With Rabbi Yitzchak Shochet. 

Read Rabbi Schochet’s blog at shul.co.uk/rabbi or follow him on Twitter @RabbiYYS.[divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I recently undertook to keep Shabbat. Friends are puzzled, even dismayed, when they hear about the way I observe it. They are surprised to learn I do not write, flip an electric switch, use the telephone, cook or engage in a host of every- day activities for 25 hours each week.

Belinda

 

Dear Belinda,

This reaction is not at all surprising. It comes from the natural assumption that to cease our everyday pursuits is not only difficult, but impossible.

Think of the advertisements with the harried climber perched precariously on the mountain top, logging in on a laptop to check for email; or the sunbather on a remote island clinching a last-minute deal even as she professes to be on holiday.

As we become submerged in our work, it becomes a struggle to remain above it. In the endless conflict between earth and spirit it is easy to forget our source, our reason for being, our point of departure for this journey we call life. Shabbat is a potent reminder that takes us back to the beginning.

It is a reunion with our inner selves; a return to the primal oneness our souls enjoyed with God before being sent to our present existence. Get them to think, this time about the adverts for glamorous holiday options to exotic, sun-drenched islands, and their promise of escape from the everyday din and commotion.

Not only are you hundreds or thousands of miles from home, but the plug is pulled on the phone, fax and email. What a relief! And that’s what you’ll experience each week when on Friday, just as the sun is about to set, you disconnect yourself from your everyday summonses.

You light the Shabbat candles and something changes as you clear your mind and take a deep breath, knowing you’re in a place where you could never have arrived on your own. They ought to try it – it’s magic and it’s real![divider]

Dear Rabbi,

I’m doing a project on religious symbols for my Jewish studies and am hoping you could tell me the significance of the Star of David.

Emily

 

Dear Emily,

The Star of David is otherwise referred to as a Magen David in Hebrew, which translates more accurately as the “Shield of David.” It is suggested King David’s army wielded six-pointed star-shaped shields. There’s a tombstone in Italy dating back to 300CE, which was found with a six-pointed star on it.

In 1354, King Carl IV insisted that the Jews of Prague make a flag for themselves that would feature the six-pointed star. There is also a suggestion that the six points represent the six days of the week – and the overall star representing Shabbat.

A further explanation suggests there are three components to our Jewish existence: God, Torah and Israel. Everything is comprised of a more external dimension and an internal dimension. So the Torah contains an exoteric dimension (Talmud, Jewish law, etc) as well as an esoteric dimension, otherwise known as the mystical dimension.

The Jew connects to God through both these dimensions, which are inextricably linked. Thus the Magen David has three points overlapping with another three points.  As a final point for consideration, Kabbalah teaches that there are seven attributes, which are external manifestations of the Divine and through which God built the world.

These include kindness, severity, harmony, etc. The Magen David has seven compartments, one at each point, and the centre, corresponding to this. For all the different explanations offered, ultimately the origins and meaning remain a subject of speculation. The onus is on you to strive to be a Jewish star in your own right. [divider]

Dear Rabbi,

Can you tell me why it is that ultra-Orthodoxy has to always be different and more fundamentalist that mainstream Orthodoxy?

Eric

 

Dear Eric,

Can you tell me what exactly Ultra-Orthodox is and how you choose to define it? Ultra, by its very definition, means “very” or “particularly.” How come there’s no such a descriptive term as “Ultra Reform” or “Ultra Masorti?” The term is ascribed to someone who is more particular about adhering to the time-hallowed traditions of their faith.

Even so, in no other religion does the term “ultra” exist in describing any group type. Do you have “Ultra Catholics” or “Ultra Muslims”? And what happens when you see some- one with a beard, long black coat and a black hat? You describe him as Ultra-Orthodox.

In other words, you are defining people by their appearance or their practice. In my book Eric, that is categorical racism. Labels are for clothes – Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Dior, Jimmy Choo – and not for religion.

A Jew is a Jew is a Jew sine qua non. You may have less observant and more observant Jews, but that’s the extent of it. So, dispel with your prejudices and respect everyone equally, regardless of how they look or what they practice.[divider]