Two Voices: Q: In the face of tragedy, how can, our rabbis help?

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Two Voices: Q: In the face of tragedy, how can, our rabbis help?

Two Voices
Two Voices

In this week’s Two Voices, our guests talk about how our rabbis can console us in the face of recent tragedies

Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz says…30 2 voices-RabbiEstherHugenholtz_HighRes

‘Nachamu, nachamu, ami vayomer Eloheichem’ – ‘be comforted, be comforted my People, says your God’ (Isaiah 40:1)

We read these words of consolation on the Shabbat after Tisha B’Av. We need consolation in the face of tragedy: the rise of ISIS, the Gaza conflict, terrorist attacks in Paris and Copenhagen.

As rabbis, we try to support our communities through sermons, rabbinic teaching and individual conversations.

Isaiah reveals a lot of pastoral wisdom, which is reflected in our rabbinic practice. God tells Isaiah to “speak tenderly” (40:2): part of comfort is acknowledging the hurt and fear. We have to “hold the space” In times of conflict, diversity truly has to become a lived value.

Then we must help to recognise communal, political (as well as personal) error where relevant as the first step of “teshuvah” or “repentance”. Only then can true comfort follow: a joyous, moral vision of redemption. Isaiah tells us “like a shepherd, He pastures His flock, He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them in His bosom” (40:11). God is depicted as both gentle and strong.

It is our task to allow people to feel vulnerable, to create safe space, to offer a chance of ethical self-reflection and to re-energise the community.

• Esther Hugenholtz is rabbi at Sinai Synagogue, Leeds

Rabbi Charles Wallach says…

2 voices- w
Rabbi Charles Wallach

The haftarot currently being read were chosen by the rabbis as a response to the cataclysmic events surrounding Tisha B’Av — the date when tradition has it both Temples were destroyed.

But these seven weekly readings also can be seen as being a means of guiding the people from the depths of despair over those events to a belief in the future.

The question is almost theoretical for me, for thankfully in my 40-year career in the rabbinate such awful tragedies never arose. I say “almost” for there have been events which needed responses. The same principle was employed: Be supportive of those in need, deal with the immediate event and then try to work through its implications.

In this, I have always been guided by the response of the often misunderstood biblical prophet Jeremiah, who warned of coming dangers “from the north”. Yet, when the tragedy of Tisha B’Av occurred, he wrote in encouraging terms: Build houses and dwell in them, get married, plan for the future, for in time those that caused the tragedy will pass and a bright future will emerge.

We live with tragedies, and sometimes tragedies are life changing. But, as Jeremiah reminds us, life also moves on, often with difficulty, but assuredly.

• Charles Wallach was rabbi of Brighton and Hove Reform Synagogue

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