Torah for Today! This week: Shamima Begum’s return to the UK
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Torah for Today! This week: Shamima Begum’s return to the UK

Rabbi Daniel Friedman takes a controversial topic and delves into Jewish texts for a response

Shamima Begum
Shamima Begum

Shamima Begum has petitioned the Court of Appeal successfully for the right to return to the UK to contest the removal of her British citizenship.  What does the Torah say about this?

While Judaism’s concept of national belonging does not align exactly with modern conceptions, the Torah nonetheless is an eternal guide to life and provides important perspectives to consider.  

First, let us consider Shamima’s age. She joined Islamic State at 15 and sought to return home at 19.  While the Torah’s judicial system commences at bar/batmitzvah, heavenly punishment only begins at 20.  

Until that age, our sages consider the delinquent too immature to appreciate the gravity of their actions.  Age is thus a relevant factor.

Next, should we accept her back?  During the Middle Ages, the choice of baptism, exile or execution forced many Jews to flee with little more than the shirts on their backs.  

Not everyone was willing to sacrifice everything and took the conversion route, buying time to convert their assets into transferable property.  

They, too, would eventually emigrate, but upon arrival in the new country were often shunned by the Jewish community.  “They made
a choice to be Christian. Why should we accept them back?” was the attitude of those who had given up everything for Judaism.  

Debates raged until Rashi decreed: “Even though he sinned, he remains
a Jew.”  From then on, we accepted that “once a Jew, always a Jew”.

You can imagine how unfair that felt to Jews who felt betrayed by their brethren, but Rashi felt they deserved a second chance, even if they’d converted voluntarily.  

Finally, we turn to the story of King David, who was betrayed by his general, Yoav, and Sheba ben Bichri.  David faced life-and-death leadership challenges on multiple
occasions.  

Yoav was clearly deserving of execution. However, the king waited until his deathbed to order their punishment.  Why?  He didn’t want it to look politically expedient.  

If indeed Shamima is guilty – and we must trust MI6 on this one – she should be punished for her crimes.  But if there’s even the slightest whiff of political expediency, the judges should err on the side of justice and fairness. 

  •  Rabbi Daniel Friedman serves Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue
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