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    Prince William’s visit may not be too late

    March 7th, 2018

    The following article by Rabbi Raymond Apple originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post on 7 March, 2018.

    The British Foreign Office has its own reasons for sending Prince William to visit Israel. The prince himself is only an excuse.

    The visit is not intended to boost the young man himself or the Royal Family as a whole, nor to showcase Israel on its 70th anniversary.

    The real aim is to get Britain back in the engine room of Middle East and world politics. Not necessarily a bad idea in itself, but an exercise in cynicism and humbug.

    I hope it is not too late.

    Britain seems to be feeling increasingly fragile on the world scene. If the British government had been smart it could have claimed a special status in the Middle East by virtue of its (sometimes tortuous) role in 19th and 20th century Zionism, and one might have thought its vaunted friendship with Israel could have been given expression before this. There may be reason to fear that Britain has abdicated to the US the role of special friend.

    Many Israelis still need convincing that Britain really is a friend. Those with long memories cannot forget the Mandate period. When my late parents-in-law made aliyah in 1965 and said they were from London they saw Israelis physically flinch.

    Possibly most Israelis today think this is just history and prefer to accentuate the more positive attitudes of Arthur James Balfour and Winston Churchill, but this still does not justify the lack of official visits by British royals. The British way of showing friendship is to send the royals on a visit. They have had 60-odd years to do this during the Queen’s incumbency but the Foreign Office kept dithering – or worse, sneering and using bad language about the Jews.

    Over the years there could have been some official fence-mending, but now it will be harder. The Queen might have been able to charm Israel but she is no longer so young and energetic after more than 65 years on the throne, making her the longest-serving British monarch. She will presumably keep going until the day she dies. Few people share her concern for dogs and horses, nor is she a warm everyone’s-grandmother type. But she is part of the marketing, like Big Ben and the Thames. She is part of the ethos that makes Britain interesting.

    Whatever her lack of political power, she is a powerful symbol, and she has a presence. The British government must feel that her grandson has the personality to enhance Britain’s name in Israel, in line with the British system (which with qualifications applies here too) of divided priorities – the human, emotional and cultural task being undertaken by the head of state and the politics being in the hands of the government headed by the prime minister.

    Jewish history is familiar with monarchs who combined the two types of leadership. Some of the medieval rabbis explained the saying, “The law of the realm is the law” on the basis that the king owned the country and anyone who wished to live there had to accept his authority. As time evolved, Jewish teaching honored kings and queens but was more interested in elected leaders.

    Without leadership of any kind, say the sages, “people would eat each other alive” (Avot 3:2). Shakespeare, who knew rabbinic sayings in Latin translation, echoed this adage when he said, “You cry against the noble Senate, who, under the gods, keep you in awe, which else would feed on one another.”

    When absolute monarchy was still the norm, some kings were bombastic, unethical and self-serving, but Jews usually kept their reservations to themselves so long as they were more or less left in peace. Though they responded to Jeremiah’s call (Jer. 29:7) to pray for the welfare of the government, the prayers were sometimes tongue in cheek, such as when the rabbi says in Fiddler on the Roof, “God bless and keep the Czar… far away from us.”

    In British lands the patriotism was genuine, even if sometimes the Royal Prayer on the synagogue wall has not been updated since Queen Victoria and the siddurim pray for long ousted princes and potentates. These old siddurim are strewn around synagogues in provincial towns in the antipodes, where most of the country communities have gone but those that survive betray their 19th century origins.

    In the Middle Ages, Abravanel said that though a king “promotes unity, continuity and absolute power,” a republic is better, with “many leaders, united, agreeing, and concurring in counsel… When the turn of other judges and officers comes, they will examine whether their predecessors have failed… Since their administration is temporary and they are accountable, the fear of man will be upon them.” Abravanel warns, though, that not all monarchies are bad and not all republics good.

    Jews always hoped for a good monarch. In Worms they said, “He who blessed our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, may He bless our exalted Kaiser. May He prosper his undertakings and establish his throne in justice, so that righteousness may rule in the land: grant life and peace to him and his descendants.”

    The prayer used in Plymouth says, after the names of the Royal Family, “O Lord, King of Kings, in Thy mercy preserve their precious lives and deliver them from all trouble and danger… Raise and remount the planet and fortune of Her Majesty’s Arms, that her enemies may fall under her feet… prolong her days in her kingdom… In Thy clemency incline her royal heart as well as the hearts of all her Nobles and Counsellors, to use us kindly….”

    In 1895, British Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler replaced the words, “Put compassion into the Queen’s heart and into the hearts of her counsellors and nobles” with “Put a spirit of wisdom and understanding into her heart and into the hearts of all her counsellors”. Chief Rabbi Hertz removed the words, “May He subdue nations under his [the king’s] sway and make his enemies fall before him” and inserted, “In his days and in ours, may our Heavenly Father spread the protection of peace over all the dwellers on earth.”

    The prayer always included the messianic hope, “May the Redeemer come unto Zion.” An early version prayed “that Judah be saved and Israel dwell securely” (Jer. 23:6).

    Outside Britain, local references were often added. In Australia, mention of the colonial governors was replaced in 1901 by “the Governor General and Governors of the States.” In Sydney, the Great Synagogue replaced the archaic phrase “Our Sovereign Lady the Queen” with “Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia,” added “the legislators and leaders of Australia and its States and Territories” and referred to “the happiness and welfare of every citizen” and “all the peoples of this land (living) in amity and mutual respect.”

    A Queensland synagogue once asked me which to put first, the prayer for the queen or for Israel. I quoted, Aniyei ircha kodmin, (“One begins with local needs” – BM 74a).

    Another relevant memory: when Australia was debating whether to become a republic I had the honor of being named one of 20 leading Australians, and a TV station interviewed me about the future of the monarchy in Australia. I answered, “It’s up to the queen herself. If Australia really mattered to her and she wanted to remain its queen she would have a home here and spend a few months here every year. More important, she would barrack for the Australian team in the cricket Tests….”

    The Queen has made many visits to Commonwealth countries. When I was presented to her in Sydney she shook hands and asked me about my synagogue: she has a quick mind and knows the right thing to say. Prince Charles told my wife that he had heard that the Great Synagogue was a heritage building and he’d like to pay a visit. The Duke of Edinburgh and Prince Charles have both been to Israel, though only on occasions of mourning.

    When Prince William comes as the first official royal to visit, the Anglos will be delighted. The really serious stuff will probably not be on the agenda but there is a good chance that the prince will achieve something by his mere presence.


    The good in others – Vayakhel-P’kudei

    March 4th, 2018

    Look at the names of this week’s portions and you get a message, “Gather the people (Vayakhel) and assess the situation (P’kudei)”.

    An assembly that judges the state of things will not all agree. All have their own emphases and interests. If everyone looks at the water they each see the reflection of their own face. Everyone assessed Moses from their own point of view.

    This one was hungry and judged him on whether there was enough food. This one was lonely and judged Moses on whether the people were a chevra. This one was unwell and questioned whether sick people had been looked after. Poor Moses!

    The lesson is that each person should think of others, not only themselves. Once they see that a leader’s task is to try to understand the needs of every individual and segment of the community, they will know how well Moses has done his task.


    Double sidrot – Vayakhel-P’kudei

    March 4th, 2018

    In the solar calendar there are 52 weeks. The synagogal lectionary – based on a lunar system – has 54 sidrot (weekly readings), creating a discrepancy between the solar and lunar years.

    To reconcile them, there are times when two sidrot are combined on a given Sabbath, according to the following pattern:

    Genesis: no double sidrot.

    Exodus: sometimes Vayakhel and P’kudei are combined, making this combination the longest reading in Exodus and the second longest of the year, second only to MattotMass’ei in the Book of Numbers.

    Leviticus: three combinations are known – Tazria and M’tzora; Acharei-Mot and K’doshim; B’har and B’chukkotai.

    Numbers: sometimes Chukkat and Balak, and Mattot and Mass’ei are combined.

    Deuteronomy: sometimes Nitzavim and Vayelech are combined.

    The shortest possible number of Sabbaths in the year is 48. Such a year is called “regular” (i.e. not a leap year). In such a year the phenomenon of several double sidrot enable the synagogue to encompass the whole Torah within 12 months.

    The longest possible number of Sabbaths in the year is 54. Such a year is called a leap year because it has an extra month which keeps the lunar (Jewish) and solar (civil) calendars in tandem. In such a year double sidrot are less essential.

    The Diaspora has more festival days than Israel, i.e. the 2nd and 8th days of Pesach and the 2nd days of Sukkot and Sh’mini Atzeret, the 2nd day of which is Simchat Torah. In Israel, Simchat Torah combines with Sh’mini Atzeret.

    If one of these extra days falls on a Sabbath the Diaspora has a separate festival Torah reading that day, whilst Israeli synagogues read the next weekly sidra according to the regular system.

    The discrepancy between the Diaspora and Israel is removed by the insertion of extra double sidrot in Diaspora synagogues. In such a year the Israel/Diaspora lectionaries are out of tandem for some weeks.

    Prior to the advent of Adar (to which in a leap year the calendar adds an extra month called Adar Sheni), no double sidrot are inserted. As a result there are no double sidrot during the reading of Genesis or the early part of Exodus. This pre-Adar phenomenon might reflect an early stage in the history of the Jewish calendar.

    There is an alternative view that it is the first, not the second, Adar which is added to the calendar in a leap year.

    Congregants do not always enjoy the combination of sidrot because it prolongs the service and in some cases, notably Vayakhel-P’kudei, the content seems repetitive, reiterating material about the building of the Tabernacle which has already been covered in the preceding weeks, though in the combination the verbs are in the past (“they made”), not the future tense (“they shall make”).

    This change in tense indicates that the instructions in the previous chapters have been faithfully carried out.


    Using the Divine name – Ask the Rabbi

    March 4th, 2018

    Q. Surely students learning Torah should be allowed to use the Divine Name instead of a substitute such as HaShem?

    A. According to the Mishnah B’rurah (Orach Chayyim 215:14), one may read God’s Name in a Biblical verse: leaving out or changing the Name is like altering the Bible text.

    Rav Moshe Feinstein says that though enunciating the Name in a verse is allowed, it is not obligatory (Igg’rot Moshe, Orach Chayyim 2:56) and it is best to use a substitute like HaShem or Elokenu.

    When it comes to prayers the real name must not be used if it is not the time for that prayer. When singing Z’mirot some lines only fit the rhyme and rhythm if one says the real name, though Rav JB Soloveitchik did not say these names.

    In studying b’rachot the names should be replaced with substitutes, though one can be lenient with children.


    The lingering sin – Ki Tissa

    February 25th, 2018

    In Chapter 32 verse 34 of Sh’mot, God tells the Israelites that His angel will go before them in the wilderness, but if they sin, no angel will save them from punishment.

    What sin are we talking about, and what punishment?

    The sin is whatever it happens to be, but Rashi follows an idea in the Talmud by saying that if they sin, God will add to it a little of the wrong that was committed with the Golden Calf and punish them not only for what they did today but what their ancestors did long before.

    It’s a difficult idea since the normal Jewish principle (set out, e.g., in Ezekiel chapter 18) is that people are punished for their own sins, not for anything their ancestors might have done (Deut. 24:16).

    The explanation might be that the sins of the fathers are visited upon the children, as the Second Commandment (Ex. 20:5) tells us, if the children continue the sinfulness of their ancestors (Talmud B’rachot 7a).

    The implication seems to be that anyone who does the wrong thing must bear in mind that not only will he or she be punished personally, but if their descendants commit a wrong, it will show that the ancestors did not repent sufficiently to entirely eradicate the effect of their own sin.