate” liturgy to be omitted, though he did allow modifications to other parts of the liturgy. The standard “climate” prayers found their way into the standard Anglo-Jewish prayer books,[3] the Singer Siddur and the Routledge Machzor. A new problem arose with the rise of communities in the southern hemisphere, and a chapter of the story was played out in Australia, both in regard to saying Tal and Matar in daily worship and the minhag (usage) of saying the festival piyyutim about dew and rain.

    The daily prayers
    In Australia those of the early Jewish settlers who wished to say their prayers were exercised by these insertions. (No-one suggested a link with Aboriginal rain-making rituals.) For Jews the question was whether they should mentally attach the mentions of Tal and Matar to the holy Land of Israel or associate them with the quite different patterns of the southern hemisphere climate. An enquiry was sent to Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler by Asher Hymen Hart of the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation on 27 June 1848, asking about saying ‘Taloo mottor’ (that is, tal u-matar) in Australia. His question was, “At the appropriate seasons, should we or not read the prayers appointed for rain and dew, the seasons in this hemisphere, as you are aware, being opposite to those of our native country?” Adler apparently replied (the text of his response is not available) that the climate-based liturgical interpolations could be dropped in the southern hemisphere. If a prayer for (local) rain were needed in winter, it could be inserted before the Shema Kolenu (“Hear our voice”) blessing of the Amidah.[4]

    The response might be in the Chief Rabbi’s letter books, held at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. I do not recall seeing it there when I worked on the Adler archive at the JTS library in 1970, but it can be reconstructed from a letter from Adler to the Hobart Hebrew Congregation two years earlier.[5] Adler had told Hobart that the Tal and Geshem prayers could be dispensed with altogether, and this permission became regular practice in Australia. Australian synagogues were not such sticklers for strict orthodoxy that they objected to a hetter, a dispensation. Most were happy to have grounds for apparent leniency. In any case few synagogues had daily services and those which did, presumably left the decision to the minister. When an individual prayed on his own, he was likely to follow the rite he was used to, but few others were likely to know or to care.

    Rabbi Abraham Eber Hirschowitz,[6] a Russian rabbi who spent several years in Melbourne in the 1890s, records in his Bet Avraham (1907) a query he sent in 1892 to Rabbis Yitzhak Elchanan Spektor (Kovno), Shmu’el Salant (Jerusalem), Jacob Reinowitz and Hermann Adler (London) and Aryeh Leib Rashkes (Schnipischock/Vilna)[7] urging that Australian Jews be told to say the same prayers as Jews everywhere. He adds that even in the Australian summer, rain is a blessing. He says that the omission was ascribed to Nathan Marcus Adler, though the latter’s son and successor Hermann says that the omission was authorised by an earlier chief rabbi, Solomon Hirschell. Hermann Adler also says that the antipodean omission of the prayers was by now an entrenched custom.

    The early halachic authorities were not agreed on the subject; they ranged from Rashi who supported the original Talmudic custom, to Maimonides who (at least in his early period) believed that congregations should recognise local climatic factors (Mishnah Commentary, Ta’anit 1:3). The compromise supported by many authorities was to highlight the Land of Israel in public worship whilst acknowledging local needs in one’s private prayers. This, as we have seen, was basically what Nathan Marcus Adler advised in his letter to Melbourne and Hobart.

    In Australia, the statelier the synagogue, the more they were likely to ignore the daily prayers, and the more interest was attached to the more musical and dramatic performance of the festival piyyutim. In Victoria, the Melbourne Hebrew Congregation omitted both versions of Tal and Geshem for about a century. Ministers – including Rabbis Joseph Abrahams and Israel Brodie – were loyal to the chief rabbi and gave his hetter the status of a ruling. The Enduring Remnant – the history of the congregation – records that it was not until the time of Rabbi Hugo Stransky in the late 1940s that the festival piyyutim of Tal and Geshem were re-introduced.[8] By that stage the congregation very rarely had weekday services other than for a Yahrzeit (death anniversary). The same was true of the St. Kilda Hebrew Congregation, where Rev. Elias Blaubaum upheld orthodoxy but turned a blind eye to infractions. His successor Rabbi Jacob Danglow was rather elastic in his orthodoxy. East Melbourne – the “foreign” synagogue – long continued with (and quarrelled over) the weekday services, and probably made no concessions to the Australian seasons. In New South Wales, the Great Synagogue was in a slightly better position in that – at least in some periods – it held services on weekday afternoons and on Monday and Thursday mornings and other days when there was a Torah reading. The Great currently has daily morning services. In other parts of Australia, the establishment synagogues rarely had weekday worship.

    The more anglicised “cathedral” synagogues usually followed the London dispensation, but “foreign” congregations such as East Melbourne did not. At first sight the situation seems to be a matter of religious politics and to depend on where the British chief rabbi’s writ ran. In fact, the difference of usage was based on real halachic differences. The first Jewish congregation in South America was Brazil, which in 1637 sent a query about prayers for rain to Rabbi Chayyim Shabbatai of Salonika,[9] who told them to follow northern hemisphere practice regardless of local climatic conditions. In the twentieth century, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, chief rabbi of the Holy Land, endorsed this in a responsum dated Sivan, 1929, concerning “Argentina and similar countries.” Rabbi Shlomo Brody noted that “My students in Yeshivat HaKotel from Australia, South Africa, and Uruguay” confirm that Jews in the southern hemisphere adhered to Rabbi Shabbatai’s rule.[10] In Australia at the end of the nineteenth century Rabbi Abraham Eber Hirschowitz found that few congregations said the dew and rain prayers in any form.

    The festival poems
    Though many poets produced texts for the Tal and Geshem piyyutim, the conventional Ashkenazi versions are attributed to Elazar Kallir, the leading religious poet of the early Middle Ages.[11] Kallir’s piyyutim – utilised for many sections of the High Holyday services – have an intricate style with constant resort to acrostics. He brings in Biblical, Talmudic and Midrashic allusions which generally only a scholar can appreciate, though his Tal and Geshem are not as complicated as his High Holyday piyyutim. Kallir’s texts have a range of musical settings; Tal has become especially popular in recent times by reason of Chazzan Joseph (Yossele) Rosenblatt’s lively version[12] which many synagogues utilise. Both poems are lent especial awe and solemnity by the white High Holyday robes worn by the cantor. Indeed, it must be said that without Geshem and Yizkor (memorial prayers), Sh’mini Atzeret in particular would seem empty. In Israel the day is combined with Simchat Torah, creating a strange mixture of emotions, moving from joy to sorrow and back to joy.

    In Australia, where the seasons are the opposite of the northern hemisphere, Rabbi Francis Lyon Cohen (chief minister of the Great Synagogue 1905–34) took a somewhat unorthodox initiative. Cohen was not only a critic of Zionism but often halachically unconventional. His board of management, not known for its frumkeit (strict observance), sometimes declined to support him and even asked Chief Rabbi Hertz to rein him in. When Cohen made radical proposals to amend the wording of the Kol Nidrei declaration on Yom Kippur,[13] to allow organ music on Shabbat and festivals,[14] and to institute a three-yearly cycle of Torah readings instead of a one-year cycle, Hertz rejected them.[15]

    Cohen reversed the occasions for the two piyyutim, moving Tal to Sh’mini Atzeret and Geshem to Pesach in order to fit in with the Australian seasons (and probably to dislodge the Eretz Yisra’el associations of the prayers). We are not certain of the exact date of the change, though there is anecdotal evidence that it did happen. The most we can find in the Great Synagogue minute books is that a letter was tabled from Rabbi Cohen at a board meeting on 4 October 1918, suggesting “an improved form of prayer for Tal or Geshem (to) be used on Pesach and Shemanee Ahsarets (sic).” The matter was to be considered at the next meeting, but no such discussion is recorded in the minutes of that “next” meeting. This suggests that Cohen went ahead on his own initiative, which he believed he had the right to do regardless of the chief rabbi. Perhaps he got the congregational president to support him and there was never a full discussion at the board table. The synagogue issued a small leaflet detailing the changes. Copies of the leaflet are extant, but their dating is uncertain.[16] Congregants were asked to affix the leaflet to their Machzorim. At some stage the two piyyutim might have been declaimed in English, which exemplifies one of Cohen’s habits. Before Cohen’s time the custom seems to have been for Tal and Geshem to be completely omitted from the festival services.

    It is hard to believe that Hertz was unaware of Cohen’s views. Cohen represented a dilemma – an ordained rabbi, head of an accredited Beth Din, but a critic of the halachic status quo. Cohen himself told his board that the chief rabbi was only an adviser and a “venue of appeal when necessary”.[17]

    This contrasts with East Melbourne (the “Polish Shule”), where the two piyyutim were omitted in the time of Rev. Moses Rintel, as they had been at Melbourne’s original synagogue in Bourke Street. They were probably restored by Rev. Jacob Lenzer, an eastern European cantor who was adamant about tradition. East Melbourne prided itself on its orthodoxy, and liturgical issues always raised ructions.[18]

    Most Australian Jews practised a rather lax form of orthodoxy, though a few individuals and groups trenchantly opposed halachic concessions. The issue in relation to Tal and Geshem was not so much the Eretz Yisra’el associations of the prayers but the hold of orthodox practice. In Sydney, refugees from the Eastern European pogroms bolstered the traditionalist elements in the community and led to several (short-lived) minyanim (prayer groups) which upheld tradition despite the “establishment”. The “foreign” congregation headed by Rabbi Isidore Bramson[19] objected to the “Englishness” of the Great Synagogue. Bramson attacked Rev. AB Davis’ lack of formal rabbinic qualifications, but when Bramson left Australia, his congregation disbanded. His supporters who returned to the Great Synagogue had no choice but to accept the ways of the Great.

    When Rabbi Cohen came to Sydney in 1905, he was disappointed as a musicologist that the grand performances of Tal and Geshem did not figure in the festival services. He began thinking of a solution, presumably assuring the board that the piyyutim were dramatic and musical as befitted a “cathedral” synagogue. The board, constantly interested in enhancing the services, may have been unaware of the halachic considerations, though some board members like Aaron Blashki[20] were traditionalists. Cohen’s innovation did not last; it came to an end either in the time of the Zionist-minded Rabbi Ephraim Moses Levy (chief minister 1935–38)[21] or early in the incumbency of Rabbi Dr Israel Porush (1940–72)[22] who might have quietly brought the synagogue back into accord with other leading congregations in other countries.

    I made an (admittedly cursory) investigation of practices in other parts of the Anglo-Jewish southern Diaspora. In other Australian State capitals, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, and Hobart, there was little strong feeling either way. In New Zealand, the Auckland and Wellington congregations – both led by very long-serving ministers – generally asked the British chief rabbi what to do but then made up their own minds in favour of leniency. In South Africa, the Cape Town Hebrew Congregation generally followed the lead of the London Great Synagogue. However, in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries it possibly omitted Tal and Geshem, re-introducing them under Lithuanian influences at the end of the twentieth century. In Johannesburg, the first Jews and their rabbis were at odds over many issues including “anglicised” customs. South Africans I consulted recall Tal being a choral highlight on Pesach and Geshem on Sh’mini Atzeret, but there was no folk memory of the two piyyutim ever being omitted or their timing being reversed.

    Rabbi Cohen’s maverick attitude to orthodox practice was already suspect in the eyes of the London chief rabbinate.[23] His theology, as evident from his sermons, which were generally printed verbatim each week in the Hebrew Standard, was conventional. He seems to have had no theological objection to orthodox liturgy including prayers for a good climate, though his reference point was not the climate of the Holy Land but Australia. He was a Diaspora Jew with a negative (or at least an ambivalent) attitude to political Zionism, though he did not go as far as American Reform, which said in its Pittsburgh Platform that wherever Jews lived was their Promised Land and wherever they worshipped was their Temple.[24] Insofar as he was a nationalist it was in the shape of British patriotism. In a biographical study I called him “the passionate patriot”.[25] His criticisms of Zionism were based on the fear that the movement would compromise British loyalties.[26] Yet, he was inconsistent and donated to Holy Land appeals.

    From a theological point of view Cohen does not seem to have given sufficient weight to the notion that Tal refers to resurrection (Micah 5:6), not only of Zion but of the Jewish people (Hosea 14:6), which makes it more relevant to Pesach than to Sh’mini Atzeret. However, Cohen feared that the prayer was too Zionistic for Australian (and British) tastes and thought that it would arouse antisemitism.

    Though the Balfour Declaration issued in 1917 emanated from the British government (for Cohen the British Empire and the Mother Country held supreme significance), he did not mention the declaration from his pulpit for three years. Yes, he must have said Uva l’Tziyyon go’el (“A redeemer will come to Zion”) and other prayers for a return to Zion and the restoration of God’s presence to Jerusalem, but in his mind, these were futuristic, theoretical notions, and he was suspicious of the political Zionist movement and critical of the Australian Zionist leadership.[27] From the practical point of view his priority was not the Holy Land but Australia and what the gentiles would say. Today, in contrast, no rabbi would question the supremacy of Israel in Jewish life. Cohen died in 1934 and we cannot predict what his attitude would have been to the Holocaust or to the State established in 1948. His younger contemporary Rabbi Jacob Danglow became quite well-disposed towards the State of Israel after its creation despite his earlier stance.[28]

    Did the British chief rabbi not contemplate exercising control over Cohen? After all, Chief Rabbis Hermann Adler and JH Hertz had imposed sanctions on several ministers who held unacceptable opinions, for example, on Rev. Morris Joseph because he opposed the restoration of sacrifices, and on Rev. Dr Joseph Hochman for challenging orthodoxy.[29] At a later period, Chief Rabbi Brodie faced the modernist views of Rabbi Louis Jacobs. Why was Rabbi Cohen not censured for his compromises? Three reasons:
    1. Cohen and his Australian colleagues often claimed that were the Chief in their shoes he would act as they did.
    2. They believed that compromises would keep their communities within orthodoxy.
    3. Their compromises were generally limited to liturgy and matters of practice on which there was a range of opinions, some strict, some lenient.

    In these circumstances sanctions on Cohen were unlikely, especially since Australia was geographically so far away. In addition, Cohen’s negative attitude to Zionism was shared by Hermann Adler and a number of British and Australian rabbis. Whilst Hertz must have disapproved of Cohen’s anti- or non-Zionism, the “offence” was not intended to defy or denigrate the chief rabbinate. Cohen was provocative but safe. Fears of gentiles suspecting Jews of dual loyalties were real at the time but are rare now, though (especially in the USA) there are antisemites who deliberately misconstrue Jewish love for Israel.

    These days, those who represent the twin extremes in Israeli politics – secularism and ultra-orthodoxy – and who decline to describe Israel messianically as “reshit tzemichat ge’ulatenu” – the first flowering of our redemption’ – take it for granted that the Holy Land has a special place in God’s eyes and Jewish affections, which give Tal and Geshem a distinctive symbolism.

    It is not only antipodean communities where the Tal and Geshem poems gained extra status from about the middle of the twentieth century. Even in the northern hemisphere where Tal and Geshem occasioned no geographical problems, the prayers assumed additional significance all over the Jewish world. Their newly enhanced status appears to be a concomitant of the re-birth of Israel in 1948. The rather limited question, “Is Israel blessed with good weather?” is part of the broader question, “What is the matzav, the situation, in Israel?”

    In the final analysis, the traditional timings for Tal and Geshem are more logical than Cohen’s calendrical tinkering. Regardless of local conditions, Pesach indicates the Jewish people’s national springtime, the appropriate time to pray for dew. Sh’mini Atzeret at the end of Sukkot emphasises the concern that the sukkah will not be marred by rain – nor will the upbuilding of the Land be compromised by internal dissension or external threat – and hence a rain prayer is appropriate at the end of the festival.

    A concluding question: if the establishment congregations in Australia were satisfied to omit Tal and Geshem, why were they so apparently inconsistent as to generally retain (without argument) the liturgical interpolations in the Amidah blessings referring to wind, dew and rain? The answer may be quite pragmatic. It may be that the Tal and Geshem poems were highly public choral features, “large print prayers”, as it were, whilst the Amidah interpolations were “small print”, relatively unnoticed or unremarked by the average worshipper. Whether the “large print” poems were sung by cantor and choir or even declaimed in English, synagogue theatrics seem to have mattered more than spiritual piety and devotion.

    Acknowledgements
    I appreciate the assistance of Joe Kensell and David Havin in preparing this paper.

    Endnotes
    1. Raymond Apple, “Is there a Minhag Australia?” AJHS Journal, vol. 21, part 2 (2013), pp. 186–94.

    2. Abraham Millgram, Jewish Worship, Philadelphia, JPSA, 1971, pp.221–22; Shlomo M Brody, A Guide to the Complex: Contemporary Halakhic Debates, Jerusalem: Maggid, 2014, pp. 165–57; AA and DJ Lasker, “The Jewish Prayer for Rain in the Post-Talmudic Diaspora”, AJS Review, vol. 9, part 2 (1984), pp. 141–74.

    3. The siddur edited by Rev. Simeon Singer was supervised and authorised by Chief Rabbi Nathan Marcus Adler. The Routledge Service of the Synagogue for the festivals was edited by DM Davis and HM Adler and issued with the approval of Hermann Adler. Cf. Isaac Lerner, Torat HaMinhagim: Studies of the Nusach Ha’Tefillah and Oher Minhagim of the Unted Synagogue, London, London, United Synagogue, n.d.

    4. Hart’s letter is printed in Rabbi Lazarus Morris Goldman’s 1954 book, The Jews in Victoria in the Nineteenth Century, Melbourne, self-published, 1954, pp. 58–9.

    5. Ibid., pp. 558–9.

    6. Raymond Apple, “Rabbinic Responsa Relating to Australia: Abraham Eber Hirschowitz“, AJHS Journal, vol. 9, part 6 (1984).

    7. Abraham Eber Hirschowitz, Bet Avraham (Heb.), Jerusalem, 1908.

    8. J Aron and J Arndt, The Enduring Remnant, Melbourne, MUP, 1992, p. 117.

    9. Chayyim Shabbatai (‘Maharhash’, 1555–1647) was chief rabbi of Salonika and was widely consulted. His letter to Brazil is in his responsa Torat Chayyim, vol. 3, ch. 3.

    10. Brody, A Guide to the Complex, p. 267.

    11. “Kallir”, cols, Encyclopedia Judaica, vol. 10, pp. 713–15; compare with I. Elbogen, “Kalir Studies”, Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. 3 (1926), pp. 215–24.

    12. Macy Nulman, Concise Encyclopedia of Jewish Music, New York, McGraw-Hill, 1975, p. 206.

    13. JH Hertz, The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, one vol. edition, London, Soncino Press, 5713 (1952), pp. 730–1.

    14. Raymond Apple, Francis Lyon Cohen: The Passionate Patriot, Sydney, AJHSJ (1995), pp. 709–11; cf. Hilary Rubinstein, “Zionism and Australian Spiritual Leaders 1896–1950”, AJHS Journal, vol. 9, part 6 (1984), pp. 327–40.

    15. Hertz’s orthodoxy is analysed by Derek Taylor, Chief Rabbi Hertz: The Wars of the Lord, London, Vallentine Mitchell, 2015.

    16. The current incumbent at the Great Synagogue, Rabbi Benjamin Elton, has come across old books in which the leaflet was inserted. Personal email communication.

    17. Israel Porush, The House of Israel: a study of Sydney Jewry from its foundation (1788) and a history of the Great Synagogue of Sydney, the mother congregation of Australian Jewry, on the occasion of its centenary (1878–1978), Melbourne, Hawthorn, 1977, pp. 92–3.

    18. Mendel Cohen, my great-grandfather, was many times president of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation. Only he could quell the rowdy congregational meetings; cf. Morris C Davis, History of the East Melbourne Hebrew Congregation Mickva Yisrael, 1857–1877, Melbourne, 1977.

    19. Porush, House of Israel, pp. 53–6; cf. Hebrew Standard, 5 October 1900.

    20. Aaron Blashki, Blashkiana – The Memoirs of Aaron Blashki, AJHS Special Publication – Melbourne, Hybrid Publishers, 2005).

    21. Raymond Apple, The Great Synagogue: A History of Sydney’s Big Shule, Sydney, UNSW Press, 2008, pp. 91–6. There is a view that Levy’s departure from Sydney was due to his Zionism but there were other issues.

    22. Ibid., pp. 96–9 and Israel Porush, The Journal of an Australian Rabbi, AJHS Special Publication, Melbourne, Hybrid Publishers, 1992.

    23. Raymond Apple, Francis Lyon Cohen, pp. 711–13.

    24. David Polish, Renew Our Days: The Zionist Issue in Reform Judaism, Jerusalem, WZO, 1976, ch. 2.

    25. Apple, Francis Lyon Cohen.

    26. Ibid., Ch. 10.

    27. Ibid.

    28. John S. Levi, Rabbi Jacob Danglow, Melbourne, MUP, 1995, index, “Zionism”.

    29. Benjamin J Elton, Britain’s Chief Rabbis and the Religious Character of Anglo-Jewry, 1880–1970, Manchester, Manchester UP, 2009.