What’s in a number? This week: 70

What’s in a number? This week: 70

Rabbi Naftali Schiff helps to figure figuring out Jewish history in numerical terms.. this week he looks at 70

The number 70 resonates with my own personal Jewish identity more than any other. Furthermore, I’d like to suggest that the set of concepts represented by 70 throughout our literature  most personify our contemporary Jewish generation.

The Twelve Tribes and their families were numbered 70 when they were led down to Egypt by our father Jacob more than 3,000 years ago. From these 70 people the Jewish people was formed.

The Torah lists 70 nations; the members of the Sanhedrin were versed in 70 languages; the Talmud talks of 70 facets and perspectives via which to view the Torah;  the Kabbalah informs us there exist 70 root personalities and souls; man’s days are numbered threescore and 10 and the epicentre of the Jewish world- Yerushalayim has 70 names!

Seventy in Judaism is the universal number; the collective that encompasses all opinions, personalities and people.

The Jewish people are charged with being a moral light unto the nations – a beacon of decency, morality and goodness. The nations are encouraged to come up to Yerushalayim to learn from our ways. Out of it will emanate the teachings of those 70 ways – simply diverse perspectives, styles and expressions around the one.

We are today 70 years since Israel’s establishment; our people represent the collective wisdom of 70 approaches, styles and cultures and, 70 years later,  our people have risen again to be part of the miracle of a nation reborn in its land.

The Talmud in Berachot 30 devotes many lines advising us as to the manner in which we face the centre of Yerushalayim when we pray. Instead of a detailed and seemingly laborious paragraph, surely it could have simply advised us to face the same geographical coordinate? I believe the answer talks directly to our generation – the first  in 2,000 years to live with the reality of our return to Yerushalayim, namely, a justification and recognition of the simultaneously diverse, collective  and unifying nature of Judaism and Am Yisrael and the call to our generation.

The Talmud could have just informed us of a coordinate at the centre of Yerushalayim to face whenever we pray. Instead, it spends 15 lines teaching that Jews from different parts of the world necessarily view it from a different perspective.

May we, the generation of 70, rise to the magnificent challenge of raising the flag of Tzion – the City of 70 names – with the deepest understanding, respect and embrace of the challenging nature of inclusion of 70 diverse perspectives of one truth and reality!

υ Rabbi Naftali Schiff is founder and chief executive of Jewish Futures

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