Torah For Today: Last Night of the Proms

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Torah For Today: Last Night of the Proms

Rabbi Daniel Friedman takes a topical issue and delves into Jewish texts for a response

For the Last Night of the Proms, the BBC announced a ban on songs with connections to colonialism, before doing a U-turn. What does the Torah say about this? 

The Torah contains various laws that do not comport with our modern sensibilities. How should we deal with slaves?  How do we treat female enemy captives? The Torah offers these laws not as a mandate to maintain slaves or bring anyone into marriage without consent. Rather, they are instructions to those who may have chosen to act in such primitive ways.  

If you were to buy a slave, then you must respect their rights. If you were to desire a female captive, you may not violate her on the battlefield. You must bring her home and allow her to mourn her family. In other words, you must treat these human beings with dignity and respect. 

But if such practices are no longer acceptable, why does the Torah, an eternal guide, preserve them? Because we do not rewrite history.
We acknowledge and own our past, warts and all. “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Likewise, we welcome the decision to sing Land of Hope and Glory as usual this year.  After all, it speaks to who we are as the people of Great Britain.  We are proud to be citizens of a land of hope and glory. 

The song Hatikvah (The Hope) was heard in Bergen Belsen.  When that hope came to fruition in the establishment of the state of Israel, the country didn’t abandon the tune. Israel embraced the sentiment of hope, a commitment to striving constantly for a better future.  

Likewise, glory in Hebrew is tiferet, which embodies the ‘harmony’ between the two characteristics of giving (chesed) and withholding (gevurah). 

If we were to give our children everything, they would never learn the importance of hard work. Tiferet is the process of striking the right balance, finding the harmonious, glorious sweet spot.  

Glory means the commitment to the process of seeking harmony.  Often, that entails accepting the mistakes we’ve made in the past – not brushing them under the rug and rewriting our history. 

Facing up to them, educating our children about our nation’s journey, and forever endeavouring to grow from our past missteps – that’s how we truly become Great Britain.

  •   Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue

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