Torah For Today: Antisemitism.

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Torah For Today: Antisemitism.

Rabbi Jonathan Hughes looks at anti-Jewish racism and offers an Orthodox perspective, while reflecting on his upbringing

Racist graffiti was discovered on the door of the Aduat Yeshua Synagogue this morning as it opened for prayers
Racist graffiti was discovered on the door of the Aduat Yeshua Synagogue this morning as it opened for prayers

I’m a religious hybrid. My father is from a Protestant family and my mother a Jew. The journey began in Reading where I played for Swindon Town and Reading FC, enjoying night clubbing and Nietzsche.

I had virtually zero Jewish identity when I went to read law at University College London. It was there antisemitism made a profound impact upon me. It was a particularly sultry afternoon when I overheard a fellow student complain: “I’m so hot. Hotter than a Jew in Auschwitz!” 

It was a wake-up call. I embraced Judaism and, after graduating, studied Torah in Jerusalem before becoming a community rabbi. My voyage has given me insights into Jew-hatred and our response.

Antisemitism seems destined to show dogged durability, as the Talmud predicts; but Jewish relations with the rest of humanity have enormous potential for good. What is the right approach to today’s antisemitism?

Judaism teaches that our ancestors’ life journeys foreshadow ours. Rabbi Naftali ZY Berlin wrote of the Torah’s depiction of Jacob’s last years lived outside Israel as being golden ones, a sign the story of the Jewish people will be one largely based in exile. “The primary cause as to why most of our existence has been spent in the diaspora is – as God revealed to our father Abraham – that his descendants were created to be a light unto the nations and this is only possible when they are dispersed throughout the exile.” 

Rabbi Berlin wrote this in 19th century Czarist Russia, the scene of rampant antisemitism. Yet he recognised a positive opportunity to lead by example. The integrity and moral values that should be the hallmarks of the Jews were meant to serve as inspiration to all peoples.

The word victim is related to victorious. The darkness of antisemitism and our resultant victimhood must be met with light. It is not enough to oppose antisemitism. We must listen to this ancient clarion call and share the Torah’s wisdom for the benefit of ourselves, our hosts and the glory of Hashem.

    •  Rabbi Jonathan Hughes serves Radlett United Synagogue

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