charles middleburgh

Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh

By Rabbi Dr Charles Middleburgh

One of the worst of all sins, according to the rabbis, is rekhilut, ranging from slander to gossip and rumour-mongering.

The book of Leviticus inveighs against the rakhil, and scholars of rabbinic generations and beyond developed the negative command and broadened its scope and application.

As we approach the Days of Awe, we are encouraged to think, among other things, of the words we use and the way we use them; have they harmed or healed, have they been false o malicious?

As a People of the Book, Jews should pay especial attention to what we say and write, watching our language and striving to ensure we say what we mean at all times. This is not a pious hope but a real commitment that each of us can make for the year ahead.

Most, if not all of us, have struggled with our preparation for the High Holy Days because of the distractions of the conflicts being played out across the Middle East, the jihadi nightmare stretching from Lebanon to Iraq in which the United States belatedly became involved, and principally with the conflict in Gaza.

As heart-breaking as the scenes we have witnessed have been and as troubling, what has disturbed us as much has been the response in many European countries, notably though not exclusively in Germany and France, where a hideous left-right coalition has poured abuse on Israel, and on Jews in general, for the actions of the Israelis in Gaza.

Denunciations from several minbars [pulpits], and chanting in the streets, have contained language we might have expected never to hear again in European streets and, accompanied by attacks on Jews, Jewish businesses and synagogues, have created huge anxiety in our community.

Nevertheless, as we consider the incontinent expression of criticism of Israel in the media, we would be remiss not to point out that the imbalance between what is levelled at the Jewish state and what is said of the Sunni jihadists of ISIS is massively disproportionate, and brings no credit to those who indulge in it.

• Rabbi Dr Charles H Middleburgh is director of Jewish Studies at Leo Baeck College