Torah For Today! This week: Protesting in a holy place

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Torah For Today! This week: Protesting in a holy place

Rabbi Ariel Abel takes a topical issue and applies an Orthodox Jewish response

Ariel Abel is rabbi of the Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation

Pestalozzi Strasse synagogue in Berlin
Pestalozzi Strasse synagogue in Berlin

Protesting against the segregation of men and women in shul, Shani Tzoref was forcibly removed from a synagogue in Berlin, which adhered to this separation.

So, what does the Torah say about protests and responses to them?

Under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860, protesting in a holy place, if it disturbs the synagogue service, is a criminal offence in the UK.

This may have its roots in the Torah injunction against a person who is liable for a capital offence: “From my altar you must take him…”

Although the concept of “sanctuary” is recognised in the Torah, when Joab sought to take refuge from David at the Tent of the Tabernacle, he was not able to.

If the matter for which the protest is made is not for justice, but to challenge the way in which holy offices are conducted, it is reasonable to take steps to remove that person if, according to custom at that place of worship, their behaviour is considered sacrilegious.

Another basis to test this matter is that of the Talmudic injunction: “Who are you to come into my home and rule over me?”

If you go into someone’s premises, you should obey the house rules – or leave.

Our sages teach: “All that your host asks of you, you must do, except leave”.

But if one’s behaviour causes others to be upset, then the conduct of one cannot trump the right of all the others.

Another Talmudic principle: “Is your blood thicker (literally: redder) than mine?!” This rhetorical statement is applied to saving lives: that one may not save his or her own life at the expense of the life of another.

The same surely applies to rights to protest: no matter how dear a principle is to one’s own heart, it does not trump the rights of others.

Rabbi Ariel Abel serves Liverpool Old Hebrew Congregation and is padre to Merseyside Army Cadet Force

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