Chief Rabbi urges more ‘menschedik’ behaviour amid ‘toxic’ Brexit atmosphere

Chief Rabbi urges more ‘menschedik’ behaviour amid ‘toxic’ Brexit atmosphere

Rabbi Mirvis invokes the 'Jewish tradition of treasuring healthy disagreement' after House of Commons speaker John Bercow bemoans the culture in politics

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis

Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis has urged more ‘menschedik’ behaviour in wake of the ‘toxic’ Brexit deadlock in Parliament.

During his ‘Thought For The Day’ on BBC Radio 4 on Friday, he said “our challenged world needs to understand and internalise what it means to be a mensch”.

This comes after House of Commons Speaker John Bercow pleaded with parliamentarians on all sides to tackle the “toxic” political culture, amid the row over Brexit and the proroguing of parliament, deemed by the Supreme Court to be illegal earlier this week.

Bercow said the House “did itself no credit” in the angry exchanges which followed the Prime Minister’s statement. As MPs returned to the Commons on Thursday morning, Mr Bercow said: “There was an atmosphere in the chamber worse than any I’ve known in my 22 years in the House. On both sides passions were inflamed, angry words uttered, the culture was toxic.”

Speaking about the week’s events on Radio 4, Chief Rabbi Mirvis said: “Reflecting on how passions were inflamed on both sides, the Speaker stated that the atmosphere had been worse than any he has known and he urged MPs to “disagree agreeably”.”

When it comes to our politics today, civility is often left at the door and people define so much of their identity by what and whom they are standing against, as opposed to what they stand for.”

“An aversion to complexity and the demise of nuance has made compromise harder than ever to achieve and, most worryingly, when tribalism inspires hate speech, hate crime is only one step away.”

Quoting Jewish sages Hillel and Shamai, he said “for millennia, Jewish tradition has treasured healthy disagreement – it has been the lifeblood of our religious practice”, adding that the two religious teachers never “allowed their disagreements to become debased or personal.”

Ahead of Rosh Hashanah, which he said “is the anniversary of the creation of humanity”, he noted that the “Yiddish word for a human being is ‘mensch’.”

“Colloquially, to call someone a mensch is to pay them the ultimate compliment – conveying the highest attributes of decency and dignity.”

“I believe that now, more than ever before, our challenged world needs to understand and internalise what it means to be a mensch.”

He said a “a mensch passionately fights for what they believe is right without ever compromising on courtesy. A mensch debates the substance of an issue without seeking to destroy their opposition. A mensch is slow to anger and quick to learn from others – including those with whom they may profoundly disagree. And a mensch puts humility and responsibility before their own reputation.”

Closing his Thought for the Day, Chief Rabbi Mirvis said “it was nearly 55 years ago when Martin Luther King Jr said: “We have learned to fly the air like birds and swim the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together.”

“When will we learn?”

Welcoming his remarks, Raymond Simonson, Chief Executive of JW3 said on Twitter; “Really lovely to hear @chiefrabbi talking beautifully on @BBCRadio4 Thought for the Day about the critical need for more menschedik behaviour right now. It’s my mantra. #BeMoreMensch”

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