Progressively Speaking: What Alan Turing on £50 note teaches about justice

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Progressively Speaking: What Alan Turing on £50 note teaches about justice

Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner takes a topical issue and applies a Reform Jewish response

Concept of the new Fifty Pound featuring Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing. (Photo credit should read: Bank of England/PA Wire)
Concept of the new Fifty Pound featuring Second World War code-breaker Alan Turing. (Photo credit should read: Bank of England/PA Wire)

The recent announcement that Alan Turing, the famed mathematician and computer scientist, will appear on the new £50 note, was the culmination of many years of change where this man had gone from being considered a convicted criminal to a rightly celebrated national hero.

Alan Turing achieved a huge amount in his lifetime – from cracking German codes, which some estimate shortened the Second World War by up to two years and saved 14 million lives, to his work  as an early pioneer of computers.

These contributions would be cut short, though, by his treatment by society.

He was convicted for the crime of being gay, forced to undergo chemical castration, was prevented from continuing to work in intelligence because of his conviction and ended up taking his life aged 41.

The official treatment of Alan Turing has been a sign of the progress we have seen in recognition of LGBTQ+ people in this country.

From a government apology in 2009, to his royal pardon, a law retrospectively exonerating men similarly convicted, and now recognition on our money, Alan Turing has become a symbol of change.

We must, however, ensure that our treatment of one man, held up as a symbol of progress, does not mask shortcomings in society at large.

Our Jewish tradition implores us we are not just seen to do the right thing, but that we bring about real and consistent change.

In the Torah, we read “justice, justice you shall pursue”. Why is “justice” repeated? Many reasons are given, but one which is relevant here is that we must not just ensure justice is done in a single case, but ensure systemic injustice is also wiped out.

LGBTQ+ people in this country and around the world are still discriminated against and persecuted. Injustice remains.

Even within the story of Turing lies the work of Ada Lovelace, which Turing built upon, but her contribution is not given the place it deserves.

Let’s ensure Turing’s recognition is not hollow, but that his face looks at us from our currency as a sign that we must continue to seek justice every day.


  •   Laura Janner-Klausner is senior rabbi for the Movement for Reform Judaism
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