Torah For Today: The Battle of Cable Street
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Torah For Today: The Battle of Cable Street

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a topical issue and looks at an Orthodox response

Rabbi Ariel Abel

Rabbi Ariel Abel is based in Liverpool

A demonstrator is taken away under arrest by police officers after a mounted baton charge, in East London, on Oct. 4, 1936, to stop fighting between anti-fascists and Sir Oswald Mosley's blackshirts.
A demonstrator is taken away under arrest by police officers after a mounted baton charge, in East London, on Oct. 4, 1936, to stop fighting between anti-fascists and Sir Oswald Mosley's blackshirts.

Next week marks the 85th anniversary since the Battle of Cable Street on 4 October 1936, when riots erupted between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts. What does the Torah have to say about the passing of 75 years and fighting fascism? 

Abraham, our ancestor, was a subject of Nimrod, a cruel despot who threw whomsoever he disliked into the flames of his furnaces. According to legend, Abraham survived such an attempt on his life. 

At 75 years old, Abraham experienced a calling to leave his homeland and set up for a future destiny elsewhere. 

Much later, Daniel and his friends were cast into a furnace by another power-crazed king, Nebuchadnezzar, the inspiration many centuries later of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. 

Daniel and his friends survived, too, unlike so many others who perished at the hands of the Inquisitors and fascists of the Third Reich. 

Prior to the march of 4 October 1936, residents of the area petitioned government to ban the march. However, it went ahead with 20,000 of Oswald Mosley’s fascists, 2,000 of whom were allowed to approach the demonstrators, who comprised trade unionists, communists, anarchists, British Jews, Irish dockers and socialist groups. 

Demonstrators saw off the fascists with anything that came to hand, and women emptied chamber pots on their heads. 

This scene is reminiscent of another fascist threat, this time against the Jews of Persia. But in this case their chief, Haman, was humiliated first by leading Mordechai along the streets to honour him and then, according to legend by his own daughter, who emptied a chamber pot over her father’s head. When she realised who Haman was, she took her own life. 

The face-off between Nazi and Jew, fascists and proponents of freedom, is at the very core of Judaism, a religion cognisant of existentialism. 

The need to exist physically sets aside almost all other considerations, and the most compelling, shortest and obligatory Torah reading of the year – Nitzavim – is the one that warns us to “stand guard” and cry out: “No pasarán!”

  •  Rabbi Ariel Abel is based in Liverpool 
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