In Reform and Liberal synagogues over Yom Kippur, we read a different chapter of the Book of Leviticus than that recited in Orthodox shuls. We read Leviticus Chapter 19. This is known as the “holiness code,” because it sets out the human behaviour that can enable a person to behave in a way that emulates God.
The reading in Reform Synagogues ends with the words: “Love your neighbour as yourself”.
Just before this we hear, “Do not hate your brother or sister in your heart; you shall, though, reprove, or reason with, your fellow frankly”, then “Do not stand idly by while the blood of your neighbour is shed”.
These words are a mandate to every Jew to be a person who stands up and speaks out when they see injustice, whether it affects them directly, or they become aware that it is happening to another person.
Jews don’t ‘turn the other cheek’, but rather aim to confront injustice head on and with respect. We do not admire those who keep silent.
Actress Tracy Ann Oberman and Countdown presenter Rachel Riley have joined those who have done just that.
Oberman joined many others angered by Labour Momentum’s invitation to the Polish graffiti artist Ewa Jasiewicz, who sprayed the former Nazi Warsaw Ghetto wall with graffiti, comparing Nazi actions during the Second World War to Israel’s in Gaza and the West Bank.
This unjust and invidious comparison is one that is clearly antisemitic, as defined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition, which the Labour Party has now adopted.
Meanwhile, Riley was called “brainwashed and thick” as she expressed her opinions of Jeremy Corbyn’s actions over antisemitism.
Both she and Oberman were attacked viciously through social media for what they said and had themselves shared, before speaking out about how hurt they were by the trolling abuse they received.
They are right to share their upset at what has been public emotional abuse and they were right to have shared their opinions in the first place, as each was sure that they were calling out injustice.
It is a constant Jewish duty to do what we can to make the world fairer and more just. We will never achieve that by just staying shtum.
- Rabbi Mark Goldsmith serves Alyth Synagogue